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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.
Lord Akeldama straightened where he stood. “My darlings,” he said, “tactic number eight, I think—circle and enclose. Now brace yourselves, my pets. I’m going in.”
All the drones straightened and took up wide boxer’s stances, forming a loose circle about the contested mantelpiece. All attention was focused on the toddler, who held the high ground, unflinching.
The ancient vampire launched himself at his adopted daughter. He could move fast, possibly faster than any other creature Alexia had ever observed, and she had been the unfortunate victim of more than one vampire attack. However, in this particular instance, Lord Akeldama moved no quicker than any ordinary mortal man. Which was, of course, the current difficulty—he was an ordinary mortal. His face was no longer deathless perfection but slightly effete and perhaps a little sulky. His movements were still graceful, but they were mortally graceful and, unfortunately, mortally slow.
Prudence leaped away in the manner of some kind of high-speed frog, her tiny, stubbly legs supernaturally strong but still toddler unstable. She crashed to the floor, screamed in very brief pain, and then zipped about looking for a break in the circle of drones closing in upon her.
“Noth, Dama. Noth wet,” she cried, charging one of the drones, her tiny fangs bared. Unaware of her own supernatural strength, the baby managed to bash her way between the poor man’s legs, making for the open doorway.
Except that the doorway was not, in fact, open. Therein stood the only creature who little Prudence had learned to fear and, of course, the one she loved best in all the world.
“Mama!” came her delighted cry, and then, “Dada!” as Conall’s shaggy head loomed up from behind his wife.
Alexia held out her arms and Prudence barreled into them with all the supernatural speed that a toddler vampire could manage. Alexia let out a harrumph of impact and stumbled backward into Conall’s broad, supportive embrace.
The moment the naked baby came into contact with Alexia’s bare arms, Prudence became no more dangerous than any squirming child.
“Now, Prudence, what is this fuss?” remonstrated her mother.
“No, Dama. No wet!” explained the toddler very clearly, now that she did not have the fangs to speak around.
“It’s bath night. You don’t have a choice. Real ladies are clean ladies,” explained her mother, rather sensibly, she thought.
Prudence was having none of it. “Nuh-uh.”
Lord Akeldama came over. He was once more pale, his movements quick and sharp. “Apologies, my little dumpling. She got away from Boots there and hurled herself at me before I could dodge.” He moved one fine white hand to stroke his adopted daughter’s hair back from her face. It was safe to do so now that Alexia held her close.
Prudence narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “No wet, Dama,” she insisted.
“Well, accidents will happen and we all know how she gets.” Alexia gave her daughter a stern look. Prudence, undaunted, glared back. Lady Maccon shook her head in exasperation. “Conall and I are off to the theater. Do you think you can handle bath night without me? Or should we cancel?”
Lord Akeldama was aghast at the mere suggestion. “Oh, dear me no, buttercup, never that! Not go to the theater? Heaven forfend. No, we shall shift perfectly well here without you, now that we’ve weathered this one teeny-tiny upset, won’t we, Prudence?”