The Pursuit of Mrs. Pennyworth(9)

By: Callie Hutton

“Mrs. Pennyworth, will we have the pleasure of your attendance at the assembly this Thursday?” Mrs. Graymoor, an older woman, regarded her as she took a sip of the ratafia. “Mr. Graymoor and I so enjoy your company.”

“Yes, I do plan to attend.”

“Excellent,” General Norwich said.

The conversation continued, with the Graymoors eventually quitting the small group and a few others taking their places. Eventually, Mr. Baker addressed Charlotte. “Mrs. Pennyworth, may I interest you in a stroll around the room? I find that standing in one place makes me a bit restless.”

“Of course.” She joined her arm with his, and they strolled away.

He bent close to her ear, “Introduce me to a few more men.”

She steered him in the direction of a group of men having a lively discussion about the latest reports from Scotland Yard on the lack of progress in catching the man brutally killing prostitutes in Whitechapel. She preferred not to listen to the details that men so enjoyed sharing, but once she joined the group, the talk changed to the weather and other subjects fit for a lady’s ears.

Once several of the guests began to ask for their carriages, Charlotte turned to Mr. Baker. “I find I am quite fatigued. Perhaps we can call for my carriage?”

“Of course.” He led her to the front door where he spoke with the butler. His eyes never stopped moving, taking in the surroundings, and focusing on the men conversing.

Charlotte hadn’t realized how strained the evening had been for her until she settled into her carriage. Every man who spoke to her had become a suspect. At least she hadn’t needed to worry that Mr. Baker would stand out as someone who did not belong. He had conducted himself exceptionally well.

“I must thank you for your attention this evening, Mr. Baker.” She offered him a warm smile. He turned to her, and once again she was taken with his appearance. He was certainly an attractive man. His strong features looked as if they’d been chiseled from marble. Except he was a flesh-and-blood man. Even though he’d arrived at her door freshly shaven, already a light shadow appeared on his jaw and chin.

The way he studied her in the golden glow of the lantern on the carriage wall brought flutters to her insides. Although she had no intention of ever entrusting her heart or well-being to a man again, as a widow, she could perhaps one day engage in a liaison with a gentleman without too much scandal, providing they were discreet.

But certainly not this gentleman, who represented the law, and who, for all intents and purposes was her employee.

“Aside from the poetry, it was my pleasure,” he answered. “Since I do not travel in the circles to which you are accustomed, I had hoped not to call attention to myself.” He grinned. “Except for the snoring, I believe I succeeded.”

She laughed, more of the tension leaving her body. “Yes, you did succeed. However, I am sure Lord and Lady Monroe will never sit in front of us again.”

“Ah, yes. It is difficult to relate to someone who is actually there to listen.”

The carriage continued on until it rolled to a stop in front of her house. Mr. Baker helped her from the vehicle and escorted her to the door. Suddenly, she felt awkward. After all, this was not a true social engagement for them, but merely business. “My carriage will take you the rest of the way home.”

“Thank you very much, but after all that sitting, I believe I would enjoy the walk.” He bowed slightly, and once the front door was opened, he turned and hurried down the stone steps.

Chapter Three

Elliot could not get away from Mrs. Pennyworth fast enough. Spending the entire evening with her, the warmth from her body right next to his, and the light floral scent emanating from her skin, was beginning to drive him crazy.

Crazy would be continuing with this assignment. Rather than a nice leisurely stroll, he hurried along the cobbled streets, moving through the London mist from gaslight to gaslight until he arrived at his home. Despite the cool evening, he was sweating when he entered his rooms. He flung off his jacket and tie and tugged his shirt from his pants.

The best thing for him to do would be to work diligently to solve Mrs. Pennyworth’s problem, and then forget her. And her sweet face. And golden hair. And soft skin he wanted to run the back of his fingers down.

Groaning at his stupidity, he removed the rest of his clothes and flopped onto his bed, staring at the ceiling. Yes, he needed to move forward with this, and put Mrs. Pennyworth far from his mind.

The next morning, he climbed aboard an omnibus and took a ride to her house. He found her already out and about, a surprise, since he thought ladies of her class spent the morning in bed. The young parlor maid invited him in to wait. Although he had no intention of waiting, since she said Mrs. Pennyworth would be out for a couple of hours, he accepted her offer and spent the time speaking with the staff, starting with the young girl.