CARLOS SPENT MOST OF the morning stealing glanced at Dame Mary Ann. He had never come across a captain that looked like that before. At first opportunity, he still planned on jumping ship and escaping from these lunatics. But if the chance presented itself to get in a smooch or two, Carlos was man enough to admit that he would take it.
“Quit the ogling, Caterpillar,” Mary Ann said from over her shoulder.
Carlos had no earthly idea how the woman could see him unless she had eyes buried somewhere in that luscious red hair of hers.
“I’m not staring,” Carlos grumbled, “And don’t call me Caterpillar.”
Mary Ann smiled to herself, aware that he couldn’t see the action. She was facing the control room and was watching his reflection in the glass situated in the windows above her.
The pouty way he pursed his lips was in such fierce disagreement with his masculine body that Mary Ann couldn’t help that her eyes kept coming back to him.
“Are you not a Caterpillar shifter?” she asked innocently.
His jaw tensed, “It is far more complicated than that.”
Mary Ann turned at that statement. Carlos found himself momentarily paralyzed by her sheer beauty—until she opened her mouth.
“That is right, what was the name again?” She tapped her temple as if thinking, “Arctia Caja?”
Carlos puffed his chest out, “Damn straight! Once I transform fully into my larva state I will be a Garden Tiger Moth.”
Mary Ann’s lips twitched, “How impressive!”
“Go ahead,” He waved the wrist that wasn’t zip tied to the airship, “Make fun all you like. But just so you know, once I am a Garden Tiger Moth, I will be highly poisonous. I’d sure hate to accidentally do you any harm.”
Mary Ann widened her eyes, “That does sound dreadful. But tell me, Caterpillar, at what age will you finally transition? I must be misinformed because I thought that metamorphosis would occur during the growing years. Perhaps you are younger than you look?”
Carlos flushed hotly, “My father was a late bloomer, and I am just like him! What do you know anyway? You are just a human.”
Mary Ann gave him a strange glance before shrugging her shoulders, “I am certain that you are right, what would I know?”
She turned and went to walk away but Carlos stopped her with a yell, “Hey, Captain Lady, what’s a man got to do to get a drink around here?”
Jolly came bustling out from below stairs his feathers in a flurry, “Beg your pardon, Caterpillar, but I need to speak with Dame Mary Ann.”
Mary Ann secretly loved the way that Carlos scowled at the Jubjub for calling him caterpillar. In truth, she saw nothing wrong with the form that he shifted into. What amused her was the way that he tried to play it off that he was some tough guy.
Mary Ann knew a lot of about living hard and getting through by the skin of your teeth. Her family had originally served the Red Court before her father was beheaded. Sadly, that was one of the Red Queen’s favorite pastimes.
She had helped her mother to raise her brothers as best they could. Her mam passed some years ago and the boys ran with a wild crowd that some might consider illegal rebel rousers. But Mary Ann loved her brothers and was proud of them.
Even little Harry, who out of the five children seemed to be the one who would follow in their father’s footsteps in service to the crown. Thankfully, Harry had chosen to work for the White Court and not the red. Mary Ann felt that he had a much better chance holding on to his head that way.
Harry was a white rabbit shifter, often late to wherever he was supposed to go, and terribly flustered at all times. Her other brothers, Max, Ringo, and Frankie could usually be found in a seedy bar somewhere with a woman in their arms and only recognizable by their shocking red hair. All five of them were similar in that respect, there was no hiding it.
It was surprising to Mary Ann that Carlos didn’t detect that she was a shifter. He had called her a human, which she considered a compliment. After all, Alice and Lory were perfectly lovely humans. It was true that in Wonderland those without magic were considered to be of a lower class. But Mary Ann always found this to be snobby and pretentious.
The sweet feline inside of her felt a strong affinity for Alice. And Mary Ann had a feeling that there was a different kind of magic inside of the sisters. Maybe not one that could easily be seen from the outside. But she had seen plenty of glimpses of it over the years.
“What are you stewing about?”
Mary Ann glanced up to see Carlos watching her, she smiled.
“Nothing of any importance, Carlos.”
He grinned at her. Letting her see that he had noticed she called him by name this time. Jolly had set a nice table for Carlos to eat. Mary Ann’s stomach grumbled, and she vaguely remembered working through breakfast.
He raised a brow, “Would you like to join me?”
Mary Ann immediately shook her head, “No, thank you. I have much to do today.”
He nodded as if understanding completely, “I see, don’t worry about it. I completely understand.”
Mary Ann took a step closer to him, “You understand what?”
It was Carlos’ turn to act innocent, “Hey, I wouldn’t like having to eat with the prisoner either. I had forgotten my place is all. I won’t do it again.”
Mary Ann huffed as she marched over to the small table and sat in the opposite chair.
“Your reverse psychology won’t work on me.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up and Mary Ann was fascinated by the way his eyes lit with amusement, “Sweetheart,” his gravelly tone sent shivers up her back, “I think it’s already worked, don’t you?”
Mary Ann leaned over and grabbed one of the sandwiches that Jolly had prepared. “I am only here because I am hungry, it has nothing to do with you, Caterpillar.”
Carlos scowled and even that had an unsettling effect on Mary Ann’s stomach. The man was far too good looking for his own good.
“If you keep your face like that it will freeze that way,” the words were out before Mary Ann could stop them. She had sounded just like her mother when disciplining the boys.
To her surprise, Carlos tossed his head back and laughed. Mary Ann found her own lips twitching and soon found herself joining in.
“I haven’t heard anything like that in a long time,” Carlos replied, “You are an interesting individual, Dame Mary Ann.”
Interesting usually meant, weird or strange to her. Suddenly the sandwich turned to ash in her mouth and she set it down.
“I need to get back to work,” Mary Ann mumbled before turning to go.
Mary Ann turned to look at Carlos. His eyes searched hers for a moment, “That was a compliment, Little Cat.”
“Why would you call me that?” she blurted out.
Carlos shrugged, “You remind me of a cat. You are independent, inquisitive, and bossy.”
Mary Ann felt her lips trying to curve into a smile, “Is that another way you are trying to compliment me, Caterpillar?”
Carlos reached his hand out to cover the one she had on the table, Mary Ann startled and pulled her hand away as if it had been burned. But not before letting out the smallest of purrs beneath her breath.
She only hoped that Carlos hadn’t heard it.