Authors: Lois Greiman
Shaleena was naked. Absolutely exposed from the top of her…
“Mrs. Nettles, you say.”
Rogan McBain’s eye was throbbing.
The door creaked open like the cover to a crypt,…
Why would a woman of Faye Nettles’s faerielike quality, a…
Faye’s stomach convulsed, her throat felt raw. What had she…
“God help me!” Rogan growled, and hunched his shoulders against…
“What did you learn?” Lord Gallo’s voice was as even as…
Lord Lindale was wealthy, refined, and respected. At least that is…
Her lips touched his, firm yet cautious. And with that…
Fear turned Faye’s legs to lead, her throat to marble.
Jasper stood beside Madeline in the doorway of Faye’s bedchamber.
Les Chausettes were gathered in the parlor when Faye made her…
He was dead.
She had tried to think, had tried to sleep. But…
“Mr. Connelly,” Faye said, injecting her voice with surprise and straightening…
“McBain,” Connelly called, but Bain ignored the noise just as…
“Why are you here, Irish?” McBain growled. Nearly twenty-four hours…
Faye rode alone through the darkening streets of London and…
Rogan stood absolutely still. What had she just said? That…
The reality of what she had just said hit Faye…
Faye kept her steps slow, her head high as she…
Rogan strode between the rows of booths and stalls that…
“Lass…” His voice was a deep rumble in his chest.
Something flipped in her stomach as he kissed her in…
Five times. Not that he was counting. But for such…
What had happened? Faye’s head spun with uncertainty. Originally, she…
Faye spent the remainder of the day in agony. She…
“I’m sorry, lass. So very sorry.” His words were a…
The room was dark, the night quiet. Rogan kissed Faye…
haleena was naked. Absolutely exposed from the top of her fiery head to the tip of her ridiculously pointy toes. Not a bonnet. Not a stocking. Not a stitch.
She must feel silly,
Faye thought. Not to mention chilled.
Summer had yet to visit the soggy streets of London, and no one had stirred a fire in the hearth an arm’s length to Faye’s left. The hearth that housed a secret compartment where one could hide, a compartment where she rather longed to closet herself away so she could no longer see Shaleena’s demmed pointy…
“And what of you, Mrs. Nettles?” Lord Gallo’s voice broke through Faye’s reverie with a jolt, though, in actuality, she’d been watching him the whole while. Far better even to concentrate on the
man in their midst than to stare agog at Shaleena’s oversized…
“Do you still feel prepared to take on this mission?”
Panic struck her like a bolt of lightning.
Mission? There was a mission? What mission?
Had she agreed…But yes. Of course she had, even though she was as mad as a wild hare. Or, perhaps, because of—
“Mrs. Nettles?” Gallo said again, and Faye focused with an effort, calming her mind before something went awry, lifting the delicate teacup carefully from its saucer. It was hand-painted. Imported through the East India Trading Company. She took a refined sip.
“Of course, my lord,” she said, pinky just so, not too stiff, not too limp. She was not, after all, a barbarian. Or so she had been told. “I shall learn who, if anyone, caused the death of Lord Brendier. All will be well.”
There was a moment of silence before Madeline spoke. Some might have felt a bit of breathless anxiety in that silence. “You understand you’ll be expected to speak with…men.”
Faye kept her grip light on the cup’s delicate handle, for they had been known to snap off with the slightest provocation of late. “Of course,” she said, and forced a genteel smile.
“We’ve reason to believe a Mr. Rogan McBain may somehow be involved. It is said he visited
Brendier some hours before the baron was found dead,” Madeline added.
God help me.
“Valuable information,” Faye said.
Madeline’s lovely brow furrowed a little. “McBain is thought to be something of an intimidating character. He was a decorated lieutenant.”
“And there are rumors that he killed someone in a duel some years back. A Mr. Winden, I believe.”
“Then I shall certainly avoid drawing pistols at dawn.”
Madeline’s scowl deepened. “So that’s acceptable to—”
“Oh for Christ’s sake!” hissed Shaleena, and jerked to her feet. Her bosoms bobbled as she pointed a finger at the fireplace. Flames popped like firecrackers on the nearby logs.
Startled from her carefully varnished pretences, Faye jumped, nearly jerking out of her chair. Shaleena laughed.
“I’m sorry, little witch, did I frighten you?”
For a moment, terror ran rampant in Faye’s soul, riding roughshod over her senses, firing up ashy memories, but she forced herself to remain as she was, forced her lips to move, her grip to loosen.
“Not at all. I’m simply—”
“What?” Shaleena asked, and laughed again. “Frightened out of your wits? I’m sorry if my little bit of magic startled you. But that’s what Les Chausettes do. That’s what all those who are gifted do,”
she said, and swept her hand sideways to encompass the handful of others who occupied Lavender House’s elegant parlor. “We freeze and concoct and
” she said, and, lifting her arm again, made the fire burst dramatically upward.
Faye felt her heart thunder in her chest, but when Madeline spoke, her tone evidenced no tension whatsoever.
“Yes, that’s very nice, Shaleena. You may well equal Ella’s pyrotechnics if you continue in your studies, but we did not call this meeting to enjoy your fire show. Indeed, there was something else entirely we hoped—”
“I will challenge your sister,” Shaleena hissed through clenched teeth, “to a match of powers anytime she wishes to humiliate herself and prove to everyone—”
“We have hired a gardener,” interrupted Lord Gallo. All eyes turned to him. His tone, Faye noticed, was somehow bland but assertive all at once.
“A gardener?” questioned Darla. She was not the oldest of the witches, yet her hair, hip length and swaying with a life of its own, was as silver as mercury. “Do you think it wise to bring another into the fold? We have already welcomed the boy named Cur and—”
“Cur!” Shaleena snapped, and turned sharply away, red hair bouncing over fleshy buttocks.
“Have there been troubles with the boy?” asked Gallo, skimming the faces of the women before him.
“No,” Darla said. “He’s…impetuous at times.”
“I’m rather fond of him,” Beatrice said. But Bea had an unearthly bond with the beasts of the field, so it made some sense.
“He’s quite gifted,” said Heddy. She looked like nothing so much as someone’s grandmother. Few suspected the astounding physical strength she could conjure. “For a young male, he is marvelously—”
“Gifted! What can he do?” Shaleena stormed.
“He has quite a talent for changing his voice.”
“Voice. Any jackanapes in Cheapside could do as much,” she argued, and grabbed a fistful of locks near her left breast. “He set my hair on fire.”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
“Well, I believe that answers your question, then,” Madeline said.
“I don’t want him here,” Shaleena rasped.
“His visits are sporadic at most,” Madeline said. “And as you said, this house is for the gifted. Surely you can accept—”
accept. Either he goes or—”
“I would recommend caution,” Gallo said. His voice was almost inaudible, yet it seemed as distinct as sunrise.
Shaleena turned to him with a snarl. “He can barely invoke the simplest of spells.”
“Perhaps you’ve yet to learn all there is to know of our young friend.”
“He is not my friend. Indeed, I am not entirely
certain he’s human. There’s something…disturbing about him. What good is he to us?”
“What good were you when first you came to us, Shaleena?” Gallo asked, and for the first time in her memory, Faye saw Shaleena falter, but she rallied quickly.
“Even then my powers were clear. You said as much yourself.”
“And I am saying the same of the boy. He’s searching for understanding. For a family of sorts that will—”
“Family!” Shaleena spat, and laughed. “What are you trying to tell us, Jasper? That he’s your newly discovered by-blow?”
Perhaps Lord Gallo’s mouth pinched the slightest degree; but if he was angry, he showed no more signs than that. “I am saying some compassion might be in order. Most of you were well aware of the source of your powers long before you could control them. Is that not so?”
“Grandmother’s abilities were far different than mine,” Beatrice said. “But she was clearly gifted.” Others nodded. Faye remained silent. Conjuring memories was a dangerous thing these days.
“Cur was a foundling,” Madeline said.
She and Lord Gallo had been wed less than two full years, but they worked well as a team. “He has no idea of his heritage. No way of knowing—”
“Then he’s among the lucky few,” Shaleena said, “for family…” She stopped abruptly, teeth clenched.
“What of family?” Madeline asked softly, but Shaleena raised her chin, defiant in the face of would-be compassion.
“He’s had fair warning to stay clear of my path,” she said.
“Very well then,” Gallo said, and, rising to his feet, touched his bride’s shoulder, his hand almost hidden from view, as if he had no wish to be thought affectionate but could no longer bear the distance from her. “Then let us discuss the gardener.”
“I only worry about exposing ourselves to too much scrutiny,” Darla said. “Thus far we have got on with a minimum of outside interference, and I would—”
“I think it a fine idea,” Shaleena said, and tossed her hair with vicious verve over her shoulder. “It will be pleasant having a true man about. He
do more than trim the hedges, won’t he?” she asked, raising one brow in a suggestive manner.
“He seems capable of a good deal,” Gallo said dryly. He had long ago become adept at maneuvering the battlefields of conversation. “We have planned for him to care for the stables and act as driver as well.”
“Ahh, an accomplished man,” Shaleena said, preening as she glanced at Madeline. It had been abundantly clear for some time that Shaleena had set her cap for Lord Gallo. Gallo’s burgeoning interest in the soft-spoken Madeline, how
ever, had come as something of a surprise. “How refreshing.”
“Can we trust him?” Darla asked.
“We would not consider him otherwise,” Madeline said. “As I’m sure you’re aware, Jasper has a way of sensing these things.”
Heddy scowled. “Are you saying this gardener is gifted?” Lord Gallo’s ability to “feel” power was what had gained him the unenviable task of gathering the members of the coven, of guiding them, though he claimed no real powers of his own.
“A small amount, perhaps,” Gallo said. “He seems to have the ability to change his appearance somewhat?”
“How unusual,” Darla said, “that we would find
gifted males at once.”
“It is indeed rare,” Gallo admitted.
“Unprecedented here at Lavender House,” Ivy said. She was tall and willowy, with a round face and pretty eyes.
“I don’t care if it’s unheard of in all of Christendom,” Shaleena said. “I am only interested in his…” She slanted her gaze toward Faye. “How shall I say this without making our little faerie there swoon?
nature,” she said finally. “Tell me, Madeline, is this gardener handsome?”
“I believe you may have met him in the past,” Gallo said.
“Truly?” Shaleena sounded intrigued. “Well…I’ve nothing against old lovers so long as they know their—”
“He calls himself Joseph. I believe he might be Hungarian. Or Rom. As you may remember, he was Madeline’s butler for the short while she lived apart from—”
But Shaleena stopped him with a hiss.
Faye turned to her in astonishment, for even from Shaleena, she had never heard such vehemence.
“Is something amiss?” Gallo asked.
“Why would you invite that foreigner here?” Shaleena’s violet eyes narrowed in her alabaster face.
“Because he was brought to us,” Gallo said. “And he needs a place in the world.”
“Find him another place.”
“What have you against him?” Gallo asked.
Shaleena shook her head, eyes wild. “There is something about him.”
Gallo’s usually implacable expression evidenced the slightest hint of curiosity. “What makes you think—”
“Hah!” she crowed. “And you are supposed to be the one who knows these things. Who
these things. The one chosen by the committee to care for us.”
Silence erupted in the room, but Lord Gallo had already recovered from his overt display of emotion. “Feel free to broach my regrettable shortcomings with the committee if ever you feel there’s a need,” he said.
She glared at him for a seeming eternity. “Keep him from my sight,” she hissed, and, turning, stormed from the room.
Silence fell around them.
“Well,” Madeline said finally. “Are there any other concerns?”
There were none, other than Faye’s fervent wish that she
belonged among Les Chausettes. Wished she possessed a fourth of Shaleena’s fire. A smidgen of Madeline’s wisdom. A nugget of Heddy’s strength. Good heavens, she’d settle for Darla’s
For she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she could not complete the mission set before her. Not now. Not ever.