Grace and a Historic Painting

So, periodically, when I am working on stories, I go looking for pictures to help inspire them or to help me formulate what a cover for them might be.

A few months back, writing Grace’s story, I went searching for historical pictures, and even though I know that the time period would be wrong if I kept the word suffragette in the text, I couldn’t help kind of falling in love with this piece.

It doesn’t help that it’s out of copyright, either. That meant it was one of few cover mockups I almost could use. Of course, I cropped it for the cover, using just the man in the chair and the woman behind the screen, since her nervousness fit with what was going through Grace’s head at times.

I like the painting as a whole, though, too.


I got it from wikipedia.

Here’s what I did with it, nothing fancy, not at all. Still, it makes a nice cover for the story on my phone.


Admirable Grace

Author’s Note: I’m told this isn’t an end (though it could be, in my opinion,) and just a pause.

Of course, I don’t think I know how to pick up after the pause…

Admirable Grace

“You seem quite peaked.” Gray did not like the look of her face, too pale, making her seem ill, and he was concerned for her, a feeling that he didn’t like. Why did he care? She was still a stranger to him, and he had done his best to make amends for his behavior, so that should excuse him from any sort of obligation to her, should spare them both the need to have any continued dealings with each other.

She held up the note he’d left in her yard. So she had seen it, had found it. Good. He’d hoped that she would, though he couldn’t be certain.

“Why did you leave this for me?”

“It is what it is,” he told her. She should recognize it as what it was. He’d made it quite clear. He did not want to go into this. “A warning.”

“’Do not trust my uncle.’”
She read and then shook her head, and he should feel more remorse for the conflict he saw there. He had done this to her. Still, he had not done it without reason. She needed that warning. She needed it more than she knew. “Why?”

Gray knew that he could spend hours listing the man’s faults and sins, but he did not want to take that time. He did not have it, nor did she, since she should not have come after him at all. Her parents would lock her away for this—if she got caught, that was. “He is evil.”

She closed her eyes, biting her lip. Her parents had no comprehension of the situation they’d placed her in, and he did not know that they would care if they did. Their attitude toward her was reprehensible. “Did he kill your wife?”

“Truthfully, I don’t know. He might have. They were… involved.” He saw the look of horror in Grace’s eyes, and he would like to take away some of that fear, but he did not know how he could, not when she was in potential jeopardy. “He takes a particularly sinister pleasure in seducing women I know, especially if they are… friends or more to me.”

“That is why you did not want to marry again?”

He had a list of those reasons, too, but he did not give them to her. They were not fit for discussion, and she was still too much a stranger to impart all those failings. “A part of the reason, yes. I have others. Still, I did not know that he was in town when we last spoke. He was supposed to be in Spain, but he’s here, and he seems… alarmingly interested in our possible nuptials.”

She put a hand to her head, pained. “I do not understand. What darkness is there in your family that could be so—”

“My uncle is only two years older than me. You needn’t think him some terrible old man with wicked stamina. He is a product of my grandfather’s fourth marriage—that devil ran through a great many wives, killing most of them in childbirth—and owing to that young lady’s considerable beauty is considered a rather handsome man who has had little trouble with his conquests. As we were near of age, we fell into a sort of role of… rivals. You see, my father is in charge of the family business, one that will pass to me with all its assets. I am quite well-positioned. When he dies, I shall be a rich man. My uncle, on the other hand, will be near penniless aside from what he has earned working for my father, and it is, I assure you, a pittance, since he earns the same income as I do.”


“Forgive me. It is vulgar to speak of money that way, and it is also improper to impugn my family’s honor in such a way, not that they have any.”

“You make so little sense, Mr. Thatcher.”

He laughed. “I find that comforting, though I know you cannot see it that way. Were I more direct, I suppose I might well have found my own end as my wife did or perhaps I should be locked away as mad. I am merely eccentric at this point, and most blame that on grief.”

“You are not grieved.”

“I am guilty—I should never have married her, and my neglect made her receptive to my uncle, and therein is enough reason for censure. I warn you that you might avoid falling into a similar position, even though you are not to become my wife.”

Grace blinked. “You have determined that, then?”

He frowned. “Did you decide otherwise? I had not thought you wanted the second option.”

“A part of me does not, but then I don’t know that I can take the other one, either. They are both fraught with potential disaster.”

“Very true.”

“You are a man of business. What sort of employment do you think I might possibly gain?”

“At best, given your current level of skills as I assume them to be… the position of a secretary, and that is not one to covet,” he told her, letting out a breath. “My uncle delights in hiring women for that office, then seducing them and leaving them ruined. I have heard of others doing the same. Perhaps you could be a salesgirl at a store? That might be somewhat of an improvement over working so closely with one man who might see you as his… right. There is being a maid or some other domestic position, but there are many who would take advantage of such a thing as well…”

“Marriage is not much of an improvement over that, either. It is the same deal without the benefit of an income.”

He nodded. “Yes, you are correct, and someday your sex will revolt against all these outrages. You, though, are not yet there. Perhaps… you could arrange for schooling. Take up the occupation of teacher or nurse. Those are considered fit and acceptable for women.”

“Women who cannot marry.”

“Who wants to be married? As you just stated, it signs away all your rights without giving you much in return. I think some people do it for the right reasons, but if all you have to suggest the idea is that you have no other choice, such a thing is doomed to failure. Lord knows my wife was miserable. Me? I was not happy. I was not there.”

Grace let out a breath. “The amount of money you said you could give me—is that enough to arrange for schooling?”

“No. Unfortunately, it is not. Tuition and board might cost you as much as three hundred fifty per term, and I can give you only five hundred at present. You’d run out soon enough and have very little to supply you with other… incidental expenses. It might be such a thing where I could find a way to pay your tuition each term—”

“Why would you do that?”


She shook her head. “I do not credit that much, though you have been trying to apologize. I do not think that you were all that concerned with my fate. You think you should be, so that is why you now attempt to aid me, but you do not care what becomes of me.”

“After I warned you about my uncle and offered you money and—”

“And could care less about what I want so long as you fulfill your responsibility somehow. You pack me off, never to see me again, and you would not be troubled by what might have come of me except on rare occasions when I might come into your thoughts, but then you could dismiss me as you have already done.”

He shook his head. “What do you want from me, then? Some admission that I am… madly in love with you when I do not know you? A pledge to be your friend forever and always? I thought you would be as glad to quit me as I would be you.”

“In some respects, yes, that would be for the best, but I cannot help being aware that whatever course I take now I shall isolate myself from all friends and family and can count on no one and nothing but me. You then, would be my only ally, only I would lose you as soon as I took that first step. Why could I not have been the son they wanted? This would be so much simpler if I was.”

“I am a poor friend and a lousy ally.”

“Save your excuses. I fear I must take your money, but then our business is done, and we will part company for good. I want nothing from you, as you want nothing from me.”

He stared at her back as she started walking away. How bold she’d gotten in so short a time. He could not help thinking there was something rather admirable in it, despite how she infuriated him. No, she’d rather made herself into a stronger person, one who could survive the unpleasant future she’d chosen for herself, and she would do so with more grace than she thought she had.

Back: Deliberation

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free


Author’s Note: Grace had a lot of thinking to do.


Grace sat in her room, watching the street below, the people passing by so free, unaware of the kind of prison that a home like this made. She knew that they didn’t see what she did, that they didn’t feel what she did. Most women would tell her she was fortunate. Even with the rumors about Mr. Thatcher, he was young and eligible, not the perfect portrait of manhood, no, but not so repulsive as to turn anyone’s stomach, and he had been rather kind, if not more than that, with all he’d done after she discovered who he was and why he’d done what he had to her. He seemed willing to take her traveling, but was that worth it?

She knew she had no hope of a better match—if it was to have happened, it would already have done so, when she was in the full bloom of youth, since her dowry was not enticement enough on its own. She was still not chosen, year after year, and with seven now gone, she should be grateful for even this disastrous offer. She’d thought she was, at first.

The more she learned of it, of course, the less she liked it. The rumors about his first wife’s death were reason enough to reject the idea, but then there was the fact that she had not so much as spoken to the man. When she added to that his lack of knowledge about the marriage—he’d not been consulted and did not want her—she could not help but think that this could only end in their ruin.

She was tempted, yes, she could let the ceremony go forward, take his second option, but that did not seem at all wise. She was not sure it was the better choice. True, this one meant that she would not have to worry about how she would support herself, she would not have to fear a life of dissolution and disease after living on the streets. She did not have to wonder if she could sustain other employment should she get it, nor be concerned with her mother’s conviction that a working woman was as loose as could be, that all men would see her that way and take advantage of that.

Marriage seemed the safer decision compared to those possibilities, but then she had to think about what happened to his first wife. She had to remember that she did not know or love the man. She would be making the decision only based on her need to feel secure. Some women did that and were happy enough, but if that was why her mother married her father…

Grace closed her eyes, letting out a breath. She was not her mother. Even if she did marry Mr. Thatcher, she would not become her mother simply because she had. She would keep herself from that bitterness. She had traveling, didn’t she? Even if she could not stand his company or he hers, they did not have to stay together as her parents had. She might be able to pick a city and stay there, never to come near her parents and this misery again.

She rather liked that idea.

She still didn’t know that it was worth marriage, though.

She frowned, suddenly aware of eyes upon her. She turned toward the window, eyes back on the street, shaking her head at the figure down by the gate. That coat—was that Mr. Thatcher? She supposed that it might just be, since they had not spoken privately before, and she had not yet given him a true answer, but she was not ready yet.

She could not make up her mind as to whether or not she should marry him.

Now, though, she was reminded of his kiss, of the strange feelings he’d stirred up with it, and she had tried not to let that affect her decision at all, but if he made her feel that way once, she did not know that she didn’t want to feel it again.

That was wrong. He didn’t love her. This would not be that sort of marriage. It was a trade—security and escape from her parents’ home—nothing more.

She saw him drop something in the yard, and then he walked away. She bit her lip, knowing she had to go get it, whatever it was. A part of her wanted him to take the decision out of her hands—let that be a note that said he didn’t want to marry her and would not go through with it—but then she did not. She needed to do this, needed to make this choice.

She would do it. She did not have long before the wedding, but she would not wait for that day to come to make the decision. She would have an answer.


Next: Admirable Grace

Back: Perhaps a Villain

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

An Unexpected Visit

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.

An Unexpected Visit

“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.

Next: Perhaps a Villain

Back: Alone, Again, with Mother

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

Alone, Again, with Mother

Author’s Note: I’m not really sure why Grace’s mom turned out so evil. She just sort of… decided she was.

Alone, Again, with Mother

Grace hid her bag back in her room, hoping that her mother had been so flustered by Thatcher’s announcement that she had not noticed that her daughter intended to flee. She wished he’d not swayed her by talk of taking the money. She did not understand him at all, and now that she hesitated, she was stuck. She could not escape now. She might not be able to make the same attempt that she’d almost made today, and if she did not, they’d expect a ceremony. If she did not marry, then she would be homeless.

She should just have gone when she had the chance.

“So, you had to meet him, did you?”

She turned back to her door, facing her mother with as much bravery as she could summon, though the thought of dropping at the other woman’s feet and begging for mercy did cross her mind. “It is not so unnatural a thing, is it? To want to know the man I am suppose to marry?”

“I do find it strange that you would seek him out when you seemed to fear him so much. You would not marry a man you thought was a killer, yet you would confront him about such a thing in person?”

“You said I had two choices—marriage or the streets. Faced with those options, why would it be so fearsome to ask the man for the truth? If I could judge that he was sincere in his grief or his denial, than I should be able to go forward with the marriage, shouldn’t I?”

Her mother studied her. “I do not know that I believe you are inclined toward proceeding with the wedding. I wonder at his bringing you home, and I wonder what schemes you may have concocted while you were in conference with him.”

Grace swallowed. “I made no schemes, nor was he that forthcoming with the answers to my questions. He said he was not there when his wife died, so that should be enough to reassure you that he is no danger to anyone. He behaved very oddly, and he confuses me.”

“All men are confusing. It is not our place to understand them, only to obey them.”

That thought made Grace’s stomach twist, and she hoped she would not vomit. Obey men. As though they were always right when they made no sense at all, and for her to contemplate a life of obedience to Mr. Thatcher, who was so mercurial as to change from one moment to the next, no, she could not do it.

“Goodness, child, are you pregnant? Is that why you would not go to your fitting today?”

Grace winced. “I might be nauseous, Mother, but I assure you that it is not possible for me to be ill in the way you fear.”

“Is it? You were alone with Mr. Thatcher today. I don’t know how many times you have left the house without my knowledge or consent, and you have protested this marriage enough to where I cannot help but wonder if there is some other man you hoped would present himself as an alternative to our plans.”

“There is no one. I objected because I do not know him and because I’d heard he might be a killer. I do not see why we must do this again.”

“If you have thrown away your last chance for marriage…” Her mother crossed over to her and placed her hands on Grace’s cheeks. “Look at me very carefully, child. I know you are not so foolish as to fail to understand your situation. You know what is at stake here. You know where you will be if you do not marry.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Then do not lie to me.”

“I am not lying. There is no one else.”

“Then you will marry Mr. Thatcher. No more arguments, no more games or protests. No nonsense. All that is to be put behind you. You will do what you must, as every woman does. Now put on your dress. We need to see if it fits.”

Next: An Unexpected Visit

Back: Not Quite Home

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

Not Quite Home

Author’s Note: Such interesting family dynamics…

Not Quite Home

“Grace! Where have you been? We were worried—we brought the dress to you since you were so uncooperative earlier—and the servants said you were gone. Gone, on the eve of your wedding, and if you were so foolish as to think you would run—”

“Mother, please,” she said, her cheeks red with humiliation. He’d not known many women who would start their tirades outside the home, lest they cause a scene or a scandal, and it seemed clear that his mother did not approve of her friends’ actions, but she would not intervene in the disciplining of another woman’s child.

Grace was not much of a child, though. She might not have been beautiful, but she was a full-grown woman with a woman’s body, a figure not quite what fashion demanded, but nevertheless very much an adult.
“I will not stand for such behavior. You will go inside, and we will discuss this later.”

He should not have encouraged her to wait for the money, he saw that now. “Oh, now, please, do not censure her on my account.”

His mother’s eyes widened in horror. “Graydon! What are you doing here?”

He could not help the smile. “Me? Oh, I know I seldom leave the comfort of my home, but I confess, there was plenty of enticement to do so today. After all, how could I resist finding out more about the young lady that so captivated you and Father that you arranged a marriage for us? You must want her for a daughter-in-law rather badly, and so how could I not wish to know of her?”

Grace gaped at him, and he smiled, knowing she was ill-prepared for a man like him. He confounded most of the people who knew him, and that was something he took a rather perverse pleasure in doing.

“Then… you and Grace have… come to an understanding?”

“Not quite, but we had some chance to speak, which is to be preferred in cases such as these. Now that I have seen one lady home, perhaps I should perform that duty for my mother? We should not be late for supper, after all.”

She winced, and he wondered if she felt humiliated by him, as she so often claimed she was. She preferred it when he was out of the country, as he did as well, and would almost be sure to accept, as she did her best to keep him out of the public eye, such a disgrace as he was to her.

“We have not yet made the adjustments to Grace’s dress,” her mother said. “If you could perhaps wait a few minutes longer, we shall have it done and then there will be one less thing to worry about before the ceremony.”

In fairness, he supposed they should have been told that there would be no ceremony, but he didn’t feel much like it—let them spend their money and have a disaster when she failed to show. He would laugh. Then they’d ship him off out of the country again and hope to have better timing with their next attempt.
Coming home early had spoiled all their plans, hadn’t it?

“Oh, but then I should very much like to see this dress, and I am afraid that’s not permitted, is it?”
Grace stared at him, her mouth opening as though she would speak, but she said nothing. She turned and fled into the house, and he shook his head, going to his mother’s side. “Come now. Let us be off. I think I have done enough damage here.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice cold. “I suspect you rather have, haven’t you?”

He wrapped her arm around his, patting her hand. “Now, Mother, you know I have done no worse to you than you attempted to do to me, and we are once more at a stalemate.”

She glared at him, saying nothing, and he smiled despite knowing he was in for a very unpleasant evening back at home.

Next: Alone, Again, with Mother

Back: Lacking Grace

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

Lacking Grace

Author’s Note: Just a bit of bonding between two unlikely allies.

Lacking Grace

“I suppose you’ll consider this… impertinent, but… how did your wife die?”

“You mean, did she kill herself or did I kill her?” The question was amusing. She should have asked that sooner rather than allow him to take her home or offer her anything, but then he did think he’d unsettled her plenty over the course of their limited interactions thus far. “I do not know the exact circumstances of her death. I was not here.”

“How can they say you killed her if you weren’t there when she died?”

“Rumors hardly need logic to thrive. Why should this situation be any different? Whether I was there or not, she is dead, she will not return, and there are some who would blame me for this fact. I do not know that I am… innocent as I am a man who travels often and paid little mind to her when I was home—indeed, the state of my first marriage was quite as I described it to you when I offered that as an option.”

“You didn’t love her?”

“I married because I was duty-bound to do so, because I was at risk of losing all my parents provided for me if I refused. It is a man’s prerogative to make his way in the world, but when I was younger, I was a coward. I feared being without the trappings of the things I was raised with. Now that I am older and a great deal bitterer, I don’t have the same fear of losing them. She was the one they liked, I knew her some, and I let it happen. I suppose that is enough, isn’t it? She could not have been happy when she was with me, and so if she did decide to end her life, it was partially my fault.”

“I think you must still be a coward if you resort to making the woman break off the engagement.”

He laughed. “Indeed, I think you are correct. How perceptive of you.”

“I doubt that. You are not at all easy to understand, Mr. Thatcher.”

He grimaced. “Mr. Thatcher is my father. Though… In fairness, I could hardly expect you to use the sort of ‘intimate’ nickname that my associates use. That is too forward and too improper.”

“Were I truly your fiancée I could use it, could I not?”

“Ah, but you are not my fiancée, now are you? You are the unfortunate victim of circumstances which have forced our acquaintance, but you would not wish yourself in that role, nor would I ask it of you. That is for the best, isn’t it?”

She bit her lip, and he frowned, wondering why the gesture seemed so charming on her when it was something to be scorned. Hesitation was for those who did not have the courage to act upon their true impulses, and what they did proved false to all concerned, all in some pointless exercise of etiquette or good manners. “I suppose you would find my name quite… ill-suited to me.”

“You believe you lack grace?”

“I am no beauty.”

“What has beauty to do with grace? Grace is a quality of movement but also of some intangible inner part of your being. You are either graceful or you are not, and it matters little if you are pretty. The most graceful person I know is a dwarf. He doesn’t stand higher than my hip, and he is rather rotund as well, with a face pock-marked with scars, but if you see him in action, you cannot help but be impressed by his agility and yes, his grace. He is a very talented man.”

She frowned at him, and he smiled. “It is quite true. As is the fact that I lack grace.”

“That is a bit foolish to say when you have me beside you.”

He laughed. “True, to a point. In my physical person and my manners, though, I am rather lacking in that quality, I assure you.”

She studied him as they walked. “You are quick to belittle yourself, aren’t you?”

“A favorite past time of mine, I must confess.”

“That is absurd.”

“Not for me.”

Next: Not Quite Home

Back: Two Options

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

Two Options

Author’s Note: Well, he needed to apologize, at least.

Two Options

“I should consider myself fortunate that you chose such a unique color for your attire, else I suppose I might never have found you in this crowd.”

Grace blinked, almost losing her grip on her bag as she stared at the younger Mr. Thatcher, his appearance in greater disarray than it had been during their first encounter, though it seemed to fit with the tone of his voice, a bit out of breath as though perhaps he’d been running. She frowned. “Sir, if you have come to insult me further, I would beg you not to. You have done enough already.”

He let out a breath, reaching up to smooth back his hair, almost making it orderly for the briefest of moments. “Right. I know, I have made quite a mess of things, and that is owing to my poor disposition of late—ever since my wife died, I have found things rather intolerable whether it is the rumors or the attempts to match-make me or the unpleasantness of my father’s business interests, and it was not only ungentlemanly of me to act as I did, it was rather unforgivable to put you in the position that I did. You have done nothing to merit such censure, and I must apologize for it.”

“That is all very well, and I suppose it is to your credit that you came to such awareness and so soon, but I do not have time to—”

“I have two options which I feel you must hear before you board any trains. As your family seems intent upon a course of folly—I can think of no better way of describing the very idea of an alliance with my family—your refusal means your disinheritance, yes?”

She nodded. “I was given to understand that I would no longer be welcome in my father’s home if I didn’t go through with the wedding.”

He grimaced. “That is cruel. An effective threat, to be sure, but cruel nonetheless. I have not had much time to think these options through, and I admit, I can see little advantage in either, but I would be a complete cad if I did not offer them to you. The first is that you allow me to provide some small measure of compensation for my actions. The unfortunate drawback to this is that my fortunes are entirely dependent upon my father, and I have little income of my own to dispose of, therefore the sum would not be great, and it would not last you long, nor keep you in the sort of comfort to which you are accustomed.”

She shook her head. “I do not think—”

“The other option, of course, is less palatable. We proceed with this… wedding that they’ve arranged for us. That would provide you with a very similar standard of living, a house to run as you see fit, and you needn’t worry about being under any… um… that is to say, wifely obligation to me, for I would not expect that of you nor would I even be present enough to concern you.”

This time, Grace did drop her bag. “Good heavens, are you actually proposing to me? After what you did?”

He bent down to retrieve her luggage, giving it a frown. “I suppose you could consider it that, yes, and it does fit the general definition of the word, but I did not—I only offer it as a choice that is available to you as an alternative to the streets. That is not a fate I should wish on anyone—not a workhouse or anything of the sort, either. Even a position in a well-respected business can be… less than ideal for a woman, though I don’t know if you comprehend my meaning—”

“Mother says women who are interested in business are unnatural and deserve the treatment they get. I do not… I cannot think that is right, but I do believe I know what you mean. An employed woman is assumed to be one of loose morals and therefore… Well, that is enough said on that matter.”

He nodded. “Yes. Definitely. Considering that fate or worse, I do not envy you your choice, and I am afraid I didn’t have time to procure the funds should you want the lump sum to sustain yourself. I can get it, however, it will have to wait until Monday since the banks are not open.”

She sighed. “I do not want to take anything from you, yet… I am not so impractical as to think that I can do all I must on what little I have as allowance. I do not even know that my cousins would shelter me for so much as a night. I must… consider it.”

“I thought you might. If you will permit me, I will escort you home, and you may give me your decision by Monday. I will, of course, purchase the ticket if you choose to go, to make up for you having to forgo the trip you planned for today.”

“That is… generous, thank you.”

“Hardly. One thing you’d know about me if you knew me at all is that I am not a generous sort, nor am I at all thoughtful or anything like it. I am… reprehensible at best.”

She looked at him, uncertain why his words made her want to smile, but she accepted the arm he offered her, letting him lead her out of the train station.

Next: Lacking Grace

Back: Well-Deserved Censure

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

Well-Deserved Censure

Author’s Note: So… When I get a name for this story and a better idea of it, I’ll move it into its own serial section on the site. As it is, all I’ve got is Grace, and that’s not enough. 🙂

Well-Deserved Censure

Though her mother’s words terrified her—the idea of living on her own, earning some kind of income without skill or talent and feeling as though her only option was the streets—Grace could not persuade herself to go through with this marriage. She was not suicidal. She was not killing herself, not in a river and not by marrying a killer. She had written a letter to Mr. Thatcher explaining her refusal, and she would soon deliver it. After that, she would act upon the faint hope that her distant cousins had not yet heard of the impending marriage. She might be able to prevail upon them for a short bit of hospitality until she found employment of some sort. If she was only a better seamstress…

“I didn’t realize that they had women delivering telegrams these days.”

She looked down at the paper crumpled in her hand, its distinctive coloring betraying what it was. “No. I don’t believe they do.”

His tone remained amused, and she supposed he would be, after catching her yet again. “Then you intend to deliver mail instead?”

She opened her mouth, hesitated, and shut it again. Who was this man who kept appearing when she was set upon some course of folly? She did not know why he managed to find her, why she could not escape his notice, but she did feel like running, if only she could.

“The Thatchers are out, of course, but they do not have to be present to receive a letter. That is half the point, isn’t it?”

She’d intended to deliver the letter to the Thatcher servants and leave town, taking the next train to her cousins, but how could he know that? He couldn’t. This was absurd. He didn’t know that, and she did not have to speak to him. She should go. That was the best—indeed, the only—course of action for her to take.

“You failed to mention that you were the one they picked to marry the son.”

“You failed to mention anything of yourself at all, sir, so why should I have spoken of it? Would you have told me the truth of the rumors if I had? Would you have revealed who you are?”

“I might have.”

She let out a breath, aware that her time was limited. Her mother would return home soon, and Grace had not brought her luggage with her. She had to retrieve it before she went to the train station. “This is for Mr. Thatcher. If you could see that he gets it—how did you know I am his fiancée?”

The man smiled. “I’ll take my letter, please.”

“Your letter?”

He nodded. “Unless, of course, you addressed it to my father.”

She stared at him. “You’re… you’re…”

“Your fiancé?” He finished for her, another mocking smile on his face. “Well, I was, I suppose, but since I assume your letter dissolves the arrangement, I am no longer.”

She looked down at the telegram. “You sent this?”

“I have no interest in marrying again. It was rather a shock to return early and discover all that had been arranged in my absence.”

“You would blacken your own character to avoid a wedding? Why? You have the freedom to refuse. I do not. My parents would disinherit me for this, and you, who has the ability to say no without repercussions, you would put that burden on me? You would let me think I was to wed a monster? Oh, assuredly, I believe I almost did if you can be so heartless.”

“Why would anyone want to marry me? The rumors say I killed my wife, one way or another. Why should I care what happens to anyone in a family whose perception has become so twisted as to overlook that?”

“Because not all of us overlooked it, and not all of us are free to scorn others as you have. I am already humiliated enough as a plain spinster, but to have such a marriage arranged and to be treated this way…” Grace bit her lip, hoping she would not cry. “I think you have no comprehension at all of what it is to be a woman in society, and I do not think that you have any sympathy in you. I have no skills or enticements. I am dependent upon my parents, and without them, I have no income and no basis for employment, not even as a governess. Thank you for reducing my circumstances further. Excuse me. I have a train I must catch.”

She turned and walked away, trying to keep her head high and not give into the tears, the humiliation that stung even more than her last encounter with that horrible man, telling herself that sh would manage somehow, that she would survive even without her parents’ money and support.

She did not know how, but she would. She had to.

Next: Two Options

Back: A Telegram, A Warning

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

A Telegram, a Warning

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.

A Telegram, A Warning

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.”

Next: Well-Deserved Censure

Back: Caught

Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free