The café was a small place off the main thoroughfare. The ladies, those who had no need to work at places like the Steam Whisper, sat at round tables, sipped tea, and ate delicate little cookies. Long dresses with lots of frills and elaborate hair styles hit my eyes no matter which way I turned. I loved the café, but the clientele wasn’t my favorite group of people. They were too much like my haughty sister and her ‘husband in need of a secretary’.
I settled into a chair amid sneers of disgust. I was conscious of being different, of wearing trousers and boots instead of a frilly gown, but I was willing to bet I was more educated than any of them.
“Oh, my gods. Do you see her clothes?”
“What’s someone like that doing in here? Aren’t there taverns for her kind?”
The whispers, if they could be called that, cut into my already low self-esteem. I considered leaving, but I wasn’t willing to give the bitches the satisfaction. I took out my parchment pad and pen and shut the rest of the patrons from my mind, but it was no use. I was more concerned about Elbert and the demon than I was about writing. Elbert and the demon. That was it. My pen flew across the page as I detailed all that I had seen.
The door opened, and cold air blasted through the café. The women complained until they saw who stood in the doorway, then their complaints crescendoed to a roar. The man in the doorway didn’t flinch. His eyes raked over the place; the sneer on his face reflected that of the women. With two steps, he was at my side. He grabbed my arm and tightened his grip when I tried to pull away. He dragged me from the café with no regard for my comfort. My parchment pad was left on the table.
“Let go of me.”
He didn’t answer.
I struggled, but he was much stronger than me.
“Muhulda, what is going on here?”
I rolled my eyes and tried again to pull my arm from Elbert’s grasp. He didn’t pause.
“Let go of my sister right now, or I’ll call the Enforcers.”
Elbert stopped and turned around. He blinked a couple of times then realized we were twins. “Stay out of it,” he growled.
Matilda’s boots banged against the cobbles in a staccato beat that echoed my heartbeat. “I will not.”
Elbert sighed and stopped, but he didn’t let me go. Matilda reached us in seconds and raised her arm to slap him.
“I wouldn’t recommend that action.” Elbert’s voice was quiet but cold, and I quit struggling in surprise.
Matilda, too, sensed the danger and backed away. “What do you want with her?”
“We have to talk.” Elbert didn’t say more.
Matilda turned to me, her eyes wide. “What have you gotten yourself into now? Just wait until I tell Mother.” She turned back to Elbert, her hands on her hips and her fur wrap blowing in the wind. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Elbert snarled.
“What has she done?” Matilda approached this the same way she approached everything—with the idea that she could just buy or bully her way out of it.
Elbert looked back and me with questions in his eyes. I just rolled mine. “Tell her or don’t. I don’t care.” He stared at me for another minute then let go of my arm. “Don’t go anywhere,” he said to me. “You’re in danger.” Then he turned back to my sister. “This doesn’t concern you. Period.”
Matilda huffed and tossed a stray end of her wrap back over her shoulder. “Well, I never…” She glanced over at me. “Do I need to call the Enforcers?”
I shook my head and willed her to shut up and go away. No one was more surprised than I was when she did.
“Well, I’ll come by and see you in a bit, Mully.” She stomped away.
I whirled on Elbert. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? I’m not your wife, your sister, or your bitch, and if you ever touch me again, I’ll kill you.”
He stood there with his arms crossed and snow falling on his head. Even in the cold, his arms were bare. “Those demons are after you for a reason. What is it?”
“I don’t know! What part of that don’t you understand?”
Elbert shivered once and looked around the crowded street. “Is there somewhere we can get something to eat around here. It’s freezing.”
I rolled my eyes again. “Come on. We can’t go back to the café, not after the way you barreled into the place, but I know another place.”