Grace Woodruff, the backbone of her troubled family, finds that its disintegration and the return of a lost love strains her emotional stability and sends her on a journey to discover a new path that, along the way, makes her re-evaluate exactly what she wants and how she can achieve it, but what will it cost her?
With an unhappy sigh, Grace went into the library opposite. She felt nothing for the man who sired her, except perhaps distaste.
The library was her favourite room, with bookcases lining each wall from the gold embossed ceiling to the plush dark green-carpeted floor. A large fireplace stood at one end and occasional tables of oak and beech were dotted between comfortable sofas and armchairs. By the large bay window, stood an impressive desk of walnut inlaid with maroon leather. She ran her fingers over it as she gazed through the window, absent-mindedly watching a red robin skip from the branches of a rhododendron bush.
Hearing noise coming from the hall, she closed her eyes momentarily. Her sisters’ voices reached her even through the thickness of the library’s walls. Grace rushed to quieten them before their father roared like an enraged bull.
She was too late. Her father entered the hall at the same time, freezing the smiles on the faces of the four young women.
“Why can you not do anything silently?” He scorned. “Wasn’t the money I spent on your governess enough to instill some sense of decency in you? Your mother has failed yet again, I see.”
Grace stepped forward. “Take yourselves upstairs and change for dinner. You are late,” she ordered, though her eyes softened a little, taking the sting out of her words.
“Heather, my study,” Woodruff commanded.
Hesitantly she followed, giving Grace a surprised look.
“You might as well join us, Grace, for you will need to know what is happening and arrange things accordingly,” he added.
They followed him into the study and stood waiting while he sat behind his desk. He placed his hands over his extended stomach and rocked back in the chair. “I have news regarding the dinner party we attended at the Ellsworth’s. Amazingly, your mother performed her duty for once and made you all a social success.”
Grace raised an eyebrow. “In all honesty, Father, your wife and daughters have been socially acceptable for many years.”
He snorted. “With the local farmers? Do you think them to be acquaintances worthy of me?”
“I do believe our circle of friends are more than just farmers. I am sure we can count the mayor, a doctor or two, a solicitor, a Captain-”
“Don’t be insolent, Miss!”
“Well, Father, you make the opinion that we do not venture into the correct society.” Grace tilted her head. “Do you wish us to dine with nobility? Shall I send them our card?”
“Be quiet, you impertinent chit!” Woodruff flared. “I will rise to dine in their exalted ranks eventually, and if I can’t do it by marrying you lot into their lines, then I’ll find some other way.”
Their father’s small round eyes narrowed as he grinned. “No, not yet, although many nobles have little money. They will marry beneath them from time to time to gain wealth once more.”
“We have no fear on that account, sir. We’ve little compared to most.”
Woodruff bristled. “Do you suggest I wish to remain so?”
Surprised, Grace frowned. “Are you not content, sir, with all you have? We’re very fortunate-”
“What do you know of finance!” He flung his short, fleshy arms wide to incorporate the whole house. “All this requires a great deal of money. Position and status requires even more! I have money, and with it I intend to buy power and eminence.”
“I am not ignorant-”
Heather stepped forward bringing the argument to a halt. “What did you wish to speak to me about, Father?”
Woodruff settled back into his chair. “I had a meeting today with Reginald Ellsworth. He has some business interests equaling mine. In fact, I own a profitable venture he wishes to take off my hands.” He waved in a dismissive gesture. “I am giving him a good price and in return he affords me the opportunity to marry one of you into his pedigree. Of course your marriage settlements from your mother’s money has greased the way a little.”
“No…” A cold shiver ran up Grace’s back.
He held Heather’s gaze. “Ellsworth has granted a union between you, Heather, and his eldest son Andrew. I believe you may expect a call from Andrew tomorrow.”
Heather and Grace stood unblinking, trying to absorb their father’s announcement.
“Come, come! No thanks? No gratitude, Heather?” Woodruff puffed himself up importantly.
“You…you cannot be serious, Father?” Grace hoped he was joking. He’d played evil tricks on them many times before.
He frowned. “And why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, Heather and Andrew have only begun a friendship. To speak of marriage to cement a business deal is unjust.”
“Nonsense! It is commonplace.”
“I had hoped our family would be different. We have seen the evidence of a marriage made solely for business reasons.”
“Still your tongue, girl.”
“But there has been no romantic involvement yet, Father. Has there, Heather?” Grace appealed to her sister before spinning back to glare at him. “Can you not let them grow to love-”
“This has nothing to do with romantic notions you silly fool!” He roared, rising to lean over his desk towards her. “This is two mighty families coming together! This is Heather’s duty to me, and her family. She is the age of two and twenty and will be soon beyond her use if she doesn’t find a husband willing enough to look past this error.”
Hatred filled Grace. She stepped closer to the desk. “Her age has nothing to do with this. You simply want to use her as a pawn to infiltrate a society that sneers at you behind your back! They’ll never accept you-"
His stinging slap jerked her head back. Sharp pain bit at her cheek. Grace put her hand to her burning face. “Heather,” she begged, “say something please!”