Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5 (8 page)

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
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Jeremy sighed and rubbed at his beard, pulling at individual hairs as he recalled the last time he’d seen Savannah. “I tried to reason with her, but, when I realized her need to leave, I accepted it.”

“Did you intimidate her to make her change her mind?”

“Of course not.” He glared at Richard.

“Then why can’t you see that she has come to recognize that you are a man to be trusted? That you are a man she’d be a fool to lose?”

Jeremy watched him with an arrested intensity.

“Well then,” Richard said. He straightened from his position leaning against the door frame. “Flo has dinner ready, and we should know better than to keep a pregnant woman waiting.” He smiled and winked as he turned away. Jeremy laughed and rose to follow his brother.

***

SAVANNAH KNOCKED ON THE DOOR, brushing a hand over her hair in nervous agitation. Her smile dimmed as Florence opened the door with a frown.

“Why are you here, Savannah?” Florence asked, the door only partially ajar, barring Savannah entrance.

“I need to see Jeremy.”

“If you remain uncertain how you truly feel, go home. If you don’t know the measure of the man you turned away from you, you should leave now.” Her cheeks flushed from her agitation.

Savannah stiffened her shoulders, meeting Florence’s firm stare. “This is between Jeremy and me, Florence.”

“Jeremy is as a brother to me, Savannah. When you hurt him, you hurt me. You hurt Richard. Remember that,” Florence said with a glower, concern shining in her eyes.

“I know. Please allow me to enter to begin to make things right, Florence.”

“I will. Only because it would hurt him more for you to leave again.” She stepped back, opening the door wider, allowing Savannah to squeeze inside. Savannah walked down the hallway, coming to a halt in the entrance to the main living area. The click of a door shutting behind her heralded Florence’s entrance into her bedchamber, leaving Savannah to face Jeremy alone.

Jeremy stood stiffly beside the counter, with his hands behind his back, staring out the back window. He held himself as one does awaiting bad news, and she longed to grasp his large hand to soothe him. “Jeremy,” she murmured, attempting to impart comfort with her soft voice.

“Ma’am,” he said as he turned to face her. His gaze roved over her face, taking in her hair in a tidy chignon, her unbuttoned blue coat, opened to reveal a plain red wool dress underneath, and then returning to study her eyes. He said nothing further, waiting for her to speak.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today.” She gripped her hands in front of her and tried not to focus on him calling her “Ma’am” again.

“I had nothing pressing.”

Savannah winced, paling at his words. “I see. Well, that helps me know where I stand.”

“Is everything settled with your husband?” He watched her with inscrutable eyes, the green so cold they appeared black.

“No. It never will be. I’ve decided that I must content myself with being a disgraced woman among high society.”

He cocked his head to one side and watched her curiously. “Does that matter?”

“No. It doesn’t. It never should have mattered. It took me traveling to Quincy again to realize the truth.” Savannah sighed as she shook her head.

“And what truth was that?” He clenched and unclenched his hands as he leaned against the counter, his jaw flexing.

“Aunt Betsy has a way of showing her nieces and nephews what is truly important in our lives. I didn’t heed her advice before my marriage to Jonas. I thought myself wiser than my sage aunt.” She closed her eyes as she continued to speak. “I’ve been angry for so long at my family, my mother especially, for encouraging my marriage to Jonas. I had plenty of time in Quincy for introspection, and, if I’m honest with myself, I’m as much to blame as she is. I knew what I was agreeing to, and I ignored all my reservations. I married the man. I am the only one to blame.”

“There is no blame in wanting to see yourself married well.” Jeremy reached out to grip her hand for a moment before releasing it. “I doubt any of you could have imagined what he would become.”

“I’ve paid for my folly. I’ve paid for my desire for social acceptability. Now I know what is truly important to me.”

“And what is that?” Although he tried to mask it, he could not hide the yearning from his voice.

“My sense of personal esteem. And my dreams for the future.” She met his gaze, unable to hide the longing from hers. She canted toward him as though hoping for an embrace.

“What are your dreams, Savannah?” He watched her with guarded eyes, fisting his hands at his sides so as not to reach out and touch her again.

She smiled at his use of her name. “To be with you. To surround myself with those who care for me.”

“There will always be those who shun you because you are separated from your husband.”

“Yes, and those who will scorn you if you decide to associate yourself with me.”

“Do you think I would care what those people say?” Jeremy asked urgently as he moved toward her and framed her face with his hands. She sighed, tilting her head slightly to kiss one palm.

“I hope not.” She paused for a moment before meeting his eyes. “A part of me worries that our separation has shown you that you can have a better life without me.”

“How could you possibly think that?”

“You’ve begun to find peace again, Jeremy. I have no desire to bring you any more strife.” She reached up to stroke his hands still cradling her face.

Jeremy dropped his hands and turned away. He stared at the bare clotheslines strung between the adjoining buildings. Savannah waited as he took a deep breath and faced her again. “You are correct in that I have begun to find peace here. Living with Richard and Florence has been like a balm to my wounds.”

“They are wonderful people,” Savannah murmured.

“Yes, they are. And they are about to have their first child. The last thing they need is me in the house. I’ve known for some time that I needed to find my own place, but I haven’t wanted to leave.”

“Why?”

“Because if I left, you wouldn’t know where to find me,” he whispered.

Savannah nodded, blinking away tears. “Jeremy.”

He reached for her and pulled her into his arms, caressing her head with one hand. When he spoke, he could not hide the urgency from his voice. “I want you, Savannah. I don’t care if we never marry.”

“What are you saying?”

“I want us to have a life together. A life like Richard and Florence are building.”

“You want me to live with you?” She was unable to hide the incredulity from her voice. “I … I don’t know Jeremy. That’s a very large step.”

“If these weeks apart have taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to be separated from you again. Not by society. Not by Mrs. Chickering. Not for any reason.”

Savannah stepped away, one hand at her temple, staring dazedly over one of his shoulders. “You ask for quite a bit.”

“Yes.” He reached for her hand and raised it to his lips. “Please tell me that you’ll consider it.”

“Will you give me time?”

“As much as you want.” He stroked her cheek. “Will you visit me soon at the workshop? I’d like time alone with you.”

Savannah’s smile bloomed even as she blushed. “Yes. I’ll try to visit tomorrow.”

***

SAVANNAH SAT IN HER CHAIR, attempting to read her book, another play by Oscar Wilde, as Sophie muttered over the latest headlines. Numerous lamps lit the room with a gentle glow. The front curtains were closed, and a fire crackled in the grate. “What’s the matter, Sophie? Has someone written another disparaging article against the cause?”

“No, the King of Belgium was almost assassinated by an anarchist. I’d think people would know by now that violence never leads to any lasting solution.” Sophie shook her head at the thought and turned the page. She lowered the paper at a soft knock on the door.

“Could this be your young man?” Sophie asked Savannah. Savannah shook her head no.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but there is a Mr. Russell who is inquiring if he might join you this evening. I know you are having a quiet evening at home, and I’m sorry for the interruption.”

“Please show him in, Poole,” Sophie said. “I wonder if it is you father or brother?” Sophie asked as she looked toward the doorway. “Ah, Mr. Russell, I know Savannah takes great delight in visits from her father.”

“Father,” Savannah said as she rose to embrace him, and Sophie moved to rise.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” Martin blurted out to Sophie as he took the proffered chair next to Savannah. “I’m in need of advice, and I’ve been informed by Betsy that you often provide some of the soundest advice to be had.” He tapped his fingers on his knees, belying his agitation. “I’ve waited until now to ask you for it, what with the funeral and Clarissa’s and Colin’s arrival. But I’m running out of time and need your help.”

“It is flattering that some are aware of my talents,” Sophie said with a self-mocking smile. “What is bothering you, sir?”

“After I visited Savannah a few days ago, I called on Jonas. I hoped he would be amenable to freeing Savannah from her marriage now that there is no hope for reconciliation.”

“I imagine he wasn’t pleased with your visit,” Savannah said.

“You’re correct. He was affronted at my presumption in making such a request. He believed he would still be able to entice you to return to him.”

“How?” Savannah asked in a small voice.

“It appears he is an even more influential businessman than I knew. He advised me that my business loans will be due in thirty days, to be paid in full, if you are not returned home.”

“Have you had any trouble paying your loans up to this point?” Sophie asked.

“Never. I’ve always paid on time. However, I do not have the capital to pay the full amount in the time requested, as I’m sure he knows. He’s a sly man, willing to do whatever he deems necessary to obtain his desired outcome.”

“Who is your banker?” Sophie asked.

“I work with Mr. Searle at Temple and Searle.”

“Ah, Mr. Searle,” Sophie said with a satisfied smile. “We are old friends.”

“I’m surprised such a stodgy man would be—” Martin broke off what he was going to say.

“Acquainted with one such as me?” Sophie said. “Although he seems a dour, sensible banker, you must realize that all men have their weaknesses. He married a woman fifteen years his junior. A flighty thing, although she has the sense to be a suffragist. I’ve known them for years. I knew him before he remarried, and there are certain … interludes from his past I’m certain he doesn’t want to come to light.”

“Do you believe you could aid me in postponing the loan payment?” Martin asked.

“Let me see what I can do. It’s been some time since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a bank,” Sophie said with a wry smile.

***

“MR. SEARLE, I have need of your assistance,” Sophronia said as she sat at the swivel chair in front of his desk. She wore a severe eggplant-colored brocade suit and drummed her gloved fingers on the edge of his desk. Dark paneling and thick green rugs covered the wooden floors.

“Mrs. Chickering. I was unaware I was to have the pleasure of seeing you today.” He steepled his hands, resting his forearms on his paunch. His gray waistcoat bulged, and the silver buttons appeared on the verge of bursting. A silver watch chain gleamed as it trailed into his waistcoat pocket.

“As was I, but the need arose.” Sophronia pinned him under her stare. “Do you have any dealings with a Mr. Jonas Montgomery?”

“As I am sure you are aware, Mrs. Chickering, I am unable to discuss my clients or their affairs with you.”

“Just as I am sure you are aware that when one man asks another to intentionally ruin another man’s business, it is not only illegal but unethical. I’d hate for the stodgy, moneyed people of Boston to lose faith in one of its oldest banking families.”

“You have no right to accuse me of such things.”

“Don’t I? I’ve heard your wife boast often enough of your acquaintance with Mr. Montgomery and of his connections to New York City. Thus deducing who would aid him with his nefarious plan was rather simple.” She sat even straighter in her chair, her bosom heaving with her pent-up fury.

“These are my terms, Mr. Searle, as I want you to be fully aware of all you will gain and lose if you attempt to cross me. You will cease any and all actions toward Mr. Martin Russell and his store, Russell’s. You will inform your business associate, Mr. Montgomery, that you did what you could but were unsuccessful. If I hear differently, your standing in society and your perception as a discreet, reliable banker will be destroyed. Do we understand each other?”

“That’s not all I will lose. I’ll lose esteem in Mr. Montgomery’s eyes, and he’ll take his profitable business elsewhere. I gain nothing from your terms, Mrs. Chickering.”

“What you gain, Mr. Searle, is the ability to continue as a banker in this city. To continue to live in that monstrosity of a mansion on Commonwealth Avenue. To hold your head high as a man worthy of esteem. For, if you cross me and carry out your plan, you will be forced to leave Boston. And be thankful to run a five-and-dime shop in Tulsa.”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
3.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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