When Quesnel would have said something more to aggravate the navigator, Rue shook her head at him. “Leave the poor thing be. For goodness’ sake, what exactly did he steal from you to make you so annoyed with him all the time?” she wondered, knowing the question was both intrusive and daring.

Primrose put a hand to her mouth in shock. “Rue, should we discuss such things at the table?”

“We should if it continues to impinge upon everyone’s enjoyment of social discourse.”

“Fair enough.” Quesnel hit her with twinkling violet eyes. “So discuss.”

Rue tried to arrange herself to look sympathetic. “Was it a woman?”

Quesnel inhaled his cabbage and began to cough.

Rue slapped him on the back, hard, and Prim passed him wine.

When he had swallowed two full glasses and wiped his eyes, Rue said, “Well, was it?”

“Not to put too fine a point on it, yes.” Quesnel actually blushed, something he did rather well given his fair skin.

Rue, who had her mother’s swarthy complexion, had always considered it rather a blessing that she didn’t blush easily. It made her, she fancied, seem cool and untouchable. But if she could do it as prettily as Quesnel, she might try in the future.

Primrose jumped to her brother’s defence. “To be fair, Percy is like that.”


Quesnel looked at her. “Like what? A poacher?”

Percy pretended to remain above the whole conversation, although he was obviously listening closely.

“No. He’s deadly attractive to the ladies. Always has been, since Rue and I were little.”

At that, Percy rolled his eyes and Quesnel looked offended.

Rue tried to swallow a smile. “I don’t think you’re helping matters, Prim.”

Prim amended her statement. “Not that you aren’t handsome yourself, Mr Lefoux.”

“Thank you,” said Quesnel immodestly, giving her a seductive glower.

Rue kicked him under the table. He didn’t even flinch.

Prim continued, “Not that I could possibly understand the appeal but females are always flirting shamelessly with Percy. He’s quite the ladykiller, aren’t you, brother dear? I understand our dad was a bit of a dasher as well in his day.”

Percy looked at his sister. “Tiddles, I don’t know what you think you’re doing but it isn’t helping.”

“Not that he tries to be a ladykiller. Of course. He simply can’t stop himself.”

Percy grumbled at his book. “Oh no, it’s my dashing good looks.”

The funny thing was, of course, Primrose was perfectly correct. At any given ball, Percy inevitably found himself surrounded by young ladies angling for a dance. After suffering what amounted to two sisters, Percy was a marvellous dancer and all the society mothers knew it. They also knew that he had powerful relations without being a risky supernatural proposition himself. Untitled, yes, but rich was almost as good, and he ranked high with the sunset crowd by association. One could overlook his parents’ theatrical background and his own curious case of bluestocking fever in favour of such amenities as money, connections, and appearance. As for the young ladies, there was something about his academic snobbery that drew them in like butterflies to a flower – a gawky, uncomfortable flower. They even liked the aloofness. One could never expect to be flattered by Professor Tunstell. Exposure to Percy at a ball, Miss Prospigot had announced recently, hands clasped to her lips, “was positively soul quivering”.

Primrose continued, “He’s always getting himself accidentally engaged. That’s why he withdrew from polite society, isn’t it, Percy? Tired of breaking all those hearts.”

Quesnel sat back, watching the interchange with eyebrows arching so high they almost ate into his hairline. “Very noble of him.”

Rue felt compelled to add, “Sad to say, Mr Lefoux, but she’s perfectly correct. I can’t explain it either.”

“So you haven’t fallen victim to the professor’s unavoidable allure?”

Rue baulked. “I should say not. He’s practically family. Why, I find you far more appealing than old Percy here.”

Prim said, “Hear hear.”

Quesnel looked suddenly pleased with life.

Percy slammed his book closed. “Really, girls! I hardly know the medicine from the ailment.”

Quesnel said, “It’s a strange back-handed compliment, ladies, but I’ll take it.”

Rue sighed, realising that this was all her fault and that she had opened up a topic of far greater intimacy than she should have, being the captain. “I do apologise, gentlemen. And of course, Mr Lefoux, if Professor Tunstell poached your lady-love, whether by accident or design, it is bad form, to say the very least. Professor, did you… poach, as it were?”

Percy snorted. “This conversation is ridiculous. Why should I care for the leavings of a mechanically-minded Frenchman?”

Quesnel stood at that, face flushed. “I say, that’s too far.”

Rue sighed. “Gentlemen, forgive me – this is getting us nowhere. I had hoped to clear the air so things could be more pleasant. That seems unlikely at the moment. Shall we adjourn?”

Percy was already up and away, extra helping of Napier pudding in one hand, book in the other.

Quesnel turned to look at Rue as if he felt he owed her an explanation. “It’s the principle of the thing, chérie. Ungentlemanly behaviour. You know my heart belongs only to you. The sunshine of my life, the moon on my horizon, the––”

Most Popular