Part Two of What Fear Was will be coming out next week. Part 7 of Out of Shadows will come out on October 18 as scheduled, but it may be delayed to the evening.
For the full chapter list of Out of Shadows, go here.
Lettie sat in the front hall of the mayor’s offices long enough to count nearly all the painted bunches of flowers on the wallpaper. It was overly pretty wallpaper, she decided, and there were too many colors and they didn’t quite go. Lettie would have restricted the color palette to a nice honeyed cream for the background and just three colors for the flowers themselves, and a very inoffensive green for the leaves and stems. And then of course, she would have picked matching furniture. The furniture did scream ‘man.’ It was ugly but very comfortable.
Finally, Mayor Ashworth came down to fetch her. He was a little man, five four or five six at most, with a full head of very grey hair and big brown eyes behind bigger spectacles in a lined face. He was entirely outside of her expectations. He was clearly a mouse.
She held her hand out and said, “Good afternoon, Mayor Ashworth.”
He brightened as soon as he looked at her. She must have been outside of his expectations, too. She watched his eyes travel from the top of her head, over her pressed dark blue jacket and skirt, down to her neat white and brown boots. “You must be Miss Leticia Bentley from Worthington,” he said happily, taking her hand and pressing a gentle kiss over her knuckles. “Welcome, my dear.”
“Thank you, sir. I understand you have an open position for a secretary.”
“I do, I do!” He opened the door for her to lead her further into his offices. “Will you come and sit down? Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“Yes, please,” she said, following him in. The ceiling lifted up two stories, and she could see that his office was on the second floor, over the front hall, and looked down through a glass wall over a large workspace. Iron stairs wound round and round sharply up to his office.
Once he had her seated in front of his desk, he went to a corner where an elegant tea service sat gently steaming. He brought her a cup and she kept a neutral expression when she tasted it. He really did need help. It was a fine tea, poorly brewed.
Mayor Ashworth sat behind his desk. “What are your qualifications, Miss Leticia?”
“I prefer Lettie,” she said, smiling. “And I worked at the university in Worthington. When my brother was a student there, I worked for one of his professors as a research assistant, and when my brother became a professor, I worked for him. Doing whatever he needed done. It was cheaper than hiring someone to do it for him, and I didn’t complain as much as the students.”
“Were you educated at the university?” he asked.
“I went to enough classes to feel as though I was. And my brother always felt that the best way to learn was to teach. Everything he learned, he taught to me as a way to study. Then when he became a professor, he let me grade most of the less important papers. The weekly things.”
“So you have everything but the degree.”
This seemed to please him. “I like an educated woman, though I also understand society’s recommendation that the woman should remain in the home. But I don’t believe the two things are mutually exclusive. After all, who spends the most time with the children but our women?”
Lettie put a smile on. “That is very true, sir.”
“I don’t have time to train up a secretary, you understand.”
“So you would have to work things out, and very quickly.”
“Of course, sir.”
“When would you be willing to start?”
“As soon as you like, sir. My brother has taken a post in town and I spend rather a long time waiting around for him to get home.” She tilted her head. “But once he finds a house for us, I shall require a day or two to move us into it.”
“That is what weekends are for, my dear,” the mayor replied with a benevolent smile.
“Of course, sir.” Lettie folded her hands demurely in her lap and smiled at him. Only a few days, and then she would quit or get herself fired.
“And there are certain days when you will not be needed. City business, you understand.”
Lettie smiled sweetly, and thought, I most certainly be here on those days. “I do understand.”
“If you would like to investigate your workspace, it is down by the window there.” He pointed through the glass pane at an expansive U-shaped desk covered in all manner of books and papers and a few empty tea cups.
“I will clean it up before I go,” she said.
He looked very pleased at this. “And if you have time, could you take a look at the conference room?”
She smiled again. The conference room could be a treasure trove of information, and she tried not to look too eager when she glanced in its direction. “Of course, sir.”
Perry had followed Lettie to Mayor Ashworth’s at a discreet distance. The distance was discreet enough that he caught someone else following her, too. Another of Teague’s men, he thought. And then, when he sat on a bench a little ways down the street from the mayor’s offices, he spotted the man himself. Teague was innocently purchasing peanuts from a street vendor. Perry looked back at the Mayor’s offices and pretended he hadn’t seen him at all.
After a while, he began to think he ought to have sent Dominic to look after Lettie. She was in there for hours. He watched the shadow cast by a street lamp change, and then watched in fascination as a cat prowled along the top of a fence, stalking a small dog that yelped in fear when the cat pounced on it, and then in pleasure when it wrestled the cat to the ground and licked it ecstatically, much to the cat’s dismay.
He began thinking up excuses to go into the mayor’s office. Negotiating taxes. Negotiating the sale of the empty property next door. What else did one talk to a mayor about?
Finally, Lettie came out. She was a bit dusty, but she looked quite thrilled. She spotted him and flounced down on the bench beside him, and before he could warn her they were being watched, she said conspiratorially, “The mayor must know where to find it. I spotted a note with some directions on it. But it’s in the middle of town. Could he be so very confident?”
Perry blinked at her. “In the middle of town?”
Lettie grinned at him and took one of his hands, pressing it between both of hers. He felt a slip of paper smooth against his rough palm and thought, I think I love this girl. “And he’s already dying for love of me,” she whispered. She sounded for all the world like a silly schoolgirl, but if that paper said anything important, she was more a fox and he did love her.
He affected a tone of boredom and annoyance. “Miss Bentley, did you take down the directions?”
She tapped a finger against her forehead, that silly schoolgirl grin still plastered all over her face, and he saw her eyes light up that he was playing along with her little drama. “I memorized them.”
He arched a brow. “And?”
“On the southwest corner of Carlisle and Fontaine,” she whispered.
Perry nodded. Then he asked, “Are you going to be alright here, Miss Bentley?”
She scooted a little closer, and he felt the small pistol strapped to her thigh beneath her skirt. “I can take of myself, Mr. Perry.”
He really did think he might be in love with her already. He couldn’t help but grin at her. “Of course you can.”
“I still have a few things to clean up in there. I will see you later?”
“You most assuredly will,” he replied, pulling away from her and hiding the note with a clever sleight of hand trick. “Don’t stay too late. You’ll have him thinking he can take advantage.”
She smiled, and said, “Good afternoon, Mr. Perry.” And then she stood and walked back into the mayor’s offices.
“Good afternoon, Miss Bentley,” he called after her. His hands itched to look at her note but he knew he couldn’t look just yet. He had lost sight of Teague but the bastard was around somewhere.