Author’s Note: This was one of those moments that just had to happen.
“The party’s in the other room, you know.”
Grace jerked, startled, whirling to face the man who’d spoken, humiliated by being caught sneaking into Mr. Thatcher’s office. She didn’t know what possessed her to think that she could do this, but she should have known better. She was not skilled in subterfuge or even coquette. She could not do this. She should never have thought she could.
“Should be interesting, I would think. I heard they’re marrying off the son again. Can’t imagine how they managed that.”
She swallowed, trying to determine who this man was and what he was doing here—what he might do to her. She did not think he was a servant, his clothes were too fine for that, though he seemed to have scorned typical male fashion in keeping his face free of any hair at all, not even so much as a bit of a whisker. His hair seemed a bit loose and wild, and she rather thought him dangerous somehow, but then again, she could not forget where he’d found her and what she’d been hoping to find—proof that her fiance was not a murderer—so she might be exaggerating things.
Her parents did say she had a tendency to do that.
“Are… Are you a friend of the family, then?”
His lips twisted into a smile that seemed as dark as his eyes. “Not particularly. You?”
“I cannot claim to be.” That was honest, since she did not know either Mr. or Mrs. Thatcher well, and she didn’t know the man she was to marry at all. “My mother knows Mrs. Thatcher from some charity, I believe.”
“I see. So how did you manage to wander into private domain of the man of the house?”
She tried to think of a plausible lie, failed, and could not speak a word. She tried to move closer to the door, hoping that she would be able to make it without his intervention, return to the others, and forget her foolishness.
He rose from the chair that had concealed him when she first entered the room, folding his arms behind him as he stepped closer to her. “I’ve scared you, haven’t I? How many stories have you heard about the horrors of this house? About the wife that killed herself?”
“Did she kill herself?”
“Well, that’s the story, isn’t it?”
“I have heard that but also that her husband killed her, and I confess, I do not know what to think of any such rumor. I only know that this is very inappropriate. I do not belong here, I do not know you, and I should return to the others before I…”
“Before your absence is noted?”
She froze. He was far too perceptive, and she did not like it. She didn’t know what to do. She had done wrong in trespassing here, and she knew that. She would take such punishment as was necessary, but she still didn’t know who he was or if he had any authority to deal with her. He had not said who he was or if he was a part of the family, and she didn’t have the right to ask, but she thought she needed to know. She licked her lips, trying to find a way to speak.
“I won’t keep you. There was a reason why I sought solace in a room I thought no one would visit or think to search for me.”
She nodded, grabbing her skirts and fleeing the room. As soon as she was outside, she leaned against the wall, berating herself for her foolishness. Perhaps he was only a guest for the wedding, and she might never see him again, but she did not count herself so fortunate. She would find he was a part of the family she was to marry into, and she’d always be reminded of this humiliation.
“There you are, Grace. We were starting to worry about you.”
She looked up, twisting her lip in between her teeth. “Mother, I do not feel well. Mightn’t we go home? Please?”
“As soon as your father has finished,” her mother said, and Grace tried not to sigh. Of course her mother would not dare interrupt her father and the other men. She would have to wait and hope that no one learned of her ill-advised trip into the other room before she was able to escape this house.