T.G.E, Chapter 6

Welcome, readers! So here we go, continuing with “The Grace Emancipation.” I’ll try to update at least once a week if I can. Thanks so much for sticking with this story. The Muse and I thank you. 🙂

BTW, if you want to refresh your memory by reading the first five chapters, just go to the menu on the main page and click on the tab for The Grace Emancipation preview.

Keep in mind that this is a WIP, so you might find an occasional error that slipped by me. I apologize in advance.  🙂

*****

She felt the sun shining against her closed eyelids. A warm and tender feeling blossomed within her, and she opened her eyes, smiling for a moment.

Until she saw the face at the window.

God, no! she tried to scream out. But her fearful cry came out as barely a whisper – the desperate sound trapped within her, futile in its effort to escape. There was no escape, for even as she crawled backwards in her seat, the callused hands were clenched and reaching out for her. His amber eyes were burning with a furious light – a destructive, evil light of intent.

She awoke with a start, gasping.

The sun was indeed shining. But outside the window, beyond the smiling sky and the quickly passing landscape, there was no face besides her own reflected in the glass. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.

I am far away now, she thought. So far away. Too far to be found.

Slowly, she opened her eyes – fearful, in a small way, of opening them and seeing the images outside of the window changed to things familiar. But looking now, she saw no clusters of deep dark woods. There were no torn and jagged mountainside landscapes. All was flat and wide open farmland – and it was beautiful.

The green and gold of the cornfields seemed to go on forever, reaching out toward a vast expanse of blue horizon. The land was only broken here and there by a bright red barn or a pretty white farmhouse.

“Good morning, Miss Gracie.”

She turned, seeing the porter. And she smiled at him.

“Good morning, Martin.”

He smiled back, and surprised her when he placed a tray across her lap. Looking down at it in confusion, she wondered at the bowl sitting there with a spoon beside it, along with a glass of milk and a small cardboard box.

“What is this?” she asked. And he replied with a shrug.

“I thought you might like some breakfast.”

Staring at the empty bowl, she felt like a fool for not understanding. Picking up the box, she put it near her ear and shook it. She could feel Martin’s eyes on her, examining her. But she could sense that he would be kind, as he had been since she’d first met him.

“Let me take care of that.”

He took the box from her, and she watched with curiosity as he opened it and filled the bowl with the contents – little golden flakes that made a wonderful sound as they fell. Martin wore a tiny grin as he poured some of the milk over the cereal.

“Kellogg’s Corn flakes won its favor through its flavor. The favorite cereal in millions of home. The original has this signature.”

She looked at him in slight confusion, but he just smiled and walked away. It was then that she looked at the box for the first time, reading it – and she smiled as she realized he had recited exactly what was printed there.

She sighed, shaking her head as she chastised herself for her ignorance.

“Oh, what little you know, girl. So very little.”

For a moment, she felt so foolish. But then a different feeling came over her, and she sat up a little bit straighter – a determined look in her features.

“This is where you are,” she said out loud, picking up her spoon. “Go with it, and don’t ask questions.”

The cereal was crunchy and sweet – deliciously different than any breakfast she’d had before. And as she ate, she thought of Jack and Alice.

What were they doing at this very moment? Maybe they were eating cereal like this – enjoying a peaceful morning, just like this. But she could almost bet they weren’t feeling all that she felt as the train sped along. Staring out the window, she watched the wonder of the world flying by.

Jack had once described all of this to her in a letter. But until now, she’d never been able to really picture it. As the hours went by, she marveled at the changes.  Open farmland gave way to small towns, which soon became larger towns – the trees and greenery shrinking to make way for more buildings and homes. There were other changes around her – ones that she didn’t really notice at first. The number of passengers around her were growing with each stop. It wasn’t until she found herself in the close company of strangers that she finally noticed it. Between them and the quickly changing landscape outside, there was a strange but exciting tension in the air. Outside the window, the buildings had grown so tall in the air that they cast a shadow over the train itself, and to see the rooftops she was forced to press her face against the glass and look up.

Good heavens, she thought. They really do scrape the sky. Just like Jack said.

Suddenly, the train was thrown into darkness, and she let out a cry of surprise, covering her face. The gentleman sitting next to her let down the edge of the newspaper he’d been reading.

“Are you all right, miss?”

Removing her hands, she saw that the light had returned the car – only it was dimmer now. Her face flushed with embarrassment. But the gentleman passenger was kind in his words.

“Don’t be scared, miss. It’s just the tunnel into the station.”

There came a crying of the brakes. As the train slowed to a crawl, and then to a complete stop, Martin called out.

“Chicago, Union Station!”

Her heart did a summersault.

This is the end of the line, she thought. I have arrived.

Suddenly, she was afraid to get out. The car had become a comfort of sorts – secure, in its way. It had kept the unfamiliar world out, for a time. But now she had to go and face it.

Martin appeared in the aisle beside her. Taking her bag from the overhead bin, he held it out to her.

“Don’t be scared, Miss Gracie. It’s a big city, but you’ll do just fine.”

Rising slowly, she reached out to take the bag with one hand – and with her other hand, she reached out to him. They shook hands in a warm greeting.

“Thank you, Martin. You’ve been so sweet to me.”

In his kind and gentlemanly way, he tipped his hat to her.

“I’m just doing my duty, Miss. Good luck to you.”

She watched him move away, helping other passengers, and she felt a slight sense of dismay at the loss. She was on her own now – entirely on her own, at least until she found her way to Jack and Alice. And the moment she stepped down from the train to the platform, the full force of realization hit her.

Good heavens, she thought. What have I gotten myself into?

The room was cavernous and noisy – half-filled with shadows and half with a soft white light. The light was coming from above, through a frosted glass ceiling, and she stood staring up at it – a strangely beautiful work of art in a room filled with smoke and the noise of travel. She was forced to turn her eyes from it as the passengers around her wordlessly told her she was holding back the flow of traffic.

Lord, there were so many people to see! Everywhere there were moving bodies, more people in one place than she’d ever seen in her life, all moving to and fro. And what strange, fascinating people they were to watch.

The gentleman were dashing, some wearing banded straw hats – others with handsome fedoras. Their clothing looked like the kind she’d only seen on Sunday mornings. There were no overalls or tattered shirts here. The men wore neat looking slacks and fine button up shirts, some covered with thin vests and others with suspenders. How tidy the gentlemen were – most of them clean shaven, though some of them had a small mustache. But not one of them had a scraggly face.

Even their shoes – not mud-encrusted boots, but fine leather loafers – were perfect, and she could see why. Nearby, there was a boy kneeling down with a rag in his hand, buffing the extended foot of a man reading a newspaper. She smiled in wonderment.

No wonder their shoes shine so brightly, she thought. She’d never seen anything like it.

If the men were incredible to her amazed eyes, the ladies were even more so. From head to toe, the women were like a flock of brightly feathered birds…so elegant, so colorful. They seemed to preen for all who might be watching. Some had cute little rounded hats that came down low over their foreheads. Other hats were wide-brimmed and decorated with ribbons or feathers. The dresses were of the brightest colors and loveliest fabrics, many of the collars trimmed with fur or beads. Nearly every female neck was festooned with a long strand of pearls, most of which hung down to the waist. The ladies clomped by in thick-heeled, buckled shoes of various colors, but it was their bare knees that stunned her the most. In all of her life she’d never seen such high hemlines, falling just above the knee itself and exposing a scandalous amount of stocking clad leg.

She thought to herself…

If Mama and those old biddies at church could see this, they’d fall plum on their faces with shock and shame. And on that thought, she smiled again, thinking how very funny it would be to see such a thing.

Someone bumped into her, bringing her back from her musing. The man apologized and went on his way, but the incident suddenly made her remember where she was. There was a loud humming from the many voices, the rattling of baggage carts rolling by, the hissing of the train – and a hundred other sounds she couldn’t distinguish. Another person pushed past her, and she realized that by standing in one place, she was only causing trouble. Following the flow of the crowd, though rather more slowly than they, she looked around for she knew not what. She saw a man in uniform…one who looked like another porter or maybe a conductor. Quietly she went to him, seeking directions. He pointed her down a hall, and giving him a small word of thanks, she went the way he had shown her.

Her feet froze, as if suddenly they had been sunk into the thickest of mud. Her mouth fell open. With eyes slowly rising, she gasped at the sight of the magnificent Great Hall – the enormous vaulted ceiling making her tilt her head back in utter astonishment. She hardly knew the whisper of her own voice.

Great God in heaven!

The floor, the huge columns, the grand staircases and balconies – all were made of glorious marble, and the spaces echoed with voices and footsteps. The brass lamps and railings gleamed in the white light from the atrium above.

A palace! She said to herself. I have entered a palace…

The enormity of it came over her all at once.

Why am I here? What have I done? I don’t belong…

She took a step back, hoping to retreat to the shadows. It felt safer there, away from that brightly lit and wide open space. Another step – and she felt the solid thud of another body. She felt her suitcase slipping from her hand, and then the horror of realizing that most of her belongings were now all over the floor. With trembling hands she knelt down to pick them up – and her eyes met with the gaze of another.

“I’m so sorry, miss. Let me help you.”

He was young – about her age, or maybe a little older. There was kindness in his manner and his tone – and an athleticism in the way he moved as he helped her retrieve her things. He was dressed like many of the gentleman she had seen, with long tan-colored trousers and a short-sleeved buttoned up shirt. He wore no hat, so she saw the cute little curls of his blond hair. It was impossible not to notice how handsome he was, and she felt her cheeks flushing at the thought of it.

Another voice suddenly interjected.

“You’re a prince on the dance floor, little brother. But out here, you’re more like a monkey.”

What a deep, rich, and authoritative voice it was! Looking up, she was stunned by the sight of the man standing there. A large man. Quite tall, with long legs and broad shoulders. Like the other gentleman, he was dressed in brown trousers and a similar style shirt. But all similarities ended there. He wore a gray fedora, but she could see his hair was very dark. His face was an arresting one – very masculine. A long, straight nose – quite distinctive, but not distasteful. His jawline was sharply rounded, his cheekbones high. But his most striking feature was his eyes. They were the palest shade of blue, and his piercing gaze was fixed on her at that moment, even as the other gentleman spoke to him. His words were critical – and yet, they seemed spoken half-heartedly.

“It was an accident, Henry. And you could help if you wanted to. Be a gentleman.”

Henry snorted – and the corner of his mouth rose in a hint of amusement. “That’s your area of expertise, Will. Not mine.”

Grace’s eyes had gone back to the matter of her belongings. Despite Henry’s seeming disinterest, she saw him reach down to pick up something that had moved the farthest away – beyond the reach of her or Will, who closed the suitcase and followed her in rising to her feet. He smiled his pleasant smile.

“You’ll have to forgive my brother. He wasn’t raised with any manners.”

She smiled back. “That’s all right. I have six brothers at home. I’m used to it.”

This Will was certainly a personable fellow, and she liked him already. But her mind was on Henry, who was looking at the object in his hand.

My letters! she realized. He was holding her bundle of letters and staring at them, as if they held some kind of great interest for him. She wanted to cry out for the return of them – but Will was distracting her from it, commanding her attention.

“Six brothers?” he said. “My goodness, that’s a big family!”

“Actually, I have seven brothers,” she replied, only really half-listening. She felt better when she saw Henry taking a step closer, and felt great relief when he handed the precious bundle back to her. Her eyes and his held for a moment as they gazed at one another. But not forgetting herself entirely, especially her manners, she turned back to Will, who was waiting for her to continue their conversation.

“One of them lives here,” she said. “I’m on my way to see him. I just hope I can find my way around here. It’s all so new and big.”

“Maybe I can help you. I know almost everyone in this town. What’s your brother’s name?”

“John Langdon,” Henry said.

They both looked at him at the same time. Will’s brow went up with surprise.

“How do you know that?”

“I saw the name on the envelope, genius.”

My goodness, Grace thought. He sure is a snarky fella. But somehow, she wasn’t offended by it. In all honesty, there was something in his manner that appealed to her. What that something was exactly, she wasn’t quite sure. There was just something about him that was likeable, despite his surliness – and she sensed that his mood was caused not by her, but by Will. Clearly, the two of them weren’t the best of friends, but really – what was a bit of contention between brothers?

“What a small world it is,” he said, looking between her and Will.  “Her brother happens to live right across the street from us.”

Will’s face broke into another smile as he looked at her – his brown eyes shining with delight.

That John Langdon? No kidding! You know, now that you mention it, I thought I knew your face from somewhere. He has a picture of you sitting on his mantle at home.”

At the mention of Jack, she became entirely interested in Will. A friend of her brother – someone who knew him, and could maybe be her hope of getting to him. And he seemed so eager to please.

But was he really trustworthy? He was, after all, still a stranger. And who, in her entire life – other than Jack and Alice – had been genuinely trustworthy? While Henry stood nearby, looking at his pocket-watch – clearly impatient – she quickly thought of something to prove she could believe in Will.

“What picture does he have of me?” she asked.

Only someone who had been in Jack’s house more than once, and had seen the picture on the mantle, would know that she wasn’t the sole occupant of a photograph. In every picture she had ever sent him, there had always been a certain companion at her side. Will replied with a sure and instant answer.

“It was you and a spotted bird dog…”

“Pilot!” she exclaimed, smiling with joy at the mention of her dog.

“That’s your dog? Oh, I love animals! Especially dogs. You know I’ve always said that dogs…”

Henry suddenly lost his patience.

“Come on, Will! Let’s get a move on, huh? I’m tired and hungry. And now, I could use a stiff drink to go with it.”

As Henry turned and walked away, Will waved him off dismissively – but in the next moment, he consented to following after.

“All right, all right. We’re coming.” Reaching down to pick up her suitcase for her, he smiled, speaking softly. “You can follow us. We’ll show you where to go.”

Softly replying with her thanks, she followed along as they made their way through the Great Hall and up the grand set of stairs to their right. All along the way, Will continued his conversation with her. He loved to talk, there was no doubt, but he was so pleasant that she didn’t mind it in the least. And he didn’t seem insistent that she talk to him with equal enthusiasm. He merely talked while she listened.

“You’ll have to excuse Henry. He owns a nightclub here in town, and sometimes he doesn’t get much sleep. Neither of us do, actually. I’m the star of the show. My name is William Shaw, but you can just call me Will.” With his free hand he reached out to her, and they shook hands.

“I’m Grace.”

His brown eyes seemed to sparkle as he complimented her. “Well, you’re aptly named, I must say.”

Henry looked back at them over his shoulder. “Stop trying to pick her up, Will. You already have more women than you can count.”

“I’m not trying to pick her up. I’m just being polite. And besides – can I help it if the ladies love me?”

Grace felt a laugh bubble up from within her. What opposites these brothers were! One was all charm and friendly chatter – the other sarcastic, impatient, and arrogant. But despite their bickering, there seemed to be an underlying rapport between them – as if these arguments were just their natural way of being. And having had brothers, she could understand such a strange bond. At the top of the stairs, Will held the door open for her.

“I’m a singer and a dancer,” he explained. “And it’s true I’ve had a few girlfriends. But I’m harmless. I promise you.”

Somehow, she knew it was true. She could just feel it, and as they walked along the sidewalk outside the station, they lapsed into another pleasant conversation.

“So you have seven brothers? That’s a lot. John never says much about where he came from. How come you never came to visit before?”

Reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, she answered shyly. “It’s a long story.”

“We have some time. Tell me about yourself.”

“There’s not much to tell, really.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

Another outburst came from Henry.

“Jesus Christ, Will! Quit bothering her.”

“I’m not bothering her.”

“Well, you’re bothering me.”

The two of them seemed to suddenly be at odds, and not in a playful way. Will’s face became serious, even stern in its own way. He and Henry stared at each other for a long moment before he turned to Grace.

“Miss Grace, meet my brother – Henry Shaw. Nightclub owner, war veteran, and perennial grouch. If you’re looking for someone to talk to, don’t look to him.”

Something changed in Henry’s eyes. His words were spoken to her, but his gaze remained fixed on Will.

“Since my brother likes to talk so much, maybe he can tell you that one of my eyes is false because I lost it in the war. Or how about the way I lost two fingers as well? There’s enough blood and gory details about that to keep you chatting for hours.”

“That’s enough, Henry.”

A silence fell between them then. No words were spoken even as they boarded the streetcar – a new and strange experience for Grace, who followed Will’s indication that she sit by the window. As they waited for the other passengers to board, she looked at Henry, who had taken the bench in front of them. It seemed clearer to her now, at least in some small way, that he perhaps had reason to be as moody as he was. Maybe life had just made him that way. War changed men entirely – she knew that to be true thanks to Jack, who had written letters home during his time in France. Unsure of what to say to Henry – someone she certainly didn’t know well at all – she felt the need to say something. Anything at all.

“I had an uncle who lost his hand in a saw mill accident.”

He looked at her. One of his eyebrows rose in interest – a rather intriguing little gesture, she thought, although she didn’t say so out loud.

“Is that so?” he said, to which she nodded. And as before, the corner of his mouth twitched up just a little. Not quite a smile, but a distinct change from the grimness of his frown. His eyes moved from her to Will.

“Well look at that, little brother. I learned something about her without talking her ear off.”

Leaning his head back, he took off his hat and covered his face with it, folding his hands across his chest. And Will snorted.

“Ishkabibble, Henry.”

She found herself trying to hide a smile. But her thoughts were soon distracted – the slight jolt of the streetcar reminding her where she was.

It was all so new and exciting. And it only grew more so as they moved along. As she looked out the window, a car suddenly slammed on its brakes – the tires squealing and the horn blasting.

“My Lord!” she gasped, feeling her heart in her throat. “That car almost crashed right into us!”

Will just smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Drivers should watch where they’re going or the streetcars will run right over them. It happens all the time. Do you know that any fool can get a driver’s license? All they have to do is send a quarter through the mail? They really should do something to regulate that. It’s no wonder people get killed all the time.”

He was so calm about it all. And Henry never moved or lifted his hat from his face. Cars and trucks were everywhere. Horns honked, engines puttered. Smoke belched from tailpipes. Lord have mercy, there were even a few horses pulling wagons. That seemed awfully dangerous for the poor animals. But the smell of them was wonderfully familiar in a haze of overwhelming scents. One moment, a pungent odor – of gasoline or hot pavement – would be strong in the air. But in the very next moment, there would be the scent of something pleasant. Like the slight whiff of freshly baked bread – the invisible but tempting invitation of a nearby bakery.

But then there were the people – endless crowds of them, on the sidewalks and in the streets, and even up above. Bending her head to look, she saw all the faces in the open windows, some of the residents leaning out and watching the activity below. It was almost too much to take in.

“Goodness. How will I find my brother in all of this?”

Will’s voice was gentle and reassuring. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure you get to him. And besides, Lincoln Park isn’t in the city. It’s close enough to walk, but it’s a world away, believe me. It’s much quieter there. More to your liking.”

She smiled at him. “Thank you for being so nice to me.”

Henry removed his hat and sat up, looking at her.

“A long time ago, I used to be a nice guy. But life…”

Her response came before she could stop it. He reminded her so much of Rochester. She couldn’t help herself.

“Fortune has knocked you about since. She has even kneaded you with her knuckles, and now you flatter yourself as hard and tough as an India-rubber ball…”

They stared at one another for a brief moment. She felt like a fool for allowing the wanderings of her mind to be heard. But his blue eyes flickered with a light she wasn’t able to describe. And he replied…

“I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house.”

My goodness, she thought with a kind of delight. He knows every word.

Will looked utterly confused, his eyes going back and forth between them.

“What language are you two speaking?”

Leaning back against the window, stretching his long legs out on the bench, Henry snorted.

“It’s a book, you dummy. A famous piece of nineteenth-century female propaganda that women love.”

Grace just looked at him, not understanding. “Propaganda?”

“Yes, propaganda. Propaganda is defined as a form of communication, usually political, that hopes to influence thinking and behavior.”

She shook her head. “Jane Eyre isn’t political.”

“Maybe not, but it inspires women to go against the norm.”

At first, she had felt intrigued – and happily so – by the thought that he knew something of her favorite story. She had known so few men that bothered with the discussion of books. The prospect of it had excited her for a moment. Now it felt like something of a disappointment.

“But you know it by heart. You must like it a little.”

“My wife liked it.”

Will broke in suddenly, as if he sensed a coming conflict.

“Okay, let’s talk about something else. Anything else. But let’s not bring up anything to do with…her.”

A silence fell between the three of them. Grace was glad for it, in a way. But now she was curious. Obviously, the use of the word her referred to a woman, but the unpleasant way in which it was spoken indicated that the female in question was not to be discussed. She sighed, letting it go.

What was the point in discussing it anyway? It was none of her business. And now that they seemed to be on the edges of the city, her attention drifted back to the ever-changing world around her. Within just a few short turns of the streetcar, the city heights gave way to small brick residences. What pretty little dwellings they were! All neatly kept homes with trimmed lawns and hedges, lined up along white paved sidewalks and cobblestone streets. It was all so nice to look at…like something in a picture book. Her stomach began to knot with anticipation as she imagined reuniting with Jack and Alice. Looking down at her hands, she realized they were shaking a little. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to be calm. And before she quite knew it, the streetcar was slowing down. It came to a stop on a corner, and she watched as Henry and Will stood up.

“Well, this is it,” said Will. “We’ll walk the rest of the way. It’s not far.”

And it wasn’t far at all. Before she knew it, she was there, looking at the house across the street.

Jack’s house, she realized.

It was beautiful to look at, with its flower-filled window boxes and manicured lawn. But it didn’t seem possible that she was really here. She stood rooted to her spot on the sidewalk…until Will patted her on the arm.

“Good luck, Miss Grace. We’ll be seeing you around.”

He offered her his hand. She took it gladly, thanking him.

“I appreciate your kindness, Will.”

Henry hadn’t said a word since getting off the streetcar. He stood at his mailbox near the front door, sorting through envelopes. He wasn’t the warmest man, to be sure. But there was something about him that generated a softness in her heart. Despite his surliness, she felt she at least owed him a word of gratitude.

“Goodbye, Henry Shaw. And thank you.”

He didn’t answer with words – only an unintelligible mutter. But he raised his hand in a polite gesture. And that was satisfying enough, it seemed.

Will lingered for a moment, and then he went up the walk to join Henry and disappear into their house. Turning from them, she stood for a moment, just staring at the house.

Taking a deep breath, she looked both ways. And crossed the street.

I’m a Freak…And I’m OK With It

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Mad as a Hatter. Yup, that’s me.

I’m a freak. I’m not sure if I was born this way. I don’t remember that far back. I do remember being called a weirdo and a loser when I was a kid. Back then, I didn’t understand why I stood out from the crowd – why the boys all ran away from me in fright and the girls pointed at me and giggled. I didn’t understand, but I just knew I was different. The kids at school knew. My family members knew. Heck, even my own mother thought there was something seriously wrong with me. But I grew up and eventually realized that it wasn’t me with the problem.

It was them.

Yes, I have my faults, like anyone else. I have an imperfect body – one that looks like it was put together with MarkTwain Forgivenessspare parts. I’m both a child and a woman. I can be equal parts stormy and sunny, sometimes within the space of five minutes, and at times that makes it difficult to get close to me. I can talk up a storm, or spend hours – even days, not saying a word. I can be emotionally distant (You will probably never see me cry.) I can’t dance to save my life…

But I love being me. I’m intelligent, even though I wasn’t a very good student in school. I am nobody’s fool – I can usually sense a setup coming, so don’t even try to play me. When the mood catches me right, I have a razor sharp wit. But most of all, I’m probably the most forgiving person you’ll ever meet. There is, I truly believe, real power in forgiveness. So I’ll keep being me, even if it means I’ll always be the black sheep of the family. Even if it means I’ll never find the love of my life because men just can’t handle me the way I am. That’s your loss, fellas. I have my friends who love me. And I have myself. And that’s all there is to it.

Weirdo Image

About “The Grace Emancipation”

Hello, my friends! I know it’s been a while since I made a post about this story, but you know me…work, work, work. And most of the time, not on my books. That’s life for you.

Anyway… Grace Cover 4

I know some of you might be wondering about “The Grace Emancipation.” How are things progressing? When will it be published? When will the pre-release copies be available? Well, here’s the deal…

Because of my non-writing work schedule, I’ve been forced to push back the official release date to early April. Part of the reason is because I still have a LOT of editing to do. But the main roadblock is the need to have my book reviewed by certain critics, some of whom require an eight to twelve week window before the book is released to the public. Their game, their rules, unfortunately. BUT…

For all of you lovely folks who have been waiting patiently to read the rest of the story, fear not! I’ve decided that as soon as the editing is done, I’ll be posting a free PDF file here on the blog so everyone can read it. And don’t worry – I’ll still be sending out advanced copies to those who request them. Just bear with me a little bit longer!

Thanks, everyone. Much love!

Yours,

Charlotte H.

Owen Gisborne

Gisborne, he thought, What a soft-hearted thing you have become!

Looking back over his shoulder, he found himself smiling at the sight of his daughter – all in her glory upon her new pony. A groom was guiding the beasts – both Thea and William’s – and watching to make sure they remained safe in the saddle, per his master’s strict orders. But Thea seemed joyfully oblivious to it all. Undoubtedly she thought she was entirely in control as she held the reins in her fists, jingling them occasionally as though she was giving the command to go. And all the while, she talked on and on to the pony, even singing to it for a few moments.  Beside her, William was his usual quiet self. But he was riding with a smile and a proud stance. With amusement, Guy recalled how his son had tried to copy his actions when he had inspected the ponies – checking the legs and the hooves, examining the teeth. To the casual observer, it would have seemed like mere childish mimicry. But Guy knew his son well. Whatever he saw was a learning experience for him. His intelligent mind took in and processed everything with amazing quickness, and Guy felt his heart swelling with pride.

As they neared the house, a young groom came running. Something of significance had happened – and he felt his stomach drop as the boy came to his side.

“My lord Gisborne! You must come quickly!”

He slid down from his horse. “What is it? What has happened?”

“Your new son has been born!”

Good God, he said to himself. He hurried towards the front door, pausing for only a moment to look back.

“Claudia, take the children to the nursery. Keep them there until I send for them.”

Thea was trying to get down from her pony, eager to follow. “But Pappa, I want to see…”

“I will have no argument! You will see him soon enough, now go!”

Ignoring her cries of protest, he rushed into the house and up the stairs, cursing himself as he went. Why had he left her alone at such a time? All those little pains that had troubled her of late – the ones she had tried to dismiss, which had led to their argument. He had been right all along. He should have listened to his gut, and he should have been more forceful about making her rest.

Damn my own soft soul! What if something has gone wrong?

He hurried down the hall – and Matilda appeared, standing with her hands on her hips.

“I knew it was you, you great noisy brute! You and your boots!”

His chest rose and fell quickly, his breathing rushed with concern. “Where is Cassia? Where is the babe?”

Matilda reached out and took him by the arm, leading him into the room. “Calm yourself, boy! You will not barge in like a wild animal while your wife sleeps! Your son has given her enough trouble as it is.”

His face was full of worry. “Trouble? What trouble? And where is he?”

“He is here,” she answered with a smile, leading him to a table where two maids were standing. “He is having his first bath. And a quarrelsome monster he is! Master Owen Gisborne is certainly your issue, of that there is no doubt.”

Suddenly, he was overwhelmed with joy and curiosity. The baby was wailing in protest – that was a good sign, to be sure. But what did he look like? It was hard to tell at first, as the maids had finished bathing him and were wrapping him in linen. Matilda took over, picking him up and holding him securely so Guy could see him.

“Here is the big bugger. Came out with his rear end first, he did. I wager this one will be a scoundrel from here on out.”

Another son, Guy thought, in awe. A wondrous smile came to his face. And what a boy he was! Large and robust, with fat cheeks and a sprinkling of black hair on his head. Now that he was clean and dry, he was much quieter, but his little fists were still clenched and his mouth was turned down in a frown of displeasure. Matilda noticed it too.

“Methinks this child is hungry. Off to the wet nurse with you, wee lad.”

As she carried him away, a familiar face appeared from the doorway of the adjoining room. Celeste curtseyed to him.

“My lord, Lady Cassia is awake. She asks for you.”

He did not hesitate, hurrying in, pausing only for a moment at the threshold. She was lying in bed, her face and eyes weary. But she smiled at him. And he went to her side, bending down to kiss her lips several times. With a gentle hand, he brushed the hair back from her forehead.

“Beloved. Are you well?”

Her hand held his – her grip weak, he noticed. But there was great joy in her eyes. “I am very well, my love. All things considered.”

“Matilda said that he came out…”  He swallowed a lump that had come up in his throat. “Are you certain you are well?”

“Yes, Guy. I am fine. And our son was indeed turned the wrong way. Matilda tried to go in and adjust him, but he would not budge.”

Good God, he muttered under his breath. He had thought himself prepared for this birth. After all, he had been though it the first time, and he had gained some knowledge of what to expect. But this? A child turned the wrong way? He shook his head, wondering why the almighty would put a woman through such torture. Taking her hand, he pressed his lips to it tenderly.

“You must have suffered so.”

Now it was she who shook her head. “Whatever my suffering, it did not last long. He was born so quickly. I hardly had time to think of the pain before it was over and done with.”

“I think you only tell me what I wish to hear.”

Her smile was answer enough. “Well then,” she said, “Be pleased. This is a happy day, remember?” She turned to Celeste. “Bring our son to us, please.”

“He is feeding at the moment, madam.”

“Fetch him just the same. I want to hold him. And if he is hungry, I will tend to him myself.”

After she had gone, Guy pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down. He took her hand again, needing the feeling of connection.

“You should rest and let the nurse care for him.”

His look was serious – concerned. But she just looked at him with one of her sly little smiles and a glimmer of mischief in her eyes.

“Perhaps I should.”

“But you will not,” he replied, letting out a sigh of frustration – and then a smile slowly curled up in the corner of his mouth. “Hard-headed wench. I can see where Theadora gets it from.”

“She was not pleased with her new pony?”

“Too pleased. She insisted on riding it home.”

“And you allowed it?”

There was a slight look of worry on her face. But he dismissed her concern, kissing her hand.

“I had a groom walking with her, just to be safe.”

She gave him a scolding look in return, and yet she smiled. They both knew that quite often, he was too indulgent with their daughter, and at times, he felt a sense of guilt about it – knowing that Cassia did not like it.  He cast his eyes down for a moment.

“You think I allow her to have her way too often.”

Cassia sighed. “Tis’ not a wife’s place to criticize her husband.”

That much was true – for an ordinary married couple. But they were hardly that. She did not criticize him openly, but he knew when she was displeased with him. She was not a conventional wife, to be sure. But she retained the characteristics of a typical woman – using double-talk, and giving him looks full of meaning, contrary to her words.

“I know you, wife. That is your way of saying yes, without saying it.”

Another look from her – one she used when she wished to distract him by changing the subject. She clutched his hand, her fingers linked with his.

“Let us not argue, my love. It matters not.”

He opened his mouth to speak – but Matilda appeared in the doorway, and Guy rose to his feet to meet her halfway. The sight of the baby claimed his attention entirely. Momentarily recalling the first time he had become a father, he wondered how he had ever been fearful of it. Now that he was confident about it, it made him eager and joyful as he took his son from Matilda, who smiled at him, and then at Cassia.

“Your son is not pleased about having his meal interrupted. Methinks you should do something quickly to remedy the situation.”

Cassia just smiled, already unlacing the ties of her nightgown. Guy felt a pat on the back from Matilda as she left them to themselves, but he hardly acknowledged her. He thought only of Owen, who was fussing and squirming in his arms – and he found it to be a delightful sight and sensation. His new son was restless and demanding. And for a newborn, he was heavy.

“God’s teeth, he is a hefty fellow! I do not recall either of the twins being so burdensome.”

A moment later, Owen took in a deep breath – and wailed out loud, his face turning bright red in frustration. Guy turned his head slightly away, equally startled and impressed by the strength of the cry. But Cassia just smiled as she held out her arms, speaking to the baby.

“Patience, my little love. Patience.”

Guy felt rather relieved to hand him over. He prided himself on having the courage to hold babies, when most fathers stayed far away. Most men he knew kept a safe distance from their offspring when they were this small. But not even Thea, tempestuous as she had been, had possessed such a set of lungs. For a moment, he wondered if he had done something wrong. Perhaps he had held him too firmly? But his fears were unfounded, he realized, when he watched Cassia put the babe to her breast. There was instant calm in the room, and he sighed with relief as he sat in the chair beside the bed. He watched the bond between mother and child, and his heart ached with love for the both of them. The fingers of her free hand stroked Owen’s silky hair.

“Hearty. Strong. And handsome.” She looked up at Guy, smiling. “You have your future knight, my husband. As I know you have long hoped for.”

Future knight. He had often imagined that one of his sons would follow in his footsteps and dedicate his life to being a soldier. But he and Cassia had rarely spoken of it. He knew that the prospect of it was frightening to her, although she had only admitted it once or twice. He felt no desire to trouble her with it now.

“My only hope has been that our children are healthy and happy.”

Her eyes fell back to Owen – her voice becoming subdued. “You say such things to please me. But I know that William’s disposition is not what you wish it to be.”

The truth of it stung. In some tiny part of his soul, he had sometimes felt a sense of disappointment about William. And he hated himself for it. William was still a tiny boy, but it was becoming more evident every day that he would never be a man of action. He was simply not fit for it. He was too quiet, too affectionate. There was not an ounce of aggression in his entire little being. To say that it did not bother him at all would have been a lie. But for Cassia’s sake, he never admitted to it out loud. And at that moment – not wishing to displease her – he tried to disguise his thoughts and feelings.

“I love William,” he insisted. “And Thea. And now Owen.”

She was not fooled. And that was not a surprise to him. Who else knew him as well as she did?

“I do not doubt your love as a father, Guy.” Owen had fallen asleep against her. Carefully, she transferred him to Guy’s arms so she could readjust her gown.

“What then, wife?” he asked, sitting back with Owen. “What is your meaning?”

Sighing, she leaned back against the pillows. “I am merely saying that perhaps now, we shall both have what we desire. I will have a son who is a man of the cloth, and you will have a son who is a man of the sword.”

He gave a dismissive snort. “You talk nonsense just now, woman. This child has just come into the world, and already you are predicting his destiny. Cease with your witchery and let us just enjoy his company.”

When he looked up at her, he saw that she had closed her eyes. Looking down at Owen, he saw that he had done the same. Now that his little belly was full, he would sleep for a while. The corner of his mouth turned up.

This was not how he had expected to spend the afternoon. He had thought it would be spent with William and Thea and their ponies. But this was certainly a grand alternative. A grand alternative indeed.

*****

An autumn storm rumbled outside their bedchamber windows. The mistral wind was raging – a cold northerly wind, which grew strong when it passed through the valleys of the Rhone and the Durance rivers, sweeping along the coast of the Mediterranean. It would last only a few days, and after it, there would be clear and calm weather. But at that moment, the lightning was constant and bright, the thunder frequent.

Guy knew of Cassia’s fear of such weather. He was aware that on such occasions, he could count on her to cling nervously to him. But on this night, there were several impediments to such closeness. Three, to be precise.

In her arms, Cassia held Owen. Settled between them, Thea had buried her head against her father’s chest. Guy smiled down at her, even as he looked about for one missing member of the family. William was easily found. He stood in the window seat, his little face and hands pressed against the glass. Cassia called out to him.

“Dearest, come away from the window.”

He remained still for a moment, fascinated by the tempest outside. “The lightning is pretty, Manma.”

“It is,” she replied. “But it is a danger, and I do not wish you to remain there. Come, William.”

As he climbed down from his perch, coming to the bed to crawl in with the rest of the family, Thea lifted her head to look at her brother. When he moved too close, she pushed him away. Gently, Guy scolded her.

“Do not be cruel, daughter. Why do you act so meanly?”

Her answer was swift. “I was here first, Pappa.”

Curious and amused, Guy looked at her. “Can you not share your father?”

“No,” she said.

He knew his reaction should have been stern, swift, and fatherly. He knew he should have punished her for her selfish behavior. But all he could do was smile.

There was no questioning the parentage of his daughter. She not only shared his dark hair and grey-blue eyes, but it seemed she had inherited his temper as well. When she wanted her way, she was aggressive in getting it. But he often found himself overlooking such a negative tendency, simply because she was his only daughter…and she completely adored him. She had even announced a desire to marry him, which had at first taken him aback. Not understanding the strange proclamation, and yet, knowing that she was only a child, he had asked her why she would want to marry him. And her answer shocked him more than her original declaration.

Because you are so handsome, she had said.

Guy looked over at Cassia, who was watching him with Thea, and there was a sly smile on her face. He smiled back at her.

“What is that look, wife?”

“I am recalling something I once heard you say about not allowing children in our bed?”

His grin became sheepish. “The mistral wind is cold and brutal, wife. For the sake of our health, we must all gather together for warmth.”

Her soft laugh pleased him, for it was the sound of pure joy. He was the last of them to fall asleep, and before he closed his eyes he looked around at his family. They looked like a pack of wolves – he the alpha male and she his mate, with their cubs curled in a secure fashion among them. And he wondered…

Can there be a greater joy on earth than this?

 

Hello, my Gisborne ladies!

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening! 😀

So…now that I’ve got my new blog almost complete, I wanted to ask a favor of all of you. I want to do a collage sometime soon of all of you. Can you send me a pic of yourself? Or if GoG 1you’re too shy for that (Like me) then a profile pic will do. Facebook, Twitter – whatever you’re comfortable with. There’s no deadline. I’ll make the collage once I have a certain number of pics, and then I’ll just keep adding to it as I get more names and pics.

Also, can you please send me your current email addresses so I can make sure you’re on my Christmas list? You know I send ECards during the holidays, and I want to make sure my list is up-to-date. Thanks, my lovelies! Have a wonderful day!

Love,

Charlotte

P.S. – The Guy pic has no real purpose. It’s just there for you’re viewing pleasure. 🙂

Welcome, friends!

Thanks for visiting my new blog! It’s still a work in progress, but I’m having fun putting it together, and I hope you like the new look.

If you’re a fan of my Gisborne work, I’ll soon be putting up PDF files of my completed works. Feel free to tell friends about them or to revisit them yourself. I’ll also be adding my Gisborne snippets. Yes, that’s right. They’ll finally be all together in one place! I’ll be working on that during this week.

If you’re a fan of “The Grace Emancipation,” you can find the first five chapters in a PDF file. Just click on the Menu and Widgets button and a sidebar will appear. It’s easy to access.

Thanks for stopping by! More to come soon…

Love,

Charlotte H.