She met the cat’s gaze. Oddly enough, the animal had brown eyes. Rue didn’t think cats could have brown eyes. But then, who was she to question anyone else’s eye colour? Given hers were an odd sort of yellow.

Quesnel raised his wrist and took aim.

“Wait, stop.” Rue put a hand on his arm above where the weapon was strapped and pushed down. Quesnel resisted. He was remarkably strong. Rue took a moment to be impressed – he didn’t look physically fit.

Rue and the cat stared at one another.

The lioness blinked.

Rue blinked back. “I don’t think she intends to hurt us. I don’t think she means to hurt anyone.”

The cat tilted her head back and forth, gaze sliding between the three of them. She looked at Primrose for a long moment and then, in an amazingly fluid movement, she leapt over the table, grabbed Rue’s hideous parasol up in her mouth, turned, and charged out of the tea-shop by way of one of the front windows. Which were not open, mind you. The resulting crash resulted in several more screams. Pandemonium reigned outside in the assembly area as the cat skidded through the crowds there, parasol firmly clutched in her teeth.

Rue was not amused. “Come back here, you mangy beast! That’s my mother’s parasol.” Rue hiked up her skirts, regardless of showing ankle to the entire tower, and gave case.

Quesnel and Prim, still crouched behind the table, barely registered her impetuous action. Both tried to rise at once and got caught up in the tea things and each other so that by the time they reached the broken window of the tea-shop, both lioness and Rue had vanished into the milieu of the Maltese Tower.

Rue chased the parasol and the cat through the crowd. The assembled personnel seemed mainly annoyed by the disturbance. A few were quite upset by a rampaging lioness with an ugly accessory in her jaws – but their concern seemed more to do with the risk to the parasol rather than the presence of the lioness. Rue also garnered dirty looks. After all, since she was chasing after the beast, they assumed it was her lioness off-lead. The cat relaxed into an easy loping pace, fast enough so that Rue could not catch her but slow enough for her black tail tip to be ever beyond Rue’s reach, like an extremely frustrating fishing lure. Rue wished one of her father’s pack were nearby – if she could steal wolf form for a while she could certainly catch the blasted creature. Not that any werewolf could withstand being up so high and so close to the aetherosphere.

The lioness dodged between two food booths – one which dealt in fish and chips, the other smelling of curry. Behind the stands was a shanty town of dockworkers’ hovels made of old scrap metal and stretched fabric. Laundry dangled between and above the makeshift structures. Rue charged through, blissfully unaware of the impracticality of a lady of means running with skirts hiked up – and no bloomers – into what amounted to a sky-high slum.


The cat flicked inside one of the not-quite-buildings and Rue paused, suddenly aware of her surroundings. There were only a few people visible but she had the distinct impression of many eyes upon her. This was someone’s home she was about to enter, without invitation. Dama’s face appeared before her, finger shaking madly. Vampires were very taken with proper invitations. Then again, there was a lioness inside with her parasol! If anyone could think of a better excuse for barging in uninvited, she’d like to hear it.

So Rue barged.

There was no door, only a weight of bright material hanging long and heavy in the entranceway. Rue parted it and cleared her throat. “Um, pardon me, is anyone home?”

No answer.

“Yoo-hoo. May I come in, please? It seems your lioness has possession of my accessory.”

When still no one answered, Rue pushed through the fabric.

It was dim inside after the brightness of the station with all its gas lighting and colourful activity. It took Rue’s all-too-human eyes a moment to adjust. She simply stood still and waited.

The room was tiny, pleasantly furnished with a mismatch of crates draped in bright swathes of cloth and pretty cushions of varying shapes and sizes – so many pillows, in fact, that they fell about littering the carpeted floor. Glass baubles, strings of shells, golden fringe, and large tassels dangled from hooks and protuberances. It reminded Rue of a fortune-teller’s caravan or possibly a peddler’s covered wagon. Not that she’d had occasion to see many, but she could imagine what they might look like.

It was empty. No cat. No parasol.

Then out of the shadows and through a curtain of wooden beads walked the most unbelievably beautiful woman Rue had ever seen.

Rue’s perspective on beauty was not confined to those of British high society, although she could certainly see Prim’s loveliness, a classic English rose with milky complexion and dark chestnut curls. She could also see the Nordic beauty in her troublesome Uncle Channing for all his objectionable arrogance and uncertain temper, a chilly combination of ice and ivory. But she could also see beauty in the Fisk Jubilee Singers, all ebony and lace and sweet melodies, and in the copper-coloured drones Aunt Ivy had inherited with her Egyptian vampire hive.

This woman’s skin was a dark tea colour, her eyes huge and almond-shaped. Her cheekbones were high enough to etch glass and her neck was long and impossibly graceful. Her nose might be a tad assertive by British standards, straight and dominant, and her lips, though full and well-shaped, were set firm.

Rue’s breath actually whooshed out of her.

Finally she breathed in and coughed. All she could think to say was, “Are you on the stage? You should be.”

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