Rose rapped lightly on the door to her employer’s bedchamber and waited until she heard Lady Caro bade she enter before doing so. Balancing the tray she held, she closed the door behind her as she made her way into the sunlit room.
Lady Caro had already risen and ensconced herself on the window seat, her arms wrapped around her drawn-up legs. “Rose, you know you don’t have to wait before entering.”
“Yes, my lady,” she said, as she did every morning. They both knew Rose would always wait for permission before entering, no matter how many times Lady Caro said otherwise. She set down the tray she was carrying on the dresser. “You have correspondence from London.”
Lady Caro made a face. “O joyous day.”
“Now, it could be something interesting,” Rose replied mildly.
“The world could also explode tomorrow. Doesn’t mean I look forward to either, however I suppose we must all continue on.” Lady Caro stood and stretched. She wore her robe over her nightclothes, her light brown hair falling from her braid. “Rose, I believe I shall dress today.”
She concealed her shock. Her employer had not left her room since Sir George was discovered. The first few days, she had said little, staring listlessly out the window as Rose had quietly gone about her tasks. Lady Caro’s natural humour had slowly returned, but grief had still cast a pall, a lingering sadness lurking in her eyes. That Lady Caro was willing to dress and leave her chamber was an encouraging sign her lady was adjusting to her loss.
Approaching the dressing table, Lady Caro plucked the correspondence from the tray. “Is it anything interesting?”
“No. It is a note from your London steward advising of an increase in the cost of fresh produce for Faringdon House.”
“Did you respond?”
Lady Caro made a non-committal sound as she sat, placing the pages back on the tray. She picked over the fresh fruit, toast, and pot of tea that comprised her breakfast as, quietly, Rose took her place behind her, beginning to loosen her hair from her braid.
Still picking over her breakfast, Lady Caro said, “So, you have been busy.”
Concentrating on picking loose a snarl, Rose asked, “I beg your pardon, my lady?”
“You have contacted an inquiry agent.”
Her gaze flew to the mirror. Lady Caro regarded her, her brows raised. Rose cleared her throat. “My lady?”
“And not just any agent, but the infamous Nathaniel Evans.”
Returning her attention to Lady Caro’s braid, Rose concentrated fiercely on unpicking the strands. She had not intended Lady Caro discover what she had done…well, she did not intend her discover it quite so soon. It would be impossible to hide her actions from her employer forever, but she’d thought they’d be much further into the investigation.
She had no idea how Lady Caro would react. On most things, she and Lady Caro were of one mind—it was one of the reasons why Lady Caro had increased her duties to include secretarial work, raising her pay accordingly—but on this…she had no idea how Lady Caro would react to this.
“Rose.” Reluctantly, she lifted her gaze. Lady Caro met her eyes in the mirror. “I was in no state to do anything. It was a good move.”
Sighing her relief, she bowed her head. “Thank you, Lady Caro.”
“What did he say?”
Lady Caro still stared at her in the mirror, her gaze intense. “He said he would take the case.”
She closed her eyes. “He will find who did this, won’t he?”
Rose nodded. “He was confident— No, more than that. He was arrogantly certain he would.” He had stated it like there was no other option, like he’d already solved what the constabulary still had yet to discover.
A faint smile touched Lady Caro’s lips before fading. “I don’t know how I should feel about this. The likelihood it is one of my family who…” She shuddered through a breath. “But then, it does not surprise one of them is most likely a murderer. Poor Sir George. I should not have brought him here.”
“You could not have known, Lady Caro.”
“No.” Wiping her eyes, she shook herself. “And the blame does not lie with me. I will not shoulder guilt I do not own, Rose. Never again.”
“No, my lady.”
She exhaled, and then grinned impishly. “Tell me, is he as handsome as they say?”
Heat burned in Rose’s cheeks. “I’m sure I don’t know.”
“Come now, Rose. You must have an opinion. I have heard all sorts of things about Mr Evans.”
Dark hair and darker eyes. A thin face with a sharp jaw and a sharp nose, but a soft, full mouth. Tall, lean, and imposing in his severe garb. An intense stare that would make evil-doers tremble, though even saints would question their behaviour if subjected to his gaze. He wasn’t handsome, not like the company Lady Caro had kept in London and the Continent, but he had an undeniable attractiveness. He’d changed since last she’d seen him in Cambridge, but that had been years and years ago. He was now fully grown, and so was she, and he had grown into a man who was even more…arresting than the boy he’d been.
She realised Lady Caro still awaited her answer. “I…don’t know.”
“It took all that time to answer thus?” Lady Caro’s eyes danced. “I have also heard he is excellent in the boudoir.”
Rose’s hand jerked, tangling in Lady Caro’s hair. Her employer winced even as her eyes laughed. “Shall I repeat some of the stories? Most involve his tongue, although a few detail a move he does with his hips—”
“No, I am fine.” Rose managed.
“He’s very methodical, by all accounts. Makes sure every box is ticked.”
Lady Caro laughed. “Ah, your reactions do amuse me, Rose.”
“I know,” she grumbled.
“It’s why I say such things,” Lady Caro continued brightly.
“I know that, too.”
Lady Caro sobered. “Thank you for bringing him here. I do appreciate it. And you.”
“I know,” Rose said softly.
“So, what is the next step?” Lady Caro asked briskly.
Rose ran the brush through Lady Caro’s hair. “He shall arrive this morning to interview the staff and your relatives.” She had arranged with Mrs Winston for the staff to submit to his questioning with the least interference to their schedule. The housekeeper had been grateful for her forethought, especially after the hash the constabulary had made of their questioning. The staff were still making up for that disturbance.
“Good. I should like to speak with him when he arrives.”
“Are you certain, Lady Caro? It will not be easy—”
Lady Caro held up her hand. “I know, but it is something I must do.”
“Yes, my lady.”
They completed Lady Caro’s toilette, and Rose collected the barely-touched tray to return to the kitchens.
“I shall be down shortly, Rose. Meet me in the study, if you please.”
“Of course, my lady.”
The trip to the kitchens took hardly any time at all, and she found herself in Lady Caro’s study, preparing her desk for the day.
She didn’t know why she had not yet told Lady Caro of her connection to Mr Evans. There was no real reason to illuminate her, and their connection was so slight as to be negligible. He certainly had barely remembered her. It had taken him a moment to place her—Her lips twitched. And hadn’t he been perturbed by the notion his powers of recollection may not be perfect.
In any event, she most likely had built a greater connection in her head. The years she’d spent writing him in order to perfect her spelling and comprehension had no doubt created a false sense of camaraderie, and the girlish infatuation she’d suffered had surely died as she’d grown to womanhood. It did not matter her heart had fluttered when those dark eyes had held hers, and a strange longing had taken her when his tongue had wet his lips.
She shook herself. In any event, he was here to solve Sir George’s murder, and when it was done, he would go his way and she hers. This conjecture was simply that. She would assist him as best she could and then it would be done. Over. Complete.
She repeated such to herself even as Lady Caro entered the study and they began the working day.