‘Mr Strongrock overstates the situation,’ Vale observed, ‘but it isn’t possible in any case. I agree that it is worth investigating, but unfortunately we won’t be able to get in. The affair is strictly invitation only, and even if I can enter the place disguised, I am not sure that either of you would be able to do so.’
‘I agree that the Fae are probably behind it,’ Kai put in, ‘but there has to be a better way of investigating them. As this one isn’t going to work.’
‘No.’ Irene said. ‘It will work. Because I have an invitation.’
‘Excellent!’ Vale exclaimed.
‘And,’ she added, ‘I’ll need a new dress.’
‘And a new hand?’ Kai asked through gritted teeth.
Irene managed to catch his eye. ‘Trust me,’ she said.
‘Oh, I do,’ Kai said. ‘I just happen to think that this is one of the most reckless, hare-brained, soul-endangering plans I have heard of since—’ He broke off. ‘Never mind. I’m under your orders. But that invitation had better be for three people.’
‘It’ll do,’ Irene said serenely, and tried to stay calm, and composed, and everything that she didn’t feel.
Irene stood back and watched Kai at the buffet. There was something fascinating about the pure, focused dedication that he gave the caviar: it seemed to somehow elevate the little black grains into something holy, even divine. The curve of his wrist as he scooped it onto a triangle of toast was the last word in elegant efficiency. Of course, there were other reasons to watch. Thanks to Vale’s tailoring recommendations, Irene was decorously gowned in a nice dark green, but Kai . . . well.
Kai managed to wear evening dress with a personal style that made Irene work very hard on repressing jealousy – and on stifling a half-formed wish that she’d accepted his offer last night. It was not her business that Kai had such an air of inherent power, or the elegance of a nobleman combined with a somehow touching air of raffishness . . .
That made her think. When she’d first seen him he’d been in leather jacket and jeans, with a young ruffian attitude to match. But once they’d established themselves here, he’d shifted his style and his language as effectively as any spy (and that wasn’t a comforting thought), easing into a more cheerful politeness that had certainly mollified her. At the ball, he’d adjusted himself again without a moment’s hesitation. She took a sip from her glass of wine, held in her left hand. Dry white, appropriate to the largely fish buffet.
She still trusted him. That enthusiasm – that vigorous, cheerful offering of himself that night – and even his unwillingness to accept what he thought was a dangerous course of action, both rang true to her. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he was sincere and he was on her side.
He couldn’t be a fully-fledged Librarian. He wouldn’t have been so willing to share a bed with her if he’d needed to hide the requisite Library brand. That was one thing which make-up wouldn’t cover, as Irene knew from personal experience. And she didn’t think he was a creature of chaos. His distrust of all things Fae seemed very real. A nature-spirit, perhaps? But from what she’d read, nonhuman spirits didn’t actually like taking human form that much. And then again, there was one significant alternative. She stared at the back of Kai’s head and thought about everything that she knew about dragons, and wished she knew more.
There were dragons, after all, who looked like – well – dragons. And then dragons could take a partly human form. She’d met one of those and sensed a pride so sublimely unaware of itself that it was somehow graceful. There had been the sense of a being apart, and definitely not human. She didn’t get that from Kai, except he did have the dignity. And Kai looked human. Impossibly handsome, but entirely human. Yet she’d been told that dragons could take that shape as well, if they wanted. Irene felt a rising sense of outrage at the thought that Coppelia must have known – if this was true. So why hadn’t she said – and why had Bradamant wanted him?
‘My little mouse, I believe,’ a voice said from behind her. ‘How good of you to come.’
Irene had enough of a grip on herself not to spill her wine. Just about. And she hadn’t been so engrossed in her student that she’d forgotten to watch the crowd. She just hadn’t seen him coming. She turned and dropped into a curtsey, flicking a brief glance up at his face before lowering her eyes. ‘Lord Silver.’ She had no idea whether or not he deserved the title, but it’d probably please him. He was as formally dressed as Kai, with some unspecified military order on his chest, and his pale hair was draped loosely over his shoulders. ‘Thank you for your kind invitation.’
‘You do pick the most interesting people to accompany you,’ he said. His tone was amused rather than dangerous. ‘But I appreciate it. I’d have invited Leeds myself if I’d thought of it.’
‘I didn’t realize you were on those sorts of terms with him, sir,’ Irene said.
‘I’m not.’ His lips curved in a private smile. ‘Very definitely not.’
Irene straightened out of her curtsey. ‘The ball seems very successful,’ she said neutrally.
Silver glanced across the room with a smile of casual ownership. He scooped up a plate from the buffet, casually loaded it with a handful of crab pâté puffs, and offered it to her. ‘I should hope so,’ he said. ‘I’ve invited all the best people. Lords, ladies, authors, ambassadors, debauchers, grave-robbers, perverts, sorcerers, courtesans, deranged scientists, and doll-makers. And a few innocent socialites, of course, but generally I receive polite notes of refusal from their parents – or invitations to be horsewhipped.’