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Felicity waved a gold-edged note at Alexia—a note that clearly contained the good captain’s deepest regrets, a note that, judging from the stains about itself, had received the concerted attention of everyone at the breakfast table, including the kippers.
“I agree.” Alexia calmly sipped her barley water. “Philosophical differences? That cannot be true. You don’t actual y have a philosophy about anything, do you, Evylin dear?”
“So you admit responsibility?” Evylin was moved to swal ow early so she could launch the attack once more. She tossed her blond curls, only one or two shades removed from the color of her egg.
“Certainly not. I never even met the man.”
“But it is stil your fault. Abandoning your husband like that, staying with us instead of him. It is outrageous. People. Are. Talking.” Evylin emphasized her words by stabbing ruthlessly at a sausage.
“People do tend to talk. I believe it is general y considered one of the better modes of communication.”
“Oh, why must you be so impossible? Mama, do something about her.” Evylin gave up on the sausage and went on to a second fried egg.
“You hardly seem very cut up about it.” Alexia watched as her sister chewed away.
“Oh, I assure you, poor Evy is deeply effected. Shockingly overwrought,” said Mrs.
“Surely you mean a ffected?” Alexia was not above a barb or two where her family was concerned.
At the end of the table, Squire Loontwil , the only one likely to understand a literary joke, softly chortled.
“Herbert,” his wife reprimanded immediately, “don’t encourage her to be pert. Most unattractive quality in a married lady, pertness.” She turned back to Alexia. Mrs.
Loontwil ’s face, that of a pretty woman who had aged without realizing it, screwed itself up into a grimace Alexia supposed was meant to simulate motherly concern. Instead she looked like a Pekingese with digestive complaints. “Is that what the estrangement with him is over, Alexia? You weren’t… brainy… with him, were you, dear?” Mrs. Loontwil had refrained from referring to Lord Maccon by name ever since her daughter’s marriage, as if by doing so she might hold on to the fact that Alexia had married—a condition believed by most to be highly unlikely right up until the fateful event—without having to remember what she had married. A peer of the realm, it was true, and one of Her Majesty’s finest, to be certain, but also a werewolf. It hadn’t helped that Lord Maccon loathed Mrs. Loontwil and didn’t mind who knew it, including Mrs. Loontwil . Why, Alexia remembered, once, he had even—She stopped herself from further thought of her husband, squashing the memory ruthlessly. Unfortunately, she found that, the agitation of her thoughts had resulted in toast mutilated beyond al hope of consumption. With a sigh, she helped herself to another piece.
“It seems clear to me,” interjected Felicity with an air of finality, “that your presence here, Alexia, has somehow overset Evy’s engagement. Even you cannot argue your way out of that, sister dear.”
Felicity and Evylin were Alexia’s younger half-sisters by birth and were entirely unrelated if one took into account any other factors. They were short, blond, and slender, while Alexia was tal , dark, and, quite frankly, not so very slender. Alexia was known throughout London for her intel ectual prowess, patronage of the scientific community, and biting wit. Felicity and Evylin were known for their puffed sleeves. The world, as a result, was general y more peaceful when the three were not living under the same roof.
“And we are al aware of how considered and unbiased your opinion is on the matter, Felicity.” Alexia’s tone was unruffled.
Felicity picked up the scandal section of the Lady’s Daily Chirrup, clearly indicating she wanted nothing more to do with the conversation.
Mrs. Loontwil dove courageously on. “Surely, Alexia, darling, it is high time you returned home to Woolsey? I mean to say, you’ve been with us nearly a week, and, of course, we do love having you, but he is rumored to be back from Scotland now.”
“Bul y for him. ”
“Alexia! What a shocking thing to say!”
Evylin interjected. “No one has seen him in town, of course, but they say he returned to Woolsey yesterday.”
Felicity crinkled the gossip section of the paper explanatorily.
“Oh, they. ”
“He must be pining for you, my dear,” Mrs. Loontwil resumed the attack. “Pining away, miserable for want of your…” She flailed.
“For want of my what, Mama?”
“Uh, scintil ating companionship.”
Alexia snorted—at the dining table. Conal may have enjoyed her bluntness on rare occasion, but if he missed anything, she doubted her wit was top of the list. Lord Maccon was a werewolf of hearty appetites, to say the least. What he would miss most about his wife was located substantial y lower than her tongue. An image of her husband’s face momentarily broke her resolve. That look in his eyes the last time they saw each other
—so betrayed. But what he believed of her, the fact that he doubted her in such a way, was inexcusable. How dare he leave her remembering some lost-puppy look simply to toy with her sympathies! Alexia Maccon made herself relive the things he had said to her, right then and there. She was never going to go back to that—her mind grappled for a description—that untrusting nitwit!
Lady Alexia Maccon was the type of woman who, if thrown into a briar patch, would start to tidy it up by stripping off al the thorns. Over the past few weeks and throughout the course of an inexcusably foul train journey back from Scotland, she thought she had come to terms with her husband’s rejection of both her and their child. She was finding, however, at the oddest and most irregular moments, that she hadn’t. She would feel the betrayal, like some writhing ache just under her ribs, and become both incredibly hurt and transcendently angry without warning. It was exactly like an acute attack of indigestion—only with one’s finer feelings involved. In her more lucid moments, Alexia reasoned that the cause of this sensation was the unjustness of it al . She was quite accustomed to defending herself for having done something inappropriate, but defending herself when completely innocent made for a dissimilar, and far more frustrating, experience. Not even Bogglington’s Best Darjeeling succeeded in soothing her temper. And if tea wasn’t good enough, well , what was a lady to do? It was not, certainly not, that she stil loved the man. That was entirely il ogical. But the fact remained that Alexia’s temper was tender about the edges. Her family ought to have recognized the signs.