If you haven’t read the explanation of how this sequel to Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South
came to be, you can read it here
Chapter 1 – Becoming Mrs. Thornton – copyright Jill Hughey 2014
John Thornton had never found any use for delicate furnishings. A man of large build, he favored heavy chairs with stiff backs and substantial arms. Yet the happiest moments of his life were being lived, this instant, on a dainty settee with turned feet and watered silk upholstery. Sharing the settee, with her soft white fingers willingly clasped in his eager hands, sat Miss Margaret Hale, lately of her aunt’s house in London, but before that, from his own hometown of Milton, and before that, from the vicarage in Helstone.
Events of the last quarter hour still stunned him. Three wondrous things had happened in quick succession that he ordered by importance to his heart rather than chronologically.
First, Miss Hale had finally revealed her affection for him, leading to a cavalcade of his own renewed sentiments.
Second, they had immediately become engaged.
Third — and this had actually happened first — third, Miss Hale had offered him capital from the new inheritance left her by her godfather, Mr. Bell, to restore his failed Marlborough Mills to operation.
He had entered this room with no idea such wondrous things might occur. In fact, he’d expected the opposite. He’d come to arrange the reletting of the mill buildings he had already shuttered, his heart thumping with both the mortification of failure and the anticipation of seeing Miss Hale again.
When left to cool his heels for an hour, he had no choice but to feel affronted.
Then she had come. Her regal company, being alone with her, nearly finished him. His wasted affection for the beautiful, sensible Miss Margaret Hale might combine with the loss of the mill to drag him down into depths of despair he would not easily escape.
Then her halting voice had captured his attention. She sounded so different from the first time they had met when she had commanded the room like an empress. Today, she quietly apologized for the unexplained absence of her lawyer, Henry Lennox, and, with barely a pause, ventured to present a wholly unexpected business proposition. A few flustered words offering the barest facts of the matter revealed all to him, certainly more than she ever intended.
She understood him. She sensed that, however stoic and pragmatic he might be, the failure of his business had flayed him raw. She’d decided to help Marlborough Mills to continue, and he had no doubt the idea had begun with her. No financial adviser would have counseled her, a new unmarried heiress, to risk money where the bankers would not.
Her blushing cheeks and averted eyes told him she’d devised the scheme for his sake more than for the rent or interest the loan would put in her pocket. Nor was she thinking of the paying work her money would create for the laborers whom she’d befriended during her two years in Milton.
She understood him, and he understood her, ages after he had proclaimed himself to know her.
He had been so astonished he’d only been able to say her name — Margaret! — as she hid her face from him.
“Take care,” he had warned. “If you do not speak, I shall claim you as my own in some strange presumptuous way. Send me away at once, if I must go. Margaret!”
She had then leaned into his shoulder where he knelt beside her. They’d held one another in utter silence until the first shock of their new understanding passed. They’d managed to move to the more decorous settee, both of them dazed and a little giddy. He smiled at her again, amused at the idea of John Thornton, respected manufacturer from Milton, being giddy. Yet here he was, with Margaret smiling back at him. He blinked, struck again by the unreality.
The door swung open without so much as a warning knock. John regretfully extricated his hands from Margaret’s as he rose from the dainty seat, though Mr. Lennox had seen enough. The tightening of his mouth betrayed that he had, indeed, seen enough. John was not surprised by the tense reaction. Mr. Lennox’s interest in Miss Hale had been acutely obvious to him. The barrister, who travelled along the edges of polite society in town, would have been an excellent match for his sister-in-law’s friend and much more appropriate than a cotton manufacturer.
“I see you have begun the meeting without me,” Mr. Lennox said, his chiding aimed at Margaret.
“You are more than an hour late,” she replied as he moved toward the disarray of papers on the desk.
Mr. Lennox began to utter an excuse. John spoke over him, not wishing to mislead Miss Hale’s friend and adviser. “Miss Hale has agreed to become my wife.”
A slight inhalation came from behind him, from the direction of the settee.
Lennox paused for a moment on his path, then continued. He turned some documents blindly before assessing Mr. Thornton. “It is not the first time a lady’s change of fortune has changed a man’s affection.”
Every muscle in John’s body tautened. Notorious for his ability to blaze from pure calm to engulfing anger, even he was surprised that it could happen in this room, with Margaret’s floral scent still clinging to his cheek.
Now a rustle came from the settee. “Henry,” Miss Hale said sharply as she came to John’s side. “You are wrong. It is my affections and wishes that have changed, not Mr. Thornton’s. If you must know.”
John recognized the flicker of cunning on the barrister’s face. Lennox had known of her feelings. Or he had at least suspected. How could he not, with Miss Hale scheming to save Marlborough Mills? Lennox looked across the desk into John’s icy stare, and, with one stiff nod, admitted that John’s interest in Miss Hale might be worthy. “My apologies, Mr. Thornton.”
“Accepted,” John said lowly. “You will be reassured to know that it is my intention to sign the agreement Miss Hale spoke with me about. If I am to accept some portion of her money it will be as a loan on which she can expect interest, not as a dowry or settlement.”
Becoming Mrs. Thornton – copyright Jill Hughey 2014
Chapter 2 will be posted next week!
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Jill Hughey writes historical romance, including a sweet American historical called Sass Meets Class, and a series of five medieval romance stories called the Evolution Series. You can find Jill’s work on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Jill-Hughey/e/B0067M9Q14, on Barnes and Noble at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/jill-hughey?store=allproducts&keyword=jill+hughey, and at most other ebook vendors.