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Timeless

(The fifth book in the Alexia Tarabotti series)

A novel by Gail Carriger

CHAPTER ONE

In Which There Is Almost a Bath and Definitely a Trip to the Theater

“I said no such thing,” grumbled Lord Maccon, allowing himself, begrudgingly, to be trussed in a new evening jacket. He twisted his head around, annoyed by the height of the collar and the tightness of the cravat. Floote patiently waited for him to stop twitching before continuing with the jacket. Werewolf or not, Lord Maccon would look his best or Floote’s given name wasn’t Algernon—which it was.

“Yes, you did, my dear.” Lady Alexia Maccon was one of the few people in London who dared contradict Lord Maccon. Being his wife, it might be said that she rather specialized in doing so. Alexia was already dressed, her statuesque form resplendent in a maroon silk and black lace evening gown with mandarin collar and Asian sleeves, newly arrived from Paris. “I remember it quite distinctly.” She pretended distraction in transferring her necessaries into a black beaded reticule. “I said we should show our patronage and support on opening night, and you grunted at me.”

“Well, there, that explains everything. That was a grunt of displeasure.” Lord Maccon wrinkled his nose like a petulant child while Floote skirted about him, puffing away nonexistent crumbs with the latest in steam-controlled air-puffing dewrinklers.

“No, dear, no. It was definitely one of your affirmative grunts.”

Conall Maccon paused at that and gave his wife a startled look. “God’s teeth, woman, how could you possibly tell?”

“Three years of marriage, dear. Regardless, I’ve replied in the affirmative that we will be in attendance at the Adelphi at nine sharp in time to take our box. We are both expected. There is no way out of it.”

Lord Maccon sighed, giving in. Which was a good thing, as his wife and Floote had managed to strap him into full evening dress and there was no way to escape that.

In a show of solidarity, he grabbed his wife, pulling her against him and snuffling her neck. Alexia suppressed a smile and, in deference to Floote’s austere presence, pretended not to enjoy herself immensely.

“Lovely dress, my love, very flattering.”

Alexia gave her husband a little ear nibble for this compliment. “Thank you, my heart. However, you ought to know that the most interesting thing about this dress is how remarkably easy it is to get into and out of.”

Floote cleared his throat to remind them of his presence.

“Wife, I intend to test the veracity of that statement when we return from this outing of yours.”

Alexia pulled away from Conall, patting at her hair self-consciously. “Thank you kindly, Floote. Very well done as always. I’m sorry to have drawn you away from your regular duties.”

The elderly butler merely nodded, expressionless. “Of course, madam.”

“Especially as there seem to be no drones about. Where are they all?”

The butler thought for a moment and then said, “I believe that it is bath night, madam.”

Lady Maccon paled in horror. “Oh, goodness. We had best escape quickly, then, Conall, or I’ll never be able to get away in time for—”

Clearly summoned by her fear of just such a delay, a knock sounded at Lord Akeldama’s third closet door.

How Lord and Lady Maccon had come to be residing in Lord Akeldama’s third closet in the first place was a matter of some debate among those privy to this information. A few speculated that there had been a negotiated exchange of spats and possibly promises of daily treacle tart. Nevertheless, the arrangement seemed to be working remarkably well for all parties, much to everyone’s bemusement, and so long as the vampire hives did not find out, it was likely to remain so. Lord Akeldama now had a preternatural in his closet and a werewolf pack next door, but he and his drones had certainly weathered much worse in the way of neighbors, and he had certainly housed far more shocking things in his closet, if the rumors were to be believed.

For nigh on two years, Lord and Lady Maccon had maintained the appearance of actually living next door, Lord Akeldama maintained the appearance of still utilizing all his closets, and his drones maintained the appearance of not having full creative control over everyone’s wardrobe. Most importantly, as it turned out, Alexia was still close enough to her child to come to everyone’s rescue. Unforeseen as it may have been when they originally concocted the arrangement, it had become increasingly clear that the home of a metanatural required the presence of a preternatural or no one was safe—particularly on bath night.

Lady Maccon opened the closet door wide and took in the sorry sight of the gentleman before her. Lord Akeldama’s drones were men of fashion and social standing. They set the mode for all of London with regards to collar points and spats. The handsome young man who stood before her represented the best London society had to offer—an exquisite plum tailcoat, a high-tied waterfall of white about his neck, his hair curled just so about the ears—except that he was dripping with soap suds, his neck cloth was coming untied, and one collar point drooped sadly.

“Oh, dear, what has she done now?”

“Far too much to explain, my lady. I think you had better come at once.”

Alexia looked down at her beautiful new dress. “But I do so like this gown.”

“Lord Akeldama accidentally touched her.”

“Oh, good gracious!” Lady Maccon seized her parasol and her beaded reticule—now containing a fan; her opera glassicals; and Ethel, her .28-caliber Colt Paterson revolver—and charged down the stairs after the drone. The poor boy actually squelched in his beautifully shined shoes.

Her husband, with a grumbled, “Didn’t we warn him against that?” came crashing unhelpfully after.

Downstairs, Lord Akeldama had converted a side parlor into a bathing chamber for his adopted daughter. It had become clear rather early on that bathing was going to be an event of epic proportions, requiring a room large enough to accommodate several of his best and most capable drones. Still, this being Lord Akeldama, even a room dedicated to the cleanliness of an infant was not allowed to be sacrificed upon the unadorned altar of practicality.

A thick Georgian rug lay on the floor covered with cavorting shepherdesses, the walls were painted in pale blue and white, and he’d had the ceiling frescoed with sea life in deference to the troublesome child’s evident unwillingness to associate with such. The cheerful otters, fish, and cephalopods above were meant as encouragement, but it was clear his daughter saw them as nothing more than squishy threats.

In the exact center of the room stood a gold, claw-footed bathtub. It was far too large for a toddler, but Lord Akeldama never did anything by halves, especially if he might double it at three times the expense. There was also a fireplace, before which stood multiple gold racks supporting fluffy and highly absorbent drying cloths and one very small Chinese silk robe.

There were no less than eight drones in attendance, as well as Lord Akeldama, a footman, and the nursemaid. Nevertheless, nothing could take on Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama when bathing was at stake.

The tub was overturned, saturating the beautiful rug with soapy water. Several of the drones were drenched. One was nursing a bruised knee and another a split lip. Lord Akeldama had tiny soapy handprints all over him. One of the drying racks had fallen on its side, singeing a cloth in the fire. The footman was standing with his mouth open, holding a bar of soap in one hand and a wedge of cheese in the other. The nanny had collapsed on a settee in tears.

In fact, the only person who seemed neither injured nor wet in any way was Prudence herself. The toddler was perched precariously on top of the mantelpiece over the fire, completely naked, with a very militant expression on her tiny face, yelling, “Noth, Dama. Noth wet. Noth, Dama!” She was lisping around her fangs.

Alexia stood in the doorway, transfixed.

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