The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(2)

By: Callie Hutton

“Yes, sir. She said she is aware she does not have an appointment, but it is of utmost importance that she see you.” His sniff told him how inappropriate he deemed the woman’s actions.

Elliot stood, rolled his sleeves down, and shrugged into his jacket. “Very well. Send in”—he glanced at the card—“Mrs. Pennyworth.”

He was just settling into his chair when a young, very attractive woman passed through the doorway. As he stood back up, he tried very hard not to notice her full lips, creamy skin, and golden-blond hair, fashioned into a chignon at the back of her head. Her high-necked, well-made black carriage dress did not sport the bustle that so many women had returned to, but gathered in the back, pulling the fabric close against her stomach. The style of the dress would draw any appreciative male’s eyes to her fine form.

Overall, she was of a most attractive countenance, which immediately annoyed him.

Mrs. Pennyworth cleared her throat, reminding him he had been staring. He flushed at being caught gawking, gave her a slight smile, and waved to the chair in front of his desk. “Won’t you please have a seat, Mrs. Pennyworth?”

She sat very primly at the edge of the seat, her delicate black lace-gloved hands resting on the handle of her parasol. “Thank you for seeing me without an appointment, Mr. Baker. I will not take up much of your time.”

He dipped his head in acknowledgment. “How may I be of service, ma’am?”

Her clear green eyes studied him in cool detachment, telling him nothing. “I wish you to investigate an issue on my behalf.”

He leaned back, regarding her once again. No wedding ring visible through the lace glove, a black dress, and asking for his services, which was generally done by a man. A widow. Perhaps a recent one. Tenting his fingers together, he tapped his lip. “Indeed? And what is it you wish me to investigate?”

She glanced off to the side, and a slight flush covered her lovely cheeks. “I am being bedeviled by someone who is making me quite uncomfortable.”

An alarm sounded in his brain, and his well-earned suspicious nature rose to the forefront. Slow down, Elliot. Not every pretty woman is a manipulator.

To give himself time to clear his mind, and accept whatever it was Mrs. Pennyworth was about to tell him without prejudice, he pulled a pad of paper toward him, and dipping his pen in the inkwell, looked up at her. “Please continue.”

She chewed her bottom lip, then taking a deep breath, drawing his eyes to her well-formed bosom, blurted out, “I have been receiving unwanted items on my front doorstep.” She stopped and once more worried her plump bottom lip.

If the woman needed to be prodded every time she made a statement, the interview would take much longer than her initial promise. However, it was apparent she was upset, and having a difficult time of it. Since he rarely had women for clients, he softened a bit, without letting down his guard, and realized how out of her element she must be.

Perhaps the formal atmosphere was hindering her. He replaced the pen in its holder and pushed the pad away. “May I offer you tea, Mrs. Pennyworth?”

She visibly relaxed and nodded. “Yes, that would be quite nice.” She pulled out a fancy lace and linen handkerchief and patted her forehead and upper lip.

Elliot pushed back his chair and walked around the desk to the doorway. “Mr. Gleason, please bring tea for Mrs. Pennyworth and myself.”

He attempted small talk while they waited for the refreshments, but it soon became apparent that whatever had brought Mrs. Pennyworth to his office had a firm grip on her sensibilities, and she merely smiled and nodded distractedly at his comments.

Elliot was greatly relieved when Gleason appeared at the door with a tray of tea things. “Would you care to pour, Mrs. Pennyworth?”

Once they were settled with tea and plates of biscuits on the narrow table in front of the small wood-burning stove, Elliot said, “Please start at the beginning so I may understand what your problem is, and how I can be of service to you.”

Taking a sip of tea, she placed the cup in the saucer and folded her hands in her lap.

“About three weeks ago, I received a bouquet of flowers on my front doorstep. Since I had attended a small gathering the evening before, I assumed a gentleman had sent them over. The odd thing was, it arrived with no card. They were simply left there. Ordinarily, a delivery boy rings the bell and presents them.”

Time to get some facts. “And was Mr. Pennyworth upset by this arrival of flowers?”

She raised her chin. “Mr. Pennyworth passed a year ago.” She took another sip of tea. “I live alone in my own home, with a small staff, a bit north of Hyde Park.”