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Continued from Part One.

Title: Scandal of the Town (2/3)
Author: lost_spook
Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Lemon-Lime Sorbet #8 (role reversal); Cookies & Cream #26 (settle)
Toppings/Extras: Chopped Nuts + Brownie + Gummy Bunnies (written for romance novel summary ficathon Unconventional Courtship + hc_bingo square “fall from grace”.
Rating: Teen
Word Count: ~26,000 (Part 2: 8,094 words).
Notes: Victorian AU; Edward Iveson/Julia Graves, Christy Graves, Elizabeth Iveson, Harold Graves, Roderick Howe. (Some references to suicide & murder).

Part Two

April 1855

Julia Graves had quite grown up since he’d last seen her, on the surface at least, Edward thought as he led her from the dance floor. She had, nevertheless, spent much of their dance with a frown of concentration on her face that recalled the younger Julia to mind, regardless of the charming green silk gown or her carefully styled hair, worn up now.

“Is something wrong?” he asked her, somewhere between amused and concerned as he glanced down at her.

She started, looking up. “Oh, no! Nothing.”

“You seemed preoccupied,” he said. “I wondered, or whether it was in some way me.”

She still had her hand on his arm as she laughed, turning her face towards him, trying to hide it from the rest of the room. “Oh, no, not at all, Mr Iveson! I was only keeping my mind on the steps.”

“Sometimes it’s easier if you don’t,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow. “I hardly think you would have liked it if I had tripped over you and made a scene in the middle of a ballroom – even a relatively small occasion such as this.”

He ignored that uncomfortably sharp observation on his character and instead went dutifully in search of a drink. When he returned, handing her the glass, he caught sight of his former fiancée Caroline and her husband at the other side of the room, and hastily tried to edge behind a nearby curtain.

“Mr Iveson, are you hiding?” asked Julia, having to lower her glass before she laughed again.

“No – merely being tactful.”

“It looks very much like hiding,” she said, still having trouble fighting rising amusement.

Edward offered her his arm again and escorted her into the next room. “That is the lady I was once engaged to. I’d prefer not to speak to her – it always seems to upset her.”

“Isn’t that – well – a little vain?” she queried.

He moved to let someone else pass beside him in the crush. “No, no, not like that, Miss Graves. She is very happy with Mr Sheldon – she merely seems to feel guilty that I am not married to someone else – that perhaps she ruined my life, which is nonsense. I am quite content.”

“Are you?” said Julia suddenly, with youthful bluntness. “Truly?”

He frowned down at her. He was damned if he was going to be pitied by anyone else, and besides, he was reasonably content and if anyone had ruined his life, certainly it had not been Caroline. He lied: “Yes,” he said.

Edward eyed Harold Graves’s approach after the ceremony with trepidation, not knowing what he should say to his new bride’s father in such circumstances. He began stammering out an incoherent apology, before Mr Graves cut him off.

“I couldn’t do much about Howe myself,” he said, “so, believe me, I’m far happier to see Julia wed to you.”

Edward shifted his position, still feeling awkward. “But like this – I wish it could have been otherwise.” Then his curiosity got the better of him and he had to ask, “Why is Lord Howe so very determined to marry Julia? Of course,” he added hastily, “I can easily imagine why anyone should be – but Lord Howe of all people –”

“I know what you mean,” said Mr Graves. “It’s hard to say, but I expect it had more to do with me – and with Hanne. He wanted someone to take care of those unfortunate daughters of his and Julia would do as well as anyone, more so since she likes them and they her. And he gets a small measure of revenge. He’s got a vindictive streak – and I don’t think it had occurred to him that Julia might be more trouble than she’s worth. How that might have played out doesn’t bear thinking about.” He angled his face away from Edward, avoiding his gaze. “I wouldn’t have given in if it was only myself, but to have Hanne facing debt, shame, and ruin – I couldn’t.” He shook his head. “This is a far better way out for us.”

Edward wasn’t entirely sure he understood everything, but Mr Graves didn’t seem inclined to say more about whatever lay between him, his wife and Lord Howe in the past, so he chose to be tactful and dropped the subject. “I see, sir.”

“He likes to have control,” Mr Graves added, with a sharp look at Edward. “Always – his companies, his household – people. It’s what he’s after with you, you know. You may not accept that yet, but you should.”

Edward tried to think how to respond in a way that wouldn’t offend his new father-in-law. “I merely find it hard to understand what he could want from me.”

“Do you?” said Harold Graves, giving him another glance, his brows furrowing. “Well, not even someone like Lord Howe can carry off a guilty conscience without it showing now and then. I’m fairly sure the way he ruined your father wasn’t entirely legal, nor was it merely a matter of business. I fancy he imagines you must also know that or suspect it. In your place, he would.”

It sounded less improbable put that way, but Edward still found such melodramatics hard to swallow.

“You find anything,” said Mr Graves, “any of your father’s papers you still have, you bring it to me and I’ll look through it for you. I’ll write you down some names to look out for – one or two companies and business agents that wouldn’t be so obvious to spot if you didn’t know.”

Edward deemed it polite to smile and shake his hand when it was offered. “Thank you, sir,” he said.

Edward had decided they should travel immediately down to Kent and stay with his mother, ensuring that she knew of the marriage before anyone else told her and escaping any other casual enquiries from friends and acquaintances. He had told Julia that if she cared to follow up on this business with Lord Howe, his mother had what was left of Father’s papers and they could go through them, which she seemed to feel was urgent.

He had sent a hasty letter first thing that morning to warn his mother of their imminent arrival, but he and Julia were likely to arrive ahead of it, he knew. Still, Mother would cope with their unexpected visit, he knew. She would, he suspected, not even find his sudden marriage too odd – or she would be unlikely to let anyone see that if she did. Of course, the fact that he had married her friend’s daughter rather than a stranger would help.

Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Iveson, rose as Edward and Julia were ushered into the drawing room while Julia’s maid Sarah took her cases upstairs. She greeted them with a smile, despite being taken aback at Julia’s presence.

“Ned,” she said, “why didn’t you warn me you were coming? And Julia, too – what an unexpected pleasure! It’s been far too long, my dear.”

Julia, far from being the forward young lady of last night, now only nodded, turning pink as she glanced up at Edward.

“Mother,” he said, taking Mrs Iveson’s arm and guiding her away from Julia. “I’m sorry – I did send a letter, but not in good time. And I’m afraid there’s rather more to it than a casual visit. Have you heard –?” He hesitated. “Have you heard any news about me?”

She nodded. “Well, yes, but I thought it hardly the topic to raise in front of Miss Graves. I take it – it is untrue?”

“Yes. And trust me,” said Edward, “Julia knows. Besides she isn’t Miss Graves any longer – that’s rather the point.”

She caught at his hand. “Edward,” she said. “What have you done?”

Once the explanations were over the day had improved considerably. Mrs Iveson had been more than welcoming to Julia, despite the oddity of the arrangement, and she let Edward go into the library to find the boxes of his father’s old papers, ready to delve into in the morning, while supper had been an enjoyable meal. They had then played card games, only interrupted by Edward having to go and investigate an odd noise that his mother’s cook had heard. The only thing he had found out of place round the back of the house, however, was Julia, who had for some reason insisted on following him out there.

Edward had almost forgotten the strangeness of things until it was time to retire. His mother had made two rooms ready for them and he had expected Julia to use the other, but somewhat to his bemusement, she arrived in his.

“Julia,” he said, as she tried to move the bolster from under the pillows. “I don’t see why you are complicating a perfectly simple arrangement.”

She stopped and looked up. “Because I can’t have Lord Howe knowing we didn’t consummate the marriage. That would defeat the object. And, see, I shall put the bolster down the middle –”

It had been a long day and he hadn’t slept well last night, largely thanks to her. Edward found himself rapidly losing his temper. “Julia,” he said again. “I agreed to a marriage of convenience, not a farce. Leave that thing where it is! I don’t understand how you think Lord Howe might hear of anything we do here, but if you must remain, then I promise you that I won’t suddenly ravish you in the middle of the night – with or without the aid of a bolster!”

Julia ceased tugging at the long pillow and climbed into bed, meekly. “I see,” she said. “Yes, do forgive me.”

He realised only belatedly as his annoyance faded back into puzzlement that he had ruined any chance of suggesting that the even simpler solution would be to consummate the marriage. It wasn’t as if, he owned at least to himself in the darkness, he hadn’t thought of it. There was no point dwelling on such thoughts now, however. He only wished he had refrained from snapping and spoiling even the slightest chance of such a thing.

It was not much of a wedding night, he thought, lying down himself and facing away from Julia – as if he could forget she was there – just as it had not been much of a wedding day. That was not truly his fault, but he felt guilty anyhow and turned, saying in a low tone, “Julia?”

She gave no reply, and he sighed and lay back down. She couldn’t possibly be asleep yet, but if she was pretending to be, that was answer enough.

March 1856

Harold Graves held an annual business dinner, to which he always made a point of inviting Edward in his father’s honour. Edward appreciated the kindness intended in the gesture, but there was no denying the evenings tended to be tedious. On the previous year, he had been unable to attend, but this time he had no such excuse and must don his evening wear and prepare himself to be polite to long-winded and elderly businessmen.

He had just escaped the clutches of Sir Barnaby Hale, one of the worst of the bunch, when he spotted Julia Graves being cornered by Mr Archibald Evans, who was every bit as dull. She was here in her mother’s place as Hanne was unwell. He thought again as he looked at her now, that she seemed a great deal more grown up this time, more than she should be, with something of her usual liveliness absent – although perhaps that was merely the effects of too close a conversation with Mr Evans. He straightened himself with an inward smile at the prospect, and went to the rescue, cutting in with the excuse of being of an old family acquaintance and extracting her.

“Mr Iveson,” she said, her arm through his as they moved away from the dreaded Mr Evans, “You were quite rude to the poor man.”

He glanced down at her. “Well, I can always return you, if you wish – if you’d rather finish your conversation. Besides, my manners were impeccable. What can you mean?”

“I don’t think we should ever have finished that conversation,” said Julia. “Oh, dear. I suppose I should thank you.”

Edward let his gaze stray over towards some of the other guests. While a fair few of the gentlemen had brought their wives, Julia was by far the youngest and prettiest woman in the room and he couldn’t help but note in amusement that he had clearly earned himself some jealous looks, not a situation he was much used to. “No need, Miss Graves. I think I’ve just made myself the envy of the room.”

“Is that flattery?” she asked, with a laugh. “Or am I merely being used?”

He gave a slight frown. She might only be in jest, but he found himself uncomfortable with either of those notions. “Neither.”

“No,” she said, and stared into the middle distance before turning back to him with a polite smile. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen you – I hope you’ve been well.”

Edward nodded. “Quite well, thank you. And you – are you well?” He asked it more earnestly than was conventional. He couldn’t shake off the feeling that something must be wrong with her. Perhaps, he thought, it was only natural concern for her mother, and he was being foolish.

“How could I be otherwise?” she said, but the light seemed to have faded from her eyes.

“What of your mother? She isn’t very ill, I trust?”

She gave him a startled glance, and then said, “Oh, no. It was only a slight chill. She’s recovering very well.”

“I’m sorry. I wondered, since she wasn’t here,” said Edward. “As you say, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any of you – even Christy. He is endeavouring to keep out of trouble, I hope?”

Julia sighed. “Oh, yes. Most of the time. He merely – doesn’t care for the business the way Father does. I think he is far more like Mother than people realise – and Father won’t always make allowances.”

He reached for her hand again, discreetly. “Miss Graves,” he said, “you know, if you’re ever in difficulty, you can always come to me. Your family have always been very good to me and I would be happy to repay that kindness if I ever could.” It wasn’t something he had planned to say, and he felt the warmth flare in his face at his impulse and what she might make of it. It was only, he thought, because he was a family friend – naturally, he wanted to help, just as he might if she were his cousin Amy. If it also crossed his mind, fleetingly, in a most un-cousin like way, that he would have liked to kiss her, that was only natural, too. She was very pretty; he had always thought so.

“But I’ve told you that nothing is wrong,” she said, giving him a puzzled look. “Nevertheless, it’s kind of you, Mr Iveson. I won’t forget. We were very happy to help, you know – Mother, Father, all of us. We would do so again if there was ever need.”

He merely nodded, not wanting to speak of that time with her, so he merely said that he supposed he shouldn’t monopolise her attention, or people would talk, and when she agreed, delivered her back to her father.

When Edward awoke in the morning, he was alone, Julia having already risen. When he arrived downstairs and found her at breakfast, she made no mention of the previous night and instead became irritatingly brisk and purposeful on the subject of going through his father’s papers.

“We shouldn’t waste any time,” she said, and seemed to expect him to agree.

He didn’t argue. If they fished out any records relating to the companies in question and he carried them back to her father, it would at least keep her happy, and he supposed it was always possible that they might find something useful, although away from London, the idea of Lord Howe as a lurking threat seemed even more unlikely.

They spent the rest of the morning going through the first couple of boxes in the study, and Edward thought that if anyone was observing them, they would certainly think that strange behaviour for a pair of newly-weds. That didn’t seem to occur to Julia, he noted rather wistfully, in between searching through old ledgers.

They had to stop for the afternoon, but not for the chance to go out for a walk some other more pleasant use of their time – the rest of Edward’s relatives appeared to be acquainted with or reacquainted with Julia, and to congratulate them.

On retiring for the night, he found Julia again in his room – having tucked herself up in the bed reading while he had been downstairs having a word with his mother. He glared at her.

“I thought it best,” said Julia, sounding defensive, hunching back against the pillows and tightening her hold on the book.

He raised an eyebrow as he sat down. “Oh?”

“Yes,” she said, but seemed at a loss to explain her reasons. Then she bit her lip and said, “I suppose, since I’m here, it’s only fair that I – well –”

“Good God,” said Edward in alarm, seeing that martyr’s expression on her face again and his stomach turned over. “Julia, please! Farce is bad enough, but I cannot face tragedy at bedtime, thank you.”

She coloured. “I only meant to be fair.”

“I don’t see why you need to complicate matters by being here at all,” said Edward. “Nevertheless, if you must, you must, I suppose, although I hope that tomorrow you can be more reasonable.”

Later, being woken by movement, he saw her sitting up in the gloom, almost as if keeping guard. He grumbled to himself, closing his eyes again, but that idea sparked off an unwelcome train of thought, one that he couldn’t seem to stop once he had started. Given what a monster Julia seemed to think Lord Howe; given all the things she had told him, and her belief in Lord Howe as his enemy –

He sat up, startling her, and lit a candle. He would need to see her face, he thought.

“Julia,” he said, turning around to face her. “You didn’t by any chance marry me because you thought it would save my life, did you?”

She turned her head, and then glanced down at the bedcovers, twisting her fingers in the edge of the sheet.

“And now – are you keeping watch?”

Julia looked up again. “You didn’t seem to believe me about Lord Howe. And, yes, yes, I did. Although only in part – all the other reasons are true, or we wouldn’t be here.”

“You thought Lord Howe might kill me – for some unknown reason – and so forced me to marry you? And now – now you think I cannot survive the night without your aid?”

Julia let go of the sheet. “No! Or, I suppose, yes, but not as you make it sound! I realise perhaps the latter was foolish of me, but you seem unable to take the threat seriously.”

“But you’ve married me,” he said, and he could feel his anger growing and made no move to stop it. “Surely I’m safe now? I see your point, of course. Naturally, should Lord Howe have such murderous intent, what better time than the other day in my despair? He could have arranged to meet me and pushed me in the river after my father. Who would have disbelieved it?”

Julia had grown angry herself now, enough to climb out of bed and glare back down at him. “Well, quite!” she said. “It seemed insensitive to tell you, but that is precisely what he said to me! Oh, maybe not the river – and maybe not in so many words –”

“Julia –”

“The evening I came to your house,” she said, “Christy went to speak to Lord Howe about my marriage to him, to keep him busy until as late an hour as possible – just to be sure.”

He couldn’t bear it. He couldn’t have her pity him. “I don’t believe you can be in your right mind,” he said, his voice unsteady in his anger, and found he was out of the bed and standing also, without even recalling doing so. “Perhaps I can believe you about Lord Howe, but what difference will it make if you are here or not? If a suicide or an accident is suddenly less likely now that I am not ruined but happily married, then you can stay in the guest room prepared for you and leave me in peace!”

“Not now,” she said, lowering her voice. “Edward! You’ll wake everyone!”

He shook his head, catching hold of her by the shoulders and pushing her to the door. “And,” he added, “you’ll find that I am still alive in the morning, with or without your help!”

“Edward!” she said in protest. “I’m sure it must sound foolish – perhaps some of it is – but you don’t understand –”

He opened the door and pulled her out onto the landing. “No,” he said, “I don’t! Now, go to your own room and stay there!”

“Oh, you need not worry – I shall!” said Julia, in a hissed undertone, sweeping in through the opposite doorway, as far as she could in a nightgown.

As the door shut behind her, Edward heard another open further down the landing, and his mother emerged.

“Ned,” she said in a warning tone.

He turned, before he realised that he could explain nothing. “My apologies, Mother,” he said, and disappeared back into his room to lie down and fume in solitude.

He was still feeling angry in the morning, although in part perhaps because he didn’t know what would be left once his temper subsided. Nevertheless, he knew he’d behaved badly last night and on finding Julia at the breakfast table, he begged her forgiveness, if a little stiffly.

“I shall think about it,” said Julia, pausing in the act of buttering some toast. “In time, I may. When I help you with the documents this morning, however, you need not expect me to talk to you – I’m sure you will be relieved to hear.”

Edward surveyed his kedgeree with sudden and unjustified misgivings, pushing it about with a fork. “Thank you,” he said. “However, I am sure I can continue without your assistance. Indeed, as you see, I am still alive this morning, despite your absence.”

“I was merely trying to be watchful,” she said. “Better to be too cautious than to regret not being so later –”

He felt his temper mount again. “And, what, pray were you planning to do to any assailant?”

“I told you that I meant to be watchful,” she said, colour in her cheeks, and she all but threw down what was left of her toast onto the plate. “Which hardly needs explaining – and, besides, you need not mock me. One can always find something to do if one puts one’s mind to it. I daresay I could have used the poker, or the warming pan – something!”

Edward glanced over at her and seeing the determined set of her mouth and brows, could picture it only too well, and had to put a hand up to his mouth to hide his amusement, his anger fading.

“Oh, yes, laugh!” she said, standing. “First you humiliate me in front of the whole household and now you think it funny!”

He also stood, heedless of the tablecloth and the breakfast dishes. “That wasn’t my intention. Julia, please – I behaved inexcusably last night, but I –” He stopped, unable to say that he felt he had been made a fool of again.

“Yes, so you told me,” she said, turning back as she reached the door. Despite wishing he could somehow wind back the hands of the clock and undo his ungracious behaviour, he couldn’t help admiring her sense of the dramatic. She raised her chin as he looked at her. “And you may be happy again – I am entirely cured of wanting to see you remain alive!”

With that, she made her exit.

The work of going through the various documents and ledgers in the study seemed far less interesting than it had on the previous day. Time dragged and he found himself intermittently cursing Julia for setting him off on this tiresome quest, and then, at that thought, cursing himself yet again for doing his very best to drive her away. A month’s trial, he thought, and she would no doubt run away from him at the end of it.

“Ned,” said his mother at the door, breaking into his thoughts. “May I speak to you?”

He nodded and then looked down at the papers on the desk, feeling the heat of shame in his face. He couldn’t imagine what she must have thought last night. “Mother,” he said, “I know. I’ve already apologised to Julia this morning. I was angry – over something quite foolish and I should never have caused such a fuss. Please, don’t imagine that any of it was Julia’s fault.”

“Well, I am glad to know that you have apologised,” she said. Then she cast a sharp glance at him. “She said much the same thing, you know – that it was chiefly her fault.”

Edward shook his head, although, really, he thought, Julia had been more than a little irrational. Nothing, however, that justified him making a scene in the hallway in the middle of the night. He experienced another wave of embarrassment at the memory.

“No, no,” said his mother with a short laugh. “I would much rather not hear any more about it. What concerns me, Edward, is that you told me yesterday that your marriage was a matter of convenience.”

“And so it is. As you see, we can’t even manage to get along quite yet.”

She shook her head. “All I can say is that I can’t remember the last time I saw you so angry. Are you sure your feelings are not engaged?”

Edward looked up, preparing to lie in self-defence, before he stopped, wondering why on earth he should. He leant his head back down on his hand. “No,” he said, carefully. “The reverse, it seems.”

“Good,” she said. “As long as you are aware of the fact. I understand from what she said, that it was her proposition, so I can see why you might expect that also to be the case with her, but you must be patient. Be kind, Ned.”

He played with the edge of the paper with his fingers, embarrassed again, wanting to explain that that was not the issue, and then entirely sure that was the last conversation he wished to attempt to have with his mother, so he merely nodded. It was not as if she was wrong in her advice at least. After last night, he would have to be very patient and kind if he wanted to make amends.

November 1856

Edward hadn’t been invited to the Graves’s house in less formal circumstances for a long while and he found himself unexpectedly glad to be there. It seemed tonight to be everything that his house was not: light, and warm and filled with people it was easy to be comfortable with.

There was no arranged entertainment, no dancing, only the family, playing cards and nonsensical paper games, but everybody took everything in good part and he laughed more here over nothing than he had anywhere else for months. Where the games called for partners or teams, he made sure he was on Julia’s, if he could, and they sat there, putting their heads together over the parlour games.

He didn’t even try to deny to himself why that was, not this time. She was, he thought, everything one could want, and it was only natural that he should admire her – as no doubt did at least half a dozen others. It wouldn’t matter if he kept close to her for one evening; it wasn’t the sort of affair where there was anyone to gossip about his behaviour and she would hardly think very much of it: he was only Christy’s friend to her. She liked him, but in no other way, and perhaps even saw him as a little ridiculous.

It wasn’t important. It was one evening and he would take care not to come again; he wouldn’t encourage a hopeless passion in himself and he had too little to offer to court her seriously. Surely, though, no God could forbid him one evening of such simple pleasures?

“Mr Iveson,” said Julia, her cards in her hand and a slight frown on her face at his sudden abstraction. “It’s your turn, you know.”

Beyond dinner, which they both spent being painfully polite to each other and to his mother, Edward hardly saw Julia again until the next morning when, halfway reading through a volume of company minutes, she entered.

“I have nothing else to do,” she said, with a small, wry smile. “I thought I should at least offer to come and help you.”

He rose and pulled out a chair for her. “And I won’t be so ungracious as to refuse your assistance. This is a tiresome, slow business with only one pair of hands.”

He thought she smiled again, but when he looked, she was already sorting through the next box, looking for the most likely sources to pass to him.

“Indeed,” Edward added, “I think I may even have found something.”

That caught her attention, and she moved across to him. “What is it?”

“Well, I’m not sure,” said Edward, “but I’ve marked it out.” He pulled a previous ledger back over, and found the passages again. “Here – and here. Caulfield & Trentham, in both cases – and there’s another instance in this volume. That’s one of the companies your father told me to look out for – Lord Howe has an interest in it.”

She studied it, wrinkling up her nose. “I’m afraid I don’t see the significance.”

“There may not be any,” he said, “but they seemed to have owned several plots of lands that this railway company wished to buy.”


Edward nodded. “It could be, of course. However, if there are any more instances, it might be that Lord Howe was acquiring the land cheaply in order to sell again for development.”

“But is that a crime?” she said. “Not very moral, perhaps, but would anyone go to such lengths to hide it?”

Edward gave her a sudden smile. “Ah, yes, but he would need information – so the question is not so much the purchase of the land, but how he obtained advice as to which plots of land would be profitable, or guided companies towards his property. If he was bribing someone from the council or one or more of the companies involved, that would certainly be criminal.”

“Or blackmailing them,” said Julia, understanding immediately.

“Yes, precisely. And we already know that Lord Howe is capable of that.”

She looked at the documents with more enthusiasm. “I knew there must be something!”

“It’s all speculation as yet,” he added, worried that he might be raising her hopes to no purpose. “It may be nothing. A coincidence, as you said. It’s dull work and I may be seeking too hard for something with which to justify it.”

Julia smiled at him; she seemed for the moment to have forgotten their quarrel. “Well, there is one way to test the theory, is there not? We must continue and see what else we may find!”

Now that they had an objective, the search became far more interesting. Edward let Julia begin sorting through some of the items in the next box, while he went back through some of the most likely previous ledgers to check them again now that he knew what he was looking for. Between them, they found four more instances and his theory was beginning to look ever more plausible.

“Miss,” said Sarah, Julia’s maid, knocking at the door and interrupting them. “Mrs Iveson thought you might have forgotten the time – I should be helping you dress for dinner.”

Julia rubbed a hand across her forehead, leaving a slight smudge from the dust of the old papers, and then shook herself, standing hastily. “Good heavens,” she said. “You are quite right – I shall come at once.” She turned back to Edward. “You should probably do the same – you’ve been working at those documents long enough.”

“Yes – I shall merely wait to put everything away safely,” he said, watching her leave, falling into a smile unbidden.

At dinner, the truce seemed to still be in place, at least until his mother commented on the way they had both seemed to forget everything in reading through the accounts today, when Julia stopped and gave Edward one of her brightest smiles.

“We did, and I apologise for deserting you,” she said, “but we may have found something – and I don’t believe either of us truly thought we should.”

Edward nodded. “Of course, it does mean that we shall have to return to town sooner than we thought – or at least, I shall.” He looked at Julia.

She lifted her head in surprise, putting down her fork. “Oh, but you can’t take these things to Father without me!”

“I would be perfectly capable of doing so,” he said, although he knew even as he said it, that hadn’t been what she had meant; that his taking offence would only make things difficult again, but he hadn’t been able to stifle his reaction.

Julia swallowed. “Yes, naturally. I merely meant –”

“You didn’t see why you should do nearly as much of the work and be kept out of its conclusion,” Edward said, trying to mend his mistake by lightening the tone again. “Of course. I should not dream of leaving you behind – unless you wished to stay.”

“Thank you,” she said, and he thought with relief that the truce might still be in effect.

Julia paused outside the study with Edward, having both risen and had breakfast without any more disagreements. “I can’t help you until later,” she said, touching his arm lightly. “I’m afraid I promised your mother I would go with her to visit your cousin Amy. And I see there is little left to go through here – will you even want me?”

“Yes, of course I shall,” he said, perhaps too swiftly, too earnestly, but he smiled to cover the moment and told her not to keep his mother waiting.

When she returned to join him, pausing first in the hall to give Sarah some instructions, he rose to pull out her chair for her, and told her that he had found two more entries in a later volume of minutes, although he feared that the records left in the last box were likely to be of little interest.

“Well done,” said Julia, catching hold of his arm in her enthusiasm for the cause. “Well, then, shall we waste no more time?”

Edward nodded, but they did waste more time, both of them. With the end in sight and something seemingly achieved, they lapsed into conversation far more frequently. Later, laughing at something she had said, he paused to glance at his pocket watch and found that he had not looked at the documents in front of him for a good twenty minutes.

“Julia,” he said, leaning across the desk to put his hand on hers. “I should say again how sorry I am for my behaviour the other night. No matter how annoyed I was, I had no right to treat you so.”

She pulled back suddenly, her attention fixed on the ledger in front of her. “You have already begged my forgiveness. I think I would rather not talk about it.”

“But we must,” said Edward. “I asked the wrong question then – or, no, only half the question in my anger, my injured pride. Why did you ask me to marry you?”

Julia raised her head again. “Oh, I see I should have been forgiven sooner had I been trying to – to poison you – anything but wish to see you live!”

“Not that,” said Edward. “I found unbearable that you should think so little of me – that is the heart of the matter. I still don’t know if I believe there was any danger, but I understand that you do, so I thank you. And you should know I haven’t the first idea what I should have done next had you not knocked on my front door that night. I had nothing left to even wish for. Now, if I can somehow amend my mistakes, I think I do.”

Julia nodded, her face angled away from him. “How pretty,” she said. “I see I shall have to forgive you if you continue in that vein.”

“Julia,” he said, reaching out for her hand for a second time. He wondered how to ask what he wanted again, if she refused to understand, or if it was unfair to ask. He took a different approach. “Do you recall the last time that we met before all of this? That evening at your parents’ house?”

He seemed to have her attention now: she watched him, merely nodding in response and didn’t remove her hand from his.

“It was nothing, I suppose,” he said, “but it was a pleasant night and I thought, sitting there, playing foolish card games with you, that it seemed suddenly – that you represented in some way everything I wanted, that I could never have. I think now that it was far simpler –” He couldn’t quite go on. He wasn’t much for fanciful words, and couldn’t bring himself to say that he thought now that she was everything he had ever wanted. It was too soon, too much – and not the right way to put the matter at all.

“Yes, I remember,” said Julia. She looked around, pulling away from him, and then made an exasperated sound. “Oh, why is there nothing to throw at you? Of course I remember! You showed me such attention all evening that all my family commented on it – and I didn’t tell them that you kissed me out in the hallway!”

Edward gave her a wary look. He had, taking advantage of the long-standing friendship between the two families, kissed her on the cheek as he took her hand saying good night, except that a mere moment’s ‘clumsiness’ was all it had taken to kiss her lightly on the mouth instead. He’d thought it would do no harm to steal that much in farewell. “That was only –”

“It was not,” said Julia, “an accident. And it is entirely unfair of a gentleman to do that and then never call again. It was nothing, as you say, and so I told myself often since. I couldn’t ask you what you had meant since it would not be proper for me to call on you, nor even to write to you. Why would you imagine that you could not be an acceptable suitor?”

Edward put a hand to his head. “Oh, Lord,” he said. “Julia, I am so very sorry! I thought you wouldn’t even think of any of it again – and I seem to have let myself grow far too morbid on the subject of my father. Ironic, given how much further my reputation has fallen now, but I thought I had no right to drag anyone into that shadow with me.”

“Well, as it happens,” said Julia, “I did notice, I did think of it – and I very much enjoyed not only that evening, but other occasions when we were together! Ned, how could you? You know how uncertain my family’s fortunes have been in the past – you know that I can manage whatever our circumstances –”

“Yes,” said Edward, and got up, moving across to the window seat, gently tugging her after him. So many people had looked at him pityingly, had spoken to him in hushed tones about his father’s death, and he’d let himself feel the shame would never leave him. “I thought I was only being sensible. If I’d known that you minded, I would have called on you the very next morning.” He had both of his hands around hers now.

Julia hung her head, hiding her face from him, despite their closeness, sitting angled opposite each other on the window seat. “But you didn’t.” She took a deep breath, but she still wouldn’t look up. It wasn’t like her. “What about her?” she asked.

“Her?” said Edward, mystified. He was almost entirely focused on Julia, watching her outlined by the light from the window: aware of the shape of her face, the slight floral scent that she wore, and the stray strands of near-golden hair against her forehead. He wanted to touch them, to brush them aside, and cause her to look at him again.

Julia obliged him then anyway, raising her head to frown at him. “Her,” she said again, more insistently. “The woman. Mrs – Mrs Brannon! Aren’t you in love with her?”

“Marie?” said Edward, pulling back in surprise, letting Julia’s hands fall out of his. He had a sudden sick, sinking feeling – were his former indiscretions going to deny him any chance with Julia? “No – I assure you, no! She was once – very kind to me, but it was years ago, during a very bad time – after Father – after Caroline. Last week – she wanted to talk to me; that was all she said and I had no reason to mistrust her. There is nothing more between us. Please, let us not talk about that, not now.”

Julia let her gaze slide away from him, but he saw her smile. He watched the curve of her mouth and thought about kissing her again; now, here.

“Julia,” he said. “I was asking why you married me. Not the reasons you gave me, not fear for my life. You said to me that one can always think of something. You could have run away to some distant relative – I don’t suppose Lord Howe would have followed you to your mother’s family in Berlin. You could have wished Christy onto me until I accepted the danger.”

She couldn’t seem to understand what he meant yet; what it was he was truly asking. She frowned back at him, so, before she could speak again, he took her hand once more.

“I think,” said Edward, “that if anyone else had knocked at my door then, I should have made them leave. I don’t think I should have agreed to marry them.”

“But you could see the advantages,” said Julia. “So naturally you accepted – even Christy and Father saw how well it would answer when I told them –”

“Julia, I’m asking you if you – if you asked because you wanted to marry me.”

She closed her eyes, as if waiting for the roof to fall, and said, “I did. I told myself it was for all the other reasons, but I’m not sure I wasn’t merely doing what I wanted – you could hardly ignore me any longer if I married you! It was dreadful behaviour, I know –”

Edward leaned in and kissed her, still holding onto her hand. As he drew back only fractionally, he felt her breathe out in relief. “It’s not dreadful,” he murmured, sliding his fingers out of hers to touch her face. “Well, perhaps it is – certainly you must never do it again.”

She laughed and he kissed her again, moving his other hand to her waist, against the softness of the fabric of her blouse, the stiffness of the corset underneath. She caught at his arms, as if afraid he might move away, but he had no thought of doing so. He put his other hand to her cheek, his fingers moving downward, feeling the line of her jaw and touching her mouth before kissing her a third time. She closed her eyes, moving in nearer and putting her arms around him.

He forgot where they were in the heady sensation of having her so close against him, as she kissed him this time. He moved his hand downwards, to her neck, then stopping at the collar of her gauzy muslin blouse and kissed her there, undoing the buttons –

Someone knocked at the door, causing them both to start and draw back from each other; the charming illusion that they were the only two people in the world rudely broken. Julia put her hand to her mouth, struggling to hide laughter and hastily doing up her buttons, while Edward pulled back in embarrassment, but coughed and called out for the newcomer to enter. He hoped fervently that it would at least not be his mother.

He was granted that wish, since it was his mother’s maid, Harris, who came in with a tea tray. “Where do you want this, sir?”

“Oh, on the desk,” said Edward. “Thank you.”

“Yes, how kind,” Julia added with a smile. “And you needn’t wait – I shall pour.”

Harris nodded and went on her way, seemingly unaware of their odd behaviour. Julia watched her until the door was safely closed and then laughed again, leaning back against the side of the window alcove.

“I would apologise,” said Edward, “if I could do so with any honesty – but I shouldn’t – I mean to say, this is hardly the place!”

Julia got up lightly, picking up the teapot and pouring the tea into two cups. “Yes, of course. Well, I think all this staring at dusty documents is very likely to cause me a headache. If I was struck down with one now and had to go upstairs to lie down and recover, you might come to enquire as to how I am.”

“I might indeed,” said Edward in amusement, as he watched her finish making the tea. “Are you sure?”

Julia merely looked back at him and crossed to rejoin him on the window seat, sitting on his lap and putting her hands to his lapel before kissing him. He felt his pulse quicken again, weakening slightly with desire.

“Oh Lord, Julia,” he said, pushing her gently away. “Go on, then – I’ll join you in a moment.”

“What about the tea?”

He gave her a look. “Julia, I am not sitting here with you now, politely drinking tea!”

“How uncivil of you,” she said, getting to her feet but giving him a wickedly amused glance. “Whatever sort of marriage shall we have?”

Edward didn’t get a chance to answer – the door opened a second time and this time Julia’s maid Sarah came hurrying in.

“Sarah,” said Julia. “Did you not think to knock?”

She gave a bobbed curtsey by way of apology. “Oh, miss, I’m sorry, but it’s a letter for you, and I was worried it might be important.”

“Julia?” said Edward, watching her as she opened and read the note and then crumpled it in her hands. Her face, unusually, gave nothing away.

She turned back to him. “It’s Mother,” she said, as he stood to face her, taking her hands. “I’m sure it can’t possibly be too bad but Father –” She glanced up at him, giving a slight, tremulous smile. “He worries about her at the least little thing – so silly.”

Edward felt a pang of entirely selfish dismay, before he stifled it in concern for her and for Hanne Graves. “You’ll have to go at once,” he said softly. “Of course you will.”

She nodded, biting her lip in relief. “I must. If by any chance it was serious, I could never forgive myself if – if –”

“Naturally,” he said, squeezing her hand. “Julia, shall I come with you?”

She shook her head, glancing back at Sarah. “No. There’s no need – and if you stay now, you may finish that last box and then bring everything for Father tomorrow.”

It made sense, so he nodded, but it felt ridiculously like tearing something away, to let her go now.

She stretched up to kiss him on the cheek. “I shall see you tomorrow,” she said, and then gave a laugh. “Isn’t it silly that suddenly seems so long?”

“It’ll be no time at all,” lied Edward. “Go on. There’s nothing you need wait for here.”


Part Three


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2016 10:48 pm (UTC)
Oh goodness! They actually talked like normal people! And actually got the misunderstanding cleared up in a fairly timely manner (for them!).
Sep. 11th, 2016 05:01 pm (UTC)
It helps when you're not worried about one or both of you really being a spy. (Besides, they're both slightly younger at this point here than at that point in canon). :-D
Sep. 26th, 2016 01:23 am (UTC)
This was darling! I was so rooting for the both of them. I'm such a sucker for this kind of dynamic, haha.
Sep. 26th, 2016 08:19 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you! :-D
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Runaway Tales



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