Author’s Note: I could have posted four new scenes of this today, too, since that’s where I was when I looked at the Three Word Wednesday list, but I thought about it some, and there were a few places where the words could fit, so I snuck them in. 🙂
The words, of course, being pale, naughty, and douse.
“Miss, you have a visitor.”
Grace blinked, looking up from her book. She’d been doing her best to distract herself from the situation she found herself in, from the hours creeping by until Monday arrived, ever aware of her mother’s watchful eye. She must know that Grace planned to leave, and she had not given her even the slightest bit of an opportunity. Running was not possible. She wanted to run, needed to run, but she couldn’t. She didn’t know what to do.
Waiting until Monday had been a mistake.
“Show her in, please.”
The maid bobbed her head, rushing out, and Grace set aside her book, rising to meet her guest. Her mother looked at her, and she bit her lip. She was not expecting anyone—her friends had all married and moved away years ago, and though she got letters from time, she knew none of them planned to attend the wedding.
The door opened, and she frowned. “Mr. Thatcher?”
He bowed his head to her. “I believe we have… an appointment.”
The bank. He had come to give her the money, then, but she would not be able to go. Her mother would never permit that. They could not go anywhere without a chaperone. “I did not know that you were… sincere about that. I don’t think we can—that is to say, we have no one to… Well…”
“Ah, I see the difficulty. Your mother is unavailable to chaperone us through the park. A pity. Is it trouble walking? I could sit and talk with you instead, if that is the case. I simply feel some conversation is important, given what has been arranged.”
“As do I,” Grace said, her eyes going toward her mother. The other woman did not respond. Her lips were pressed into a tight, pale line, but she did not object to to Thatcher’s presence. Grace gestured to the chair, inviting him to sit, trying to think of some subject that might allow them to speak of things that they must without her mother knowing. “I heard that you traveled extensively, and I find I am most curious about it.”
He smiled as he sat down, rather too close to her, but he seemed to enjoy discomforting people, so she should not be surprised. “Oh, there is a great advantage to coming and going almost as one pleases. I find it most rewarding.”
She nodded. “You have seen a great many places?”
“Yes, and each of them have their own enticements—their own drawbacks, too—though I confess, of late, all of them seem more appealing than my home.”
“I think I understand that.”
“Do you?” He leaned over toward her, his eyes dark and almost too intense to bear. She knew they were speaking of things that they were not saying—she’d tried her best to convey that she did not think she could leave as much as she wanted to do so, desperately, and he seemed to be telling her a great deal about his life at home. “My late wife was not one for travel. I suppose it’s a bit much to assume that all women would feel as she did, but you… would like to see other places?”
Grace looked at her hands, not sure how to respond. “I have seen nothing of the world.”
“Ah, and I have just been to New York. Strange city, that, and I fear as it ages it will only become more so,” Thatcher said, leaning his head against his hand, propped up against the back of the seat. “I find each new place intriguing. One could live there for years and never know the truth of them.”
“Is that what you seek in them?”
“Oh, I am there for business, of course, and one must conclude that, but then once the working day is done, there are things to see and people to meet and worlds to open up. I find the strangest things appealing, I must say.”
“They said nothing of any kind of… travel, but I must assume that you would depart again shortly, since you are said never to be in town for long.”
His lips curved, a wicked smile overtaking his face. She thought he must have been a rather naughty child, that in some ways he still was one. “I would, yes, but should you decide to accompany me, I would not oppose it.”
She frowned. Once again, he seemed to be renewing the proposal, but she knew he did not want her—or anyone—for a wife. She did think, just for a moment, that if she went with him, she could well and truly get lost, start in a new city, but that required her to marry him, and to part from him after that was not right, not done, and she could not take those vows only to make a lie of them. “I do not know that you’d want a wife with you on your travels. Would it not be an inconvenience?”
“Do you have a large trousseau?”
“Then it should not be too hard to move you about. Children, I think would be a great deal more difficult, but since that is not an issue, it could be done.”
Heaven help her, marrying him sounded like something she wanted. She could see things she’d never have a chance to know, and then she would not be forced into some role as her mother was, the cruel mistress of her father’s house, unyielding and unbending, dealing out such punishments as he saw fit, abusing what power she had. Grace could be something other than a woman who lived her life out in some house, still as ignorant as the day she married.
“You like this idea, don’t you?”
“It is… tempting.”
“Well, I did say there were two options.”
“You called the second one unpalatable.”
“True, though I suppose it might be made somewhat more tolerable by mutual agreement and partnership as opposed to relegation to separate quarters. What do you think?”
She did not know what to think. She glanced toward her mother, who had been watching them all this time. She had not spoken, but then she could not object to anything that had been said, could she? Perhaps the way he kept looking at Grace, but she thought that a symptom of his nature, a part of who he was, nothing more.
“I think that I shall not manage option one.” She did not want to say it, but her mother would not cease her surveillance, and she could not leave. She could not accept his money—there would be no getting to the train, not until after the wedding, and by then her cousins would not be an option. How much money could he spare? Would it be enough to see her to a new location and some kind of employment?
“That is what you want?”
“I… It seemed the preferred option.”
“It still can be, albeit with more scandal and upset than before.”
Her mother sat up, and Grace shook her head, knowing he’d been too open with what he said. Now her mother would distrust all of this conversation. She’d make him leave. “I do not think anyone should like scandal.”
“Oh, I think it makes life a bit interesting, though that’s because I live in the shadow of one and must adapt to it. At least that is not the true dark secret of my existence.”
She was starting to wonder if she had a comprehension of what was his dark secret, and that worried her a great deal. “The reason you are reluctant to marry again…”
He leaned forward, his hand sweeping up to her face before she realized his intention, and then his lips were pressed against hers in a way that made her lightheaded. She’d never been kissed before, so she knew of nothing to judge it by, but he seemed to put all that intensity he possessed into it, leaving her weak and more confused than ever.
“It’s not that at all,” he said, his voice so quiet that she almost thought she’d imagined it. His thumb brushed her cheek, and then he sat back, fidgeting a bit before he rose. “Well, I fear I’ve been a bit too… improper. Forgive me. I shall take my leave.”
Grace was too stunned to say anything as he did. He had doused that flame as though it were nothing at all, and perhaps to him, it was. She stared after him, shaking her head. “I don’t understand. He… Why would he do that?”
Her mother snorted, but she offered no reason for the man’s strange behavior, leaving Grace to sort out her jumbled feelings on her own, wishing she understood any part of them.