Charlotte Ashcroft knows her family would never approve of her attending a women’s rights speech in New York City alone. So when a busybody from back home confronts Charlotte, she grabs the man in a jaunty blue hat nearby and introduces him as her escort.
George Fitzpatrick had boarded the new omnibus intent on nothing more than a ride from one point to another. Until that gorgeous young blonde suddenly claimed he was her chaperone. What’s an up-and-coming young banker to do but help a lady out?
Charlotte knows exactly what she wants, but can she convince a man who is her opposite that he can’t live without her?
Charlotte herded her charges—Emma and Katie—onto the large omnibus, which was basically an oversized carriage with room for about twenty hardy souls inside. For a lesser fare, a seat on the top of the bus, open to the elements, could be had. Regardless of the price, no ladies ever rode out in the open. Charlotte stopped and glanced up at the men seated on the top. One young man in particular caught her eye as he tipped his bowler hat to her.
“Shall we join the merry men on the top of the bus?” she asked her friends half-jokingly. She would appreciate getting a closer look at the nice gentleman with the jaunty, blue hat that sported a small feather at the brim. And all the men sitting on top of the bus seemed to be having fun, unlike those stuffed like sardines inside the conveyance.
Emma and Katie squealed unhappily at the idea. With a shrug of her shoulders, Charlotte nodded her head and smiled at the young man before she joined her more timid friends inside the bus. An assortment of men and women were crammed into the seats, and the four horses attached to the bus strained under the load. Soon, they were underway down Broadway to lower Manhattan.
Many stops later, Charlotte and her friends arrived at their destination. As she exited the omnibus, Charlotte cast a glance to the top, searching for the young man who had caught her eye earlier. He was no longer there. She sighed softly. They were ships passing in the night. In a city the size of New York, the chances of running into one person again were slim. He would become merely a fragment of a memory of the day she’d spent listening to one of the premier advocates for women’s equality and being slightly scandalous herself. With a smile on her face, she planted herself between her friends, taking their arms.
“Let’s move on to the second part of our big adventure, shall we, and hear what Fanny Wright has to say to us. The omnibus ride was fun, don’t you think?”
Emma laughed out loud. “Which part? The smelly man next to me or the young man who pinched my bottom?”
“How about you, Katie?” Perhaps Charlotte had been too lost in thought about the man above her to pay close attention to what was going on around her.
“There was one young man sitting next to me who seemed to take quite a shine to me. He’s a blacksmith. His arms and shoulders were enormous! His name is Carrick McCray, and I told him I’d be taking a stroll with you ladies in the park tomorrow afternoon, if he were so inclined to join us.”
“See what an exciting day it’s been already? And we’ve yet to hear Fanny.”
“Charlotte? Is that you?”
Charlotte cringed inside her Sunday best, lavender dress. She knew that voice. Accepting her fate, she turned to face the old busybody.
“Well, hello there, Mrs. Beasley. How are you this fine Sunday afternoon? Are you also planning to attend Frances Wright’s speech?”
Mrs. Beasley’s spine straightened at the suggestion, and her gaze pierced Charlotte. “Heavens, no. I have no wish to fill my head with such nonsense. Where is your mother? I should say hello.”
“Mother’s not with us today. We took the omnibus to get here.”
“What? Without a male escort? Is your mother aware of what you’re doing, young lady?”
Charlotte glanced around the street where they had been dropped off. Suddenly, she spied a familiar hat in the crowd. A blue hat with a feather tucked into the grosgrain ribbon. Her heart began to race as he came toward her.
“Ah, but we do have a proper male escort.” She wrapped her hand around the man’s arm, bringing him, if somewhat reluctantly, to her side. “This is our chaperone, Mrs. Beasley.” Charlotte turned her eyes toward the man and held her breath, silently pleading with him to catch on to her plight.
He executed a proper bow toward Mrs. Beasley, and Charlotte let out her breath a bit at a time. “George Fitzpatrick, at your service, Mrs. Beasley.”