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If the Champagne's Good

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Klaus stalked up the manor's front stairs, her Alphabet trailing well behind her. Even stalwart A was wary of her tonight. Sent as museum guards for a private English lord who could and should pay for his own staff—it was intolerable. The Chief was simply unfit for the position and she could not wait for the day a competent officer took over the chair. 

Until that happy time, here she was, flustering an English butler who clearly had not expected a woman. 

"Frauline Klausine von dem Eberbach, sir," he said, introducing her to Lord Ellery.

"Major Eberbach," Klaus ground out, glaring. 

"Of course," the butler murmured, and withdrew without further apology. Ellery made none either, even as he met her offered handshake with an uncertain grip, and grimaced at the force of hers. A contemptible man, then, who ran a lax house. 

"Welcome," he said, in tones that said she was anything but. "Please make yourself at home. Your may station your, uh, men in the drawing room. Roan will show you where." His eyes darted, his discomfort plain. "Please excuse me, I must attend to my guests." 

Klaus raised an eyebrow.  "And where do you store your valuables? Gold, jewellery, art?"

The man sniffed and drew back from her. "I hardly think—"

An idiot as well as a boor. "Listen," she said through clenched teeth, "my team is here because you talked your way into NATO's ear. If you find yourself mistaken in your conviction that thieves will target your collection tonight, then I assure you that there are far more pressing threats my team could be attending to. I would be delighted to remove myself from your hospitality. Such as it is."

"But you can't—my minitures—my collection—" Ellery wrung his hands. 

Klaus' temper was always a high-strung affair, and she was on the verge of earning herself another lecture from the Chief when the door sprung open. A sharply dressed young man, very conventionally styled except for affecting a hat indoors, swept into the room. He radiated good cheer, and threw a companionable arm around Ellery. "Oh, Terry, you should have called for me when NATO showed up. You know you've never gotten on with the military mind." 

Klaus snorted and gestured impatiently for Dorian to get on with whatever it was going to be. The absolute drama queen never could resist dropped Klaus in the middle of one of her schemes and expecting her to go along with it. 

"Tom D'Arcy, pleased to meet you, Major," Dorian said, holding her hand out. It looked odd without the usual gaudy polish on the nails. "Sorry about Terry, he's all in a tizzy because of this damnable caper. Terrible business, threatening to take a man's treasure out of his own home! Just awful." 

"Indeed," Klaus said dangerously, shaking Dorian's strong, slim hand and waiting for the other shoe. "Major Klaus von dem Eberbach, NATO." 

Dorian was too good at what she did to wink, but she managed to give the impression that she did anyway. "Eberbach! Not of Schloss Eberbach? The bear hunters?"

Ah. Klaus relaxed. If Misha was involved in all this, then at least she and her team weren't wasting their time. "I am surprised an Englishman has heard of my family," she said, and let the ridiculous Ellery think the note of pleasure in her voice was vanity. 

Dorian smiled like the sun hitting polished steel. "My family too are keen hunters," she said. "And now we're all acquainted! Terry must be just about to show you where his collection is, so your men can keep an eye on it tonight. Just this way!" 

She hustled the two of them out of the room, Ellery soothed by 'Tom's' chatter. The nervous little man led them both up stairs and along corridors until they reached the wing in question. Paintings lined the walls and cabinets teamed with Godawful porcelain figurines. By the slightly quirk of Dorian's eyebrow, she hadn't made it up here herself yet. Had probably used Klaus to get an invitation. Klaus did, on occasion, admire her chutzpah. She wondered what had caught the thief's eye. 

"Here it is," the disagreeable Ellery said, posing grandly. "The most complete collection of mint condition elfinware in the world. My grandmother began it, my mother perfected it, and I, I flatter myself to say, have improved it still further. So you see, it is of utmost importance that nothing should happen to it!"

"I will station my men here for the night," Klaus said, glad she wouldn't have to be up here staring at the creepy little doll furniture. It  looked like it was growing mould. "Please have your man on hand to show them the way here."

Dorian laid her hand on Ellery's arm as he started to draw himself up again. She shot Klaus a put-upon look. Well, Klaus was hardly going to start being polite to idiots at this late stage; mollifying them was Dorian's job. "Of course, Major," 'Tom' said smoothly. "I'll do it myself if Roan is too busy with the guests. I suppose you'll be wanting to keep an eye on things downstairs?" 

"Yes," she said curtly. "I'll need a copy of the guest list. Perhaps, Mister D'Arcy, you could match names to faces."

"Delighted! Oh, Terry, I know it's awful to think of anything happening to your beautiful china, but isn't it exciting! To have a real secret investigation here!"

And in a cloud of that kind of ridiculous patter, they descended to the ball room, Ellery deftly managed into docility. 

"Well?" Klaus asked, the moment they were out of earshot. "What are you after? Surely not that mouldy doll house junk?"

Dorian made a face. "Absolutely nothing, darling. That man is descended from a long line of bad taste and the apple has not fallen far. The place could burn down and it would be no loss to art history, I'm sure." 

"You're not here for the company, surely."

"Ah, well. Now  I am," she said, her blue eyes suddenly enormous as she blinked coquettishly from under 'Tom's' moddish black hat. 

Klaus scowled. 

"Ahem. Well, actually I'm only here because you need to be here, darling. I happened to hear that Misha is interested in one of the guests, and I thought she might show up herself. I tried to tell your Chief, but—well." 

Klaus could envisage what would have happened. The Chief was especially idiotic about Dorian, and couldn't seem to take a word she said seriously. (The fault lay at least partly with Dorian herself, it was true. But the bulk of it was the same stupidity that afflicted men everywhere when speaking with a beautiful woman, and Dorian never could seem to turn off the flirt in her voice when she was speaking as Lady Gloria. Still, the man was inexcusably unprofessional to have missed this.) 

 "You didn't try my team directly?" Klaus herself had been unreachable for the last fortnight, thanks to a trip to Alaska to hand out orders to her current band of repentant exiles. She wondered who she'd be sending there next as punishment for not passing on a message for Dorian. 

"The only one I could raise was that new disaster of yours—T, I think. Not that he could remember to use his letter. Kept using his actual name, and he thought I was inviting you to a party! Didn't even recognise Misha's name. So... here we are."

Ugh. T. Well, she'd been looking for an excuse to send that one to Alaska as fast as possible, so that was fine. "So you told Ellery that Eroica was going to rob him, and got him  to call the Chief and raise a fuss," she guessed. 

"Here we are," Dorian said, seductive and low. "Where the champagne is fortunately of better quality than the art, and I can talk to you all night while I point out guests. So mission accomplished, really."

_

Irritating as it was, it was so much easier to navigate these parties when Dorian was dressed as a man. At least, it was when she was trying to manage Klaus as well as the night's caper. 'Tom' could get away with a forceful hand on Klaus' forearm if she were raging, and Lady Gloria could only flutter and dazzle. (Her flutter and dazzle were highly effective, most of the time, but historically, not when dealing with Iron Klaus on a tear.) 

The hat was an annoyance, but she couldn't cut her hair for these roles, so it had to stay. Never mind, she was allowed an eccentricity or two. 'Tom D'Arcy' might not be nobility but he ran in enough blue blooded circles to have picked up a few peccadilloes, and more importantly, a reputation for steadiness. She'd worked hard on 'Tom', over the years. 

And tonight, if she played her cards, right, she might even be able to maneuver Klaus onto the dance floor. She'd just need to convince her it was the best way to get close to Misha's mark. 

-

Dorian had been distracted. Possibly, she could admit, more than had been wise when she'd known, she really had, that Misha herself might make an appearance. That sadistic bitch needed more of her attention than Dorian had had to spare, when pressed chest to chest with Klaus. Who could blame her? She'd let 'Tom' get a little drunk and handsy, and Klaus, hiding inside her mask of professionalism, had miraculously borne it. She could have thrown Dorian on her arse; she'd done it before. She hadn't, tonight, and the sudden thawing of Fortress Eberbach had sent Dorian's head into a spin. 

So really, she probably deserved to be in her current predicament. Head turned by a spectacular woman and look where she was, embarrassingly hostage in Ellery's drawing room. The only blessing was that Misha seemed to want to keep her British cover identity, and that this wasn't happening in the ballroom. Dorian would quite like to keep Tom D'Arcy as well. 

Klaus was incandescent. Squared up to Misha, her beloved Magnum like an extension of her body, straight and tall and all ready to charge into battle for her. It was enough to make Dorian swoon. It was a pity about the knife to her throat; she was only glad it wasn't a gun. 

"What do you want, Misha?" Klaus snarled, her green eyes flashing. Oh, Dorian was going to be dreaming about this for weeks. 

The Russian laughed harshly, loud against Dorian's ear. "Ah, so it is like that, Iron Klaus. Not like you to ask first and shoot later, hmm? Perhaps I have got something that you want?" Dorian tried not to make a sound when Misha nicked the skin under her ear, but she couldn't help a small cry. It hurt more than she'd thought it would. 

Klaus lunged forward and Misha stepped away, bending Dorian backward uncomfortably. "Stay back, Iron Klaus. The killing of a minor English sycophant will raise no diplomatic hackles, Major. It's not as if I have here a Peer of the Realm, now, is it?" 

"Let him go," Klaus said, the deadly quiet menace of her when she was truly, murderously angry. 

"Oh, Major. Let's dispense with the fictions. You want your Lady Gloria back, to do whatever it was you were doing with her in there." Her voice with its hateful sneer made Dorian shake with rage. "I want you to call off your little pack of dogs upstairs, so that I can do what I need to do this evening. Let's all leave as friends, to dance another day, hmm?"

"My dogs," Klaus said, slow and measured, "have bite." 

And so Dorian did, twisting away from the blade, sinking her teeth into Misha's bare forearm and dropping her weight straight down. At the same time Klaus sprang forward, controlling Misha's knife with one hand, and slamming the butt of the Magnum to the Russian's temple with the other. 

Dorian lay where she'd fallen for a moment, catching her breath. Klaus spared her a glance, snorted, and produced a pair of handcuffs that Dorian would have sworn she hadn't been carrying. She'd made a thorough investigation, back on the dance floor, but perhaps not thorough enough. 

"Klaus, darling," she said, watching the handcuffs ratchet tight; Misha would dislocate her thumbs to get them off if you gave her any wiggle room, Dorian knew from unpleasant experience. "I think perhaps I'd better arrange a room for you here tonight. Misha will have a team somewhere."

KGB agent secured, Klaus turned her attention to Dorian. She glared, pulled her up from her ungainly sprawl, and touched the wound on her throat. "Idiot woman," she spat, shaking Dorian a little. "You must leave the Russians to me, you are useless." 

Dorian smiled, took shameless advantage of their position and swooned into Klaus' arms. "But you saved me, darling. And now we know that the infernal bitch does want the elfinware; there's probably microfiche in one of them. I'll find it for you." She batted her eyelashes ridiculously, and caught her breath. Klaus was undeniably blushing. Glaring at her, but still blushing. 

Well. 'Tom D'Arcy' had a spare room just next door to his guest suite. And perhaps she should try being a hostage more often, if this was the reaction.