"How long do you expect it will take to assemble your team?" she asked.
"A month, I think." At her grandmother's raised eyebrows, she hurried to add, "Less perhaps. Will there be a specific budget?"
"Can we put a price on such an endeavor?" Granny shook her head. "We cannot. You may have whatever you need."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"We do prefer Granny," she said with a smile. "Now tell me the latest news. Has your sister finally determined which of her beaus she wishes to ask permission to wed?"
A half hour later, as Annie left the palace, she couldn't stop smiling. First she would pay a visit to her former mentor, Simon Kent, at the Metropolitan Police Headquarters. He would be the initial member of her team, if he agreed.
The second member of her team would take a little longer to reach. But she would not attempt to do this without him.
Whether Isaiah Joplin would be willing to help was a question that could not be answered with a telegram or letter. For that conversation, Annie would have to speak to him in person.
Not easily done, though she expected the trip to Austin, Texas, would be less taxing than trying to convince the most frustrating man she had ever met to listen to what she had to say.
One month later
The last person Ike Joplin expected to walk into his law office on the first decently sunny day in almost a month was former Pinkerton detective Alice Anne Walters. Or as he had discovered through his own means, Special Constable Alice Anne von Wettin of the Criminal Investigation Department of the London Metropolitan Police, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a royal of some sort herself.
It was as if the March clouds had parted as she stepped inside. But he'd welcome the rain and all the mud and trouble it brought over this infuriating female any day.
Never a man to miss out on a lesson learned the hard way, he faced her head-on. "I'd ask what you're doing here, Annie, but I figure you're going to tell me anyway. Get on with it."
"It is wonderful to see you again as well, Isaiah."
With her sharp blue eyes and that way she had of inspecting everything around her without allowing anyone to know whether she was paying any attention or not, the Englishwoman had been a formidable opponent and a valuable asset in an investigation that had, unfortunately, not ended well. But that was nearly three years ago.
Time and good sense had intervened since then. Ike had exchanged the man he used to be—a Pinkerton detective with a talent for finding trouble—for a much improved version, or so he hoped. He'd left the Pinkertons to open a law office in Austin, and just recently he'd begun courting a senator's daughter.
The reason he'd left that world behind was standing in front of him. And heaven help him, as he sat behind a desk filled with legal work that needed his attention, Ike was actually curious as to what she might want.