They sat.

“What rest? That I’d be strong enough to dump you in a pond at eight years of age?”

“That you’d eventually grow up beautiful with a very long memory.”

He really was a horrible flirt. “But still spoiled? Is that an apology? Accepted.”

He raised golden eyebrows at her. “And?”

“Oh, no, I’m not apologising for dunking you. For all I know, it might need to happen again.”

Quesnel laughed. “Touché. Ah, so, what did you need to see me about, mon petit chou?”

“I’ve been given an airship.”

“I know. I built her. Or at least part of her. Fantastic, isn’t she? I do excellent work. Particularly with kettles.”

Rue swallowed down any snide remarks at this blatant arrogance. “Dama thinks you’re the best candidate for chief engineer. At least on short notice. We’re going to India. What do you say?”

Quesnel did not answer, only gave her a strange look.


Rue babbled, “It’d only be this once. I should think we could easily find a replacement for you after. I could…” She trailed off, uncomfortable.

Finally, Quesnel said, “That’s the most oddly phrased invitation I’ve ever received. Sweet, of course, but odd.”

Rue immediately stood. “Well, if you don’t want to accept that’s perfectly understandable. I only said I’d ask. I know you’re awfully busy and that the countess and your mother like to have you at their disposal.”

“Now, now, pretty lady, don’t be impulsive.” Quesnel grabbed Rue’s hand to keep her from walking off and pulled her back to sit next to him. “Did I say no?”

“It’d be much easier if you did.”

“Now, chérie, when have either of us ever taken the easy route?”

“Good point. So you’re willing?”

He smiled at her, his eyes crinkling up at the corners. Rue knew from past experience they were a disturbing violet colour, but under the moonlight they were silver. He said, “Of course I’m willing.”

Rue said, “Oh bother,” before she could stop herself.

“See, I knew you wanted me there.”

Rue gave him an exasperated look. “Couldn’t you say you had other commitments?”

“When I could torture you for weeks on end in a confined space?”

Rue sighed. “I suppose I can somewhat see the appeal.”

At which, Quesnel Lefoux slid closer and put one arm about her, leaning her back in exaggerated mockery of a Shakespearean lover. “Several weeks aboard ship and you will be unable to resist me.”

Rue batted at him. “Stop it, you ridiculous man.”

Quesnel dived in to administer a loud buzz of a sloppy kiss on Rue’s cheek.

“Mr Lefoux!”

He snickered at his own theatrics and let her go. “Who else has signed on?”

Rue extracted a handkerchief and made a point of wiping off her cheek. “We’ve got a skeleton crew right now. I’ll recruit Primrose and a few others. I’m going to call upon a possible navigator this very evening.”

“Primrose Tunstell? Topping.” On those few occasions when they had met socially, Quesnel always seemed to enjoy Prim’s company. Rue wondered if she detected genuine interest in her friend or if he was simply being Quesnel about it. He did so enjoy the company of women; the ship wasn’t all that big. Either one could prove awkward. Primrose was also a terrible flirt but she had a propensity to actually fall in love, which Quesnel avoided. Besides, if Quesnel felt the urge to be rakish he ought to be rakish with her. Rue was better equipped to withstand his overtures.

“Why India?” Quesnel asked.

“Ostensibly, tea.”


“Well, Dama is sending me.”

“And you think he has an ulterior motive?”

“When doesn’t he? Fond as I am of Dama, he is still a vampire. Not to mention the potentate. Mainly, I think he’s giving me something to do. So I don’t get into any real trouble here. Cause a scandal in London that even all my parents can’t extract me from.”

Quesnel, horrible creature, did not make the appropriate noises about how unlikely that should be. “Good point, mon petit chou. Anything else I should know?”

“There’s a very disagreeable redhead under you as senior greaser.”

“Aggie Phinkerlington?”

“You know her already, do you?”

“Of course I do. We’re grand old chums. Protégée of my mother’s.”

“Of course you’re friendly. And naturally, she knows your mother. Isn’t that simply spiffing?”

“Ah, chérie, I shouldn’t fret. You’ll manage to keep us all in line somehow.”

He was a dozen years older than her, but Rue wasn’t going to let that impinge on her authority. “And don’t you forget it. I’m your captain on this trip and…” She paused, searching for an appropriate threat. “I’m certain they have duck ponds in India.”

Quesnel grinned. “Speaking of which.” In a terribly fast movement for a mortal, he stood, scooping Rue up into his arms. He was strong for a mere inventor – probably from moving all those steam engine kettles around.

Rue protested, wiggling.

Quesnel stilled and looked deeply into her eyes. His glittered with guile.

Most Popular