How To Marry A Werewolf (Claw & Courtship, #1)(2)

Faith hung her head. She wants me shamed for the rest of my life. Tied forever to the same supernatural creatures that deceived and ruined me. All because she is being whispered about this month in a minor scandal that will be forgotten by summer.

So it was that Faith, with only her maid Minnie as chaperone, and last season’s dresses (which might themselves be considered a chaperone, for the discouragement that they afforded) and a few outfits Faith had made in secret (even more discouraging to prospective suitors, as these involved menswear), were packed into a dirigible and floated off to England. Properly, Mrs Wigglesworth ought to have gone along, but Faith’s mother obviously thought nothing worse could happen to her daughter.

She was, of course, entirely wrong.

Faith enjoyed the Atlantic crossing. Their dirigible, the Flotty, was a spacious, comfortable craft with amiable staff and excellent south-facing aspects. Their room was underdone, like raw pastry – damp and cool and unfinished – but Faith suspected her parents of penny-pinching in that regard and did not blame the ship. Poor Minnie was airsick the entire passage, but Faith was a strong floater with a head for heights. She spent most of her time abovedecks, enjoying the peaceful grey of the aetheric void. The prevailing cotton-wooly numbness suited her mood perfectly. Looking into the aether was like looking into her own soul – an empty void. She enjoyed it. It suited her to delve into a funk.

“Miss, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be maudlin.” Minnie roused herself enough to be critical when Faith came in one evening to change before a meal.

“Why shouldn’t I be maudlin? If anyone has the right, it’s me.”

“Now, miss, you’ve resisted it so far.”

“That was before they packed me off to England to catch myself a wolf.”

“Could be worse fates,” said Minnie.

“Oh, yes?”

“Could have airsickness like me.” Minnie was turning green again even as they spoke.

“Yes, you’re right, poor dear. More cold cloths? Could you manage a little barley water?”

Minnie clutched her tummy and moaned at the very idea of barley water, reaching for a bucket.

Faith made a hasty retreat in search of cold cloths and ginger nubbins.

They landed in London three days later, two hours after sunset. The city was beautiful, all lit up by gas lanterns, with other airships drifting about through halfhearted clouds. The moon was a slim crescent low on the horizon.

“I thought it was supposed to be a dirty, grungy place.” Minnie had finally made it up onto the squeak deck for the depuffing.

Faith frowned down at their new home. “It seems nice enough.”

Minnie did not look convinced.

They could see the Hyde Park embarkation green now, well lit to guide in the long-haul transports puffing in at night. She thought the park was probably pretty during the day, and much bigger than she’d anticipated.

Minnie glared at her mistress and not the view. “Will you be changing, miss?” Her tone suggested that Faith's outfit deserved nothing but censure.

Faith firmed her resolve. “I will not.”

“Oh, miss.” Minnie looked ill once more.

Their dirigible depuffed in stages. Minnie, while green, managed to maintain her dignity as the Flotty sunk with all dignified gravitas.

Once all the way down, the gangplank lowered, and porters swarmed up it. Minnie instantly commandeered one for their luggage. Faith trailed dutifully after.

Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings crossed his arms over his not-insignificant chest and growled. Since he was usually growling about something, most of his field agents ignored both noise and stance. Some of the newer ones moved a little faster about their assigned tasks, glancing at him sideways. He only sneered at them.

It wasn’t that they were being particularly incompetent. Nor that the mission was going any less slowly than expected. Just that Major Channing liked to growl. Being a werewolf, it was somewhat expected of him.

He was not excited about having to board and search this incoming dirigible. He wasn’t confident in their information, Americans were innately untrustworthy, and the airship was also American make, registry, and crew, so it wouldn’t be easy to investigate without giving offense.

But it must be done.

Reports indicated a shipment of Sundowner bullets was aboard, sent to arm the London Separatist movement and facilitate their anarchical agenda. Channing’s agents in America had tracked the bullets to Boston, but there the trail went cold. It was only supposition that they were headed to London. Certainly, the Bostonians could make good use of such an armament themselves, America being a generally hostile place where immortals were concerned.

In England, such bullets were controlled and licensed strictly to Sundowners – those few people authorized to kill vampires and werewolves. More importantly, they were extremely expensive to produce. Channing was motivated to find them. Firstly, to keep them out of enemy hands, and secondly, so that he might restock his own supplies.

As the head of BUR, Channing was a licensed Sundowner himself. The possibility of new bullets was extremely tempting. Channing liked killing things, even his fellow immortals. Especially them, more of a challenge. After all, everyone needs a hobby.

Unfortunately, in this instance Channing was anticipating failure. And no killing. He had a feeling the bullets weren’t on this dirigible, or if they were, they’d be too well hidden to discover without giving unpardonable offense to passengers through confiscation. This was one instance where even a werewolf’s nose could be fooled, and BUR had, of course, no idea what the enemy looked like.

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