The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(6)

By: Callie Hutton

He had believed those sultry looks and promises of carnal pleasure. He’d fallen hard for her, spending much more time dancing attendance on her than concentrating on his work. He’d been assigned to meet a ship sailing from India with a jewel onboard to be transported to the Tower of London where the Crown Jewels were stored. Annabelle had pouted and complained that she would miss a theater performance to which she had demanded his escort.

It was after she had threatened to attend with another man who had been seeking her favors, that he’d passed the assignment off to an underling. The poor man had been crippled in the attempted robbery of the priceless piece. Weeks later, Annabelle, along with three men who had been her accomplices, had been arrested.

He’d been the one to handcuff her and place her into custody. The venomous words she’d hurled at him in front of the other Inspectors had brought him shame and disgust. After a very brief meeting with the Chief Inspector, Elliot had resigned. He’d spent the past two years attempting to recover his good name.

Now, he was once again working at the behest of a beautiful woman. One to whom he was unquestionably attracted. Unfortunately, due to the nature of her situation, the best method to uncover her tormentor was to delve into her world and spend time with her. He broke into a sweat at the thought of again falling under the spell of an unknown female, and placing his reputation on the line.

Besides attending social events, he would assign someone to watch her doorstep to see if the man could be caught that way, but it was highly unlikely the suspect left the repulsive objects himself.

Placing his derby on his head, he left the house to travel the two miles to pick up Mrs. Pennyworth. Night had fallen, and with the ever-present fog not too heavy, he eschewed hiring a hansom cab for such a short jaunt and instead chose to take the omnibus and then walk the short distance to her house.

The neighborhood changed as he made his way from his lower-middle-class flat to her upper-middle-class home. There was more space between the residences, and the front gardens were better kept. Most likely, these dwellers had permanent staff, as opposed to Elliot, who relied upon his landlady, Mrs. Murray, to clean his rooms, and provide him with breakfast each morning. He sent his laundry out and hired a horse or hansom cab when the need arose.

One day he might take a wife, but until he felt he had recovered his reputation, he would not saddle a woman with his name. If his standing as a crack private investigator, and a top-notch solicitor, continued to grow, he might consider marriage.

Mrs. Pennyworth would make some man a fine wife.

He snorted and shoved that idea from his mind. He barely knew her, had reason to believe she was hiding something, and she was above his station. He’d just spent a half hour reminding himself of the repercussions the last time a woman had distracted him. It was best to squash whatever fancy he might have for her and concentrate on getting the job done.

He was humming a tune by the time he reached her front step. He took a quick look around to see how visible the area was to someone he would send to watch. He could see down the street from both ways clearly enough.

A young fresh-faced parlor maid opened the door to his knock and escorted him to the drawing room—a well-appointed, lovely room.

Deep rose-colored patterned wallpaper covered the walls, with white wainscoting along the bottom. A plush decorative carpet protected most of the highly polished wooden floor. He groaned at the uncomfortable-looking, yet stylish furniture taking up a great deal of the floor space. ’Twas obvious no man had selected these pieces.

Dozens of knick-knacks, clocks, bowls, lamps, picture frames, figurines, and other whatnot decorated the area, giving him an immediate sense of claustrophobia. Yet, from the little he knew of Mrs. Pennyworth, the room looked very much like what he would have supposed. Attuned as he was for sounds, he knew immediately when she entered the room. The slight swish of a gown, mixed with the light scent of roses he’d noticed when she’d come to his office.

He turned, and wished he had not decided to conduct the investigation in this manner. His client was a stunning vision who robbed him of breath. Her deep-lavender dress displayed her form to perfection. Her warm smile and intelligent eyes suggested she was not just another pretty face. Mrs. Pennyworth possessed an inner core of steel that attracted him as much as her visage.

Despite the trouble her maid no doubt went to in arranging her hair, all he wanted to do was pull the pins holding up her golden tresses and run his fingers through its length.

I am in deep trouble.

He gave her a bow and smiled. “You look lovely this evening.”

She gave a quick curtsy in return which, given their stations, was not required, but she looked almost as confused as he felt. Before he could make a cake of himself, he extended his arm. “Shall we?”