Heaven in Your Embrace
Summary: She had nothing and he had everything. They would learn how to love amidst the lies and scandals, despite themselves.
AN: I want to strike a balance. And you know what I love. This time I venture into territory both familiar and unfamiliar. From Regency England and Tudor England, I am now bringing you to Colonial New York. Here are our Upper Eastsiders in the Upper East Side, only it's on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Yes, the books are surrounding me once again. But because I love this, it's worth the dust. Here's another Chair historical romance. I'm writing this one because I need a break from the angst and the tension of the other one.
She looked up from her book to her mother, who walked into the room fluffing up her pristine hair. Blair placed the book facedown on the table and rose to show her respect. Eleanor Waldorf, even while she teetered on the brink of poverty, still appeared as polished as any upper crust woman in New York. Far be it, Blair thought, that anyone would wonder how she handled it when her husband scandalized aristocratic society in such manner that no one ever spoke of it aloud to Blair's virgin ears.
Blair brushed the lint off her dark muslin skirt. "Did you need me, mother?"
Eleanor Waldorf needed her of course. The woman needed her daughter at every turn since Harold, a successful lawyer and financier, was murdered on the streets of Manhattan in what had apparently been a crime of hate.
Blair remembered her father fondly, and could think of no reason why anyone would ever have such bitter feelings towards the man enough to kill him.
"Darling," Eleanor started, her eyes flickering to the hardbound book that Blair had set aside, "you are eighteen now."
"I know, mother." She was an antique. Most of the girls her age would have borne a child or two by now. Replicate, multiply, it said the crude Colonial cartoons she spied on the newspapers that Dorota sometimes sneaked into the house. "It's a ripe old age."
"And you still have no prospect," Eleanor continued sadly.
Blair's back straightened when she noticed the look her mother threw her, when the woman assessed her from head to toe. "I can go to a dance," she offered. Really, families from their circle threw parties too often, and she could probably meet a man there. "If that's what you want." She had not gone to a ball since her father's murder.
"Do you see invitations anywhere, Blair?" was Eleanor's pointed question.
She thrust her chin up. It was true. They had mostly been ignored or worse, whispered about under other people's breaths. And Blair wished she knew what crime it was her father had committed that made them such pariahs. If she knew what it was, she would know how to respond. "I can get the van der Woodsens to invite us." Because after her father died, it was only Serena who had stuck by her. And her mother probably knew what it was everyone else was loath to tell her, but Lily still allowed Serena to accompany Blair in her walks of shame down the street.
Then again, the van der Woodsens were shipping barons. The Dutch patriarch of the family made his money building ships for a company their grandparents founded when New York was New Amsterdam and shipping was the first and foremost source of income. They were safe from the ridiculous judgment of the aristocratic elite who still pretended they were lords and ladies in London.
Blair abhorred the pretentious English who came to settle in the Colonies yet absolutely refused to recognize that they were not in the Motherland. They were arrogant and cruel. And it was not just because she learned that the man who murdered her father was a lesser lord.
"I have just the prospect in mind," Eleanor stated, and for the first time she seemed enthusiastic about an idea she absolutely bubbled over. "He has only recently arrived," she told her daughter, "so he would have no idea of this nonsense with your father."
Blair had a sneaking suspicion she would not be pleased by the choice. "Arrived from?" she prompted.
Eleanor frowned, because it seemed like Blair should have known. There was only one source of good marriageable men. To an elitist like her mother, there really was. "Well from England, darling! Where else?"
"Where else," Blair repeated, fighting to tamp down the irony.
"He is the son of a very well-placed earl," her mother told her proudly, as if that summed up with so few words the man's worth as a person. "And I hear he is quite handsome."
"And rich," Blair added, because would the man really have peaked Eleanor's interest if he was not. The dire straits that Harold had left them in made that the top requirement.
"He's a younger son. He can't have the title and their lands there, so the earl gave him businesses here. He's a merchant prince!"
"How do you propose I snag him, mother?" Blair was pretty enough, true, and most everyone her age was married. But Serena van der Woodsen was the same age, rich and beautiful, and was on the hunt as well. Her parents had just vetoed her choice of a husband. Daniel Humphrey, whom Serena had been infatuated with since she was sixteen, had finally met the van der Woodsens, and it was the first time Blair had seen old Cece Rhodes lose her careful manners and spit out the word 'commoner' in company. And now the van der Woodsens were on a hunt as well.
Any race against Serena was sure to have a clear cut winner.
"Well, as you know, I still have some old connections, despite what your father has done to our name. We are throwing them a ball to welcome them."
They barely had money to keep their old home in repair, and her mother was throwing a fortune on a party. To feed other people. To wine and dine a man enough that he would want her.
"It's a gamble," Eleanor corrected her. "When you marry him, we get it all back."
The lecture was unsettling, but Blair supposed many mothers and daughters have talked like so when plotting for a husband. Surely she could not be the only one who desperately needed a scheme to hook a man. And then she realized something. "Them?"
"I hear he's bringing along the next earl's wild son, to teach the boy some discipline that can only be found in the harsh colonies."
Blair arched an eyebrow. "And they're bringing him to New York," she said. Brilliant parenting move. Take the boy to Manhattan, and let him move around the elite, which was nothing like London at all. "They should ship him to do farm work in Long Island," Blair commented.
"Be careful," Eleanor warned her. "That boy just may be your nephew, so speak kindly to him at all times."
Blair shook her head. "I'll play with him," she promised, and Eleanor nodded in satisfaction. "Maybe run after him or let him chase me." She grinned at another thought. "Or play hide and seek with Dorota, and I'll hide him under my skirt."
Eleanor clasped her hands together, pleased at her daughter's response. "I wasn't sure how you would react. But I am very happy with your maturity, Blair."
She returned with a small smile. "They call me an antique virgin already, and whisper God knows what about us. If I need to marry a spoiled younger son to be entitled again, I would." She shrugged. Romance was not something she would find in a marriage. Her eyes fell to her abandoned book. She would always find it between the pages of her dime novels. Besides, marrying this lord would mean an instant return to the top, where she could crush everyone who ever spoke ill of her father and his damning scandal. Vengeful, but really, they gave her no choice in the matter.
"First things first," Eleanor declared, looking down at her daughter's clothes. "Let's set aside your mourning and find you some clothes that will make you stand out."
"Why do I get the ill feeling that you are enjoying your punishment?" Jack asked when Chuck hurried down the plank and onto dry land.
Chuck turned and smirked at his uncle. "Because I am, Jack. Freedom from the boring old world and into this new one. Out from under the thumb of stuffy big bad Bartholomew Bass and under the lax supervision of a more youthful and understanding Jack Bass. What's not to enjoy?"
Two men in crisp blue uniform greeted them at the dock. "Lord Jack, welcome to New York."
Chuck cringed at the reminder of home. When they turned to him, he offered the bag that he clutched. "No need to greet me. I'm his secretary."
The men stared at the proffered bag. Chuck lowered it because the weight was too much to hold up for long. Jack waved the men away. "You're pretending that you're not going to be an earl."
Chuck shrugged. "I've had enough of London for a lifetime," he informed his uncle.
"Well, secretary, you had better learn to carry your own bags," Jack advised. "You can't run from the burden and still enjoy the perks."
The younger man's brows drew together. "I'm poor here."
"How long will you last, I wonder, before you scream from a rooftop that you're Lord Chuck Bass?"
"I am more than a title," Chuck pointed out. He lifted his bags and walked beside Jack. "I am more than a name."
"Care to wager on it?" Jack challenged.
"Name your terms," Chuck said confidently. How difficult was it to pretend to be a common man when they were in the Colonies, and every man was equal and London was so far away? He would prove that he could live and get everything he wanted just as himself.
"You have lands you purchased with your father's gift for your sixteenth birthday."
"In Virginia and right by here in place called Long Island," Chuck confirmed. "You want them?"
Jack shrugged. "I've been thrown out here anyway, and you have enough waiting for you in England." He assessed his nephew. "And what would you like?"
"Unfortunately for me, you have nothing that I want," Chuck emphasized. "Second son," he taunted the sore spot that he knew Jack still chafed from. "And you've asked for so much."
"Well then," Jack offered, "the Colonies have a lot in store. What say you we close this deal with this—if I win, I get your lands in America, and if I lose, you get to take anything I have with no protest, no reluctance from me."
"I cannot think of anything you can get here that I cannot," Chuck responded. "But to hell with it, it's just lands." He extended his hand, and Jack took it and shook. "The deal is sealed, Jack."
"Blair?" Serena gasped, staring at her friend the way Eleanor had dolled her up. "Is that you?"
Blair's heart sank at the sight of her best friend, draped in a simple blue gown and looking utterly incredible. She was going to die an old maid. This Englishman she didn't even want would fall hard for Serena and there would be nothing she could do about it. She wondered if she could pick up Serena's leftovers. She grinned when she thought about what Eleanor Waldorf would do if her daughter ran off with the van der Woodsen rejected Humphrey because clearly, none of the sons of Manhattan's elite would have her for reasons still secret from her.
"You look adorable," Serena said, smiling at Blair in an beautifully odd gown that her mother and Dorota had put together from one of her older ones—an out of date but luxurious gown they had bought when Harold was alive and they were still rich.
"And I'll run out of men judging by how you look," Blair said in response.
Serena huffed, then walked over to her best friend. She took the silver band of lace from Blair's hands and helped her place it around her head and tie it on her nape. "There you go." Serena turned Blair around and pinched her cheeks. "Perfect," she said as Blair's cheeks grew red.
"I wonder what he looks like," Blair said out loud.
"Your mother said he's handsome."
"He's a British lord and I'm a spinster. Of course, he's handsome," Blair told Serena. "I hope he didn't bring his nephew tonight. I don't have toys yet. I was planning to get some tomorrow so I can entertain the boy. But it's late. The boy's probably already asleep."
"Good idea!" Serena exclaimed. "And I'll bring some of Eric's old ones over here. I hope he likes puzzles."
"Mother said he's a wild boy," Blair offered tentatively. "Puzzles might not work." She bit her lip. "I'll think of something to entertain him."
Serena chuckled. "I just heard some wonderful gossip, and I hope it's true." Blair turned to her friend and leaned forward. "Do you remember Nate Archibald?"
"Yes," Blair responded. "We went to school with him."
"And he liked you," Serena said wistfully. "And you liked him."
Blair gasped. "How did you know?"
Serena shrugged. "I know everything."
"Right. They went to France."
Serena grinned. "Rumor is that his father ran with their friends' money. He promised to invest them here in the Colonies and he went missing, leaving Mrs Archibald and Nate in a lurch. So they're coming home."
Blair sighed. "The sins of the father," she murmured. And then she forced a smile. "Well at least if Nate is still the same old Nate, and this English lord wants you, I have a fallback. Nate already likes me and I'm sure he's not going to mind that secret everyone's keeping about my father." Serena's eyes widened, and Blair's eyes narrowed. "Serena—" She grabbed her friend's hand.
The blonde shook her head. "Blair, no."
"You know everything," she whispered.
"B, you're my best friend. And I can't tell you. It's for your own good."
Blair tightened her jaw and pulled her hand away. She stalked out of her room and heard the music coming from the first floor. Once she descended those stairs, everyone would see, would look at her, would know what happened with her father when she still did not. And her best friend knew all along.
She whirled to the other side where the balcony was. Blair slammed out and drew a deep breath.
"It is rather crowded in there, is it not? Fresh air." Her gaze landed on the cigar he held in his hand. "Virginia tobacco," he said. "Stellar quality."
"Fresh air," she stated with sarcasm.
"Touché." He snuffed out his cigar, then turned to her. "And what brings you running out here when there's a delightful party in there?"
Blair stepped over to the balcony railing and turned her face up into the night sky. "I wanted to be alone and be myself before I pretend to be somebody else."
She turned to the stranger, who now smiled a little at her words. "I like that. Maybe that's what I'm doing too." He placed the tobacco on the railing, and it fell down to the ground below. He extended his hand to her. "Chuck."
Blair shook his hand, and felt the warmth wrap around her fingers. "Blair," she said. "Nice to meet you."
"Pleasure's all mine," he drawled, bringing her hand up to brush a kiss on her knuckles. At the touch of his warm, moist lips on her skin, Blair jerked her hand away. Chuck gave her a lopsided smile. "I'm sorry. Do men not greet women like that in this country?"
The man sounded so patronizing that her shackles rose. "In America, no man is so brazen and disrespectful. Your mouth was wet," she hissed, wiping the back of her hand on her skirt.
"Was it?" he responded without apology.
She backed out of the balcony and back into the house. "You are insufferable, arrogant like every last lord who thinks they can come over here and hang their titles over our heads!"
Blair turned around and saw her mother standing on the top step with a gentleman behind her. "Mother." She nodded her head towards the stranger.
Eleanor patted the man's arm and said, "Lord Jack Bass, this is my lovely daughter who I have been telling you about."
The man stepped forward and took her hand, then brushed a dry kiss over where Chuck had sent spasms of electricity into her body. "Unfortunately, my dear, I am a lord but I assure you I did not come here to wave my title about." Blair flushed. The man looked at Chuck. "And you've met my secretary."
Blair looked back at Chuck in surprise. "You should learn not to judge so quickly, Blair," Chuck pointed out. "It turns out I live on a salary with a noble job. And you've hurt my feelings."
She would have been sorry, if he had just stopped talking earlier than he did. Eleanor cleared her throat. "Perhaps a dance then, Blair, with Lord Jack."
Blair walked stiffly forward and hooked her arm around Jack's. "If you please, my lord."