San Francisco, 1880
Laurel stood in front of The Pinkerton Detective Agency and looked up at the imposing structure on Mission Street. Her mind reflected back to three years before and her first time she’d ever seen the place. San Francisco. It boggled her mind that she now lived here.
She’d been so nervous that first day at the west coast offices. Owen and she had arrived in the city after preparing themselves for their undercover roles in the case they’d picked up from Andrew Stein.
It had been a murder case of a rich businessman in which a great deal of money had been stolen. It had taken two years of infiltration into the man’s home as domestic staff for the culprits to become known. It turned out it was the wife of the unfortunate victim and her secret paramour who were behind the whole sordid event.
The lady had hired a young Chinese immigrant to work in the stables at the mansion she resided in, albeit with her husband, until a week before Laurel and Owen had arrived in town. Because Laurel and Owen had both worked in the house, all the evidence showing who the mastermind of the murder was came to light.
Of course, the joke had ultimately bounced back on the clandestine lovers. The young man in question, the young Chinese stable-boy, had taken off the day the murder had become known. Apparently the boy had figured out what was happening when the master of the house had told him to take a note to a friend of his in the Nob Hill neighborhood.
The boy, who spoke English perfectly but didn’t let it be known, would place himself near the scene of the crime, indeed at the mansion, of the slain gentleman. The boy had overheard Mr. Thayer and Mrs. Skivington talking, late one night, in the parlor. They’d laid out the whole plan the boy ultimately told Laurel and Owen.
They’d set the boy, Sam Yip, up to be taken down for the subsequent murder and robbery. Of course, young Yip had gone to the local police precinct to tell them what was being planned for that very evening, only to spend the night in a jail cell for fabricating stories about his mistress.
As soon as he’d been released the following morning, Sam Yip had hightailed it out of San Francisco. When Mr. Skivington was found dead in his office, the police realized they should have listened to Yip. A murder could have been prevented.
So, who’d done it? Suspicion had been great about Mrs. Skivington. If the authorities had known about her love affair they would have readily seen her implication in the crime. But the lady and her wooer had been so careful, so discreet that, at the time of the slaying, she wasn’t even considered as a suspect.
Laurel smiled to herself as she walked through the massive front doors of the agency building. That case had ended less than a year earlier and it had been the last case for Laurel for a while.
Because the undercover period had been so long with the case, Laurel and Owen had taken four months off and gone on a honeymoon trip back East by train and had sailed out of New York for a grand tour of Europe. They’d been away for nearly a year, something Andrew hadn’t been thrilled about, but which he’d come to see had been necessary for the new couple.
Laurel had gone to Andrew about it before the case had even been solved. He’d come out west once the culprits were in hand and had conducted the usual breakfast meeting to officially close the case.
Laurel had needed time to get to know her husband better, she’d told Andrew. She was requesting a leave of absence for herself and Owen. Mary Ann and Benny had both been assigned to the San Francisco Pinkertons as well and had relocated to the city. They could take over the training of the young Chinese man Sam Yip. With his ability to speak, read, and write English, Sam had been molded into a top-notch detective and, ultimately Andrew had to agree with every point Laurel had raised and jokingly suggested she go to law school.
Her head had snapped at that and she had stated in no uncertain terms that if it was good enough for Miss Belva Lockwood to become a lawyer, then it might just as well be good enough for her. Sure enough, she’d begun her studies two months prior to this moment.
She passed the information desk in the lobby of the Pinkerton headquarters and headed up to her office. It was her first day back to work after arriving back in San Francisco after her wedding trip, and much had changed.
Owen had been made the head of the agency in the San Francisco office, and she, herself, was a mentor, much like Mary Ann had been when Laurel had joined the company of elite sleuths.
And now Mary Ann was married with an 18-month-old little boy named Owen. Andrew, who’d lost his first wife to the childbed directly after the Fortaleza case, had taken a pay cut and a demotion to relocate to San Francisco. It had been impossible for the man to stay in Chicago he’d told them.
A year after that Andrew Stein had noticed, seemingly for the first time, how truly beautiful Mary Ann Lowe was. Six months later the two had been married, and subsequently started a family. Where the future would lead any of them, Laurel couldn’t tell. She had something to tell her husband this very day that would change the course of their life together immeasurably.
Laurel was going to have a baby.
She slipped the key into the door and entered her office. It was her very own and so good to be back in. She relished each sensation as she crossed the thick Persian carpet. There was a big desk of rich mahogany, bookshelves all along the walls, and a full sitting area. There was also a small table and two chairs for when she and Owen lunched together at the agency, which was something they did frequently.
Laurel had been made a mentor in the field whereas Mary Ann conducted all the verbal lessons and written texts. It had been a whirlwind, but here she was. Laurel didn’t know what was going to happen when her own baby arrived.
Off came her bonnet. She hung her coat on the coat tree and she took a seat at the desk. Her list of assignments had been left by Mary Ann.
Owen sat back at his desk. It was getting near to noon. Lunch. He was hungry and looked forward to having a meal at his favorite restaurant in San Francisco. He’d made a reservation. It was the third anniversary of Laurel’s marriage to him. The real wedding.
So much had transpired in the last three years, that he sometimes felt like a different person than he’d been before Laurel had come into his life. In his mind he went back over all the details that had ultimately, finally, brought them together.
The first two years had been challenging. The case they’d worked had been difficult. Laurel had gotten a job at the mansion of the Skivingtons while he had taken advantage of the fact that Mr. Thayer’s parents, who the scoundrel still lived with, were in need of a butler.
Between them, and with substantial help from Sam Yip, Owen and Laurel had discovered that the murderer of Mr. Skivington had been none other than Mr. Thayer. And they’d gathered enough evidence to prove it. It had been a good feeling to settle the case and then he and Laurel had gone on their grand tour.
They didn’t have to speak to Andrew about the next case. Owen ran things in San Francisco and he had a list on his desk of five different crimes to solve. He ran his fingers through his hair and rested his forehead on his folded arms for a moment.
Owen was tired. Happy, but tired. All the travel had been fun, but the last leg of it…the train from New York to Chicago and then, ultimately San Francisco, and all the places in between – they had been a whirlwind. But a whirlwind that had been infinitely worth it.
He thought about Mary Ann and Andrew and how different their lives were to what they’d been three years prior. Now they worked, both of them, in the San Francisco offices. Andrew had made sacrifices to be with Mary Ann, and she to be with him; however they seemed outlandishly happy and content. Mary Ann looked almost like a different woman. She’d always been a pretty little thing, but now her heart showed on her face every time she looked at Andrew and she’d become absolutely beautiful. Such was the power of love, Owen mused.
Straightening his desk, he thought about it and was looking forward to spending the afternoon with his wife. Since he was the superior in the San Francisco offices, the point man, he’d given Laurel and himself the rest of the day off. The cases on his desk could wait until the next morning for assigning to various agents. The rest of the day would be for him and Laurel.
Owen glanced at the calendar on the wall. In two weeks, Laurel’s father was going to join them in San Francisco. It had taken him over two years, but he’d finally convinced Laurel that not letting her father know that she was alive and well was tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. He’d discovered some time ago in his rapport with Laurel that appealing to her sense of justice was the way to go when he wanted her to do what he suggested. Was it manipulative? Yes. To a degree, but it was obvious to him that she always knew what he was doing when he did it.
Her lip would curl into a mischievous smile and she would give into his gentle demands. Finally, she had written to Edward Bennington and explained everything to him. Then, when the newlyweds had passed through Chicago on their way back to San Francisco, they’d had dinner with the man.
Mr. Bennett had been broken without Laurel and it had gone to both of their hearts. And after a brief discussion in their hotel that night, the couple had invited Laurel’s father to San Francisco for an extended visit. He was to arrive at the end of the week.
It had been a bit difficult but Owen had been able to get Laurel to put her misgivings about her father aside. Everything he’d done that had originally caused his daughter to run away had all backfired on the man. He’d been low on money and not in the best of health when they’d visited him. Laurel had seen right away that it would only be in her best interest, and certainly the best interest of her father, if she forgave him. And so the work of repairing their fractured relationship was to begin soon.
A knock at the office door preceded the door opening and Laurel appeared. Dressed all in deep violet, her green eyes glowed and her smile caused him to catch his breath. She still had that effect on him.
“Hello, darling.” He stood and crossed the room to meet her. He brushed a chaste kiss across her cheek.
They didn’t indulge in many displays of affection when they were at the agency. Not even when they were alone.
“Are you ready to go, Owen?”
“Yes. Let me get my coat.”
“Oh, I hope we can get a table. They’re always so busy. It’s a two week wait to get a decent table. We might have to make do with the mezzanine above the bar area.”
“Never you fear, Mrs. Collins. I took the liberty of wiring from New York, when we’d gotten back to the states after our trip. We’ve had a reservation for three weeks.”
Laurel flashed that brilliant smile again. The one that made him melt.
“Shall we, my darling?”
She winked and looped her arm through his. “Let’s,” she answered.
They walked out into the brisk San Francisco day and made their way through the substantial traffic and crowded walkways to Tadich’s in the financial district.
The closer to the establishment they got, the more excited Laurel became. She was sure she was about four months along. There would be some heavy convincing, on her part, to get Owen to allow her to work until the last possible moment.
Laurel knew she couldn’t be out in the field. It was too risky in her condition. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t go out and do reconnaissance. And she could work at her desk. Mary Ann had told her that she worked until the day before she went into labor. And she’d gone into labor in the carriage on the way to the offices.
Laurel and Owen had been away, but Andrew had laughingly told them that Mary Ann brought their baby to work each day. The little file room off her office had been converted into a nursery and the little one had come to the agency with his mother until he’d begun to walk and they’d had to hire a nanny.
Their newest agent, Sam Yip’s, wife had been hired as nanny to baby Owen and the big, unrelated by blood, yet close-knit adopted family worked together to rid the streets of their adopted city of heavy criminals.
Sarah and Benny were engaged, and everyone was happy that Owen and Laurel were back. All was well and only promised to get better. Laurel smiled and squeezed her husband’s arm.
“What is it, Laurel?”
“Oh, nothing. And everything. But all at once. I’m just so happy that everything has worked out as it has. There was a tough bit of adjustment for me the first year here, but you and I weathered it. And now, here we are.” She smiled again.
Indeed, they had come up on the restaurant and they went in and were ushered to the dining room. As expected, the room was crowded and a bit noisy with the lunch crowd but that was to be expected. It was a premier restaurant and a tourist attraction.
They sat and perused the menus that had been left on the table, and Owen ordered for them.
“Very good, sir.” The server bowed and left the tableside.
Laurel couldn’t stop smiling. How should she tell her husband their wonderful news? She’d thought about it for weeks. Since she’d known for sure that she was going to have a baby.
Laurel hadn’t been feeling well. About two months prior, she’d found herself ill in the mornings. She was nauseated and many times couldn’t eat her breakfast for fear of it coming right back up again. She’d looked pale and Owen had expressed concern. That was when she’d gone to Mary Ann and Andrew’s house and had spoken to Suzie, Sam’s wife.
Suzie was an herbalist. After Laurel’s discussion with her, the petite lady had gone into Chinatown and procured some herbs. She had given them to Laurel to brew into tea. Have a cup before bed, Suzie had said, and then again in the morning, even if nauseated. If that was the case, she’d said, sip it.
The change had been dramatic and almost immediate and Laurel had been so happy that she’d gone back to Suzie to thank her. She could now get on with her work, as she’d told the herbalist. She was so happy that she was all better. That whatever it was that had been ailing her was fine now.
Suzie’s delighted laughter had filled the nursery at the Steins’ home. Laurel had no ailment to be cured of, the raven-haired beauty with shiny black eyes had told her. Laurel was going to have a baby.
It had been an ecstatic revelation, though thoroughly unexpected news. And now that she felt more secure about the future, Laurel felt it was time to share the glad tidings with her husband. Their baby would be making an appearance sometime in the early spring.
“You’ve been smiling to yourself since you came to my office, Laurel! Care to share with me the source of your obvious elation this afternoon?”
“I have to admit that I’m elated that today is our anniversary. This time with you has been the happiest of my entire life, Owen.”
He smiled and reached across the table and took her hand. “I feel quite blessed, I must say.”
“As do I. And, Owen…”
“What is it, Laurel? What have you done with my smiling wife?”
“She’s still here, never fear. But there’s something I need to tell you.” Suddenly now that the moment was here, she realized why she’d been putting off telling Owen about the baby. What if he thought it was the wrong time? What if he’d changed his mind and had decided that he didn’t want to be a father after all?
“What is it? Something wrong? Laurel, you can tell me dear.”
“I’m going to have a baby.” She burst into tears. Luckily the restaurant was so loud and so busy that no one noticed Laurel’s distress.
“You are? Really?”
She looked up. Owen was grinning from ear to ear.
“So you’re happy.” She sniffed and wiped her nose with the handkerchief he handed her.
“Happy? I’d say I’m over the moon. So that’s why you’d been not feeling well. I never put it together.”
“No, I didn’t either. It took Suzie to figure it out. Now, I know that it’s going to change things around here…”
“Laurel, we’ll put in offices at the house if need be. You can continue to work until you no longer have the desire to.”
“Most certainly.” Owen kissed her hand again. “I don’t know what else to say. This is wonderful, wonderful news. It hasn’t quite solidified in my consciousness.”
“Oh, it will solidify the first time you change a diaper!” Laurel laughed and so did Owen. Their eyes were locked and it seemed, in the midst of the busy lunch crowd in the restaurant, they were each the only ones that existed for the other. Their lives were intertwined and would only grow together into an ever stronger vine as time went by.