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    “Yes?” Rue squeaked. Her heart went all the way up into her throat and started beating there, clogging and unclogging her breath.

    “I accept.”

    Rue was suddenly both elated and terrified on top of being tired.

    Quesnel straightened and said to the werecat. “Coming below? I’m sure I can find you a spot somewhere.”

    The stunning beauty said mildly, “I think I might stay awhile, keep little Prudence here company. Unless she objects?”

    “Delighted,” said Rue. But she wasn’t really thinking about the werelioness any more. What had her big mouth got her into this time? Quesnel’s pansy-coloured eyes, though tired, were very very twinkly.

    Quesnel said mildly, “Behave, both of you. We’ve had enough excitement for one evening.” Then he made his way across the deck, lean and sure, blond hair a dandelion fluff about his head in the morning breeze.

    “Fine young man there – good bones, nice posture, just enough brains,” commented the werecat, as if contemplating a meal. “Would they mind, your parents?”

    Rue was not too tired to play the game, and still in shock at this new prospect to furthering her education. “Quesnel is a bit of a rake.” And I’ve got him for a lover. Or something very like. I think.

    “Best ones usually are.”

    “Are you trying to be helpful, Tasherit?”

    “Is it working, Prudence?”

    “Rue, please. Call me Rue. And I assure you, I have plenty of relationship wisdom at my beck and call.”

    “Then I shall endeavour to offer you other wisdom.”

    It was on the tip of Rue’s tongue to shock her by asking what Tasherit thought of Rue just going to bed with Quesnel. For the experience, of course. She suspected the cat would be in favour of anything that stemmed from curiosity. But it was too soon and too early for such confidences.

    “How do you feel about pigeons, Tasherit?”

    Without blinking the werecat replied, “Can’t stand the nasty things.”

    “In that case, I should like to welcome you – officially – on board The Spotted Custard. Now, here’s your first order. Go to bed.”

    Oddly, for a cat, she obeyed.

    Rue was left alone with her ship and the sunrise and a sense of profound peace that lasted exactly as long as it took Spoo to get into an enormous argument with Virgil about tiddlywink protocols.

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