Madge Majesty looked up from her study of the papers spread on her lap and across the seat of her beloved 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Limousine. "Yes, Hayden?"
"Madame, Dunraven Castle is but perhaps half an hour away. You requested a warning." Hayden had lasted years longer than any of her other drivers, so he knew he was liked, but wasn't fool enough to take advantage of that knowledge. Harpies were not creatures to take lightly.
"Hmm. So I did." She gathered up her papers and stuffed them into her leather case. Wearily, she pulled on the gloves she'd laid to the side and put on the ridiculously large hat with an immense array of feathers decorating it. "There. I'm properly adorned." She huffed out an unladylike breath, as much as her corset would allow. "I'd give a great deal to be back in Greece where the fashions were sensible."
Hayden quirked a smile at her. "But not warm, Madame. Wales in winter is considerably chillier." As if to emphasize his point, the wind rattled the Rolls with no respect for the craftsmanship that went into it.
"I'm very sorry I agreed to be the Duke's hostess for this mystery party. Why didn't I refuse and stay in our lovely townhouse in London, where I could enjoy a party or write as I pleased?" Madge rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Ah, well, what's done is done. We'll make the best of the weekend and be toasting our toes in front of the home fires soon enough."
"I've never been to a mystery party, Madame. How does one throw a party for a mystery?"
"Very simple. It's all in this box." Madge patted the locked strongbox beside her. "There are clue cards and the basic plot for me to follow. This one is perfect for a winter game, called The Santa Clause. Who wouldn't love to murder a solicitor or two now and again?" She shrugged. "I certainly would, upon occasion."
Hayden retreated into silence and returned his attention to maneuvering her precious new car through the few treacherous roads that Wales bothered to have at all. The ex-thief was not fond of anyone who had anything to do with the law. He was officially rehabilitated, but a mere ten years of service as her driver didn't negate a lifetime of running from authority. An extremely careful and quiet man by nature, he was -- in Madge's opinion -- the perfect companion, much better than a twittering peahen of a lady's maid.
The car lurched and slid to one side on a patch of icy mud, throwing Madge against the door. She bore it in stoic silence. Hayden wouldn't understand how much they needed the money provided by this weekend of enforced merriment. Everyone was writing books in this day and age, and she wouldn't say the money she earned was paltry, but it certainly didn't allow for a lavish lifestyle. In fact, if the truth were known, Hayden was the only employee she could afford. Thus, while on their jaunts -- often paid by those who wished for a bit of fame and glamour to rub off on them -- Hayden served as chef, chauffeur, lady's maid, and man of all work.
Since it suited her to be knowledgeable about subjects many men hadn't even the stomach for, Madge pulled out of her case one of the few books where the great Sigmund Freud appeared to change his mind on the subject of anxiety and inhibitions. Madge grinned to herself. She did love humor, especially when humans meant to be serious. "Of course we all have inhibitions, moronic little man."
Her mumble caught Hayden's attention. "Why do you bother with that mumbo-jumbo, Madame? He thinks everything has to do with sexual congress!"
"Hmm, yes, well, he does have certain prejudices, doesn't he? I'm not aberrant because I enjoy sex, and I seriously doubt the way your mother changed your nappies has anything to do with your homosexuality. Do be forgiving, dear. He's hopelessly addicted to cocaine, and trapped in a repressed society."
Sadly, everything she said was true. "You'd know more about repressed societies than I, Madame. I'm only a poor human, after all." Hayden gave her one of his infamous Mona Lisa smiles -- a smile that showed no teeth but implied much more than mischief while keeping well into propriety. Bless him, he never stepped a toe out of line publicly, unless called upon to do so.
Madge, on the other hand, had no compunctions about showing her fangs, even when she covered her retractable dagger-like talons with silk gloves. The pointed ears peeking out of dark curls and her Grecian looks marked her as a foreigner in a land notable for its snobbery, but Madge saw no need to bother hiding herself. Well, all right, she hid the wings. Blasted things got in the way if she didn't, but that was for her convenience and not propriety. She was what she was -- an expatriate harpy who told a good story and occasionally found cause to use her bloodthirsty nature to solve a mystery.
The irony was, no one ever thought to accuse her of the murders because harpies weren't known for subtlety when it came to killing. Madge acknowledged the legend with twisted lips, and didn't bother to remind anyone that she was free and no longer the slave of the Furies.
Framed by snow clouds the color of a pigeon's breast, Dunraven Castle hove up from the surrounding hills like a fairytale. Beautifully situated and scrupulously maintained by a trust none of the Duke's wastrel ancestors could touch, it was a welcoming sight in the gathering gloom of dusk. Thanks to the road conditions, if you dared call the deeply rutted mud tracks by the same noble word the Romans used for their craftsmanship, they were hours late. They'd missed tea in their haste to make up time, and now her stomach rumbled audibly. "Have we time for a biscuit, Hayden?"
"Was that your stomach, Madame? Surely I thought we were about to have a storm." Hayden pretended to study the sky very seriously. At the same time, his hand reached back imploringly. "I'd love a bikky, thank you. No doubt I've missed the servant's dinner, and I've no mind to make do with a bit of cold chicken and some bread until morning."
Chuckling wickedly because he knew she always insisted he sit with her at table, forestalling any foolish matchmaking attempts, Madge handed him a large shortbread biscuit from her hamper, and they munched companionably. Finally, the car traversed the bridge atop the dry moat and passed through the portcullis into the courtyard of Dunraven.
"Just do me one small favor, Madame?" Hayden did not move from the seat to open her door.
"So serious! Very well, what is it?" She thought she knew, but made him ask.
"Let's try not to let this weekend become a real murder mystery?" His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, and she imagined under the proper driving gloves of his profession, his knuckles were white. Poor thing, he really had suffered at the last mysterious weekend, and had ended up incarcerated for three days until Madge had proven to everyone's satisfaction that another had committed the deed. For poor Hayden, it had been a truly miserable occasion.
Madge patted his shoulder. "Buck up, Hayden. I'm planning nothing more than a game all weekend. After all, what could happen in the Duke's presence?"