Not every meeting scheduled for the week was full of misery and utter surprise; the two o’clock Elaine took care to remind her of offered some manner of hope and bright possibilities. Charlotte Peterson had returned to London.
If Penelope were being truly honest, it would have been enough to know that Charlotte was even alive, let alone in a state to return to duty. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, she scolded herself. The hadn’t even spoken to each other properly yet. The meeting was arranged down a pipeline of secretaries and assistants and other people’s pens on paper. Like passing notes across the classroom, only with more dignity. There was no way of knowing if she was the same woman, let alone a friend. For once, Penelope found the idea of watching Charlotte glide up the stairs and breeze into the office too paranoid and shameful to bear.
She lounged in her chair with a lazy regal elegance that had been contrived with strenuous care over the years. Even if Charlotte were not the Versace clad beauty Penelope had known in school, they were still having their luncheon under the guise of old friends reconnecting before matters became too hectic for such small pleasures.
“Leave the drinks to me, Elaine,” she said softly.
“As you wish, your ladyship.”
Penelope gave the faintest of smiles, “It wouldn’t do to be too presumptuous. For all we know, I’ll need a good vodka tonic to get through this.”
The old woman raised her brow.
“But we remain hopeful as ever. You may go.”
Hopeful as ever indeed, Penelope thought as the door mercifully closed. Given the very best of circumstances, Charlotte could be a very useful ally. The scales between the sexes in the Council were much more balanced now due to their extenuating circumstances. God knew they must have been to put her in charge without secretly crossing their fingers in hopes she’d decline. Charlotte wouldn’t be in any sort of minority or disadvantage. Moreover, her seniority in age might make it easier for her to infiltrate the corners of the office that were suspected to be less than enthusiastic about the new order as a small favor perhaps, when the time was right. Glamours were a tedious business at times, but as the new head of the council, there wasn’t much in the way of seeing how things were going in the trenches for herself. Which only left security feed and delegating. If Charlotte was still the driven woman she’d had an affinity for in her early days at the Council, perhaps she could help fill in the gaps. Perhaps they might even come to rely on each other. Wouldn’t that be divine, Penelope thought with a dry chuckle. A colleague she could bring herself to trust.
Penelope exhaled slowly, letting her breath trickle out in time to the rain slithering down her window. All things in due course. There was no need to rush. It seemed doubtful that her old acquaintance would lose her knack for punctuality, but traffic could always be a nightmare. It was rather likely that she’d have a few more ripe minutes on her hands to mull matters over before getting into the thick of things.
The door opened.
Then again, perhaps not.