Marrying for Money Ch. 06byharemgirl©
Trevor rode hard the following day, eager to return to his wife. By the time he finally returned home in the early evening, he had worked out what he would say to Leanna, and he was anxious to find her.
One of the stable hands came to take his mount, and he smiled a greeting. "Good afternoon, sir. I know Mister Steven will be glad you're back. He hasn't been getting much sleep the last couple nights, what with the new baby and all."
Trevor returned his friendly smile. "Why thank you, Silas. It's good to be back." He was about to leave the stable when he noticed Leanna's fine mare wasn't in her stall. "Where is Windy?" he asked.
Silas frowned slightly. "The missus decided to ride into town yesterday and do some shopping. She sent word that she was staying overnight and would be back this afternoon."
Trevor frowned sharply, surprised by this revelation. He had mentioned that he wanted to purchase some new gowns for her and had suggested that they visit the seamstress when he returned. He could only assume that Leanna had been too impatient to wait, but why she would decide to stay overnight was a complete mystery. Perhaps she felt a bit uncomfortable around Eliza when he was gone.
"Thank you, Silas. Please tell my wife that I'm looking for her when she returns."
With that, he turned and made his way to the house. He climbed the stairs, feeling a niggling uneasiness and impatience to speak with Leanna. He had decided to declare his love in clear terms and to be open and honest with her about Eliza. There was no longer any room for secrets between them, and he would have to trust in her love for him to carry them through whatever was to come.
He went to their bedroom and took a quick bath and changed into clean clothes before going in search of his wife. Surely she had returned by now, for it was getting dark outside. As he descended the stairs, he heard a slight rustle of fabric from behind him, and he whirled to see Eliza approaching from her room.
"Why good evening darling," she warbled. "I was beginning to wonder if I would see you at all this evening."
Trevor had no patience for her prattle. "Have you seen Leanna? I'm sure she must have returned by now."
Eliza gave him a pout. "How thoughtless of you, darling. You haven't even mentioned my new gown, and I wore it just for you."
She tried to sidle close enough to brush her bosom against his arm, but Trevor stepped deftly to the side to avoid making contact. He frowned at her sternly and struggled to keep his voice calm.
"Eliza, I thought I made myself perfectly clear yesterday. There is no chance for a future for us. I'm happily married to another woman, and I have no interest in a life with you. Whatever dreams you have concocted in that head of yours, you might as well discard them, because they are not going to happen."
Eliza gave him a cajoling look. "No matter what you say, I'll never stop loving you. Never!"
Trevor shook his head in exasperation and went in search of his wife. He went through the entire downstairs, but Leanna was nowhere to be found. Trevor questioned the servants, but none of them knew where his wife was either, and a feeling of dread began to settle in his gut. Trevor went out onto the porch and surveyed the grounds for as far as he could see, but Leanna was nowhere in sight. Checking the stables once again, he found that his wife hadn't returned.
"When did she leave?" he asked.
Silas frowned, trying to pinpoint the time. "I'm not really sure, sir. It was sometime yesterday morning."
Trevor turned to see Steven striding down from the house. His brother was aware that he was looking for Leanna, and his concern was evident.
"Steven, Leanna rode into town yesterday, and she hasn't come home. Did she say anything to you about her plans?"
Steven frowned and shook his head. "No, I was down near the mill most of yesterday, and I didn't even know she had left until yesterday evening. I just checked with Amanda, and she said Leanna came in briefly yesterday morning to check on her and the baby. She said she was wearing her riding habit and that she seemed a bit agitated, but that she had said she merely wanted to go shopping and that she might stay overnight in Norfolk. She was supposed to be back by now."
They both looked at Silas and Trevor's voice was urgent. "Resaddle my horse for me. I'm going to ride into town to see what's keeping her."
He ran in the house to grab a coat. As he turned from the wardrobe, something caught his eye, and he glanced over to find a note leaning on the top of the dressing table. He frowned and crossed to see that it had his name on it, written in Leanna's elegant script. It must have been there before, but he hadn't noticed it earlier. He tore it open to read the contents, and he felt his heart pounding painfully in his chest.
My dearest Trevor, I cannot stay with you, knowing that you are in love with someone else. I overheard your conversation with Eliza this morning, and I realized that I'm standing in the way of your happiness. That would never be my intention, to hold you back from finding complete happiness, especially after everything you have done for my family. Just as you gave me a chance to back out of our marriage, I have decided that you need that opportunity as well. Therefore, I'm leaving, so that you can rekindle your relationship with Eliza. I don't know yet where I'll go, for I wasn't expecting to be on my own. However, I'll be just fine, so you don't need to worry about my welfare. I have taken the liberty of borrowing some money from the drawer where you keep it. I hope you will forgive my presumption, but I felt you wouldn't mind. Anyway, I'll repay it as soon as possible. I'll write and we can arrange for a divorce. I promise not to trouble you in the future, and I wish you only the best. Please know that wherever I go, I'll always cherish the time we spent together. All my love, Leanna
Trevor reread the note three times, unable to believe his eyes. He thought back on the scene she must have overheard, and he cringed with dread. No wonder she must have thought the worst! He had to find her before he lost her trail, and he pounded down the stairs. In no time at all, he was racing down the lane, urging his horse to a relentless pace, and he reached Norfolk in half the time it normally took. He took his horse to the livery, preparing to search the entire town if necessary to find his wife. However, he instantly spied the small gray mare she had ridden into town.
"Mr. Peterson," he asked anxiously, turning to the man who owned the livery, "did my wife leave that horse with you yesterday?"
Mr. Peterson nodded slowly, giving him a puzzled look. "She sure did, Mr. Grayson. Said she was leaving her here for you and that you would take her back home."
"Did she say where she was going?"
This caused the other man to raise his eyebrows sharply. "No, I can't rightly say that she did. Although I thought I saw her making her way over to the stagecoach office."
Trevor nodded crisply as he began to walk away. "Thank you, Mr. Peterson. Please give my horse a good rubdown. I worked him pretty hard getting here."
The stagecoach office was a small building, a shack really, on the side of the street. The manager, Mr. Higgins sat on a stool and looked out through a cut out window directly onto the main street that ran through town. There wasn't much that went on that he didn't know about, and Trevor knew him to be especially fond of gossip. If she traveled on the stagecoach, there was a good chance Mr. Higgins knew where Leanna had gone.
Trevor nodded to Mr. Higgins, and leaned on his counter. "I understand that my wife was here yesterday, and I was hoping you could tell me whether she bought a ticket."
Mr. Higgins gave him a puzzled look. "Your wife Mr. Grayson? I didn't even know you were married."
Remembering that he hadn't yet had a chance to introduce his wife around town, Trevor briefly described her. "Believe me, Mr. Higgins, you wouldn't be able to miss her."
"Oh yes sir. Your wife did come here yesterday morning. A right comely woman you married Mr. Grayson." He gave him a sly wink but didn't volunteer any more information.
Trevor stifled an impatient growl. "Yes, thank you. Did she buy a ticket or not?"
Mr. Higgins frowned thoughtfully and rubbed his chin. "Well, she asked me about the schedule. The odd thing was, she didn't seem to have any particular destination in mind. It seemed like she was just interested in putting a lot of miles between her and here."
This time, Trevor couldn't suppress a dark frown. If Mr. Higgins didn't tell him what he wanted to know, he was going to be tempted to wring his scrawny little neck. "Mr. Higgins," he said, summoning every last vestige of patience he could muster, "do you know where my wife went? It is urgent that I find her."
Mr. Higgins gave him a curious look and smiled, obviously enjoying his position of informant. "Well, Mr. Grayson, your wife did purchase a ticket. You must be anxious to find her, with her being so pretty and all."
Trevor's already badly frayed temper snapped, and he reached across the counter to lift Mr. Higgins up by the collar, causing the few patrons nearby to gasp in surprise. He shook him none too gently, and the other man's eyes bulged with fear as he clawed at his hands. When Trevor spoke, his voice was menacingly low.
"Rest assured, Mr. Higgins, that I'll find my wife, with our without your help. However, if you don't tell me where she went this instant, I promise you that you will rue the day you ever set eyes on me or my wife."
Mr. Higgins' voice had become a high pitched squeal. "She bought a ticket to Atlanta. The coach left at noon yesterday."
Trevor eased his hold on the other man's collar but didn't let go of him entirely. "What route does that coach take, and how long is the journey?"
With shaking hands, Mr. Higgins drew him a rough map showing the towns it would pass through. "This is how it goes, and the trip takes four days. It stops here, here and here," he squeaked, pointing to the towns where the coach would stop for the night.
Trevor's face finally relaxed slightly, and he let go of the other man's lapels. "And you are absolutely certain that my wife left on that coach?"
Mr. Higgins bobbed his head like a bird, anxious not to anger the man again. "Yes sir."
Trevor turned without another word and strode back to the livery. Mr. Peterson had just finished tending to his horse and was putting the fine steed in a stall for the night. Realizing that his own horse was tired after having been ridden the better part of the day, Trevor turned to the stable owner.
"Mr. Peterson, I need a fast, reliable mount. Do you have something available that I could purchase?"
Mr. Peterson nodded, scratching his head for a moment. "Yessir, I do, but I have to say he ain't as fine a mount as the horses you keep in your stables."
Trevor waved his hand impatiently. "Never mind that. I need a fresh horse now, tonight. Name your price and I'll be on my way."
Mr. Peterson was a shrewd businessman, but above all things he was honest. "I tell you what. I'll loan you the steed for a fee. If you still want to purchase him when you return, we can work out a price."
Trevor nodded, satisfied with that arrangement. He counted out the necessary amount and went in search of some provisions. When he returned a few minutes later, his horse was saddled and ready to go. He made arrangements for his horse and Leanna's mare to be returned to Steven, and he turned his rented horse toward Atlanta. It had been a long day, and he was exhausted already, but he was determined to ride all night if necessary to catch up with his wayward wife.
Leanna leaned back against the cushion of the stagecoach, her head lolling in the corner as she glumly stared out the window. She exhausted from riding for two days in the jarring coach, but her physical discomfort wasn't anything compared to the pain in her soul. Her heart felt like a cold lump in her chest, and her head ached from holding back a torrent of tears. She had never felt like such a miserable failure in her life, and the future appeared very bleak indeed.
No matter where she went, she would be haunted by her love for Trevor, and if his memory were not enough to contend with, she would have to contend with the stigma of being divorced. Leanna was frightened about what kind of life she would be able to provide for herself. She had been reared to be a gently bred lady of leisure, and she had no idea how to go about carving out a living.
She had toyed briefly with the idea of returning to London to live with Jeremy and Christina, but the prospect of doing that was very unappealing. She thought of that as a last resort, to be pursued only after all other avenues had been explored. Several days ago, she had listened as Trevor and Steven discussed the rebuilding of Atlanta. It sounded like a city of opportunity, as it boomed with post-war growth. Leanna was hopeful that she could find some type of job there.
Leanna stiffened as she realized that her sole companion in the coach was watching her closely from the opposite seat. Mr. Neville Woodsworth was a well dressed gentleman, and he had boarded the stage with her in Norfolk. He had made idle conversation with her throughout the journey, but during the last hour or so, they had both lapsed into silence. However, he continued to watch her with an intensity that she found disconcerting. Leanna judged him to be in his mid thirties, and he was impeccably garbed. He was exceedingly handsome with his blonde hair and blue eyes, and had her heart not been hopelessly entangled with her husband, she had no doubt she would have felt it fluttering in his presence.
Under the circumstances, she couldn't fully appreciate his good looks or his charming personality. It was apparent from his clothes that he was wealthy and equally obvious that he was intrigued by her. She turned to face him and smiled, reminding herself for the tenth time that she should not be offended by his interest, given the fact that he didn't know she was married. She had decided to travel under her mother's maiden name of Webster and had responded with sympathy when he told her that he was widowed, saying that he had lost his wife almost two years before.
Wishing to divert his interest, Leanna raised her brows in question. "Do you live near Atlanta?"
He gave her a warm smile. "No, actually, I'm only going as far as Charlotte, and then I'll be traveling inland to my plantation. I have to come into Norfolk from time to time to take care of business, and my coach was in need of repair, so I couldn't bring my own transportation"
Leanna could only nod and smile, unsure how to respond. "What about you?" he asked. "Do you have family in Atlanta?"
Leanna frowned fleetingly, unaware of how vulnerable and sad she appeared to him. "No, I don't know a soul in the city. I merely thought there might be some work for me there."
His eyes lit with interest. "What kind of work are you looking for?"
She shrugged her shoulders, looking down at her hands. "I'm not sure really. I have never had to work before, so I don't know what I'm suited for."
"Have you ever thought of becoming a governess? It just so happens that I'm in need of a governess for my two children. Would you be interested? You would have your own private quarters in my home, and I would pay you handsomely."
Leanna looked at him with surprise. The last thing she had expected was to have a job offered to her during the trip. She bit her lip in indecision, and he seemed to sense her wavering.
"You could try it for a while and see if you like it. If it doesn't work out, you can always continue on to Atlanta later."
Leanna thought that sounded reasonable. "What are your children like, Mr. Woodsworth?"
His smile was charming. "I have two daughters, Susanna is seven and Marianne is five. They are good children, but I'm afraid they have been sadly lacking in feminine guidance since their mother passed away."
Leanna gave him a sheepish look, wondering whether she would have the skills necessary to be a governess. What if she were terrible with children?
"Well, it is not really fair for you to hire me when you really have no idea whether I'm even suitable for the job. If it turned out that I wasn't very good in the position, I wouldn't want to leave you in a lurch if I decided to move on."
He chuckled with amusement. "Miss Webster, I'm sure you will be excellent for the position. Besides, as I said, if it doesn't work out, I'll be happy to see that you make it on to Atlanta. It's not as if I have a hoard of qualified governesses beating a path to my door. I've been having difficulty finding someone suitable, and I think you would be perfect for the job. I'm willing to give you the position for as long as you want it, and I'll worry about replacing you if and when the time comes."
He refrained from telling her that there was no possibility of finding a replacement for her stunning beauty. She was by far the most beautiful woman he had ever met, and he was reluctant to let her simply slip out of his life now that he had made her acquaintance.
"What do you say, are you willing to try?"
Leanna shrugged and smiled shyly. "Why not? If you're willing to give me a chance, I have nothing to lose."
His smile was triumphant. "You won't be sorry, I assure you."
They lapsed into silence once again, but this time, they were each busy with their own thoughts. Leanna could only wonder what lay in store for her, and she hoped that she had put enough distance between her and Trevor that she would be able to forget about him entirely. The last thing she wanted was for her life to overlap his and have to see him at some social event with Eliza on his arm. Thinking of that, she turned back to Mr. Woodsworth, and she blushed lightly as she made her inquiry.
"I was wondering, Mr. Woodsworth. Do you know a Mr. Trevor Grayson?" When he gave her a puzzled frown, she went on, stammering only slightly over the lie. "He was a gentleman that I met in Norfolk and I thought you might know him. He seemed rather nice." She blushed, hoping her discomfort would be masked by the darkness.
Mr. Woodsworth stared at her for several long moments. One could usually infer that her question meant she was attracted to the other man, and that bothered him. It had been a very long time since he had encountered a woman of such beauty, and he was of a mind to garner her attention for himself alone.
"No, Miss Webster, I know of no such man."
Leanna relaxed slightly. At least she wouldn't have to worry about encountering Trevor with his new wife, at least as long as she remained in the employ of Neville Woodsworth, since it appeared that they didn't travel in the same social circles.
The coach arrived in Charlotte late that night, to find the town was all but deserted. Leanna waited at the stagecoach depot while Mr. Woodsworth went to retrieve his buggy from the livery. It took them several more hours to reach his plantation, and she struggled to stay awake as the buggy bounced over mile after mile.
When they finally made it to their destination, it was well after midnight, and a full moon shone brightly down upon them as they pulled up before a stately home. The house was large and tastefully designed, although it was smaller than The Meadows and showed some signs of damage it had received during the war. Leanna could make out the white columns rising above the porch, and she surmised that this must be a popular architectural style, prevalent in the southern states.
If the housekeeper, Mrs. Mayberry, was surprised that Leanna had accompanied her employer home, she didn't show it. The plump elderly woman was glad to show Leanna to her room. Leanna looked around her new surroundings with pleasant surprise, for although the appointments were not nearly as luxurious as the ones she had left behind, she would be quite comfortable here. There was a double bed with a brass headboard and two small night tables on one wall. A modest wardrobe and a dressing table stood on the opposite wall, and the room even had a private bathing chamber.