Home > Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(4)

Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1)(4)
Author: Gail Carriger

Prim gasped. “Really, Mr Rabiffano! We are at a ball, a private one notwithstanding. Please do not say such shocking things out loud.”

Uncle Rabiffano bowed, colouring slightly. “Forgive me, Miss Tunstell, the stress of finding oneself suddenly human. Too much time with the pack recently, such brash men. I rather forgot myself and the company. I hope you understand.”

Prim allowed him the gaffe with a small nod, but some measure of her romantic interest was now tainted. That will teach her to think of Uncle Rabiffano as anything but a savage beast, thought Rue with some relief. I should have told her of his expertise in feminine underthings years ago. Uncle Rabiffano’s interest in female fashions, under or over, was purely academic, but Prim didn’t need to know that.

He’s probably right. I should give up underpinnings. Only that puts me horribly close to becoming a common strumpet.

Speaking of fashion. Rue shook her back paws out of the dancing slippers and nudged them at Prim with her nose. Leather softened with mutton suet, resin, castor oil, and lanolin, her nose told her.

Prim scooped them up, adding them to the bundle she’d formed out of Rue’s wrap. “Any jewellery?”

Rue snorted at her. She’d stopped wearing jewellery several years back – it complicated matters. People accommodated wolves on the streets of London but they got strangely upset upon encountering a wolf dripping in diamonds. Dama found this deeply distressing on Rue’s behalf. “But, Puggle, darling, you are wealthy, you simply must wear something that sparkles!” A compromise had been reached with the occasional tiara or wreath of silk flowers. Rue contemplated shaking the roses off her head, but Uncle Rabiffano might take offence and she’d already insulted him once this evening.

She barked at Prim.

Prim made a polite curtsey. “Good evening, Mr Rabiffano. A most enjoyable dance, but Rue and I simply must be off.”

“I’m telling your parents about this,” threatened Uncle Rabiffano without rancour.

Rue growled at him.

He waggled a finger at her. “Oh now, little one, don’t think you can threaten me. We both know you aren’t supposed to change without asking, and in public, and without a cloak. They are all going to be angry with you.”

Rue sneezed.

Uncle Rabiffano stuck his nose in the air in pretend affront and drifted away. As she watched her beloved uncle twirl gaily about with a giggling young lady in a buttercup-yellow dress – he looked so carefree and cheerful – she did wonder, and not for the first time, why Uncle Rabiffano didn’t want to be a werewolf. The idea was pure fancy, of course. Most of the rules of polite society existed to keep vampires and werewolves from changing anyone without an extended period of introduction, intimacy, training, and preparation. And her Paw would never metamorphose anyone against his will. And yet…

Prim climbed onto Rue’s back. Prim’s scent was mostly rose oil with a hint of soap-nuts and poppy seeds about the hair.

Given that Rue had the same mass in wolf form as she did in human, Primrose riding her was an awkward undertaking. Prim had to drape the train of her ball gown over Rue’s tail to keep it from trailing on the floor. She also had to hook up her feet to keep them from dangling, which she did by leaning forward so that she was sprawled atop Rue with her head on the silk roses.

She accomplished this with more grace than might be expected given that Prim always wore complete underpinnings. She had been doing it her whole life. Rue could be either a vampire or a werewolf, as long as there was a supernatural nearby to steal from, but when given the option, werewolf was more fun. They’d started very young and never given up on the rides.

Prim wrapped her hands about Rue’s neck and whispered, “Ready.”

Rue burst forth from the potted palms, conscious of what an absurd picture they made – Prim draped over her, ivory gown spiked up over Rue’s tail, flying like a banner. Rue’s hind legs were still clothed in her fuchsia silk bloomers, and the wreath draped jauntily over one pointed ear.

She charged through the throng, revelling in her supernatural strength. As people scattered before her she smelled each and every perfume, profiterole, and privy visit. Yes, peons, flee before me! she commanded mentally in an overly melodramatic dictatorial voice.

“Ruddy werewolves,” she heard one elderly gentleman grumble. “Why is London so lousy with them these days?”

“All the best parties have one,” she heard another respond.

“The Maccons have a lot to answer for,” complained a matron of advanced years.

Perhaps under the opinion that Prim was being kidnapped, a footman sprang valiantly forward. Mrs Fenchurch liked her footmen brawny and this one grabbed for Rue’s tail, but when she stopped, turned, and growled at him, baring all her large and sharp teeth, he thought better of it and backed away. Rue put on a burst of speed and they were out the front door and onto the busy street below.

London whisked by as Rue ran. She moved by scent, arrowing towards the familiar taverns and dustbins, street wares and bakers’ stalls of her home neighbourhood. The fishy underbelly of the ever-present Themes – in potency or retreat – formed a map for her nose. She enjoyed the nimbleness with which she could dodge in and around hansoms and hackneys, steam tricycles and quadricycles, and the occasional articulated coach.

Of course it didn’t last – several streets away from the party, her tether to Uncle Rabiffano reached its limit and snapped.

Rue transformed spontaneously back into a normal young lady – or as normal as is possible with a metanatural. She and Prim ended their run on their posteriors at the side of the road. Prim quickly stood, undid her bundle, and threw the rose shawl about Rue’s naked form.

   
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