Richard and I arranged to meet at dinner, which gave me a bit of time to sit in my comfy cabin and review the information I had regarding Geoffrey Crenshaw, both from Mallister and from Richard. I still felt terribly in the dark, and I hated to go into an operation without understanding all the details and having at least an inkling regarding the people involved. I wrote down a list of details I wanted to collect, locked it all in my cabin’s safe, then cleaned up and dressed formally for dinner.
Dinner on HMAS Princess Louise was, as was usual for this sort of transport (same as for the royal line of steamships) formal. I tugged at my collar feeling nearly strangled, just before I entered the salon where everyone waited to be called to dinner. God but I hated these things. Still, I was starving, and this seemed the only real option.
Richard was sitting at the bar and the woman I'd noted earlier sat beside him. Why was I not surprised? The most glamourous woman in the room would naturally gravitate to him. I don't pretend to understand these things, but whatever it was that constituted sexual attraction, Richard had it in spades.
I sauntered up and took a seat beside him, giving her a wide berth. Something about her pricked my radar as well as my hormones.
They broke off their conversation and Richard said, “Hullo, Kevyn. Renee, this is my colleague Kevyn Rory. Kevyn, Renee LaCroix.”
She held out a languid hand which I was then obliged to take. I stood and bowed a bit over it. “Hullo,” was all I said.
She looked vaguely amused by my reaction. Maybe she was used to men falling all over her. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. Not at all. I was struggling not to drool myself. But, as my dear mum always says, “Polite is always Right.”
She wore a dress that would shock London high society. No flounces, no bustle, no frills. Just satin that hugged every intriguing curve. It was ... Distracting.
“You’re an alchemist too?” she asked, her huge dark eyes going wide.
“Nope,” I said. “Just a lowly detective inspector. On my way to New Orleans on a case. Richard’s the brains of the outfit.”
“Oh I doubt that,” she replied giving me a come-hither look like you wouldn't believe.
I was saved by the bell. Literally. The gong rang for dinner and the room erupted into chaos as the entire mass of folks moving toward the double doors that lead into the dining room. I wondered how it was the airship didn't list.
Renee looked round at the milling multitude and then stood. Richard and I both stood with her. “Forgive me, I need to join my party. Perhaps we’ll see one another later in the lounge?” she asked, looking at me. A heartbeat later she gave Richard a longer look, which I was unable to interpret.
“I doubt it,” he replied. “We’ll see.”
I struggled not to react to that. To say I was surprised that he appeared not to be drawn in by her beauty and charm surprised me. But then I guess he attracted so much of it maybe he was immune by now.
We watched her sinuate away. So did every other set of male eyes in the place.
“Wow,” I muttered, before I realized I'd said it aloud.
Richard glanced over at me, then returned his eyes to her. “She’s trouble,” he said.
“Yeah. But the nicest kind.” I replied.
He laughed, surprising me again. “You’re welcome to her, Kevyn. Not my style at all.”
“What is your style?” I asked.
Richard opened his mouth, then abruptly shut it without saying anything. I remembered that he had really liked Emmie but that she was now Ned Black’s wife. Emmie was, well, pretty much the opposite of Renee. My slow-firing synapses finally caught up. Hmmm. I’d never actually have thought Richard Ainsworth to be the type who liked strong women who had no trouble voicing their opinions. Maybe I'd judged him too harshly.
Dinner proved easier than I’d thought as Miss LaCroix as sitting at the Captain’s table. Richard and I were elsewhere. I sat back and listened to the polite chatter at our table as I ate. Richard was being charming, far more so than he'd been with Miss LaCroix. Interesting.
I caught Miss LaCroix looking over at us several times. She still raised my alarm bells, but I have to admit, despite that, I’d have liked to be sitting next to her.
Our ‘cover’ was simple. Richard was himself going to review a deceased colleagues notes, and I was a lowly Scotland Yard detective inspector, charged with liaising with the New Orleans Gendarmerie. It made sense and I had been a detective inspector so I didn't have to act differently than normal. Which, suffice to say, was a good thing.
One young English lady at our table found my profession quite fascinating. I personally thought she had a rather morbid fascination with dead bodies, but at least she was fun to talk to and I agreed to meet her after dinner in the lounge. Not that her mother looked all that pleased by that. After all, I was Irish, even if I'd been born and bred in London.
Richard, after dinner, pleaded a headache and headed to his rooms. I confess I gave some serious consideration to spending a little time spying on him, just to make sure that's where he went, but then I dismissed my paranoia knowing he couldn’t get off the bloody airship anyway, stopped by the bar for a quick ale then planned to head toward the lounge to meet Miss Christie, my fascinated with dead-bodies new friend.
I was sipping my ale and having a cigar at a corner table pondering the situation I was walking into in New Orleans only to realize someone was standing before me.
I looked up to find Renee LaCroix looking down at me. She sank into the chair opposite me before I could even attempt to stand.
“How odd that such a man as yourself is sitting here alone,” she began.
I wondered just what that meant.
She arranged herself in her chair to give me the best view of her decolletage. I confess I appreciated such kind consideration.
“Would you buy me a drink, monsieur?” she asked, batting her impressive eyelashes.
Obviously she didn't know how little a detective inspector makes. “Delighted to,” is what I said.
I motioned for a waiter and let her order for herself. I sat back watching her and watching reactions of people in the bar. She definitely knew how to command an audience.
“So,” I finally said, “where are you heading?”
“New York first, then home. To New Orleans,” she replied.
“Ah,” was all I said.
“I’d love to show you and Richard around when I get there. Will you be staying for awhile?”
I shrugged. “No idea as yet. Depends. I’m there on business. Richard, of course, might choose to stay on.”
“Ah,” she replied and sipped her drink, watching me over her glass. The drink was pink and clear and I watched her lips through it.
She had an interesting lilt to her speech. Not quite an accent. More a bit of spice.
“You’re a native of New Orleans?” I asked.
She nodded, and then laughed. “As you’ve no doubt deduced, Mr Detective, I’m Creole. Spicy and saucy and not quite good enough for London society.”
I understood the sentiment but wasn't going to admit it.
“You’ll like New Orleans I think,” she said, after watching me for some time. “It is not always what it seems. It also surprises, and delights and can be very dangerous to those who want to cross it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied.
She put her drink down. She'd hardly touched it. “But now you have a date, I think. You should go meet your Miss Agatha.”
As she stood, so did I. “Should I?”
She laughed. It was more a deep sexual growl than a real laugh. “Oh yes, indeed. You should. I do not need the temptation of those eyes of yours this night, Inspector Rory.”
With that she turned on her heel and gave me a view as she walked away that I wouldn't forget anytime soon.
Poor Miss Agatha. I hoped I could get my mind off the sight of Renee LaCroix’s alluring butt as it sauntered away.
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