Casmin was the first downstairs in the morning. He hadn’t seen Stian again last night, and he was growing anxious. Luckily he didn’t have to wait long, his friend was the next one down the stairs.
“You’re hovering, Andre,” Stian said under his breath.
“I wouldn’t call it hovering,” said Casmin.
“I know you. You’re hovering. And let me save you the trouble: yes I’m fine, no I don’t want to talk about it, no it won’t happen again.”
Casmin gave him an appraising look. Then he said lightly, “Do you want to play the scene where I’m the overbearing father figure and you play the pig headed child?”
Stian shrugged. “We could if you insist but I’d rather we go straight to breakfast.”
“Good, because I’m starving.” Casmin tried to keep his tone light as they piled up their plates from the buffet Lady Hughes’ staff had set out. He also tried not to scrutinize the younger man too closely. Stian seemed at ease, and carried his accustomed air of relaxed calm, but Casmin knew from long acquaintance that this was an act as often as it was genuine.They sat making small talk over breakfast until they heard the happy chatter of the girls coming down the stairs. Casmin felt his friend tense for the briefest of moments, but he showed no other outward signs of discomfort.
Stephen had come down with the girls, although he clearly was unable to get a word in edgewise. He was visibly relieved to see Stian and Casmin already at the table, and after loading up his own plate he sat next to them.
“So what’s the plan for today?” he asked.
“More waiting,” Casmin said. “The meeting is set for tomorrow night, according to the notes Arseni gave us, and in the absence of anything… interesting occurring that’s all we have to go on.”
“Fantastic,” Stephen said with a sour twist to his lips and a glance at the two girls, still carrying on a lively conversation with few pauses.
“You’ll miss this when you’re in advanced calculus next semester,” Casmin said.
Stephen shuddered. “True. Well, if today is as warm as yesterday, at least we can get out a bit. I know Edmund is hoping Sir Thomas arrives today. He wants to do some shooting before the weather makes it impossible for the rest of the year.”
“He just wants to show off,” Willamina said, breaking away from gossip. “He just got his rifle back from the gunsmith.” The twins grinned at each other.
“I believe there’s still a bottle of Scotch under contest?” Stephen said.
“There is,” said Willamina. “And Sir Thomas is going to be terribly sorry to lose it.”
“You sound very sure of that,” Veronica said with mock indignation.
“You’ll see,” Willamina responded.
“Are you all right, Stian?” Stephen asked, turning towards the duke. “You’re very quiet this morning.”
“Yes, what’s the matter, your Grace?” Willamina’s eyes were dancing with wicked laughter. She smiled over her teacup, “Cat got your tongue?”
Casmin broke into a coughing fit as he nearly inhaled his tea. Stian’s answering smile, however, was distinctly Cheshire-like: slow to appear, but wide and bright on full manifestation.
Much to Edmund’s disappointment (and the twins’, for that matter), Sir Thomas and his party didn’t arrive until after dinner, when the household was preparing to turn in for the night.
“I’m sorry we’re so dreadfully late, my dear,” he said as he kissed his wife fondly. Sir Thomas Hughes was an older man, but still energetic and jovial. His round face carried deep smile lines, and the crinkles around his eyes only added to his cheerful appearance. “Harrison wanted to join us at the last minute, and since our party had shrunk I didn’t think you would mind.”
“Of course not,” Lady Hughes replied. “John, it’s always a pleasure to have you.”
Sir Hughes beamed at the party as they flowed from the drawing room into the foyer. “Greyson! I heard we’d have you here.”
“And here we are,” Edmund replied, grinning. “I believe we still have a wager to settle.”
“Indeed we do. First thing in the morning, then?”
“Let’s make it second. I’d hate to ruin your day so early.”
Sir Thomas laughed. “Let me introduce you to an old friend of mine, John Harrison. John, this is Edmund Greyson.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Edmund said, shaking Harrison’s hand. The newcomer had a surprisingly strong grip for his slight build. He was of average height but slender to the point of thinness, and his palor seemed as much a question of habit as of natural complexion. That same complexion contrasted with a mop of dark brown curls that must have taken a great deal of time to look so disarrayed.
“And you as well. Sir Thomas tells me you’re quite the shot.”
Edmund gave an assured smile but said only, “We’ll see in the morning.”
By this point the rest of the party had come out into the entryway. Edmund introduced his brothers and mother before Willamina made her way out.
It was good that she had caught sight of Harrison before she was introduced. It gave her a moment to compose herself.
“…and this is my sister, Willamina. There are two more in our party, but they seem to have vanished for the moment.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Harrison,” she said. She hoped very much her fear didn’t show.
As the group headed back into the drawing room, Willamina caught Rafe by the sleeve and pulled him aside.
“Rafe, tell me the truth. The sudden decision to come here, did it have anything to do with the fact that there are suddenly wolves running around central London?”
Rafe glanced around before answering. “There could, possibly, be some sort of connection between these two events. Why?”
“I think I need to speak to Professor Casmin.”
Rade looked at the party, which was retreating towards the very well appointed drawing room, with its very well-stocked array of liquor. “Now?”
Willamina scowled and flicked Rafe’s ear.
“Oww, damn it all. Fine, we’ll find him.”
Casmin had been reading in his room since dinner. The Hughes had been polite enough to not treat him as other members of their class might have, which is to say, as one rank above governess and thus as a part of the staff. But he was also mindful that this tolerance was in part a product of his tendency to disappear from company outside of meal times.
And besides, he’d sat through more than his share of Scotch and cigar sessions. They didn’t make him uncomfortable; he could hold his own with the best of them, especially once his guardian had trained the Brooklyn out of his speech. But they also didn’t much interest him. So he sat by his own fire with his own bottle of port and his own choice of company.
After an hour or so, however, there was a quick rap on his door and Stian entered. “Mind if I borrow your window?” he asked, pulling off his clothes.
“Excuse me?” Casmin looked up from his book, puzzled.
“I’m going for a run, and I can’t exactly walk through the house like this.”
That provoked a laugh. “What’s wrong with your window?”
“It faces the drive,” Stian said.
Caamin shook his head. “Fine. But be careful. You’re not the only one out there.”
Stian grinned. “I think I can manage.” He finished stripping and, hanging his trousers off the chair by the window, opened it and dropped down.
Casmin just shook his head, and went back to reading. He heard the carriages arrive later, but didn’t bother going down. In another fifteen minutes, there was a knock on his door. He opened it to find Rafe and Willamina standing in the hallway.
“Come in,” he said, frowning. “What’s the matter, Willamina?”
She was twisting her hands anxiously. “I know this is going to sound completely mad. Although, come to think of it, it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell what’s mad these days. If I were to tell Veronica half of what goes on in our lives these days I’d be in Bedlam faster than…”
“Wils, you’re babbling,” Rafe said gently.
“Right. Sorry. So Sir Thomas just arrived, and he brought a friend with him, and…”
Casmin closed his eyes and groaned silently as he heard the window behind him open from the outside. Stian climbed in, still naked and with his hair wet from the dew. Willamina squeaked and turned towards the wall, blushing furiously. Rafe’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t look away as Stian hastily pulled his trousers on, gathered up the rest of his clothes, and headed for the door.
“I’ll just… be on my way then,” Stian stammered, and accidentally slammed the door behind him as he does.
Rafe shook himself briefly and then said to Casmin, “He really has no idea, does he?”
“No,” Casmin replied. “And for the love of God, don’t tell him. He’s intolerable enough as it is.”
“You were saying, Willamina?” Casmin asked. She was still facing the wall with her eyes closed. She held up one finger.
Rafe patted her back. “Give her a minute. It’s her first naked man. Rather a good way to start, though.”
“NOT. HELPING. RAFE. Right. Where was I?”
“John Harrison,” Rafe said.
“Right. As I was saying, this sounds completely mad, but he has a wolf in him.”
“How can you know that, Wils?” Rafe asked quietly as Casmin asked her, “Are you sure?”
“I think so. It was like… like the cat, only… well, backwards. And different.”
“Different how?” Casmin asked.
“It was…” Her eyes flickered to Rafe, and she lowered her voice. “I saw the cat, but I could tell it was… someone. Folded up into a cat. Like rag doll in a box. It’s not exactly like that, but it’s as close as I can come in words. But this time, I could see the wolf, but it was wrong. I only saw it for a minute but I could tell it was something else, pretending to be a wolf.” Her face screwed up in frustration, and her hands fluttered and shook in front of her again. “No, that’s not right.”
“Its close enough,” Casmin said. “And he’s staying here?”
She nodded. Casmin swore under his breath. “All right. You go back downstairs. Rafe, keep her close. I’ll go see if Stian’s decent yet and meet you down there.”
He found the duke finishing dressing.
“Andre,” he said, “you’re my best friend. On my darker days, I think you may be the only real friend I’ve ever had. And now, I need you to do something for me.”
“Shoot me in the head.”
Casmin laughed. “I don’t have to do that. I’ll just go down and tell Edmund his sister just saw you…”
“As much as I would, and I cannot stress this enough, love to sit here and watch you squirm…”
“You’re a sick man, Andre.”
“If I had known all it would take to teach you a little humility was a redhead I would have searched one out years ago.”
“You think this is funny?”
No, Casmin thought, I think it’s nice to see you so human. I was starting to fear you’d forgotten what that’s like.
Out loud, he said, “We don’t have time for this right now, Stian. Duty calls.”
“What is it?”
“Willamina came up to tell me she had seen something. Apparently one of the new houseguests is also one of our Alphas.”
Stian frowned. “This… could be good, actually.” He pulled on his coat. “I’ll go take a look myself, you tell the others to meet here later tonight.”
“What are you thinking?”
Stian said, “We follow him to the meeting tomorrow night and learn whatever we can. Then, if we have to, we grab him and see what use we can make of him.”
“I know at least one of them will be fine with that plan.”