Author’s Note: Sometimes people are blind, sometimes they refuse to see what they don’t want to see, and sometimes they are just plain… wrong.
Break off your engagement. He killed his wife.
Grace stared at the telegram in her hand, wondering who had sent her such a thing. On the one hand, it confirmed what she feared, but it was unsigned. The person who had sent it offered her no proof, just their word, and she could not imagine what maliciousness had prompted such an act, but if it were true, how could she go through with this marriage that her parents expected of her—that everyone expected of her?
“Where are you, child? You know that you’re late, don’t you? Honestly, Grace, this close to your wedding, one must forgive your distraction, but you seem impossible to keep focused, even when we are dealing with your wedding. You have no idea how frustrating your behavior is.”
She did, though, since she heard little else in between the wedding plans and the usual gossip. She was the most ungrateful bride in the world, and with all her mother was doing to make this a wedding to rival all her sisters—its extravagance some sort of compensation for Grace’s lack of beauty and failure to live up to her name—she should be the happiest, most gracious child there ever was.
She looked down at the paper in her hand. He killed his wife.
Even if it was a lie, even if someone had done this out of spite, how could she go forward with a wedding, how could she bind herself forever to a man who had been accused of murder? She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. She didn’t know how she would tell her parents that, but this marriage could not and would not happen.
“There you are. We are late. We are supposed to be meeting Mrs. Thatcher—you should know better than to offend your future mother-in-law—before we go to the dressmaker, and then we must fix that terrible fitting on that dress you selected—how could you choose such a disaster? Were you trying to sabotage your own wedding?”
Grace sighed. She didn’t think the dress was a disaster—it was the one and only part of the wedding she’d had any say in, so of course her mother hated it. So did Mrs. Thatcher. Asking if her mother would rather marry Mr. Thatcher herself had almost undone the whole thing, and she rather wished it had. Perhaps if she was always that outspoken, she wouldn’t be in this position.
She wasn’t sure that she wanted to know what would have happened to her if she was more willful, though. She was not pretty, and to be ugly and willful was to be shipped off and abandoned—if not outright disinherited. “Mother, look at this.”
She lifted up the telegram and frowned as she read it over. “Grace, where did you get that?”
“It came with the this morning. I don’t know who sent it. Does that even matter? The marriage cannot happen.”
“Do not be absurd. The marriage is happening.”
She stared at the other woman, unable to understand what she was hearing. How could her mother ignore this? How could she act as though that accusation was not there, that it meant nothing? The man they wanted to marry her off to was a murderer. “Mother, I am not marrying him. Are you trying to get me killed?”
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
Ridiculous was being so set upon marrying off their spinster daughter that they ignored the fact that the man they’d picked was a monster. “So then why do I have to marry a killer?”
“He is not a killer. Someone is being cruel and attempting to sabotage this wedding—something I would suspect you yourself of doing at this point—but you are not going to do this, Grace. You will not ruin all the plans that we have made. You will not make your father waste the money we have put into this, and you will not shame your family.”
“I cannot see how marrying a man accused of murder is honorable.”
Her mother shook her head. “You are terrible. Mr. Thatcher is a widower who deserves your sympathy. He lost a wife he dearly loved, and he has never been the same. That is grief, child, not guilt, and you will not repeat those rumors again.”
“Not another word. I will make your excuses today, but you had better think of where you will be next week if you refuse this marriage. It will not, I assure you, be in the comfort of this home.”