When they arrived back in London, it was something of an anticlimax. Rue was whisked away to Lord Akeldama’s residence by a whirl of stylish drones. Prim never dared to tell Queen Mums how well-dressed Lord Akeldama’s household were, in case Queen Mums took offence.
Prim wondered what London society would make of Miss Sekhmet, who was more striking than any of Queen Mums’ hive. Percy had yet to be extracted from the library, and God only knew where Quesnel had gotten to, but Prim suspected that nowhere was safe, once Lord Maccon realised what was going on. She didn’t think that Percy was overly worried, now that they had agreed on the byline of their forthcoming paper.
She adjusted her hat and allowed herself to be handed up into Queen Mums’ carriage.
It was only when she was at home, though home was a foreign concept after all of their adventurings, that Prim remembered two things: one, of course, was that she was engaged and her fiancé most likely expected to see her, and the other was that Miss Sekhmet must still be on The Spotted Custard.
Not, of course, that it was any business of Prim’s what Miss Sekhmet chose to do, although she couldn’t imagine that it would be comfortable for a werelioness to stay with a hive, and she did not know how Rue’s Pack might react to another werecreature in their midst.
Prim had another dream. It was the sort that made her wake up with flushed cheeks and tousled hair, as though she had been running her hands through it in her sleep. She seldom remembered the details. She seldom allowed herself to remember the details (a coarse tongue, lapping the insides of her thighs; a long, sinuous body draped over hers). Prim pressed her legs together and took a deep breath, and two, and three, and she was deeply grateful that she maintained largely nocturnal hours in London; it made it less likely that one of Queen Mums’ hive would look at her and know.
It was embarrassing, sometimes, how well her aunts and uncles knew her. Of course, they had never been anything but gracious and kind towards her and Percy. She couldn’t imagine how strange it must have been for them, to be transplanted to dreary London, with a hive queen who had two children.
Prim knew she didn’t have the same relationship with the hive that Rue did with her Paw’s pack but, then again, she didn’t go around borrowing her hive’s powers for a lark.
She put off Lieutenant Plonks, certain that she couldn’t face him today.
Miss Sekhmet was guarding The Spotted Custard. According to Percy, Miss Sekhmet had said she liked to be kept busy. This seemed rather strange to Prim because Miss Sekhmet appeared equally to like curling up in a patch of sunlight, trusting the crew to keep her safe, or chasing dust motes around the deck.
Prim was going to visit her. She was. It was just that it felt strangely as though she shouldn’t attend Miss Sekhmet unchaperoned. Rue, it seemed, was busy, and Prim couldn’t trust Percy not to have one of his insightful moments.
Prim had another dream. Fine fur gave way to smooth skin and the little mews Prim could hear fell from her own lips.
She woke up, scandalised.
She put off Lieutenant Plonks again.
Prim was a Tunstell, and proud of the fact, but when it came to asking for advice, she preferred her brother’s approach and turned to books. She did not like to claim too keen an interest in literature, lest anyone think her too progressive but she did not know who else she could ask about these dreams, or these thoughts.
She knew that there was only one library in all of London that might contain the information she required and, fortunately, it was the very library for which she required no invitation.
Lady Alexia Maccon was known to have inherited a vast array of her father’s books, a collection vast and eclectic enough to turn even Percy’s head.
“Rue is at Woolsey, I’m afraid,” said Lady Maccon. She looked highly suspicious when Prim told her that all she required was access to the library. “Rue is at Woolsey, isn’t she?”
“I believe so,” said Prim. “I just —” She cleared her throat, as inspiration struck. “I have a friend. A were-lioness. Perhaps Rue mentioned her? And I thought I might look to see if I could find out anything about her kind, so that, perhaps, I might make her feel more welcome in London?”
Lady Maccon narrowed her eyes. “And it did not occur to you, perhaps, to ask your friend?”
Prim’s face heated up, which she knew did her complexion no favours at all.
“Go on,” said Lady Maccon. “If you require anything, there is a bell.”
Prim said nothing about the wisdom of a bell in a house full of werewolves, with their supernatural hearing, and simply scurried up the steps to the library, whereupon she realised she did not know where to start.
Someone cleared their throat.
“Oh!” she said. “Oh, Mr de Rabiffano! I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
Privately, Prim thought that Mr de Rabiffano was the handsomest of Rue’s uncles.
“May I help you, Miss Tunstell? Lady Maccon’s library can be difficult to navigate.”
Prim sucked in a breath. Could she ask him? He was a rather reserved, rather melancholy sort, with an impeccable line in cravats. Surely, he could be trusted.
“Mr — Mr de Rabiffano. I wonder— I mean, if it is not too inappropriate but — I was wondering if I might find out what it might mean if one has — if one has rather obscure feelings for — well — a —”
Mr de Rabiffano’s complexion deepened; it was far more appealing when he blushed than when Prim blushed. “Miss Tunstell, I am honoured but —”
“Oh, oh no,” she said. “Not you. Not any of the Pack, actually.” Prim’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just— It’s a silly thing but there’s a woman. Well, a lioness, really.”
Mr de Rabiffano’s expression cleared and he smiled and, once upon a time, it might have made Prim weak at the knees. “Oh, in that case, I do believe I happened upon a book back here.” He spoke to her over his shoulder, as he led the way to the back of the library. “I try not to spend too much time here, lest anyone think me progressive but I have a — I have a friend who firmly believes in the power of knowledge.”
“Indeed, Mr de Rabiffano,” said Prim, gravely. “Forewarned is forearmed, and all of that.”
Forewarned was forearmed and, following dinner with Queen Mums and Percy, Prim asked one of Queen Mums’ drones to accompany her to the Spotted Custard. By day, Lord Akeldama’s drones guarded the dirigible and, by night, Miss Sekhmet and the decklings stood guard.
Prim hoped that the decklings were competent enough to survive without their commander for one evening.
When she entered Miss Sekhmet’s quarters, the lioness stood with her back to the door. Prim was certain that, if she were truly in lioness form, her tail would be lashing.
“Miss Sekhmet,” she said, quietly, and then, more firmly, “Tasherit.”
Miss Sekhmet turned slightly, her eyes widening, and Prim smiled, and blinked slowly.
Miss Sekhmet turned fully, and Prim noticed that she was wearing one of her more diaphanous robes. Cursing her complexion, as she blushed hard, she took a step towards Sekhmet, and held her hand out.
She was, she felt, forgiven for whatever slight she had committed. Miss Sekhmet’s fingers curved around Prim’s wrist, just above the cuff of her gloves and Prim inhaled sharply.
Forewarned was forearmed, she reminded herself, and she stepped into Miss Sekhmet’s arms.