So I’ve been editing. Right now I’m trying to get Magic in Bedlam polished up so that I can send it out. I wanted to do this last month, but now it looks like April is more realistic. Maybe May, since I got excited and signed up for Camp Nanowrimo. (There is a strong possibility that I’m spreading myself a little thin with my writing commitments.)
I’ve had three people read it so far; Missouri was able to make some really good suggestions on pacing, which also happen to address plot issues. To that end, I’ve completely scrapped the prologue, but I’m really happy with the new version. If you want to take a peak, you can find it below the cut.
Lord Chester Montgomery’s dinner parties were the stuff of legend. About once a month, he and fifty or so of his closest friends and associates and their wives gathered at his townhouse near Piccadilly Circus for a meal of foreign delicacies and French wine, followed by music and dancing. Those of his inner circle were known to stay up drinking until dawn, when they could be seen stumbling to carriages around the time decent folk began their walk to work.
It was considered a great honor to receive an invitation, but that was unlikely for a member of the Enforcers, those sorcerers working to maintain law and order of the magicked set of society. It was a thankless task, since most magic users were among the upper echelons, and resented things like laws that might keep them from making small fortunes—or large ones, in Montgomery’s case—on things like illegally imported dragon eggs, or Chinese hexes, or the dozens of other items banned in Her Majesty’s Trade Agreements.
My partner, Wes, and I had been looking into Lord Montgomery’s activities for weeks. Wes was certain that these parties were where Montgomery was making all of his business deals, but despite being a lord himself—Lord Ainsley, in fact—Wes was not on good terms with Montgomery, and his face was too well known for him to sneak in.
I, on the other hand, had an advantage. Unlike Wes, I wasn’t notorious, and thanks to my Shapeshifter mother I could change my face to any I desired. Quite handy for undercover work.
The present evening found me in servant’s livery, lined up with the other footmen to bring platters of stuffed fowl, curried vegetables, boiled potatoes, a list of unfamiliar things I couldn’t name that would be as long as my arm, into the dining room.
Wes had given me explicit instructions: Note the names of everyone I saw at the party, and if I could gt away, I was to search Montgomery’s study and his personal papers.
“You there! Stand up straight! You serve the Master like that?” the housekeeper snapped, thwacking my shoulder with a long wooden spoon. I tried not to wince as I righted my natural slouch, and followed the man ahead of up up the stairs. The housekeep stalked off, muttering to herself about new hires and how hard it was to find good help.
Below stairs had been austere, plain wood and white tile. As we emerged to the ground floor, however, the plastered walls were covered in flocked, emerald green paper. The polished wood floors had long Turkish carpets rolled out, and the bare gas sconces were replaced by a crystal chandelier, lit from within by magic.
The long mahogany table had a lace cloth that would take an army of women a decade to make, and was studded with the black dinner jackets of London’s richest men, and the brilliant plumes and silks of their wives. The competing fragrances of fifty different perfumes mixed with the fresh early autumn flowers on the sideboard and the centerpiece, and was overlaid by rosemary, cumin, and pepper. I sucked in a breath and tried not to sneeze. I held my breath as I delivered the goose to the table, backing away quickly. I blinked through watering eyes.
Do not call attention to yourself! As soon as I was back through the servant’s door, the sneeze escaped with enough force that I rocked on my feet, bent double. Fishing a handkerchief from my pocket I blew my nose and dabbed at my eyes, silently cursing my father. In addition to my mother’s gift, I’d also inherited several less than pleasant ones from my father, a Werewolf. Of all the times to have a Werewolf’s sense of smell! I hadn’t even been able to get a good look at any of the guests, except for the two couples directly in front of the goose, neither of which I recognized. I recalled that one had an American accent, however, when he spoke to his wife, and I had glimpsed a few faces that were clearly foreign, though too quickly to tell of what specific origin.
I inhaled deeply and felt something clench deep in my stomach. That smell…Is she…? I shook my head. Impossible. I was confused. I had not caught Felicia Ainsley’s scent in seven years, and the chances that she would show up here, now, were infinitesimal. Clearly, there was another woman who smelled similar in the dining room.
Well, there wasn’t time to go back for a second look at the moment. The kitchen was a flurry of activity, and the household and guests would be in the dinning room for at least the next hour. If I was going to go snooping about, now was the time to do it. I could always show up in time for the clearing up and take my chances then—after the rosemary and cumin and been consumed.
Casting one last look at the dining room door, I slipped away and took the servant’s staircase to the first floor.
After my parents died, Wes, who had been Father’s partner and trained under him, took me in. I was seven at the time. Felicia was barely a month old when I first moved into the nursery at Oakstaff Manor with James and Aloysius, who were two and five.
Felicia was nine when she vanished. The day she and Aloysius had been taken from Oakstaff Manner, Wes had been devastated. Her kidnappers hadn’t stopped there, killing their older brother and mother in the process. Wes had never really recovered from the shock. Two years ago we had recovered Al, but Felicia’s trail had gone cold.
Thinking about her made me want to go back to the dining room, but there wasn’t time. I did my best to push it out of my mind and concentrate on more immediate tasks.
The study was the second door that I tried. The heavy dark wood gave way silently and I slipped inside. It was completely dark. I let my glamour slip; I’d borrowed the appearance of a street sweeper on my way over. He was my height, brown hair and brown eyes, but his face was longer and narrower, his skin a little more tan, leaning to the olive side.
I blinked. In theory, changing the color of my eyes shouldn’t affect my vision, but I always felt that I could see better when they were in their natural state. It was frustrating, because my eyes were the one part of me that could give away what I was: Wolf’s eyes, pale blue with a dark blue ring. Wes was used to it, having known me since I was a child, but most people found them disturbing. They were too noticeable for an investigator.
There was only one small window in the study, and even with my Wolf’s eyes, it wasn’t enough light to see by. I switched on one of the gas lamps as low as possible on my way to the desk.
The top was tidy, not a single item out of place. Moving to the drawers, I sensed the tingle of a charm on one of the locks and bit my lip. The one bit of magic I was good at was disrupting other people’s spells. But sometimes there were consequences.
I decided to take a chance. Taking a deep breath, I focused my Will on the lock and felt the minor spell give. I heaved a sigh of relief. The last thing I needed was to set off a household ward by mistake.
The drawer held a folio. I was about to reach in when the snick of the door latch made me look up. Someone was trying to slip into the room behind me.
I ducked under the desk. Should I try to Shift? I hurriedly threw on a glamour, the first one that came to mind.
Feminine heels clicked lightly on hardwood before being muffled by the carpet at the center of the room.
Inhaling sharply, I went rigid in my hiding place. The hem of a red silk dress trimmed with black lace appeared at the edge of the desk.
“Well hello there,” the young woman purred.
It had been years. But I knew that scent anywhere.
Like her father, she wasn’t very tall, but she was fit with long slender arms draped in a black lace shawl. The plunging neckline of the dress was a quarter inch from indecent, and I noted that hidden within the pleated folds of the skirt was a hidden slit that went above the knee.
Caught like a wild animal in a trap, I stared up at her. My heart seemed to stop when I looked at her face. When it restarted again it was at twice the usual pace.
I recognized the turned up nose, her mother’s cheek bones. Her bright red hair had darkened with age to auburn. Her painted lips were turned up in an expression that made her look far older than a mere sixteen years.
Her nose wrinkled prettily. “Who is Felicia?”
With heavy limbs, I pulled myself from under the desk and stood to face her. The glamour dropped off my face like a lead weight, the Wolf’s eyes looking out at her. She didn’t flinch. “Felicia, it’s me. It’s Theo. Theo Greene. Don’t you recognize me?”
She smirked, walking a slow circle around me in the narrow space behind the desk. Her fingers trailed over the back of my shoulders. When we were face to face again, she stopped with a hand pressed to my chest.
“Theo…” My name dripped from her lips like honey and I shivered. From a little girl with plaited hair and freckles, to this? What had happened to her in the last seven years to create this?
Her eyes were the same gray I remembered, but were so heavily outlined that I could hardly tell she’d gotten them from her mother. The look they held didn’t help.
She opened her mouth once, then closed it. She raised a finger to point at me. “I know you,” she said at last, tapping me on the chest.
She seemed to be considering something.
Then she slid one gloved hand to the back of my neck, pulled me down and kissed me. I took a deep breath of her, tasted her. And there was no doubt in my mind. Despite changed appearances, she was one and the same.
She pulled back just enough to meet my eyes. She looked confused. Not the reaction I normally get after kissing a woman.
“Who’s Felicia?” she asked again.
Without waiting for a response, she snatched the folio from the drawer and darted towards the door, leaving me shocked and still as a statue behind the desk.