Archive for September, 2022

Gray Lace, Part 45

Egad!

Our Catherine Randolph is working undercover as a lady’s maid in a home neighboring her enemy, John Pettigrew, in hopes of searching his house for proof of her trust fund. Meanwhile, our Trevor Coffman is with their loyal friends, Joann, Ross, and Jacob, also working undercover in a Patterson Hotel suite as a wealthy royal and his staff.

pages 83

His lunch tasted dry and worrisome. He stared at his plate and realized he had incorrectly assumed Catherine wouldn’t withstand the workload of a lady’s maid. He lamented his frustrations to Ross in front of Joann. She abruptly stood across the table from him and locked her elbows between the teapot and the serving platter full of cucumber sandwiches. He should have seen the storm coming when she stood tall. Jamming her fists into her hips, she started, “Listen to me, your lordly-ship, today, while you’re struggling to lift your little pinky finger above the rim of your dainty fine-boned China teacup, you’d best remember that heavy hot iron our Catherine is sliding across Mrs. Stafford’s gowns. And I’ll bet you my bucket of expensive wishes, that while she’s doing that, she’s thinking how she hates ironing, but that it’s a lot easier than lifting His Meanness when he’s full of pulled pork or boiling fat back.”

He hid his smile. He loved this woman. He loved that she would defend their Catherine. His Catherine, he hoped. He lifted his head and dared to ask, “His Meanness?” He heard Ross snicker.

“His Meanness, Trevor, you met him back in the swamp, in our kitchen. He’s huge and quite heavy, even for me.”

Trevor stood and faced both Garretts, “The big cooking pot? Are you two trying to tell me Catherine lifted that thing?”

From the sofa Jacob folded the newspaper he had been reading and stood, “Wrong question, my friend. Perhaps try, ‘Why did she have to?’ “

“When she had to!” Joann snapped and went to answer the knock on the hall door and on her way, she continued, “We helped her when she needed it, but that girl can handle far more than you seem to give her credit.”

Jacob and Ross tried to be first but in Joann’s angry huff she beat them to it. The opened door displayed the face of an astonished hotel manager, then his surprise dissolved into a red face full of hate. He pushed Joann to one side using the palm of his hand against her arm.

Trevor admired Ross’s restraint.

When the man reached his side, he turned and rudely pointed at her. “Lord Coffman, while it’s a very great honor having you as our guest here at the Patterson, we request that your staff be respectful.” This speech told Trevor more than he needed to know about the manager’s stupidity.

Trevor swallowed his own anger and managed a smile with a tiny bit of sincerity. In the few months he’s had been visiting, he had been disappointed in the high number of people who deeply resented others who happened to show compassion for another race or gender. He didn’t understand it. Were they afraid of Joann’s race? Could they be afraid of humanity? Did it really run that deep? Was it bred into them from childhood?

Breathing loudly and deeply, he placed his hands behind his back, his favorite debating stance, and he reached for his patience. “Thank you for bringing your concerns to my attention,” remembering his father’s lessons in waiting for a moment before speaking. He turned his back to the repugnant individual and walked to the comforting view from the bay windows. Staring in the general direction of the Stafford house, his blood pressure slowed.

“Now, just what is the problem? What exactly has my staff done? My apologies, ” Trevor did not turn around to acknowledge him, “I’ve mentally misplaced your name.”

Continuing to stare out the windows, he asked Joann to close the hall door. Speaking to the room, he added, “We wouldn’t want the other guests to be subjected to any of these problems. Just what again were they, Mr. …?”

“McBride, Homer McBride, Lord Coffman,” the man melted into a nearby chair. Ross raised his eyebrows, which brought McBride back to his feet.

Trevor kept his back to the room, “Continue, Mr. McBride.”

“Your Lordship, there have been numerous stated concerns which we need to discuss in private.”

Trevor turned to face him. “Give me a hint, a general category. I would hate to waste your time or mine discussing a situation over which I have no knowledge.” Keeping his hands behind his back, he began a slow march around the spacious sitting room. “Is it my finances, my behavior, my Charleston associates? I really cannot imagine what scenario you and I have in common. What would concern an innkeeper of such a sophisticated establishment? Just what is your category?” He stopped at the hall door and turned around.

“Sir, it’s … ,” His blush pinked his hollow cheeks, “it’s your staff.”

Trevor bent slightly forward, keeping his eyes boring into McBride’s, “My staff has been misbehaving? Really? It is difficult to believe. We have just arrived. Maybe it’s their exuberance in just being here. I’ll speak to them straight away.” He stood tall and silently signaled to Ross and Jacob to escort McBride to the door. “Now, do not concern yourself. These matters will be handled.”

McBride tugged away from the gentle hold Jacob had on his elbow and faced Trevor. “No, you’ve misunderstood, Lord Coffman. You really need to dismiss members of your staff who are of certain persuasions.”

“Persuasions, sir?”

Sweat glistened on the manager’s brow, just below his receding hairline. He whispered, “Mr. Patterson and His Board of Directors would prefer that all staff be of the same persuasion.”

Trevor’s eyes squinted into a feral tremor while his mouth straightened into a straight line. Ross stepped closer and Jacob sided up to McBride, forming a cage. The manager’s eyes widened, and his neck muscles tightened.

Joann stood frozen across the room.

Trevor decided not to make this easy for the man, besides he had been bored lately. It was time for some fun. “Persuasion, Mr. McBride, whatever do you mean?”

After a fortifying breath he whispered, “The Patterson will not hire nor allow Jews or Africans in our establishment.”

Trevor allowed a bit of a smile as he reached for the doorknob. Leaning on the frame, he said, “Mr. McBride, do you have trouble sleeping?” He opened the door and escorted the man into the hall by applying pressure on his elbow. Not trusting Ross or Jacob to keep their tempers, he shut the door to his hotel suite. “You see, sir, if you sleep well now, enjoy it. You will soon have problems.”

“Why, what are you saying?”

“Well, I for one, would not be able to sleep if I had no income.” They continued down the carpeted hall toward the grand staircase. “I would not be able to sleep if I had a broken nose, or limb, or a life-threatening swamp fever.”

He led him by his elbow until they were looking down into the well of the wide double staircase ending in the lobby below where Charleston’s finest could be seen. He crowded McBride’s toes up to the very edge and kept his elbow in an increasingly tight hold. Trevor presented his plan, “I’ll manage all of my excellent staff, every one of them, and I want to ensure you of my abilities.”

He felt the man’s tremors and waited for his nod of understanding. Trevor dropped his hand, “Enjoy your afternoon, Mr. McBride, and please be careful. Your staff put extra wax on those stairs today. An employee could only display broken limbs for so long before the Patterson Board of Directors would dismiss him for being … of the wrong persusasion.”

He watched McBride carefully descend for a few sweet seconds before he turned back. They now needed to find a different place, perhaps a new identity. He prayed for Catherine as he opened the door to his rooms.

Enough! Until Later

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Gray Lace, Part 44

Egad!

Trevor leaves the safety of his 1908 Charleston hotel to check on his adventurous Catherine. He hopes to find her retreating on the Stafford roof for a rest from her difficult duties as their maid. He also hopes to convince her to revise her dangerous plans.

Catherine hopes to explore her childhood home next door to her undercover employment, and she hopes to retrieve her stolen trust fund. She leaves the Stafford roof and using an alley cover, she is pleased to be discovered by a sharply dressed Trevor, instead of a Pettigrew employee.

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Catherine trusted the Stafford family to remain asleep as she left her fourth floor closet; labeled home for a lady’s maid. She had stolen a few hours of sleep after some backbreaking work on her first day. “I’ll pay my maid five times as much, if I ever have another one. Oh God, the ironing!” As she worked her way up the attic stairs, she wished she could give up ironing for Lent, hopefully sooner.

She lamented the plight of working women everywhere, as she climbed the retractable folding ladder which led to the roof. She gratefully allowed the meager moonlight and ocean breezes guide her over and around the hidden obstacles and chimney pots. Easily gliding over the covered alley between the houses, she rediscovered the attic entrance she had used as a child. She had often retreated to the roof to talk to God when He had taken her mother. She continued their conversations when her father had remarried, and then died. She had hidden there even more often to avoid the abuses from her stepmother and her new family, the Pettigrews.

Those memories tried to block her breathing and progress, but she swallowed each ugly scene. She tested the rusty hinges on the wooden cover which led down to the attic Pettigrew attic. The creaking seemed deafening and non-productive. She tried a third time and she sweaty palms slipped. She lost her balance and would have slammed her back and head against a brick chimney standing in the darkness behind her, but welcoming arms gathered her chest and neck into a comforting male hug. Together they slid slowly and quietly to the rooftop floor. “Busy night?” Trevor kissed her cheek and gently rolled her to his side.

She did not understand why he was there, but she returned the kiss. “Thank you and yes, it’s been a very bust night indeed. Hopefully productive if you let me stand up.”

He smiled as he kissed the side of her face and helped her up. He worked on the entrance cover for a few nervous moments and managed to loosen it enough to open. “There, you should be able to use this later, if you must.” His head leaned a bit to his right. “We’ve woken someone. I hear voices below.” He turned her toward the Stafford roof. “Enough for tonight.”

Catherine started back, stopped, turned, and asked, “How did you get up here?”

“The Pettigrews have a handy fire escape.”

She led Trevor over the slippery alleyway cover and stopped at the Stafford’s attic entrance. “Thank you, but I don’t expect you to show up in my every time of need.”

“I’d like to,” he whispered as he leaned in, wrapped her closer, and tried to make a deal. “I’ll tell you all you want to know about my brothers, but please include me in your future and let me keep you safe.”

While trying to swim through her numerous feelings and possible responses, they heard a kitchen maid knocking wake-up calls on the servants’ doors below them. “I’ve got to go.” Rubbing her hands up and down his shirt front she noted his formal attire, his dragon slaying outfit.

He smiled, “Tomorow night, same time, same roof, different clothes.” He headed back to rest before he had to entertain Charleston’s elite, but he stopped when he heard her whisper, “Don’t give away those kisses too freely.”

He quickly returned to her, enveloped her, and dove in, with his hands where they shouldn’t be, but exactly where she wanted them.

Enough! Until Later.

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