Intent on reading the diary, Emma was jarred from her reverie by someone putting money in the little jukebox in the corner of the diner. She recognized it as an old Patsy Cline standard about unrequited love.
Sweet dreams of
Every night I go through.
Why can't I forget you and start my life anew
Instead of having sweet dreams about you?
You don't love
me. It's plain.
I should know, I'll never wear your ring.
I should hate you the whole night through
Instead of having sweet dreams about you.
Sweet dreams of
Things I know can't come true.
Why can't I forget the past, start loving someone new
Instead of having sweet dreams about you?
At that moment her food arrived.
She wanted to put the diary away while she ate but, well, it had just gotten good. She kept reading while she ate at her breakfast.
Master Goldark was excessively pleased with the bargain he had made. Miss French was a most efficient employee and a pleasant companion. He found that he was enjoying her company more and more. So sweet. So pleasant.
Except when she was arguing with him. She questioned everything, usually just wanting to know about things, like the shipping business. But sometimes she would question his methods: Was there not a better way? An easier way? She wanted explanations. She challenged him, never accepting “this is the way that we’ve always done it.” She kept him on his toes and, well, he didn’t always like it. She wasn’t the sort of female he was used to.
She wasn’t like anyone he was used to.
Belle wrote in her diary that Master Goldark and Madame Goldark never disagreed about anything, at least not publically. No one on staff ever remembered them having any dispute about anything. Madame Goldark was always quite agreeable and amiable to anything Master Goldark said or did.
It was a different matter between herself and Master Goldark. She wanted to know about everything and questioned everything in her thirst for knowledge. Sometimes things didn’t make sense and she would question him. This would lead to animated explanations, heated discussions and fiery arguments.
And the arguments were frequent, if it could technically be called an argument when only one person was doing the arguing. Goldark would often shout at her and stomp around, sulk and glare, while Belle did her best to remain oblivious, to hold to the high road of any discussion. He would bluster and threaten, but she would remain calm and focused. He would rage and try to bully her, but she would stand up to the man.
She just wanted answers.
She just wanted to know . . .
During this one particular morning it sounded as if the roof was going to come off the place. The household staff had no idea what the current altercation was about but all fled the scene not wanting to get caught in the crossfire.
“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!”
There was a soft murmur.
“It’s not going to happen! It will never happen! And no, I don’t have to give you a list of reasons why it’s ridiculous! It’s obvious that it’s ridiculous!”
“You are going to need to calm yourself,” Belle remarked without raising her voice. ”You’re going to have an aneurism.”
Goldark had gotten up and slammed the library door shut so the entire household wouldn’t have to hear this latest ‘discussion.’ Miss French was going to cause him to stroke.
“Been reading the medical books again, have you, dearie?” his tone was hateful and condescending. “You come up with the most outrageous ideas. Women – voting?! Please dear god!” He raised his eyes to the heavens, “This is what happens when you educate a woman. She gets ideas that she is as capable, as smart . . . as a man.”
The two had begun a quiet discussion earlier in the day as Belle updated the previous day’s receipts. There had been a little correspondence for her to deal with and she had gone ahead and updated the cross-reference file.
With no business on their hands, they had, instead, begun discussing politics and an upcoming election in town. He was surprised to find out that Belle had a viewpoint about the candidates and was quite familiar with the issues. Belle had gone on to share the views from some of the other women she corresponded with, a Judith Murray from Massachusetts, and another woman she had connected with, being a mutual acquaintance of Thomas Paine. The woman was Mary Wollstonecraft, a freethinker who lived in England. Belle had communicated with both of these women over their frustration regarding their inability to vote, among other things including their inability to hold property or to have any say in the management of their own children. Rumach Goldark had greeted her statement first with laughter and then with outrage.
This had just been too, too much.
“Why is this so hard for you to imagine?” Belle asked him.
“Because women don’t have the ability to make such important decisions! They’re too emotional and don’t make decisions rationally. They’re like children and need to be taken care of,” he explained patiently.
Belle looked hard at her employer. “It’s not about taking care of women, it’s about controlling women!” For the first time she realized that she was in danger of losing her temper in one of their ‘discussions.’
She took a deep breath in the effort to calm herself, “Can you present any truly rational reasons why women should not vote? Would you say that it is because women don’t want to vote? Or that men have already shown how so very well they always see to the interests and safety of women so that women do not need to vote?” Belle’s voice was a tad sarcastic. She continued, “Or that it’s outside the legitimate sphere of a woman’s influence, whatever that means? Would you ask, why change a system that is already working? Or, and this one is my favorite, do you think that if women become involved in politics they will stop marrying and having children? Do you really, really believe that we are such emotional creatures that we are incapable of making sound, rational decisions?”
Belle had worked herself up. She was now the one walking the floor of the library. No longer her usual calm, quiet self, she was ranting. She was pacing. She was gesticulating.
“Do you actually think that the act of voting would create so much pressure on a woman’s brain and delicate nervous system that after voting, a woman would be fainting and weeping and have to take to her bed?” She turned on him, “I think that men don’t want women to have the vote not because they think that women cannot handle voting, but they are afraid that women can handle voting.”
Belle took several steps towards Goldark. She was waving her hands wildly, “And if women are like children it is only because men have denied them the right to education. What we don’t know is only that which we have not been taught. We’re capable of learning anything a man can learn. You sir, you allow women to run your household. I’m a woman and I keep your business organized and your bank books balanced. Tell me one thing that you think I would need a man to help me do.”
Goldark considered only a moment, “Marriage. You’re never going to get married on your own. You’re going to end up an old maid and that will be such a waste. Your father is going to have to select someone for you. I’ll be happy to recommend several men who might have the patience and forbearance to handle you. You need to be warming some man’s bed rather than engaging in this nonsense.” His tone betrayed his extreme irritation. How dare she raise her voice to him, in his own house, in his library, in his sanctuary!
He turned away from Belle as he spoke and as he was not looking at her, he missed the dangerous look that crossed her face. “So you think I need to be ‘handled’? That I need to ‘be warming’ some man’s bed?” Her voice had definitely begun to rise. She had lost control.
“What you need is to have your impertinent backside paddled,” he pronounced, angrily, returning his attention to his work. ”But I’m not in the mood, nor do I have time to enlighten you as to your place.”
“My place?! Because I dare to disagree with you? Because I dare to suggest that perhaps the biggest and strongest aren’t always the best ones to make decisions? Because I dare to ask you to consider that a woman might be as smart, even smarter, than a man?”
“Well, look at yourself now. You’re absolutely hysterical,” he was dismissing her.
“Oh, when you were angry, you were righteously indignant, but now that I’m angry, I’m a hysteric! You sir, are an arrogant, pompous, insufferable ass!”
It was now his turn to stand and he turned on her, “You do forget your place, Miss French! I am not only your employer but your well-being was given over to my care! It is part of my responsibilities to guide and direct you. I am well within my rights to discipline you!” He glared at his defiant little clerk; he’d seen kinder eyes above a set of dueling pistols. “Perhaps I am wrong not to take action,” he said as much to himself as he said to her. He advanced on her. “Perhaps I am not too busy or indifferent to paddle your backside.” Maybe he had allowed her too much freedom, too much familiarity.
Hearing his words, Belle considered turning and running from the room, but opted instead to hold her ground against the furious, advancing man. She did not know that few, if any, had ever made such a choice. “So when your words are insufficient, you resort to physical force. I believe my proposition that men feel they have to control women is confirmed.” She was terrified at what he might do, what he could do with impunity but she held her ground.
He had backed her up against the table. He had grabbed her wrists. He loomed over her. Their eyes were locked together. There was a long moment.
A long, long moment.
He was looking deep into her eyes. Belle was rigid, ready to fight, to defend herself. She was not about to meekly submit to his ‘discipline.’
Her eyes were bright and had darkened to a cobalt blue.
His eyes had almost gone completely black.
Her cheeks were flushed.
His blood was up.
Her breathing was heavy and she panted through parted lips.
Moist, parted lips.
She was astonished when he leaned in and gently, so tenderly, so softly touched his lips to hers and then pulled back. When she didn’t protest, he again leaned in, releasing her wrists and allowing one hand to trace up her arm to her shoulder. He brought his other hand up to her chin and held her face in place while he continued to kindly, lovingly kiss her. Belle’s eyes closed and she felt herself softening against the man. This was the man from her dreams, the one who came to her at night and kissed her and held her.
And this reality was so much better than her dreams.
He felt warm and comforting and strong. She didn’t even try to resist him.
His kiss had abruptly deepened and now it wasn’t the soft, gentle pressing of lips against lips. Now he was insistently, persistently, nudging her lips open, urging her to allow him possession of her mouth. Now, she was clinging to him.
When he briefly pulled back from her, she managed to murmur, “I didn’t think you liked me.”
“I don’t,” he mumbled back to her. “You’re irritating and demanding.”
And then he was kissing her again and now his lips were hungry, consuming, voracious, devouring her. There was no kindness, no gentleness here. This was a man bent on seducing and having his way with a maid. Belle had her hands fisted in his shirt and she was holding on him. She was helpless, overwhelmed, swept away. Whatever he wanted, she wanted it too. He suddenly lifted her and she was sitting on the library table. He used his body and had stepped in between her legs so that now she was able to wrap herself around him, her legs lifting and going around his waist, her arms clinging to his shoulders.
Belle had been aroused, angry, but now her arousal had rapidly gone in another direction. A direction with which she had little familiarity . . . passion? She wasn’t sure, so inexperienced was she, but she thought she might be kissing him back. As she allowed him to plunder her mouth she realized that, yes, yes, yes, she was definitely kissing him back. She heard someone whimper and realized it was herself.
“Rum,” she whispered.
“Belle,” he was whispering back to her. His lips had left hers and were traveling down her neck. He was whispering something to her that she didn’t understand. She relaxed, sinking into his arms, allowing his lips and his hands to move around her body, caressing her, stroking and embracing her. He was pressing her to him, molding her soft curves into his own body. Even in her innocence she was well aware of his body’s response to hers.
They were both breathing heavily when he stopped. He simply held her a moment. Then he pushed away from her, “Belle, I’m sorry. I can’t do this. We shouldn’t do this.” He didn’t let her go. His fingers had entwined with hers and he traced down her face with his other hand. “Oh God! You are so beautiful. So desirable.” He kissed her again, so softly, so gently.
“Rum, what are we going to do?” she managed to ask him.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Goldark had reluctantly pulled himself away from Belle, leaving her sitting on the table, and went over to sit at his desk. He talked to the wall, unable to bring himself to look at her. “Belle, I’m sorry. I’ve been taught that women aren’t as smart or as strong as men. That they are children to be protected. But you are making me rethink everything I’ve been taught.”
He still wasn’t looking at her, “And today, when we were having a discussion and I couldn’t think of rational arguments against your points, I resorted to physical aggression and irrational behavior, like I could somehow force my views on you – the very thing you said men have been doing to women forever.”
Still turned away from her, he spoke very softly, “And I said it was important that you get married because the truth is, I’m afraid that I will take advantage of your innocence if you continue in my employ, but Belle, the bigger truth is I can’t bear the thought of you leaving me. I can’t bear the thought of you in the arms of another man. You must think I’m a monster.”
“I think that I’m in love with you,” Belle told him.
Emma closed the journal at this point as she had finished up her breakfast and had the check to take care of.
So they had finally kissed. In a moment of anger that had quickly turned to passion. And both had known it was wrong. And both had wanted it to continue. She wasn’t sure if Goldark was being legitimately contrite or if he was manipulating Miss Belle, who for all her smartness was very naïve about men. Belle had certainly thought he was sorry for what he had done.
Emma knew she was a cynic. She didn’t trust men or women for that matter. She figured that it was only a matter of time before he nailed her. And then there’d be hell to pay.
She was reviewing her email on her phone when a dark shadow came over her. Someone had come by, stood and then sat down. She looked up, her green eyes meeting brown eyes.
“If you want me to go, I will. I would understand it if you never want to see me or speak to me again.”
It was Neal.
“What could you possibly have to say to me?” she asked him.
“I have an explanation.” He was obviously nervous and hesitant. “I know you may not want to hear it and, if you don’t, I will understand. But dear lord, Emma, please. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. How sorry I was to have hurt you like I know I hurt you.”
Emma considered. She had dreamt of this moment, when Neal would appear and have some rational explanation that would explain everything, that would make it all better.
And here he was.
Would it be any worse if she heard him out?
When Emma didn’t order him out of the diner, Neal stayed seated across from her and he hesitantly began. “I used to be a police officer. I was working deep undercover, drug cartel stuff. I couldn’t tell you. I got called away. I wasn’t allowed to communicate with you, send you money, let you know. . . let you know that I loved you. . . that I’ve always loved you.”
Emma’s eyes narrowed. “Undercover drug cop?! Honestly! That crock of shit is the best you can come up with? That sounds like something out of one of your books! You expect me to believe that cockamamie story?”
Neal shrugged. “It’s so hokey, how could it be anything except the truth, Emma? What were you expecting to hear?”
“I don’t know. You had gambling debts and were avoiding the mob! You had been diagnosed with an incurable illness, couldn’t deal with everybody’s pity and had decided to slink off to die alone! You were a total sleezebag!”
Neal sat quietly across from her. “You’ve read my books?” he asked suddenly.
“They’re everywhere. Hard to miss,” she tried to sound dismissive. Who was she kidding? She had devoured them, clearly recognizing Neal as the hardboiled hero and was pretty sure his hot, savvy, strong-willed psychologist girlfriend was a very favorable rendition of herself without warts.
“Listen Emma, I can show you my official resignation and some commendations that I got for my job if that would help?”
“Not really. Those things can be printed up in a heartbeat,” she told him.
Jefferson came in at that moment and saw Emma and Neal together. He went into ‘protective friend’ overdrive. He went over to Emma and slid in next to her putting his arm around her.
“Emma darling,” he kissed her on the cheek. “Who’s your friend?”
Emma had to smile at Jefferson and his attempt to persuade Neal that she was in a relationship with him.
“Thanks Jefferson, I’m all right. This is Neal. He used to be a friend,” Emma introduced Neal to Jefferson.
“Hello Neal, Emma is a very good friend of mine. She’s here with some of her other friends,” Jefferson said to him with a thinly veiled warning.
“I’m glad she has friends,” Neal said, not backing down.
Emma was shaking her head, “Neal, I don’t know about seeing you anymore. When you disappeared from my life it was kinda tough. I don’t know that I want to open that can of worms again.’
Neal nodded. “Would you consider . . . maybe . . .seeing me again . . . maybe one date?”
“Maybe,” Emma was noncommittal.
“Ok Emma, that’s as much as I can expect.” Neal continued to sit across from her. “Listen Emma, my family is from this area and I come back up here when I need to recharge my batteries. Why are you here?”
“I’m working,” she said not offering any details.
Neal looked at her and then looked at Jefferson. “Are you investigating the Goldark Inn? As in ghost hunting?”
Emma looked up at the man. “Yeah, we are. You know the place?”
Neal sat back. “Yeah, I know the place. I own it.”
Well, shit, thought Emma.