The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(5)

By: Callie Hutton

He clutched her elbow and walked her to the door of his office. “Don’t forget to leave your information with Mr. Gleason.”

Her head spinning with the energy emanating from Mr. Baker, she nodded and made her way to the front office where she gave the needed information to the secretary. Feeling hopeful, she left the building, took a deep breath, and was immediately overtaken with a spasm of coughing from the ever-present coal dust in the air.

She headed to the hansom cab she’d arrived in, since her coachman, Bones, had developed an ague, and she had insisted he stay abed.

Thinking ahead to tomorrow’s poetry reading and being accompanied, of all people, by a private investigator, she let herself into her house and headed straight for the kitchen. Another cup of tea would be just the thing to settle her nerves and help her decide what to wear. Not that it made a whit of difference. This was just another social event.

Ensconced in a safe place, it was easy for M to watch the woman climb out of the rented equipage and hurry into her snug little house. Why was she not using her own carriage? Had she found it necessary to let the coachman go? To sell the carriage and pair? That would never do for sweet Anne.

Anne. Now going by the name of Charlotte. M sighed at her trickery.

Perhaps the next gift should be one of value, so she could sell it if she needed the funds. How comforting it would be to take care of her again. To watch her lovely face light up with pleasure at the little gifts. To remind her to wear a pelisse when it was chilly outside, and to be sure to eat breakfast since she tended to start her day with only a cup of chocolate.

Anne was such a delicate little thing and had brought great happiness to their life together. Except when she hadn’t. Memories returned of when it had been necessary to punish her. That was why other, more unpleasant, gifts had been left on her doorstep. The bloodied rose and dead bird would not have made her face light up with joy. Things that would make her sweet breath catch, and her delicate hand tremble. Reminders that she was being watched.

Turning away, the fog swirled around, enshrouding M on the short walk home. The wind picked up, and the fall weather with the abundance of colorful leaves, that Anne loved so much, took away some of the heaviness at her absence.

Tomorrow night would be another chance to gaze upon her, would even, perhaps, present the opportunity to speak with her. A smile burst forth at how Anne had failed to recognize her lover. M knew her and would always know her, no matter where she ran and hid.

Upon M’s arrival home, Mrs. Gearing, the neighbor next door, attempted to begin a conversation. There was no time for Mrs. Gearing. Preparations had to be made for tomorrow night’s poetry reading and seeing beloved Anne once more.

Chapter Two

Elliot chastised himself as he dressed for the blasted poetry reading. Several times since Mrs. Pennyworth had left his office, he’d considered sending a note explaining that time did not permit him to accept her case, after all.

Not a complete lie, since he did have other assignments, as well as some legal work that needed his attention. Of course, no other job required him to be available in the evenings, which was when he would be doing most of the work for his newest client.

Every time he thought of Mrs. Pennyworth, Annabelle’s face rose to mind. Her sweet countenance, her fake blushes, her batting eyelashes as she had lied through her teeth. There was no other way to put it. She’d made a fool of him, cost him his career as an Inspector, and put him on guard with every woman he’d met since.

Especially Mrs. Pennyworth, with her delightful round face, pleading eyes, and shaky hands. An act? Perhaps. Whatever she was about, he would bet his yearly income she was holding something back from him. He would have to remain cautious with her.

Returning his attention to the task at hand, he gave his best suit a good brushing, and dressed. Not having attended one of these functions before, he hoped his closely tailored slack suit with a wingtip collar and four-in-hand tie would be acceptable attire.

He was not attempting to impress Mrs. Pennyworth, merely endeavoring not to embarrass the woman. As a former Inspector with Scotland Yard, and now a private investigator and solicitor, his usual social engagements consisted of a round of boxing at Gentleman Jim’s, followed by a few mugs of ale in the local pub, or a snifter of brandy at his club.

While he pulled on various pieces of clothing, his mind once more wandered back to the disaster that Miss Annabelle Walters had caused. Lovely Annabelle, with her deep-brown eyes and wavy black hair. Beautiful, charming, sensuous. And deadly.

No matter how many times he castigated himself, he still felt anger at her duplicity. And his stupidity.