Chapter Thirty-One

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As was their habit, Piero and Toad were enjoying a quick breakfast in Toad's rooms, while they planned the day's work. As Toad reached for a second cup of coffee, which he would take with him when they walked the short way to the docks, Blakeley came into the sitting room, clearing his throat to alert them to his presence. When both men looked up from their papers, he said, "My lords, you are both requested to attend Monsieur Bechand in his office immediately."

"Monsieur Bechand? What can he want?" Toad asked, giving Piero and Blakeley a blank stare. "We are supposed to meet Zajac and Bey at half past to discuss the coming change in rotations. Bechand was there when we set the appointment."

"The messenger was quite insistent. Without delay, he said."

"Without delay?" Toad rose and gathered his things. "Send word to Bey's quarters to meet us at the warehouse, please, Blakeley. Are you ready to leave, Piero?"

Piero was already pulling on his jacket and stuffing the ledgers into a satchel. "In a matter of moments. What do you think this is about?"

"Who knows? But Bechand is not impulsive when breaking appointments. Rather the opposite; rude, but not rash. It must be important."

***

"Mr. Northope and Mr. d'Alvieri."

They both made their bows, no less annoyed than usual when the man in charge of their programme refused to acknowledge their titles. Since they were the only members of the nobility who attended the school—perhaps in its history—they had no way to protest the ridiculous "policy," barring a request to one of the king's men to intervene, which carried its own form of risk.

They took their seats and traded glances as they took in the sour expression of the man sitting on the other side of the massive partner's desk. What could they have done to warrant such displeasure? They had just been discussing their growing success not an hour ago.

"It has come to my attention, Mr. Northope, you were responsible for releasing a clowder of cats in the Comtesse de Lodève's salon. And Mr. d'Alvieri, I understand you assisted him in this farce."

Toad raised a brow at Piero. Revenge, indeed, and served cold, weeks after Toad had publicly denounced her. And too obvious by half, since she hadn't implicated Bey and Zajac, whom she had never had an interest in bedding.

"We have not attended a salon in months, Monsieur—the comtesse's or any other. We have been in Marseilles, working, for the past half-year, barring the holidays."

"Yes, yes. I know that. Of course I know that. The events in question are said to have happened in..." He looked down at a page of notes under his hand. "... July, directly before your exams and summer break. Did you attend her monthly salon in July?"

Linette had timed her revelations perfectly, whether she knew it or not, just as Toad and his friends were to report on the shipyard's operations and profits and change their respective duties. So, Toad would now likely be assigned to the loading docks until the next summer holiday, breaking his back in the heat while the others were assigned work indoors or aboard ship.

She had probably told Toad's parents and the king, too. Which meant there was every chance Toad would be called to account in at least one throne room, probably two, and have his allowance cut again. And the wrath Piero would face when Arturo found out could not be overstated. Toad never should have betrayed Sally. Especially not for the Comtesse de Lodève.

From the door, he heard, "Ahem. Bechand, a word?"

Toad and Piero both turned, and Toad's stomach dropped. Captain Hawley appearing when Toad was in trouble was never, ever a good sign.

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