Authors: Jessica Steele
The Bachelor’s Wife – Jessica Steele
Perry's marriage to Nash Devereux had been a 'paper' one -just for convenience- and she hadn't seen him for years. Now she wanted to marry Trevor Coleman; so, for a start, she must get the marriage annulled. But why on earth did Nash then announce that he was hoping for reconciliation?
'I'M going to have to do something about you, Perry.'
The disappointed ardour as Trevor's arms fell away was not missed by her. Nor the admission that he was no longer prepared to put up with the way she allowed their lovemaking to go so far but no farther.
'I'm sorry.' The apology came automatically. It was easier than trying to explain what she didn't fully understand herself, that, returning his love as she did, she found it impossible to go past that, barrier. But she loved him, and didn't want to part bad friends. 'Will you come in for coffee?'
'Is there any point?'
Stifling a sigh, Perry reached for the car door handle. Trevor, for all he was a dear most of the time, was inclined to sulk if things didn't go his way.
'Perhaps not,' she answered, a shade more sharply than she meant, but something inside her not liking that he was putting her in the wrong. Then her voice softened, fear catching her that he might have grown too fed up to want to see her again. 'Goodnight, Trevor. Thank you...'
His hand stayed her before she could leave the car. 'I'll give you a ring tomorrow,' he said, much to her relief. 'I don't suppose you'll change your mind and come with me to visit Mother tomorrow night, will you?'
Because he seemed to have quickly got over his sulks and was once again the Trevor she loved, Perry almost said yes, she would go with him,
'I promised Mrs Foster I'd give her a hand with a dress she's making tomorrow,' she suddenly remembered, truthfully.
'Why you bother with that old woman beats me,' he replied, letting her know he wasn't so completely over his sulks as she had thought and was ready to be offended at the smallest suggestion that she preferred someone else's company to his. 'I know she's your landlady, but...'
'That has nothing to do with it.' Perry could feel herself beginning to get annoyed at his suggestion that she was keeping in with her landlady for her own ends. 'I like her, and besides...' She stopped, realising it wouldn't be very tactful to say, 'Besides, you always see your mother on a Tuesday evening, so I felt free to make my own arrangements.'
'Besides which,' he put in, 'you can't stand my mother.' 'It's not that.' It was a lie.
Perry had no difficulty in recalling the cold atmosphere of Mrs Coleman's house, the continual carping of the woman, conversation always coming interminably round to the same worn-out subject of divorce. How Trevor's father had left her when he was small to go off and live with his fancy woman. Trevor was a grown man now, but the years had not softened the hatred Mrs Coleman felt for her ex-husband. It was a constant thorn in her side that, although she was determined never to divorce him, with a change in the divorce laws, he had turned round and divorced her. Perry had heard chapter and verse of what Mrs Coleman thought on the iniquity of divorce.
'Can't say I really blame you,' Trevor said suddenly, putting an arm round her and pulling her closer, ignoring her lie as if she hadn't uttered it. 'Mother's a bit of a pain, isn't she?' And before she could reply, though she had no idea what she could say to that, Trevor had returned to being the wonderful person she had some months ago started to think of him as being. 'I don't want to go myself,' he confessed, 'but if I don't Mother will be on that phone at the first opportunity giving me what for.'
Knowing she could never have spoken of her mother the way he had spoken of his, had she been lucky enough to still have her, Perry stayed quiet, happy to have his arm around her, his sulks a thing of the past.
'I've grown up having the evils of divorce stuffed down my throat,' he said, his lips brushing her honey-gold hair. 'That's why it's so important to me to be sure. I need to be sure that you and I are right before...'
He broke off to begin a passionate onslaught on her mouth. But for the first time Perry wasn't giving her full attention to his amorous intent. Her heart turned over at what he had just said. Did he mean what she wanted him to mean? That he wanted to be sure before he asked her to marry him?
Her heartbeats hurried, but she wasn't at all certain if her fast beating heart was from what he had said or from the sudden feeling of panic his words aroused. She wanted to marry him, yes, yes, she did, but...
Realising she wasn't participating as fully as she had on other occasions, Trevor drew back. 'What's wrong?' The enquiry came with a hint of temper. 'What—what did you mean just now, about...'
'About us?' Temper went from him. She could hear a smile in his voice as he said, 'Oh, come on, Perry, surely you knew?'
She found difficulty in answering, her mind in too much of a whirl with the complications she saw in front of her if it really was marriage Trevor had in mind.
'You said something about being sure before...'
He took his arms from her, leaving her feeling cold and worried. He turned to face the front, and with his eyes staring at the windscreen at last brought out, in almost a detached way, she thought, her mind in uproar:
'I hadn't meant to say anything yet. But since we've got this far, since you already know how I feel about you, have told me you love me, then I might as well tell you I've been thinking along the lines of asking you to marry me.'
'Oh,' said Perry, a mixture of emotions rioting through her, her love for him uppermost, her wish, for all it didn't sound as though he was actually proposing, to be his wife. And at the same time, that other emotion, fear. Fear to tell him in case he wouldn't understand. Wouldn't understand and would say goodbye to her for ever.
'That I haven't put that particular question yet is because of my parents.'
'Your parents?' Confusion was added. What did his parents have to do with him asking her to marry him? His mother she didn't like, but she was sensitive enough to know he must be fond of her. And without parents herself, she would want that he gave his parents all the consideration due. But...
'My parents' marriage was a disaster,' he stated. 'You've heard my mother riding her favourite hobbyhorse; you know her strong views against divorce. Views I'm bound to say that have been handed down to me.'
Perry's vocal chords felt strangled. 'You mean,' she asked chokingly, panic with her that even if she did have the nerve to tell him that secret locked up inside her, it would be the end, 'you mean you share her strong feelings against divorce?'
'It's all right for other people,' he declared, and to her keenly pitched ears sounding a touch pompous as he said it, 'but it would never do for me. Once married, I intend to stay married.'
'I see,' she murmured, at a loss to find anything smarter to put in.
'So you see, Perry, I have to be very sure before I commit myself.'
Her head was spinning when five minutes later she let herself into her flat. She should have told him, she thought, annoyed with herself for letting the opportunity go by. They were already discussing divorce, the time was so right to tell him.
Coward, coward, she called herself as she undressed ready for bed. The time had been so right, she told herself again as she seated herself before her dressing table mirror and brushed her shoulder-length silky hair. She met wide green eyes in the mirror and saw without interest her perfect features and clear, almost translucent skin. Oh, why hadn't she told him? It would all have been over with now. He had said divorce was all right for other people. He would have understood, she knew he would. Why, he had said that night he had told her he loved her that it was her loyalty he found her most endearing quality!
Though that loyalty had annoyed him a time or two when occasionally he had called unexpectedly to pick her up from work and found her working late in order to finish off a dress or some other item wanted urgently.
But he would have understood about her loyalty to Ralph, though to her mind it had been more love for her stepfather that had made her do what she had to help him out of that awful mess he was in.
Still regretting that she had hoarded her guilty secret to her like some miser, Perry put down her hairbrush and chewed her thumbnail for several moments until her eyes fastened on the jewel box that had belonged to her mother.
The jewel box housed very little that was of any value. She pulled it towards her as though compelled, lifting the lid and putting aside the top compartment that held a few items of inexpensive jewellery. And there at the bottom she saw it—the evidence, for all it was a copy. A copy sent for after Ralph had died when everything then seemed to be too incredible to be true, confirmation needed that what had happened really had happened.
Her hands shaking revealing the agitation she was in, she picked up the piece of rolled paper and spread it out. She read it as she had read it before—it said it all. Perry Bethia Grainger, seamstress, aged eighteen, had six years ago married one Nash Devereux, engineer, aged thirty.
She rolled the copy of her marriage certificate up again and replaced it in her jewel box. Trevor would understand when she told him why she had done it—wouldn't he?
Surprised that when she had eventually got off to sleep she had slept quite well, Perry had her usual scramble round the next morning. She always liked to be on time at work, for all old Mr Ratcliffe never turned a hair on the few occasions she didn't make it.
'How's my best tailor?' he greeted her as she went in.
'You'd better keep your voice down or you'll have Madge walking out on you,' she replied, giving him a cheerful grin.
'Then don't tell her,' he said, his white head bobbing as he reeled back in mock horror.
She entered the workroom where Madge already had her head down. 'Morning, Madge,' she greeted, as her friend and colleague looked up.
'Morning.' Madge, somewhere in the region of forty-five, was a joy to work with. 'Put the kettle on, there's, a dear. I've come in early because I want to go early and didn't have time for coffee before I left home. Don't forget to tell old Ratty that when he sees me sloping off before he blows his five o'clock hooter.'
Perry laughed. It was impossible to be down for long in Madge's company. But she couldn't stop the thoughts she had had last night from returning to torment her.
She could understand Trevor with his background wanting to be sure before he asked her to marry him. Yet if he did ask her, and her eyes glowed at the thought of being his wife, then she would have to tell him.
Yes, definitely she would have to tell him. But, prompted something inside her, wouldn't it be better to tell him
the marriage had been annulled rather than before?
She grew excited at the idea, calling herself all sorts of a fool for having wasted all these years in not doing something about it before this. She couldn't think why she hadn't. She should have realised the possibility that some time she was likely to want to get married, a real marriage this time.
What was it that had made her keep putting it off? Admittedly it had crossed her mind several times that she ought to do something about it. Was it that not liking Nash Devereux, having found him a particularly cold, charmless person, she had hoped that he might be the one to instigate the divorce?
She remembered his hard eyes, the way he had told her in no uncertain terms the way he felt about women, and saw then that she should have known he wouldn't be the one instigate divorce proceedings. Unless his views on women had changed mightily, then he had every intention of staying a married bachelor.
Oh, he liked women well enough for everything but marriage; there had been ample evidence of that over the years. Wealthy, well known in the business world, having come a long way since he had referred to the giant concern it now was as simply 'the Works', he was forever being reported in the papers. He had been well off six years ago, Perry remembered, but even so he must have worked night and day to make the Devereux Corporation what it was. Though if those pictures of him in the papers, invariably with some beautiful female hanging on to him, rarely the same girl twice, were anything to go by then he still found plenty of time to play.
Aware that she was on the verge of being bitter, she realised she had absolutely no cause. Nash had kept his side of the bargain just as she had kept hers. There was no earthly reason why she should get uptight about him. They should be able to meet, if not as friends, then at least without animosity.
And meet they would have to, she decided, the idea of doing something about getting her marriage to Nash Devereux annulled suddenly cementing. Or if they didn't actually meet, some contact at least had to be made so the wheels could be put in motion to get their marriage ended.
Perry began to feel better, seeing in her mind's eye Trevor eventually proposing. Of her confessing her secret, being able to show him her decree absolute or whatever it was called. Suddenly she glanced up and saw Madge looking at her.
'You've been looking as though you had the world on your shoulders,' Madge remarked. 'Anything wrong?'
'Nothing a quick phone call won't cure,' she answered lightly, hoping it would be that easy. 'If you want to leave early I'll give you a hand, but first I must make my call.'
'If it's private you'd do better to go to the phone box at the end of the street,' Madge opined; there was nowhere private in the old-fashioned building that housed cutters, machinists, pressers, and sundry other staff, not to mention the telephonist who regularly monitored the calls.
Mr Ratcliffe came in just as Perry had picked up her bag. 'I'll be five minutes,' she said by way of excuse for going out.
'Take ten,' he said, his brand of sarcasm amusing her. She knew he didn't mean it.
'Teacher's pet,' came from Madge. . 'Jealous,' said Mr Ratcliffe as she went out. Perry smiled; she knew they liked one another and would keep up a verbal sparring for the five minutes she would be out.