Ezer cleared his throat. “How likely is this to interfere with our business?”
“I think,” Senga admitted quietly, “that it’s already doing so. I think that whatever happened with that job the other day, it was probably family-related – my family. I mean, unless you or Allayne have come up with enemies lately that you haven’t told me about.”
“What about Chitter?” Erramun looked between the two of them, ignoring the staff for the moment.
Ezer snorted. “She just makes online enemies. They’d hack the house – one of them made the icemaker spew ice all over the kitchen once – but they don’t generally sink to attempted murder. They think it’s messy and sort of below them, I think.”
“Murder?” Candavish leaned forward. “You’re not speaking of Mirabella.”
“Well, that one was clearly a murder,” Erramun pointed out. “But Mr. Ezer here is speaking of Senga and Allayne. Somebody killed Mirabella – it wasn’t me. Someone is trying to kill Senga and her team. It can’t actually be me, and it definitely isn’t.”
“Because you’re her Bond Servant?” Candavish’s voice was sharp.
“Because I have orders not to attack her or to kill her or her people.” Erramun, on the other hand, was speaking very quietly and very mildly. He sounded all the more dangerous for that. “Because sa’Swallow is not an idiot, and she understood that being blackmailed into being someone’s Bond Servant, even if that someone had nothing to do with the blackmailing, was not going to make me happy.”
Candavish raised his eyebrows. “And yet you have the temerity to suggest that I might be a threat to her?”
“Someone is trying to hurt her and her people. Many people are unhappy with the situation to come out of the will-reading – not to mention, someone killed Mirabella in the first place, which never should have happened. And here you are, taking charge of an estate that isn’t yours, making plans and living in-residence in a home that the owner believed to be vacant -”
“Hey now.” Finally, Mrs. Johnson spoke up. “There’s no call to talk to him like that! What did you think, that the house was going to maintain itself? Sure, it’s got a bit of your faerie magic to it, but not enough to stay intact and clean for all those years without some help and some good old-fashioned elbow grease. And it’s not like you didn’t come snooping around here the other day, looking in all the corners. You didn’t notice that it was sparkling clean?”
“I noticed that it was unlikely to kill my – my mistress on her first step into the house.” Erramun smirked at Mrs. Johnson. It looked rather threatening to Senga, but she wasn’t at the other end of it. “I noticed that there was nobody living in the main rooms and that nobody had left any… upsetting reminders of any of the crimes that occurred in this house – any of the crimes that I am aware of, at least,” he corrected. “I am certain that there are some visible reminders of things I don’t know about, but if my mistress wants those dealt with, she’ll tell me. Or the three of you.”
Mrs. Collier bristled. “What do you mean, ‘tell us she wants them dealt with? As if-”
“Suzanne.“ Mrs. Johnson patted the other woman’s knee. “She owns the house and the property. It’s been a long time since there’s been a master or mistress of the house, but she’s here now. It’s not just ours.”
Senga held her breath. She was not going to have a problem with this. These people had been raising her, as much – if not more – as her family had. She’d been a child when she left them, which meant that all that time-
“The house has been running itself. That is, Candavish, you, you and Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Collier, you’ve been running the house. It’s been-”
“It has been,” Candavish agreed. “But, as Mrs. Johnson said, you are here now.”
Senga shifted uncomfortably. “It’s been your house,” she protested. She could feel the way Erramun was tensing beside her. She had the feeling he was worried she was going to undo his work staring down Candavish. But she – “You lived here, you kept it safe, even when it belonged to someone else. Did- I mean – and now-” She was normally more articulate than this. Senga closed her eyes for a moment.
“Lady Senga.” She could hear Ezer, although his voice was low, quiet, almost like he was in her comm, tucked in her ear. “You have to adjust yourself to the change in living arrangements, no? You need to make sure – as you told me – that there isn’t anyone who has access to the house who wants to hurt you, or your people.”
She sat up straighter. Trust Ezer to remember that she might need cues for the role. “Thank you for the reminder, Ezer.” Even she could hear the difference in her tone. “So.” She looked at the people who ran her house. “From whom did you take orders when there was no member of the family here?”
“Well.” Mrs. Johnson cleared her throat. “Your great-aunt, Mirabella, she owned the house after your family died, but she told us – spoke to all the staff – said that she had no interest in residing in an abattoir.” The older woman wrinkled her nose. “So she told us to take care of it as we saw fit, to hire staff as we needed, and she left us sufficient funds to do all of that. we didn’t know what she had planned for the house. She certainly wasn’t going to consult us about those things. And you were too young – no offense meant, of course. But since Mr. Candavish was going to be here, of course, and since there were a could others who were sworn to the house, we did what we could. We kept up the traps-”
Senga shared a quick look with Erramun: see? Of course, he wasn’t surprised. Ezer, on the other hand, looked startled.
Mrs. Johnson wasn’t done, though. “-We kept up the landscaping; we kept the house clean. We lived where we’d always lived. None of us were going to take over the family suites. And then, then we heard Mirabella had died, and we all held our breath. The ways that could go…”
Senga understood well enough. “My cousins were quite irked.”
“The one, she’s been coming by for years. Sometimes she’d come in, look around, say what she was going to do when it was hers. Knock out this wall, paint this thing, that sort of thing.” Mrs. Johnson was clearly unimpressed. “It’s better it’s you, miss. Even if you have been unkind to Mr. Candavish here. He was only doing what he’d been told.”
“I’m sure you can see the problem with that,” Erramun rumbled.
“Well, yes. If one is an idiot.” Mrs. Collier glared sharply at Erramun. “But since I’m not—”
“People are literally trying to kill us,” Ezer pointed out. His voice was strained. Senga didn’t blame him. “Literally. Trying to Kill. My Team.”
“Well.” Mrs. Collier looked between the three of them with one eyebrow raised. “And with what your team does, this is somehow a surprise?”