He gazed wearily at the furious woman before him, “I suppose you’re here for vengeance too?”

She blinked, “Yes?”

“You’re not sure?”

“Well I want my bill paid. If you count that as vengeance, then yes, if you count it as a very stupid way of doing business, then no.”

He sat up, suddenly interested, “Which one of us is employing a stupid way of doing business?”

She grimaced, “Me, since I’ve had to traipse all the way up here to try and get what I’m owed.”

“Why didn’t you insist on payment in advance, or at the very least a deposit? I’m sorry, I don’t even know what my family owe you or what services you’ve rendered for them.”

He waved her to a seat, forestalling her objection, “Please, I’m curious about your business problem and am in dire need of some sensible conversation.”

As she sat, he summoned a servant and ordered refreshments.

“Now, please, tell me your story and I’ll see what can be done.”

She asked. “Will you tell me why you’re needing sensible conversation once I’m finished?”

He smiled, “If you wish. It might be helpful to have a fresh set of eyes on the subject.”

“Very well. My name is Mara Delauney and I’m a dressmaker. Miss Saunderson ordered a number of dresses from me a couple of months ago, I delivered the last of them last week, and have yet to see a penny in return.”

She sighed at his frown. “I’m new in the city, Your Eminence, and need to make a reputation for my abilities. I cannot charge any fee up front when my customers don’t know what they’re getting.”

“Ah, yes, I see your point. Something of a quandry. Do you have the bill with you?”

“Yes I do.” She reached into a satchel she carried and passed over the invoice.

He ran his eye down it, frowning, she bristled. “I can assure you, they’re fair prices.”

He snorted. “They’re far too low, frankly. You need to double this at least, or the social climbers of this town will never take you seriously. In fact, triple it. How good are your clothes?”

She raised her chin, “Best in the kingdom Sir, I’m well trained and highly skilled. If you’re of a mind to notice what your ward is wearing, I created day dresses for her in sky blue, embroidered with cornflowers, one in pink, decorated with fuschia blooms, and one in green, with rosebuds. She appears to like flowers.”

“That she does, and what’s this final dress on the list?”

“The ball gown I delivered last week. It’s a white satin overlaid with spidersilk gauze – shimmers rainbows as it moves.”

He looked up, “You have some very interesting connections to be able to procure fabric like that Mistress Delauney.”

She shrugged and looked away. The servant provided a distraction with the delivery of tea and cakes.

His Eminence, Lord Treybourne, Governor of the City, thanked him, then asked for his ward to be sent to him.

“And assure her I mean now. If she is not in front of me in ten minutes, I will come to her and she will not enjoy the results.”

As the servant left, Lord Treybourne quirked a smile at Mara’s expression, “No beatings I promise you, but she’ll be entertaining some flighty, gossipy friends and I have a nasty habit of taking her to task for, erm, lapses in judgement, in front of them.”

Mara’s answering smile broke through and she gratefully accepted the proffered cup of tea.

“While we’re waiting, Your Eminence, would you be so kind as to share your need to ask about my vengeance when I arrived?”

He rolled his eyes, “Both the Saundersons are a trial. Rosalie is a flibbertigibbet and a blatant gold digger. I’ll have to bribe someone to take her at some point but she’ll never be satisfied. Rupert is equally foolish and likes to think of himself as a dashing ladies’ man. Slightly discommoded by the fact that all the ladies of equal rank will have nothing to do with him, he’s recently got into the nasty habit of making unsuitable promises to ladies of other classes.”

She stared at him, horrified. He reassured her, “He’s not actually a cad, and I think he’d be terrified at the thought of actual physical intimacy with a woman, but it hasn’t stopped a number of enterprising young ladies from making the most of the opportunity.”

“And doubtless in the most dramatic manner possible.”

“Quite, your manner on arrival was such a relief, if you had proved to be one of Rupert’s loves, I think I would have pushed for marriage.”

Mara choked, then sobered as the door pushed open and Rosalie Saunderson flounced into the room.

“I don’t see why you have to be such a spoilsport. Summoning me like that, it’s going to be all over town by dinner time.”

“Well you do choose to befriend the most talkative young ladies in town. That’s a vastly fetching gown by the way, the fuchsia blooms are quite extraordinary. My compliments on your excellent work Mistress Delauney.”

Rosalie turned with a squeak, “Oh good, you’re here, I won’t have to go to your shop tomorrow. I need two more morning gowns and something for the Mayor’s ball and…”

Her guardian interrupted, “You will be getting nothing more from Mistress Delauney until you pay her.”

“Oh but I’ve already used up my allowance and I’m helping make her fashionable. She really should be paying me you know.”

She quailed slightly under Lord Treybourne’s condemning stare, “Very well, I will pay for the dresses out of next month’s allowance. I have the bill right here. You will need to make plans young lady, next month you will be getting half your usual pin money.”

“What, no! That’s so unfair. Why should I?”

Mara looked at the pouting girl and her exasperated guardian, “She clearly has no concept of the value of money, or effort. You may find it useful to put her to work.”

Rosalie squawked in outrage, Lord Treybourne looked thoughtful.

“That’s an excellent suggestion. Of course the challenge will be finding something she can do, given she has no skills or abilities whatsoever beyond gossip and shopping, and she’s not even very good at those. I should do the same with Rupert.”

He dismissed his spluttering ward, “Off you go Rosalie, make sure you enjoy the afternoon you have left and don’t spend any more money, you simply can’t afford it.”

Rosalie drew herself up, “I’m going to tell Rupert, and then we’re both going to go and tell Uncle Grayson.”

“Oh good idea, maybe ask to live with him while you’re at it, I’m sure he won’t put you to work. I, on the other hand am trying to decide between the laundry and cleaning the bedrooms for you, and the stables or the gardens for your fop of a brother.”

She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

Lord Treybourne dug into his desk for his cash box and started counting out notes.

“You do excellent work by the way, and Rosalie wearing your dresses will bring people to your door, just make sure you charge them ridiculous fees.”

He handed over the notes, “Now, if you’re interested in branching out into men’s fashion, I need some new waistcoats and would like them to feature your embroidery at least.”

Mara frowned at the size of the bundle he was handing her, he said. “You need to charge at least double, remember?”

She sighed and accepted the pile, “Very well, but embroidered waistcoats, Sir? They went out of fashion years ago.”

“Maybe I want to bring them back in to fashion.”

Lord Treybourne smiled and resumed his seat, “If I’m to be honest, I want to see what you can do with the challenge. Can you make something as out of favour as embroidered waistcoats a thing of envy?”

She looked him over.

“I’d rather create something from scratch than try to put my hand to an already-made piece. It gives me more scope for ideas. Can I take your measurements now, or would it be better to set an appointment?”

Lord Treybourne looked at his pocket watch, “It will have to be an appointment I’m afraid, I have a meeting with the Prince’s delegation in ten minutes.”

He rose and offered her a hand to assist her from her seat, she took it and rose with a natural grace that told Lord Treybourne a great deal more about Mistress Delauney than she would have been comfortable with.

He made no comment, merely filed the information for further investigation, and accompanied her to the front hall, where he handed her off to his secretary, with a stern injunction to place high priority on the appointment.

He watched them retreat through a side door before turning to greet his guest, who had been watching the interchange with interest from the shadows by the door.

“A new toy, Lord Governor?”

“A new mystery Your Imperial Highness. I may need to call in a favour. She is supposedly a humble dressmaker but has access to elf silk and no concept of the value of her creations. In addition, when she’s not thinking about her humble dressmaking self, she speaks and moves like a queen.”

“No favour required, this sounds like fun.”

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