Weekend Wind Down – Alice’s Choice

Alice’s Choice by Jane Jago is out today

When Alice Lancaster woke up on the morning of her twenty-third day of widowhood, she felt as if she had somehow pulled herself out of an uncomprehending fog, and into the pitiless brightness of sunlight. Although this awakening sharpened the pain she welcomed it as a sign of returning life. Alaric was gone and she had to somehow create an existence without him. She dressed herself in the unbecoming clothes that were all she currently owned, and frowned at her reflection.
During an uncomfortable morning, being watched by her husband’s family, Alice considered her options. She could remain in the family home, under the eye of Alaric’s mother, who disliked her, and his brother who liked her rather more than was comfortable. She could go back to her father’s house, but she now had a stepmother younger than herself. Or. She could stand on her own two feet.
None of it appealed, but striking out on her own, although both frightening and confusing, felt like the least of a fistful of evils. Tapping her fingernails against the wooden arm of her chair, she thought grim thoughts. Mother-in-law turned a perfectly coiffed head, atop a long neck decorated, as always, with a six-strand pearl choker – whose ruby clasp shone almost as balefully as Mama’s basilisk stare.
“Will you stop making that infernal noise!”
As this was nominally Alice’s sitting room, it would have been both easy and satisfying to snap back. But she didn’t; instead, she got up and left the room. Picking up her coat and handbag, she walked out of the front door, past the hovering porter, and down to the street corner where she hailed a taxi.
“Where to, love?”
“Hildebrand and Watkins on the Strand, please.”
When the cab dropped her outside the scrupulously whitened office steps, her courage almost failed her, but the thought of ‘Mama’s’ cold gooseberry green gaze stiffened her spine. The stiffly coiffured receptionist spared barely a glance for the hatless young woman who came in so timidly.
“Visitors by appointment only,” she barked.
For some reason, this rudeness emboldened Alice far more than kindness would have and she stalked over to a handsome door that bore the name Augustus Hildebrand LLB. She tapped twice and walked in, leaving the receptionist gobbling like a turkey in her wake.
The man at the desk looked up from his newspaper. His incipient frown changed to a smile.
“Hello, Uncle Gus,” she said softly.
“My dear Alice. Come in, sit down, and tell me how I can help you.”
Alice went to one of the wing chairs beside the fireplace and folded into its cushioned embrace. Her host wrinkled his forehead before going out to reception. His deep voice contrasted with the receptionist’s staccato counterpoint but she was too weary to even try to make out what was being said. Instead, she laid her head against the snowy whiteness of the old-fashioned antimacassar and let her thoughts drift. When she came back to herself, her mother’s only surviving brother was in the other fireside chair watching her with concerned eyes. She summoned a smile for him.
“They told me,” he said, “that you didn’t want to see me.”
“Oh. Which ‘they’ would that have been? Mother-in-law and baby brother?”
He nodded. “I rather think they are hoping to keep you under their thumbs.”
Alice pushed her hair away from her face with a shaking hand. “I’m beginning to think that myself. However, ‘Mama’ can’t resist pinching and poking at me. Thinks that because I won’t argue she can push me around. Only she can’t. And today, it came to me that I have had enough.”
“So, you came to me.”
“I’m sorry for that. If it’s going to cause trouble I will go.”
He held up a hand. “Don’t be silly. We aren’t living in the dark ages. They have no hold on you. You are of age. And besides which, even if there was trouble, you are all I have left of my dear sister so I would help you anyway.”
Tears pricked the back of her eyes. “Alaric always said I should come to you if anything happened to him.”
He smiled and his face lightened. “What took you so long then?”
“I had to get over the shock of losing him first. I rather thought he was immortal, you know.”
“He always behaved like he thought he was immortal too.”
“Maybe he did.” She sighed. “Maybe he did.”
Uncle Gus remained quiet for a while, then spoke gently. “What can I do to help you?”
“I need somewhere to live. I decided just now that I cannot spend another moment in that house.”
She waited for him to tell her not to be dramatic and to just go home and get on with it. But he didn’t. Instead, he nodded his leonine head.
“We can’t do much about finding you a home today, and I’m not exactly set up to receive guests.”
His cheeks pinked, and Alice laughed.
“Do we have a young lady in residence Uncle Gus?”
“She isn’t that young, and she’d be very insulted to be called a lady.”
“I’d like to meet her, then. She sounds as if she would be the perfect antidote to the stultifying pretended gentility of Alaric’s dreadful Mama.”
His bark of delighted amusement made Alice feel much better about herself. When he stopped chuckling, he looked at her for what seemed like an age.
“If you really mean that, then by all means come and stay with us. You would certainly be safe under Gabriella’s wing.”
“Safe?”
Uncle Gus sobered.“Yes, Alice, safe from the machinations of a woman who is already hinting that Alaric’s untimely death has left you mentally unbalanced.”

To keep reading Alice’s Choice, click here!

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