. . . and she was going to drive herself into paranoia at this rate. ‘I agree that sleep would be a good idea,’ she said, causing both Vale and Kai to give her aggrieved looks. They could have a bonding session some other time, or after she had gone to sleep. Dragons might be stand-offish in general, but this particular dragon seemed inclined to be friendly, or even outright demonstrative, and possibly even a thorough Romantic. She was much more detached. Semidetached. Her brain was tired enough that her thoughts were making stupid connections. ‘I hate to impose on you for a bed, Mr Vale, but . . .’
‘Of course,’ Vale said, giving in gracefully. ‘The bed in the spare room has already been made up for you. I’m afraid that Mr Strongrock will have to make do with the couch in here. My housekeeper has put out some blankets. I’ll just fetch them.’
The moment he was out of the room, Kai turned to Irene. ‘Well?’
He folded his arms defensively, drawing himself to his full height. ‘I expected you’d want to talk about . . . well, you know. You’ve probably guessed.’
She’d thought about how to handle this. She’d run through several different scenarios in her head, and none of them that started out ‘so explain why you’re a dragon’ had ended well. He was proud. She was familiar with the emotion. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to ask you any questions.’
Kai stood there like a beautiful statue (in a second-hand dressing-gown with frayed cuffs), blinking at her. The rain was audible on the window for several seconds before he could bring himself to speak again. ‘You’re not?’
‘My trust in you hasn’t changed.’ She put her unbandaged hand on his wrist. ‘I believe that if it mattered, if it was truly important, then you would tell me. You wouldn’t jeopardize the mission for the sake of your own pride. But when it comes to your private matters – yours and your family’s – I don’t intend to pry.’
‘Irene.’ He swallowed. ‘That’s very generous of you.’
‘Think nothing of it,’ she said, turning away.
‘And it makes me feel like hell,’ he said to her back.
Ah, guilt. Which Irene was very definitely feeling herself at the moment, for what she’d said and also what she hadn’t said to Vale, and for the way that she’d manipulated Kai. She could tell herself that she’d only acted as was necessary in a dangerous situation, but she knew perfectly well that he’d confessed his nature to save her life, and she’d just . . . well, given him orders and enforced their relationship as superior and trainee. All her feelings of natural justice encouraged her to confess something to him in return, but she wasn’t sure what she could say.
And now he was offering her another chance to manipulate him. Under some conditions, Irene would happily have encouraged his guilt in the hopes of getting him to spill the full details, but in the middle of a mission wasn’t one of them. I am not a nice person, she thought, to be thinking only of the mission, sparing nothing for my responsibilities to him.
‘What do you want me to say?’ she asked, turning round to look at him. ‘I’m grateful that you saved our lives. Thank you.’
‘You’re taking this far too calmly.’ He ran one hand through his hair. ‘You should be demanding answers, being furious—’
‘I thought you said you knew me.’ She pointed a finger at him. ‘Look. So far – so far just today – I have coped with discovering the skin of a senior Librarian, with running into a trap of chaos energies, with an attack by alligators, with an encounter with Alberich himself, and with an attempt to drown us in the Thames. And you have the nerve, the insolence, the undiluted gall,’ she could hear her voice rising, and at this point she didn’t much care, ‘to expect me to throw my hands in the air and run round in little circles just because you happen to be a dragon?’
Kai made desperate calm-down gestures with his hands. ‘I thought you were going to interrogate me! I was trying to think what to tell you!’
‘Well, I’m not going to interrogate you.’ Irene lowered her voice. ‘So calm down. Will it make you feel better if I promise that later on we’ll have some coffee and I’ll ask you a lot of personal questions?’ Yes, she could look forward to that. She would look forward to that.
It surprised her that she was indeed looking forward to that.
He sighed. ‘At least I’ll have that to dread, I suppose.’
‘Kai.’ Irene gave him a very deliberate stare. ‘Were you actually looking forward to telling me everything?’
Kai tried to meet her eyes in a decisive way. He settled for looking over her shoulder. ‘It isn’t as if I’ve done this before,’ he muttered.
‘Later,’ she said meaningfully. ‘I promise.’
She turned to see Vale at the door with an armful of blankets. ‘Am I interrupting?’ he asked politely.
‘Not at all,’ Irene said firmly, and swept past him with as much dignity as she could manage. He and Kai could stay up talking as long as they wanted.
Hopefully Bradamant wouldn’t turn up with any emergencies until after breakfast.
Kai and Vale were both up before Irene, and she walked in to find them sharing breakfast. Yesterday’s awkwardness seemed to have vanished, and they were talking amiably enough now. They seemed to be enjoying discussing politics (a hindrance to all right-minded men), previous investigations that Vale had undertaken (though generally without books being involved), zeppelins, and the proper method for eliminating giant centipedes.