Chapter 23a

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I did not expect leaving Delphine at Lucy’s house would be so hard. I didn’t like her, but as our carriage pulled away, my throat tightened and I fought back unexpected tears. She’d been my nemesis for three years, but she was one of us. Leaving her behind to return to the theater felt wrong and strange. 

Perhaps the others felt the same for it was a quiet trip. 

Back at the Alchemy, Nadine kissed both my cheeks and patted Dietrich’s face fondly. She thanked Raymond and Thea for assisting her earlier in the day, and then she urged all of us to get some sleep. It was only ten at night, but it felt far later than that. 

After she left, Dietrich started to remove Raymond’s coat, but Raymond stopped him.

“Keep it—I’ll stop by your apartments later to get it.”

“Thank you.” He bid us a brief good night, weary shadows under his eyes. 

I watched him leave, my leg aching and my emotions raw. I expected Thea to hurry me off to bed like the mother hen she often was, but instead, she and Raymond exchanged a sober glance, like they had something they needed to say.

“What is it?” I said, wearily. “And whatever it is, may I sit before you tell me?”

Before Thea could answer, Wallace Shelby rushed up to us. “Miss Mellor, I’m so glad you’ve returned…er, in one piece, at any rate.” He glanced at my exposed leg and his face reddened. 

I slid partly behind Thea. “Dog attack. I spent the whole evening at a healer’s.”

“My god.” Mr. Shelby looked horrified. “The city must do something about  the strays overrunning the streets. They are a menace to society. Shoot them all, I say.”

My mind flashed to Dietrich’s little sister, shot in the form of a dog. I felt sick. “I was fortunate not to be seriously injured. But I am rather exhausted, so if you’ll excuse me—”

His eyes widened and he swiveled his head to Thea. “You haven’t told her yet?”

“I was just about to.”

“Tell me what?” I glanced around for a chair, but there were none handy. I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the ache in my leg.

“Minx, dear,” Thea said, putting her hand on my arm, “you know how you asked me to put away your project in the tech studio?”

I arched one eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. 

She hurried on. “Well, there was a sort of problem.”

Oh lord. As if this day could get worse. “Define ‘sort of’—and ‘problem.’”

Raymond came to stand on the other side of me. I could tell from his face that he already knew as well. What I couldn’t tell is whether he was next to me as support or to keep me from harming someone. 

“It was completely my fault, Miss Mellor.” Mr. Shelby swallowed, blinking rapidly. “Two of the new maids have been lax on their duties, so I ordered them to clean out the tech studios.”

“They feel terrible,” Thea added.

“I should have been more clear in my instructions,” Mr. Shelby rattled on. “But I threatened to ask for their pay to be docked if they failed me again.”

The muscles in my leg burned, and my stomach lurched. I leaned toward Raymond, who obligingly cupped a hand around my elbow. 

“Just tell me what happened,” I said. 

“They followed my orders.” Mr. Shelby withdrew a handkerchief and swiped it under his jaw and across his forehead. 

“What happened to my project, Mr. Shelby?” 

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