What One Knows: Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6

 

Two weeks later, after discussing a good date with each other and Martha Matheson, John McClure and Beatrice were married at the Matheson home.  It was a small affair.  Only family and a few personal friends were invited.  Beatrice looked lovely in a topaz gold silk dress.  It also came off her shoulders, but the gown was less simple than the copper one in that it was beaded along the hem and neckline with golden beads and pearls.

McClure had only kissed her hand or her cheek since their engagement party, so when he kissed her as his bride at the end of the ceremony, it was nice.  He seemed a bit unsure of himself as he did it.  She hoped that she hadn’t wounded his manly pride too much with her ruse, .  Perhaps he was just a bit embarrassed to kiss her in front of family and friends. Nevertheless, he seemed sincere when taking his vows, even uncharacteristically solemn.  Beatrice had meant every word of hers.

They had decided to forego a honeymoon, since McClure claimed he was swamped with books to edit and read.  Beatrice thought it was really because he had Borden to train to do spy work.  He was taking a few days off though.  To keep up appearances, he told her.  Secretly, she hoped that he just wanted to get to know her more.

The wedding festivities flew by, and in no time she was being escorted by her husband to the front door of his home.  It was a lovely Federal-style home on the outside, but she’d never been inside of it.  He surprised her by picking her up in his arms and carrying her over the mantle.  She didn’t think that he would be so sentimental.  It took her by surprise, but then again it might be one of his “keeping up appearances” things.

He put her down and kissed her forehead.  Then he told her that he was going to bring her trunks in.  He didn’t ask where to put them, so she was curious as to what he would do.  Would they have a conventional marriage where they shared a room, or one where she slept in her own quarters?  As he started lugging them up the stairs, he told her that there was some cold chicken and other vittles in the ice box for their evening meal.  Apparently her Mother’s housekeeper had been ordered by her Mother to prepare it and bring it by McClure’s house.

McClure forgot to tell her where the kitchen was, so she wandered through an elegant dining room before she found it.  The light was dimming in the sky, but she could see well enough to light a couple of candles so she could prepare the chicken, pickled beets, and boiled potatoes for them to eat.  She decided to serve them at the small kitchen table.  She was putting a candlestick between their settings when McClure came in.

“Is it alright to eat in here?” she asked.  “It seemed right for tonight.  More cozy.”

“Yes, quite alright.  Quite alright,” he said, sitting down.

So they ate while chatting about the day, how everyone looked, including herself, and the sweet or ignorant things that people said to them.  They laughed over the antics of Neva, and the austere calculations of Martha Matheson.  The conversation continued as they cleaned up after the meal.  McClure insisted on washing the dishes, while she dried.  He took off his jacket, and undid his tie and collar.  He also took off his vest, and rolled up his sleeves revealing his coppery forearms.  Beatrice hoped that she was convincing as her role in the patient, but uninterested wife.  Because, really, she was very curious about all things concerning her new husband.  Another ruse.  She was growing weary of them.

About an hour after getting home, he escorted her up the stairs.  She saw her trunks in the hallway, and looked at him quizically.

“I wasn’t sure where you wanted them,” he said, gently touching her face with his hand. “I was wanting to see how long you would keep up your little charade.  Just how badly do you want to beat me at my own game, Trixie?”

She stilled.

“Ah, yes,” he told her. “I noticed.”

“What did you notice?” she asked, not wanting to give in yet.

“I wondered what your game was when you wanted to work for me, but then you never flirted or threw yourself at me, so I doubted my initial instincts.  However, when you were sleeping one time, you called me “John” and then apparently in your dream I did something that made you call me a wicked man.”

He wrapped his hand behind her head and fondled the nape of her neck.  She swallowed, but kept her face passive.  He smiled knowingly, as he noticed her neck getting splotchy from blushing. She said nothing, though.

“I made it a goal to attempt to get you to call me that as often as possible.  I was rather successful, wouldn’t you say?”

He kissed her temple.

“Y-yes,” she stuttered.

“I think we both know that Martha Matheson knew what you were up to.  At first, I think she thought you were a foolish girl for putting your reputation on the line as you did.  I just thought you daft, but you aren’t.  Are you, darling?”

She said nothing again.  Clever, he thought.  The best way to get what you want from someone is to say nothing until they spill it out.  But he had no reservations.  He’d been waiting for this moment for two weeks now.  He kissed her mouth, sweetly and slowly.  Her breath shuddered just a little.  It was enough to give him courage to go on, because he still hadn’t been fully convinced that she had been playing a game with him.  He liked games though.

“Wicked woman,” he whispered to her.

She squinted her eyes and furrowed her brow at him.  And looked ready to protest, but he put his finger over her lips and shushed her.

“Now, it was quite a blow to my pride to have you claim that my kisses were powerless to effect you.  It was also such a curiousity to me that I spent the night pacing, putting together facts.  You knew that I would feel sorry for you, because of having to live with your mother.  You knew that if you got me relieved that you weren’t really proposing marriage, that you could get me to hire you.  But you were suggesting that, weren’t you, Ol’ Trix?”

“I really wish you would stop calling me old,” was her reply.

“Alright then, TRIXIE.  That definitely suits you, you wily minx. All this time you’ve been playing the simpleton, and toying with my emotions.  You’ve been playing my game quite well.  What clued me in was one fleeting moment after I kissed you that second time after our engagement party.  It didn’t sit well with me that you didn’t feel one iota of the passion that was beginning to stir in me.  So I thought about it good and hard, and recalled that for a small space of time, I saw a spark in your eyes.  You did a good job suppressing it, and showing an insulting amount of boredom.  It threw me for a loop for probably 4 hours, until I remembered that tiny spark.”

“What makes you think you aren’t imagining it still?”

“Wicked, little minx of a Trixie.”

And then he kissed her like that night two weeks ago, except with even less reservation.  He put true heart and passion into his kissing her.  He released her suddenly.

“There! There it is!” he exclaimed, pointing at her face.

She had schooled her features incredibly fast. He knew he had seen it, but she only shrugged.  He kissed her again, just as thoroughly.  This time he was more than a little breathless.  He didn’t push her away this time, only broke free enough to breathe.  There was a mere inch or two between their lips.  He saw her freckles on her nose.  This time he found them to be adorable.

“You’re a fool, John McClure,” she said, equally breathless.  “I merely got you to kiss me six times.”

“Seven,” he countered. “Don’t forget the one from ten years ago. Although at that time I didn’t get quite as much pleasure from it as I do now.  You have improved with age, you ugly baboon.”

“You are wicked man, John McClure,” she exclaimed, pushing at his chest.

He laughed out loud, throwing his head back.  Beatrice loved that about him.

“John,” she finally gave in. “You do know that I’ve always loved you, don’t you?”

“Yes, haven’t you figured out that I love you back yet?”

“What?  Since when?”

“I’ve always loved you.  First as someone I should protect at the tender age of 18, who looked nothing like an ugly baboon.”

“Protector? I thought you were just trying to make me feel better.”

“You don’t remember young Wallace sporting a black eye for a couple of weeks after that party?”

“Why, yes?  You mean, that was you?  You did that?  I always thought Rand had.”

“I got there first,” McClure fiercely said.  “Then I loved you as a friend.  You were always such a gentle traveling companion for Shae and I.  I had no idea you had such a fire inside you.  I rather like it, by the way.”

“You do?” she asked, wonderously.

“It keeps me on my toes,” he admitted. “I know that I am a difficult man, Trixie.  I can’t imagine what it will be like for you to be married to me.  Just give me trouble, won’t you?”

“It can be tiring, but it is rather fun.”

He laughed again.  Then kissed her gently.

“I do love you now, but in a different way, Trixie.  In a different way.  I love you as a man loves a woman.  And you are a strong woman, kind and determined—”

“Not daft?” she offered.

“Definitely not daft. You are a woman that will easily become my bestest friend.  You are the only woman I want in my life.  You are the one I want to spend my life with, my darling trickster.”

He kissed her again, with all of the feelings that he had inside of him that were beginning to grow.

“Trixie,” he whispered, his forehead leaning upon hers.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Will you make me a batch of those biscuits in the morning?”

She pushed at his chest.

“Wicked man! You always push too far.”

“Can I be your wicked man for the rest of our lives?  Can we have children that I can raise to be wicked also?”

She laughed at that, and blushed.  Her neck got all splotchy.  He thought it was cute.

 

The next morning, Beatrice put a plate of her beloved biscuits in front of her husband, as well as platter of bacon and eggs. McClure rubbed his hands together, and helped himself.

“You know, Trixie.  Your biscuits are the real reason that I married you.”

He was hoping that she would call him a wicked man again, and then kiss him like she did upon waking this morning.  He loved married life. He felt like a king.  He waited for the words to leave her lips, only he was to receive the shock of his life.

“McClure, do you think I would make a good spy too?”

He dropped his biscuit onto his plate.

What One Knows: Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5

It was the evening of her engagement party, which was to be thrown at Martha Matheson’s fine, old home.  There were to be some important people to Beatrice there, and then there were some people who were important in the community that she barely knew.

Beatrice looked the finest she ever had. Her light brown hair glistened in twists and twirls about her head.  Her gown, a dark copper silk, complimented her olive skin, and belled out around her, making her waist look tiny.  The gown was cut simply beyond that, with only a brown velvet ribbon tied about the waist.  The neckline bared her shoulders, which she was discovering looked rather nice.  She’d never worn a dresss with such a neckline before.  She thought that Mother would have a coniption when she saw her shoulders bared, but when she saw it she nodded in approval.

About her neck was a simple brown velvet choker with a single drop pearl pendant hanging demurely from it.  Her gloves were brown silk and went just past her elbows.  She had no other adornment on her.  She was wondering whether she should put on some jewelry on her wrists or perhaps a ring, when a quick rap was heard at the door.

Opening it, she was surprised to see John McClure. He seemed equally surprised to see her.  He perused her face, and then her gown.  His eyes ran over her bare shoulders again, before he looked into her eyes.

“Ol’ Trix,” he greeted, bowing.

“McClure,” she returned, giving him a nod.

“You look lovely.”

Beatrice blushed, and covered her neck with her hand.  She didn’t need to get splotchy before the party.

“I realized yesterday that I hadn’t given you an engagement gift or really anything.  So, I purchased this for you today.”

“Oh, thank you,” she said, opening the tiny box.

Inside was a square-cut topaz set in gold.  It was simple, but lovely.

“It’s beautiful, McClure.  Thank you.”

She went to remove her glove to put it on, but he stopped her, and asked her to allow him. After she nodded, he unbuttoned the three buttons right above the elbow.  After he slid the glove off, he put the ring on her finger.  Then he kissed her hand.

“I know we are in a predicament.  I know this isn’t a love match either.  But I promise to take care of you, Trixie.  I hope that we’ll have a good life together.”

It was a sweet sentiment, and much kinder than anything else he had ever said to her.  She smiled at him, and then kissed him on the cheek.

“Thank you, John.  I feel much the same.”

“Shall I escort you downstairs?” he asked, handing her back her glove. “Guests will arrive soon.”

She nodded, and put her glove back on.  He helped her with the buttons.  Then taking her arms, he kissed her on the forehead, and led her down the stairs.  Upon arriving in the parlor, her mother seemed quite pleased.

“You two make a handsome couple.  I’m sure my grandchildren will be a delight to look upon.  I’m sure that they’ll come soon after the wedding, yes?”

McClure stiffened beside her, and Beatrice blushed.  She didn’t even know how to react to the statement.  It was outlandish.

“How many should we have, Martha?  Eight or nine?” asked McClure, not to be outdone by the old bat.

Beatrice gasped, and muttered “wicked man” under her breath.  He didn’t seem to mind her saying it this time.  She knew he heard it because he turned to her and grinned unrepentantly.

“Sounds about right to me,” Beatrice’s mother said, not giving ground.

Beatrice didn’t know if it could get any worse, when John McClure said that they would get right to it, as soon as they were lawfully able to.  With that Beatrice’s legs gave out.  McClure led her to a chair, and ordered someone to get a glass of water.

“Really, Beatrice,” her mother said, drolly.  “There is no need for theatrics.”

Her mother went off to get a glass of water.  McClure kneeled in front of her. His blue eyes were flashy with orneriness.

“Shocked you, have I?  You keep calling me a wicked man. It’s only right that I live up to it.”

He winked at her. Beatrice paled even more.  He was a rascal.  She lifted her gloved hand up, and rubbed her forehead. She didn’t answer.  To answer would be to spur him on.  Her mother came back with a glass of water, of which Beatrice took a few gulps. She hoped that the conversation was over.  Guests would be arriving soon.  She didn’t want anyone overhearing anything like the conversation her fiance and mother had just had.  It was indecent.

She looked at her fiance.  He was now standing, looking down at her, while stroking his beard.  He was so sure of himself, comfortable in who he was.  However, he often crossed the boundaries of propriety.  He was used to getting what he wanted.  What would life be like with him?  She started to regret her scheme to snare John McClure.  It was far too late to back down though.  She’d have to come up with some way to survive his antics.  She’d have to give him what-for.  She’d wait until she’d gathered her ideas though.  She had to be well-prepared to face such a foe as John McClure.

It was announced that guests were arriving.  McClure held out his hand for her to take.  She accepted, and they went arm-in-arm to greet them.

 

McClure thought that the party went rather well.  There were a few sly comments made by less-than-loving members of the community.  However, Beatrice had a canny ability to smooth things over.  Perhaps it was her lack of wit or her naivity that left people in wonder of her sweetness.  He wasn’t sure how some lecherous snake hadn’t gobbled her up before now.  That type of man loved to prey on sweet girls such as her.

He looked down at her as she was saying farewell to the last of the guests.  He had to admit that he was surprised tonight at his attraction to her.  Tonight was the first time he had really seen her as a woman, which was rather ludicrous, since she was 28 years of age.  Before tonight, he hadn’t really thought of her beyond much more than a sister.  Well, the two times he had kissed her, he thought of her more as a friend.  He would never kiss one of his sisters.  He shuddered thinking about that. Beatrice glanced over at him, strangely.  She must have noticed his disgust.  He’d better school his emotions better. He smiled broadly at her.  In return, she gave him a weary smile. It was late, or rather, early in the morning.

As the last of the guests drove off in their buggies or carriages, Martha Matheson said that she was beyond weary and headed to bed.  She also said that she expected him to be gone very soon.

“Of course,” he said, kissing her hand.

“Rapscallion,” said Martha Matheson, making her way up the stairs.

Beatrice was blowing out most of the candles in the stairway.  There were a few left in the entry, where she was waiting for him to say his good-bye.  The dim candlelight made her skin look dewey.  Her large eyes sparkled in the dark at him.  How had he never noticed how lovely she was before?  Was his respect for Rand as a friend what kept his attention at bay?

Her chin had a bit of a stubborn lilt to it that he also hadn’t noticed before.  He could tell she was pondering about something.  He wondered what it was.  He walked over to stand in front of her. She looked up at him, her brown eyes deep and dark.

“What will our marriage be like, John?” her lips asked him.

He wasn’t expecting that.  He also wasn’t expecting this discovery of Beatrice Matheson’s beauty.  How did he ever not notice before?

“Like this,” he said, and he took her in his arms and kissed her.

He made it more of a reserved, polite kiss, because they weren’t married, and it was obvious that Beatrice had received exactly three kisses in her life, including this one. All of them were from him.  He felt quite proud of himself.  It was the perfect kiss for that moment, reserved, but heartfelt.  And a pretty good one, if you asked him.  She stepped back, but instead of seeing wonder in her eyes, like he expected he saw… disappointment?

“Huh,” was what she said.

What the devil?

“What do you mean, “Huh”?” he asked, quietly.

“Well,” she paused, contemplating. “I thought for certain that we would have more of a- a “something” between us.”

“A something?” he repeated back, also quietly.

“Errmmm, yes.  Like Rand and Shae have.  Perhaps if we tried again?”

Perplexed, and wondering if she was pulling one over on him, he shrugged, and pulled her close to kiss her again.  This time he put quite a bit more passion into it.  He drew her close and caressed her lips.  They were so soft.  She was so soft, and smelled like dark spices, such as clove, and cinnamon.   That should do it, he thought.

He released her and stepped back.  She seemed unaffected!  How could that be?  He certainly felt something more than any other time he had kissed a woman.  Not that he’d kissed THAT many, but still.  With Beatrice, he had felt more of that “something” with her, than anyone else.  By far.

“Good bye, John,” she told him, steadily.  “We’ll talk about the wedding tomorrow.”

With that she opened the front door for him.  He looked at her bewilderedly.  He searched her face, her breathing, her eyes.  She was telling the truth.  She was too simple to lie so well.  He bowed to her, grabbed his hat and put it on, and then looked at her one last time before leaving.  She was looking at him like she was sorry for him.

“Farewell, old girl,” he said before walking away.

 

Beatrice shut the door and then leaned against it.  Taking big gulps of breath, she slid to the floor. Then she started giggling as she thought about McClure’s face.  He had been aghast at his lack of effect on her, except in truth he had effected her.  The first kiss he gave her tonight was sweet and she felt it in her toes, but the second one?  She didn’t know how she kept up her ruse, because she felt that one in every bit of her body.

She fanned her face, and sat there for a couple of minutes pondering on how long she should keep up the ruse.  He was always playing a game, acting on the stage of life.  It served him right to be put in his place, but at the same time, she didn’t like doing it.  For one, it was exhausting hiding her emotions.  Secondly,  she knew deep down that she cared deeply for John McClure.  She had a strong feeling, judging from HIS reaction to their kiss, that he at least had a strong attraction to her.  Perhaps he even had an emotional attachment to her and he just didn’t know it yet.

What One Knows: Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

That same day, at the offices of John McClure, Beatrice found a peony on her desk, and her employer found a heaping plate of her special biscuits on his desk.  That was their way of apologizing without actually talking to each other.  Beatrice was in the middle of rewriting a rejection “letter” to Matilda Heinz who apparently had given McClure a copy of her book, “Wise Words of Buddha”.  Of course, this book didn’t fit their readers’ tastes.

The bell to the door rang, indicating someone had entered.  She hadn’t even looked up when she heard the voice of her former best friend, Neva Langley.

“I just couldn’t believe it, until I saw it for myself.  Beatrice Matheson, I am shocked.”

“Hello, Neva.  How are you?”

“I mean, your mother told me, but I— well, really, Bea.  What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I want some independence from my mother.”

Neva giggled at that.  And her mother was doing exactly what she hoped she would do.  Spread the word.  John McClure was nearly hooked. She smirked.

“Well, you might have ended up with more than that.”

“What do you mean?” Beatrice asked, playing innocent.

“Yes, what do you mean?” came a stitled voice from the hallway.

“Oh, hello, Johnny.  I just had to come and see if the rumor was true about Beatrice coming to work here.  What is it that you do again?”

“Publishing,” McClure ground out.

It was unlike her employer to not flirt shamelessly with any female breathing.  Beatrice watched him carefully.

“What do you mean by her ending up with more than that?” he asked her again.

“A husband,” she explained.

“A husband?” he repeated back.  “And whom would that be?”

The room was tense for a moment, as they waited.  John was in denial.  Beatrice acted clueless.  Neva looked nasty.  She can’t believe that she used to crave her friendship.

“You, Johnny Boy.  You’re about stuck.”

“What do you mean?”

“You hired a single woman to work alone with you in an office.”

“It’s been done before,” he argued.

“Then she was seen wearing the same clothes two days in a row, leaving your office disheveled.”

McClure narrowed a look at Beatrice at that.  She shrugged.

“That’s your fault, McClure, for firing me because I burned the biscuits.”

He sighed.

“Finally, everyone knows that you went to the Matheson’s house together last night.”

“Everyone?”

“Well, soon everyone will,” Neva purred, walking over to the desk, and toying with Beatrice’s peony.

“Because you’ll tell them?” he asked.

Neva only smiled nastily.  Beatrice thought it a good time to start crying for effect. McClure gave her his handkerchief. Neva nearly purred with that.

“What a lovely flower, Bea.  Where did you get it?”

Beatrice just looked at McClure, who cocked an eyebrow at Neva.

“I see,” she said, saucily. “Well, I’ll just be on my way.”

She left, and McClure muttered that it was good riddance.  Then he ignored her and strode back to his office, without a word to Beatrice.  Beatrice wiped her eyes clean.

Something wasn’t right about this.  She stood up and started pacing.  There was no way that John McClure would have found himself ensnared this easily, except… Except if he meant for this to happen.  Did John McClure WANT to marry her?  Or did he realize that she wanted to marry him and comply, because he had no easier prospects?  At the same time, her Mother’s actions were suspect too?  Did she know that Beatrice was using her to get to John?

She rubbed her temples.  All of the drama and lying and pretense was starting to make her head throb.  She wasn’t going to let John McClure win this one.  She’d marry him, but she’d make good and sure that he really loved her, before she truly committed her heart to him.  He loved to play games.  What would he do once the game was over?  Was he seeing how far she’d take it?

She had a sudden thought.  What if he was doing this because he felt sorry for her! How mortifying.  Yes, John McClure would love her.  She’d make him love her before she loved him.

Right as she’d decided that, the door to McClure’s office opened.  Beatrice sat in her seat quickly and finished writing the letter she had been writing when Neva walked in. She sniffled for effect when he walked in.  She hoped her sadness seemed convincing.

McClure sat on the edge of her desk near her chair.  His warmth overtook her.  The room was already stuffy, so it was almost overwhelming.

“You have nice penmanship,” he complimented, picking up her letter.  “Have I told you that before?”

“No,” she stated, saucily. “You’ve been too busy calling me old or daft.”

He seemed remorseful for once in his life. He sighed.

“I’m sorry.  We’ve made a mess, you and I.”

“Seems so,” she brought out the tears again. “What are we going to do?”

“It looks like we’ll have to get married.”

It was such a relief to hear him say it that she honestly burst into tears.  Until that point, she wasn’t sure if he would take responsibility for his part in their game.  She wiped her eyes on his handkerchief.

“I’m sorry it’s not a love match for you,” he said, grabbing her hands.

He pulled her up to stand in front of him.  His jaw was working beneath his beard.  He seemed conflicted.

“Um,” she stumbled over her words. “I— I am sorry.  For you.  I’m sorry for you too.”

“No matter,” he reassured.  “I had no attachments to anyone else. I should have been more careful with you.”

He chose his words carefully.  Perhaps he hadn’t seen past her ruse.  Or maybe he had and didn’t think things would go so far.  She almost felt sorry for him— until he laughed.

“You were the last person I thought to marry.”

Now she wasn’t sorry for him.  She put on the tears again.  He said he was sorry and started rubbing her upper arms.

“You aren’t such a bad, old girl.  You are quite tolerable sometimes.”

“I guess you are okay too.  I had someone much handsomer than you in mind as a young woman.  I was relieved when you didn’t come courting, but then no one else did either.”

McClure’s hands stilled on her arms.

“That so? That so?” he asked, too cheerily.

“Well, I suppose we must make the best of it.”

“Yes,” he said, with a little less brightness.

With that he tilted her face up and kissed her softly on the lips.  Then he put on his hat and strode out the door.

It was as if she had been waiting for him.  She was propped up in her chair with her wraps around her.

“Hello, John,” Martha Matheson greeted, solemnly. “It’s about time you came. Come and join me for tea.”

She had been waiting for him.  Drats.

“Hello, dearest,” he gushed. “How are you doing? And how about this weather?”

“Don’t play prettily with me, young man. I know what is going on. You should be ashamed for spoiling my daughter’s reputation like you have.”

“Like I have?  She came to me for employment.  I mentioned that it would be scandalous, and she didn’t care.  Of course, she is the naive sort, and perhaps a little daft.”

Martha looked at him incredulously, as if she couldn’t believe that he spoke such a way of her daughter.  She stared at him for a minute, and then set her mouth in a firm line.

“One lump of sugar or two?” she offered.

“Three,” he said.

She sighed and plopped three cubes of sugar into his tea. She filled his plate with everything, and plenty of it.  She knew him well.  He sipped his tea, and then started in on a sandwich.  She watched him with every bite, chew, and swallow, until at the second sandwich half, he began to become uncomfortable. He put the sandwich down on the plate, and cleared his throat.  Taking another sip of tea, he watched her back.  Not a muscle moved on her face.

“Ahem,” he started. “Mrs. Matheson, darling—”

“Stop your nonsense.  I won’t be swayed by flattery.”

“Very well,” he said, pulling at his shirt collar. “Due to circumstances, I deem it necessary to ask your blessing to marry your daughter.”

“Do you love her?” she asked.

“Um, no,” he answered, truthfully. “No, I don’t.  I admire her, even as simple as she is.  She is quite sweet, uhhhh, sometimes, and can make the best biscuits I’ve ever had.”

“That’s good to know.  If you had said you did love her, I would have never let you marry her.  It’s quite obvious to me that the only person you love is yourself.”

“Pardon?” asked McClure, truly shocked at her words.

“You heard me, you rapscallion.  You’ve been nothing, but trouble since the moment I met you.  I would be worried, but my Beatrice can handle herself better than most people realize.  She probably handles you more than you know.”

“Surely you jest!  Earlier this week,  it took me an hour to explain how to organize the papers on her desk.”

“Hmm,” was all Mrs. Matheson said.

He crammed the rest of the second sandwich half in his mouth.  Then took a big sip of tea.  He stood up to leave.

“So do I have your blessing or not, Martha?”

“Of course,” she said, cryptically.  “I’ve always known you and Beatrice would end up together.”

He bowed to her jerkily at that, put on his hat and rushed out the door.  Martha Matheson cackled to herself, and sipped her tea.

 

What One Knows: Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

Three days later, and her mother still wasn’t talking to her.  She should have stood up for herself years ago.  Still, she didn’t like that there wasn’t peace between them.  She would try to smooth things over tomorrow.  Tonight she was going to Rand and Shae’s house.  McClure was picking her up.  She wasn’t sure why he offered, but she accepted anyway.

When he arrived, she took his arm as they went down the slippery walk.    It had barely stopped raining since April, so the ground was sopping on either side of the sidewalk.  In the evenings, there was still a little bit of bite to the air, so Beatrice was happy to be near McClure, since he seemed to radiate heat and energy.  The lilacs and peonies were blooming, so the air was fragrant.  It was a lovely time of year.

McClure helped her into his buggy.  Then went around the other side to drive the horses.  He didn’t say anything to her the entire way.  So strange.  Still he was radiating heat, which made the ride comfortable.  When they arrived a few minutes later, he handed the reins to her cousin’s stable boy, and helped her down.  Giving her his arm, he didn’t say anything on the way up to the mansion either.

The door opened before they reached the porch.  Laughing, Shae held her arms out to Beatrice.  It had been a few weeks since she had visited with her.  Shae was her best friend, thanks to McClure’s machinations.  He could do good with his chess playing in people’s lives, but really she wished that he would stop.  Of course, she was rather guilty at the moment for toying with him.  He deserved it though.  Wicked man.

Shae ushered them inside and remarked to her privately as to why they came together.  Beatrice shrugged and indicated that he had asked her, for no reason.  She peeked back at him, slapping Rand’s back, both of them grinning broadly, and talking loudly.  A lifelong friendship made them more like brothers.  They didn’t look like brothers, though.

Rand was tall, thick, brooding, and dark, while John was tall, but slimmer and more wirey.  A lot of her cousin’s solemnity had melted away these past few months. Shae had lost her sad look too.  Her eyes were snapping with mirth, and little bit of a secret.  Beatrice was trying to figure out what that was when Loudmouth McClure piped up.

“When’s the baby due, Rand?”

Everyone stilled, except for John, who rocked back and forth on his heels, with his thumbs in his vest pocket.  He was so proud of himself.  Shae blanched white, after which Rand ran to her and sat her down on the nearest seat.  Beatrice scowled at McClure.  Rand, who was kneeling in front of his wife, turned and scowled at him too.

“McClure!” he rumbled.

Rand was scary when he was like this.  His eyes were like cold steel, and his wide jaw was ticking. Beatrice was glad that he’d never been this angry at her.  However, McClure wasn’t bothered by it at all.  He was probably used to it.  He’d been infuriating Rand for nearly 30 years.

“Wicked man,” she muttered under her breath.

He stopped grinning, and rocking back and forth.  It was his turn to scowl, but at her.  He really didn’t like being called that.  He took a step toward her, and she scurried over to Rand and Shae, who had been watching his reaction with fascination.

“Oh, Shae,” she asked her friend. “Is it true?”

“Yes,” Shae said, with a million lights in her eyes. “We were going to tell you after dinner, but Loudmouth McClure ruined it.”

He was grinning again.  Rand was still scowling at him.

“Shae had the evening all planned out.  Why are you such a scoundrel, McClure?”

“It must be the Scotch-Irish in me.”

“Among other things,” said Rand. “Dinner is nearly ready.  Shall we go to the dining room?  Are you feeling well enough, Little Wren?”

Beatrice teared up at the term of endearment between them.  She only wished that she could find such a love.  She didn’t think it was possible, but at least she could find companionship with McClure, if he’d marry her.  At the moment, the closest thing to a term of endearment from him was “Ol’Trix”, which wasn’t flattering in the least.  She guessed that “wicked man” and “Loudmouth McClure” weren’t too complimentary either.

“Yes,” Shae told him, as she got up, and took Rand’s offered arm.

“Congratulations,” Beatrice told them as they led the way into the dining room.

McClure breezed past her, not bothering to offer his arm.  He was awful, but she kind of liked him that way.  He sat to the left of Rand, who sat at the head of the table. He didn’t even bother helping her to her seat which happened to be next to McClure.  Rand did it, after he seated his wife. On his way to his own chair, he smacked McClure on the back of the head.

“What was that for?” McClure demanded.

“For your lack of manners,” Rand chided.

“Ol’ Trix doesn’t mind,” he insisted.  “Do you, OLD girl?”

Beatrice ignored him.  The food was brought in right after that, so she didn’t feel it necessary to answer. The meal was fantastic, being one of her favorites. It was duck, roasted potatoes, and carrots. Dessert was a dried-apple pie.  Of course, McClure ate like a horse.  He had three helpings of everything. Rand made a comment about being glad he was well-off, otherwise McClure would eat him out of house and home.  McClure merely asked for a 4th piece of pie.  She didn’t know how he was so wirey still.

“Are you going to finish your piece of pie, old girl?”  he taunted.

“No, I’ve lost my appetite somehow. Plus one has to watch their figure at such an old age of 28.  I don’t know what I shall do at 90.”

“You’ll figure something out.”

Then he snatched her pie, and started at it.

“You certainly are ravenous, disgustingly so.”

“All I’ve had to eat all week are biscuits.”

She glared at him.  Rand and Shae watched the interaction with interest.  Rand got up and then helped Shae too.  McClure stood up on his own and didn’t make a move to help Beatrice at all.  Rand growled at him, so he got up and helped Beatrice up and offered her his arm.  She barely touched him, as she was rather angry with him.

They sat together in the library.  They talked about the new baby, how it would be born in October.  Shae said she would love either a boy or a girl.  Rand stated that he just wanted a healthy baby.  They all teared up at that, thinking of Lucy.  McClure especially grew solemn.  Lucy had wiggled her way into his heart and stolen a piece of it.  To break the sadness, Beatrice asked if they had thought of any names.  Shae started laughing.

“Rand suggested the name Brunhilda,” she revealed.

“That is awful!” exclaimed Beatrice.

“I was joking!” he insisted.

“You weren’t either.  You were quite serious.”

Rand winked at Beatrice, but still denied it.

“Are there any other names that you have thought of?” she inquired of her cousin. “What about Fifi Bluebell?”

Three of them laughed, but McClure just grinned and watched them.  He seemed somewhat lost in his thoughts.

“Any names for a boy?”Beatrice asked.

“Randolph John Matheson,” Shae stated, decidedly.

Rand beamed, and John smiled at Shae gently.

“That’s thoughtful of you, Shae,” McClure finally said.

“You brought us together, when it looked like all was lost.  We have you to thank for all that we have right now,” Shae said, sincerely.

“Yes, you did something right for once, McClure.”

“Once?” he exclaimed, the light dancing in his eyes again.

“Well, maybe twice,” Rand gave him.

McClure snorted at that.  His morose aura gone, he got up and kissed Shae on the cheek.  After that he shook Rand’s hand.

“Many congratulations! I’m very happy for you.  Truly.  What about naming your daughter Martha?”

Rand groaned, as Shae laughed outright.  McClure watched Beatrice’s reaction as she laughed softly.  Then Rand interrupted.

“It’s about time you settled down, McClure, and had some children of your own.  You call Beatrice an old girl, but you’ve got over five years on her. You always said that you wanted a house full of children.  If you don’t get to it, you’ll be crochety and ran down before you can.”

“Nonsense, I’ll be lithe until the day I die,” he returned.

It was probably true.  McClure’s father was in his 70s and more spry than many 30 years younger than him.  James McClure’s hair was a dimmed copper still, even at his age, although it used to be the bright auburn that John McClure’s was now.

“Who would marry him anyway?” Beatrice said, finally getting her comeback.

It was worth being patient for.  It brought to his mind their conversation almost a week ago when she had said something similar to him.  He wasn’t about to let her win this one though.

“What about you, Beatrice? Wouldn’t you marry me to get away from Martha?”

“One week of working with you has shown me how I feel about that,” she replied, tartly.

Of course, she meant in the affirmative, but he didn’t have to know that.

“Wait a minute,” Rand said, “You work for McClure?”

McClure ignored his friend.  He wanted to win this verbal sparring match.  He looked at Beatrice steadily.

“I already promised to court you.”

“What?!?” Rand spouted.

“So you do remember?  I thought maybe your old age had made you forget, or perhaps a lack of decency.”

“When did this happen, Bea?” Shae asked, surprised that she didn’t know about it.

But Beatrice and McClure were in a sparring match, nearly oblivious to what was going on around them, so focused on beating each other out verbally.  McClure wiped his hand on his vest front.

“You weren’t so decent that night when I kissed you.”

“MCCLURE!!!” Rand bellowed.

Beatrice was sure some of the crystals on the chandelier shook.  She blushed furiously, tears welling up in her eyes.  She stood up and made her way over to him, slapping his face.

“You WICKED man!”

And there they stood not quite nose-to-nose, both infuriated.  Beatrice was shaking.  McClure was rubbing his face where she had smacked him, partly shocked and mostly infuriated.  He got even closer to her.

“It’s time to go,” he stated, very quietly.

Beatrice only nodded her head.  John McClure strode out of the room at his fast clip.  Beatrice scurried after him, angry and embarrassed.  So much so, that she forgot her hosts, grabbed her things and headed out the door after her employer.

Rand and Shae stood there for a minute, in shocked silence. Then Shae made her way to her husband, putting her tiny hand in his big paw.  He brought it to his mouth and kissed it.

“Rand, dear…”

“Yes?”

“You need to talk to Aunt Martha.”

“Yes.”

 

The next day, Rand Matheson made his way to his Aunt Martha’s home.  He was ushered into the parlor, where his aunt was sitting wrapped in blankets with an ice pack on her head.  She held out her right hand to him.

“Are you ill, Aunt Martha?” he asked.

“It’s that girl, My Beatrice. I can’t think of what has gotten into her,” she complained. “I’ve never seen her in such a way.  Doing whatever she wants, sassing back at me.  So disrespectful.”

“She is almost 30,” Rand suggested.

“True,” Martha Matheson acquiesed.  “But she has no thought for her reputation. Do you know what she has gone and done?”

“Gone to work for McClure?”

“Yes, can you believe it?  A man and a woman alone in an office together all day.  What will people say?”

“Shae and I found it to be odd too.  Honestly, I don’t know how my cousin convinced McClure to do something so rash.  He’s a confirmed bachelor.  Surely he understands that he will have to marry her or ruin her chances at ever getting married.”

“Beatrice too.  She has to know how it looks.”

“That’s actually what I came to talk to you about.  I’m a bit concerned that there is a history between McClure and Bea.”

“Between John McClure and my daughter?  Surely you jest, my dear boy.”

“I wouldn’t have thought it either, but last night they were over for dinner.  They came together.”

Aunt Martha groaned at that, and moved the ice pack around on her head.  She muttered about her poor nerves and waved him to go on.

“My wife and I thought that to be curious, but then after dinner is when we found ourselves concerned and shocked.”

He paused, wondering if the old woman could handle the drama.  She peeked at him from underneath her ice pack.

“Go on, Randolph.  Don’t leave me in suspense.”

“They had been nasty with each other all evening, but then they really got into it right before they both left together, still angry with each other.”

“They left together too.  Oh, Beatrice.  What are you doing to me? Go on, Randolph.”

“Somehow it came out that many years ago, John McClure promised to court Beatrice.”

Martha Matheson stilled.  She stared at the opposite wall, slowly breathing in and out.  Rand was worried that he had shocked her into an illness, until she waved him on again.

“Then John let it slip that they had kissed each other at that time. Finally it ended with Beatrice calling him a “wicked man”, which is apparently something that he hates being called.  I’ve never seen her like this.  Needling him and provoking.  I’ve never seen McClure like this either.  He actually is angry at the things she says. Nothing makes him angry, not even when I’ve punched him in the eye.  He’s always just laughed, and went on about jolly, old times.”

His aunt stared at the wall for another minute.  She would nod her head occasionally, as if in an internal dialogue with herself.  Finally, she muttered, “clever, clever girl”, and smiled.

“Thank you for informing me, Randolph.  You were good to do so.”

“What are you going to do about it?” he asked, solemnly.

His Aunt Martha turned her head to look him straight in the eye.  The old bat was grinning ear-to-ear!

“Absolutely nothing.”

“Nothing?” he exclaimed.

“And everything,” she answered.

“Everything too?”

Had she gone senile?  Had the shock of the situation caused her to begin to slip away?  Her only response was to ask after his wife.  To which, he felt obliged to tell her about the new arrival to come in October.  Aunt Martha was ecstatic.  Rand was stumped.

WOAH! Focus rocks.

When I was a child I wrote the first 3-4 chapters of about 20 books.  All throughout junior high and high school, I wanted to be an author, but I never finished my books.  Why?  Because I couldn’t give myself a break, or as my counselor tells me to say, “to be gentle with myself”.  Nothing I wrote was good enough, not even to my 12 year old self.

Fast-forward to this time last year.  I had grown tired of the constant self-deprecation.  I was tired of feeling “not good enough”.  I remembered my goals as a child to write a book.  It was a good 20-25 years later and I still hadn’t. So I told myself, “Risa, sit down and write a book all the way through.  Stop overthinking it, and just write it.”  So I did.  That was my “How One Looks” book.  I don’t really think it is very good, but I’m proud of myself for finishing it.  Right after that I started working on the first book of a series in a completely different genre than my first novel is in.  I also started working on the sequel to “How One Looks” just so I would have content to post here.

Then some hard, emotional stuff happened and I didn’t write again for months.  I had told my daughter that I was going to do NaNoWriMo with her, but then I backed out, because I hadn’t finished my first book of the new series.  I didn’t want to finish one and start another, and I wasn’t sure if I would get the new one done… you get the picture.  However, I decided to buckle down and focus.  I decided that instead of relaxing by reading a book that I was going to finish writing my own.

That’s what I did!  Because I decided to FOCUS on finishing the first draft of this book in October, I actually did.  One of my favorite quotes is: “Goals are dreams with deadlines.”  That small sentence has really helped me accomplish a lot in life, both with music and now with writing.

Because I started to “be gentle with myself” and set goals for myself, I have been able to write two novels and a short story long enough to almost be considered a novella.  (But it’s not.  It’s about 1000 to 2000 words too short for a novella, so… a short story.  Meh.)  Still, TWO NOVELS!  I’m totally patting myself on the back right now.

Pat yourself on the back too.  Dig down deep and realize that you can make or break yourself- not anyone else.  Make that dream a goal and from a goal to a reality, even if it is just for yourself.  Focus on what you want, and go for it.

What One Knows: Chapter 2

CHAPTER TWO

The next morning Beatrice tried to sneak out without her mother knowing what she was doing, but Mrs. Matheson wasn’t one to miss much.  She called Beatrice into the breakfast room, just as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Yes?” Beatrice asked, making her way to where her Mother was sitting and eating.

“Where are you headed so early in the morning?  And where were you yesterday afternoon?  It seems that you slipped out before I could catch you.  I didn’t even hear you come in.”

Knowing that she had intentionally snuck in, Beatrice tried to act non-plussed.  She put a shocked look on her face, and placed her hand on her chest.

“Trying to sneak?” she asked, allowing tears to form in her eyes.  “Really, Mother!”

“Oh, come now,” Martha Matheson chided, “You know how I hate tears.  Tell me where you are going this morning?”

“Well, I am 28.”

“Yes, you turned so yesterday.  I know full-well when my own daughter’s birthday is.”

“Um, well, I have decided to seek employment.”

“Have you gone mad?” her mother exclaimed.

“No, I felt unfulfilled. I’ll tell you about it later, Mother.  I’m going to be late for work.”

With that she rushed out of the house, listening to her mother yelling her name as she did.  Their house was only a couple of blocks from McClure’s office.  She walked quickly, in case Martha decided to send the housekeeper after her.

Out-of-breath, she entered the publishing office that John McClure ran.  He was standing near her new desk waiting for her.  His thumbs were in his vest pockets and his eyebrows were raised.

“Running away from the old bat?” he asked.

“Ummm…” was all that Beatrice could get out.

She unpinned her hat from her hair and hung it on the coatrack.  She did the same for her reticule and shawl.  McClure watched her.  She patted her hair and smiled at him, pretending not to notice.

“So, what do I do?” she asked.

McClure spent an hour explaining the most mundane things.  She pretended to not understand, because he had to believe that she wasn’t the brightest candlestick in the room.  She also had to ignore when he brushed up against her showing her where certain papers went.  Finally he handed her a brown-paper parcel.

“I need you to take this to the booksellers.  Tell Mr. Young that it wasn’t quite what I expected of the book, and ask him to give you his newest title.  Can you handle that?”

Of course, I can handle that, McClure, she thought.

“I think so,” is what she actually said.

“Very good,” he said, awkwardly, “When you return, I will show you to the kitchen in the back.”

“The kitchen?” she asked, trepidaciously.

“Yes, you will need to make us some lunch. That’s part of what Higgs did,” he explained. “You can cook, right?”

“Uhhh,” she hesistated, “I’m not sure?”

“You’ve never tried?”

“No?”

McClure’s eye twitched.  Then he said something about showing her how to cook when she returned to the bookstore.  She put her hat and shawl back on, grabbed her reticule and the book, and then headed out the door to go to the bookstore.

Upon arriving, it seemed like Mr. Young had been waiting for her.  She gave him the message, pretending that she didn’t know that it was really spy business.  To continue that illusion, she chatted about mundane idiocies, until Mr. Young frantically handed her his “newest title” also packaged in brown paper.

“Have a good day, Miss Matheson.  Be sure to tell Mr. McClure that he is sure to be on his toes with this book.  It’s full of danger.”

“Oh, really?” she said, acting clueless, “I’ll have to read it when he is done.”

Mr. Young froze at that.  She just smiled stupidly at him and bade him farewell.  When she arrived back at the offices, she went back to his office, giving McClure the package and message.  He thanked her and asked her to rewrite a letter he had written to an author in Kentucky, whose work didn’t measure up to McClure’s standards.  Then he shut the door to  his office and she made her way back to her desk.

She recopied his letter, having a bit of difficulty reading his handwriting. It was a fast, scribbling scrawl, and barely legible.  Of course, she knew that the letter was a farce.  He had to have made up this man that she was supposedly writing to, because she knew that this wasn’t a publisher’s office.  The man’s name was “Harold Smith” and apparently he had written a book entitled, “When the Liquor is Corn”.  She snorted, as she transcribed how much promise Mr. Smith had, and how McClure wished that they could publish his book, but considering how the non-existent publishing companies readers were mostly teetotalers, he couldn’t imagine a very good reception to Mr. Smith’s book.  By the time, she had finished writing the fake letter, McClure was making his way to her desk.

“I forgot to make a payment to Mr. Young for the book,” he said.  “Would you return to the bookstore and give him this letter?  It contains the payment for the books.”

“Of course,” she smiled at him. “Would you like me to mail this letter I just rewrote for you to Mr. Smith?”

“Um, no. Not at all.  Not at all.  I’ll mail it myself this afternoon.”

“Very well,” she replied, acting dumb, and taking the envelope for Mr. Young from his fingers.

 

When Beatrice got back from her second errand of the morning, McClure was waiting for her by her desk.  As she put her hat, shawl, and reticule on the coatrack again, she wondered amusedly if she should just keep them all on.  Who knows where he would be sending her next?  To go and tell Mr. Young that he was ruggedly handsome and that she wanted to marry him?  No, that was what she wanted to say to McClure. Sigh.  Instead she put on a syrupy smile and asked what was next.

“Ah, yes, yes,” McClure said.  “It’s time for you to learn to cook, I gather.”

Beatrice blushed, and then blushed more because she didn’t blush prettily.  She got splotchy on her neck, instead of her cheeks turning a lovely shade of pink.  McClure noticed.  Of course, he did.  His eye twitched again.    

“Come along, Miss Matheson,” he said, striding toward the back.

He always walked so quickly, and rather loudly, with his heels clicking on the floor.  She thought that he probably had to have a “spy walk”, otherwise he would have given himself away years ago.  Suddenly she remembered when he had found her in the Pfieffer’s library.  He had stole softly into that room.  She hadn’t even realized he was there until he talked to her. He had been on a mission!

They made it back to the kitchen.

Of course!  That was why he had been so adament about making me feel better.  He was trying to get me on my way out of there, promising whatever he had to in order to do so.

She looked furiously at him.  He stepped back, and put his hand over his chest.

“Does cooking offend you?” he asked.

She schooled her features, as much as she could.

“No, of course not,” she reassured with a smile pasted on.

Wicked man, she thought. You aren’t going to play me this time.  It will be me playing you.  I’ll have you on your knees.

She must have had a wild look in her eyes, because he still looked a bit taken back. He asked her if she was afraid.  Perfect excuse.

“Yes.”

“Well, well,” he reassured her. “There’s no need to be. No need to be.”

She gave him a shaky smile.

Honestly, I can’t believe he didn’t mean that kiss at all.  The courtship promise, I believe.  That is congruent with who John is.  Promise the world to get what he wants.

He leaned over her to grab a pot off the shelf.  His body heat warmed her, and having already been back in her mind to that night in the library ten years ago, it wasn’t hard to remember how it felt to have him kiss her.  In a daze, she vaguely listened to him tell her how to peel an onion and cut up some carrots. He set her to it while he went to the post office two doors down to mail his fake letter.  He probably was just going to walk around the block.  She set to her task, absent-mindedly.

I am certain that kiss was real.  There was a look in his eyes for a split second.  A look of contentment.

She went to work on the onion, finished, and then started on the carrots.  He mentioned something about potatoes too, but she couldn’t remember.  Maybe cut them up into little squares?  So, she did, while reliving that night.

“What in tarnation!” John exclaimed from the kitchen doorway.

Startled, she looked at him.  She couldn’t figure out why he was looking at her so bewilderedly.  She looked down at the food she’d been working on.  It looked…. Something didn’t look quite right.  John clipped over to her.

“You have taken the skin off the onion and sliced it, but not peeled the carrots and diced them.  The potatoes are cut correctly, but you didn’t wash them first!”

She looked up at him confusedly.  He got really, really close to her face, and talked very, very quietly.  His eyes were boring into hers.  She was pretty sure that he wanted to get a new secretary.

“You were supposed to skin the onion, and dice it,” he whispered.  “The carrots were supposed to be peeled and then sliced.   You did it backwards.”

“Oops?” she whispered, swallowing hard.

He looked at her for awhile longer.  His brain was going a mile a minute.  She could tell.  Then he looked at her nose.  He took in her seven freckles.  After that, he seemed to be memorizing her lips.  Uncomfortable.  Awkward.  Frightening.  Strangely enticing.  She like him this close, the wicked man.

“Surely she isn’t this daft,” he muttered under his breath.

“Wicked man!” she said, aloud this time, but with a bit of fierceness.

He realized that he had spoken that last bit out loud.  He rubbed his eyes with one hand.  Then with a sigh, he washed the cut-up potato squares.  He examined a carrot dice.  He instructed her to chop up the onion slices smaller.  He moved to put some butter in the bottom of the pot, but he didn’t apologize.

“Mr. McClure!” she exclaimed.

He stopped, and looked at her, not understanding why she was upset.

“Don’t I deserve some sort of apology from you?”

“Don’t I?

“For what?” she returned.

“For calling me a wicked man.”

“You ARE a wicked man,” she returned, her hands on her hips, with a sharp knife in her hand with the blade dangerously askew.

“Let me just take this from you,” he said, gently taking the knife out of her hand.

By this time, the butter was ready for the onion and carrot.  He put the knife in the dish pan, and put the said vegetables in the pot.  They sizzled, but still no apology.

“I’m sorry for calling you a wicked man, McClure,” she offered.

He only nodded, and still didn’t apologize! He just showed her how to make a stew.  She seethed on the inside, and pretended like nothing was wrong on the outside.  Wicked man….

 

At home that night, Beatrice spent all afternoon and night figuring out how to make a fluffy biscuit.  After she had burned the ones at the offices yesterday, he sent her home and told her that it wouldn’t work out.  She argued with him, until he said once she could make fluffy biscuits and not blackened stones, she could go back and work for him.  She thought he had probably been looking for a reason to not have her in his employ any longer.  Her incompetence in the kitchen provided him that out.

 

So she had stomped to her house, and straight to the kitchen.  Her normal compliance to Martha Matheson was gone.  After enduring a tirade from her daughter to HER, Mrs. Matheson swept out of the kitchen with a tortured air.  With a slight tinge of regret, Beatrice shrugged her shoulders, and got to work learning.  After asking their cook about the basics, she baked 12 batches of biscuits, each one getting less black and more fluffy than the next.

She burned her fingers, had dough caked in her nails, and she was exhausted from no sleep, but she carried her beautiful, perfectly fluffy batch of biscuits the next morning to the offices of John McClure.  She walked into his office without knocking.  She didn’t notice the other man sitting across from him.  She just bust barely noted John’s look of shock, then anger, and finally shock again, as she placed the plate of biscuits in front of him.  Then she headed out to her desk and fell asleep with her head in her arms.

 

John was in a meeting with a prospective initiate for the detective agency when Beatrice slammed open the door and plopped a plate of biscuits onto his desk.  Then she shuffled out, nearly asleep on her feet.  He picked up a biscuit, smelled it, and took a bite.  He coudn’t help the groan that he made when eating it.  That was the best biscuit he’d ever had.  How had she gone from making the granite lumps yesterday to these delectable treats this morning?  Had someone else made them?  Had she stayed up all night baking until she figured it out?  If so, could she replicate this?  And also if so, why?  Was living with her mother that horrifying?

He had been tossing his biscuit up and down in his had while he thought up all of those questions.  It was a mystery.  He took another bite, and groaned again.  What did she do to make these taste so good?  There was some sort of spice in them, and…. Cheese?  Another mystery.  The man across from him looked like he wanted one.

“Please, help yourself,” he offered.

Yes, this was a mystery that he wanted to solve.  Then again, when was there ever a mystery that he didn’t want to.  He shoved the rest of the biscuit into his mouth, and headed to her desk.

He found her with her head in her arms.  He examined her from far away.  She was wearing the same outfit as she wore yesterday.  It was covered in flour, and other mess. Disgusting.  She had something in her hair.  He stepped closer, and touched it.  Dried biscuit dough.  He looked at her fingernails, where dough was caked up.

“Good grief!  You stayed up all night to learn to bake biscuits? Are you daft?,” he asked her.

Her response was a light snore from her freckled nose.  He abhorred freckles.  Not that it mattered.  Charles Borden came out of John’s office.  It had been hard trying to convince him to work at their agency, and he still didn’t know if he had hooked him into joining.  This debacle with Beatrice was sure to keep Borden away. She had looked like some sort of asylum escapee, storming in, disheveled, and plopping biscuits on his desk, without saying a word.

“These are fantastic,” Borden exclaimed, mouth full.  “Would I get some of these every day?”

“Yes,” John said, decidedly.

He’d put up with daft Ol’ Trix if that meant Borden was on.  The man was intelligent, skilled, and the women loved him.  He was very much needed, since Rand and Shae had quit, and now he had to watch over his new secretary… and come up with things for her to do.  Publisher things.  She was too naive to tell about the spy work.  She’d probably slip up and tell her mother.  Then he would be a dead man, quite literally.

“I’m in,” Borden said, resolutely, glancing at Beatrice, who was snoring sweetly at the desk.

“Do what you need to do in Missouri to tie up things there.  I’ll expect you here in two weeks time to begin work.  There are decent rooms to let at the boarding house, and I believe that there is also a small home for sale at the end of this street, if that interests you.”

Borden glanced at Beatrice.

“She knows nothing about what I really do.  She thinks this is a publishing office.”

Borden nodded.  He took a final bite of the biscuit, and shook McClure’s hand.  They discussed a contract that would be signed when he came back in a couple of weeks.  Once Borden left, McClure was undecided what to do with Ol’ Trix.  He chuckled at her tenacity.  He shouldn’t be surprised though.  Only the most resilient of people could live with Martha Matheson for almost 30 years.

He shook her, and she murmured his first name.  He stood up straight at that.  Interesting.  He shook her again to see what would happen.

“Wicked man…,” she murmured, quite enticingly.

He wiped his hand on his vest. That was unexpected. He shook her again.   She only snored this time.  Shrugging, he tried to lift her up in his arms, but it seemed that she was somehow stuck to the chair.  He sat her back down, and then gingerly lifted up her skirts a few inches.  She had wrapped her feet around the legs of the chair.

In case, I tried to make her leave, John thought.  She was made up of more iron than he expected previous to today.  Gently, he took her feet and unwound them from the chair.  Then he picked her up.  She weighed more than he thought she would.  He gave an unmanly grunt as he picked her up.  He was glad that she was asleep.  He didn’t need that blow to his pride.

He carried her to the extra office, and laid her on the leather sofa in it.  As he was extricating himself from her arms, she called him a wicked man again, then she curled up on her side and sighed.

“Yes, yes, Ol’ Trix.  I know I am a wicked man.”

What One Knows: Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

A little less than 10 years later

Beatrice Matheson took a long look at herself in the mirror.   She did this every year on this exact date, her birthday.  Or at least she had for the past seven years.  This time it was her 28th birthday.  She liked to do it on this day, just to get a firm hand of exactly what she looked like.  She stared into her eyes in the mirror, and tried to see something of consequence there.  The only thing she saw was pathetic, puppy-dog eyes staring back at her.  Her skin was pale, and her nose dotted with a few freckles, much to her mother’s consternation.  She had went out without her bonnet once at a picnic 6 summers ago, thinking to gain the attention of a man and not about keeping on her bonnet. The only thing she had gained that day were 7 brown dots on her nose.  She had listened to a diatribe from her mother for about an hour about it, which was repeated every time she went out for a walk or picnic in the summer, even 6 years later.

As she kept looking at her visage, she noted her long light brown hair, lying in waves down her front.  She held a bit of pride about her hair.  It was thick, and glinted a reddish-gold in the sunlight or lamplight.  She felt that she had a decent nose too, minus the freckles.  It was straight and not too large, she thought.  Her chin was firm.  Her brows slightly arched.  Her lips were bowed nicely, her upper lip slightly smaller than the lower.  She didn’t think that they lacked anything either.  So what was it about her that kept men away?

She became distracted from her thoughts by what sounded like a bit of drama downstairs.  From her mother’s harsh tones, it seemed that the maid had displeased her mother.  It was quite a lengthy chiding.  She figured that racket downstairs was the answer to her lack of beaus.  Turning back to the mirror, she put up her hair.  When finished she tilted her head to the side.   How many more years would she stand here at her mirror on her birthday and wonder about the same thing?  She wanted to get married.  She wanted children.  She wanted to be kissed by a man, and held closely like she was worth being treasured.

She huffed in exasperation.  She knew exactly the man she wanted it to be too.  He was the only man who had ever kissed her, that rascally John McClure.  It had been ten years since that kiss, as well as his promise to court and marry her.   She touched her hand to her lips.  The kiss had taken her by surprise.  She wondered if he even remembered it.  She doubted it with the way he shamelessly flirted with every woman he met, except her.  He even flirted with her mother.   Maybe he did remember, and felt guilt for manipulating her like he did. Regardless, he hadn’t backed up his proposal, as of yet.

Oh, yes.  She had John McClure all figured out.  It took her awhile to put together the pieces- years, actually. He was very good, and very careful, but she had been watching him constantly for ten years.  She noticed herself blushing in the mirror.  She knew her infatuation with him ran deep. She was a little embarrassed at how she constantly watched him, but she couldn’t seem to look away.  Her watching him made her wonder at his goings-on.  He was always snooping about when he thought no one was looking.  He also seemed to know exactly who to manipulate and steer into doing what he wanted.   Somehow, as good as he was, he had no clue that she knew he was a detective.  She was sure he thought her a helpless ninny, a cotton-headed simpering old maid.  That perception should definitely change, but at just the precise moment.

All she knew is that she had to get out of this house.  Did she really want to spend the rest of her young life listening to her mother complain about everything? No, she did not.  Didn’t she want to have excitement in her life?  Yes, she did.  Did she want to look into the mirror next year at age twenty-nine, and still have the same wonderings?  Not at all.  Immediately a plan started forming in her mind.  It would take a lot of gumption.  It would take a lot of persuading.  It would take a lot of perseverance in listening to her Mother complain about it… But would it be worth it?

As she stood there, a determination to change her circumstances overtook her.  It changed her appearance.  It started with her standing up taller.  Then her eyes lost their timid look, and became strong.  Her shoulders straightened, and her chin lifted.  It was time to convince John McClure that he needed to marry her, and even to persuade him into knowing that he couldn’t live without her.  This would take great caution, because the man was sharp, and not easily beaten, as well as a confirmed bachelor.  It would take patience, because too strong of a push and he would scurry away.  It would take brains, and luckily Beatrice Matheson had it in spades.  John McClure just didn’t know it yet.

Finally satisfied with her visage, after all these years of perturbed study, she turned from the mirror.  Fetching her shawl and reticule, she made her way down the stairs. She didn’t stop to let her mother know where she was going.  She was well beyond the age for doing what she wanted and thinking on her own, without Mother’s interference.  One thing she knew is that she didn’t want to hear a long tirade on her gaining more freckles or get into a discussion about where she was going.  Martha Matheson would find that out on her own later, after it was too late.

Shutting the door behind her, she noted that it was actually warmer out than she anticipated.  Late Spring was upon them.  Everything was coming to life again, and the air smelled fresh and lush.  It would be a nice, short walk to the offices downtown where John McClure pretended to be an accountant.  She took in a few long, deep breaths and let them out slowly as she walked the few blocks there.  She loved the smell of spring.

 

Once she got right before the door, she started to get nervous.  Her hand settled on the door pull.  She took in another deep breath, conquered her nerves, and walked in.  She was surprised to see that McClure’s secretary wasn’t in his usual spot.  The desk actually looked sparse, with no personal effects on it.  Not that she noted the former secretary had ever been a particularly sentimental man.  He always had looked rather dour and put-out.  Thought, she didn’t blame him for looking put-out if he worked for John McClure.  He was an exasperating man.  Love him.

Since the secretary wasn’t in, she went straight for the door to McClure’s office.  Knocking gently, she waited.  With no answer, she knocked again, louder.  She heard footsteps coming to the door.

“Yes?” McClure responded, as he opened the door.

He seemed surprised to see her.  His right eye twitched almost imperceptibly at the inner corner.

“If it isn’t Old Trix,” the tyrant greeted, with a strained smile on his face.

“Hello, Mr. McClure. Might I speak with you?”

“Certainly.  Come on in.”

He ushered her in, and sat her in a black leather chair in front of his desk.  Instead of sitting behind the desk, he took the identical chair beside her.

“Is anything the matter?” he asked, seemingly concerned.

“No, not at all.  I just have a proposition for you.”

At this his eye twitched again.

“Yes, yes.  What is it?”

His mouth was smiling, but she saw tension at the corners.  His beard covered most of it, but she caught a glimpse anyway.  She was going to have to play ignorant.  She wasn’t ready to let him know that she knew of his spy work.  She wasn’t sure if she wanted him to know that she knew ever.  She just wanted to marry him, spend the rest of her life with him, and have his children.  Simple request, really.  To make him notice her, she would have to have him see her regularly.  With that in mind, she made a split-second decision.  She was pretty sure he no longer had a secretary.  She knew just the girl to take the job.   

“I don’t know if you know, but today is my birthday.  I turned 28.  It is obvious that I have little chance of getting married.  I was wondering if you would help me?”

McClure looked shocked for once.  Losing all pretense, he sat back in his chair.  She stared at him with her best puppy dog eyes.  She hoped she looked insipid.

“Uhhhh,” he said. “How can I possibly help with that?”

She decided to bring on the waterworks.  She had learned to cry on the spot when she tired of her Mother’s nagging.  Mother hated crying, and always sent her away.  She wondered how McClure would respond to it.

“I wish that I could get married, but no man wants me.  I knew this would happen.  Do you remember me telling you it would all those years ago?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t remember.  When was that?” he lied.

“After the soiree, when I was crying in the Harrison’s library.  You kissed me, and then told me that you would come courting me someday?”

With that he shot up from his seat, and started pacing.  She decided to push him a little farther, before relieving his mind.  Lord knows, the man deserved it with all the tricks he played on other people, as well as herself.  He stopped pacing and sat on the desk in front of her.  His arms were crossed in front of him, with one hand rubbing his beard, like he was in thought.

“When exactly was this?”

“You mean you don’t remember?” she cried, milking it for all it was worth. He wasn’t the only one in the room who could act.

John McClure looked down at Beatrice Matheson.  Of course, he remembered the instance.  He just didn’t want her to know that he did.    She was weeping into her handkerchief.  At least she had learned the use of one over these past ten years, instead of using her gloves.  She seemed deeply effected by being 28, and unmarried.  If he were her, he’d also loathe the prospect of living with Martha Matheson for years to come.  However, as much as he felt sorry for her, it wouldn’t be enough to convince him to marry her.  The thought of marrying anyone terrified him.  He’d been happily unmarried all these years.  He didn’t see the need to change his circumstance, for any reason.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t,” he lied.

With his saying that, she looked up at him with her huge, brown eyes.  She sniffed a bit, and wiped her eyes dry.

“Oh, well, that doesn’t really matter, does it?  The truth is that no one wants me.  I am tired of listening to Mother berate every one around her.  I need a change.  I was wondering if you could provide it.”

Good grief, he thought.   How do I get out of this one?

Beatrice almost started laughing at the bewildered look on John McClure’s face, but she needed to maintain her facade until he agreed to her plan.  That plan to become his secretary, of course, wasn’t her real plan, but a step in it.  She kept her face miserable.  She had to in order for everything to fall into place.

“How can I do that, Miss Matheson?”

“I’m sure that you’ll be able to think of something,” she paused for effect. “Can’t you?”

He looked at her like she was nuts, but she was about to turn the tables on him.  She kept looking up at him, hoping that her eyes looked pleading and innocent.  He was scratching under his chin.  Finally, he sat down in the chair across from her again.  This time he took her hands.

“Miss Matheson, it seems to me that you are hinting around at a possible marriage between us. I cannot—“

“A marriage!” she exclaimed, in mock surprise.  “How could you think I would ever hint around at such a thing?  I may be an old maid, but I have my pride!”

She stood up in pretend self-righteousness.  Of course, she WAS hinting around about it by pretending to not be hinting around about it.  A little seed, she thought.  She acted like she was heading out the door.

“I am beyond mortified that you think I would stoop this low.  I thought you knew me better than that, John McClure.”

He had stood up when she did, and when she started to move past him to get to the door, he grabbed her elbow.

“Miss Matheson, I owe you an apology.  It seemed as if you were hinting around at marriage between us.  Would you forgive me for my presumption?  Please, I am sorry. So sorry.”

She took her time looking at him, making it seem as if she were truly contemplating leaving.

“Of course, I forgive you. We are OLD friends,” she said, emphasizing “old”. “I am still baffled that you think I was suggesting such a thing.  Can you imagine?  You and I married, sharing a home, and having children?”

She paused again, for emphasis, trying to put on a shocked air, while also making him “imagine” that very thing.  He scrunched his eyebrows.  At first she thought she was found out, but he truly seemed to be imagining what she had suggested.  His took his hand from her elbow, and wiped it on the front of his waistcoat.  She giggled a little.

“That would be quite the thought!” she said, laughingly. “One kiss from you was quite enough for me.”

One of his auburn eyebrows raised at that.  He looked ready to remark about that, but stopped himself.  He walked to the other side of the desk to sit.

“Yes, yes.  Quite the thought.  Do have a seat again, Miss Matheson.”

“What I was really going to ask you for was advice,” she said, sitting down.

“Oh.  I see.  I see.  What sort of advice?”

“You see, I was wondering if you might suggest places of employment for me.  I want to gain some independence.”

He cleared his throat, and sat back in his chair.  He was studying her.  He put his elbows on the arms of his chair, and steepled his fingers under his chin.  She thought maybe he had her figured out.  He was hard to fool, and maybe it was a fool’s errand trying to do what she was, but she had to try.  She was pretty sure that he was the man meant for her.   She didn’t milk anything at this point, just tried to look earnest.

“It just so happens that I need a new secretary.  Higgs was called out-of-state to care for his ailing mother.  However, there is the matter of propriety.  Some people might raise their eyebrows at you, a single woman, being a secretary for me, a single man.”

She acted like she was giving that some thought.

“I see what you are saying, but my reputation has little value.  I will likely remain unmarried, and untouched, for the remainder of my days.”

He cleared his throat.  The “untouched” comment bothered him.  Good.

“Uhh, well.  I can start training you tomorrow, if you’d like.  I’m in a great need for a replacement.”

She clasped her hands in front of her, and readily agreed.

“Thank you, Mr. McClure.  I knew you would be the one to help me.”

She stood to leave.  He followed her.  That was the plan.

 

After Beatrice left, John McClure fell into his desk chair.  Leaning back, he steepled his fingers in front of his face.  This was his thinking postition, thumbs under his chin, fingers on his nose and swiveling back and forth in his chair.  This is how he concocted most of his notorious plans for everyone.  Well, himself, really.  He loved the game of moving people about as he wished.  If he didn’t know Beatrice better, he would have thought that she just bamboozled him.  However, she was too unassuming for that, and bless her, he was sure she wasn’t cunning enough to do so.  Hardly anyone was, except for maybe Rand’s wife, Shae.  He’d even tricked her a couple of times.

He smirked.  His plans to get his best friend and Shae to fall in love had been rather successful, even though he had gotten a bit bruised up in the process.  He also had lost two of his best spies out of his office.  He had been working a lot more in order to compensate for their loss.  Then Higgs had to quit suddenly.  After that he was swamped with spy work and paper work.   Now he had to figure out a way to make Ol’ Trix continue to believe that he worked for a publishing company.

He could send her on errands, including those to the bookstore.  He could probably make most of his paperwork look like editing material.  Most of the evidence of his heavy spy work was at his home locked away in secret compartments in his office.  She would never be going there.  He could take the rest of the incriminating evidence to his house.

Pleased with his work, he gathered what he needed to, packed it away in a satchel, and headed home.  Ol’ Trix would start tomorrow.