Lady Concealed - A Tenacious Trents Novel (Book 8)
All Genviève Mirabelle wanted was her mother’s belongings and a place for herself, out from under the watchful eyes of her step-brothers. The Trent Brothers, specifically. Since coming into her life they have had very definite plans for her future, despite her objections. There is only one thing keeping her from seeking her freedom: her mother’s missing shipment. Once found, she can live as she wishes, without a gentleman telling her what to do.
Mr. Jonathan Bridges owns one of the finest shipping lines in London. That is, he did until his secretary and a few employees disappeared, leaving a muddle of things. Now several crates are missing and he has no explanation for the owners. The one most persistent in demanding answers is Miss Genviève Mirabelle. As much as he tries to put her off, she is determined to help him.
Heaven save him from meddling females who are better served sitting at home having tea.
Their search leads them from the docks and right into the heart of a smuggling ring. But their lives are not the only thing in danger. Their hearts hang in the balance, since neither one ever anticipated what was to come.
February, 1815, London, England
Genviève Mirabelle Trent tapped her foot against the cobblestones outside the massive warehouse along the river Thames. Her ire rose the longer she waited. If she did not receive answers soon, she would search the place herself.
A hulk of a man had asked her to wait while he searched out Mr. Bridges, but that had been nearly half an hour ago. Stepping into the large building, she glanced around. Had the man gotten lost among the crates that seemed to go on forever? She had never been inside a shipping warehouse before and was surprised at how massive it was. From her vantage point, Genviève was not sure where it ended, or how wide it was. Surely her family belongings were in here somewhere.
Genviève checked the small watch she kept pinned inside her pelisse. She needed to be done with this business soon and return to the Bentley townhouse before anyone was aware she had left without her maid. The woman, though very sweet, reported each of Genviève’s movements and it wasn’t anyone’s business where she went or what she did. She knew one of her half-brothers would have insisted on accompanying her because the area was too dangerous for a lady. They failed to remember that she lived her entire life without a father, or brothers. She and her sisters learned early on how to take care of themselves. It was rather aggravating to have someone determined to guard her when there hadn’t been anyone to do that for the first twenty-three years of her life. Further, it was annoying to suddenly be thrust into a position in which she needed to ask permission, or be told to behave a certain way.
With a sigh, Genviève stepped further into the warehouse, determined to catch someone’s attention because apparently the hulk who had greeted her forgot he left her waiting. Though there were men all around moving crates, nobody noticed her. Shouts echoed as men called to each other or hollered out orders. She would have been impressed with what appeared to be organization if it were actually organized. What she viewed was a mass of blocks with no rhyme or reason. Her family belongings were supposed to be here, yet remained missing for the past three months. Or, perhaps they weren’t missing and the owner was just too lazy to reply to her correspondence.
A sign on the wall caught her attention. The office was up the narrow flight of stairs. Surely that was where Mr. Bridges was holed up right now, and she was not about to wait another moment.
Carefully she climbed up the wooden steps, her dark grey gown trailing behind her, gathering dust. There wasn’t much to be done about it now. She anticipated any place along the docks would be filthy and her sister, Hélène, could repair the damage if necessary. That is, if Hélène had time now that she was married, and if she ever returned from her wedding trip.
Genviève paused outside of the office, raised her fist and rapped sharply on the wood.
When no call came from within, she knocked again.
Was he gone from his office? She pushed on the door and it swung open. A gasp escaped her lips. Papers were stacked on the desk, the secretarie, chairs, and a table in the back. “How could anyone find anything in this disarray?” One would think someone as successful as Mr. Bridges, who ran one of the most efficient shipping lines, would be far more organized. She would be surprised if Mr. Bridges could locate anything, let alone her family belongings.
Genviève made her way around the desk, looking in every direction. Even at her mother’s worst, when it came to household management, she was not this disorganized. Did he not have a secretary? If so, they needed to be sacked.
This disorder was maddening and she could not leave this room until some order was put to it. Genviève knew well enough that it wasn’t her place but Bridges needed help. And, as she wasn’t about to leave until she had spoken directly to him, she might as well put herself to use.
With a heavy sigh, she removed her gloves before reaching into her reticule to retrieve her spectacles. Once they were settled on her nose, she placed the gloves and reticule at the one clear area at the corner of the desk. Already, she was warm and doubted the office would get any cooler. After undoing the buttons on her pelisse, she slid her arms free, noting almost immediate relief.
The top document directly in front of her was an invoice for sugar from Barbados. The papers below it were similar, listing items shipped from a foreign port to England or from England to a foreign port. Not all of the English ports were out of London, but Bristol, Dover, Plymouth and Liverpool as well. There was no semblance to these documents and a headache developed in the back of her skull.
With determination, Genviève stood and took each stack from the desk and piled them until there was one tall disorganized lot and began to separate them out into new stacks. English ports accepting deliveries in one stack. Documents regarding shipments out of England were placed in another stack. A third held letters from customers, much like the one she had sent, demanding to know where property was. Those questions could not be answered until the invoices were in order.
Jonathan Bridges wiped the sweat from his forehead with back of his arm. The sleeve was filthy and no doubt grime was now smeared across his face. Not that it mattered, because there was work to be done and, until he cleaned up the mess caused by his former secretary and manager, he would be working with his men to right the situation.
His secretary and warehouse manager had disappeared, along with a few other workers, leaving him with missing shipments and unhappy customers. Though in his gut he knew the truth, he still hoped all the items had been misplaced or incorrectly labeled—not stolen.
With a sigh, Jonathan trudged toward the stairs to his office. His body ached from the physical labor and it was a painful reminder that he had sat far too long behind a desk. He had family obligations that had kept him from giving his business the attention that it needed. Concern for his sister, widowed not long ago, and her two young sons had him visiting her in the country more often, meaning he spent less time in London. The neglect may have cost him the business. Never would he trust another to do a job without his supervision.
Most of his employees had gone home for the evening, but Jonathan did not have the same luxury. He was still going through papers that he had found hidden away after his secretary had disappeared. Hundreds of invoices were shoved in small crates in a storage room beneath his offices. It was by chance that he had found them to begin with. There were months to be inventoried and the thought of facing the paper, now stacked on every available surface in his office, made Jonathan’s head ache. But, it had to be done. He couldn’t rest until everything had been accounted for and all items delivered to their respective owners.
He glanced back at the now dark warehouse as he climbed the stairs to his office. His jacket, waistcoat and cravat were folded and draped over the railing, waiting to be put back on before he left for the evening. They had been removed when he set out into the warehouse this morning. In hindsight, he probably should have removed and left the items in his office.
Jonathan stifled a yawn as he plodded up the narrow stairs. Perhaps he should see about having a cot set up until all of the work was completed. He practically lived here as it was, leaving only late in the evening to return home, eat a cold supper, fall into bed and start all over just as the sun was rising.
He slowed as he neared the top of the stairs noting the door to his office was open. It had been closed earlier and there was no reason for his workers to have been inside. Lamplight illuminated the landing and he tilted his head, straining to hear the quiet humming coming from within.
Who was in his office? As they were humming, Jonathan did not feel overly threatened, but he still pulled the knife from inside his boot just in case. This was the waterfront after all and any manner of character lived down here from orphans and whores, to owners of the various businesses and pubs, with several thieves walking the alleys ready to relieve you of a purse.
Was it someone he knew, someone not in their right mind who wandered in, or a thief?
He straightened his spine, no longer feeling the aches from earlier, grasped the knife confidently, and stepped into the door way only to be brought up short by the vision before him.
A young lady with auburn curls arranged attractively behind her head sat in his chair, behind his desk. Gold spectacles were perched on the bridge of her delicate nose, drawing attention to the eyebrows drawn together in concentration. Full lips were pursed around a pencil she held between her teeth and she was rifling through his papers.
Who the bloody hell was she and what gave her a right to go through his things?
Jonathan cleared his throat.
She startled and straightened. Her grey eyes grew round as her eyebrows rose.