âBolivia,â put in Lafayette. âThatâs what I read. But it didnât say you were married.â
Penny winced. âI sympathize. My gentlemen colleagues make the press, and itâs all about art. Any publicity I get is about my figure and the cut of my gown.â She made a rude face as she lit a fresh cigarette. âNow, letâs see. We all endured Dalzielâs dinner. Everyone arguing politics, frightfully dull. Iâm afraid we left rather early, about half past one.â Penny sighed. âIâd simply love to tell you that Sheridan lurked behind and bumped Dalziel off in a fit of smug insufferableness, but it isnât true. He and I rode a cab to the coffee house.â
âI thought you didnât like Mr. Lightwood.â
âPositively loathe the greasy-nosed runt. Doesnât mean he canât pay for my cab. Carmine was there, too, playing cards. Carmine Zanotti, I mean, of Eve and the Serpent . Have you seen it? Itâs simply wonderful. What a surprising new talent. We didnât shamble home until the sun crept up.â
âAnd home is?â
âHere, of course. The Academy has student rooms.â
âWhich coffee house?â
Penny frowned, vague. âYou know. The place we go. In Soho.â She waved across the way. âI say,â she called, âSheridan, you disgusting little toad, we were just discussing your poor bartered soul.â
Lightwood sauntered over. A picturesque fellow, his long locks tied in a ribbon. He wore an antique long-fronted waistcoat in rainbow colors beneath his tapered black coat. âA bad bargain, as it turned out,â he said. âIâve waved my magic wand a dozen times and you still wonât drop dead.â
âWhat do they all see in you?â muttered Penny. âIt certainly isnât talent.â
Sheridan smirked. âCharm, fame, and good looks? More than your talented friend Carmine has to offer.â
âI wouldnât join that measuring contest, if I were you.â Penny grinned like a hyena. âAre you done with this eveningâs petty conquest? I hear Lady Fleetâs newly available.â
He narrowed dark eyes at her. âForgive me if my heartâs not quite in it this evening.â
âOh, dear. Have you been blubbering over Dalziel again? Poor thing, your face is positively bloated.â
âWhat do you want, Watt? The sight of youâs already making me queasy.â
âThis ladyâs asking about the murder. I thought you might like to help, as you were such good friends.â
Lightwood studied Lafayette, and then Eliza, unfocused, as if he looked through her. Short-sighted? Bad news for a watch-makerâs apprentice who wanted to be an artist. The victim of a perennial sick headache? Hmm. What odds he was chasing the dragon? Pale, bad-tempered, that elusive, faraway cast to his gaze . . . but somehow, not so vague as he seemed.Observant, perhaps memorizing details for some future sketch. Once again, sly fingers tickled her memory . . . but she couldnât place him.
âForgive Miss Watt, madam,â he said. âSheâs far too worthless a degenerate to properly introduce us.â
âFor heavenâs sake.â Penny waved her cigarette. âDr. Jekyll and Captain Lafayette, meet rude, drunken gutter-snipe who thinks heâs Godâs gift to ladies and art lovers both. Sheridan, meet eminently sensible professional whoâs so clearly out of your league that Iâm tempted to watch you try, and the fellow whoâll thrash your lights out if you do.â
âThat about covers it,â murmured Lafayette with a cold smile.
Sharply, Lightwood bowed. As he bent over her hand, Elizaâs senses prickled. His mingled scents drifted: claret, yes, he was halfway drunk, but also a sickly-sweet fruity smell that burned her palate.
She wished for her optical. Chinese opium, or some