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Rue began tapping her foot. Prim wouldn’t notice but Uncle Rabiffano would most certainly hear.
Rabiffano turned towards her, grateful for the interruption. “Very well, if you persist in meddling, go meddle.”
“As if I needed pack sanction.”
“Convinced of that, are you?” Rabiffano tilted his head eloquently.
Sometimes it was awfully challenging to be the daughter of an Alpha werewolf.
Deciding she’d better act before Uncle Rabiffano changed his mind on her father’s behalf, Rue glided away, a purposeful waft of pale pink and black lace. She hadn’t Prim’s elegance, but she could make a good impression if she tried. Her hair was piled high atop her head and was crowned by a wreath of pink roses – Uncle Rabiffano’s work from earlier that evening. He always made her feel pretty and… tall. Well, taller.
She paused at the refreshment table, collecting four glasses of bubbly and concocting a plan.
At the card room door, Rue reached for a measure of her dear mother’s personality, sweeping it about herself like a satin capelet. Personalities, like supernatural shapes, came easily to Rue. It was a skill Dama had cultivated. “Were you anyone else’s daughter,” he once said, “I should encourage you to tread the boards, Puggle dearest. As it stands, we’ll have to make shift in less public venues.”
Thus when Rue nodded at the footman to open the card room door it was with the austere expression of a bossy matron three times her age.
“But, miss, you can’t!” The man trembled in his knee britches.
“The door, my good man,” insisted Rue, her voice a little deeper and more commanding.
The footman was not one to resist so firm an order, even if it came from an unattached young lady. He opened the door.
Rue was met by a cloud of cigar smoke and the raucous laughter of men without women. The door closed behind her. She looked about the interior, narrowing in on the many snuff boxes scattered around the room. The chamber, decorated without fuss in brown leather, sage, and gold, seemed to house a great many snuff boxes.
“Lady Prudence, what are you doing in here?”
Rue was not, as many of her age and station might have been, overset by the presence of a great number of men. She had been raised by a great number of men – some of them the type to confine themselves to card rooms at private balls, some of them the type to be in the thick of the dancing, plying eyelashes and gossip in measures to match the ladies. The men of the card room were, in Rue’s experience, much easier to handle. She dropped her mother’s personality – no help from that here – and reached for someone different. She went for Aunt Ivy mixed with Aunt Evelyn. Slightly silly, but perceptive, flirtatious, unthreatening. Her posture shifted, tail-bone relaxing back and down into the hips, giving her walk more sway, shoulders back, jutting the cleavage forward, eyelids slightly lowered. She gave the collective gentlemen before her an engaging good-humoured grin.
“Oh dear, I do beg your pardon. You mean this isn’t the ladies’ embroidery circle?”
“As you see, quite not.”
“Oh, how foolish of me.” Rue compared each visible snuff box against the sketch she’d been shown, and dismissed each in turn. She wiggled further into the room as though drawn by pure love of masculinity, eyelashes fluttering.
Then Lord Fenchurch, unsure of how to cope with a young lady lodged in sacred man-space, desperately removed a snuff box from his waistcoat pocket and took a pinch.
There was her target. She swanned over to the lord in question, champagne sloshing. She tripped slightly and giggled at her own clumsiness, careful not to spill a drop, ending with all four glasses in front of Lord Fenchurch.
“For our gracious host – I do apologise for disturbing your game.”
Lord Fenchurch set the snuff box down and picked up one of the glasses of champagne with a smile. “How thoughtful, Lady Prudence.”
Rue leaned in towards him conspiratorially. “Now, don’t tell my father I was in here, will you? He might take it amiss. Never know who he’d blame.”
Lord Fenchurch looked alarmed.
Rue lurched forward as if under the influence of too much bubbly herself, and snaked the snuff box off the table and into a hidden pocket of her fluffy pink ball gown. All her ball gowns had hidden pockets no matter how fluffy – or how pink, for that matter.
As Rue made her way out of the room, she heard Lord Fenchurch say, worried, to his card partner, “Which father do you think she means?”
The other gentleman, an elderly sort who knew his way around London politics, answered with, “Bad either way, old man.”
With which the door behind her closed and Rue was back in the cheer of the ballroom and its frolicking occupants – snuff box successfully poached. She dropped the silly persona as if shedding shape, although with considerably less pain and cost to her apparel. Across the room she met Prim’s gaze and signalled autocratically.
Primrose bobbed a curtsey to Uncle Rabiffano and made her way over. “Rue dear, your wreath has slipped to a decidedly jaunty angle. Trouble must be afoot.”
Rue stood patiently while her friend made the necessary adjustments. “I like trouble. What were you and Uncle Rabiffano getting chummy about?” Rue was casual with Prim on the subject; she really didn’t want to encourage her friend. It wasn’t that Rue didn’t adore Uncle Rabiffano – she loved all her werewolf uncles, each in his own special way. But she’d never seen Uncle Rabiffano walk out with a lady. Prim, Rue felt, wasn’t yet ready for that kind of rejection.