For the first time in her life, Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama actually wished for the advice of her mother. Unfortunately, said mother was thousands of leagues away, and probably wouldn’t be much help. She’d simply suggest hitting Quesnel over the head with a parasol. Her on-board confidents would be equally useless. Primrose was too respectable and Percy too disinterested.

I’m on my own with this one.

Early next morning Spoo roused them with the information that Lieutenant Broadwattle’s promised guide was waiting onshore. The guide turned out to be female. She looked terribly familiar, an inordinately tall and beautiful woman swathed in white robes.

Rue was beginning to understand the difference between masculine and feminine garb, and these were the drapes worn by men. Did Miss Sekhmet wish to be mistaken for a man? She supposed the woman was tall and thin enough to carry it off, with her face covered. While her movements were smooth and sensual, they were not precisely feminine.

Rue could see that such apparel might be cooler than her own red-check walking dress with the cream pleated shirtwaist, high neck, and puffed sleeves. She wondered what might be said if she wore a loose tunic and trousers. Since she’d started down the path towards doom by canoodling with a mechanically minded Frenchman only last night, the possibilities seemed endless. Why stop there? Dress reform!

All unaware of Rue’s revolutionary thoughts, Quesnel and Primrose joined her, and they all made their way down the gangplank.

Quesnel seemed actually tongue-tied in the face of Miss Sekhmet’s beauty. A state no doubt entirely unfamiliar to him.

She seemed to have little or no interest in the engineer.

She showed, however, good grace when meeting Primrose.

“You’re our guide?” Prim whispered, her vaunted composure shaken.

Rue, who liked stirring the pot, said, “Miss Sekhmet here represents the counter-interests I was telling you about. Speaking of which, what happened to your negotiator last night? I wore purple and everything.”


Sekhmet’s lip curled. “Hence the reason I am here now and not your scheduled guide.” She looked awfully tired. “Rakshasas got him. Glad you weathered the encounter last night.”

“Not very nice, are they?’

“I did warn you. You knew we were not the only players in India.”

“Of course, but I didn’t think the others would be so very supernatural.”

Sekhmet gave her a funny look at that statement.

“How come you yourself are unable to conduct negotiations?” Rue asked.

Sekhmet gave her another funny look. “Do I seem like the type? Among other things, I’m a woman. I can’t speak for them.”

“Local custom? If you say so. You seem capable enough to me.”

“And now it’s daytime. So we must wait again.”

“What’s your interest then?” Rue wanted to know.

“Me? Balance, I suppose.” Miss Sekhmet got all philosophical. “And keeping you safe. You are our miracle.”

Rue was instantly suspicious. “Did Paw send you?”

“I know not of the Paw. But, Lady Akeldama, you are the only one of your kind.”

“You say that as if she were some rare exotic species and you a collector,” Primrose interjected softly. Prim was prone to getting protective of Rue when people saw only her friend’s metanatural state, and forgot she was also a person.

Miss Sekhmet made that funny little bow. “I apologise. No insult was intended. I understand your wish for freedom, I more than anyone.” It sounded like a vow. “But I also value your uniqueness. In this instance, however, my function is only to act as a liaison and, at the moment, a guide. Come, allow me to show you this amazing city.”

Rue didn’t know why but she trusted the austere beauty.

Primrose was more cautious. Under cover of getting Rue to help secure her sun hat, she said very quietly, “She’s too beautiful for words, but she’s more than that.”

Rue giggled. “Very astute observation.” Her friend seemed to have been thrown for a loop by their new acquaintance, which never happened to Primrose.

“Oh, stop it!” said Prim, blushing. “Give me time to assess her character further. I’ll be more articulate then.”

Rue stopped grinning with an effort. “Come on – looks like we must rescue Quesnel. He’s trying to flirt and she is having none of it.”

Rue warmed to Sekhmet even more. Not only had she discombobulated Prim, but Quesnel was red-faced and stuttering. None of his charm had any effect on the goddess-like female. Miss Sekhmet was merely glaring at him as if he were some unpleasant bug, and rewrapping her head with the white cloth to hide her face.

“It’s best if I’m not recognised and easiest if the locals think me a man,” she explained when Primrose gave her an inquisitive look.

“Oh,” ventured Prim, surprised by her tone. “Then you aren’t a local yourself?”

“Somewhat further west,” was their guide’s reply. Odd thing to say, since west of Bombay was nothing but water.

Prim would have pressed but Miss Sekhmet began striding off at quite a masculine speed, expecting them to follow. Quesnel offered the ladies his arms and they scuttled after. They caught up about halfway down the promenade, only to be hailed by one additional member to their party.

Percy came panting up behind them.

Introductions completed, Primrose regarded her twin, twirling her yellow parasol suspiciously. “You realise, brother dear, we are walking into a city full of people, not books?”

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