Hi, folks. So. Because of my bout of illness and consequently loooong more-or-less-total absence from the bookery world, my newer books have been sadly neglected and they have not been promoted as I would normally do. I’m making up for that now, but it takes time, and meanwhile some of my poor books are languishing with very few reviews.
This is a little bit of a problem. Furthermore, I am sometimes asked for signed paperbacks but for various (mostly geographical) reasons it is hard for me to offer these. I like to try to plug this gap by running a giveaway from time to time (until I figure out a solution). And it has been a while since the last one, hasn’t it?
For the next few weeks I propose to combine these two problems(ish) and invite you to turn reviewer. Until October 31st I will be offering review copies (e-books only) of the following titles:
The Malykant Mysteries Compendium
Normally I only offer review copies selectively, but for the next few weeks these are available to anyone who’d like to participate. Secondly, anybody who posts a review of one or more of the above books during this event will be entered into a draw to win three signed paperbacks of your choice. I’ll also be picking a runner-up who’ll receive one signed paperback.
NOTE: I can’t offer a Malykant Mysteries paperback because I don’t have one yet. That’s coming. The Draykon Series, Aylfenhame #1, Black Mercury and Seven Dreams are all available.
How to Participate:
If you’ve already read any or all of the above but haven’t reviewed them yet, all you need to do is go write up a review. Post it to your favourite ebook store, and/or Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to your review(s) and I’ll put your name into the hat.
If you haven’t read any of these titles but you’d like to, contact me at: email@example.com and I will supply you with a review copy. After that, as above.
Note that you effectively receive one entry in my little prize-draw per review, so if you review all four, you get entered four times and will therefore have a higher chance of winning some paperbacks.
E-book review copies are available until October 12th. The Great Review Event closes on November 30th, after which time I’ll be picking the winners and sending out the books. This means you’ll have a couple of months to read the books and post reviews.
This is open to pretty much anyone, anywhere in the world. BUT, if you live somewhere where it’s going to be really hard for me to post books to you… well, we’ll have to figure something out. In the vast majority of cases this is unlikely to be a problem.
I’ll be using some fantastic gadgety random-number-generator to pick the winners, so it’ll all be as… well, random as I can make it.
I’ll probably use Smashwords to distribute review copies, because it’s easy and convenient for all. If you really prefer not to use Smashwords, however, let me know and I’ll do something else.
That’s it! If you have any questions please comment, or email me, and I shall duly answer them. In the meantime, happy reading!
It’s time for NEWS, starting with Seven Dreams! Which is now available in paperback. How jazzy is that? It can be purchased from CreateSpace or Amazon right away, and it should be appearing in other stores over the next few weeks.
What Am I Even Doing Right Now?
I’m presently writing a sequel to Miss Landon and Aubranael (this was due last year, but was delayed Because of Reasons, etc). It is entitled Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman, and it is – surprisingly enough – about Miss Isabel Ellerby, whose adventures in Aylfenhame are at least as colourful and surprising as Sophy’s.
Tentative release date for this is end of October/early November, as it is Proceeding Apace. I have set up a pre-order! It will be priced at $4.99 upon release, but it’s $2.99 if you pre-order it. I haven’t set up a pre-order at Amazon, for various reasons, but if you want to pre-order a Kindle-ready version, your friend here is Smashwords. It’s also up already at Barnes and Noble, and on its way to iBooks and Kobo in due course (hopefully it’ll appear at those stores this week).
I’m happy to announce that the same illustrator from book one, Miss Rosie Lauren Smith, is creating a new set of illustrations for book 2! I’ve been sharing these on facebook as they’re finished (follow me here if you want to keep up with those). Here are the first two!
Isabel’s new companion, the catterdandy, enjoys a feast of summer fruits; and the Alford Assembly is gate-crashed by a crowd of Ayliri…
Charlotte, Where Are You?
So, er, one post every four months counts as almost bi-monthly, right…?
No, not really. Okay, so I don’t blog much anymore, but I’m not gone! My regular presence has shifted more to Facebook and Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Pinterest. Follow me on Facebook if you want shiny pictures soonest, book funnies, cute stuff, and the like; Twitter if you care about my occasional life and work updates; and Pinterest if you’d like to see the kinds of stuff I draw inspiration from (for example, I have a board for Aylfenhame).
On a different but related note, if you’d like to know when I have a new book out but you don’t want to sign up for my newsletter, you can use your Amazon account on the US site to follow me. Amazon will send you a handy-dandy email when I publish something new, which is great, right? It doesn’t appear to be available on other Amazon stores yet, but I guess we can all use the US function in the meantime.
My newsletter is absolutely still functional, though. I’ll mail you when I publish something, and also occasionally if I have something special happening. You’ll find the sign-up form over thataway to the left <————-
That’s all the important bits of news. I’ll post again before Christmas, promise.
And back to writing…
How much do I love cover reveal time?!
Courtesy of the marvellous Elsa Kroese, here is our cover for Seven Dreams:
As promised, another tidbit of Seven Dreams ahead of release on May 4th. Time to meet the rest of the cast!
In the cloakroom of Dame Halavere’s country mansion, two temporary members of staff were hard at work accepting the many cloaks, coats, mantles, hoods and scarves of their employer’s guests, and assisting them in changing their outdoor shoes into dancing slippers. Teyodin Bambre was a little too tall to be strictly nondescript, but he had covered his shaggy, dark brown hair with a neat wig of an indeterminate hue and had adopted besides a bland expression perfectly suited to his role for the evening. A man of early middle years, he wore his age well, though there were a few tell-tale lines around his eyes and mouth. He attended to the gentleman guests with gracious solicitude; a worthy servant, but never so helpful as to excite comment, or to encourage anyone to remember him.
His colleague, Egg (or Egrenne, though she hated to be addressed by that name) performed the same service for the ladies. She was ten years younger than her associate, in truth, though she could have passed for a few years younger still. Her skin was also a few shades lighter than his darkish brown, though neither could be called pale. Her dark red hair was concealed beneath a black wig, she had bound almost flat the feminine assets which could not help but attract attention, and she was attired in the uniform livery of the Morann family. Teyo did not even glance at her as he went about his business, nor she at him; they were too well practiced at this art to betray any acquaintance with one another.
As Teyo worked, he set about committing to memory every face that appeared before him, together with any memorable details about that person and, if he could contrive it, their name. He also kept his ears open for any snatches of overheard conversation that might help him to determine who among Dame Halavere’s guests was her appointed contact.
They had been assisting the guests for an hour already, and the task seemed endless. Just as the flow of ball attendees seemed to finally be slowing down, a fresh flood of them would burst through the doors, setting Egg and Teyo bustling once more. Teyo’s memory was excellent, but even he was beginning to lose track of the many faces that had passed before his eyes. Most of the conversation he heard, moreover, was vacuous in the extreme and of neither use nor interest to him.
…delightful party… Dame Halavere so beautiful… goodness, but these shoes do pinch! I hope I shall be able to dance in them… careful with that, man, it is the finest silk! Who can that lovely young woman be, there in the violet gown? …heard about Miss Galler? Cannot countenance how she can show her face… shabbiest of refreshments at Sir Tatton’s last week, do hope Dame Halavere’s will be better…
In addition to all of this, Teyo was also obliged to keep track of his companion, friend and co-spy, Jisp. The creature was tiny, lithe and orange-scaled, with a blunt snout and lively black eyes. The sticky yellow pads to her toes allowed her to climb anywhere and everywhere, and he had frequently found this to be a useful talent.
He had discovered his draykon heritage a year ago, and very suddenly. He had been wandering across a field, deep in thought, and abruptly he had not been human anymore at all. He did not know how his sudden transformation had come about — certainly through no will of his own — but he understood it to be an increasingly common occurrence these days.
He had received training since, and one of the best perks of his unexpected heritage was his ability to bond and communicate with animals. He and Jisp had formed a strong friendship soon afterwards, and they were greatly attached to one another.
Not much happening down here, she reported from somewhere beneath a pile of shoes. These things stink.
Okay, switch to the pockets, he instructed her. He could not, as a servant, risk going through the guests’ pockets himself; if caught, he would be instantly dismissed and his part in the evening’s job would be over. Jisp, however, was perfect for the task. She instantly busied herself with climbing the ranks of coats and cloaks which hung on racks behind him, and nosing her way into all the nooks and crannies they contained. She transmitted to him a series of mental pictures of everything that she found within: handkerchiefs, snuffboxes, an occasional pipe or pot of rouge. Nothing of interest.
And then: a note! Jisp painstakingly nosed her way over the scrawled words as Teyo fought to focus both on that and the shoes of the gentleman before him. Midnight by the fountain, it said. Teyo’s heart beat a little faster. Do not wear your… oh. The next word was a vulgar term for women’s undergarments.
Teyo muttered something under his breath as he hung up the next cloak. He was disappointed, though he couldn’t help feeling a flicker of appalled fascination as well. Did the high-and-mighty truly attend grand society events without their underwear, and engage in scandalous trysts in their hosts’ gardens? So much for all their vaunted propriety.
Jisp continued with her explorations without any further excitement. The flow of guests was at last beginning to wane, and Teyo was prepared to give up, when he noticed that Egg was trying to attract his attention. She made a surreptitious signal, which he translated as: Kitchens, half an hour.
Jisp had completed her survey of the pockets of Dame Halavere’s guests, but she was so well entertained that Teyo left her to rummage as she wished. There was little danger of her being discovered, in spite of her bright colours; she had an unerring nose for danger and a remarkable talent for disappearing at a second’s notice. He passed the appointed half-hour in the scrupulous performance of his duties, a footman to the core, and by the time it was over new guests had ceased to arrive, and Teyo was free to depart. He did so speedily, lest his temporary superior, the butler, appear at an inopportune moment and order him elsewhere.
The kitchens were in chaos, of course. A banquet for hundreds of people had to be prepared, and everything must be perfect. Regaled with the sights and aromas of myriad glorious dishes, Teyo was briefly sorry that it would not be possible for him to partake of it. But he was able to palm a tiny fruit tart on his way through, together with a second one for Egg. They were warm in his hand as he slipped through the rear door into the pantries, and down a flight of steps at the back.
He and Egg had explored the house earlier that day, and agreed upon a meeting point. A disused storeroom lay behind a broken door in the cellar. Egg had left the leaning door open several inches, and Teyo slipped inside.
It was almost fully dark. Egg had a tiny glow-lamp for purposes such as these, and she had muted its already subtle light by covering it with a lightweight cloth. Fine cambric, he judged, with a pretty lace border. She had filched a handkerchief from one of the lady guests.
‘Resourceful,’ he murmured, indicating the handkerchief with a nod.
Egg flashed her wide, mischievous grin. ‘I am. Thank you. Find anything much?’
‘A very, very steamy love-note,’ Teyo replied, widening his eyes.
Egg coughed. ‘Anything relevant?’
‘About eighty snuffboxes and a truly appalling number of handkerchiefs. Oh, and Mr. Archiban Binker is to wed Miss Tia Wennan after all, though it was not thought that he would come up to the mark.’
Egg nodded wisely. ‘Wonderful news. I was wondering when those two would get together. Meanwhile, I have been hugely successful.’
‘In that case, you win food.’ Teyo handed her a fruit tart, and devoured his own in one bite.
‘Thanks,’ Egg said, her mouth already full of pastry. ‘Do I win two?’
Teyo shook his head. ‘The degree of your brilliance has yet to be demonstrated. It is not yet certain that you merit two.’
‘You merited one without doing anything at all!’ Egg protested.
‘That’s different. I was the thief of this operation: I get spoils.’ Teyo folded his arms.
Eg sighed. ‘Fine. Come with me.’
This, Teyo had not expected. He followed her out of the pantry, keeping a cautious eye out for passing staff. Egg led him to the other side of the spacious cellar, and Teyo became gradually aware of a faint sound: the sound, perhaps, of somebody writhing about and trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to shout around some kind of obstruction in the mouth. Egg threw open the door to one of the liquor rooms and whipped the handkerchief off her light-globe as she did so, allowing its light to blaze much brighter.
The room beyond was full of fat wooden barrels, probably containing brandy. It also had an occupant. A man in groom’s attire was lying face-first over one of the barrels, his legs and arms trussed up with something that looked suspiciously like stockings. Teyo raised an eyebrow at Egg, who shrugged.
‘What the—’ she said loudly as she stepped forward. ‘Oh, my giddy goodness! Are you all right?’ She had developed the broad vowels and drawling intonation of a local country lass, and when she ran forward to assist the captive, her demeanour was of shock and charmingly dim-witted concern. She soon managed to untangle the stocking which bound up the man’s hands, while Teyo ripped away his gag and the bindings on his legs. He got a good look at the captive’s face in the process, and understood at once why Egg had stuffed him in the brandy cellar.
‘Of course I’m all right!’ spat the man, and shoved past Egg without another word. He vanished through the door, leaving Egg to waggle her eyebrows at Teyo in an intolerably smug fashion.
Because Teyo had seen the man before, of course. His younger years had been neither as productive nor as respectable as he might have liked; he had, to his regret, been a member of the Yllandu. It was never easy to extricate oneself from such an outfit, but Teyo had managed it at last. He had offered himself to the Torwyne Agency of Irbel, and been accepted. For the past four years he had been working with Serena, Fabian and Egrenne to oppose everything the Unspeakables attempted to do in Irbel or Nimdre.
Egg’s captive was Yllandu. He had joined the organisation just as Teyo was leaving, and the two had never been acquainted. He had a distinctive face, however: pale and violently freckled, with a nose that veered sharply to the left.
‘And now we follow,’ Egg said proudly, and darted after the escapee. Teyo wandered after, pausing only briefly when the returning Jisp opted to scarper up his trouser-leg.
Serena had danced once with Fabian, once with the lively and very handsome Lord Darnwell, and once each with Mr. Rostover and Mr. Brackly. ‘Both so eligible,’ she breathlessly confided to Fabian a little later, as she downed a glass of punch.
‘Can you not stop dancing for five minutes?’ he returned in a disapproving tone. His eyes scanned the crowd as he spoke, ostensibly gazing with suitably admiring intensity at all the prettiest young ladies present. Serena knew that he was actually keeping an eye on Dame Halavere.
‘It must be my gown,’ she said modestly, lightly touching the silk. ‘It puts the gentlemen in such a fever of admiration, how can I be expected to resist?’ She smiled winningly.
‘We have work to do,’ he reminded her in a low voice.
‘I am working.’
‘That can be work.’ Serena finished her punch, set down her glass and swapped with Fabian. It was his turn to busy himself about the punch-bowl, and hers to maintain a surreptitious scrutiny of Dame Halavere’s movements, together with those of any other guest who might be behaving in unexpected ways. She noticed one gentleman — Trimble, his name was; an incorrigible libertine — slipping out of the rear door with Mrs. Vasher. Both were notoriously free with their favours, and Mrs. Vasher was doing far too much giggling for Serena’s taste.
‘Probably she is not even wearing underwear,’ Serena muttered under her breath.
‘What was that?’ whispered Fabian around his punch-glass.
Nothing else untoward occurred. Dame Halavere was dancing with Sir Kunley Prosh, a gentleman of advancing years who Serena instantly dismissed as a candidate for intrigue. He was far too simple-minded. He danced rather poorly — only his great wealth made him tolerable either as a ball-guest or a partner, she suspected — and smiled at his pretty partner in such a fatuous way that Serena felt reassured: nothing of the remotest interest could be going on inside that head.
When the dance came to an end, Halavere rejected the invitation of the next gentleman to approach her and made her way towards the garden doors.
Two men came towards Serena at the same moment, their intentions writ large upon their amiable faces, and she made a noise of frustration. ‘I should have brought Teyo into the ballroom,’ she hissed at Fabian.
‘What?’ he blinked. ‘Why?’
‘Because then we could have pretended to escape into the garden for a daring tryst, and I would not be stuck with these people.’
‘Would it have been pretend?’ Fabian asked with interest.
‘We’re going to have to do it the other way,’ she sighed.
‘Oh, no,’ Fabian muttered. ‘Please don’t do that again—’
His entreaties went unheeded. Just as her first would-be dance partner arrived with proffered hand, Serena began to sway slightly on her feet, her hand lifting to her forehead with an intriguing little fluttering motion. ‘Oh,’ she whispered faintly, ‘I do feel so very…’
She was not, in her weakness, able to utter another syllable before she sank into an elegant swoon. For a second, she thought that Fabian was not going to catch her after all. She shot him a glare from under her eyelids and, with a sigh, he broke her fall with every appearance of solicitude. Gone was Fabian Carterett, replaced by the perpetual boredom and faint, spoiled sneer of Lord Bastavere.
‘Oh, no, is it the vapours again?’ he murmured with becoming concern. ‘My poor, dear sister. What could be causing these repeated fits? I do hope it is not anything fatal.’
Serena was too artfully unconscious to be able to attempt any reply, though she made a mental note to smack him for it later. A little crowd had gathered around her, thrusting several bottles of smelling-salts under her nose at once. The aroma made her cough, her eyes watered, and she was obliged to recover.
The operation proceeded with well-practiced ease from there. In a trice, Fabian had explained to the company with brotherly concern that his sister required a little air; he had elbowed away the solicitous advances of the gentlemen and fended off the (largely feigned) concern of the ladies. He gently shepherded Serena out into the gardens, reassuringly unaccompanied, and there she underwent an instant and miraculous recovery.
‘You are so very good at that,’ she said, beaming.
‘I’ve had a lot of practice,’ he said dryly, offering her his arm. ‘I begin to think ballrooms are hazardous to your health. You cannot enter one without falling into a swoon.’
‘Quite right. I will have to give up the dancing and the flirting, and leave them both to Egg.’ She took his arm and they promenaded serenely through the darkened gardens, their path lit by way of dozens of light-globes floating just overhead.
It did not prove difficult to locate Dame Halavere. She had left a trail of heavy perfume, so powerful as to outdo even the exotic flowers for dominance. Serena followed her nose.
The garden was laid out in an ornamental arrangement, framed by tall hedges which divided it up into sections. Halavere’s trail led through a corridor of red-blooming vines and past a grand marble fountain. Serena thought she could hear giggling coming from behind one of the hedges. Fabian tried to turn towards it, but Serena pulled him back, shaking her head.
‘Not Halavere,’ she muttered, with an expressive roll of her eyes.
Fabian snorted. ‘I like this party.’
‘I can’t tell you how uninterested I am in hearing about that. Come on, this way.’
The soft scrunch of feminine footsteps on gravel sounded from somewhere ahead, and Serena and Fabian came to a halt. Peeping around a hedge, Serena observed Dame Halavere, but dimly visible in the moonlit darkness, lingering in a corner of the hedge.
‘She’s skulking,’ she reported in a faint whisper.
‘It’s always so promising when they skulk,’ Fabian replied with approval. He peered around Serena’s shoulder and added, ‘This is an especially promising skulk. She is certainly waiting for someone.’
‘Undoubtedly,’ Serena murmured. ‘Perhaps we could talk about it later?’
Fabian gave one of his soft snorts, and subsided. They waited in silence, until Serena’s straining ears caught the sounds of another set of approaching footsteps: heavier, probably male. The newcomer came into view moments later, and Serena could not repress a smile of mingled satisfaction and amusement. He was dressed as a groom, though his disguise was mediocre at best. He had none of the air of a man of the stables; he displayed the peculiar combination of swagger and furtiveness that marked out all the most desperate characters, and even the once-broken nose of a born brawler. It could virtually be considered a uniform among the Unspeakables. Why could criminals never display any imagination?
She waited in breathless anticipation, but to her disappointment, neither party spoke. The Desperate Character merely glanced about into the shadows in a disappointingly cursory fashion, and then handed something to Dame Halavere. What it was Serena could not, in the darkness, determine, but it seemed to satisfy the lady; she nodded, tucked the thing into a pocket of her gown without looking at it, and immediately withdrew. Serena feared for an instant that she would pass by them on her way back to the house, but she disappeared into the darkness on the other side of the hedge. The Desperate Character returned the way he had come, leaving Serena and Fabian alone.
Fabian stuck his hands into his pockets and stood for a moment in thought. ‘Worth pursuing?’ he eventually enquired.
Serena shrugged. ‘Could’ve been anything.’
‘A grocery list,’ Fabian agreed.
‘A recipe for hair pomade.’
‘The name of his tailor.’
‘A love note.’
‘Mm,’ Fabian said appreciatively. ‘Scandalous.’
‘We had better find out,’ Serena decided. ‘All that skulking has to indicate something juicy.’
‘But how to retrieve it? The pockets of a lady’s ball gown are closely guarded.’
‘Egg could do it,’ Fabian suggested. ‘Or Jispie.’
‘True, but where are they? I don’t want Halavere to have time to use or destroy whatever it is, before we can get to it.’
A hint of wariness crept into Fabian’s tone. ‘What exactly do you have in mind?’
Serena directed at him her most winning smile. ‘Dearest Fabe, seeing as you are quite the handsomest of brothers—’
‘Oh, no,’ he said firmly, cutting her off. ‘I am not seducing a woman again just so you can go rummaging in her pockets.’
‘Actually, I thought that you would do the pocket-rummaging.’ She paused. ‘That came out a little wrong.’
Fabian gave one of his snorts of laughter, but he still shook his head. ‘Absolutely not. Besides, if we don’t have time to find Egg, what makes you think we have time for that?’
‘All you have to do is dance with her. Come on!’
Fabian began to say something else, but Serena had already darted away in the direction Halavere had taken. She had learned the trick long ago of moving quickly and quietly on any terrain, gravel included, and she soon caught up with Halavere. Their hostess appeared to be making her way back to the ballroom, but slowly, and by a circuitous route. Serena and Fabian followed a cautious distance behind, keeping a close eye on her, but she met no one else nor did her hand ever stray to the pocket in which she’d secreted whatever her associate had given her. At last she disappeared back into the swelling music and welcoming lights of the ballroom.
‘Go!’ Serena hissed.
‘Egg’s probably already on it,’ he protested.
‘Egg could be doing a million other things right now.’
Fabian thought about that for a second. ‘I don’t really think that’s possible, no.’
Serena gave him an inelegant shove in the direction of the ballroom. He gave a deep, long-suffering sigh, but he went. Serena trailed inside soon afterwards and observed, to her satisfaction, that Fabian had succeeded in securing Dame Halavere for a dance, and was whirling her around the floor. He was clearly exerting all his considerable powers to please, and not without success, for the lady’s attention was fully focused upon him.
Serena drifted back to the punch bowls. She could rely on Fabe to get the goods; though he was not nearly so talented a pickpocket as Egg, he was certainly equal to this challenge. She was soon solicited for a dance herself, an invitation which she accepted, and a pleasant half-hour or so passed happily away. Fabian danced all the while with Halavere.
They met by the buffet table soon afterwards, and under cover of handing her a laden plate with all possible brotherly solicitude, Fabian hissed, ‘Piece of paper. Blank.’
Serena almost dropped the plate. ‘What?’
‘Nothing on it,’ he clarified.
Serena suppressed a sigh. ‘I know what blank means. How can it be blank? Surely it is some kind of invisible message.’
‘It’s blank,’ Fabian repeated.
Serena drooped over her plate of sweets, disappointed and puzzled. Had Halavere’s contact deceived her somehow? Or did she know, or suspect, that she was under observation and had acted out the whole charade in order to deceive? Perhaps the real meeting was taking place somewhere else, or perhaps it was already over. What if she knew who was here to watch her? Serena thought not, but couldn’t be sure.
‘I think we’d better behave ourselves for the next while,’ Serena said sadly.
Fabian sighed. ‘How boring.’
On the other side of the garden, Teyo and Egg were particularly well-concealed. Teyo’s draykon heritage granted him more than passable skill at sorcery, arts which had long been familiar and widely practiced across the Seven — even if their source had only recently come to be understood. He had cloaked them both in a patch of shadow, making them indistinguishable from the darkness around them. As such, it had been possible for them to creep up very close to Halavere and her contact without being seen.
They watched the exchange in silence, and a touch of disappointment. Halavere didn’t even look at the piece of paper; she merely stuffed it into her pocket and walked off. Teyo had been hoping to see some kind of altercation, which might have revealed more about the purpose of the meeting and the extent of Halavere’s involvement in Unspeakable business. He was obliged to content himself with the knowledge that her evening would grow somewhat complicated as soon as she realised the paper was blank.
‘I’m going to follow him,’ Teyo whispered to Egg, who agreed with a silent nod. They tailed the Unspeakable Gentleman all the way around the edges of the extensive gardens and up to the edge of the wide lawn that surrounded the house. It would be much harder to follow him across all that, and he suspected there would be little point; the man’s purpose had apparently been fulfilled, he had no one further to meet and no other tasks to accomplish, and he was leaving. Teyo thought he could be left to return to whichever rat-hole he was crouching in tonight, and turned back to Egg.
‘Thoughts?’ she said.
‘Think anything else is likely to happen tonight?’
‘Her Dameship is due to throw a fit at some point, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to catch that show.’ This last was spoken with some regret.
Teyo nodded. ‘We’ve got what we came for. Let’s find Rena and Fabe and get out of here.’
Their associates were summoned by the simple means of sending Jisp into the ball room and up the legs of either Serena or Fabian, whichever she encountered first. This errand complete, Teyo and Egg retired to the gates to await the arrival of the stupendous Chartre/Bastavere carriage, which soon drew up. They piled inside, and Teyo sank gratefully down onto the seat opposite Serena.
‘I had no idea the life of a footman was so exhausting,’ he muttered, sagging. ‘Two hundred cloaks later, and my arms hurt like—’
‘Whiner,’ muttered Egg.
‘Only tell me you have something fabulous to report, and it will all be worth it,’ Serena said. ‘Fabe and I failed. We saw Halavere meet someone, but he apparently gave her a blank piece of paper. Maybe a decoy?’
Egg rolled her eyes and groaned. ‘We’ve been working together how long? Four years, isn’t it?’
Serena turned a hopeful gaze upon Egg. ‘You found something?’
Egg gave a snort. ‘What do you think I was doing while you were tearing up the ballroom? Knitting?’
Teyo gave her a reproachful glance, and she patted his knee in brief apology. ‘Sorry, Teyo. I don’t mean to imply that knitting isn’t an exceptionally worthy pastime.’
Teyo nodded cool acceptance of this concession.
‘You switched the paper!’ Serena guessed.
‘Of course I switched the paper,’ Egg uttered with infinite weariness. She took the real paper out of her pocket and thrust it at Fabian, who was sitting opposite. Serena immediately craned her neck to look at it too.
‘I caught Halavere’s contact before the meeting ever took place,’ Egg continued. ‘He stuck out like a sore thumb, did you notice? Anyway, I got the paper off him after I tied him up and chucked him over a brandy barrel.’
Serena and Fabian were too busy consulting over the contents of the note to pay any heed to Egg’s announcement, and she turned a piteous stare upon Teyo.
‘There, there,’ he said soothingly. ‘I know you were brilliant.’
‘I need a pay rise,’ Egg muttered.
‘So, this place,’ Serena said. ‘You two know who it belongs to, right?’ She displayed the note, upon which was written the name Bellaster Park.
Teyo and Egg both shook their heads. ‘High society is your field,’ Egg said tartly.
‘It belongs,’ said Serena with a great sigh, ‘to Baron Anserval.’
‘Who?’ said Teyo.
‘Baron Farran Anserval!’ Serena elaborated in a grand voice. ‘The King of Pomposity! He’s fabulously wealthy. He purchased his barony a few years ago and settled down in southern Irbel, at the incredibly ostentatious Bellaster Park. Since then he’s devoted himself to buying basically everything of any value that comes in his way. The house is stuffed with rubbish by now.’
‘What does Halavere want with any of that?’ Teyo enquired.
‘I don’t know,’ Serena said with a small frown. ‘I might guess that he is an associate of the Unspeakables as well, but probably not? It looks more like he’s a target. In which case, perhaps he’s acquired something that Halavere wants — and, perhaps, that the Unspeakables want too.’
‘A robbery!’ said Egg in delight.
Teyo frowned. ‘Private houses are difficult to infiltrate, especially these grand places. Any chance he’ll be giving a ball soon?’
Serena said nothing, only sighed. Fabian answered instead, with a particularly fiendish grin.
‘That won’t be a problem,’ he said.
Egg kicked him in the shins. ‘Don’t be mysterious. Tell us why it won’t be a problem.’
‘Because,’ he said with relish, ‘The good Baron Anserval happens to be horribly in love with Serena.’
‘He is not,’ protested Serena, sitting abruptly upright with bristling indignation. ‘He is in love with Lady Fenella.’
‘You’re right,’ Fabian apologised. ‘A most vital distinction.’
Serena nodded gravely. ‘I can’t deny that it is a useful happenstance, but it is most tiresome. He really is the most dreadful bore.’
Fabian made a soothing noise. ‘Perhaps Oliver won’t wish us to pursue it.’
Teyo raised his brows. Oliver Tullen, their boss, was typically in favour of their pursuing everything that came up in connection with the Unspeakables; he would certainly send them after this little mystery. Serena knew it, too, for she turned upon Fabian a withering look and made no reply.
‘Yes, I suppose you’re right,’ Fabian said, nodding wisely. ‘You’ll just have to steel yourself, sis, and put up with an hour or two of fervent admiration.’
‘Which hour or two?’ Egg demanded. ‘We have only a place. No date or time, or anything to tell us what’s happening there or when. And we haven’t got much time to figure it out. Switching the paper won’t slow Halavere down for long. She’ll wring the information out of somebody soon enough.’
‘Stake-out,’ said Teyo.
Egg sighed. ‘I suppose.’
‘No matter,’ said Serena with a brilliant smile. ‘There are more of us, now, after all! Many hands make light work, and all that.’
Teyo blinked. ‘What?’
Serena beamed at him. ‘It’s time to go and pick up our new recruit.’