Story: Heroes of the Revolution (Divide & Rule)
Flavor(s): Lemon-Lime Sorbet 2 (public place); Cookies and Cream 19 (serve); White Chocolate 27 (loathing)
Toppings/Extras: Brownie + Chopped Nuts + Gummy Bunnies (also for origfic_bingo square “learning what love is” and Trope Bingo square "poor communication skills") + Malt – Truth or Dare (Role-reversal! Julia is the one in a position of power, always being called away to work, and Edward is just "the husband." from winebabe), & Birthday Prompt (The next time I make you cry, they'll be tears of joy!| from shayna611)
Word Count: 8600
Notes: AU, 1948; Edward Iveson/Julia Graves, Lionel Graves. (This one didn’t quite get to the point of the AU prompted for, because I got distracted working out how they would have got together in that AU, the result being this piece, but I plan to do another in this AU where it’s set later.)
Summary: Julia thinks the only solution right now for her is to marry someone, and Edward will do nicely. It’s all perfectly straightforward until it isn’t.
Julia walked through the French windows, and out onto the veranda beyond, away from the party, desperate for some air and a moment alone. She felt as if she might stifle if she remained in here, surrounded by her uncle’s guests. They probably weren’t really all as dreadful as they seemed to her tonight, but every one of them had said the same thing when talking about the loss of the rest of her family: At least you’re safely home now, and then the awkward topic could be swept away, of no more relevance to anyone but Julia. Here she was, back in London, set to inherit a fortune, with everything she could possibly want. Why would they say anything else?
Damn them all, she thought, and her uncle most of all. She wished she’d never asked for his help. He’d done everything he could – he’d almost fallen over himself to make amends for the past, but nothing could stop her loathing him. Except now she couldn’t do so with a good conscience and throwing it all back in his face would be to hurt the one real relative she had left.
She made it outside and leant against the wall, closing her eyes.
“Miss Graves?” said someone from the side of her.
Julia opened her eyes and turned, about ready to hit someone. Why couldn’t they all leave her alone? “Yes?” she said, not bothering to keep from sounding her impatience as she rounded on the insufferable stranger – and realised he wasn’t a stranger after all. She didn’t know how he was here and she didn’t remember seeing him arrive, but it was Mr Iveson, the man who’d told her about her brother’s death and confirmed the reports on the loss of her mother and other brother that day in Berlin.
“I’m sorry,” he said, leaning back slightly. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I thought you might be unwell.”
She folded her arms in against herself. “And you thought you’d watch?”
“No,” he said, shifting a little from one foot to the other. “I wondered if I could help.”
Julia tried to bite back her amusement, but gave up the effort, not really caring. She laughed, sliding slowly down the wall until she was sitting on the paved slabs of the patio. She stole a glance back up at him, standing there, stiff and on edge, evidently unsure whether to stay or go, or take offence. He’d tried to help in Berlin. She wished now that he had, but she’d wound up sending the telegram to her uncle anyway, even after he’d turned back up at her door. “Is that all you ever do? How many damsels in distress do you get a week?”
“I thought you might be ill, but I can see I was mistaken – I shall go,” he said, taking a step back. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
Julia took hold of herself and hastily got back to her feet. Mr Iveson was the one person in this room who had any idea what it had been like that day and she’d much rather talk to him than any of the others. “No, no, I’m sorry. I wasn’t enjoying the party much, that’s all. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I’m glad to see you again. I’ve thought often since that I don’t know if I even thanked you last time we met. I just wasn’t taking anything in.” She waved a hand. “Well, I’m sure you can imagine. But I did appreciate you taking the trouble to come back and see if I was all right.”
“It was only the decent thing to do,” said Edward, his gaze straying past her. He put his hands into his jacket pockets. “I told you at the time – I wouldn’t be able to face my mother or my aunt again if I hadn’t. How are you now? At least a little more yourself, I trust?”
She put a hand to her mouth for a moment, blinking away tears. “I would be fine, or as much as I’ll ever be, if I could get away from here.”
Edward raised his eyebrows and then leant against the wall as he watched her. “Ah. You did say your uncle might be difficult.”
“And you asked what else did I have to lose,” said Julia. “It turns out that was a very good question.”
“In my defence, I did offer you an alternative.”
She smiled. “Yes, your aunt. I remember. I didn’t mean to sound as if I was blaming you. It was my choice – and I shouldn’t have said that, anyway.”
“If you don’t like it here, you can leave, you know,” said Edward. “Can’t you?”
Julia nodded. “Of course I could. I replied to several job advertisements. I even got offered one as a secretary. But when I tried to broach the subject with Uncle Lionel, he was perfectly reasonable about it – but he looked so hurt and then I started thinking about whether or not I really wanted to march off on my own and live on a secretary’s wage in a grubby little flat somewhere, and I found I didn’t.”
She watched him fail to find anything to say and gave a short laugh. “Oh, yes, I know. As problems go, it isn’t one. It’s only – he’s almost fallen over himself trying to help me – trying to put things right. I think, probably, it’s for Father. I think he genuinely was fond of him, and angry with their father for cutting him off. So, what he’s giving me, he says, is only my right. And he’s all I’ve got left now. I find I can’t be as cavalier about that as I would have been before.”
She clenched her fist. “But I still can’t like him. I hate him – loathe him! If he had showed Mother an ounce of sympathy or given her this allowance, she would never have gone – she’d be alive now, and Rudy. Maybe even Christy, too. I know it’s not fair and I don’t think he ever meant for it to happen, but I can’t forget it. And so, I should thank him nicely and say that I’d like to be independent, and go. And I don’t.”
“Well, I hate to state the obvious, but if that’s the way you feel, you should leave for both your sakes. Look, what sort of work would you like to do? I don’t suppose I can find anything, but I could try. I’m back at the Foreign Office now – for the moment – and I hear things.”
Julia smiled to herself. Of course he would think it was that simple. She’d realised it wasn’t when she’d come to the same conclusion herself; that she had to go. Everything that she’d told Mr Iveson was true, but the thing that kept her at her uncle’s house was something she couldn’t give utterance to: she couldn’t bear the idea of being alone any more. She hadn’t been entirely isolated during the war, but nearly so, with her family away and being wary of people finding out that Mother was German, and then she’d got to Berlin too late even to see Rudy one last time. It was better to stay here and have someone she felt something for, even if it was a dangerous mix of loathing and gratitude and resentment. Better anything than to go away and be alone again. The idea made her sick with terror. Other people had suffered far more in the war, of course, but she felt that her pain was bad enough to be going on with.
“Don’t worry,” she said, wishing she hadn’t given into the impulse to tell him so much. That was loneliness, too, and she must hide it more carefully. “I’ve come up with a plan. See in there.” She nodded towards the crowded living room. “My uncle has a dozen friends who are very rich and elderly. I’ve decided I shall marry one of them and that’ll solve everything. I think I could pull it off, don’t you?”
“That isn’t funny.”
Julia hadn’t really thought it was, but it seemed so now, with Mr Iveson suddenly having so grown grave and disapproving. How stuffy he was – anyone would think he was as old as most of her uncle’s banking friends. She wondered if he’d ever done anything wrong in his life. “I’m quite serious. It seems the only way. I’m very mercenary.”
“I would have thought,” said Mr Iveson distantly, and giving her a faintly amused, almost disdainful look, “that it would be a considerable risk. I’d imagine there’s a high probability that they’d be misers. Bad-tempered, too, I shouldn’t wonder – no doubt very suspicious.” He shrugged. “It might not end well.”
Julia looked up at him. “Yes, that is a good point. I’ll have to make sure I pick out a relatively kindly old gentleman, won’t I? And I’m being rude – I haven’t asked how you have been since we met.”
“Well, I’m not planning to marry any elderly gentlemen just now,” he said, and then avoided her question, adding, “Well enough, thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I came here with a friend, and he’ll be wanting to leave, I should think.”
Julia shivered, feeling the cold suddenly, and wanted to cry. When he went she’d have no one left to talk to again and she’d have no one to blame but herself. She hurried after him, and caught his arm at the door. “Mr Iveson, don’t think too badly of me. I’m not – I’m in a strange mood tonight, that’s all. Don’t think me as awful as I sound.”
“I don’t,” he said, his face shadowed by the light behind him. He turned to go, and then looked back again and gave her a smile. “I’d like to see you again, if it doesn’t interfere with your pursuit of some old banker. Saturday, in Green Park about noon, and then we could have lunch?”
Julia nodded, and then said, yes, in case he hadn’t caught the movement. “Why not? And I shall try not to be so horrid, I promise.”
“Miss Graves,” said Mr Iveson, rising from the bench he’d been sitting on to greet her. He held out his hand to her and, when she took it, wrapped both of his gloved hands around hers for a moment before releasing her.
Julia gave him a smile and fell into step beside him as they walked along the path. “I’m sorry about last night – I don’t know what I must have sounded like!”
“I still think you should get out and do something,” he said mildly, but shrugged.
Julia was determined to behave properly today. She laughed. “No, honestly, you mustn’t take any notice of the nonsense I was spouting yesterday. I am doing things – I’ve joined about half a dozen committees at least, and I’m Vice Chair of two of them already. I have plenty of useful things to do. It’s only that last night everyone kept talking about Mother and Christy and Rudy and pretending to care when it was obvious that they didn’t – and at times like that, I dive off into ridiculous self-pity. The result you witnessed for yourself.”
Mr Iveson didn’t comment. He merely glanced at her with the slightest of smiles. “Vice chair?” he murmured. “What’s keeping you from seizing full control?”
“Oh, I’m working on it.” She grinned, and then took his arm, feeling that she’d successfully covered her odd behaviour of last night enough to do so. “But you see, I don’t sit around the house hating poor Uncle Lionel – I’m busy raising money and bothering London County Council every other day. You can move onto the next damsel in distress – I’m quite all right.”
He nodded. “And you were only joking about marrying some rich old man, of course?”
Julia tried to evade the question, deflecting it with a laughing, “Well, I might need to keep my options open.”
“Do you mind?” said Mr Iveson, gesturing towards another bench and when she nodded, led her across to sit on it. “I don’t suppose you know about my marriage, do you?”
Julia sat down on the worn wooden slats. She shook her head, unsettled by that revelation, and feeling stupid that it had not occurred to her that he might be married. She’d rather thought he liked her, at least a little, although, of course, she reminded herself, those two things weren’t actually mutually exclusive.
“Well, take it as a warning,” he said. “I married a perfectly nice girl whom I thought I was in love with. I think she probably believed she loved me, or that she would in time. We were both wrong – it all fell apart within three months and I couldn’t – I couldn’t reach Caroline to even try and put things right. She had realised that she had been in love with someone else all along and there we were, finished. Three years later, we got a divorce. Which is to say, marriage is difficult enough even in normal circumstances without rushing into marriage someone you don’t care for, and all for mercenary reasons.”
Julia raised her chin, disliking being lectured by him. Honestly, he sounded as if he was at least sixty. So Victorian, she thought vindictively. “Perhaps it’s better to be practical about it, then,” she said. “I haven’t been married, but I had a love affair of my own in the war. He was a rat. So, I think a pragmatic arrangement is the most sensible –”
“And what then?” said Mr Iveson, keeping his voice low, but becoming even more insufferably prudish and dull. “If you pull it off without it eating away at your self respect – when you’re bored to tears with your elderly husband, or you hate him, too? Or if you fall for someone else? Then you have an affair, and that’s always more sordid than you would like, no matter what anyone says. Believe me, I know.”
Julia stared back at him, a slow anger building and then she thought, with satisfaction at having arrived at the most perfect and illogical revenge possible, she’d damn well marry him instead and that would solve everything.
“Goodness, Mr Iveson,” she said, also keeping from raising her voice, but making her feelings clear in her steely tone, “don’t tell me you’ve had an affair? I can hardly believe it. Or perhaps you mean that you once held hands with a married lady and felt faint from the shock?”
Mr Iveson halted at last and then gazed back at her for a long moment, before he turned his attention to the park in general, a faint flush on his cheeks for a moment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go on at you like that. It’s none of my business.”
“No,” she said, and then leant across to press her hand over his as it rested on his lap. “You needn’t worry. I didn’t mean it. I’m not going to marry any old men of any sort, I promise.”
He laughed. “I was being insufferable, wasn’t I?”
“Then let me take you to lunch and make it up to you as best I can – my treat.”
Julia laughed. “We’d best go halves. I suppose I’ve done my fair share of being beastly, both now and at the party.”
Mr Iveson gave her a wider, more undignified smile and got to his feet, holding out his hand to her. She took it, and didn’t let go.
Edward glanced at his watch, realising that he was, as he had feared, early again. He walked down the street, away from Lionel Graves’s house. Not for the first time, he asked himself what he was doing, dancing attendance on Julia. And then, also not for the first time, wondered why it was even a question any more. He’d gone back to see her in Berlin, to be sure she was all right, and then when he’d returned to London, it had been only too easy to enquire as to whether or not she was still with her uncle. He’d managed to let the matter rest there, reminding himself that nobody wanted a spectre at the feast and considering that they’d met over her brother’s dead body, how could she regard him in any other light? And then the chance to wangle an invitation to the Graves's house had come his way and he’d grabbed at it. All he was doing, he’d told himself, was finding out how she was, just as he had last year in Berlin. After all, she hadn’t been happy about the idea of getting in touch with her uncle and, since he’d given her the push to do it, he ought to find out if it had worked out for her. Except, despite what she said later, she clearly wasn’t happy at all; she was miserable enough to be threatening wildly to marry any elderly rich man who came her way.
He should have left it there. He didn’t know why it was she wouldn’t simply move out of her uncle’s, but she was only using him to amuse herself, to forget some of her frustrations. He shouldn’t stand for it, but so many other aspects of his life seemed to be quietly eroding away, and, shameful as the admittance was, he’d take whatever she was willing to offer him. It took his mind off everything else.
“Oh, God,” he muttered. He’d made a fool of himself in Berlin and nearly thrown away not just his job, but everything else, too. He was still angry with himself over it, even if it didn’t help. The Foreign Office had taken him back, his secondment to SIS being over, now the war had finally finished, but that was just the polite, official stance, and he’d heard the doors closing above, rather as they had when he was younger, after Caroline had divorced him, only it mattered more now. So, he’d turned his attention to the company his father had left him a controlling interest in – a paper factory – only to find that it hadn’t weathered the war and shortages well. Instead of being able to use that as an alternative, he found himself making arrangements to sell up before it was too late.
And so, as long as Julia was prepared to be seen out with him, whatever her reasons, Edward would be glad for it, because it looked now as if he was going to spend the rest of his life smothered in an office in Whitehall, lost among the lower to middling ranks of the Civil Service. Hardly the worst of fates, of course, but he’d had other ideas once upon a time.
Edward knocked at the door, only to have it pulled open by Julia, ready and waiting despite his being early. They were going over to his house, since she’d been asking to see it, promising him advice on decorating and he had no objections. Once he’d driven her over to Chalcot Crescent, he gave her the grand tour, such as it was, and she studied its shortcomings with close attention. He finished by leading her into the kitchen and making them both a cup of tea.
“Thank you,” she said as he handed her the tea in its cup, and then, of the house, “It’s nice. It could do with some redecorating, of course.”
Edward nodded. “I had a few basic things done before I moved back in, but everything else will have to wait for now.”
“Oh?” said Julia, watching him with new interest. She put down her cup, and then hoisted herself up to sit on the worktop beside it. “Short of cash?”
He shrugged. “If it comes to large interior decorating schemes, yes. Not particularly otherwise.”
Julia smiled. “You know that I’m pretty rich now, don’t you?”
Edward turned away, biting back anger at her insinuation. He felt the heat rise in his cheeks and couldn’t look at her. It had only been fair to make that clear, to say; she didn’t have to take the worst possible inference from it. “If that’s what you think of me, then I’d better take you home and not bother you in future.”
“Oh, no!” said Julia. “I thought I should point it out to you, that’s all. It is a useful opportunity, you know.”
He couldn’t think what she meant. “Look, I’m not asking your uncle for money, either.”
“You could probably ask him for advice, though,” she said. “He’d be bound to help if you were going to marry his niece.”
Edward started so violently that he knocked over the nearest object on the worktop with his elbow, and turned to see the salt cellar spilling its contents over the surface. Hastily, he righted it, and swept the salt into his hand.
“Throw it over your shoulder,” advised Julia. “Otherwise it’s a rather ominous omen for us.”
Edward threw it in the sink. “Julia. I don’t find that very funny.”
“Good,” she said. “I’m not joking. I don’t really need to marry a rich old man to get away from my uncle. I just need a decent sort he approves of enough so that he won’t cut me off again and who doesn’t mind marrying me. Uncle Lionel likes you, you know. I quite like you, too.”
Edward had no idea what to say. He supposed, given what she’d said to him on their first meeting, and on the second, he shouldn’t be entirely surprised, but he was. He’d thought she was amusing herself in some way – not that she was trying to get him to marry her. “Look,” he began, and then failed to find any other words. Part of him wanted to say yes – most of him, if he was honest – but it wasn’t a very flattering proposal and even aside from his unwillingness to go through another divorce following another unwise marriage, there were things he hadn’t told her. When he’d thought she was merely flirting with him to cheer herself up, none of that had mattered. The thought of explaining and watching her pretend her offer had been a joke after all made him feel almost queasy.
“Julia,” he said, running a hand through his hair in distraction. “Good God. Don’t be so appalling. I told you before, marriage is a serious matter!”
She leant forward, putting a hand to his arm and letting it stay there, although not catching hold of him. He didn’t move. “Please, Edward, only listen for a moment.” The casual note had vanished from her voice; she sounded entirely in earnest. “I’ve been wanting to suggest it to you for a while and I didn’t know how. I’m serious. I like you, I really do. You understand what happened in Berlin, and I know you won’t try to stop me being on all my committees and things – and I’m not shallow. I do care about them, and you probably know useful people, too. We can help each other.”
“Julia,” he said, his mouth dry, and still at a loss. All he wanted was to say yes, but nothing she had yet proposed gave him any confidence that it could be any other than a disaster if he did. “Look, Julia –”
She faced him. “My uncle knows that we met in Berlin, so it won’t seem as sudden as it is. And I’m not as heartless as I might sound. I think you like me already and I don’t see why I shouldn’t get very fond of you in time. But I don’t want to wait for us to do this properly. I want to try now, so I won’t murder my uncle and we can save that company of yours, too, perhaps. And I would never run away from you like Caroline. If I make a promise, I keep it.”
“Julia,” he said, making an effort to pull himself back together. It was a dreadful proposal in so many ways that he didn’t know where to start, and at the same time, he couldn’t help being aware that it would have been so tantalisingly easy to pull her off the worktop and into his arms in response. “Stop this. You can’t mean it, and it’s a terrible idea, even if you did.”
She bit her lip. “Don’t you like me after all?”
Edward reached for her hand. “Oh, God, I would marry you tomorrow, if that was all that mattered. Which is only one of the reasons why this isn’t funny and it isn’t fair. I know plenty of people have made marriages of necessity before, but I draw the line at you talking about marriage as if it’s some sort of sticking plaster!”
“No, of course it isn’t,” said Julia. “But, as it happens, marrying you would solve all of my current difficulties. I couldn’t make a marriage of pure convenience; it wouldn’t do. I’m too tired of being alone. I had a feeling you were, too.”
Edward let go of her hand, itching again to take hold of her properly, but he looked away instead. “Yes, well, you may think that, but I don’t think you understand what sort of bargain you’d actually be getting in me.”
“Gosh, you don’t have any dark deeds to confess, do you?” said Julia. “I don’t believe it.”
Edward leant against the worktop beside her. “What do you think I am? I should imagine I’ve got at least the average sort of collection of skeletons in the closet. And don’t laugh, Julia, this isn’t easy. It’s only that, between our meeting in Berlin and again here in London, I’ve been spending an awful lot of that time convalescing.”
“You’ve been ill?” she said. She wasn’t laughing in the least now. “What happened? Why didn’t you tell me before? I did ask, you know.”
He shrugged. “I’d rather not have told you. I made an idiot of myself out in Berlin. The massacre at Yorckstrasse – well, you know, obviously – and I was trying to get my particular project done and finish that blasted secondment, and I worked myself into it, I suppose.”
He made himself look across at her, thinking suddenly and uncomfortably of the time he’d gone back to see her in Berlin and she hadn’t even been able to remember his name. He understood why, of course, but he knew now that he hadn’t entirely been himself then, either, and her blank look had cut right through him.
“I believe they call it a state of nervous exhaustion.” He gave a wry twist of his mouth. “So, I was sent back home, being a liability to the service in that condition. I’ve been all right since the doctor cleared me, more or less, but I don’t think the Foreign Office quite know what to do with me, either. I think they hope I’ll just go away. Which was what I was hoping to do, if that company hadn’t been in trouble. So, you see, that’s what you’d be getting.”
“Edward,” said Julia, screwing up her face a little in sympathy. “We’ll be about even then, and we’ll work things out. I can leave my uncle, you can leave the Foreign Office. There you are, you see.” She leant over and pulled him in nearer to the worktop, so that she could kiss him, first on the cheek, and then nervously, at an awkward angle, on the mouth before drawing back, slightly flushed.
He laughed. Whatever Julia was or wasn’t, and no matter how terrible a proposition this might be, she wasn’t a practised flirt, that much was clear. He held out his hands to her and, when she took them, he pulled her off the worktop, so that she was standing in front of him, in his grasp.
“All right, then,” he said. “One last thing, though – you say you want this to eventually work its way into something more, and I think we ought – we ought to be sure that it’s possible.” He gave a grin as she looked up at him in sudden uncertainty, and stroked her cheek with his fingers before bending in slightly to kiss her again. She closed her eyes and caught at his lapels. Something in him gave at her nearness, her response, and he kissed her again more deeply and she only held onto him tighter still. Their combined loneliness was almost something tangible between them, pulling them closer. Edward wasn’t sure how to let go, but Julia looked away suddenly, and so he stepped back, releasing her.
Julia put her hand to her mouth and then said, eventually, “Yes, well, I should think we’ll be all right on that front, don’t you?”
“Probably,” said Edward, grinning. “Julia – one other thing. If I’d said no, what would you have done?”
“You’re my last hope, didn’t I tell you?” she said, and then straightened his jacket, not looking at him. “I knew you wouldn’t be so unkind as to turn me down.”
“Ah, Iveson,” said Lionel Graves, rising as Edward entered his office in the privileged upper reaches of the bank. “You got my message.”
Edward shook his hand. “I did. And you no doubt want to have words with me about marrying Julia.” He hesitated, but decided to be the one to say it. After all, Julia would no doubt have already raised the subject, knowing her. “I have to ask – she hasn’t been saying something about money, has she? Because I neither want nor need it from you, or from her. Of course, anything you want to arrange for her is a different matter – but that’s between the two of you.”
“No, no,” Lionel said, lowering himself back down into his chair. “Do sit down, Iveson, and stop being nonsensical. That’s not it – although she did say you might want advice. You could have asked me directly, you know. You’re not some stranger. I knew your father – not well, but he and Harold always kept in touch.”
Edward’s mouth twitched into the slightest of smiles. “Sorry, sir. And, yes, I would appreciate some advice on a business matter, if you didn’t mind. My father left me a controlling interest in a paper manufacturing company, and I’m not sure whether to sell out at this point, or invest – I’ve got a proposal and it seems sound enough, but it’s not really my field.”
“Yes, of course,” said Lionel. “I’ll arrange a time to go through it with you – or maybe take a look now and tell you who should get onto. But it’s Julia I wanted to talk to you about. Between you and me, I was relieved to hear the news.”
Edward raised his eyebrows, but waited for the older man to continue. He rather suspected that Julia might well count this conversation as fraternising with the enemy, but he had always believed that life was more complex than that.
“She’s not happy,” said Lionel, rearranging the papers on his desk with a cough. “I know that sounds damned stupid, given the circumstances, but she’s not. She goes about the house as if nothing’s wrong and bustles off to this, that or the other – committees and good works, you know the sort of nonsense, I’m sure you’ll soon put it out of her head –”
Edward had to carefully hide amusement. Yes, definitely fraternising with the enemy, he decided.
“But she’s not right – has all these odd moods, and goes quiet for days, and I’ve never caught her crying, not since that first week. And what can I do? I never saw any of Harold’s children much – never cared for Hanne, you see, not for Harold at least – and there it is. You think so, too?”
Faced with a blunt question, Edward was unwilling to lie. “I think you’re right,” he murmured. “She’s not happy. But, as you say, how could she be? It’s not been much over a year yet.”
“Yes,” said Lionel, as if not really listening. “So, there we are. You’re a sensible fellow, or you ought to be if you’re anything like your father, or your mother for that matter. You’ll be of more help than I will. So, no, I don’t mind the hurry. Besides, she’s of age and she wouldn’t thank me for interfering.”
Edward had to smile. “But I feel sure you’d get rid of me soon enough if you thought I was after her money,” he said, deflecting the conversation from the awkward turn it had taken. Julia would not approve of Edward discussing her like this, and certainly not with her uncle.
“Oh, well, if you weren’t on the level, yes,” said Lionel. “As far as I could, anyhow – can’t stop someone from running off with someone, not without locking them up.”
“Well, thank you,” said Edward. He pulled out the folder he’d brought with him. “Shall I give you a quick explanation of my situation with Harcourt’s – the company, I mean – or see you again when it’s more convenient?”
Lionel glanced at his watch with a brief harrumph, and then held out a stubby hand for the papers. “Leave it with me, I’ll give it a glance and pass you onto someone who’ll be able to help you.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Edward, getting up. “I appreciate it. And I meant what I said – whatever you may or may not settle with Julia is none of my business, but I don’t want to profit by the match by so much as a penny. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous to you, but I had the impression Julia had other ideas, so I must insist.”
Lionel shrugged. “If you say so. You’ll take my advice, though, eh?”
“I’d be a fool not to,” said Edward. “And, as you said, I hardly needed to be married to Julia to ask.”
Lionel narrowed his gaze. “I heard, you know, that your grandfather could be odd at times,” he said. “But, understood – if I give Julia a wedding gift of that sort, it’ll be set up for her sole use and not yours.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Edward, managing to refrain from asking which grandfather, although he suspected strongly that Lionel Graves must mean his maternal grandfather, who had been an academic, but from what he recalled, it would have been a fair comment on either of them.
“I don’t understand why you’re so insistent on it – almost as if you don’t trust yourself. Not got some expensive habit my niece needs to know about?”
“Nothing like that,” Edward said. “I merely think that I wouldn’t be able to afford the cost, not in the end.”
The plan was simple, Julia tried to remind herself in the midst of all the wedding preparations. She had insisted on the quietest wedding possible, but nobody around her seemed to understand the meaning of the word, and she was nonetheless caught up in plans and dress fittings and invitations, although at least the necessity to marry in a register office because of Edward’s divorce had helped limit everyone else’s ideas. If she could marry Edward as privately as possible, that would be one thing. This felt far more like perpetrating a fraud in public. But the plan was still as simple as it had ever been, and she must hold onto that: she would marry Edward and get away from her uncle, she could continue with her current projects and he could do whatever it was a person did if they sat on the board of a company, and eventually, she would no doubt come to love him too.
Which was why she was currently avoiding him as much as possible, not wanting to give rise to too many opportunities to repeat a moment like the one in his kitchen when he’d accepted her proposal. She'd been relieved that her plan had worked, and she’d been feeling sorry for him, after what he’d told her, that was all. Poor Edward, she thought again, inconsequently.
Naturally, she planned for there to be intimacy in their marriage; that was part of the point of the arrangement, but Julia knew perfectly well that didn’t have to involve love. She might not have behaved terribly well over all this, but at least she’d been honest, and she wouldn’t have him believe things that weren’t true through any more such carelessness. The idea panicked her more than she could explain.
“Julia,” said Edward, coming into the room unexpectedly. “I wanted to see you, but I hear you’re too busy.” He glanced around at the papers all over the coffee table in front of her, the material draped over the chair. “Can I help?”
She thrust a sheet containing a list of potential guests towards him. “Well, you could go and tell my uncle that we can’t have half these guests, and if he can remove all these I don’t even know, I’m sure it will be fine. If you do it, he might actually listen and oblige. He nods along to what I say, and then tells me that some fourth cousins would be highly offended if I didn’t invite them.”
“Why don’t you let him?” said Edward. “After all, then you could see if you have any relatives you like better, and all with the perfect safeguard of being obliged to leave with me before the end of the day!”
Julia leant forward and pushed the paper into his hand. “Well, at least a third of them need to go. Or otherwise you’ll need to even up your side, and then where will we be? I keep telling him to remember that it’s a civil service and it has to be kept quiet, but he says all the more reason for a large reception afterwards.”
“It’s his gift to you,” Edward pointed out.
Julia leant back in the chair. “Trust him to give me something I don’t want!”
“Look, I needed to speak to you,” said Edward. “Only for a moment.”
Julia frowned down at her papers, not pushing back her hair when it fell forward over her face. She liked being with Edward, but it was easy to forget where to draw the line. She needed to keep things clearer in her mind before she let him confuse her. “Well, I really am awfully busy – please go and reason with him. Maybe my second cousins, but I don’t want so many strangers there. Please, Edward.”
“Yes, I’ll go and speak to him,” said Edward, rising again and heading for the door. “You needn’t worry.”
Julia nodded, knowing he would manage it. Edward always came across first as so reserved and polite, even a little awkward, but it was almost all a disguise, and he had no problems in getting his own way when he wanted it. That worried her too – perhaps he’d guessed her intentions all along and his motives were only mercenary after all? She didn’t, she found, with a chill in her heart, want to risk more closeness to find that he had been the one who had been lying, not her.
They hadn’t even finished the honeymoon and yet everything seemed to have gone terribly wrong already. Julia concentrated on spreading the margarine on her toast rather than look up at Edward as they continued to sit in the hotel’s elegantly furnished dining room, eating their breakfast in silence. What else did she expect for making such a stupid and selfish proposal? She bit into her toast, adding darkly to herself that Edward was nearly as much to blame as she was, because who accepted that kind of proposal anyway?
The first night, Edward had settled himself on the couch in their room and Julia had been too taken aback and too tired from the wedding, its preparations, and the journey down into Devon to object. She had kept waking uneasily in the night and every time she did, she could hear him shifting about on the couch, clearly not comfortable at all. The whole thing had been like something out of a farce, and not what she had had in mind at all.
It had taken her all day to try and find something to say to him to avoid a succession of such nights. She had thought she had already made it clear that sharing a love life of some kind was supposed to be part of the bargain, but maybe she hadn’t. Or maybe he’d changed his mind, put off by her earlier behaviour and drawn on by the lure of the money. Perhaps it had always been about the money. She had been afraid of saying something only to find out that that was true, that he didn’t care about her, or even think her desirable. She had been almost sure that he did like her a great deal, but the risk of asking suddenly dismayed her far more than she would have expected.
She’d caught him before they went down to dinner in the end, and tried to explain, and wound up kissing him, after which had followed a much nicer evening than the previous one, which had wound up becoming the cause of the next problem. Julia had planned all this out: Edward was someone she liked, they could benefit each other by marrying, he already cared for her to some degree, and she soon would for him. It would be a safe, pragmatic arrangement – a slow progression to a foregone conclusion. But suddenly, actually in his arms, all the lies she’d told herself and him became painfully obvious, leaving her no protection from the undeniable, dreadful truth: that she was already falling in love with him and probably had been even before she’d proposed. She hadn’t wanted a convenient husband, not as such – she’d wanted Edward.
Julia hadn’t bargained for allowing herself those emotions, for tasting any sort of real happiness, even briefly, and the next morning, Edward had found her crying uncontrollably in the bathroom and unable to explain herself. She couldn’t say it, she thought, flicking a glance up at him again now. She couldn’t possibly say it.
Understandably, though, Edward had treated her with extreme wariness for the rest of the day, leaving her to read a book that she couldn’t take in a word of, while he went off for a walk. She’d remembered, halfway through the afternoon, what he’d told her about Caroline, and knew she had to try and explain, but she failed, falling upon any excuse he gave her not to talk about anything meaningful as they ate dinner, surrounded by what suddenly seemed like a whole host of happy couples.
She’d decided instead that when they got upstairs again, she would simply kiss him and make it plain in every way she could that her tears had had nothing to do with him, and were only her own stupidity, but he had disappeared off to the bar and hadn’t reappeared. She’d fallen asleep, but he woke her briefly, fumbling around in the dark, and then again later, apparently being very ill in the bathroom. She had only thought in drowsy annoyance that it served him right before she drifted off again.
This morning, she’d had to wake him before they missed breakfast altogether, and now here they were, Julia wondering how to retrieve anything from this sorry mess, and Edward probably still feeling too rotten to bother about such things, as he stared down at his breakfast with apparent distaste.
“It will help if you eat it, you know,” she said suddenly, her concern surfacing despite everything, as did her previously errant sense of humour, but she tried not to let that show. “You were very ill last night. How much did you drink?”
He glanced up slowly, and then put a hand to his head. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, Julia. And I don’t know – not so much. There was an unwise cocktail or so. It won’t happen again.”
“It needn’t have happened at all,” said Julia. “I’m sorry about yesterday, too, but I was trying to say that it wasn’t you. I was –” She stopped, her heart thudding and feeling almost light-headed at the risk of telling him. Maybe he wouldn’t really take it in, if she did. “It was so silly. You see, the truth is – the dreadful truth is, that everything I told you –”
Edward held up a hand. “Can’t this at least wait till I’ve finished my coffee?”
“I lied,” said Julia, not feeling it was possible to halt now she’d finally got started. “To myself too, and that was what I finally understood. I lied about everything. I didn’t want a convenient marriage, certainly not with just anyone –”
She found it was possible to stop after all, and flushed, feeling the heat in her cheeks. “Yes, I’m sorry,” she said, and finished her toast and marmalade, watching his progress until he’d drunk his coffee and at least made a start on his eggs, before she tried again. “I think I must have been already beginning to fall in love with you even when I asked.”
Edward lowered his fork back down onto the plate and stared at her, his hangover temporarily forgotten.
“Yes, I know,” said Julia. “It’s a bit late to confess now I’ve married you, isn’t it?”
Edward put his hand up to his head again, rubbing his temple, before eventually, he said, “I’m not going to pretend to follow any of this, but what did you just say?”
Her heart was thudding, dizzying her so she had to pause before she could answer. “I’m so very sorry, but I seem to be at least halfway in love with you.” She pushed her plate away. “Maybe more.”
Edward looked back at her for a long moment, and then ate a couple of mouthfuls more of his breakfast, before rising from his chair without a word and holding out his hand to her.
She wasn’t sure what sort of response that was, but she cast her napkin back on the table and let him pull her up and lead her towards the door. Several of the other hotel guests glanced over at them, curious at the abrupt departure.
“Excuse me,” said Edward, as he navigated his way past a couple walking in the opposite direction, then opened the door for Julia, and took her hand again as they went up two flights of stairs.
Julia was beginning to feel nervous, although his expression was impossible to read and there was nothing ungentle in his hold on her. “Please don’t be too angry with me,” she said, as they stood out in the corridor while he fiddled with the lock, cursing under his breath at his clumsiness. “I know it’s bound to confuse things, but I honestly didn’t realise myself.”
Edward ushered her in, and pushed the door shut behind her. “Julia,” he said, “will you stop apologising? It’s not dreadful, it’s miraculous.”
“No, no, you don’t understand,” said Julia, and then stopped, not quite able to articulate why it was so awful, except it wasn’t the bargain she had made. But she wasn’t supposed to be happy about anything, not yet – and there was some indistinct but intense conviction within her that for her to love anyone was to curse one or both of them, and the idea of losing Edward suddenly distressed her more than she could say. She had to wipe away another tear. She was being silly, no doubt, but she was tired, having had three disturbed nights in a row – well, at least four or five, given that she’d not slept well immediately before the wedding.
In the end, she gave up, and swallowed back more unwanted tears. “It hurts. Being happy. It just hurts too much, and I can’t.”
Edward looked back at her, blankly uncomprehending, until suddenly his face softened and he moved in nearer. “Julia,” he said, and put his arms around her. He kissed her head, and guided her over to the bed, pulling her down to sit beside him. “I don’t understand, or at least, not all of it – not now.” He frowned again, and then put his arm around her tightly. “But a little, yes. You’re still grieving – of course you are. How could you not be?”
“Best not to show it,” said Julia, and found she was trembling. “I’m not the only one, why I should I make a fuss?”
Edward kissed her cheek. “This isn’t in public, this is just us. Don’t ask me why, because you make appalling proposals, cry yourself sick after I’ve made love to you, and then decide to say you love me in the middle of breakfast in the hotel dining hall when I’m hung-over, but I love you too. Or I’m at least three-quarters of the way there.”
Julia felt oddly warmed by the unromantic declaration, and reached for his hand, curling her fingers around his. “Well, being hung-over is your fault, not mine.”
“Oh, I know, and I’m regretting it, believe me,” said Edward. “Come on, lie down a moment.”
Julia turned sharply in his hold. “Now?”
“No, not like that,” he said, giving a brief smile. “Sadly.”
Julia kicked off her shoes and tried not to giggle, as she suspected that she might cry again if she did, and that would only be tiresome. “Oh, yes, you have a headache. Poor Edward!” She did as he said and lay down on the bed, letting him hold her.
“I haven’t been through what you have,” he said, “but I have lost both parents – and then Caroline – other people in the war. I do understand a little.”
Julia stared up at the ceiling, but shifted nearer to him. “I’ve been wishing I was dead ever since,” she said, at last. “I didn’t try or anything, I don’t mean that, but I wanted to be dead. I’d held on for them, all that time, but it was too late.” She closed her eyes. “I should be dead, not here, being –” She gave up on finding the right word.
“Alive?” said Edward. “Life is awkward. Always moving on – feels like a betrayal.”
“Well,” Edward said, “I think perhaps we could simply enjoy our honeymoon. Worry about the rest when we leave here.”
Julia gave a small smile. “Yes, I think that might be possible. I might be able to manage that.”
“Good,” he said, and she thought, relaxing, how nice his voice was when he spoke softly like that. There were rather a lot of nice things about Edward, and she idly let her mind drift into cataloguing them silently.
Edward stroked her hair. “Nothing’s changed, you know. This bargain is as it was – and the rest we sort out later, as you said before. In the meantime, let’s enjoy this holiday. Yes?”
Julia nodded, and felt the weight of the mattress shift as he lay back down and then, presently, his hold on her grew lax and she heard his breathing even out and knew he’d dozed off. Oh dear, she thought, putting hand to her mouth to stifle laughter, lying there still; too tired to move but as yet too comfortably happy for that one isolated moment to allow herself to let it go by falling asleep.
For the first time since the wedding ceremony, she felt that it might work out.