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    “Well, given the general foulness of food while floating, that could simply have been a coincidence.” Professor Lyall removed his spectacles and began to clean the clear lenses with a spotless white handkerchief.

    “Oh, Professor Lyall, are you making a funny? It doesn’t suit you.”

    The sandy-haired Beta gave Lady Maccon a dour look. “I am exploring new personality avenues.”

    “Well, stop it.”

    “Yes, my lady.”

    Alexia straightened her spine as much as her protruding belly would allow and looked down her nose at Professor Lyall where he sat, legs crossed elegantly. “Explain to me how you have arrived at this solution. Also, given that you have not proposed this scheme to the hives, how do you know with such confidence that it will stop this annoying little tick they seem to have developed wherein they continually try to murder me?”

    Professor Lyall looked helplessly at his coconspirators. Lord Maccon, with a wide grin, slouched back into the golden velvet settee, making it creak in protest. Neither Lord Akeldama nor any of his drones were built to Lord Maccon’s scale. The couch was overwhelmed by the experience. It had this in common with a good deal of furniture.

    Lord Akeldama merely continued to twinkle unhelpfully.

    Clearly surmising that he had been left out to dry, Professor Lyall took a long breath. “How did you know it was my idea?”

    Alexia crossed her arms over her very ample chest. “My dear sir, give me some credit.”

    Professor Lyall put his glasses back on. “Well, we know that the vampires are afraid of what your child could be, but I think they are wise enough to know that if raised with the proper precautions, even the most natural-born predator will behave in an entirely civilized fashion. You, for example.”

    Alexia raised an eyebrow.

    Her husband snorted derisively.

    Professor Lyall refused to be intimidated. “You may be a tad outrageous, Lady Maccon, but you are always civilized.”

    “Hear, hear,” added Lord Akeldama, raising a long-stemmed glass and then taking a sip of the pink fizzy drink within.

    Lady Maccon inclined her head. “I shall take that as a compliment.”

    Professor Lyall soldiered bravely on. “It is vampire nature to believe that any vampire, even—you’ll pardon the insult, my lord—Lord Akeldama, will instill the correct ethical code in a child. A vampire father would ensure the baby is kept away from the corruption of Americans, Templars, and other like-minded antisupernatural elements. And, of course, you, Lord and Lady Maccon. Simply put, the hives will feel like they are in control, and all death threats should stop as a result.”

    Alexia looked at Lord Akeldama. “Do you agree with that prediction?”

    Lord Akeldama nodded. “Yes, my dearest marigold.”

    The earl was beginning to look less annoyed and more thoughtful.

    Professor Lyall continued. “Lord Akeldama seemed the best solution.”

    Lord Maccon wrinkled his nose at that and huffed derisively.

    Professor Lyall, Lord Akeldama, and Alexia all pretended not to hear.

    “He is more powerful than any other rove in the area. He has a goodly number of drones. He is centrally located, and as potentate, he carries the authority of Queen Victoria. Few would dare interfere with his household.”

    Lord Akeldama tapped Lyall playfully with the back of one hand. “Dolly, you flatterer, you.”

    Professor Lyall ignored this. “He is also your friend.”

    Lord Akeldama looked up to his ceiling, as though contemplating possible new canoodling for the painted cherubs depicted there. “I have also implied that because of a certain unmentionable incident this winter, the hives owe me a debt of honor. My potentate predecessor may have taken matters into his own lily-white hands, but the fact remains that the hives should have exerted some control over his activities on their behalf. His kidnapping of my droney poo was utterly inexcusable, and they are very well aware of that little fact. I hold a blood debt and intend to bite them back with this arrangement.”

    Alexia looked at her friend. His posture and demeanor were as relaxed and frivolous as ever, but there was a hardness about his mouth that suggested he actually meant what he was saying. “That is a rather serious statement coming from you, my lord.”

    The vampire smiled, showing fang. “Better revel in the experience, my little cream puff. It will probably never occur again.”

    Lady Maccon nibbled at her lower lip and went to sit in one of Lord Akeldama’s more upright chairs. She found it tricky these days to extract herself from couches and love seats and preferred simply not to get involved with plushy furniture.

    “Oh, I can’t think.” She rubbed at her belly, annoyed at the fuzziness in her own brain, the persistent product of lack of sleep, physical discomfort, and hunger. She seemed to spend all her time either eating or dozing—sometimes dozing while eating and, once or twice, eating while dozing. Pregnancy had given her a new window into the human capacity for consumption.

    “Oh, blast it, I’m positively starving.”

    Instantly, all three men proffered up comestibles extracted from inner waistcoat pockets. Professor Lyall’s offering was a ham sandwich wrapped in brown paper, Lord Maccon’s a weather-beaten apple, and Lord Akeldama’s a small box of Turkish delight. Months of training had seen the entire werewolf household running attendance on an increasingly grumpy Alexia and learning, to a man, that if food was not provided promptly, fur might fly, or worse, Lady Maccon would start to weep. As a result, several of the pack now crinkled as they moved, having desperately stashed snacks all about their personage.

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