Chapter Nineteen: Exception to the Rule

"Do you know what I think?" Kitty asked the next morning, as she was pouring Charity a cup of tea. "I think that young man must have been some sort of environmental protestor!"

"An environmental protestor?" Charity's sleepy green eyes flew open wide. "But I don't remember seeing anybody with picket signs, or anything like that. Are there any environmental groups we could ring up and ask?"

"Well, there was Environmental Protection UK, but I think they were wiped out by government cuts." The plump, kindly old woman sipped her tea in silence for a moment. Then her round, rosy face lit up with excitement. "I know! We can ask at the Winchester Library. I volunteer there in the mornings. You could come along. Are you game, dearest?"

"Oh yes, I'd love that!" Charity wasn't sure they would solve the mystery of the boy who had been arrested in Lars' place. But she wanted to do something nice for Kitty. The cheerful, warm-hearted, white-haired woman had been just super, fixing a lovely dinner and giving her a bed for the night after Charity's friend Georgina had nipped off unexpectedly. There was a photo shoot in London, Kitty said. But when Georgie roared off on her big black motorcycle she left Charity stranded at the Oakdale Arms!

"I wish Georgina could have stayed for dinner too," Kitty commented, setting down her cup. "Such a fresh, lively girl!"

"Yes, she's quite a whirlwind!" The tousled redhead had to grin, though she was a bit cross with Georgina for running off. Her own fault for utterly collapsing yesterday afternoon!

Just then someone knocked on the door of Kitty's cozy flat.

"Who on earth could that be?" the old woman asked. "Charity, dear, would you answer the door? I'm just getting breakfast out of the oven!"

Charity scampered to the door at once. She was still in her bed gown, and it was a frilly, silly affair made out of lace that kept falling off one shoulder. But there wasn't time to pull on a robe. And besides, it was probably just one of the little old ladies next door.

Perhaps it was even Georgina back from London!

"Good morning, Charity." Lady Margaret was at the door, wearing a black Burberry trench coat with a wide belt knotted around her slender waist. The sleek, military-style garment outlined her slim figure and underlined her quiet authority.

"Good morning, Lady Margaret," Charity stammered, instinctively backing away from the tall, elegant figure at the door. "I was just – I mean, Kitty and I were just – I mean, won't you please come in?"

"Thank you," Lady Margaret strolled into the tiny flat, pulling off her black leather gloves one finger at a time. "How do you do?" she asked, addressing Kitty. She was perfectly polite, but very formal. Like a queen visiting a commoner.

"Good morning, my lady!" Kitty beamed at the raven-haired woman, plainly thrilled beyond words by the unexpected visit. "Won't you join us, my lady? We were just sitting down to a bit of breakfast! Rather late, but then Charity slept late. Today's young people never get enough rest! Take Charity, for example. Yesterday she just dropped in her tracks! So tired after chasing around on Georgina's motorcycle . . ."

"Ah, yes. I quite understand." Lady Margaret turned to Charity, who was blushing red and feeling a bit breathless. "Do you mind telling me why you left the house yesterday morning without telling anyone where you were going?"

"Huh? Oh! I mean, I'm very sorry, Lady Margaret. I just – Georgina came over and we went for a ride and I just didn't think . . ." Charity dropped into her seat at the kitchen table. She was feeling a bit weak in the knees.

"You mustn't make us worry, dear," Lady Margaret said quietly. "What if we'd had another job lined up for you this morning? Remember, you signed a contract with Marwell Developments. You are now working for me and you must keep regular hours, even living under my roof as a guest. Now please hurry up and get dressed. We have a very full schedule. Meeting with investors, a press event, a visit to a day spa and then shopping on Sloane Square."

"Shopping on Sloane Square?" Charity was in a daze. Only the rich and titled did their shopping on Sloane Square. Girls who shopped there all the time were called Sloane Rangers.

"Yes, Sloane Square. Now please hurry, my dear. We haven't much time to spare." Lady Margaret frowned, her blue eyes impatient. She tapped her foot on the tiled floor.

"But Charity hasn't even had breakfast yet!" Kitty's round face took on an unexpected firmness. Standing behind the kitchen table, she rested her plump, firm hands protectively on Charity's shoulders. "My lady, it's entirely my fault that Charity stayed away overnight without telling you. But I can't let her leave without even a decent meal. Young people never remember to eat properly. Look how skinny all the fashion models are these days!"

"Not Charity," Lady Margaret replied. Her ice-blue eyes were ever so amused. "Charity is the exception to the rule."

"Thanks," Charity muttered. She was tired of being bossed around and kept in the dark. She wanted answers, about Lars and everything else. And she was going to get them! And she didn't care if she didn't fit the fashion model image. She had curves, and she knew it. But she wasn't fat.

Her stomach growled as Kitty served breakfast.