Why was she always locked in a room alone?

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A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement

Chapter 25

The city skyline twinkled on the horizon, and Cal began to doubt his decision to find Peter Kirby. “I should have told Mother my plan…or more accurately, the skeleton of a plan. Maybe I didn’t think this through. Although, if Ruth is the intended target of the kidnapper, it means she is still in danger. The man she loves needs to know. I imagine her parents won’t tell him, after all, they whisked her away to school.”

The streetlights offered a welcoming glow, but did little to assure the growing apprehension. A quick scan of the area discouraged him even more. Businesses stood shuttered at this time of night. “How do I find Peter Kirby?” He drove another mile and saw a quaint shingle swinging in the evening breeze. The post stood by the roadway in invitation. “Ah, maybe Mrs. Whitewood’s Boarding House could offer assistance.” Cal pulled the motorcar into the narrow driveway.

A soft glow illuminated the front window, even though the hour was late. Cal picked his way carefully along the sidewalk, careful not to disturb the pink blooms on the creeping roses lining the walk. “The hour is very late—but, there is a light, so someone must be awake.” He lifted the small doorknocker and gave it a quick rap. Almost at once, the porch light beamed overhead. Cal jumped.

The frosted-glass door opened slowly. “Yes? I only have one room left, young man. Do you want it or not?” A stooped, white-haired woman, leaning on a cane, peered up at Cal’s face.

He snatched the cap from his head. “Uh…well, I don’t know…I mean, I’m looking for someone, but I might need a room. It’s too late to find him tonight, I suspect.”

“Yes, or no, mister, I’m an old woman. I don’t have time to stand here blabbering. Hattie, you can check in the bloke. It is going be your business soon anyway. I’m going to bed.” The old lady spun around and thumped down the hallway.

“I apologize, sir. She is a cranky thing, at times. I have only been here a few days, myself. I believe she is more than ready to retire.” Hattie opened the door wider and stepped to the side.

Cal hesitated, but weary to the bone, decided the boarding house was the answer for the night. “Thank you, I don’t mean to disturb so late, but I just realized how tired I am. If there is a room, I would like to have it. Let me introduce myself. My name is Cal Taylor.”

“Certainly, come in, Mr. Taylor. I am Hattie Morgenstern. Let’s get you settled.” She pointed to a small desk by the window. “Please sit over there. A bit of refreshment will soothe the weariness. The sideboard is in the corner.”

“You are very kind.” He watched the slender woman arrange the tea service on a silver tray, and admired her carriage, and polished appearance.

“I heard you tell Mrs. Whitewood you were looking for someone.” She handed him a cup of steaming tea.

Careful not to spill the hot liquid, Cal set the cup on the side table. “Yes, maybe you could help me.”

Hattie shook her head, settled in the chair opposite him, and took tiny sips from the delicate cup. “I’m afraid not, Mr. Taylor. I have only been here a few days. I don’t know anyone in the city.”

“You came to a strange city alone?” Cal was tired, but something about the young woman intrigued him.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing left for me in my homeland. It’s a matter of survival now.” Her gaze fixed on something in the distance.

Cal hesitated. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry, but why did you pick this place?”

“My betrothed is here.”

A surprise pang of disappointment shot through him. “You are going to be married?”

“I was…it’s been called off for now. It’s really rather complicated. What about you? Where do you live?” Her eyes refocused, and she smiled.

“Not much to tell. I work for a women’s boarding school. My mother is the headmistress there. I received my degree two years ago, but I haven’t found any other work. I want to open a store of some kind. Money is the issue, I’m afraid.” The warm tea made him sleepy after all the excitement at the school. If I don’t lie down pretty soon, I might pass out.

“Cal, you look like you could go to sleep on the spot. How very rude of me. I’ll show you to your room, and you can get a fresh start in the morning.” She took the cup from his shaking hand and retreated to the stairs. “Come this way. You need sleep.”

He followed like a young pup, unable to argue. In the morning…I’ll find him in the morning.

****

            The hour was late when Ruth and the officer arrived at the door of her room. It didn’t take me long to mess up everything at the school. Mother is right; I am headed down a dangerous path. She expected to see Doris already in bed, but the bunk was neat as a pin and her roommate was nowhere in sight.

Ruth spun around. “What happened to Doris, officer? Why isn’t she here?”

“Ms. Taylor thought it best to relocate her to a different room for now. Wouldn’t do to get her mixed up in this. It’s safer for all concerned. Don’t fret, I’ll be right outside the door.” He stepped into the hall and closed the door.

“Why is it I always find myself locked in a room alone? Now they have taken Doris away from me. How do I get into these messes?” The rickety bunk squeaked at her weight. “One little infraction, climbing out my bedroom window…cost me everything. Well, they aren’t gonna keep me locked up this time.”

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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