Changeless, p.1
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       Changeless, p.1

         Part #2 of Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
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Changeless
Page 1

  CHAPTER ONE

  Wherein Things Disappear,

  Alexia Gets Testy Over Tents,

  and Ivy Has an Announcement

  They are what?”

  Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, was yelling. Loudly. This was to be expected from Lord Maccon, who was generally a loud sort of gentleman—the ear-bleeding combination of lung capacity and a large barrel chest.

  Alexia Maccon, Lady Woolsey, muhjah to the queen, Britain’s secret preternatural weapon extraordinaire, blinked awake from a deep and delicious sleep.

  “Wasn’t me,” she immediately said, without having the barest hint of an idea as to what her husband was carrying on about. Of course, it usually was her, but it would not do to fess up right away, regardless of whatever it was that had his britches in a bunch this time. Alexia screwed her eyes shut and squirmed farther into the warmth of down-stuffed blankets. Couldn’t they argue about it later?

  “What do you mean gone?” The bed shook slightly with the sheer volume behind Lord Maccon’s yell. The amazing thing was that he wasn’t nearly as loud as he could be when he really put his lungs into it.

  “Well, I certainly did not tell them to go,” denied Alexia into her pillow. She wondered who “they” were. Then she came about to the realization, taking a fluffy-cottony sort of pathway to get there, that he wasn’t yelling at her but at someone else. In their bedroom.

  Oh dear.

  Unless he was yelling at himself.

  Oh dear.

  “What, all of them?”

  Alexia’s scientific side wondered idly at the power of sound waves—hadn’t she heard of a recent Royal Society pamphlet on the subject?

  “All at once?”

  Lady Maccon sighed, rolled toward the hollering, and cracked one eyelid. Her husband’s large naked back filled her field of vision. To see any more, she’d have to lever herself upright. Since that would probably expose her to more cold air, she declined to lever. She did, however, observe that the sun was barely down. What was Conall doing awake and aloud so freakishly early? For, while her husband roaring was not uncommon, its occurrence in the wee hours of late afternoon was. Inhuman decency dictated that even Woolsey Castle’s Alpha werewolf remain quiet at this time of day.

  “How wide of a radius, exactly? It canna have extended this far. ”

  Oh dear, his Scottish accent had put in an appearance. That never bode well for anyone.

  “All over London? No? Just the entire Thames embankment and city center. That is simply not possible. ”

  This time Lady Maccon managed to discern a mild murmuring response to her husband’s latest holler. Well, she consoled herself, at least he hadn’t gone entirely potty. But who would dare attempt to rustle up Lord Maccon in his private quarters at such an abysmal hour? She tried once more to see over his back. Why did he have to be so substantial?

  She levered.

  Alexia Maccon was known as a lady of regal bearing and not much more. Society generally considered her looks too swarthy to give much credence despite her rank. Alexia, herself, had always believed good posture was her last best hope and was proud to have acquired the “regal bearing” epithet. This morning, however, blankets and pillows thwarted her; she could only flounder gracelessly up to her elbows, her backbone as limp as a noodle.

  All that her Herculean effort revealed was a hint of wispy silver and a vaguely human form: Formerly Merriway.

  “Mummer murmur,” said Formerly Merriway, straining for full apparition in the not-quite darkness. She was a polite ghost, relatively young and well preserved, and still entirely sane.

  “Oh, for goodness’ sake. ” Lord Maccon seemed to be getting only more irritated. Lady Maccon knew that particular tone of voice well—it was usually directed at her. “But there is nothing on this Earth that can do that. ”

  Formerly Merriway said something else.

  “Well, have they consulted all the daylight agents?”

  Alexia strained to hear. Already gifted with a low, sweet voice, the ghost was difficult to understand when she intentionally dampened her tone. Formerly Merriway might have said, “Yes, and they have no idea either. ”

  The ghost seemed frightened, which caused Alexia more concern than Lord Maccon’s irritation (which was sadly frequent). Little could frighten the already dead, with the possible exception of a preternatural. And even Alexia, soulless, was only dangerous under very specific circumstances.

  “What, no idea at all? Right. ” The earl tossed his blankets aside and climbed out of bed.

  Formerly Merriway gasped and shimmered about, presenting her transparent back to the completely naked man.

  Alexia appreciated the courtesy, even if Lord Maccon did not. Polite to the core was poor little Merriway. Or what was left of her core. Lady Maccon, on the other hand, was not so reticent. Her husband had a decidedly fine backside, if she did say so herself. And she had said so, to her scandalized friend Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, on more than one occasion. It may be far too early to be awake, but it was never too early to admire something of that caliber. The artistically pleasing body part drifted out of view as her husband strode toward his dressing chamber.

  “Where is Lyall?” he barked.

  Lady Maccon tried to go back to sleep.

  “What! Lyall’s gone too? Is everyone going to disappear on me? No, I did not send him…. ” A pause. “Oh yes, you are perfectly correct, I did. The pack was”—blub blub blub—“coming in at”—blub, blub—“station. ” Splash. “Shouldn’t he have returned by now?”

  Her husband was obviously washing, as periodically his bellowing was interrupted by soggy noises. Alexia strained to hear Tunstell’s voice. Without his valet, her louder half was bound to look quite disastrously disheveled. It was never a good idea to let the earl dress unsupervised.

  “Right, well, send a claviger for him posthaste. ”

  At which point, Formerly Merriway’s spectral form vanished from view.

  Conall reappeared in Alexia’s line of sight and gathered up his gold pocket watch from the bedside table. “Of course, they will take it as an insult, but nothing to be done about it. ”

  Ha, she had been right. He was, in fact, not dressed at all but was wearing only a cloak. No Tunstell then.

  The earl seemed to remember his wife for the first time.

  Alexia counterfeited sleep.

  Conall shook Alexia gently, admiring both the tousled mound of inky hair and the artfully feigned disinterest. When his shaking became insistent, she blinked long lashes at him.

  “Ah, good evening, my dear. ”

  Alexia glared at her husband out of slightly red-rimmed brown eyes. This early evening tomfoolery wouldn’t be so horrible if he had not kept her up half the day. Not that those particular exertions had been unpleasant, simply exuberant and lengthy.

  “What are you about, husband?” she inquired, her voice laced buttery-smooth with suspicion.

  “All apologies, my dear. ”

  Lady Maccon absolutely hated it when her husband called her his “dear. ” It meant he was up to something but was not going to tell her about it.

  “I must run off to the office early tonight. Some important BUR business has cropped up. ” From the cloak and the fact that his canines were showing, Alexia surmised that he literally meant run, in wolf form. Whatever was going on must need urgent attention, indeed. Lord Maccon usually preferred to arrive at BUR in carriage, comfort, and style, not fur.

  “Has it?” muttered Alexia.

  The earl began to tuck the blankets about his wife. His large hands were unexpectedly gentle. Touching his preternatural spouse, his canines disappeared. In that brief moment, he was mortal.

&
nbsp; “Are you meeting with the Shadow Council tonight?” he asked.

  Alexia considered. Was it Thursday? “Yes. ”

  “You are in for an interesting conference,” advised the earl, goading her.

  Alexia sat up, undoing all of his nice tucking. “What? Why?” The blankets fell, revealing that Lady Maccon’s endowments were considerable and not fabricated through fashionable artifice such as stuffed corset or too-tight stays. Despite nightly familiarity with this fact, Lord Maccon was prone to dragging her onto secluded balconies at balls in order to check and “make certain” this remained the case.

  “I am sorry for waking you so early, my dear. ” There was that dreaded phrase again. “I promise I shall make it up to you in the morning. ” He waggled his eyebrows at her lasciviously and leaned down for a long and thorough kiss.

  Lady Maccon sputtered and pushed at his large chest ineffectually.

  “Conall, what is going on?”

  But her irritating werewolf of a husband was already away and out of the room.

  “Pack!” His holler resounded through the hallway. At least this time he had made a pretense of seeing to her comfort by shutting the door first.

  Alexia and Conall Maccon’s bedroom took up the whole of one of the highest towers Woolsey had to offer, which, admittedly, was more of a dignified pimple off the top of one wall. Despite this comparative isolation, the earl’s bellow could be heard throughout most of the massive building, even down to the back parlor, where his clavigers were taking their tea.

  The Woolsey clavigers worked hard about their various duties during the day, looking after slumbering werewolf charges and taking care of daylight pack business. For most, tea was a brief and necessary respite before they were called to their other nonpack work. As packs tended to favor boldly creative companions, and Woolsey was close to London, more than a few of its clavigers were actively engaged in West End theatricals. Despite the lure of Aldershot pudding, Madeira cake, and gunpowder black tea, their lord’s yodel had them up and moving as fast as could be desired.

  The entire house suddenly became a hubbub of activity: carriages and men on horseback came and went, clattering on the stone cobbles of the forecourt; doors slammed; voices called back and forth. It sounded like the dirigible disembarkation green in Hyde Park.

  Emitting that heaviest of sighs that denotes the gravely put-upon, Alexia Maccon rolled herself out of bed and picked up her nightgown from where it lay, a puddle of frills and lace, on the stone floor. It was one of her husband’s wedding gifts to her. Or more probably gifts to him, as it was made of a soft French silk and had scandalously few pleats. It was quite fashion-forward and daringly French, and Alexia rather liked it. Conall rather liked taking it off her. Which was how it had ended up on the floor. They had negotiated a temporal relationship with the nightgown; most of the time, she was able to wear it only out of the bed. He could be very persuasive when he put his mind, and other parts of his anatomy, to it. Lady Maccon figured she would have to get used to sleeping in the altogether. Although there was that niggling worry that the house might catch fire and cause her to dash about starkers in full view of all. The worry was receding slowly, for she lived with a pack of werewolves and was acclimatizing to their constant nudity—by necessity if not preference. There was, currently, far more hairy masculinity in her life than any Englishwoman should really have to put up with on a monthly basis. That said, half the pack was away fighting in northern India; someday there would be even more full-moon maleness. She thought of her husband; him she had to deal with on a daily basis.

  A timid knock sounded, followed by a long pause. Then the door to the bedchamber was pushed slowly open, and a heart-shaped face paired with dark blond hair and enormous violet eyes peered in. The eyes were apprehensive. The maid to whom they belonged had learned, to her abject mortification, to give her master and mistress extra time before disturbing them in the bedchamber. One could never predict Lord Maccon’s amorous moods, but one could certainly predict his temper if they were interrupted.

  Noting his absence with obvious relief, the maid entered carrying a basin of hot water and a warm white towel over one arm. She curtsied gracefully to Alexia. She wore a modish, if somber, gray dress with a crisp white apron pinned over it. Alexia knew, though others did not, that the high white collar about her slender neck disguised multiple bite marks. As if being a former vampire drone in a werewolf household were not shocking enough, the maid then opened her mouth and proved that she was also, quite reprehensibly, French.

  “Good evening, madame. ”

  Alexia smiled. “Good evening, Angelique. ”

  The new Lady Maccon, barely three months in, had already established her taste as quite daring, her table as incomparable, and her style as trendsetting. And while it was not generally known among the ton that she sat on the Shadow Council, she was observed to be on friendly terms with Queen Victoria. Couple that with a temperamental werewolf husband of considerable property and social standing, and her eccentricities—such as carrying a parasol at night and retaining an overly pretty French maid—were overlooked by high society.

 

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