An Undeniable Passion Ch. 04byopels©
When she arrived back home her father wasn't in. She was eager to ask him what it was that Charles had wanted to see him about. She sat in the sitting room with a piece of embroidery trying to pass the time, but she was so distracted that she couldn't concentrate on what she was doing. She had started out trying to decide whether or not she would be happy if her father told her that Charles had asked for her hand, but she ended up recounting Violet's comments about her reaction to seeing Drake.
The way she had felt when their eyes met certainly was the way that she had always dreamed love would feel like. But she couldn't possibly be in love with him. She didn't even know him. Even though they had already shared two rather intimate embraces, they were both accidents and did not mean anything. She didn't know anything about him, his family, or what he did for a living. Judging by his fine attire and the way he spoke he appeared to be wealthy and well bred. Well, perhaps educated and cultured would be better words, she thought, for he certainly displayed appalling manners. Not that her actions had shed her in a very favorable light she had to admit. She had been wantonly pressing herself against him in that doorway, she confessed to herself, a blush tinting her cheeks. Now what did that mean? Frustrated, she tossed the embroidery aside, knowing that it was useless to even try.
She decided to help Lucy in packing away her winter wardrobe and unpacking her lighter clothes to take her mind off things. She was instructing one of the grooms on which trunk to bring down from the attic when she heard the carriage out front. She finished her instructions and went downstairs to greet her father. She found him in the library, pouring himself a brandy.
"Hello, Father," she said walking into the room.
Gregory turned, took one look at his daughter and burst out laughing. "You look like a scullery maid," he said in response to her questioning look. "You're all covered in dust," he explained. "Whatever have you been doing?"
Virginia caught sight of herself in a mirror and she indeed was a sight. Her hair was in disarray and she was covered in dust. There was even part of a spider web caught on her shoulder. "I was in the attic. I've been helping Lucy put away my winter clothes and bring down my spring wardrobe."
"Why were you helping her? You shouldn't be doing that."
"I needed something to occupy myself. I was feeling fidgety and restless this afternoon."
With a sly smile, her father said, "I know that Charles told you he had wanted to see me."
Feigning disinterest, she replied, "Yes, he did mention it." Trying to maintain her aloof air she said, "What was it he wanted to see you about?" Without realizing it, she nervously bit her lip awaiting his answer.
"I'm afraid my dear, that I have been sworn to secrecy." He placed a finger under her chin and tilted her face up to his. "Although, I am to tell you that he wishes to call on you late tomorrow morning. And I would suggest that you make sure you have a handkerchief handy as you may be shedding some tears." Once again seeing a puzzled look in his daughter's eyes, he added, "I daresay they will be tears of joy." He playfully wiped some dust off her nose before placing a kiss there. "Now, why don't you get cleaned up? We should be dining soon."
Virginia looked at the clock over the fireplace. The hands read 5:30. It was indeed much later than she had thought. She returned to her room to prepare for dinner.
Gregory sank into one of the leather club chairs before the fire and took a large gulp of his brandy. He stared into the amber liquid as he recounted his meeting with Charles earlier that day. He had been sitting there in the library when the butler announced that Charles Thompson had come to see him.
"Hello Charles, what brings you here?" he had asked the younger man as he entered the room.
"I would like to speak with you about Virginia."
"Why of course, have a seat. Would you care for a brandy?"
"Yes, thank you."
Gregory handed Charles a glass and they both sat in the worn leather chairs.
"What is it about Virginia that you wished to speak?"
"First I would like to commend you for holding up your end of our bargain. Your daughter has indeed warmed to me and I do believe that she has even developed some feelings for me as well. In return I did as I promised. Do you agree?"
Gregory nodded wordlessly and took a sip of his drink.
"I believe that all of your debts are paid and that you are managing to subsist nicely on the income from your remaining trust fund." He stared into his glass a moment before continuing. "I find, however, that we may now have run into a small problem."
"Problem?" Gregory asked.
"I should like to ask you for your daughter's hand in marriage and that is where the problem lies."
"Oh, but I'm sure Virginia will be delighted. She will most surely accept your proposal."
"That is not the problem I was referring to," he said stiffly. "What I meant was that it is traditionally the bride's family who pays for the wedding and who also supplies her trousseau. I know that this is impossible for you."
Gregory's face fell. He had forgotten about the tradition and that Virginia would require a trousseau. "Oh dear," he said weakly, before taking another sip of his brandy.
"Since I have grown so fond of your daughter, I am willing to pay for the wedding and to give you some additional money so that Virginia can purchase whatever else she may need. Just have the bills sent to me."
"Thank you. You are very generous and understanding," Gregory said with some difficulty. He hated having to be so humble to this man but for Virginia he would endure any humiliation.
"Splendid," the younger man said happily. "Please let Virginia know that I will be calling on her late tomorrow morning. But do not tell her why. I'm sure she suspects however I would like to maintain at least a semblance of surprise." With that he rose, collected his hat and coat and left the library. His brandy sat untouched on the small table next to his vacated chair.
Gregory had sat before the fire for a few minutes until he heard Charles' carriage drive away. He summoned his butler and requested his own carriage. He had suddenly felt the need to be out of the house.
He now sat before the fire again, humiliated but also relieved that Virginia would be taken care of. He was finishing his brandy when the butler announced that dinner was being served.
Virginia dressed with great care the next morning and she instructed Lucy to fix her hair as pretty as possible.
"Is this a special occasion Miss Virginia?" Lucy asked, brushing out her long coppery curls.
"I believe Charles is going to ask me to marry him," she replied.
"Oh miss, how exciting!"
"I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I know that he visited Father yesterday and that whatever they spoke of, Father was sworn to secrecy. However, he did tell me that I was going to be very happy." Even though she wasn't happy or excited she thought that if she pretended to be it might help her to really feel that way.
She sat in her room waiting for Lucy to announce Charles. When she finally did, Virginia took a deep breath and went downstairs.
She smiled brightly at him and said gaily, "Two visits in as many days. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
Charles smiled brightly as well and as Lucy was in the room, he kissed her on the cheek. "I have something I would like to speak to you about."
"Yes, what is it?" She hoped she didn't sound too eager.
"As I'm sure you know, I have grown quite fond of you over the last few months and I believe that your feelings for me have grown in much the same way."
"Yes, yes they have," she said, silently thankful that he had not said that he loved her, for she would not have been able to return the sentiment.
"And I think that our feelings for each other will continue to grow." He got off the couch and knelt before her, holding out a small velvet box. He opened it to reveal a stunning diamond ring. "Virginia, will you marry me?" he asked.
Virginia's look of surprise was genuine as she had never seen such a magnificent ring. She heard herself saying yes and Charles slipped the ring onto her finger. Right in front of Lucy he kissed her full on the mouth.
She stared at the ring noting how brilliantly it sparkled in the morning light.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
"Yes, it's beautiful. I've never seen anything like it." Rising she walked over to Lucy. "Lucy, isn't is beautiful? Have you ever seen anything like it?"
Charles frowned at Virginia. He didn't like the way she was so familiar with her maid and with the other servants in her house. That would change after they were married. It would not do for his wife to be so friendly with the servants.
"It is beautiful, Miss Virginia. Congratulations."
"It's becoming the custom on the continent to give diamond engagement rings. I hope you don't mind being the first girl in Liverpool to have one."
"No, no not at all," she replied, still dazzled by the ring. "Let's go show Father."
They shared the news with her father, who, of course, already knew, and after Charles had left she sat in her room staring at the ring. She watched the light dance across the stone and sparkle and shine. She had agreed to marry him. But she didn't love him.
Lucy came in to help her change. Yesterday she had made arrangements to visit Violet today and let her know what happened. "You don't look very happy, Miss Virginia. Is everything alright?"
"I don't love him, Lucy."
"That will change, miss. You'll grow to love him."
"I suppose you're right," she sighed. Before he began calling on her, she thought she wouldn't even like him let alone develop any feelings for him. "Maybe love will blossom eventually."
She stared at the ring a moment longer. "I always thought it would be different. I thought it would be a wonderful, magical feeling. Have you ever been in love Lucy?"
"Me? Oh, I thought I was once, but it didn't work out."
"Why? What happened?"
"It was before I came to work here, miss. I worked on a large estate outside of London and there was a stable boy named Jimmy. I was mad for him," she said wistfully. "He was tall and strong and so handsome. He called me his flower blossom, saying I was just as pretty and smelled just as sweet. He said he loved me and I believed him."
Her voice grew sad as she continued. "Late one evening I was feeling very brazen and I snuck out to the stables. He had a room over the them and I knew which window was his. His light was on so I quietly crept up the stairs, hoping to surprise him. However, it was I who got the surprise."
When she didn't continue Virginia said, "What happened?"
She glanced at Virginia before saying in a quiet voice, "He wasn't alone. He was in bed with one of the kitchen girls. He was murmuring to her that he loved her and how she was his flower blossom." Her eyes filled with tears, but she quickly blinked them back and said, "That's when I came here."
"I'm so sorry, Lucy," she said with genuine sympathy.
"Oh, it's alright, miss," she said dismissively. "It's a good thing I found out just what sort he was before I did anything stupid."
She finished getting ready and asked Lucy to call the carriage.
When she arrived at Violet's, her friend was fairly bursting with curiosity. "Well? Well?" she asked, her eyes shining with excitement.
Virginia casually removed her glove and displayed the ring. It flashed brightly in the light of the cozy sitting room they were in.
"Oh my goodness," Violet breathed. "That is the most exquisite thing I have ever seen! How big is it?"
"I think he said six carats." She sat looking at the ring with disinterest, no longer charmed by its beauty.
"You don't seem very happy," her friend said with concern.
"I don't love him, Vi. I'm not sure I ever will," she sighed. "You know how I want romance and passion, but it's just not there and never will be. I think I'll return the ring before the engagement is announced. It's not right that I marry him."
"Ginny, have you gone mad? Charles Thompson is the most eligible bachelor in Liverpool. His family's wealth and influence rival that of some families in London!"
"What's the point of all that if I'm not happy?"
Seeing that Virginia truly wasn't happy and that it was unlikely that all of the Thompson's family's wealth and power wouldn't change that, she gave her a hug and said, "If you truly feel in her heart that marrying Charles isn't the right thing to do, then you shouldn't."
"Thanks Vi," she said returning the hug.
Later that evening, after she had put the ring back in its velvet box she went looking for her father. She found him once again in the library. She nervously entered the room and stood near his chair.
"Father, I need to talk to you."
Seeing the worried look on his daughter's face he said with concern, "Certainly my dear. Please sit down."
She eased herself into the soft leather chair and looking down at her hands, she said, "I've decided not to marry Charles. I don't love him Father, and I don't think I ever will."
Gregory felt the blood drain from his face. This was terrible. "Ginny, my dear, you're just nervous. It's perfectly natural. Once you get used to the idea and after the plans are under way you'll feel differently," he said trying to appear calm.
"But Father, that's it exactly. I don't feel anything. I've never felt anything for Charles other than a friendly fondness. I don't miss him when he's not around, I don't long to see him again. Even when he kisses me I don't feel a single butterfly flutter in my stomach. It's wrong to marry him and I'm going to return his ring."
He had hoped that he would never have to do this but it was time to tell Virginia everything. How he had dreaded this moment. "Virginia I'm so very sorry, but you have to marry Charles."
"Why? Surely the announcement hasn't already been made?" Seeing her father's pale and stricken face, she said, "Father, what is it?"
Unable to look her in the eye, he said, "We're broke Virginia. I...I've...gambled away almost everything we have. We don't have much left and your marriage to Charles is the only way to save us...you...from ruin."
He chanced a look at her, the shock and surprise in her face was almost more than he could bear, but he continued. "The night that he asked me if he could come call on you, he and I struck a sordid bargain. He offered to pay our debts if I could persuade you to allow him to call on you. I...I'm ashamed to admit it but I agreed. I felt terrible thrusting this man that you did not like upon you but it was the only way out, and he's not such a bad chap. I thought that if you just gave him a chance that you might actually like him."
Virginia sat silently, staring into the small fire glowing in the grate.
"Please dear, say something."
After a moment she said quietly, "You mean we're practically destitute and I must marry Charles? He paid our debts?"
Close to tears, Gregory answered in an equally quiet voice, "Yes."
"What would happen if I refused him? Would he demand that we repay him? Was it part of the...bargain...that I marry him?"
Gregory was thankful that she didn't use the word bargain with anger or disgust. "No, he did not mention that. However, dear, we can't go on for much longer the way we are."
"Can't we cut back? I don't need new dresses this season and we don't need this big house. We could sell it and move into a smaller place, with only a few servants."
Gregory put his head in his hands. "Oh my dear, how I wish that were possible." Looking up at her, she saw the tears in his eyes and finally realized just how dire the situation was.
She whispered, "I must marry him?"
Once again unable to meet her gaze, he hung his head and nodded. "Please Ginny, don't hate me. I'm so sorry that I've brought you to this. I've been so stupid and foolish." With that he finally did break down and began sobbing.
She moved to her father's chair and kneeling, she wrapped her arms around him. "I could never hate you Father," she said tenderly. "Charles isn't so bad. I could do worse. I was only childishly hoping for a more exciting romance. Charles will make a fine husband and I'm sure I'll be very happy with him," she said, not really believing it but hoping to make him feel better.
"I'm so sorry Ginny, so sorry," he said, looking up at her. "I know how much you wanted to marry for love."
"Love is for fairytales. Charles is a good and honorable man and everything will be just fine."
She met Violet in town for lunch a few days later. She was surprised when Virginia removed her gloves to see the ring still on her finger. "You're still wearing the ring? I thought you were going to break off the engagement," she asked.
"I'm not breaking the engagement," she replied not looking at Violet.
Looking at her friend she said, "What is going on? Something has happened. What is it?"
Looking around to make sure no one was near, Virginia leaned across the table and said quietly, "Even though I don't love him, the situation demands that I must marry him."
Violet's eyes widened and with a shocked whisper she said, "Virginia, you didn't? Are you...?"
Realizing that Violet thought she was expecting, she retorted, "No, you silly goose." In quiet whispers she told her everything her father had said. By the end of it Violet was aghast.
"He struck a bargain with him? With you as the prize?"
"I understand why he did it, Vi. He saw an opportunity to get back on his feet and the terms weren't so disagreeable. He said he felt dreadful forcing me to see Charles when I didn't like him, but he hoped that I would change my mind. Which I have. He's not so bad," She said forcing a smile and some cheer into her voice. "So the heavens won't part and the angels won't sing. Who's to say it ever would have happened? Things are settled and I'm going to marry Charles." She again looked down at the flashing ring on her finger.
"Well, if you're happy, then I'm happy for you," Violet said cheerfully. "We had better start planning. When will it be?"
"Judging from how Father described our situation, the sooner the better. Perhaps the end of July. Does that give us enough time?"
"But it's April now. That's less than four months! We had better get started!"
"What shall we do first?"
"Why your gown of course! Your engagement ring is in the style of what women on the continent are wearing and so your dress shall be as well. A beautiful confection of lace, satin, silk, and velvet."
Virginia made a face. "That sounds awfully fussy. Can't it just be lace and silk without the satin and velvet?"
"Let's go to the dressmaker right now and choose fabrics."
Virginia got caught up in a whirl of plans and decisions. She had no idea that a society wedding would be so complicated. The Thompson family was planning a lavish ball the day of the wedding to celebrate. She would need several gowns just to get through the day. There was also her trousseau to order and have made. She was so busy she hardly had any time to fret about her lack of feelings for her future husband.