Home > Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(3)

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(3)
Author: Gail Carriger

“We were discussing my venerated Queen Mums, if you can believe it.”

Rue couldn’t believe it. “Goodness, Uncle Rabiffano usually doesn’t have much time for Aunt Ivy. Although he never turns down an invitation to visit her with a select offering of his latest hat designs. He thinks she’s terribly frivolous. As if a man who spends that much time in front of the looking glass of an evening fussing with his hair should have anything to say on the subject of frivolity.”

“Be fair, Rue my dear. Mr Rabiffano has very fine hair and my mother is frivolous. I take it you got the item?”

“Of course.”

The two ladies drifted behind a cluster of potted palms near the conservatory door. Rue reached into her pocket and pulled out the lozenge-shaped snuff box. It was about the size to hold a pair of spectacles, lacquered in black with an inlay of mother-of-pearl flowers on the lid.

“A tad fuddy-duddy, wouldn’t you think, for your Dama’s taste?” Prim said. She would think in terms of fashion.

Rue ran her thumb over the inlay. “I’m not entirely convinced he wants the box.”

“No?”

“I believe it’s the contents that interest him.”

“He can’t possibly enjoy snuff.”

“He’ll tell us why he wants it when we get back.”

Prim was sceptical. “That vampire never reveals anything if he can possibly help it.”

“Ah, but I won’t give the box to him until he does.”

“You’re lucky he loves you.”

Rue smiled. “Yes, yes I am.” She caught sight of Lord Fenchurch emerging from the card room. He did not look pleased with life, unexpected in a gentlemen whose ball was so well attended.

Lord Fenchurch was not a large man but he looked intimidating, like a ferocious tea-cup poodle. Small dogs, Rue knew from personal experience, could do a great deal of damage when not mollified. Pacification unfortunately was not her strong point. She had learnt many things from her irregular set of parental models, but calming troubled seas with diplomacy was not one of them.

“What do we do now, O wise compatriot?” asked Prim.

Rue considered her options. “Run.”

Primrose looked her up and down doubtfully. Rue’s pink dress was stylishly tight in the bodice and had a hem replete with such complexities of jet beadwork as to make it impossible to take a full stride without harm.

Rue disregarded her own fashionable restrictions and Prim’s delicate gesture indicating that her own gown was even tighter, the bodice more elaborate and the skirt more fitted.

“No, no, not that kind of running. Do you think you could get Uncle Rabiffano to come over? I feel it unwise to leave the safety of the potted plants.”

Prim narrowed her eyes. “That is a horrid idea. You’ll ruin your dress. It’s new. And it’s a Worth.”

“I thought you liked Mr Rabiffano? And all my dresses are Worth. Dama would hardly condone anything less.” Rue deliberately misinterpreted her friend’s objection, at the same time handing Prim the snuff box, her gloves, and her reticule. “Oh, and fetch my wrap, please? It’s over on that chair.”

Prim tisked in annoyance but drifted off with alacrity, making first for Rue’s discarded shawl and then for the boyishly handsome werewolf. Moments later she returned with both in tow.

Without asking for permission – most of the time she would be flatly denied and it was better to acquire permission after the fact she had learned – Rue touched the side of her uncle’s face with her bare hand.

Naked flesh to naked flesh had interesting consequences with Rue and werewolves. She wouldn’t say she relished the results, but she had grown accustomed to them.

It was painful, her bones breaking and re-forming into new shapes. Her wavy brown hair flowed and crept over her body, turning to fur. Smell dominated her senses rather than sight. But unlike most werewolves, Rue kept her wits about her the entire time, never going moon mad or lusting for human flesh.

Simply put, Rue stole the werewolf’s abilities but not his failings, leaving her victim mortal until sunrise, distance, or a preternatural separated them. In this case, her victim was her unfortunate Uncle Rabiffano.

Everyone called it stealing, but Rue’s wolf form was her own: smallish and brindled black, chestnut, and gold. No matter who she stole from, her eyes remained the same tawny yellow inherited from her father. Sadly, the consequences to one’s wardrobe were always the same. Her dress ripped as she dropped to all fours, beads scattering. The rose coronet remained in place, looped over one ear, as did her bloomers, although her tail tore open the back seam.

Uncle Rabiffano was mildly disgruntled to find himself mortal. “Really, young lady, I thought you’d grown out of surprise shape theft. This is most inconvenient.” He checked the fall of his cravat and smoothed down the front of his peacock-blue waistcoat, as though mortality might somehow rumple clothing.

Rue cocked her head at him, hating the disappointment in his voice. Uncle Rabiffano smelled of wet felt and Bond Street’s best pomade. It was the same kind of hair wax that Dama used. She would have apologised but all she could do was bow her head in supplication and give a little whine. His boots smelled of blacking.

“You look ridiculous in bloomers.” Prim came to Uncle Rabiffano’s assistance.

The gentleman gave Rue a critical examination. “I am rather loathe to admit it, niece, and if you tell any one of your parents I will deny it utterly, but if you are going to go around changing shape willy-nilly, you really must reject female underpinnings, and not only the stays. They simply aren’t conducive to shape-shifting.”

   
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