Richard Story: Part 10: Autonomy

Gloria waited in the Cartwrights’ largest parlor, hands folded before her. The parlor door stood ajar. The curtains were not yet drawn. Gloria was a model of propriety and entitled expectations.

Richard had not yet been home. He did not know for sure whether Gloria had responded to his note that morning. He no longer cared—he would have dropped in on her this evening no matter what she wanted—but she looked so terribly complacent at his arrival, she had obviously sent a reply agreeing to meet.

It would be easy to pounce, to announce his decision without formality. It was tempting. She was a trite and evil piece of work. But Richard didn’t see why Gloria should matter so much. He could handle this conversation. His mind was someplace else.

“I hear you had a meeting with Lord Rustilion.”

Of course she had her spies. Richard was sure that Gloria spent every day smiling her way into homes where information might be dropped, rumors transmitted. Gloria had probably known about the Commons Project from Day One. Doubtless she knew more about it than Richard ever had.

“He offered me a place on the financial end of the Commons Project,” Richard said.

“Oh, Richard, that is wonderful.” Gloria lowered herself to a divan, smoothed out her skirt. “I knew your qualities would eventually—”

“I declined it.”

“What?!” Her voice was a pinprick of sharpness, edged fury: here was the real soul behind the gentlewoman’s façade.

“I don’t want it. I like Historical Designations.”

Gloria’s hands clenched. Richard watched them idly, watched her breath deeply. Gloria wasn’t a shouter. She was readying herself to deliver icy disdain.

“I suppose you gave no thought to our future? We discussed a larger house. How was that going to come about? By magic?”

Speaking of which. Richard didn’t say it. He also didn’t point out that Gloria had discussed a larger house. Richard had never said anything at all.

He could even feel vaguely sorry for her disappointment. It wasn’t entirely Gloria’s fault that she didn’t know Richard’s mind. Not that she would have paid Richard much heed if he had objected to her . . . pronouncements.

If, when, whether: none of it mattered. Richard had all the information he needed. Fundamentally, basically, he deserved better than Gloria.

“You can always cry off,” he said.

Gloria stilled, eyes lowered, hands braced against the divan.

“Or I will,” Richard said levelly.

She was on her feet now. “You wouldn’t dare. The Cartwrights—”

Were not beloved by Lord Rustilion or his cronies. Richard didn’t say so; Gloria might make good on her threat to broadcast what she knew about his boss.

He said instead, “I prefer to do without your family’s assistance.”

For all Richard knew, she’d cowed her family into assisting her schemes, especially since she spat, “And if I take your job from you?”

“Lord Simon and I came to an agreement about his house. I think,” Richard said absently, smoothing one sleeve, “he will wish me to remain in office—to ensure his property is kept safe.”

She stared at him, teeth clenched, then, “Ooh,” she screamed and strode away, body shaking. “You! You are nothing. Nothing!”

“Think how much better off you’re going to be,” Richard said. “Would you prefer that I or you send the notice to the newspapers?”

“You will not,” she snapped. “I am letting you go, not the other way around.”

Richard didn’t say, Thank you. For once, he didn’t even look it. He just nodded and left the parlor, left the house, went out in the cool night that hinted at spring. The hack was waiting as he’d requested. He had one more stop to make.