She checked her reflection in the window one last time before striding out to the waiting motorized carriage, which would have Tad waiting for her within. The nerve of him, to ride a Clanker machine around London.
The driver opened the door for her, and she thanked him as she climbed in.
“Hello, Dalia,” Tad took her hand and kissed it, and despite herself, Deryn felt a blush creep across her face and busied herself arranging her skirt to hide it.
“Hello, Tad. Lovely day, isn’t it?” She said without looking up.
“Yes. Quite. It’s warm, for February” He leaned back on the seat. “So, I figure that first we’d eat lunch at a small cafe I found, and then we could stroll through Regent’s Park...”
Deryn smirked at the name, thinking of her first encounter with the place. When she had first met Dr. Barlow.
“Is something funny?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. There isn’t.” Deryn shook her head.
“I like your smile,” the boy said softly.
She blinked. “What?”
“Your smile. It’s quite beautiful.”
“Oh. Thanks. Yours too.” She said awkwardly. And snorted. So this was flirting, eh? Deryn was glad that she and Alek had pretty much skipped it, because she was proving to be terrible at flirting. “Regents park, you said? Now that is a beautiful thing,” she continued, “Did you know they once set an airbeast down there, just do pick up Dr. Barlow?”
Tad frowned. “Yes. I’d heard. That was almost a year ago, wasn’t it?”
“Seven months, actually. That happened in June. My--er--aunt told me all about it.”
“Oh, ay--yes. She tells me about all of her adventures.” She said as the automobile pulled up alongside a little restaurant. It had whitewashed walls and bright orange shutters on all the windows, and a few empty tables outside for summer diners.
Tad led her inside and to a window table. As she sat down, Deryn rearranged the hair on the wig so it laid on her back and not her shoulder. She’d forgotten how fussy having long hair was.
“Please, tell me more. I’ve been following some stories that involve your aunt, but it would be much different to hear it from you, who heard it from the woman herself.”
As a waiter came and served them coffee, she hid a large smile. “Well. There is quite a lot to say. She has done many memorable things. Especially aboard the Leviathan.” Deryn stopped and smiled evilly. Why not make him squirm a bit? “From what she’s told me, there are also many interesting men aboard the ship. I’ve met two of them, who work for Aunt Barlow now. That midshipman--Dylan’s his name--now there’s a strapping fellow.”
A sneer crept onto Tad’s face, and Deryn fought a snicker. “Oh? What makes him so... strapping?”
“All airmen have a certain swagger to them. Dylan isn’t too hard on the eyes, either. Neither is the prince.” She said, completely innocent. “They’re nice boys, too. Very respectful.”
“I shall have to meet them sometime. They sound... friendly.”
Deryn realized her mistake too late. “He’s--uh--Yes. Maybe.”
The food came, and Deryn chewed on it thoughtfully. There wasn’t much too the food, and she found herself wanting to spear several slices of bread from the little basket, but didn’t because of her “ladylike manners”. Her stomach growled.
“Did you read this morning’s newspaper?” He asked suddenly.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Then you haven’t read about the Taniwha.” Deryn raised her eyebrows in response, and he continued. “It exploded early last night, over Scotland.”
“Bar--Oh, my, not another one! I thought surely the Danava was an isolated incident.”
“It surely wasn’t. Those airbeasts are fragile things. It shows how superior technology is.”
Now her eyebrows lowered into a glare, “What makes you say that?”
“A German zeppelin, Spear, was in the area. Personally I believe there is no doubt it took down the abomination.”
Deryn could feel the heat rising in her cheeks, and took a bite of food to keep herself from telling the boy to get stuffed. It was best to change the subject
“So what have you been up to recently?” she asked, careful to make sure she had swallowed before speaking.
“At present I’m traveling around Europe with my father for the next few months. He wants me to see more of the world than just Austria-Hungary. Here in London is our first stop. I regret to say we will be leaving in a few days for France. How long are you in London for?”
“Until the day after tomorrow,” she lied. Plates clinked as they were cleared, and after Tad payed they left.
At a leisurely pace, they walked around the park. Deryn only half paid attention to what he was saying about all of his adventures because she was concentrating on walking like a girl, twirling her skirts, and all that clart.
Soon they were back at the coach, and driving her to the mansion. Deryn felt his eyes on her the whole time they talked, and purposely avoided his gaze.
“I’ve had a wonderful afternoon,” he said seriously the moment they pulled up.
“So have I.” Deryn stepped out of the carriage.
“Will you just look at me?” he tugged on her shoulder and she turned to face him.
“What?” She fixed him with a steely glare, not sure what his problem was.
Tad said: “Oh--the hell with it!” and kissed her.
It was so different from the way Alek kissed. He held her strongly, like she wasn’t some delicate girl, and he was so sure of himself.
Tad was more like a butterfly; light and hesitant, as though she could break if he pressed too hard. He pulled back with an astonished look on his face. Hers was probably the same.
“Right. So--I guess I’ll be seeing you,” Deryn stuttered. Keep your head, ninny! It’s only a barking kiss!
Now the corners of his mouth tipped up. “You are a great kisser, Dalia. I sincerely hope to be seeing you. Soon.” Her face must have been as red as his, and the brisk wind that had rose up wasn’t helping. At all.