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Gray Lace, part 50

Egad!

In my Gray Lace, pages 97-98, my two antagonists, John and Jared Pettigrew, show their wicked sides. If this scene offends, I apologize. Sometimes life does that.

Catherine is hidden in plain sight under a side table as this scene progresses and she must decide when to escape with her proof of her stolen trust funds.

Her childhood memories flashed. This is the spot where she had studied math questions and played paper dolls while her father had worked on his “homework”. Now she waited and prayed and clutched the papers to her chest. She scuttled as far back as she could to the wall, thinking there used to be more room under that table.

John and Jared Pettigrew marched in followed by a wailing Cynthia. “Light the lamps, Jared. And Cynthia, shut up! We’ll handle this. Haven’t we before? Now, sit down and listen. If you can’t stop that ridiculous sniffling, then go to bed.” He threw himself into Peter Randolph’s comfortable leather chair.

Catherine knew he could possibly see her. Her father often had. He would talk her through those enjoyable math questions or ask her about whatever afternoon adventures her dolls were experiencing. However, now, she focused on the tiny objects blocking Pettigrew’s full view of her. A chessboard table had been placed a few feet away. She bent down an inch more and begged the knight and castle to shield and protect.

“That damned overly chatty Englishman kept at us. What’s he after?” Jared jammed his hands into his pockets, stood with his feet apart, and pointed his chin higher.

“Not sure,” his father offered in a mumbled response. In a stronger voice he raised his head and announced, “I have an appointment with him tomorrow. He wants his attorney with him to conduct some business.”

Cynthia timidly asked, “What kind of business?”

“Shut up, bitch! I warned you!” He stood up so fast the chair rolled back and hit the bookcase. The loud slap startled Catherine and her empathy chilled her when Cynthia’s head slammed against the back of her chair. He sneered, “Now, I’ll get you upstairs.” He shoved his face into hers, “I’m feeling up to the occasion.”

“No, John, not tonight, please!”

“Jared, turn down those lamps when you finish swilling my expensive liquor.” He forced Cynthia to her feet and pushed her out the door. Catherine heard her pleading for mercy all the way up the stairs before their bedroom door slammed.

Jared’s sigh was loud, and he restlessly paced around the room after pouring more than a glass of whiskey was meant to hold. He stopped before the chessboard, his feet facing Catherine. He threw back the contents of the crystal tumbler and moved around a few pieces as if he actually knew how to play. Catherine didn’t breathe. She focused on his hands and her skin crawled when his evil laugh accompanied the king and queen battling out a sex scene, similar to what was happening upstairs.

He threw them down on their kingdoms and left the room forcing the doors to slam. His glass tumbler stared back at Catherine. She spent a moment staring back, breathing and listening, then another one to thank her Good Lord for her current safety. Gradually, she dared to move a few limbs at a time as she climbed out of her childhood cave. She stood at the chessboard, listening carefully for Jared’s possible return. She debated about taking the king and queen with her and she allowed one brief moment of sadness. She left the pieces to defend their own kingdom and she quietly opened the hall door. Peering around the corner, she thanked any lucky stars available that no one was around. The muffled cries from above would be ignored, unfortunately.

Her luck, her stars, and planet alignments herded her out the front door and down the steps. The Patteson Hotel waited to warmly greet her, but she would try the back door first since her maid uniform might serve her once more, even without shoes.

Enough! (until later)

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Gray Lace, part 49

Egad!

I want to write a political essay, but I won’t. This isn’t the correct platform. However, I will write, I thought the fear would not get this close. Threats have been made locally to a friend.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

At this moment it feels to be quite “enough”.

Returning to 1908, Charleston, our Catherine survived the disastrous Stafford formal dinner and is now carefully invading her old childhood home, searching for the proof of her stolen inheritance.

Chapter Nine

“Ouch!” Catherine’s toe sent the expected pain to her anxious mind. In the darkened study, she had quickly covered her mouth from spitting forth further noises. Surely, the few servants hadn’t heard her cry out. Her father’s study with plush heavy furniture muffled most of her racquet. Her nose wrinkled in disgust at the accumulation of dust. When she had visited as a child this room had always been invitingly clean.

The muted light from the hall showed her a path around the ornate wooden ottoman. That monstrosity explained her unhappy toe. Maybe leaving her shoes on the roof wasn’t her best idea.

Lovingly she ran her fingers over the smooth edge of his desk. She couldn’t ignore her stepfather’s overly neat supplies. There were no important documents visible or any papers for that matter. There was a large ink blotter, a leather penholder, and a glass ink bottle. That’s it. Catherine recalled teasing her playful and loving father by rearranging his stacks of books and files. She thought of them as building blocks. Never once had he been cross, upset, or heaven forbid, violent. The faint scar on her hairline begin to throb as she remembered that years later John Pettigrew slammed her into the lamp table for being “caught in his study”.

Urging herself to get on with the task at hand, she knew her minutes were few before the Pettigrews would return from the dinner next door. She smiled at Trevor’s attempt to aide her escape. He’s gone to the entrance hall and spoke to the Pettigrews. “Both of you, come back and rejoin us.” He then escorted them back to the Stafford’s elaborate table. “There cannot be anything as delicious as this feast in your own home right now. Well, not better than our company and our lovely hostess.” He had walked to the swinging pantry door and opened it to speak to the servants. He winked at the cowering Catherine and turning to the two footmen, he asked, “Excuse me, but could we continue with this fine dinner? Take your time. I see that you’re short-handed. Thank you.” Trevor returned to his seat and spoke to the guests, “Shall we enjoy a few hours of fellowship? I’m terribly interested in the investment opportunities you spoke about, Pettigrew.”

Catherine shook away her memories of her close call and get away over the two roof tops. She headed to the far study wall and reached to slide one of her favorite paintings off of its hooks as she’s often done under her father’s keen observation and direction. She fondly remembered Winslow Homer’s “A Visit from the Old Mistress”, but this one felt lighter. The frame was different. She whispered out loud, “They sold it!” In its place was a cheaply made flower print. Sadness tried to stop her progress as she recalled the day her father bought the meaningfully important oil painting from an auction held to raise funds for the orphans and war veterans. It was a scene of understanding and compassion and she had loved it.

She managed to delay her anger and she lifted the poor replacement off its hooks. The small safe welcomed her touch as she tumbled in her birthdate. “Please let it be the same combination”, she prayed. The door swung to the right and Catherine excitedly pulled out papers and several packages of cash. She disgustedly threw the money back and started sifting through the deeds, bills of sale, and insurance policies.

Soft muffled voices from below startled her enough to be reminded of her lack of time. Grabbing the forms, she then locked and concealed the safe. While replacing the cheap painting, she felt a niggling feeling that she had left something, but time tugged at her anxiousness.

Zigzagging among the shadowed furniture, she made it to the door before her mind registered the moving door handle. She stuffed the papers into her blouse, scrambled under the nearby long narrow display table and wished for a plan C. As she struggled for stability of thought, she asked herself, “Where’s the blue ribbon? Daddy had her trust fund tied up in a royal blue ribbon.”

Enough! (until later)

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Gray Lace, part 48

Egad!

Chaos reigns in the butler’s pantry and Catherine has been sent to assist during the formal dinner with the Pettigrews and Trevor as guests. She gathered the scene together long enough to create its failure.

“Ah, here you are, Miss Catherine.” Raycroft rubbed the sweat from his eyes. “Please pour out the white and two more requested champagnes. Mrs. Stafford’s glaring at our slow deliveries.” A small bell rang softly from the ceiling corner. “Oh drat, I’ve no one … would you … no, she’ll not approve.”

Catherine held her breath, praying he wouldn’t ask, while she poured the golden liquid and uncorked new bottles.

“But I need …” he had balanced a large tray full of platters for the next course with one hand, but he started leaning into the pantry countertop. The tray titled several serving dishes of lobster tails toward their escape onto the floor. Catherine rescued the red shells and gathered his elbow into her side.

“Sir?”

The bell sounded again.

“Good God, my side hurts!” He handed off the rest of the tray’s weight, pushed her aside and vomited into the small sink.

As gracefully as possible, Catherine twirled her tray through the swinging door and into the den of heroes and predators. She had depended on the edit of the rich: ignore the invisible servants.

“Oh really, Aunt Edith, a woman is serving the fish course.” Young Myra turned to Trevor and reminded him that her family did know better. “She should be downstairs!” Placing her hand on her cleavage, she added, “I do apologize for our manners.”

Trevor swung his gaze back to the center flower display.

At that moment, through the heat of embarrassment and fear of disclosure, Catherine would later acknowledge an understanding and empathy for Joann, Jacob, and anyone else trying to survive discrimination. She now knew what the bottom of society’s ladder felt like and she hated it.

She clutched the tray. She didn’t dare to look at Trevor. She stole a quick glance at one of the nervous footmen and turned to face away from the table. He opened the pantry door for her and her lobsters. He followed her and whispered, “I’ll serve these. When I get back hand me the salad plates, two at a time, as I come back with the empty appetizer dishes.”

“Thank you!” Maybe, just maybe she hadn’t been recognized.

When the door swung open a few moments later she heard Jared Pettigrew question his father, “Wasn’t that Catherine?”

The next two salad plates shook in her hands. From behind, Willa timidly informed her that she would remove the dirty plates and that Mr. Raycroft was resting downstairs in his quarters.

“Thank you, Willa.”

The third dish removal came through the swinging doors and Catherine heard Trevor saving her day once again. “Mr. Pettigrew, are Americans using first names of their servants? Do you refer to all of your servants informally or just the forgetful ones?” He took a sip of his wine and smiled, “I’m sure all of us can appreciate how very busy and hardworking Mrs. Stafford’s household servants are tonight. By using their first names are we slipping in our own social ethics, are we not?”

The senior Pettigrew responded, “Of course not, Lord Coffman, and I am sure my son misidentified her, and I’m quite sure she’ll learn not to enter the room again. Possibly you’re right about the amount of excitement downstairs.” He leaned in and rested on his elbows. His own manners slipping. “Maybe it’s you. They’re excited about your lordship’s visit.”

His wife, Cybthia Pettigrew, quietly turned the color of the lobster. “Oh dear, please excuse me.” She pushed back her chair and rushed from the room. Mrs. Stafford stood and started to follow her.

“There’s no need, Mrs. Stafford. I’ll look after my wife. She does have occasional shellfish allergies.” John Pettigrew slowly stood and placed his diner napkin on his chair. “I’ll be just a moment. Please continue with your conversation.”

The others started to enjoy using the silver crackers on the hard shells, but above the crackling sounds they couldn’t ignore the raised voices wafting into the dining room from the main entrance hall.

“Good God, John, it was her!”

“Shut up! Lower your voice, woman!”

Trevor looked around the table and took a moment to observe their shock before he dove into his own panic. He searched for a strategy, a plan, … an anything.

Enough! Until later ; )

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Gray Lace, Part 47

Egad!

Catherine quickly and sincerely apologized. The apology’s acceptance swiftly arrived, and Mrs. Stafford returned to her entertainment worries. “I know nothing of this second young man other than he lives with his parents next door and he’s of the right age.”

Catherine stepped back. “I’m finished, Mrs. Stafford. Will there be anything else?”

“Yes, please inform Cook that you’ll be available to help her and her staff. Raycroft might need you, although, I doubt you’ll be used in the dining room.” Lowering her voice, she said, “Those girls are more trouble than a double hurricane.”

Sooner than she expected, Catherine heard Raycroft bellowing his butler commands, “Serve the white wine now, not the red.” The screeching traveled down the back stairs from his pantry next to the dining room through the staff hallways to the stuffy dish washing room.

“Oh dear,” Cook bounced her roundness around the warm kitchen, “He’ll be ready for the fish course now. Are the lobster tails out of the warmer? Salads ready? What about the roasted almonds for the French green beans?”

Catherine lowered her head over the deep porcelain sink. She hid in the shadows and stayed out of the way as best she could while the chatty kitchen maid entertained her.

“It’s very kind of you to help me wash all these dishes tonight, Miss Catherine. I’d have never finished scrubbing those pots even into next week. There’s too many. There’re too many frigging courses tonight for all that blooming royalty.”

“Language, Willa,” Cook disciplined as she hurried by them.

Willa lowered her voice and continued her vent, “Cook could hear a fish fork drop on a plush carpet upstairs, all the way from the third floor.” Louder, she conveyed her apology to the entire kitchen staff, especially to her immediate boss, “Sorry! I’ll not do it again,” returning to her silent but temporary assistant she gushed, “I’d give anything to see the fancy folk upstairs.”

“Maybe you will,” Catherine dried her hands as a hassled footman appeared from around the corner, “Mr. Raycroft, he needs you, Miss Catherine.” Responding to her astonishment, he went on, “He sent me to tell you he needs you to pour the wine.”

He backed up a few steps as Willa prepared to attack, “She’s helping me! What happened to your own two left hands? Why can’t you do it?”

The young man turned red, threw up his hands in surrender, and marched out of the increasingly warm and moist room.

Catherine gently smiled at the younger girl, “It’s all right. We’re finished here until the next course. I’ll come back down and check on you when I’ve seen to this newest crisis.”

She started out when she heard Willa’s plea, “Don’t you ever get hassled, lose your temper?” She took in a breath and her eyes widened, “Wait, I know what it is? I know why you don’t mind helping upstairs. It’s that royalty! Well, at least come back and let us know if he’s a good looker.”

Catherine surprised them both when she wheeled around and deposited a quick hug on Willa. “I’ll do just that!”

Enough! Until next time.

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Gray Lace, Part 46

Egad!

A block east of Trevor’s hotel, Catherine carefully shut the ornately carved wardrobe door, so Mrs. Stafford wouldn’t be startled out of the middle of her informative monologue. Her value increased. “So, you see, my dear, tonight’s dinner is important to Mr. Stafford, because he hopes to entice Mr. Pettigrew, our neighbor, into investing in his textile mill.”

“Yes, ma’am. Have you invited the entire Pettigrew family for dinner? Your Kitchen staff, especially Cook, seem exceptionally busy and excited today.” She gathered the discarded undergarments and carefully hung the gowns and picked up the ivory handled brush and began to arrange the lady’s hair for the formal dinner.

“It’s strange you should ask. As you probably already know our nieces from Savannah arrived yesterday. It was truly a surprise. Please don’t misunderstand, we do love them.” She reached for her long white gloves and stretched them in frustration. “Mr. Stafford and I are not used to playing cupid. Are all children like this?”

“Ma’am?”

“Nowadays, do all young ladies expect their relatives to, oh how did Miss Sally word it? Oh yes, ‘arrange things?’ We are childless and we were not expecting this storm of youthful energy and silliness interrupting our plans.”

“I really wouldn’t know. If you do not mind, would you please turn to your left? I need to arrange the style you requested.”

“Of course,” Mrs. Stafford primly turned on the hand embroidered stool, taking the gloves with her. “Suddenly, we need two more men to even the table.” She slapped her gloves against her lap. “Quite frankly, I think Miss Sally and Miss Myra worked their scheme through their father and their uncle.”

Catherine slid a hairpin into the growing mountainous creation. “What do you mean. Mrs. Stafford?” She mumbled through the remaining pin she held between her lips. She removed the pin and began applying some hair cream she intended to never allow near her own head.

Her employer glare down at her gloves and Catherine was unprepared for her answer. “The newest Charleston sensation, The Earl of Warrenwood, Lord Trevor Coffman! Our nieces demanded that we invite him to dinner.” The snap of the gloves brought Catherine back to focus on the slime in her hands, which she had nearly slapped onto her mistress’s neck instead of her hair. “Naturally, we had to invite an additional male and we thought of Mr. Pettigrew’s son, Jared.””

Then her hands did indeed slip.

Enough! Until later

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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.

Page 82-83

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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Gray Lace, Part 43

Egad! I wish publishing was as easy as this. Slowly, dear reader, Gary Lace, my 4th novel, is reappearing. Trevor Coffman is worried about Catherine Randolph while acting the part of The Earl of Warrenwood to Charleston, SC in 1908.

To Trevor’s surprise, he did handle the evening at the Charleston Society League Ball. He mustered his strength into his frozen smile. His sore facial muscles and his aching back returned with him to his rooms later that evening.

He shut the door from the hall, leaned his back against it, and closed his eyes. Shaking his head from side to side with each comma he declared, “Ladies and Gentlemen, if I have to bow over the hands of a powdered, over-endowed, over-exposed, self-righteous, female, hypocrite, one more evening, I’ll kiss all the alligators in your swamp!” He opened his eyes, looked around the sitting room and slowly raised his eyebrows. “Where’s Catherine? It’s after midnight for God’s sake!”

“She’s gone.” Ross bravely answered and held up his hand to stop Trevor’s expected tirade. “She’s taken a position at the Staffords’ and yes, before you ask, they live next door to Pettigrews. They are new to Charleston, so they don’t know her.”

“Doing what, precisely?” Trevor tried not to yell, but the tightening of his throat was aiding his panic. He pushed away from his supporting door and glared at his friends.

“She’s a maid,” Joann had her hands folded in front of her, but her proud grin gave her attitude center stage.

“What’s her plan?”

“She wants to observe the Pettigrew’s schedule and get inside.”

“Oh, God,” Trevor marched through the room to the bay windows and peered down the street to the harbor. “She’s going after the proof, the trust fund papers, isn’t she?”

“Yup,” Ross replied.

“Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Trevor, Catherine’s her own person and she needs to do this,” Ross stood up and joined his friend at the view as they silently prayed for her safety. “She’ll be fine. She’s not stupid.”

“No, she isn’t,” Trevor softly agreed.

Enough! (for now)

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Gray Lace, Part 42

Egad!

Yes, it has been too long, however, I do have a list of excuses: overnight guests, Covid, and procrastination brought on by ‘who-done-it-titist-mystery-reading’. Need more specificity? British historical mysteries by CS Harris (17) and DM Quincy (3). Oh, I’ve read them all, but I have an odd appreciation of re-reads and re-views. During a ‘re-do’, I notice more character traits, plot intrigue, and setting details. I’ve been known to watch a movie without the sound. I’m amazed at the details I had missed earlier.

In my own novels and manuscripts, I find more and more details, not mistakes. Not really. ; )

In Gray Lace, Trevor is lost. He’s in Charleston, in 1908, but he is expected to play the part of an aristocrat without the support of his Catherine. She has disappeared. Ross and Joann keep up the appearances of a valet and parlor maid while Jacob runs interference with the overly observant hotel management.

Chapter Eight, page 79

“I don’t know why you bothered to drag me back here. She won’t even speak to me,” Trevor squirmed under the clothing brush Ross swept across his shoulders.

“Stand still, my lord,” Ross spit out the title like a sour bit of collards, “while I attempt to get through your thick British skull.” He put down the brush onto the dressing table and walked around to stand between Trevor and the mirror. “She won’t speak to you because of that stubborn mule attitude that won’t allow you to satisfactorily answer her questions.” He concluded his lecture by gently slapping Trevor’s black velvet lapels.

“I’ve been measured, pushed, pulled, and attacked by the tailors with their scissors and pins and uncomfortable common questions and now you expect me to be kind?” He fortified his oxygen supply and frustration levels by inhaling, holding it, and then slowly exhaling. “Oh, Ross”, he whispered, “I think I love her.”

A short, thick, and sweet silence settled between the two friends. “Think or know?” Ross handed him the new evening top hat and cane.

They stared at the ornately carved wooden door as a gentle scratching announcement preceded Joann, “I knocked,” she declared after opening and hurrying inside.

“No, you didn’t,” laughed Ross. “But we love you anyway.”

“Shush. Quiet!” she closed the door and whispered, “There’s a Mr. and Mrs. Harold Winston and their daughter, Daphne, downstairs in the hotel tearoom. They sent their servant up to remain us about your appointment with them. Jacob went back downstairs with him to announce that you’d be there soon.”

“Oh, no, where’s Catherine?” he started his lordly pacing. He headed out of his room in a fierce march. “Why can’t she be here? She needs to be here!”

“Jacob’s doing a fine job, I’m sure.” Joann stole a glance at Ross, and she nearly fell over in surprise at his pleased grin behind Trevor’s back. He leaned closer to her face and whispered, “All will be well.”

Really?

Enough! (for now)

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Gray Lace, part 41

We shall rejoin our characters in their absconded suite of rooms in the 1908 Charleston hotel, The Paterson. Time is short before the required funding for poshness will be demanded.

Egad!

“Trevor left a short time ago,” Ross answered. “None too happy is my guess.” He gestured for Joann to relax in a large comfortable chair, and he rested his arms on the back. “Take deep breaths, our young miss, then explain why this staff is missing its master.”

Jacob patted Catherine’s hand. “May I offer a back rub?” At her positive nod, he kneaded the tension from her stiff back. “Well, where is our lordship and why has he gone?”

“He told me that he had cabled his family in England,” she absorbed the extra oxygen to continue. “And he informed me about his two younger brothers. I guess he wants my trust fund to care for his responsibilities since he gave up on the Cranfield money.”

“Did he say that? Did he ask you for money?” Jacob continued the back massage while he waited for an answer.

“Well, no.”

“Did he demand anything?” After a few quiet moments, Jacob’s wisdom mounted a counter-attack scenario. “Possibly your emotions prove you are falling for him far more than you are admitting.”

Catherine tossed an angry glare back in his direction. “What are you trying to explain?”

“My experience has taught me that if you’re angry, well then, you care.” Jacob stood and faced the other two. “What a ridiculous staff we make; a footman, a valet, and two maids, but no earl!” We need to get him back.” He placed his fists on his hips and titled his upper half toward them. “I realize that there are two sides to every coin and our earl has more story than we know.”

“I agree,” three faces turned toward Joann. She had been withdrawn since their Charleston arrival. They’d assumed it had been because of her fear of racially induced ugliness but hearing her usual commanding tone caught their attention and created their pleased expressions. “Trevor needs to be found and returned. Ross, as footman, you need to find and protect him. Check downstairs first. If he isn’t there, maybe ask the manager for names of pubs or grills. Jacob, as his valet, go out and start ordering clothing as if there isn’t a problem. Maybe start with fabrics and accessories. Tell the shopkeepers the Earl of Warrenwood will be in tomorrow for the measurements to begin.”

Catherine considered a dark possibility. “What if we cannot find him by then? Should I rove the streets too?” She was pleased that Joann leadership was back, the same Joann who taught her survival skills, had returned to them. This was the Joann who had saved them.

“Goodness, girl, no. Stop the negativity, besides you might be recognized,” she turned toward the men. “Well, why haven’t you gone, gentlemen?” She sweetened the order with a smile as she directed them toward the door. Once her soldiers had marched out, Joann advanced on Catherine. “You and I, my dear young lady, need to get busy on a trust fund retrieval plan.”

Enough! For now.

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