The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(4)

By: Callie Hutton

“And those in your circle of friends and acquaintances would be aware of your situation? Of the fact that you are coming out of mourning?”

“Of course.”

Still reluctant to take on Mrs. Pennyworth’s case, he asked, “Have you no men in your family to champion you?”

He did not imagine her miniscule change in demeanor. The slight tension in her body, the hesitation, as if considering her words carefully. What is she hiding?

“I am an only child, with no male relatives.”

Leaning back, he regarded her. If he were to help this poor frazzled woman, he would need to spend time with her, which he did not relish. Once burned, and all that.

“May I ask what brought you to my door?”

“The constable at the Metropolitan Police. He said you were a former Inspector.”

“Ah, yes.”

Charlotte attempted to calm herself, so Mr. Baker wouldn’t think she was a swooning, hysterical female. When she had first decided to take the constable’s suggestion and visit with Mr. Baker, she had been expecting to meet a middle-aged paunchy man, with thinning hair, beady eyes, and thick spectacles.

Instead, she found the private investigator to be young, handsome, and someone who did not seem to confine himself to sitting behind a desk. He filled out his coat quite well, and the peek she’d gotten of his well-formed legs bore witness to time spent in active pursuits. His deep-blue eyes seemed to look right into her soul. A lock of light-brown hair fell over his broad forehead, which he kept pushing back with his fingers. To no avail.

However, the last thing she needed was to develop a fancy for a man. She was still angry at Gabriel for risking his life in that stupid carriage race. She’d begged him not to go. Cocksure, as usual, he’d kissed her goodbye and tweaked her nose, telling her she worried too much.

That was the last time she’d seen him alive. He’d been thrown from the carriage, landing in such a way that he’d broken his neck. Rage, tears, and depression had taken over her life for months.

After her narrow escape from Lord Barton, she’d only been in London and at her new situation at the bank for a few weeks when Gabriel Pennyworth had appeared one morning and begun to take notice of her. A well-placed solicitor and the third son of a viscount, he had not been exactly handsome but had possessed a personality that charmed women wherever he went.

Including her.

Only a month after their marriage, all her hopes for a happy life with a husband, a comfortable home, and children, had vanished on a rainy Saturday morning at Hyde Park. The arrival of her menses a week later had added to her sorrow for the child who was not to be.

The owner of a sizeable trust fund from his grandparents, Gabriel had left her with a lovely townhouse, along with a nice income that would last the rest of her life.

One would think, after her experience with Lord Barton, she would realize no man could be trusted. Gabriel had promised to love, honor, and cherish her. What sort of honor was risking your neck in a carriage race with a group of ninnyhammers? She intended to take care of herself from now on, which was why it rankled to have to ask Mr. Baker for help.

“Are you planning any social events in the near future?” Mr. Baker’s deep voice cut into her musing.

“I have accepted an invitation to a poetry reading at Mrs. Bertha Ainsley’s home tomorrow evening.”

Mr. Baker pulled a face, which piqued her curiosity. “Why do you ask?”

“Right now, it appears your persecutor is a member of your social circle. The best way for me to uncover this culprit is to attend the events where you will be. Since I do not travel in your circles, I will need to accompany you as your escort. Although I abhor poetry, would it be difficult to obtain an additional invitation to this affair? Also to any others you will be attending?”

She pursed her lips, mentally reviewing the various occasions on her social calendar. “No, I do not believe it will be a problem.”

He placed his pen back into its holder on the desk and stood. “Excellent. I will call for you at…”

Startled at his abrupt change of demeanor, she hesitated. “Oh, the reading begins at eight o’clock, so I would think seven-thirty or so shall do it.”

“Please give your direction to Mr. Gleason as you leave.”

She scrambled to gather her things at being so summarily dismissed. “But…we haven’t discussed your fee. Or whether you think you can assist.”

“Madam, if I could not assist in the search for this man, I would not be foisting my company upon you. As far as my fee, I will charge you less than you expected, yet more than you had hoped.” He offered a smile, enough for her to realize the man had a smile that should be declared illegal. White even teeth, full lips, and small lines alongside his mouth that gave him a rakish look. None of which I need note.