Tessa had been mulling over that very issue. What little she knew about aristocrats had been gleaned from observation, both at work and while window-shopping along Bond Street on her half day off. But if she let Orrin talk her out of this, she most certainly would never succeed. "I'll think of something. Now I must be on my way lest the duke hire someone else."
That he might already be conducting interviews was a worry that lent speed to her packing. She added a stack of hat sketches to the clothing in the open trunk, then pried up a loose floorboard and extracted the tin box containing her savings. The coins made a satisfactory weight in her palm, though their value fell far short of the vast sum she needed. After tucking a few pennies in her reticule and concealing the remainder in the trunk, she straightened up to find Orrin eyeing her, his brows knit. "A pity you don't know your pa's name," he said, continuing in his earlier vein. "He must
be loaded with blunt. The bleater owes you."
Orrin had skirted close to guessing her true purpose. Too close. Should she apprise him of her secret plan to find the man? Yet a hard-learned caution made her hesitate to reveal the pendant.
"But I don't know his identity," she said. "So that's that." She turned away to don the chip-straw bonnet that Madame had rejected. Tessa had felt justified in taking it in lieu of her monthly pay. The tiny spot on the brim had been eradicated with a bit of careful rubbing. Tying the sky-blue ribbons beneath her chin, she glanced into the little square mirror above the bureau. How pretty the hat looked now that she'd removed the gaudy clusters of rosebuds, how elegant and self-assured it made her feel.
Was it too fine, though?
Lady Farnsworth had described the other governesses as bran-faced spinsters. Such women tended to wear ugly round bonnets that offended Tessa's sense of fashion. Everything in her craved to wear the stylish hat, so she rationalized that the rest of her appearance wasn't memorable in the least. Small in stature, she had blue eyes set in ordinary features, with a hint of fair hair visible beneath the brim. She had changed into her second-best gown, a high-necked one of dark cerulean muslin that made her appear sober and bookish as befitting a governess.
"What was your mam's name?" Orrin asked suddenly. "Florence." She tugged on her only pair of gloves, the pads of the fingers worn to threads. "Why do you wish to know?"
"I don't like you workin' for this duke, that's why. These noble swells, they're lechers. If one preyed on your mam, it could happen t' you, too."
Disquiet niggled at her. But Lady Farnsworth had pooh-poohed the notion of the Duke of Carlin abusing his governesses. She'd said only that little Lady Sophy had been indulged by her grandparents while the duke had been out of England. What was it that Mrs. Ludington had added?
A man cannot spend so many years sailing around the world to remote lands without forgetting the finer points of proper behavior. Heaven only knows what peculiar customs he might have acquired.
Tessa felt a tingle of curiosity as her natural optimism rose to the fore. "You needn't fret. Sukie showed me how to use my knee to hit a man where it hurts him the most."
Orrin winced slightly. "I still don't like it. If 'tis funds you need, I can track down your pa an' then threaten t' write an article exposing his sins unless he pays you a goodly sum."
"Lud, Orrin, that's blackmail! I won't see you locked in Newgate on my behalf." Tessa didn't intend to use criminal methods to bring her sire up to snuff. If, that is, she managed to identify him. Out of curiosity, she added, "How would you go about looking for him, anyway?"
"By askin' at all the big houses. One of the staff might recollect a maid named Florence James."
"That would have been over twenty years ago. More likely than not, you'd be tossed out on your ear."
"Bah, I've a nose for digging up the truth." Orrin tapped his freckled beak. "Only look how quick I found out who nicked Mrs. Beasley's mutt."
"It was very enterprising of you to uncover that dognapping ring."
"What's more, the story got printed. I brung you a copy." Beaming, he took the newspaper from under his arm, flipped to the last page, and poked an ink-stained finger at a small article near the bottom. "See there? My first published piece." Tessa scanned the few lines, noticing that the lurid headline lacked an attribution. "Orrin, that's wonderful. Congratulations!"
"No byline as yet, but I'm hopin' t' have one soon. All's I need is a big story. Mayhap you'll keep your eyes open for me, eh? There must be lots o' lords like your pa who are up t' their ears in scandals." He slid her a moony, tail-wagging look. "I won't always be a lowly typesetter, you know. Once I make staff reporter, I'll be able t' support a wife an' children."
Tessa suffered a momentary pang for a family of her own.
Ever since losing Mama, she'd felt the occasional stab of loneliness, a yearning to have someone to love. Yet she had no compelling desire to marry Orrin—or any other man, for that matter. Being beholden to a husband would thwart her dream of opening a millinery shop. Perhaps that was why she felt so reluctant to enlist his aid. She didn't wish to feel obliged to accept his offer.
"That's a fine ambition," she said, smiling to soften her rejection. "But you mustn't expect me to pass along gossip about my employer. Now I really must be on my way."
Orrin agreed to keep Tessa's trunk until she could send for it. As they moved it downstairs to his flat, she ignored his frowning look. She couldn't bear another word of his nay-saying.
Especially when she was already a quivering mass of nerves.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book The Heartbreaker of Echo Pass by Maisey Yates.