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

Perhaps a Villain

Author’s Note: Ah, the complications of family.

Perhaps a Villain

“Is that you, Graydon?”

“If I said it wasn’t, would that make you go away?”


“Didn’t think so.” He didn’t look up as the other man sat down, not wanting this lecture any more than he wanted one from his parents. He knew what was coming, never seemed to avoid this sort of thing when he was home, and even sometimes being abroad was no escape from whatever censure everyone felt was due.
Of course, from this particular source, they rankled him more than from the others. Someone should have stopped his grandfather from marrying again to a woman so much younger than him, one still capable of bearing children. It was rather unpleasant having an uncle that was only two years older than him—all the more so because the man insisted on acting as though he had the rights of any uncle the same age as his parents to lecture and condemn, as though he had raised children of his own or had the wisdom of experience and many more years in this world.

“I hear unfortunate rumors about you.”

“About my wife’s death?” Gray shook his head, not willing to give any further time to that nonsense again. He was tired of it, even though it had some advantages. Many people went out of their way to avoid him because of those accusations. “That is nothing new. That has been going on for almost three years now, so you needn’t trouble yourself with them. I didn’t have anything to do with her death. I wasn’t even here.”

“That’s a lie.”

He stiffened. “Excuse me? Who are you to call me a liar?”

“Come now. I know you better than that. You can fool others if you like—your parents and that family you duped into giving you another bride, even the simpleton herself—but you will not play games with me. I have known you too long and too well for that.”

“If anyone here killed Harriet, it was you, not me.”

“What would make you say that?”

“Please. As if I didn’t know of your affair with her. Do not continue the farce. We are not and have never been friends. What is it you want? To threaten me? Or her? If I marry her, will you make sure that she has some sort of accident like the one that Harriet did? Is that why you’ve come, Uncle? If that is the case, I do wish you’d take it up with Father, as he is the one who arranged the whole affair. Had I not come home a week earlier than planned, I would have walked in the door to my own wedding.”

“I have no need to threaten anyone.”

Gray glared at him. “I think you should go. I only sat down to have a moment to think. It is rather stifling at the house, as you must know, and I would rid myself of this entanglement if I knew a good way to do it.”

“Would you like help?”

“What do you intend? Seducing her before the wedding and letting that compromise be known so as to ruin her and all their schemes? I do not want your help.”

“Why must you always assume that I would resort to such tactics, that I can only have one thing in mind if I am to act? First an affair with your late wife, now an intention to seduce your fiancée… Shame on you, nephew. Not everything is about carnal pleasures.”

“Interesting. That is not the impression you’ve cultivated since you were old enough to do something about how pretty the maids were.”

His uncle laughed. “You are quite amusing sometimes. Still jealous, after all these years. You were too young to play with the lovely Lily, no matter how she giggled at your attempts to befriend her and thought your admiration was so adorable for such a child.”

“Why are you here? You’re supposed to be in Spain.”

“You know how I dislike places where I cannot speak the language.”

Gray shook his head. His uncle was impossible. He rose. “You’re an ignorant fool, and I have suffered your presence for long enough. I am going. Do not follow me.”

“Oh, fine, I suppose we’ve wasted enough time in ‘pleasantries.’ Your favorite client wants to see you. You know he only likes doing business with you—not your father, not me—and so you’d better go pacify him before he gets it in his head to take his money elsewhere.”

“Which favorite client is this?”

“Masterson,” his uncle said with a smile, enjoying his discomfort. Masterson was by far the most demanding and infuriating man they had dealings with, ill-tempered and prone to fits such as belonged to a child, but for some reason, he always wanted Gray to handle what was wrong. “Don’t keep him waiting now. You know he hates that.”

“And you know I hate you, right? Good.”

Next: Deliberation

Back: An Unexpected Visit

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

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