How To Marry A Werewolf (Claw & Courtship, #1)(4)

Faith knew why. Because her parents would have unceremoniously thrown it all away despite the fact that it was the work of years. Faith had begun collecting when she was only ten. Her mother had prayed she’d grow out of the obsession, but Faith never did. Faith intended to keep collecting until she died, despite the embarrassment of such an unwomanly hobby. Her collecting missions were exciting without too much risk. She found the associated cataloging afterwards restful, and the scholarly papers that resulted? Well, they were very well received in certain circles, thank you very much. Although published under a male pseudonym.

Of course, it was not the kind of hobby a young lady was supposed to cultivate. Botany, particularly botanical sketching, was about as far as respectable women were supposed to go into the natural sciences.

Not rocks. Never rocks.

Faith bit her lip and knew she was blushing. For the gorgeous vampire was about to expose her sins to the world. Or at least the small corner of it in Hyde Park that evening.

He lifted the lid for her case and then removed the thick woolen shawl she’d tucked in to seal the top. The case was velvet-lined, unnecessary, and subdivided into squares, necessary. It held several shelves stacked atop each other, so that the one could be lifted out to show the next underneath like a very large and very sturdy jewelry box or small treasure chest.

Faith was proud of the design. She’d commissioned it herself with carefully hoarded pin money. Her mother was exasperated upon discovering the unnecessary expense. Why not buy some new fans, child? Fans are so much more useful to a girl.

This was before the incident, when Mrs. Wigglesworth was more tolerant of Faith’s eccentricities. Before her indiscretion. Before her shame. Now her collection was just one more thing that made her unbearable to be around, a dishonor to the family.

Here I arrive in a foreign land, all prepared to do it right this time, or at least to try my level best, and already I’m failing.

The vampire lifted out the first shelf. And then the second. And then the third, and set them out on the table. His face had gone from suspicious and guarded to a certain blankness that might indicate surprise.

“Rocks.” He spoke at last. His voice was somehow the most British-sounding thing ever. His vowels were all wet and round.

Faith moved closer and huffed at him. “Yes, sir. Rocks. Well, and a few minerals. Even a fossil or two. What did you think they were?”

“That” – his tone was sharp and curt – “is absolutely none of your concern. Why are you gallivanting about the aetherosphere with a ruddy great load of rocks?”

“No need to take that tone with me, sir!” Faith glared. She shouldn’t have to defend herself. After all, rocks weren’t contraband. Not that she knew of, anyway.

Minnie, heretofore wide-eyed and terrified, recognized Faith’s tone and plucked up enough courage to say, “Now, miss, don’t be hasty.”

Faith ignored her maid and put her hands on her hips. “Is there something wrong with my collection? Are the British opposed to the immigration of foreign rocks in principle or just in theory? Is there a standing law against the importation of stones?”

He looked nonplussed at her attack.

Faith gave him a small, pitying smile.

Minnie backed away, no doubt putting herself out of shrapnel distance.

Very little made Faith genuinely angry; she worked hard against it, what with her mother’s irrational temper as a shining example of how not to behave. However, she would tolerate no criticism of her collection, not from geologically ignorant vampires!

“I assure you, sir, these rocks are mostly harmless. Your virtue is safe from nefarious rock infiltration. As, for that matter, is England’s.”

“Do you talk nonsense by habit, Miss – what is your name, by the way? – or is it an act of defiance?”

Faith drew herself up; two could play at this game. “I’m moved to absurdity when faced with unwarranted unpacking of my private possessions. I assure you, those are my rocks. I’ve collected them in good standing. I’ve records for each and every one. A few of the rarer specimens are even registered with my local chapter of the North Eastern Minerals Examination and Reportage Collective. And it’s Miss None-of-your-business, sir.”

The offensive gentleman picked up one of her more precious pieces, a palm-sized deep blue rock with black and yellow striations. “What is this one?”

“Lapis lazuli, metamorphic, all the way from Colorado. It’s pretty, isn’t it? Oh, would you like me to prove my expertise?” Faith instantly lost some of her anger to the rush of information and pride in her own knowledge. “The main mineral is lazurite. It was highly prized in antiquity.” She barreled on with a will. “Until recently, it was also used in oil painting and—”

“I’m sure it’s most fascinating, miss.”

“Yes, yes, it is. But I understand if you’re too limited in your interests to share my passion. I understand you immortals lose your capacity for such foibles.”

The man turned the lapis lazuli about in his hand, white fingers a startling contrast to the blue. His nails were very short and his skin looked smooth. “Are rocks a customary course of study for American girls of decent upbringing?” Either he’d given her split skirts a professional assessment and found the fabric acceptably expensive, or his use of the word decent was all sarcasm. Faith bristled. Cranberry taffeta might be considered a little loud for an unmarried lady, but her shirtwaist was wool plaid, which she felt toned it down considerably. No one could critique the logic of dress reform for floating; Faith hadn’t even needed skirt tapes!

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