Imprudence Page 98



“Good. Still, it’s a bloody waste.” Trust a Frenchman to lament lack of cognac.

“It is not! What better use? We’re going to move you below now.” Rue let go of his hand.

The two footmen hoisted Quesnel up, trying to keep him as steady as possible. The ship was not made for this kind of transport, but they managed to get him down the main stairs and into the guest room previously occupied by Rue’s parents. It was closer to engineering and easier to get to than his actual room.

By the time Quesnel was set on the bed, he’d turned an unbecoming yellow colour and was sweating heavily.

Fortunately, Anitra reported no additional blood loss had resulted.

Rue tried to be nice about it. “You’re doing a wonderful job, Miss Panettone. Please don’t take this amiss, but did you ask the other Drifters if they had a surgeon aboard?”

Anitra nodded. “I did indeed. I don’t want this kind of responsibility. All I’ve got is limited herb lore and some training for the woman’s balloon, when those times come.”

“Midwifery?” Rue reached for the outdated term.

“Something like. This is beyond my limited skills.”

“We will all do our best. Hopefully Percy has a book on bullet wounds.”

Quesnel gave a weak snort. “I doubt it. Books on badminton, possibly, but nothing more useful.”

Anitra finished checking on everything. “Are you comfortable?”

“Feeling rather spoiled. Two beautiful ladies tending to my every need.”

“He’s flirting. He must be feeling better.” Rue smiled.

Anitra reached for a small bottle of clear liquid. “Laudanum, for the pain. It’ll put you to sleep. Don’t take it on your own – we want to keep track of how much.”

Quesnel wrinkled his nose. “No fretting there. I loathe the stuff. Makes me feel like I’m being smothered slowly by a flock of malevolent robins, red breasts first, all pushing in against the sides of my eyes.”

That was oddly specific. “When have you had laudanum?” Rue bustled about, making certain there was water next to his bed, and a book, and some biscuits.

“Believe it or not, in my childhood I was prone to explosions.”

“Liked to experiment, did you?” Rue smiled again, imagining a tiny Quesnel running around mixing noxious chemicals and destroying his mother’s laboratory.

“Broke my right wrist once. Seems I have it in for the right side of my body.”

“Good thing, too,” said Anitra. “Left side this time and it’d be awfully close to your heart.”

Rue shuddered.

Anitra helped Quesnel take a nip from the laudanum bottle. He made a disgusted face.

“I can’t think of anything else.” Anitra turned to go.

Rue nodded. “Send Virgil down, would you, please? Ask him to check in with Cook, eat something, and bring us tea. I’ll stay with Mr Lefoux for the time being.”

Anitra agreed and left, leaving the door to Quesnel’s room wide open. As if anyone still cared about Rue’s reputation. As if Quesnel were capable of doing anything with the tattered remains of said reputation. Rue wished he could.

The Frenchman was looking strangely young. His blond hair was darkened by sweat, spiky against the pillow. “Rue, chérie, I have to tell you something.”

“It’s not important.” Rue made herself sound reassuring. He seemed so worried. “I’ll be nearby when you wake. Send Virgil and I’ll come right away.”

Quesnel forced his eyes open. “No!” They were heavy-lidded with the poppy’s fateful effects. “Robins are here.”

Rue drew up a chair and leaned close, wanting to touch him very badly but not wanting to cause any further pain.

“I left it too long, didn’t I?” he whispered, slow and slurred.


“Why didn’t you ever ask me how I felt about you, Rue?”

“I’m frightened.”

He was trying to focus on her face through the robin feathers. “No one has ever accused you of lacking courage.”

So Rue screwed that courage to the sticking point. “Why did you do as Dama asked, about the preservation tank? You don’t owe him any favours.”

“Perhaps I wanted to please the father of the woman I loved.”

Rue blinked. He said it first. The word was out there, hovering above them, like a tiny explosive dirigible. “Are you secretly traditional and” – she paused, unsure of the right word – “romantic?”

“Perhaps I am.”

“But you’re so devil-may-care.” Rue’s stomach went all wobbly.

“You thought that meant I hadn’t a working heart underneath? Perhaps I hide the one with the other.” His voice was slurring. His eyes were closing again. “Perhaps I thought you were only curious.”

“Oh.” Rue was taken with this idea.

“Say it back, Rue. I might not wake up again, you realise?”

“Now who’s being melodramatic?”

He smiled, eyes closed.

Rue leaned over and whispered, very quietly, into his ear, “Well fine, then. I love you, too.”

He was already asleep.

“Lovely,” said Rue into the resulting silence. “Now I have to go through this again.”


The Lost Pride of the Desert Wind

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