Annabelle's office was paneled in old, burnished mahogany, her desk was cherry, and most of her desktop accessories were marble, except for a letter opener made of polished ebony wood. The lights were dim and made the wood glow with a fine sheen, and Annabelle spun around and around in a posh chair that curved exactly right against her back. It was three years after St. Trinian's, and her detective agency was doing very, very well.
Wolves howled across the Thames, and Annabelle itched to strip herself naked and throw herself out the window. She'd run through the city, dodging police and baffling passers-by. She might even run into a butcher shop that hadn't locked its doors well enough, or a warren of rabbits or hares to chase down. Her eyes flared amber and her fingernails itched as she doubled over. The urge to change was always harder to resist on the full moon, but she had a job to do. The Posh Totties were counting on her, and it was almost time for the rendezvous.
The London night air drifted in through the open windows, fog creeping in and pooling on the wooden flooring, worn after years of Fritton women pacing back and forth. It was Great Auntie Millicent's old home, and Annabelle had made Daddy sign the title over to her for a song when he'd been accused of tracking down and murdering Count Gerhard von Struebel. He'd been framed, of course, but only because Vermeer's ghost had thought that Gerhard von Struebel and Daddy had conspired to steal Girl With a Pearl Earring. She'd pretty much had to intervene at that point. Even if he was an unconscionable shit, like Auntie said, he was her father - and she'd been one of the group who'd helped bring Vermeer's angry spirit back.
The mist gathered in the corner, rising into a column. Mist didn't do that. Annabelle spun to a halt in her chair and stared at it, hands planted on her desk and waiting. It moved excruciatingly slowly, piling atop itself until it had taken on the outline of a human form, one with dark brown eyes, dark brown eyes that reflected the amber glow of Annabelle's own, until the figure took on a more distinct shape, a woman with a bobbed haircut, crimson lipstick and a form-fitting black jumpsuit that had been paired with a leather coat. She held still, like the grave, until the mist vanished and she'd become a solid, real presence in the office.
"Hello, beautiful," said Kelly Jones, with a wide, toothy smile, her sharp canines glinting in the moonlight shining through the open window. "Thought you'd have been off running with the wolves already."
"Kelly Jones." Annabelle's smile was feral. "Thought you'd have been off blowing things up with MI-7 already."
"Not when my girl calls." Every step she took toward Annabelle was sleek and predatory. Neither would look away from the other. Annabelle stood still, growling at Kelly, whose smile grew wider as she closed in. When she was within a hairsbreadth of the desk, she jumped over it and tackled Annabelle, who didn't resist when Kelly gave her a long kiss.
"I just need help with one job." Annabelle frowned and pushed Kelly back, then put her hand on Kelly's shoulder and held her off when she tried to kiss Annabelle a second time. "One job that has to be done right now, because the Posh Totties need their book by midnight on the full moon when Venus is aligned. Which is tonight."
"Let's go, then," said Kelly, nodding. "Faster we get it, faster I get you."
Annabelle raced along the manor grounds, the smell of crushed grass wafting up from beneath her paws as Kelly swirled along beside her, a bit of mist adrift in the London fog. Kelly moved faster than any natural mist ever would, but automated security cameras wouldn't pick that up.
She skidded to a halt at a rounded cupola at the back of the house. The light from the street lamps didn't reach past the house, and no light leaked from the windows. It wasn't as if she and Kelly needed much to see, after all. Annabelle looked up at the full moon and let the wolf go, her human self bleeding to the surface and pushing the wolf deep down inside. For now.
"Nice view," said Kelly, coalescing out of the night air. She handed Annabelle a backpack with clothing and smirked as Annabelle blushed and started tugging on a pair of black trousers.
"Polly said she'd disable the alarm system," said Annabelle. They didn't have time for flirting, though she'd wanted to let Kelly have her way in the office. "But what about the wards?"
Kelly leaned against Leighton House, one palm flat on the brick wall, before Annabelle could do more than let out a yelp of surprise. "None to keep vampires out. What about you, love? Any for werewolves?"
Annabelle sighed and touched the tip of one finger to the cool brick wall. Nothing, not even a glimmer of electricity ran through her body. "It looks like they thought their only threats would be witches."
"Like a St. Trinian's girl ever has only one option," purred Kelly as she stared at Annabelle with smoky eyes.
"Come on," said Annabelle, grinning. She jumped into the tree, shimmying up the trunk to the solid branches reaching across the roof. "You can flirt while we're working."
Security was solid, with cameras at every juncture and wards outlined on windows and doors that had been locked and alarmed against intruders. Normal intruders, at least, since stuffy old Arthurian covens didn't take into account the kind of technomancy Polly and the rest of the geeks had started using.
Locks, of course, had never been a barrier for any girl who spent even six months at St. Trinian's. All the useful bits were locked away, so if you wanted to get anything done around the school, you learned how to get past barriers. Annabelle pulled out a set of lockpicks she'd stowed in the pocket of her backpack and set to work on the door. It would only take her a couple of minutes to get in.
Kelly, on the other hand, waved with fingers that were already turning to mist, passing through the cracks in the doors, and then opened it for Annabelle with a bit of a smirk. "Come on. Where did you say the Rossettis hid it?"
"The Arab Hall, I think it's called." Annabelle pushed past Kelly and into Leighton House. It smelled musty and old, full of furniture oil and dust - and it stank of magic too. Magic made her nose itch. "Daddy took me here once, but all he did was talk about how he was brokering to bring Flaming June back to England so he could get a book deal."
"Never got one, did he?" asked Kelly, strolling along and tapping her red nails on her throat.
"When does he ever?" scoffed Annabelle. "Come on. The Rossettis won't have made it easy to find."
The Arab Hall was covered in intricate mosaics, blues and greens, plants and geometrics and animals, even mermaids on the lintels. A fountain streamed in the middle of the room, stopping Kelly at the doorway.
"Running water, Annabelle," she said, shaking her head. "Guess I'm on guard duty."
"Right." Annabelle swallowed and stepped into the room. Everything smelled like water, fresh and clean, piped in from a stream running below the house. No wonder Kelly couldn't cross.
There were mosaic palm trees with intricately tiled peacocks resting on top of them. One of them led to a darker spot on the floor, marked with blood magic. Guinevere's coven had found the Rossetti's hiding spot, and they'd hidden that with magic so Christina could never find the grimoire again, find it and take it to the Goblin Market and bring Laura and Lizzie back to St. Trinian's like she'd promised them.
"Posh Totties take their loyalty to each other very seriously," muttered Annabelle.
"Alarm's only going to be off for five more minutes, love," called Kelly.
Magic couldn't find the grimoire, because magic had hidden it, and vampires couldn't get past the running water, but St. Trinian's had its first werewolf in three hundred years, and she'd been Head Girl. She could find one musty old grimoire in one stupid mosiac-filled hallway. She could.
The smell of fresh water may have filled the room, and ashes still stank in a fireplace that hadn't been lit in a hundred or so years, but blood was underlying all of it. It was just a trace, just a bit of odor that had been covered up by furniture oil and the scents of a thousand visitors a year. Annabelle took one tentative step toward the window seat, then another. The cushions were new, replaced since Christina had been there, but Gabriel's claw marks were still in the marble underneath.
"Got it," said Annabelle. She reached for the gouges in the marble, then growled and yanked her hand back when she got a shock. Wherever the Posh Totties had gotten their information, they were right. Any historical coven founded by Queen Guinevere wasn't going to want a St. Trinian's girl taking a grimoire from them, even a grimoire that had belonged to one of their own.
"The incantation, Kelly!" Annabelle cradled her hand against her chest. It hadn't just been a shock. Her skin was blackened; it was going to take a while to heal. "You're supposed to be reading it!"
"I didn't know you'd found the grimoire already!" exclaimed Kelly. She pulled out a pink notebook and wrinkled her nose at the perfume as she flipped it open.
"Better do it fast," said Annabelle, as Kelly started chanting in Old English.
The words rolled over her, the sound rounding the corners and reverberating through the whole hall. Narcissus' statue, just outside the hall, started rattling on its pedestal and Annabelle reached for the gouged marble. This time lightning didn't burn her hand, so she flipped up the stone and yanked the grimoire out of the alcove. She didn't bother with putting it in the backpack, just leapt up and ran for the door.
"How long can Polly keep the alarms suppressed?" she asked, diving out the door and past Kelly, who whirled around and started running alongside her.
"Sixty more seconds," said Kelly. "Not enough time to get upstairs. We might have to go out the front door."
"Take the book," said Annabelle, shoving it at her. She unhooked the backpack from her shoulders and let it drop, then tugged her shirt off and let that drop as well. She stopped for just long enough to shimmy out of the skirt, and Kelly grabbed it before it dropped to the floor. She shoved it into Annabelle's backpack along with her shirt - and probably the grimoire too.
"Evidence, darling," murmured Kelly. "I can tell you need more practice breaking into places that care about catching criminals more than they care about covering up their unsavory activities."
"Damn," muttered Annabelle. She skidded to a halt at the front door, grabbing it and yanking it open just as the floodlights clicked on and the alarms started blaring hard enough to drive her right into a migraine.
She was getting a little tired of being caught naked on security cameras. Hopefully they'd turn on last, after Annabelle blurred between the wolf and the human, until the only thing standing in the doorway was a rather large wolf, surrounded by swirling mist that laughed softly. She padded down the front steps and gathered speed, leaping over the fence and landing on the pavement with a huffing sound.
"Meet you at Chelsea's," said Kelly, letting the wind carry her away.
When Annabelle showed up at Chelsea's flat, slightly bedraggled and with burrs clinging to her fur, Chelsea ushered her inside and one of the younger Posh Totties on summer holidays without anyplace else to go was summoned to brush the tangles out of her coat. Annabelle supposed she could change to a shape where she could form words and complain, but Saffy looked thrilled to be giving anyone, even a werewolf, a makeover, so Annabelle just rolled her eyes as best she could and let Saffy set to work.
"You have it?" Chelsea held out her hand, serious-looking and back to the wire cells that she'd been wearing when they'd been doing School Challenge.
"Queen Guinevere's coven cast a lighnting spell on its hiding place," said Kelly, fishing in the backpack. "You're lucky it was Annabelle there. Fire and I don't get long very well, even if I could've gotten past the running water."
"I know," said Chelsea. She gestured to the top of the stairs, where Peaches and Chloe were carrying down some ritual robes - silk and chiffon, of course, and tastefully embroidered. Even Annabelle's flattened wolf vision could tell that. Or maybe it was just that she knew how those three were. "Why do you think we hired Annabelle? Her rates too high, but we knew she'd get it."
That was enough of that little rumor. Annabelle nudged Saffy with her muzzle, enough to push her away, then let her human shape bleed through all her glorious fur, let her senses dull even more and let her teeth blunt. When she was finally human again, Chelsea was looking away, Saffy had fled the room, and Peaches was laughing at both of them. Chloe was just smirking.
"Oh my God, Annabelle!" exclaimed Chelsea. "Your nails! You need a manicure. Immediately!"
"That can wait, Chelsea." She grabbed her backpack from Kelly and found a dress to pull on over her head, then rummaged for the grimoire, which had managed to shift to the bottom of the bag. "You owe me a rather large check."
"Which I will cut after the rite that brings unending prosperity and beauty to us and ours through the end of time," said Chelsea, holding out her hand. "Then it'll go through."
"Someone's still a little mad about the curse on Morgan Le Fay's descendants," explained Peaches. She dumped the robes into Chelsea's arms and enveloped Annabelle and Kelly in hugs. Chloe came in, wafting perfume in clouds around her, and did the same.
"Poverty is not the natural state of my life," said Chelsea. "It's been inflicted on my family for more than a thousand years. It's about time we did something about it."
"And your nails," said Peaches, grabbing Annabelle's hand and inspecting it after Chloe took the book and started flipping through, muttering an incantation under her breath. Annabelle tried to listen, but even wolf ears couldn't always catch the language of magic.
"Chelsea's gotten very tired of depending her boyfriends for money," explained Chloe. "And I need to get Great-Great-Great Aunts Laura and Lizzie out of fairy land."
"But her nails! She sacrificed them for us!" exclaimed Chelsea, with a dirty look at Chloe.
"Magic first," said Peaches, smiling and taking the grimoire from Chloe. "Manicures after.
With that, the Posh Totties disappeared in a cloud of perfume. Or magic. Annabelle wasn't sure which she was smelling.
"So what do you want to do while we wait for them?" asked Kelly, smirking.
"I'm sure they have a guest bedroom around somewhere, drawled Annabelle. "Though how can you possibly love me with ruined fingernails?"
"I think I can overlook it," said Kelly, her eyes gleaming. "Race you there?"
Even in her human body, a werewolf was more than a match for a vampire's speed.