“ELOUISE.” Hugh hissed as he caught her sneaking another handful of cold salmon gravlax hors d’oeuvres into her eager gullet.

Slurping the last bit of fish past her lips, she hissed back, her cheeks puffed up with food. “I’m hungry!”

“You keep eating, and your corset is going to get a lot more uncomfortable,” Hugh scratched the side of his face.

Heaving a dramatic sigh, Elouise’s eyes fell onto a platter skewer beside a beautiful plate of cheese and ham cuts. Picking it up, she flashed a mischievous tight-lipped smile at Hugh.

Hugh cocked up an eyebrow. “Might I remind you that that corset was a loan?”

Elouise stuck out her jaw in contempt and pierced a petite quiche, eating it straight off the utensil. She reveled in Hugh’s wide-eyed disapproving stare and skewered another piece, offering it to him. Deciding to put his primness aside, Hugh gently dislodged the little biscuit and popped it into his mouth.

The savory, herb-y egg button melted in his mouth, a true delicacy worthy of the Shannan household kitchen.

A sharp crack of thunder outside cut his tasting appreciation off and made the both of them jump.

“Horrible weather, ain’t it?” Mrs. Shannan sauntered it with a tray of hot buns. Elouise eyed the stack appreciatively, clutching the skewer like a bouquet of flowers. At Mrs. Shannan’s kindly eyed glare however, the skewer was quickly placed back to its original setting after a quick wipe down on Elouise’s sleeve.

“I hope you two have been making yourselves comfortable,”she hummed, giving the platter of gravlax a good shake to even out the empty spaces.

Hugh pulled Elouise back by the scruff of her collar and gently tugged her to stand beside him. “I must ask your pardon for my associate’s… appetite,” he glared at her. She grinned back sheepishly at Mrs. Shannan.

“Oh, I appreciate a girl with a hearty taste! Tell me, how are the apple biscuits?” Mrs. Shanna brightened.

“There are apple biscuits?” Elouise’s eyes bulged. She began subtly slapping Hugh’s side to let her collar go, much to the amusement of Mrs. Shannan.

“I must again thank you for coming on such short notice,” Mrs. Shannan folded her hands demurely atop her apron.

“You’re most welcome, Lady Shannan. My companion and I hope to assure you whoever’s been a bit of a bother to your family will be sourced out and cornered tonight,” Hugh bowed politely. Beside him, Elouise nodded enthusiastically.

Mrs. Shannan sighed. A clang on a piano key as loud as the thunder made Hugh and Elouise jump again, but she seemed to scarcely notice. Elouise cleared her throat, and Mrs. Shannan snapped back. “Oh my, there are still some trays awaiting! Please pardon me!” she gave them an impossibly cheery smile and hurried off.

Hugh bowed and Elouise gave her a small wave off, noticing her hand flew up to dab a corner of her eye.

“Really, who would threaten people over sheet music?” Elouise cupped one side of her face in thought.

“Music pieces are quite valuable as, lets say, in your terms, as three of those solid silver platters and their contents there,” Hugh attempted to illustrate, gesturing to the three largest serving trays laden with cuts of ham and other meats on the humongous mahogany table.

“So, about 40 ducats, then. Or 45 if the cured ham is really good,” Elouise pinched her mouth in a matter-of-fact way and narrowed her eyebrows in a manner that made Hugh feel like an idiot. He should know better than to underestimate her, especially in affairs that involved the monetary value of something.

Letting out a breath of amusement, he turned and matched her teasing grin, leaning affectionately against her side. “Ow,” he stepped away, dislodging his hip from the tip of her rapier’s hilt shrouded by her skirts.

“As such,” he continued, “Plagiarism is not taken very kindly; even more so for commissioned composers such as Mr. Patrick Shannan. An accusation alone is enough to reduce an artist to to the gutter. His paranoia for the safety of his music sheets are completely reasonable.”

“Hence the little party for his fellow composers,” Elouise gathered, selecting a beautiful piping hot bun and breathing its freshly baked aroma in. Hugh nodded.

“But couldn’t they just play a similar tune and call it their own?” she spoke with a little lift to her voice, from the absolutely delicious warmth of the perfectly cooked buttery dough in her mouth.

“Well, to play a tune so readily and with fervor one must have a connection with the melody. Its composer would perform it best, having known each and every key so painstakingly repeated and corrected. Unless you’re a prodigy, I can’t fathom how someone simply reading the notes off the sheet to display as much passion as the original artist himself,” Hugh shrugged.

Elouise quietened her munching, focusing on the dulcet tunes of a harpsichord. She had some idea on how to get on the act of passing of someone else’s work as her very own, but thought best to keep it to herself; lest Hugh propel himself into a counter argument. No worries, she knew just how to nudge Hugh into noticing the things she did when spotting a thief and a liar.

“Shall we go over tonight’s plan with Mr. Shannan once more?” Hugh held out his arm to his associate. Elouise squeaked an agreement, but only made to leave after she had retrieved an empty plate on which she proceeded to pile buns and gravlax and other delicacies she could balance in the short amount of time Hugh managed to click disapprovingly.

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