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    “Oh, dear.” Alexia hid a smile. “That, too, is your territory. I see.”

    “An actress, my little blueberry. I mean, really. Have you seen her hats?”

    “You paid a call?”

    “Of course I paid a call! She is a new queen, after all. Etiquette must be observed. But really”—he shuddered delicately—“those hats.”

    Alexia thought of Professor Lyall’s letter. “It is the modern age, my dear Lord Akeldama. I think we must learn to accept such things as a consequence of shifting times.”

    “Shifting times, indeed. What a very werewolf way of putting it.”

    Rumpet opened the door and Prudence toddled sleepily into the room.

    “Ah, puggle precious, how is my darling girl?”

    Alexia grabbed her daughter’s arm before she could launch herself at the vampire. “Dama!”

    At Lady Maccon’s nod, the vampire bent to embrace his adopted child, Alexia maintaining a firm grip the entire time.

    “Welcome home, poppet!”

    “Dama, Dama!”

    Alexia looked on affectionately. “We’ve learned a few things about our girl here, haven’t we, Prudence dear?”

    “No,” said Prudence.

    “One of them is that she doesn’t like her name.”

    “No?” Lord Akeldama looked very thoughtful. “Well, there you have it. I couldn’t sympathize more, puggle. I don’t approve of most people’s names either.”

    Alexia laughed.

    Prudence took sudden interest in Alexia’s parasol, sitting next to her on the settee.

    “Mine?” suggested Prudence.

    “Perhaps someday,” said her mother.

    Looking at his adopted daughter thoughtfully, Lord Akeldama said, “Shifting times, my dear Ruffled Parasol?”

    Alexia did not bother to ask how he might know her secret code name. She only looked him straight on, forthright as always. “Shifting times, Goldenrod.”

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