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. 🙂
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.”
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.