“Hi, Uncle,” said Sen from her seat atop a pile of mail order catalogs.
“Good morning, Peter,” said Baxter, watching him sit down and then pushing a platter of white pudding toward him. “You seem in good spirits.”
“Why wouldn’t I be in good spirits? Why wouldn’t anybody? We’re here in Birmisia, the weather is warming up, there’s plenty to eat, and no one to tell us what to do. Isn’t that right, sister?”
Senta didn’t answer. She was staring off into space.
“What?” She blinked and looked around, her eyes finally settling on him. “Oh, do you still live here?”
“Don’t mind her,” said Baxter. “She’s got her mind on important things and can’t be bothered with us mortals.”
“Well, I’m a journeyman wizard now. I passed my test. Maybe I could help you with whatever you have going on, sister.”
“That’s half-sister,” said Senta. She rose out of her chair as if gravity didn’t exist for her and stepped around the table, pausing just long enough to bend over and bite Baxter on the ear, before leaving through the kitchen door.
“I think she’s getting meaner,” said Peter, frowning and reaching for the toast.
“Get Mr. Bassington some eggs.” Baxter snapped his fingers at one of the lizzie servants. “Like I said, don’t mind her. She’s got something on her mind and forgets the ordinary things—like the fact that we have feelings.”
“Well I shan’t mind her. Life is too good to go around worrying about things.”
“So, what are you doing on this thoroughly wonderful day then?” asked Baxter.
“Oh, I’m going to fiddle around for a couple of hours, and then I have a lunch date.”
“Oh? And where are you taking Miss Bassett?”
“It’s not with Abigail. I’m taking out Lucetta Hartley.”
“I don’t think I know that family.”
“They’re just here from Brechalon—Langsington.”
“Well, you certainly seem to be a popular fellow,” said Baxter.
“I know.” The young man grinned. “None of them ever noticed me back in Brech, but here I’m that popular.”
“I’m sure you can attribute some of that to the fact that your sister is letting you spend her money as freely as you can.”
“Yeah. Do you think she’d let me buy a steam carriage? That’s really the only reason I’m not completely irresistible.”
“I know for a fact that Senta will have nothing to do with a steam carriage,” said Baxter. “She doesn’t like them. And part of your resistibility has to do with your being a dunderhead.”
“Hey! She said I could buy what I wanted. Besides, I don’t see you with any of your own money. How much did that fine suit set you back?”
“You watch your mouth if you don’t want it smacked,” said Baxter.
Peter raised a finger, threateningly. Baxter gave him a withering look.
“I wasn’t referring to your spending habits,” he said, “but to your jumping from one young lady to another. You’re going to burn all your bridges. You know they all talk to each other, don’t you?”
“There are plenty of fish in the sea,” grumbled Peter, bothered less by the criticism than by the fact that Baxter didn’t seem to be afraid of his magic.
“That may be, but a good fisherman doesn’t poison the water.” Baxter wiped his mouth with his napkin and tossed it onto his plate. “Now if you’ll excuse me, Sen and I are off to ride a dinosaur this morning.”
“You can’t take a baby on a dinosaur.”
“I’m not a baby,” said the little girl. “I’m three.”
“You see there,” said the man, standing up and scooping the girl up into his arms. “Come along, my darling. Let’s get my riding clothes on.”
Peter watched him leave and then turned his attention to his breakfast, just as the lizzie brought out two basted eggs on a plate.
“You should listen to him,” said a sultry female voice. “I would imagine he’s been with many women.”
Peter looked around, not seeing anyone at first, and then the coral dragon rose up from the other side of the table, taking Senta’s vacated seat. She reached out her scaly arm and picked up each of the remaining platters one at a time, dumping their contents onto Senta’s barely touched plate.
“What do you know about it, Zoey?” asked Peter.
“Hardly anything, which is only slightly less than you.”
“Hardy har, har.”
Peter took two more bites of his breakfast then called for a lizzie to bring him a cup of tea, which he carried out into the garden. Sitting in a wrought iron chair, he sipped the drink as steam rose up and tickled his nose.
“You could catch a chill out here without your coat on.”
“I might be able to catch some peace and quiet. If only.”
“Nobody wants the dragon around.” The smooth metallic body curled around him until the spiky, whiskered face was right in front of his. “I could get a complex.”
“I apologize,” said Peter, with a sigh. “I was in such a good mood when I came down the stairs, and then… well, I get reminded that I’m just me.”
“What’s wrong with being you?” asked Zoey.