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London was ill prepared for such an invasion. It was also not quite the same London as when they had departed.
Lord Maccon, for one, returned to his pack to find that his previous Beta had emigrated to Scotland for an unspecified indenture and that a young dandy of an Alpha waited tentatively in his place.
Biffy handed him a letter from Professor Lyall, tears in his eyes. Alexia, unabashed, read it over her husband’s arm.
“My dear sir. I have no means of making amends. Even an apology would be more an insult, of that I am well aware. I have trained young Biffy to the best of my abilities. He will make a fine Beta, even though, as you may now already have smelled, he has manifested Anubis form. I thought, perhaps, you might take over training him for his next role—your replacement—contingent upon such a time as you leave us for Egypt and a well-earned retirement.”
Upon reading that, Alexia asked, “How did he know your plans? You didn’t discuss it with him ahead of time, did you?”
“No, but that’s Randolph for you.”
They continued with the letter.
“Our Biffy is part of this modern age. Shifting times require a London dandy for a London Pack. Try not, my dear lord, to see him in light of your own abilities as Alpha. He will never be that kind of wolf. I believe he is what our pack will need in the future, regardless.”
Alexia looked up at Biffy. The young werewolf seemed to be feeling a more intense emotion over Professor Lyall’s abandonment than she might have predicted. What had happened while they were in Egypt?
“Biffy,” asked Alexia, because she had no subtlety, “did something significant occur between you and Lyall while we were away?”
Biffy hung his head. “He promised he would come back to me eventually. When we were all ready. Ten, twenty years, he said. Not so long for an immortal. Shifting times, he said.”
Alexia nodded, feeling old. “But it feels like a very long time?” Ah, young love.
Biffy nodded sadly.
The earl, sensitive to his pack member’s feelings, drew Alexia’s attention back to Lyall’s letter before she could continue interrogating the young dandy.
The letter continued.
“Don’t tell Biffy yet. He isn’t ready to know his future. Not the one that I envision for him. But he is ready to learn how to lead a pack, and you, my lord, will be an excellent teacher. Despite everything, I remain faithfully your friend, Professor Randolph Lyall.”
“Ah, so,” said Alexia, looking back and forth between the two gentlemen, their eyes down-turned. “It is an elegant solution,” she said at last.
“He was always verra good at elegant solutions,” said Lord Maccon softly. Then he bucked up. “Well, young Biffy, I suspect with you as my Beta, I’ll never again be allowed out without a cravat.”
Biffy was aghast. “Certainly not, my lord!”
“Good to know where I stand from the start.” Conall grinned amiably at the boy.
Rumpet stuck his head in. Rumpet had been brought out of retirement to take over for Floote as pack butler. He’d set up as an innkeeper in Pickering after the vampires took over Woolsey but jumped at the chance to return to his old position. Pickering and innkeeping, as it turned out, were not all he had hoped.
“Lady Maccon, there’s a gentleman to see you.” The butler had a certain curl to his lip that in Alexia’s experience could only mean one man.
“Ah, show him into the front parlor. If you will excuse me, husband, Biffy, I’m certain you have much to discuss. There is Channing to consider, if nothing else.”
“Oh, blast it. Channing,” muttered Lord Maccon.
Alexia let herself out.
Lord Akeldama sat waiting for her in the front parlor, one silken leg crossed over the other, blue eyes bright and slightly accusatory. He was wearing pea green and salmon this evening, a pleasant swirl of spring colors to counteract the gray weather they’d been experiencing of late.
“Alexia, my darling toggle button!”
“My lord, how are you?”
“I am here to reclaim my dearest little daughter.”
“Of course, of course. Rumpet, fetch Prudence for his lordship, would you? She’s sleeping in the back parlor. Did you miss her, my lord?”
“Like a hat misses a feather, darling! The droney poos and I have been bereft, quite bereft I tell you!”
“Well, she was very useful, in her way.”
“Of course she was. And Matakara—are the rumors true?”
“Where do you think Ivy acquired her new hive?”
“Yes, Alexia, pigeon, I mean to discuss that little incident with you. Did you have to bring them all?”
“A new queen, plus five Egyptian vampires and assorted drones? You object to my bringing souvenirs back from Egypt? Everyone brings back souvenirs from their travels abroad, my lord. It is the done thing.”
“Well, dewdrop, I don’t object as such, but…”
Alexia smiled craftily. “Ivy has chosen somewhere in Wimbledon for her hive’s location. A little too close for comfort, my lord?”
The vampire arched a blond eyebrow at her haughtily. “Countess Nadasdy is not amused.”
“She wouldn’t be. Someone is essentially taking on her old role in society.”
“Ivy Tunstell, no less.” Lord Akeldama frowned, one perfect crease marring the white smoothness of his forehead. “She is terribly interested in fashion, isn’t she?”