How unexpectedly revealing. How much, Sophronia wondered, can Agatha get out of Felix where Sophronia failed? She had underestimated how much he wanted her good opinion. Not to mention how much frustration brought about confession.
“My lord, please, that isn’t necessary.”
“Ria! What else was I to do? Surely you would have done the same in my position.”
White-hot anger almost threw Agatha out of Sophronia’s head. She might be a spy, and a relatively good one, but she was loyal to her friends. Felix had betrayed them all, not only Sophronia, when he revealed their disguises. And then…
“Your father killed Soap,” she hissed, breaking character.
Felix was cheered by her return to form. “Ria, my dove, look on the bright side, at least he has stopped trying to kill you.”
Only because I’ve been safely at school for three-quarters of a year. If there was anywhere the Picklemen couldn’t infiltrate, it was a mobile academy for female intelligencers.
She reached once more for Agatha’s quiet spirit. “Oh, Lord Mersey, you are so droll. What makes you think I care two whits for your father’s murderous opinion?” She tapped his arm with her fan in a self-conscious flirtation, as though she were awkwardly following instructions. On the pullback from the tap, she sent the wrist swirl signal with her closed fan, Damsel in need of rescue. She had no idea if Dimity would see, but she required an extraction.
Felix looked grim. “Back to that, are we? Very well, if you insist on playing games. Would you care to dance? You’d be afforded the opportunity to cut me in public by leaving me on the floor as per usual.”
If Sophronia had any guilt over her shoddy behavior in the past, his ungentlemanly mention of it certainly cured her. She’d had good reason for abandoning him on the dance floor, every time. It was poor manners for him to discuss her indiscretions.
Then, of all people, Agatha came whirling up. Her partner, Lord Dingleproops, seemed taken with the pearl-drenched Agatha version of Dimity. Odd, as he had once rejected Dimity herself.
“My lord, might we rest a moment?” Agatha whipped out her fan, in evident need of cooling. You requested rescue? she signaled Sophronia.
Sophronia blew out her cheeks in a sigh of both exasperation and relief.
Agatha understood this silent commentary on social predicament. She turned her attention onto Felix. “Lord Mersey, how do you do this fine evening?”
Felix looked confused. Prior to that, Agatha had barely strung three words together in his presence. “Miss, uh, Woosmoss, is it?”
Agatha curtsied. “I understand from Lord Dingleproops that you are something of a whiz with waistcoats? He claims you have three apparatus, a monocle, and a pack of cards stashed at all times. Is this true?”
Felix was no inferior gentlemen to resist a request from any lady when couched in such incontestable terms. He stood, bowing over Agatha’s proffered hand. “Dear lady, indeed it is.”
Agatha tittered. “La, my lord, how droll of you. Can you show me any of them without, ah-hem, unbuttoning?”
Sophronia was driven to gasp! To mention the act of undress, and to a young man of little acquaintance! That was flirting beyond even Dimity. Agatha was taking things too far.
Sophronia used her fan to disguise shock.
Felix and Lord Dingleproops found the mention of buttons enchanting.
“Oh, la, I’m positively parched.” Agatha grabbed Felix’s arm and sailed smoothly away, angling toward the punch.
Felix could do naught but follow.
It was, Sophronia had to admit, a perfect extraction. Agatha had hidden depths of shallowness. Or she was a better study than anyone thought, and merely needed a different personality to bring out her abilities. Or she had partaken too freely of the absinthe-spiked punch.
Sophronia turned her attention back to the gathering. Monique was making her way around the room. Whatever she was looking for, she hadn’t found it. Sophronia harbored a brief, horrible thought that her old enemy was hunting for her. They were, after a fashion, allied against the Picklemen. Perhaps she had a message from the dewan, Sophronia’s soon-to-be patron.
Then someone else invaded her corner. Clearly it was not so hidden as she’d hoped. This time, however, it was a welcome invasion.
Genevieve Lefoux, once known as Vieve and currently known as Gaspar Lefoux, appeared at Sophronia’s elbow. Now twelve years old, Vieve had shot up and was almost as tall as Sophronia. She was looking likely to be as much a beanpole as her aunt. Since she intended a long career disguised as a man, Vieve was no doubt delighted to find the Lefoux genes running true to form, or more accurately, true to figure.
At Bunson’s, Vieve purported to be Professor Lefoux’s nephew, who exhibited such extraordinary engineering talent it had forced Bunson’s to take on a French charity case. Although she had never officially been a finishing school student, preferring to spend her time in the boiler room, something had rubbed off. She had grasped enough espionage to be good at maintaining her ties to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, without exposing her connection or her gender.
Vieve bowed low over Sophronia’s gloved hand.
Sophronia pretended nervousness at having been discovered by a stranger. “Oh. Um, how do you do, Mr.…?” But her green eyes sparkled with delight. She could not deny a real affection for the funny creature, and had genuinely missed her company. Still, she did not break Agatha’s character, nor did she pretend they had met before. She was, after all, a Geraldine’s girl.
Thus it was for Vieve to open the conversation. “Good evening, miss. Please excuse me for approaching you without introduction.” Vieve was in full impeccable evening dress from head to toe. Her dark hair was cropped short. She did not sport the mustache she once coveted, nor had she faked a deeper voice—as yet she had no need. Even with dimples and a feminine cast to her cheekbones and nose, she had the manners and movements of a young man. It was impressive.
“Mr. Lefoux, at your service, Miss…?”
“Temminnick,” said Sophronia tremulously.
“Indeed, yes. Although I did think, for a moment, from certain descriptions prior to this greeting, that you might be Miss Woosmoss. Quite apart from the hair color, of course.” In addition to a head for engineering, Vieve had an eye for fashion. Not to mention a familiarity with most of Sophronia’s age group.
Sophronia allowed a hint of a smile. “I can see how you might make such an error.”
Thus they understood one another. Vieve knew Sophronia was under an assignment to act like Agatha. Sophronia knew that Vieve had probably figured out who the others were as well.
“Would you care to dance, Miss Temminnick?” offered Vieve, gravely, as though to a wallflower cousin.
Sophronia knew such a dance could only lend Vieve’s disguise credence. She also knew Agatha might dance with Professor Lefoux’s nephew if pressed. So she agreed.
Vieve was an expert at the reel and a decent lead. She’d obviously been practicing, or been made to learn. They danced the first pass through in awkward silence, as befitted Agatha.
On the second, Vieve said, dimples flashing, “I understand we share an acquaintance?” Her eyes shifted to Monique.
Sophronia hesitated. She needed the information Vieve implied she had, but she also needed to stay in character. “Unusual, don’t you feel, for an ex-student to return to a dance such as this?”