Tate waited in front of a large iron wrought gate and eyed the monstrosity it protected with a conflicted expression that edged towards distaste. While the house behind its barrier wasn’t really that hideous, it was the complete opposite of anything she’d planned to live in. It was huge and overdone, lacking any class while trying to make up for that lack by going as big and bold as it could. She knew the area was considered a place for the newly rich and as such lacked the elegant taste of the older sections of the city.
When the solicitor they’d enlisted to help them recommended it, they’d been hesitant but willing to try since it was in a more desirable section of the city. It was close to the hill leading to the Lower, but far enough away to be considered respectable among the crowd she was now expected to rub elbows with.
Though, if this was what they considered acceptable, she might need to rethink how much she wanted to blend. She much preferred her quarters at Colton’s Place over this. They were simple and sparse and easy to keep clean. This—this would be a nightmare to manage.
Two women walked up on her other side and Tate stepped back to let them precede her onto the property. The woman closer to her made a sound of recognition and stepped back. “Lady Fisher, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Tate blinked at the woman, recognition slow to come. After a long moment, she said, “Lady Spiritly, I could say the same.”
Roslyn was dressed simply, her clothes having seen better days and her hair pulled back off her face in a simple knot. She had a look in her eyes that hadn’t been there the last time Tate had seen her, shortly after she disowned her connection with her family. It was the kind of look that said she hadn’t had an easy time of it, that the world was a much less kind place than she had thought.
Roslyn looked discomforted. “It’s just Roslyn now.”
Tate didn’t know how to respond to that and looked at Roslyn’s companion, a woman with ash blond hair and a protective look on her face. “Ashwin, right?” Tate said.
Ashwin nodded and dipped a slight curtsy.
There was an awkward pause. Tate didn’t know how to speak to Roslyn, given their history. While Roslyn wasn’t at fault for much of what had gone before, she was forever associated with it in Tate’s memory. At the same time, Tate felt partially responsible for her fall from grace. It put her in an odd predicament.
“You’re looking at this place to rent?” Roslyn said, saving Tate from herself.
“Ah, yes.” Tate glanced back at the monstrosity and inwardly cringed. It hadn’t gotten any better in the time since they’d started talking.
Roslyn’s face turned thoughtful, some of her uneasiness from before fading. “That’s surprising. It would be wiser to buy. It’s more affordable than renting, and you won’t be limited to such interesting quarters.”
Tate didn’t want to admit she didn’t have the funds to buy a place outright. Not in the Upper at least. She might be drawing a regular stipend now that she was part of the dragon corps, but it would take time to accrue.
She nodded to show she was listening before switching the subject. “Are you in the area to look at rentals as well?”
Roslyn gave a strained smile and lifted her chin. “No, I’m actually here for a different purpose.”
Tate waited assuming she’d share, but another awkward pause ensued.
Before she could come up with some social nicety, the gate swung open and Dewdrop and Night stalked out. “Tate, thank the Saviors you’re here. That man is a flaming flibberidgit.”
The sound of rushed footsteps on the cobblestones came from behind the two as a man dressed in all purple wearing an absurd colored wig and a hat that looked like something out of a child’s fantasy rushed into view. “Lady Fisher, Lady Fisher, I really must protest my treatment at the hands of these two incompetents. This is really too much.”
“Oh boy,” Tate turned to face the trio as they approached rapidly. Roslyn and Ashwin looked intrigued by the proceedings.
The man stopped beside the gate, resting one hand against it as he caught his breath. He withdrew a lilac handkerchief and pressed it against his mouth as he glared at Tate’s friends.
“When you asked me to help you in this matter, I thought I would gain a certain cachet assisting the only female dragon to live through the bonding.” His voice was light and effeminate, making it hard to take him seriously. Dewdrop snickered, hiding his laugh when Tate sent him a quelling glance.
“That still holds true, Pepper,” Tate said, trying to sooth the man’s ruffled feathers. It was obvious something had happened and she had no doubt the instigators were standing next to her with innocent expressions on their faces. Dewdrop looked amused while Night seemed irate, his eyes narrowed as his tail thumped the ground at her feet.
She hoped Pepper didn’t try to get close to her feline friend. The mood he was in, he was liable to try sharpening his claws on the other man.
Pepper straightened, looking down his nose at her as he flapped his handkerchief at Dewdrop and Night. “I simply cannot continue as I have been. If I am to continue to work with you, your servant and pet will need to be kept in line. It would be best if they were excluded from the process entirely.”
Tate took a deep breath, counseling herself to patience. Pepper was one of the few willing to take her and her ragtag band on. He had connections none of them had. Losing his help would put her in a bind unless she planned to be homeless in a few short weeks.
“I have told you before—Dewdrop and Night are not servants, nor are they pets. They are valued members of my household. Family, if you prefer. I’ve asked you to treat them as such.” On this, she wouldn’t budge.
He squawked and huffed. Tate waited him out, knowing it might take a few minutes. They’d had this exact conversation twice before. She turned her attention to the other two.
“What happened?” She gave them a hard look, letting them know she wasn’t in the mood for games.
Dewdrop jerked his thumb at Pepper. “He showed us to the servant quarters in the basement and told us the rooms there were too good for the likes of a guttersnipe and animal but if ‘Lady Fisher insisted on collecting strays, this would be at least passing respectable.’” Dewdrop’s voice adopted a high sound as he mocked Peppers voice. It was a spot-on imitation and Tate struggled to keep her amusement contained. He needed no further encouragement.
“I don’t sound like that,” Pepper hissed.
“And?” She knew that wasn’t the end of it.
Night’s whiskers twitched, pointing forward. We showed him what a pet and guttersnipe were capable of.
That couldn’t be good. “And how exactly did you do that?”
Dewdrop shrugged. “Called him an ass. Then Night jumped on top of one of the ugly chandeliers.”
“That was a hundred-year-old crystal balleski. They don’t make them like that anymore.” Pepper’s voice was outraged.
“For good reason,” Dewdrop muttered.
Roslyn smothered a laugh. Her face was smooth and blank when Tate looked back at her. She would have thought she’d imagined the sound if not for the faintest trace of amusement around her eyes.
“What am I going to tell the owners?” Pepper asked, his voice aggrieved. “This is a disaster.”
She eyed the other man. “There’s no reason to tell them anything. It’s a chandelier and I doubt Night left any marks on it.”
“There are pawprints all over the house,” Pepper accused in a shrill voice.
“You should be thanking him for dusting,” Dewdrop stated. “That chandelier was filthy.”
There was a snort behind Tate. Ashwin looked outright amused and Roslyn looked like she was losing the battle.
Pepper made an inarticulate sound of rage and threw his handkerchief at the ground at Dewdrop’s feet. They all looked at the crumpled purple square.
“I’ve had it. I won’t work with a thief and animal any longer. Either you get rid of them or I quit,” Pepper declared.
Tate scratched her neck, her gaze going past him to stare at the house. “I guess our association is at an end then.”
Pepper gaped at her, his mouth opening and closing as his face turned nearly the same shade as his coat. “Well, then.” He jerked hard on his coat, straightening it. “Your companions speak to your upbringing, my lady. I’d think long and hard who you spend time with.” He minced past Tate.
She let him go. There were a lot of things she could say back to him, but she thought it best to let him have the final words. His pride had already taken enough of a beating.
“Bye, you insufferable prick,” Dewdrop waved at his back. “Don’t come back now.”
Good riddance, Night declared when he was out of sight.
Tate sighed and gave them both a disappointed look. “That could have gone better.”
Dewdrop shrugged. “It was bound to happen at some point. The stick was shoved too far up his ass to make this work.”
“Now, what are we going to do about a house?” Tate complained. “He was the only one willing to work with us given our reputation.”
She could feel a headache brewing.
“Roslyn can help,” Ashwin said, stepping forward, her eyes determined. “She’ll do it for half what you were going to pay him.”
Roslyn looked startled at her friend’s words, her eyes widening as she found herself the sudden center of attention.
“Her connections are just as good and she knows the city,” Ashwin said.
Dewdrop gave them a skeptical look. “Has she ever rented a house for someone before?”
Ashwin hesitated, her expression torn.
Roslyn met Tate’s gaze with a poised expression. “I have. I used to find places for visiting friends of my father when they came into the city. I’ve also made travel arrangements on their behalf as well. It was an expected function as the daughter of a noble house. He thought it would be good training for the future.”
What she didn’t say was that future was now gone. When she’d disavowed her house, she’d broken with any privilege or power that might have been hers simply because of the name she carried.
“That might work,” Tate said. If she could find them a place, it would make things a lot easier on Tate.
“I would just need to know your requirements,” Roslyn said, her voice soft and unsure.
“Tate, a word,” Dewdrop said as he eyed Roslyn with suspicion. She sighed as he gestured her towards the gate.
“What is it?”
“You can’t just accept help from some stranger on the street,” Dewdrop said.
“Why not?” Tate didn’t see what difference it made. “Roslyn isn’t exactly a stranger either.”
“She might as well be,” Dewdrop returned. “Her father had us kidnapped. She’s probably just like him.”
“That’s overstating things a bit,” Tate said. “Besides, who are we to judge someone by what their family has done?”
He looked away, his expression chastened.
Night watched the two of them, his ears flicking. I don’t see how this is any different than how she met either of us. I vote let the woman try. Done with the conversation, he ambled off.
Tate waited, knowing if she pushed he’d shut down.
Dewdrop threw up his hands. “Fine. I know when I’m out voted. Trust the Lady.” He put a derisive twist on the word ‘lady’. He’d made his feelings on the nobility obvious on more than one occasion. She was starting to think there was history there and made a note to ask him about it later when he wasn’t already worked up. “See how far that gets you.”
He stuffed his hands in his pocket and shuffled after Night. To Roslyn, he said, “Don’t think this means we trust you. Cause we don’t.”
Her face turned dismayed as he stalked past her.
Tate gave her a stiff smile. “As you can see, you’ve got the job.”
A smile grew on her face, at odds with the normal austere expression she showed the world. Ashwin clapped and touched Roslyn on the shoulder in support.
“You won’t regret this,” Roslyn told Tate.
“I certainly hope not,” she replied. It wasn’t like she had a lot of options at this point anyway.
“When are you hoping to move in by?” Roslyn asked, visibly gaining control of herself.
“Well, we’ve been told we need to be out of our current apartments by the end of the month. So, some time before then.”
Roslyn looked taken aback. “That’s in two weeks.”
The news seemed to take some of the happiness out of her sails. Even Ashwin stared at Tate like she had two heads.
“Is there a problem with that deadline?” Tate asked.
Roslyn shook her head, the motion emphatic. “No, no. No problem. I’ll do it.”
Tate gave her a sharp smile, wondering if she was regretting volunteering yet. “You can send word to Colton’s Place when you have something for me to see.”
Tate gave the two of them an abrupt nod before setting off after her friends. The two of them would leave her behind in a hot minute if she took much longer. Her stomach grumbled letting her know it was long past lunch time. Scratch that, she’d leave them behind if she didn’t get some food into her pronto.
“Come on. Let’s go get some food,” Tate told Dewdrop and Night when she caught up to them.
“We’ve already ate.”
Tate gave him a considering look. Seemed someone wasn’t quite over their sulking yet.
“We can go to that meat pie seller in the Little Market,” Tate said with a sly smile. “The one next to the flower cart.”
Dewdrop twitched, his hands dropping to his sides. He tried to play it cool. “I suppose if you pay for us, there’s no harm eating a second meal.”
Tate smirked, knowing she had him. “It’s settled then. We’ll head to the Lower for food.”
Dewdrop came to a stop realizing how she’d played him. Night huffed, his version of a laugh as he sauntered by him.
“You won’t always get your way, you know,” Dewdrop shouted after them.
“Give it up, kid. I’m just cagier than you,” Tate said over her shoulder.He grumbled as he trailed in their wake