Rue frowned. “You’d be stomping all over Bloody John’s territory. No wonder you wanted this to be secretive.” The East India Company was referred to as Bloody John as it was mostly backed by vampire hives. If Dama wanted a controlling interest in a tea farm overseas, he was going up against other vampires. Vampires whose interest – as potentate – he was supposed to protect. A delicate matter indeed.

Dama twinkled at her. “I’m going to check this leaf against the British pallet. If it’s drinkable, I’m investing in eight thousand plants and you, my darling Puggle-girl, are going to India to meet said plants, ascertain the location and acquisition of land, hire supervisors, and commence distribution.”

Primrose was pleased. “India? Lovely! Weren’t you just saying we should get out of London, Rue?” She looked to her friend for approbation.

No one, not even Dama, questioned the fact that Primrose would go with Rue. Prim always went with Rue. Besides, Rue couldn’t very well travel as an unmarried young lady alone.

“Dama. What a delightful scheme. But – and I don’t mean to throw a spanner – what do I know about tea-growing? I’ll need native contacts familiar with the territory and climate.” But Rue was already considering her options, and Dama only nodded. “And, more importantly, who are you going to test the tea on?”

“Your mother, of course, Puggle,” replied the vampire. “Can you think of a better option?”

“Unfortunately, no.” Rue grimaced, snapped the secret compartment shut and closed the snuff box. She went to hand it over to Dama but then held on to it.

“India, did you say, Dama?”

“India, my darling heart. I have specialist tea contacts in that area ready to meet with you and facilitate this endeavour.”

“Of course you do.” But Rue was smiling.

“Doesn’t everyone have specialist tea contacts?” Dama smiled back.


“Mother and Paw approve your plan?”

“Ah, yes, well, I haven’t exactly talked to your blood parents on the subject yet.”

“Oh dear,” said Prim. She adored Dama and his drones, and could cope very well with vampires, having been raised in a hive, but she was rather terrified of Rue’s blood parents. The formidable Lord and Lady Maccon were both prone to yelling loudly and bashing the noggins of those whose opinions did not mesh with theirs. Even though they had grown up best friends, Primrose had rarely been exposed to them. Rue had rarely been exposed to them, for that matter.

Primrose was frowning. “How will we get to India?”

Dama brightened. He had been waiting for this question. “Aha! Now that, my posy, is an answer I believe Puggle here will very much enjoy.”

Rue, intrigued, gave him what he wanted – the snuff box.

Dama took it carefully so as not to disturb the contents or to touch her hand. He slid it inside his waistcoat pocket. The waistcoat was made of gold lace over fine teal silk with jet buttons, and looked to be so tight a pocket would not accommodate a gooseberry, let alone a snuff box. Nevertheless, it disappeared within, as if by magic.

The vampire was about to tell them more when his head jerked up. He bared his fangs, showing the full length. His nostrils flared as if he scented something in the air.

Rue was instantly on guard. “What?”

Dama held up one unnaturally pale hand to quiet her. His perfect face, too beautiful, narrowed and became hunter-like. “Intruder.”

The door knocker reverberated sharp and loud.

They all jumped to stand.

A rustle and a clatter emanated from the hallway and a drone’s pleasant voice said, “What ho?” to whomever was on the other side of the door. There was a soft murmur of exchanged pleasantries. Then the drone said loudly, trained to be at a level that his vampire master could hear from the drawing room, “No, you may not come in. Not invited. But I’ll fetch her for you, if you insist.”

A moment later a tentative knock came at the drawing room door. “My lord?”

“Yes, Winkle?”

Winkle trotted in. Winkle was one of Dama’s current favourites. He was a devilishly exotic-looking chap, with features that hinted at Far Eastern or possibly Pan Pacific ancestry. His hair was as glossy and as black as jet mourning jewellery, his dark eyes tilted becomingly and his face was completely free of any topiary. He smiled easily and often with the merest hint of dimples. He also spoke several languages and played the clarinet beautifully. Good traits to look for in any man, Dama informed her, as it led to a very strong tongue. Rue had made a mental note of the advice and tried not to wonder as to the particulars.

“Wimbledon hive vampire at the door, my lord, sent to fetch Miss Tunstell.”

Prim stamped her little foot in annoyance. “Queen Mums. Bother her.”

Winkle grinned. “You know she doesn’t approve when you visit this house. She’d rather you chose the den next door and kept up the pretence of only associating with werewolves.”

“I wish it were only a matter of vampire politics,” grumbled Primrose. “Excuse me, my lord, but you must know, Queen Mums simply doesn’t approve of you. I think it’s your fashion choices.”

Dama did not look offended. “My dear, I cannot think of a better reason to dislike a person! I must say, for my part, I strenuously object to her hats. Positively everywhere these days, massive hats, massive hair. It’s so regrettably poofy.”

Prim looked frustrated with them both. “Oh really, vampires!”

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