Baker and Jones Ch. 01

Baker and Jones

This work is deliberately a slow-burn romance. While I’m intending to have a variety of sex scenes throughout, I’m going to focus on building the relationship slowly and thoughtfully, with what I hope will be a satisfying resolution. In the spirit of Sherlock Holmes, I want this work to adequately involve the mystery and investigation aspects of a real detective novel. So, along with some good and naughty fun, I’ll be working to ensure that the plot is engaging and developed with a satisfying amount of worldbuilding and complexity.

This takes place in an alternate world, in what we might consider equivalent to late 19th Century England. Some aspects will be familiar, some will be original and unique to this alternate world.

Chapter One

Annette stares at the townhouse, feeling a mixture of excitement and intrigue. It’s a fairly unremarkable three-story red brick home, shackled up in the middle of a long row of townhouses indistinguishable from it. Curved iron bars adorn the windows, more to prevent occupants from falling out than to keep intruders away, and its dark brown door sports a silver chester knocker.

She holds her skirt down as the long cotton flutters in the calm morning breeze. Annette shuffles in place, still getting used to the weight and warmth of her petticoat and the ways that her corset stifles her breath. She’d been gifted the modest dress for the occasion, hardly able to afford it herself. It isn’t even particularly nice, just plain brown fabric with a little bit of ruffles and a weak shawl to drape over the shoulderless neckline.

It’s time, she decides, shaking her head softly and wondering how many passersby on the street had given her strange looks for standing out in front of this house for so long. Her short heels click softly on the cobblestone as she walks forward, rising up the few steps to the doorway and resting her hand on the door-knocker. Timidly, she raps it against the wood a few times, takes a step back, and fidgets softly with her hands.

After a few moments Annette can hear the sounds of boots stomping down the stairs and the rattle of a lock clicking open. The heavy door swings wide, revealing the semi-famous form of Cordelia Jones.

Cordelia Jones wears a white collared shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, exposing toned but not necessarily muscular arms. It folds neatly into her deep gray slacks, held up by suspenders and tucked into her fine black leather boots. She’s tall and commanding, with a large presence and a firm body. Her black hair curls slightly and with volume, falling just above her shoulders. In her green eyes, Annette sees a piercing and perceptive gaze, able to size up whatever she’s looking at with nonchalance and intensity. Her lips are dark red, almost giving the impression she’s recently drunk blood, contrasting with her surprisingly pale skin. Cordelia’s jaw is wide set and proud, and she has high, sharp cheekbones. She’s younger than Annette expected, no older than thirty-three.

“Who’re you?” Cordelia demands, her voice low and firm though not aggressive. She’s commanding and direct, but there’s an indifference in it that prevents hostility.

“Annette Baker, Miss,” she curtsies politely, bowing her head as she does. “I believe Mr. Wemberly sent my papers along last week?”

“Of course,” Cordelia nods, stepping out of the doorway and onto the steps and looking her up and down. She rests her hands behind her back, puffing out her chest and scowling without moving a muscle on her face. “I thought you’d look smarter.”

“Look smarter?” Annette repeats back, tilting her head in confusion. “What does smarter look like?”

Cordelia ignores her. “Can you read?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“Can you write?”

“Yes, Miss.”

“What’s eighty-seven minus fifty-one?”

Annette pauses briefly to think and replies, “Thirty-six?”

“Say it with more confidence than that.”

“Thirty-six,” Annette repeats.

“Again, more assured.”

“Thirty-six.”

“Can you cook, clean, do dishes?”

“Yes to all, Miss.”

Cordelia pauses, looking Annette over once again. She hardly seems to gaze at her as though she’s a person, instead reading her like a plaque on a statue or monument. Annette remains quiet, shifting uncomfortably under her scrutiny and wondering how on earth she was supposed to breathe if she’s wearing a corset full-time. It isn’t even particularly tight, it was just there with every breath, relentless.

“Very well,” Cordelia concludes at last. “I’ll be sure to write Mr. Wemberly back and thank him. You can come inside, Miss Baker.” She returns through the doorway, striding into the home with purpose. Annette follows behind, careful that each step is soft and quiet. “You can give yourself a tour of the home on your own time, later. Kitchen is through there, wash basin is out back, your room is on the second floor, my study is on the third. Do not enter my study without permission, understood?”

“Yes, kazak escort Miss Jones.”

“Are you going to refuse to call me Cordelia? The last one insisted it was too informal and got flustered every time,” she turns back, stopping by the fireplace and crossing her arms.

“Whatever you prefer,” Annette replies.

“Call me Miss Jones then,” Cordelia shrugs. “I take supper at six with tea. I only drink it hot with three sugars and no milk. I won’t touch it if it’s lukewarm or even just warm.”

“Yes, Miss Jones.”

“Where are your things? Don’t tell me you forgot to bring your things.”

“I didn’t,” Annette says softly. “I… I just don’t have any.”

“Christ,” Cordelia mutters under her breath. “We’ll take care of that then. How long is your contract?”

Annette pauses, feeling her chest tighten and her mouth dry. “S-six years, Miss.”

“Christ,” Cordelia repeats, shaking her head slowly and leaning up against the mantle of the stone fireplace against the far wall. “Wemberly didn’t tell me that.”

“He asked me not to say anything.”

“I can see why,” she snorts. “Not your fault, Miss Baker. No wonder your contract was so cheap. How’d you end up like that?”

“I…” Annette scrambles to explain, but is saved by Coredlia interrupting her.

“Don’t answer that,” she holds up a hand. “Mostly rhetorical, I think.” She takes a deep breath, rising from her place against the wall and standing in front of Annette once more. “General expectations: you keep the space clean and the house running. You don’t interrupt my work or interfere with any guests that arrive. You answer my questions directly and honestly. I’ll provide for whatever you need, but be reasonable. You’re welcome to have your own personal life, just don’t bring any drama back home. If I find out you’re useless I’ll sell your contract back to Wemberly.”

“Understood, Miss Jones.” Annette smiles politely. Despite the circumstances, it could be far worse. From what she’d been told to expect from Mr. Wemberly, Cordelia’s rules are significantly more lenient than most owners could be.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Cordelia asks, then quickly adds, “If you mention the Danverfold Six you’re out.”

Annette grins, which seems to surprise Cordelia. She’d heard the tabloids about the Danverfold murder trials and all the rumors cirulating about Miss Jones’ involvement, but she’d chocked them up to be nothing more than hearsay.

“Do you expect me to wear a uniform, Miss Jones?”

“Not at home,” Cordelia replies. “If we’re in public, wear whatever you want so long as the collar is visible.”

Annette touches a hand to the thin leather collar around her neck. At first it had been a nuisance, constantly tugging against her skin and choking her if she moved the wrong way. But, after a few weeks of wearing it, it’s easy for Annette to ignore most days.

“So… wear what I want wherever?” Annette muses. “I can’t remove it.”

“I suppose so then, yes.”

“Do you expect me to wake you in the mornings?”

“I already told you to do that,” Cordelia’s face finds a full scowl this time, furrowing her sharp brows and frowning.

“You did not, Miss,” Annette ventures timidly.

“Very good, Annette,” the scowl disappears, and Cordelia seems surprisingly proud. “If you’d be so kind as to wake me I would appreciate it.”

“Of course, Miss Jones.” Annette inclines her head. “Am I to run errands for you? If so, I’ll need a chainbook.”

“Chainbook?”

“Servant’s checkbook.”

“I’ve never heard them called that,” Cordelia lets out a puff of air, intrigued. “I think the previous collar left one in your room for you.”

“Perfect,” Annette confirms, hiding the slightly sour expression she feels at the term ‘collar,’ to refer to the previous servant. She’d known plenty of people who sold themselves into service complaining about owners using the term – it was one of those shorthands only used in derision.

“Next order of business,” Cordelia announces, scooping up a metal object from the crowded dining table and thrusting it forward towards Annette. Up closer, it looks like a large iron nail, perhaps a half-inch thick and five inches long. “What do you make of this, Miss Baker?”

“What do I make of it?” Annette tilts her head, confused.

“Keep up. What do you think this is?”

“A railroad spike, Miss.”

“Indeed?” Cordelia takes Annette’s hand, setting the nail into her palm and folding her fingers over the coarse iron. “Still think so?”

It’s lighter than Annette expects, but still obviously a railroad spike. “Yes, Miss. I’d wager it’s just a railroad spike.”

“Excellent, Miss Baker,” Cordelia nods, satisfied.

“Am I to expect basic recognition tests often?”

“Basic?” Cordelia furrows her brow and purses her lips. “I suppose so. I’ll be in my study, Miss Baker. Feel free to acquaint yourself with the space.”

Cordelia turns quickly on her heel, striding out istanbul bayan escort of the dining room and towards the spiral staircase, which is strangely industrial for the common home. A quick flutter of wings bursts behind Annette, causing her to yelp with surprise as the bird flies past her and rests onto the railing of the stairs.

Annette turns about to face the direction it flew from, noticing an open window and quickly moving to close it. “I’ll have to be sure to keep this closed, Miss Jones.”

“Nonsense,” Cordelia scoffs. “This is just Harold.” She extends a finger to the bird, a common pigeon, lightly scratching the side of his face. Harold coos softly, pecking harmlessly between her fingers and ruffling his feathers affectionately.

“Harold…?”

“You’re not responsible for him, Miss Baker,” Cordelia replies, scooping the bird up to place it on her shoulder. “He’s quite capable of taking care of himself.”

“Very well, Miss Jones,” Annette says quietly, trying to withhold her judgement.

“He comes and goes as he pleases.” She explains, staring at Annette with a bemused expression. “Just be sure to fill a small plate with seeds on the back porch now and again.”

“So I am responsible for him?”

Cordelia pauses. “Just the seeds, Miss Baker.”

“As you wish,” Annette mutters.

“I’ll be in my study,” Cordelia begins ascending the stairs, Harold in tow. “I’m expecting company around noon, please be sure to show her upstairs when she arrives. Poor thing will likely be distraught.”

“Is there anything else, Miss Jones?”

“That’ll do,” she calls back, disappearing into the floor above.

Annette releases the breath she didn’t realize she was holding so tightly. She shakes her arms to try and alleviate the nervous jitters that still cling to her bones, scoffing to herself at the eccentricity of her new owner. It could be far worse, she concludes. Eccentric was far better than demanding.

She explores the home, shuffling back into the main hallway and trying to get a sense for how much work it’ll be to keep it together. From the front doorway, the dining room is to the left, small but comfortable, with a spacious framed window that draws the cloudy morning light into the room. Down the hallway, connected to the dining room, there’s a modest and well-equipped kitchen that opens into a clustered conversation room. A bathroom is tucked away in the corner, and the staircase descends down on the side of the single hallway.

While Cordelia might be relatively lenient with her rules, the task doesn’t seem to be equally forgiving. The home is an absolute mess, each surface crowded with an unkindly amount of books, parchments, tools, candles, stray potted plants, dishes, and even some clothes. She isn’t sure how long it’s been since the previous servant departed, but Cordelia’s house feels as though it hasn’t been cleaned in weeks. The kitchen is even worse, with mounds of dirty dishes and food scraps; a few fruit flies swarm the sink, likely thriving off of the mess.

Sighing to herself, Annette puffs out her chest and pushes the sleeves of her dress up. She locates the cleanest apron she can find, stained with mysterious spots she decides not to question, and throws it over her dress.

*****

It takes hours for the ground floor to finally meet a reasonable standard for Annette. Her hands are damp and pruny from the task of washing so many dishes and there’s a mild burning feeling in her arms from lifting so many heavy stacks of books to the shelves. It was an impossible effort to figure out where all of the knick-knacks and stray objects were supposed to go, so rather than organize them by any reasonable system she attempts to piece together the connections between them, keeping objects grouped as best she can. It leaves the shelves rather disorganized to any sane viewer, but as least the tables and counters and floors are usable once again.

Cordelia’s guest arrived just before noon; a stout and grim looking woman with a pale black gown. A veil drops down from the wide brimmed hat she wears, and combined with the glimpse of puffy red eyes Annette sees underneath it, she wonders if Cordelia is investigating another murder. She leads the woman upstairs to the door of Cordelia’s study, knocking quietly before returning to the insurmountable task of cleaning once more.

Cordelia Jones’ reputation wasn’t nearly as famous as some of the other private investigators in Bellchester, but it certainly was the most colorful. Supposedly, she was willing to take up cases the others refused, often for lack of evidence or clues or motives or money. It wasn’t as though Cordelia even solved all of these helpless cases, she often didn’t. But at least she was willing to try.

Satisfied that the house was at least functional again, Annette grabs some bread that’s just gone stale and cheese and locates her room on the second floor. She plops down onto the small mattress, pleasantly surprised it isn’t another azeri escort run-down cot like she’s grown used to. The room is small, with pale brown walls and a single window that overlooks the street below. It’s empty, clearly vacated relatively recently, featuring only the bed, a small dresser, and a couple of tiny shelves. A small, unopened envelope rests on top of the dresser, which Annette leaves for later.

Taking a bite out of the bread and savoring the pungent cheese spread onto it, Annette lets out a contented sigh. She’d made it out of the collarhouse, off of the street, and into her own room for the first time in nearly a year. So long as she could do her duties and stay out of Cordelia’s way, she’d live in far more comfort than she had expected when she sold herself into servitude. Anything was better than another cold night huddled up in a tiny makeshift shack.

She opens the window and lays back onto the bed, enjoying the breeze into her room and the quiet sounds of the street traffic below. The clicking of horseshoes on cobblestone and the rattle of carriage wheels is far quieter on this side of downtown, and Annette is amazed at the difference being a few streets over could be. Just a block or two away the noise was unbearably loud, constantly bustling and buzzing all around. Mill Street is so much more peaceful, but still close enough to easily access anything exciting. She finishes up her snack, laying back into bed and letting herself drift into a light nap.

Annette jolts awake at the sound of Cordelia loudly calling her name, rubbing her eyes and trying to figure out how much time has passed. A quick glance outside reveals that the light hasn’t changed much – likely no more than a half hour. She quickly leaps up, striding down the stairs towards Cordelia’s voice.

“Annette,” Cordelia frowns as she appears, crossing her arms tightly and glaring at the room around her. “What did you do?”

“I tidied up, Miss Jones,” she replies innocently.

“It’s horrible. Put it back.”

“You… you want me to make a mess again?”

“A mess? It wasn’t a mess!”

“If you say so, Miss,” Annette pushes away her scowl. She takes a long, deep breath, trying to keep herself calm.

It’s fine, she tells herself. If she prefers to live in a pig’s sty, it’s less work for me.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Cordelia growls.

“Apologies, Miss Jones.”

She sighs, her green eyes flicking up and down Annette. “I want you to tell me before you mess things up like this next time.”

“So you do want me to do this again?”

“Of course not,” she huffs. “But when you inevitably do, I want forewarning.”

“I… I shall do my best to provide it, Miss Jones.”

“Where are all my things?”

Annette looks around the room, glancing at all of the shelves she had put so much effort into filling. “I put them away. I can show you, if you would like.”

“You’re just like the last collar,” Cordelia declares, voice dripping with annoyance. “She always insisted I wasn’t doing enough to ‘keep the space functional.'”

“Is that why she left?” Annette asks quietly. She hopes Cordelia isn’t so quick-tempered that a single mistake is enough to oust her. The perks of the space are plenty enough to accommodate her strangeness and Annette is eager not to lose them so quickly.

“Her contract ended,” Cordelia replies absently, scowling at the room around her. “It was a short one, only six months.”

“And the servant before her?”

“There wasn’t one.”

“I’m only the second?”

“And you’re here for six years, apparently,” she asserts, quickly adding, “Unless you prove yourself incompetant. This is a good step towards that, by the way.”

“Understood, Miss Jones.”

“How am I even supposed to find anything now, Annette?” She paces, glaring at the different stacks and rustling through Annette’s carefully organized piles.

“I tried to keep everything together,” she answers, stepping closer and pointing at various groups, “Each case should be mostly intact.”

“They were intact on the tables,” Cordelia grumbles. She picks up a book, flicking through a few pages before tossing it back onto the couch behind her. “How did you know they were cases?” She stands up quickly, eyes piercing into Annette.

“I just guessed, Miss Jones,” Annette answers, carefully and politely holding her hands behind her back. “There’s so many unusual things… I just assumed they were related to your detective work.”

“Some of them are,” Cordelia returns to rummaging through the shelves, ensuring everything is in order. “Some of them are.”

“I will refrain from touching them again,” Annette inclines her head.

“It’s fine,” Cordelia waves her concern away. “There’s only a few bits lost in the shuffle. Most of these are dead cases anyway.” She picks up a jar that seems to be filled with pickled olives, sniffing it and setting it back down.

“Your pantry could use restocking,” Annette says cautiously, hoping a topic change will help. “I would be happy to replenish it for you. Do you have a budget?”

“Just buy whatever Penny bought.”

“Penny?”

“The previous collar.”

Annette stifles a sigh. “I’m not sure what Penny bought. Most of it is used up at this point and she didn’t leave a list.”

Baker and Jones This work is deliberately a slow-burn romance. While I’m intending to have a variety of sex scenes throughout, I’m going to focus on building the relationship slowly and thoughtfully, with what I hope will be a satisfying resolution. In the spirit of Sherlock Holmes, I want this work to adequately involve the…

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