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

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Beginning: Dreams Were All They Gave for Free

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