The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(8)

By: Callie Hutton

Oftentimes, in the dead of night, she would awaken and think of how her comfortable life could disappear in a blink. She shivered at the thought.

“Are you chilled, Mrs. Pennyworth?” Mr. Baker’s smooth voice brought her back to where she was. Safe in Mrs. Ainsley’s drawing room, among friends and acquaintances, who liked and respected her.

As safe as anyone could be with an unknown man leaving upsetting items on her doorstep. “Yes, perhaps a bit.” ’Twas better to say that than explain to Mr. Baker about her past. A past he would surely question, considering what she had hired him for. Former Inspectors were not of the ilk to dismiss a pending arrest warrant, nor view the recipient thereof in a favorable light.

“Would you care to change seats so we are closer to the fire?”

“Heavens no, I’m too warm already.” Oh dear God, she was so immersed in her concerns over her possible arrest, she’d forgotten her comment about being a bit chilled. He viewed her with curiosity.

“I’m sorry. I sometimes become too cold or too warm rather quickly.” She hesitated. “I am afraid that is one of my character traits.” She grinned at tossing his words back at him.

He tilted his head to one side. “Well done, Mrs. Pennyworth,” he murmured.

Lord and Lady Monroe, sitting in front of them, turned and gave them displeased looks. Mr. Baker raised his eyebrows, glanced at Charlotte, and covered his amused lips with his finger. She had to stifle a giggle. So, the staid former Inspector had a sense of humor.

An hour later, Charlotte took a glance once again at the long clock in the corner. She stifled a yawn just as she heard a light snore. She turned to find Mr. Baker fast asleep. Lest they garner the attention of the couple in front of them once again, she nudged his arm with her elbow.

“What?” His loud response stopped the poet in his tracks. All heads turned in their direction. Embarrassed, Charlotte winced at the irony in her waking him, so his snoring would not disturb the couple in front, only to have him respond with such gusto that they now had everyone’s attention.

The young man at the front of the room cleared his throat and continued. Thankfully, he was the last reader on the program. With a sigh of relief, she stood and shook out her skirts. “Would you care to accompany me to the refreshment table? I feel quite parched.”

“Yes, refreshments sound wonderful.” He took her elbow and escorted her to the table and bent to speak into her ear. “This is a good opportunity to introduce me.”

Charlotte was amazed when Mr. Baker took two plates and placed various items on them. He escorted her to a small table where he left her with the food, then he returned with two cups of tea. Certainly, a private investigator should not know the proper protocol for taking refreshments at a Society event.

That thought reminded her how little she knew of the man. But then, there was no reason to know him any better. He was her employee. That was all. And it would do her well to remember that, so they did not cross any boundaries.

She needn’t notice how well he fit in with the other members of the poetry reading audience, or how gentlemanly he was to hold her elbow to escort her. She could walk by herself, thank you very much. Her legs had been holding her up for years.

Mr. Conrad approached their table. He was a pleasant man, nearing his fiftieth year. She’d always enjoyed speaking with him, but now Mr. Baker had put her on guard, made her re-examine every man with whom she spoke.

The idea that someone from her social circle was responsible for the packages on her doorstep had crossed her mind briefly, since they had arrived the mornings after she’d attended various affairs. She hadn’t realized how much she’d dismissed that idea until Mr. Baker had presented it as the obvious one. It was difficult to believe someone she spent time with, and had possibly even shared a dance or conversation with, could do such a thing.

“Good evening, Mrs. Pennyworth. Did you enjoy the readings?” Mr. Conrad bowed over her briefly and cast an inquiring glance at Mr. Baker.

“Yes. The readings were delightful. May I present Mr. Elliot Baker to you, Mr. Conrad? He is my guest this evening.”

Mr. Baker stood, and they shook hands. “Will you join us?”

Charlotte was sure Mr. Baker wanted to speak with various men, and Mr. Conrad was a good one to start with—even though she had found him to be a mild, innocuous gentleman, who would never dream of doing dreadful things to upset a woman.

They were soon joined by Mr. and Mrs. Graymoor and General Norwich. Although he held his own with the conversation, Mr. Baker covertly eyed each man and most likely took note of how they presented themselves.