Dama watched in approval. “You look very nice this evening, Primrose, my petal! I take it your mother did not have a hand in choosing that particular dress?”

Prim flushed at the compliment. “Certainly not! Fortunately for me, her attention is otherwise occupied with hive matters and my wardrobe is mostly my own to command. Although she still doesn’t trust me with hats.”

Rue bounced over to sit next to Dama, pulling out the snuff box.

The vampire leaned away from it, peering through a monocle he didn’t require, as though intellectually intrigued. “Was it difficult, my sugarplum?”

“Not at all. I wasn’t able to be quite as subtle as I hoped, so had to borrow wolf off Uncle Rabiffano to escape.”

“Oh, poor boy.” The briefest of pauses and then Dama flittered his fingers in the air. “Given your birth parents, my pudding, I suspect subtlety will forever be beyond your ken. Perhaps we should work on that?”

Rue wasn’t offended. Why be subtle when a good dose of the supernatural worked perfectly in most situations? “You’re probably right.”

“You know, Rue, someday you will be in a pickle with no vampire or werewolf nearby and then what will you do?” Prim was ever the voice of reason.

Rue considered. “Act like you, of course, dear Dama.”

The vampire was not to be flattered out of his parental concern. “And if that doesn’t work?”

“Probably hurl a heavy object.”


Prim muttered to the cat, “Lacking subtlety is not the only familial similarity.”

“What was that?” Rue looked at her sharply.

“Nothing at all.” Prim widened her eyes and continued petting the feline.

Rue said, in an effort to shift matters, “Dama, I do wish you’d give me something more challenging to do.”

“All in good time, my sweet.” The vampire reached for the snuff box but Rue held it away from him protectively in her bare hand, a hand he wouldn’t dare touch.

“What’s this, Puggle?” Dama tossed his blond locks and pouted. Given that he had what one admirer had once described as the face of Ganymede on earth, the pout looked very well on him. Which he knew, of course.

“Nope,” Rue could resist the pout. “First tell me why it’s so important.”

The lower lip wobbled.

Primrose hid a smile at the vampire’s theatrics, so very like her own earlier that evening.

Rue waggled the little box temptingly back and forth out of the vampire’s reach.

They all knew he could not take the box away from her, even with supernatural speed. The moment he touched her skin, Rue would have his vampire abilities and still be in possession of the snuff box. The vampires called her soul-stealer, the werewolves called her flayer, the scientists metanatural, and there hadn’t been one like her for thousands of years. She’d spent her childhood spoiled and studied in turn, combating three overbearing parents. It made for interesting results. Results like the fact that even the most powerful rove in the whole of the British Empire could not extract one snuff box from her if she didn’t want him too.

“Troublesome infant,” grumbled Dama, and stopped the simulated pouting.


“It’s not the snuff box, nor the snuff, my little limpet.”


Dama crossed his arms. “Did you examine it closely?”

“Of course.”

The vampire arched one perfect blond eyebrow – exactly the correct shade, slightly darker than his hair. Artificially darkened, of course, but then his hair was artificially lightened every evening. Dama left nothing to chance, least of all his own appearance.

Rue stood and went to retrieve a pair of high powered glassicals from a nearby sideboard. She popped them on, the single magnification lens emphasising her left eye to such an extent as to seem grotesque. Even though, if asked, Rue would have said her eyes were her best feature.

She checked the snuff box over carefully, running her hands along the sides. Soon she spotted the secondary catch inside the box, buried in snuff. It was tiny and hidden beneath the lid’s silver hinge.

“Careful!” warned Dama, too late.

Rue pressed the catch. The top of the inside of the box flipped open to reveal a hidden chamber underneath. Of course, this sprayed snuff everywhere, covering Rue’s head and chest in a fine coating of peppery smelling brown powder. The glassicals protected her eyes and Rue was so taken with her discovery that she didn’t bother to brush the snuff from her hair and décolletage.

Prim stood – the cat murmured an objection – and marched over, partly to examine the discovery, partly to repair the damage to Rue’s appearance.

“What is it? More snuff?” she asked, applying her handkerchief with vigour.

Inside the bottom compartment of the box was more vegetative matter.

Rue shook her head, snuff puffed out of her hair. “No, the leaf is too big. A new breed of pipe tobacco?” She was already sticking her nose down to sniff. She couldn’t get through the scent of snuff, however. She wasn’t in wolf form, so she hadn’t the nose to distinguish nuances.

The vampire tut-tutted and used a silk scarf to clean his adopted daughter’s face. “No, darling, no, not tobacco.”

Rue crowed out the only other possibility. “Tea!”

Dama nodded. “Indeed. A new kind, Puggle. They tell me it grows better, faster and in a wider range of climates than the Chinese varieties. Can you imagine the possibilities in India if this turns out to be a viable beverage?”

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