She was surprised to find the office doors unlocked and a light in Laura's office. Stopping just long enough to remove her coat and stow her purse, she went to the partially open door.
Laura Holt was immersed in paperwork, a stack of folders on her desk. "Miss Holt-"
Her employer glanced up, then returned to make some notes. "Morning, Mildred. You're here early."
"So are you," Mildred said. "I didn't expect to see you two until later today."
"Why not?" Laura asked, getting up to go to the file cabinet. "We DO still have a business to run. Nothing's changed."
Mildred frowned, feeling decidedly confused by events. "I guess Mr. Steele is in his office?" she asked in a hopeful voice.
"Hah!" Laura said, sitting down again. "Still in bed, more likely," she commented darkly.
"Is something wrong, hon?"
"Wrong? What could POSSIBLY be wrong?" Laura asked. "I have everything I could possibly want. A successful career- AND a fiancé. Isn't that the best of both worlds?"
"Did you to have a fight?" Mildred wanted to know.
"What makes you ask that? Of course not. Just because he's a stubborn man who insists on taking my MOTHER'S side in things-" Laura took a deep breath and collected herself. "Why are you here so early?"
"Just wanted to get a jump on the day," Mildred told her, hating lying to her. "I'll go make us some coffee."
Laura was already reading again. "Umm," she responded noncommittally.
Closing the door behind her, Mildred retreated to the storeroom, where she put a pot of coffee on to brew, then waited for it to finish. Laura didn't even glance up when she placed a cup of the steaming liquid on the desk. "Thanks, Mildred."
"I'll be- out here if you need anything," Mildred offered. No response. Returning to her desk, she turned on the computer and access the database. Once she was in, she typed the name "Lord Marlowe", and then sat back to wait for the results of her search
"Good morning, Mildred."
Mildred engrossed in the information before her, jumped and placed a hand to her chest as she turned to find a pair of concerned blue eyes on her. "Oh, Chief. Don't sneak up on a person like that."
"I didn't think I had," he told her, nodding at the screen. "What's so interesting?"
"Nothing," she told him, turning the monitor off.
He glanced at the closed door that led to Laura's office. "Is she in there?"
"Yeah. Got here before I did."
"Ah, yes. That's our Miss Holt- nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel. Heaven FORBID that she should slow down a bit, take time to stop and smell the roses "
"Uh, Chief, is there some kind of problem?" Mildred began, only to fall silent as the office door opened and Laura appeared, still reading a folder.
"Mildred, do you have the Miller file?" she asked,
almost running into Mr. Steele. "Well. Finally decided to
join us, eh, Mr. Steele? Remembered that we STILL have business
to conduct, did we?"
Mr. Steele lifted an eyebrow as he glanced at his wristwatch. "I believe I'm early, Miss Holt."
"Not by MY reckoning," Laura muttered. "I'm surprised you were able to tear yourself away from the telephone. You were so enamoured of it last night."
"I was only trying to help, Laura," he insisted, his own voice rising slightly. "Pour a bit of oil on the waters, as it were."
"By agreeing with EVERYTHING my mother said?!"
"Not everything," he corrected. "I drew the line at renting the Coliseum for the wedding--"
"If my mother has HER way, we're going to NEED it!"
"Laura, if you'll just let me apologize-" he began.
They all turned to find a wary eyed young delivery man holding a box that was easily recognizable as being from the florist that Mr. Steele preferred. Laura took the box from him, lifting the lid to reveal the red roses as the delivery man left. "Oh, you shouldn't have," she told the man who stood beside Mildred, frowning.
"I didn't," he told her, eyes narrowed. "Another secret admirer, perhaps?" he suggested as she began to look for a card. "I hope this one didn't hack his mother into tiny pieces."
Laura read the card, a confused look on her face. "They're for- Mildred," she told them.
"For me?" Mildred said, taking the card.
"Thank you for a lovely evening. Until tonight."
"No name," Mr. Steele noted, reading over her shoulder.
Laura smiled, her anger apparently temporarily forgotten. "I didn't know you were seeing anyone, Mildred."
Mildred picked up the box and inhaled the scent. "He's just a friend, Miss Holt."
"A man doesn't' send a woman a dozen long stemmed red roses if he's just a friend, Mildred," Mr. Steele pointed out.
She slipped between them, smiling. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to find a vase for these. Oh, your first appointment is at ten. Mrs. Davis. And the Miller file is on my desk, Miss Holt."
"I'm having lunch with Daniel, Mildred," Remington called after her as the door closed.
"Already pencilled in, Chief," she called back, then leaned on the door and smelled the roses again. Daniel was pushing it- JUST a little. But the roses were lovely, and though she wanted to take him to task for buying them for her, she knew she wouldn't. Not after reading the information on her computer. His story had checked out- so far. Lord Andrew Marlowe had married twice, one son by his first wife, Winston. After the death of his wife, Marlowe remarried, a woman several years his junior, who died during childbirth. The son from that marriage was mentioned just that once. Daniel Marlowe. Mildred had just set in motion a search for more information on that child when Mr. Steele had arrived. She heard raised voices again, and then a door slammed shut, and Mildred flinched. They were at it again.
She finished putting the roses into a vase, and brought them back out to her office to find Mr. Steele bent over her computer screen. "Lord Marlowe?" he asked.
"Just some research for a friend," Mildred confided. "You won't tell Miss Holt that I was doing this on company time, will you?"
He patted her shoulder, moving toward his office. "Right now, I don't think it would do either of us any good," he admitted.
"Mr. Steele-" she wanted to say something- anything that might help. Instead, she said, "I'll get your coffee and paper for you."
"Thank you, Mildred."
She set the printer up and left it to work as she filled Mr. Steele's bone china coffee cup and saucer, then picked up the morning paper to take into him. He was standing at the window, hands in his pockets, and Mildred knew she couldn't keep quiet. "What happened, Mr. Steele?"
"Laura Holt is the most stubborn, intractable woman that I've ever known, Mildred. Everything was going along fine until her mother called."
"I gathered that Mrs. Holt called last night. How'd she know that Miss Holt would be at your place?"
"She tried the loft, and when Laura wasn't there, she called my apartment." He sat down. "She insisted on trying to push Laura to set a wedding date, and talking about who she wanted to invite- I was humoring her, trying to keep her from losing her temper-"
"And meanwhile Miss Holt lost hers?" Mildred suggested.
"Something like that. Then Abigail asked if Laura was giving up her loft to move into my place. I said yes. I mean, what was I supposed to say? The next thing I knew, Laura was gone. She refused to answer her telephone all night, and wouldn't open the door when I went over there. I don't know, Mildred," he said with a sigh, running a hand over his face. "She's so bloody terrified of losing her independence that she seems determined to push me away."
"But you won't go, will you?" Mildred asked.
He looked up at her, giving her crooked smile. "Of course not. I've stuck it out this long-I'll be damned if I give up now."
"It'll work out, Chief," Mildred assured him, patting his shoulder. "Read your paper and have some coffee before Mrs. Davis arrives."
"Thank you, Mildred," he said, and she turned enroute to the door, confused.
"I didn't do anything."
"You listened. That's a help."
She smiled and returned to her office, rescuing the paper that
the printer had finally finished printing. Sitting down, she started
Mrs. Davis left an hour after her arrival, well satisfied with the outcome of her case. Once the door closed behind the woman, Laura turned to Mildred, ignoring Mr. Steele's attempt to get her attention. "I'll be in my office, Mildred. Finishing up those reports."
"I could do those for you," Mildred offered. "In case you had- something else you need to do," she said, glancing at the man standing nearby.
"What else is there to do?" Laura asked.
"Might I make a suggestion?" Mr. Steele said. Laura turned slowly to look at him. "We can talk."
"I haven't got time for personal matters, Mr. Steele," she said. "This is STILL an office where we do BUSINESS-"
Mr. Steele waved his arm around the empty room. "And at the moment, I don't see anyone clamoring for our assistance to find a lost dog or retrieve some valuable gems," he told her. "I think the reports can wait a few minutes, don't you?"
"No, Mr. Steele," Laura said, shrugging off his hold on her arm, "I don't." Before he could move, she was inside her office and the door was closed with some force.
"How the bloody HELL does she expect us to resolve this if she won't talk to me?!" he demanded to know. "If she keeps shutting me out like this, we'll be celebrating our first wedding anniversary from wheelchairs."
"Maybe it would help if I talked to her?" Mildred offered.
"I don't want to put you in the middle of this, Mildred," he said.
"Hey, I'm offering," Mildred told him. "You know how much I care about you and Miss Holt, Chief. If there's anything I can do-."
He put an arm around her shoulders. "I know. And I appreciate it. But I wouldn't dream of placing you in that position." Releasing her, he said, "I think I'll go see if I can't find something to smooth things over. A box of chocolates, perhaps."
Mildred smiled. "Good idea. What should I tell her if she asks where you've gone?"
"Out. Let her worry for awhile. Might do her some good."
Once he was gone, Mildred sat down at her desk and started to read the printout. Daniel Marlowe had attended Eton, and his marks had been adequate, although his instructors said that he wasn't living up to his potential. He was on probation more than he was off, curfew and gambling violations the chief cause. His ejection from the school was the last mention of him that she could find anywhere. Turning the computer monitor back on, she returned to a photograph of Andrew Marlowe, taken upon the occasion of his second marriage to one Ellen Chalmers. She studied the features of the two people, the dark haired young beauty who smiled adoringly at her handsome, older husband. She could see the resemblance- and the woman's name clinched it for Mildred.
Daniel had told her the truth. But not all of the truth. There was still something missing, and she was determined to find that something. "I haven't seen that photo in a long time," Daniel's voice said over her shoulder.
Mildred turned to look at him. "You've got her eyes," she said, and moved to turn the monitor off, but Daniel's hand grabbed hers, preventing the action.
"I never knew her," he said. "My only exposure to her was in the photographs of her which my father had around the house when I was a child."
"At least I know where you got the name Chalmers now."
"Daniel Chalmers Marlowe," he admitted with a sly
grin. "I haven't said the entire name in ages."
He released her hand, and she pushed the button that sent the screen into darkness. "Thank you for the roses," she told him, nodding toward the vase on the corner of the desk. "They're lovely. But you really shouldn't have. Miss Holt and Mr. Steele asked all kinds of questions."
"Let them ask. As long we the two of us know the answers, that's all that matters, isn't it?" He glanced at the door to Mr. Steele's office. "Is he in?"
"No. He went to see if he could find a gift that would help him apologize to Miss Holt."
"Apologize?" Daniel repeated. "Trouble in paradise already?"
"Apparently Mrs. Holt called last night and in the course of trying to mollify her, Mr. Steele made Miss Holt angry. She's barely spoken to him all morning." She nodded toward Laura's office. "She's in there right now, buried in paperwork to keep from having to face the problem."
Daniel looked thoughtful. "Not good. I'm sure I'll hear the entire story from Harry over lunch."
Mr. Steele entered the office, and smiled upon seeing his old friend. "Daniel. You're early. Or am I running late?"
"Not at all. I found myself at loose ends and decided to drop in and see if you could get away."
Mildred's gaze searched Mr. Steele's face. "Did you find anything?" she asked.
"Something perfect," he told her. "It will be delivered after Daniel and I leave- so make sure she stays in for lunch, will you?"
"You can count on me, Chief," Mildred assured him.
"As usual, Mildred. Shall we, Daniel?"
Mildred watched them go, then turned back to the computer her attention back on her little "investigation", this time focusing on Winston Marlowe, Daniel's older brother. There had been something she had just skimmed over, more concerned with finding mention of Daniel. Now where had it been