Life hadn’t always been hard for Katherine.
The daughter of a bank manager, her parents more than often socialised with a higher class of person. Life was comfortable. She never had to worry about anything.
Her family wasn’t rich, but were well-off enough to care what people thought of them and for that reason they send their only daughter to a private girls school.
It did little more than teach her how to read, write and be a good wife.
But while there she made many friends. None better than Emma Davison.
The same age, they became fast friends from the age of only seven. They were regulars at one another’s homes since then. The daughter of a lord, many of the other girls they attended school with thought Emma to be pretentious and brattish.
For that reason she didn’t have many friends.
But Katherine and she had always gotten along well. Probably due to their special connection.
Years past and by the age of only nineteen years most her friends were married or about to be. Whereas Katherine had no interest in settling down with a man.
She knew it was wrong but she preferred the company to other women. Her time away at school had given her time to experiment. Not that anyone could know. Not unless she wanted to be shunned.
Years of friendship and intimate acts as lovers with her best friend and they had always planned to move in together. They would be friends to the outside world spinsters and companions. But behind closed doors they would be lovers.
Katherine had always believed her friend. Despite her friend indiscretions. That was until Emma announced her engagement to a man of means.
Visiting Emma to attend her wedding, she was more than a little upset. They were always especially close, her marrying would bring an end to that and all their plans. But she put on a brave face. Either way she cared for her friend.
A bridesmaid, the wedding went as planned. Hundreds of people attended and she didn’t know or meet more than half.
Her parents attended but left the same day. But Katherine decided to stay on a couple of days at her friend’s request.
Katherine had thought it a little strange that the newly weds wanted her there. But she did as requested. She never could say no to Emma.
At least that was the case until Emma surprised her the day after the wedding by kissing her like the old days. It was as thought nothing had changed between them.
Feeling guilty about the adultous act, Katherine stopped her.
She may have loved Emma but she would never do anything with a married person. She had seen over the years how the indiscretions of her father had hurt her mother. She didn’t want to cause that pain to anyone, man or woman.
She wouldn’t find out until later that day but rejecting her angried Emma.
A spoilt young woman used to getting her way she went straight to her husband and lied, telling him Katherine forced herself on her.
That evening Emma watched with a sinister smile as her husband came and forced himself on Katherine. Not once but several times over the following night.
“A wedding gift,” Henry had said since his own wife had broken her hymen in a riding accident.
A riding accident? If seducing a stable hand was a riding accident, then yes.
In pain, Katherine managed to escape the pair when they had fallen asleep and left at first light the morning after the attack.
Not telling anyone and only crying in private, she cut off contact with Emma and thought she could forget it happened.
She received letters from her friend, but they always were burnt unopened.
But it wasn’t to be. Only three months later and her once flat abdomin had started to grow round. That accompanied with the lack of a monthly and she knew she was doomed.
Her parents realised quickly and tried to have her name the father so they could force the pair to marry.
At first she didn’t answer. Only eventually giving in.
“No, not Henry Devitt. He is a good man. The son of a judge...” And blahhh blahhh blahhh.
They believed she had gotten pregnant to their gardener. An elderly married man. She didn’t understand why they blamed him. It made no sense what so ever. Their neighbour would be a more logical choice since he had actively shown interest in her.
But they sent her away to hide the shame she had brought to the family.
Originally they planned to send her away to have the baby and give it to the nuns to raise. She didn’t want that. Despite everything, she wanted to raise the child herself.
Only their friends started to notice her growing belly. So instead they sent her away to disappear.
She was put up at a boarding house. Which they paid a month for. After that she would have to find her own way.
Only before the month was up the land lady started to ask questions. When it became clear she was an unwed, pregnant woman she was forced to leave. No refund of the weeks not stayed and not allowed to collect her few belongings. She left with the clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet. Nothing else, nothing more.
A full day of wandering and late evening, as the sky was getting dark a kindly older gentleman pointed her in the direction of a homeless shelter ran by a charitable organisation.
He was the first good person she had met in her time there.
The shelter, a new thing in the area, it was big news. The once hundreds of homeless people had a place to stay and be warm.
Only when she arrived at the place it was already full and she was sent away.
Barely holding back the tears she walked to a nearby empty alley in a daze where upon reaching it she fell to her knees and she finally let the floodgates fall.
How could someone she thought loved her treat her so badly?
Emma looked to actually be getting off seeing her husband and friend together.
And Henry... A man in his twenties, he had divorced his first wife after only a couple of years of marriage. Rumours were she was seeing other men behind his back.
But he had always been kind and polite to Katherine until that day. He was a different person.
He had taken great pleasure abusing her.
She didn’t know what hurt more, the attack or the fact that her parents called her a liar and sent her away.
“What is wrong, miss?” A soft spoken voice asked out of nowhere. She hadn’t heard anyone approach over the sound of her own sodding.
Unable to keep it bottled up any longer she finally let it spill.
“I didn’t want it! I didn’t! He forced me... I didn’t want to lay with... I never wanted... I thought she loved me... Why did she let him do that to me?” She looked up for the first time to see a gentleman of means, hair slicked back and in an expensive, taylor made suit and jacket.
The type of person who would be friends with her attacker.
But his face, soft and gentle, almost like a woman. It showed worry, care and compassion.
“Where is your family?” He ask kneeling down in front of her.
“They disowned me. They believe I am to blame.” She didn’t have to say anything else.
“I understand. Family can be fickle. You have no room to stay?” She shook her head.
“The shelter is full and the guest took my money and belongings.”
The man shook his head and mumbled “Bastard thieves!”
But the turned back to her.
“Then you will stay with me.” He stood up and held out his hand for her at take.
She stared at his hand wide eyed then to him and back. “But people will talk. Your life will be ruined too.”
He smiled and shook his head.
“I have been rejected from every place because they think I am a sinful woman. I would love to accept your offer. But I couldn’t in good conscience do such a thing to a good person such as yourself.”
He didn’t stop smiling. If anything it seemed to only encourage him more. “Should anyone ask I will tell them you are my wife. Now...” He reached down and put his gloved hand in hers. It was much smaller than any man’s she had met but didn’t mention it, so not to hurt his feelings.
“If I am in the way you will tell me straight away?” She wanted a bed to sleep in. She was dead on her feet. Bearing a child was much more tiring than she had been lead to believe.
“I promise.” Standing, he kept hold of her hand and escorted her to a coach she hadn’t noticed before.
The driver helped them both inside the coach wordlessly and soon enough they were on their way.
“Let me introduce myself... I am Charles Price. But you can call me Charly.” He had the most amazing smile.
“Katherine Ashdown,” She replied still a little in shock at what had happened.
She just hoped she had made the right choice going with the stranger. He made her feel safe. Something she hadn’t felt since the attack.
“Well, Katherine, I want you to think of my home as your own. The only rule is that if you want to cry you must come see me.”
She couldn’t help but smile. He was unlike any man she had met. If all men were like him she might consider marriage. “You are too good to me, sir. I could be anyone.”
“No. I’m a good judge of character. I trust you.”
Her heart swelled. She couldn’t explain it, but she trusted him too.
They arrived at a large manor house on a private estate only a short while later.
Hiding her surprise, she climbed out of the coach with Charly’s help.
“You live here alone?” She guessed.
“I have staff, but they live in town. I enjoy my privacy. So it will be just the two of us at night.”
She was confused but followed him inside. She thought all big properties had live in staff.
Emma’s parents house wasn’t quiet as large as Charly’s but they had several live in staff. As did their friends.
“Louise, have a second plate set for dinner and have a bath drawn before you leave,” He called to someone as he entered the house.
Not waiting for a reply he took Katherine’s shawl and removed his own hat, gloves and jacket before leading her to a grand dining room where two plates of food and glasses with a decanter were waiting for them.
“Sit down and enjoy, Katherine.” He held out a chair for her.
“Thank you, Charly.”
Smiling, he took his own seat.
Wordlessly, they began to eat. It was delicious, the best food she had eaten in months.
“The bath is drawn, sir. I’ll be leaving now,” An homely woman said, excusing herself.
“Don’t you want to know my story?” Katherine asked once she knew they were alone.
“Only when you wish to tell me. No pressure, I can wait.”
“I want to be honest with you. You are a good man, you deserve to know.”
She told him everything. Even things she had never told anyone before. “I don’t find men attractive. I never wanted to be a wife to a man. The thought repulses me.”
She told him about her and Emma and what happened that night.
Charly seemed surprised to learn of her sexual preference. But otherwise was horrified hearing her story.
He mentioned the police.
“My own parents don’t believe me. I doubt the police will think any differently.”
He wasn’t happy at the answer but understood.
“I care for you already, Charly, but I don’t want to lead you on. I only like women.”
“I also have a confession... A secret, I would like to share with you. We can keep each others secrets.” Katherine smiled and nodded relieved.
“My name is actually Charlotte. But I hate women’s fashion and love the freedom being a man gives me. I always wanted a wife, never a husband.”