Chapter 5b

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By the time I reached Nadine’s apartments, Delphine was already knocking on the door.

“You were supposed to wait for me.” I jogged the last few steps to stand beside her, giving her my meanest glare.

“And you were supposed to be here right at seven.”

“Which I am.”

“Then there isn’t any problem, is there?”

The door opened, and Nadine peeked out, wearing a green silk dressing gown. Her walnut brown hair hung over her shoulder in a heavy braid, and her dark eyes glowed with gentle beauty. Her welcoming expression turned puzzled as she looked at the two of us. “Good morning, ladies. What a surprise to see you both…here…together.”

I had to smother a giggle. Delphine curtseyed to her and nudged me into a belated curtsey as well.  

“May we speak with you, Dame Fairchild?” Delphine said. “It’s important.”

“Of course.” She stepped back and welcomed us into her small parlor. It was done in elegant shades of soft blue and gold. Like a real lady’s room in a big house. She motioned to a pair of arm chairs and took a seat on the sofa opposite them. “Claire,” she said to me, “what happened to your face?”

I don’t think she even realized she’d used my given name. But a warm happiness flooded me at her concern. Delphine shot me a look so hateful, a knot of tension tightened in my head. “I fell against a brick wall last night. But I’m fine.” I’d been telling everyone else I slipped in the shower, but there was no using hiding from Nadine the fact that we had been out the night before. 

“We should have you see the healer.”

“Delphine should come with me, then, since she was injured too.” Making Nadine notice Delphine’s injuries wouldn’t make Delphine like me any better, but I hoped she’d quit murdering me with her eyes. 

Nadine took a quick glance at Delphine, and her mouth dropped open. “Good heavens! What were you two doing last night?”

“It was a street thief,” Delphine said.

“Crowded street, an accident,” I said. 

We exchanged rueful glances. Should have made sure our stories matched before we began.

Nadine frowned at us. 

“A street thief ran through a crowd, and we were thrown up against a brick wall in the confusion,” I improvised. Nadine’s expression sharpened. Motherly instinct or was I just that bad of a liar? I hurried on. “At any rate, we’ll both be fine, but we needed to talk to you about something extremely urgent.”

She still looked skeptical. “Shall I pour some tea?” 

I shook my head, and Delphine murmured a “no thank you.”

“Nonsense. My teaclock has it all prepared, and I have a few muffins as well. I suspect neither of you has eaten breakfast yet.”

I couldn’t deny that. Nadine crossed the room to a small table where the teaclock was sitting. Part alarm clock, part tea brewer, the clock triggered a match to light a gas ring under the water kettle. When the water was hot enough, steam pressure forced the pot to tilt and pour water into a waiting teapot containing tea leaves. A plate slid across the gas ring to extinguish the flames. Ingenious device—as long as one didn’t forget to place the teapot in the proper position. 

Once we each had a muffin and a cup of tea, Nadine settled onto the sofa again, her silky dressing gown swooshing against the damask upholstery. “Now, tell me what is going on. And don’t bother making up stories about street thieves and brick walls.”

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