Come on, come on,
Put your hands into the fire.
As I turn, I meet the power.
The phone rang in the hotel, and Grace continued to fix her hair in the mirror. Clive was shaving, though, and called for her to answer it. She pursed her lips, and ignored him, remembering the attendant at the racetracks who told her apologetically that they were closing for the night, and she needed to leave. Of course, it probably wasn't Tommy. He wouldn’t bother phoning when he could much more easily wash his hands of her with a letter.
“Hello?” Clive said, and she realized he'd come in from the bathroom to answer it. She didn’t try to listen in, assuming it had to do with his business. “Grace,” he said.
She turned her head, and saw he was holding out the phone.
“It’s something to do with your family," he told her.
She took the phone. "Yes?" She knew it had nothing to do with her family.
She gave Clive a smile, and he returned to the bathroom, unworried.
“We need to talk,” Tommy said.
“You couldn’t have written a letter?” she replied.
“I was held up.”
She didn’t have anything to say, but she couldn’t bring herself to hang up the phone. She tightened her grip on the handle, and waited. She was always stupidly waiting for this man.
“Meet me,” he pushed. “I’m here, Grace. I’m ready. Name a place, and I’ll be there. I promise.”
“You said you loved me.”
“Did you mean it?”
“You needn’t let it bother you.” She lowered her voice, glancing at the door of the toilet. “I’ve gotten over you before. I’m sure I’ll manage to do it again, and do it better this time. I wouldn’t want to get in the way of your business. I know you have great aspirations, Thomas.”
“I’m at the house in London. It’s Ada’s actually. I bought it for her. Can you come by? We need to talk.”
She hung up the phone.
She wanted him to think it meant that she wasn’t going to meet him, but she knew he’d see through her, and expect her. Fine. She’d make him wait, though, and see how he liked it.
Sitting on the settee, she wasn’t going to be the first to speak. She’d said everything she had to say, and he hadn’t bothered to show up after. She was out of words for him.
“You’re pregnant,” he said.
“Yes.” She sighed, and smoothed out her skirt needlessly. “If you’re concerned I’m going to make a mess of things for you, don’t be. I’ll do what you want. I’ll sail away again.”
“Did I say that’s what I want?”
“You’re a man of action, Tommy, and you never came to meet me.”
He was silent.
“If you’re unsure, I’ve a coin you can flip.”
He leaned back tiredly in his chair, and took out a cigarette, lighting it. “I thought I was going to die,” he said, staring at the rug under their feet. “The day of the race. I never came to meet you, Grace, because there was a gun at my head, and a freshly dug grave at my back, and I was supposed to die.” He looked up, and at her.
“I wasn’t afraid, though.” He shook his head. “Two years ago, I was afraid. I flipped a coin, and it came up heads. Go to her, it said. But I couldn’t. Because I was afraid. Because I couldn’t leave Birmingham, and my family, and everything I’d built, and I couldn’t forgive a woman who wasn’t even real. Today, though. Today, I wasn’t afraid. I was . . . I was angry.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
“Because right before I was about to have it all, I was getting a bullet in the back of the head.”
“It seems they missed,” she said, looking at her hands rather than at him, and turning her bracelet mindlessly around her wrist. It had been a gift from Clive’s mother. “Congratulations. Now you do have it all.” She thought of the beautiful horse trainer, and looked at him. “What’s next for the great, fearsome Thomas Shelby?”
“I don’t have it all yet.”
He let the smoke drift from his mouth. “Have you told your husband about the baby?” His expression was unreadable.
“I haven’t.” She swallowed. “I don’t know that I will.”
“You don’t think he’ll notice?”
“I’m tired of trying to make myself love him,” she said. “It’ll be tough on my own with a baby, but I’ve managed much tougher.” She lifted her chin up slightly, holding her posture.
He nodded, and stubbed out his cigarette, rising to his feet.
Her breath caught when he moved to sit beside her, and she realized it slowly, trying to keep from showing the way she was affected by his proximity, and the weight of his gaze. It was his gaze she’d thought of when she’d missed his most over the years, how it lingered, and held, how it saw her, and knew her. “Tommy,” she said. He lifted a hand, brushing the backs of his fingers to her cheek. It made her heart bang wildly on her ribs, trying to escape, and get to him.
“Marry me,” he said.
She stared. “I thought I wasn’t even real,” she breathed, searching his face for answers to questions she’d never be able to give voice to. She was afraid to believe he meant it.
“You are real,” he said. “You’ve always been real, and I’ve always known you. We’re the same.”
“I want to be with you,” she whispered.
“Do you really think it can work between us?”
“Things are changing for me,” he said. He squeezed her knee. “I’m going to be respectable.”
“You have to be,” she said. She smiled. “You’re the owner of a real, limited company, aren’t you?”
He nodded. “That’s right. I am. I’m the owner of a real, limited company, and I am in love with you.” He held her gaze. “I’m in love with you, Grace,” he said, and she released a great, gasping breath, tears breaking free at last. He kissed her. She clutched at the sleeves of his shirt, and leaned her forehead on his, closing her eyes for a moment. “Marry me,” he repeated, stroking her hair, and when he nuzzled her nose sweetly with his, she laughed.
“Yes,” she said, nodding, and beaming. “Yes, Thomas. I’ll marry you."
“Things are going to be legitimate,” he continued. “And I’ve got a house in mind for us; it can be ours within a week. It’s happening for me, Grace. I can give you a good life now. I promise.”
“I don’t need a good life. I need you. That’s all I’ve ever needed.”
“You’ve got me,” he said. “My love. My name. My child.” He took his hand from her knee, and pressed it to her stomach. His gaze was certain. “You’ve got me, Grace.”
She hugged him.
It was going to be a mess, sorting out everything from here. She knew nothing of his life these days, and he knew nothing of her life. Not really. She was married, had a life in America, and she doubted his more dangerous, illegal business was nearly as finished as he claimed. But in that moment, she really didn’t care. They’d work it out, and they’d do it together.
She drew away from him to smile at him, and had to kiss him again.
He smiled. “I’ve got plans for the future,” he said. He began talking about the tracks, and betting, and licenses, and how everything was legal now. “I’m going to do it, Grace. Make a success of things. I just need to secure the licenses.”
“Mrs. Carlton seemed very assured of her role in that task.”
“You met her?"
“She’s good with horses,” he said. He tucked her hair behind her ear. “But I don’t need Mrs. Carlton.”
She kissed him.
He deepened it, pushing a hand into her hair, and she grasped his shoulders, and shifted, sliding her leg over his, and straddling him. The skirt of her dress hiked slightly up her thigh. Tommy ran a hand up from her knee, rubbing his thumb lightly against the edge of her stocking.
“Where is Ada?”
She drew her finger along the line of his jaw. She smiled. “Do you know what we should name the baby if it’s a boy?” she asked, enjoying the warmth of his breath on her lips.
“What?” His eyes were bright, amused. “Picked a name, have you?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“We do owe a lot to Charlie Chaplain, don’t we?”
He laughed. “Oh, Grace,” he said, shaking his head, and smiling. “I have missed you.”
She had tried to love her husband. He was kind, and good, and it should have been easy to love him. The problem, though, was that she was neither of those things. She had never really been as kind as people assumed when they saw her, and goodness? She’d learned from Tommy that goodness was measured in more ways than people like Clive were capable of understanding. He loved her, but she had never quite been able to love him back. She’d tried.
Really, she had.
But a life with Clive was unexciting, was everything she’d turned up her nose at when she’d been just a girl, and everything she’d known she hadn’t needed when she’d fallen in love with Tommy. She was bored with Clive, and, worse, she was lonely with him, was alone even when he was lying right beside her in their bed, and he didn’t even realize.
She had thought if she had a baby, that would make it better.
She’d have somebody to love.
But she’d been told that she couldn’t have a baby because she was defective.
“I want a divorce,” she said, and Clive’s face froze. “I’m sorry,” she continued, softer. “I know you’ll hate me for this, but I have to be honest with you. I’m not happy, and I—”
“Grace,” he said, alarmed, and rising to his feet.
She met his gaze, unflinching.
“If this is about having a baby, you have to know that I don’t blame you, and I don’t—”
“It isn’t about having a baby,” she said.
He gaped. “Sweetheart, please,” he said, reaching for her. But she stepped back quickly, and his face crumpled with hurt. “Tell me what’s going on,” he pleaded. “Did something just happen on your walk?”
“I want a divorce.”
He shook his head. “I don’t—I don’t understand.” He was refusing to understand.
She’d entertained the idea of trying to spare him, of keeping Tommy and the baby and everything from him. She couldn’t do that to him, though. It wasn’t a kindness. He deserved the truth. “I told you once that I’d been in love before I met you,” she said.
“The truth is that I never stopped being in love with him. We never had a real chance, and I thought I could move on. But I can’t. I haven’t. I’m still in love with him, and—and now I do have the chance to be with him.”
He swallowed. “You’ve seen him?” he asked. He was struggling to keep his emotions in check.
Tommy made an art of hiding the slightest, most inconsequential of feelings.
“Yes,” she said.
“I want to meet him.”
“He thinks he can just take my wife? No. I want to meet him.”
“He isn’t taking me,” she said. “I’m leaving. I don’t—I don’t belong in America. I don’t belong in this life, and I don’t belong with you.”
“You belong with him, you mean.”
She was silent.
“What’s his name?”
She shook her head. “Does it matter?” She wished he wouldn’t try to fight.
“You can’t tell me you really thought that everything was right between us,” she said, imploring. “We never even talk about things that matter, Clive. We just smile, and pretend around friends.”
“How can you say that?”
“It’s the truth!” she exclaimed. “You fell in love with me the moment you saw me, isn’t that what you like to say? But you can’t fall in love with somebody you don’t even know, Clive! You just fell in love with who you assumed I was, and I let you, because I was lonely, and confused, and I thought I could start all over, and you—you were nothing like—” She shook her head. “You were nothing like the man I’d left behind when I came to America.”
He clenched his jaw.
“Dammit, Grace!” He pushed a hand through his hair, and turned away from her. “We aren’t doing this here,” he said. He looked at her. “We’re going back to the States, and we’ll figure this mess out at home. If you’re unhappy, we’ll fix it. But you can’t just announce that you aren’t happy, that you aren’t in love with me, and you’re leaving me for some old flame. You don’t get to do that to me, Grace! I’m your husband! You made a vow before God to—”
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“I’m pregnant, and you aren’t the father. He is. It only took once with him.”
It was the cruelest thing she’d ever said to him.
But it did the trick.
She saw the fight leave him, and she knew that he couldn’t ignore this the way he’d so easily brushed aside the rest of the problems in their marriage. It was over. “I want a divorce,” she said, and his shoulders shook slightly with tears he was trying not to cry.
She packed a bag for herself for the night, and told Clive that she’d give him a night to himself. He didn’t try to stop her from leaving. She left her rings on the table, and took a car to Tommy’s, or to Ada’s.
It was Ada who answered the door.
“You,” she said.
“Yes.” Grace straightened, and offered a smile. “Me.”
Ada stepped back slightly to open the door, and let her in. Her face gave away nothing. Her brother would surely be proud.
Tommy was sitting with Karl, and they were discussing a pair of painted wooden horses in their hands very seriously. Grace smiled at the sight of Karl. He was big, seemed a whole little person when before he’d been an infant. Tommy smiled at Grace’s entrance. There was a question in his eyes, but she gave a nod to reassure him, and they’d talk about it later.
“Can you say hello to our guest, sweetheart?” Ada said, looking at Karl.
“Hello,” Karl said. He waved. “I’m Karl.”
“This is your aunt Grace,” Tommy said. “Go on. Give her a kiss, and show her your horses.”
Karl ran to Grace. He reached up his arms, clutching a horse in each, and Grace bent in amusement, glancing at Tommy for a moment, and keeping her smile in check as she returned her gaze to Karl. “Mwah,” Karl said, saying the sound even while smacking a kiss to her cheek. “This is Brownie,” Karl continued, showing her his brown painted horse. “He’s brown. This is Tunder.” He held up the gray. “He isn’t afraid of tunderstorms.”
“Hello, Brownie,” Grace said. “Hello, Thunder. These look like very fast horses, Karl.”
“Should we race them to see which is faster?”
“Right, and which horse shall I have, and which shall you have?”
He stared at them for a moment, considering his decision carefully before he gifted her with Brownie.
She moved to her knees, and turned to face a stretch of flat, unobstructed floor. “Here.” She touched his arm, beckoning him to copy her. Together, they knelt, and set their horses on the ground. “We have to get them lined up properly, too,” she said, and they lined them up. “Now when you say go, we’ll see who is faster. Remember, we must make them gallop the way horses do, and the first to reach the hearth wins.” She smiled. “Ready?"
He nodded, holding his tongue between his teeth.
Karl took off immediately, moving his horse to mime at galloping, and half-crawling on the floor. Grace laughed, and followed, making her horse gallop madly, too. “Hurry, Brownie!” she exclaimed, and made him pick up speed, catching up with Karl’s horse.
But, of course, Karl was the first to reach the hearth with his toy. He jumped in delight, thrusting his horse into the air. “I won!” he cried, hopping about happily. “We’re the fastest!”
“I never stood a chance,” Grace agreed.
“I won, Mummy!”
“I saw,” Ada said, amused. “Now stable your horses. It’s time for supper.”
On their way to the table, Tommy touched Grace’s back, and pressed a kiss to the back of her head.
Supper was quiet at first while they passed the dishes, and piled the food onto their plates. Karl dug eagerly into his food, smearing his potatoes on his chin. Ada was busy, though, pursing her lips, and glancing from Tommy to Grace, and back. She finished a bite of food, and wiped at her mouth with her napkin. “Well," she began. "We’re going to have a guest tonight, Ada, says my brother. Who is that? I ask, and do you know what he says?” She looked at Grace.
“What?” Grace asked, glancing at Tommy.
“He says the mother of my child, and the woman I plan to marry.”
“Tactful,” Grace said.
Ada stabbed a radish with her fork. “You’re pregnant,” she said. It was a question.
“You’re going to marry my brother.”
“But first you need to divorce the husband you’ve already got.”
Ada nodded. “I think we’re going to get along very well, Grace.” She smiled, and let out a sudden, exasperated sigh. “Karl, dear, wipe your chin, and slow down. The potatoes aren’t going to jump off the plate at any minute.”
Grace felt Tommy’s gaze, and she let it warm her cheeks, smiling at her plate.
That night, they shared a small spare room, and the springs of the bed creaked when Tommy pushed into her.
She’d been with three men in her life. There was the boy she’d grown up with, and had intended to marry before her father was killed. There was the man she’d married. And there was the man she loved, and was going to have a child with, was going to spend the rest of her life with.
It was different with Tommy. Better. She’d never, ever have to pretend with him.
He knew her.
The headboard thumped against the wall in a slow, steady rhythm, and she arched into him, pressing her fingers into his back. She was close, was so, so close. “I dreamed of you, Grace,” he breathed, gazing at her. “Every single night, I dreamed of you.” She held his gaze, and gasped when he tilted his hips, when he thrust in deeper, and she was desperate. He knew it, and his thrusts grew faster, taking her over the edge at last; his name broke on her lips. In a daze, she watched him come right after her, and she drank in the sight.
She held him to her while they caught their breath, liking the weight of him over her, and keeping him inside her for a moment.
In the morning, she woke to hot, sticky breath on her cheek.
It wasn’t Tommy.
It was Karl, leaning over her with wide, eager eyes. “Auntie, are you awake?” he whispered. She smiled, and he grinned. “Yes! Let’s race!”
She returned to the hotel after breakfast to find that Clive had packed up, and left, leaving a note for her with the hotel. It informed her simply that he’d returned to America. It didn’t mention his giving her a divorce, or what he expected her to do without a divorce.
She phoned Tommy about it.
“Come to Birmingham,” he said, certain.
She’d kept up with Tommy over the years. He hadn’t always responded to her letters, though she’d kept on sending them, and, once in a while, he’d write, and she’d sit on the toilet, hiding, and stare at his signature under the brief, typed message until her eyes burned with tears she refused to cry. She knew a bit about the changes in Birmingham, and in his family.
His family didn’t know that Tommy had kept up with her, though.
None of them were thrilled at her return.
She walked into a meeting at Tommy’s side, and was met with gapes, and glares.
John was suspicious, and Arthur was irritated. Finn was sweet for a split-second, only to see that his brothers weren’t warming up to her, and he put on a face of disgust, too.
“I thought this meeting was for family,” Polly said.
“It is,” Tommy said.
Polly raised her eyebrows.
“Grace is family to me,” he went on, “and once we’re married, she’ll be family to you, too.”
“Married?” Esme said.
“The fuck is the matter with you?” Arthur said.
“You aren’t married yet,” Polly hissed, lip curling up, “and until you are, she doesn’t belong in here.”
“She might not be a Shelby yet,” Tommy replied, calmly, “but she’s got my child in her, and that makes her family. If you have a problem with that, you’re welcome to leave. Otherwise, we’ve got things to discuss.”
For a moment, the room was silent.
“Congratulations,” Esme said.
Grace blinked. “Oh.” She smiled, and glanced at Tommy.
He looked at John, at Arthur, at Polly, and waited. They were silent. He nodded. “Good,” he said, clearing his throat, and pulling a seat out for himself. “Let’s get started.”
It was later when Polly cornered Grace; Tommy had left with Arthur, and wasn’t there to keep Polly in check.
“I thought we had a talk,” Polly said, eyeing her.
“I love him,” Grace said.
“It’s a waste of time to try to defend myself to you, isn’t it?” Grace realized. “Fine. I won’t bother to try. You’ll have to learn to live with me regardless. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to marry Tommy, and have a child with him, and you can’t stop that.”
“You’re right,” Polly said. “I can’t. But don’t think the fact that my nephew likes to fuck you means you’ve earned a place in this family. Have all the children you like. You’re never going to be a Shelby.”
Grace kept her face straight until Polly sauntered off.
She told Tommy that night.
“I supposed I’m lucky that she didn’t just try to kill me.” She hated how affected she was by the exchange. “After all, that was what she told me she’d do if she ever saw me again.”
“Forget about her,” Tommy said. “Forget about the lot of them. They’ll come ‘round.”
“You’re sure about that, are you?”
“Grace.” He took her hands in his. “This is about us. Our lives. It isn’t about them, and my family doesn’t get a say. Polly’s angry. Who fucking cares? That isn’t exactly new. Is it?”
“She’s got a reason to be angry,” Grace said.
“That’s the past.”
She wasn’t so certain. “You might have forgiven me, Tommy,” she told him, “but you haven’t forgotten what I needed forgiving for.” She knew she was right. He’d asked her to marry him, and he’d told her about his plans for the future, had brought her to a Shelby family meeting. She didn’t doubt that he wanted to be with her. He loved her. But he hadn’t told her anything to do with business, and she couldn’t help thinking there was a reason for that.
“We are going to have to talk about it eventually.”
“It couldn’t have worked between us before,” he said. “I was a criminal, and you were an agent of the Crown, and that’s just how it was. Now, though? Now I’m a good, law-abiding man of stature, and you’re a good, law-abiding woman of stature. And it can work. It will work, because I love you. And my family will see, and they’ll come ‘round."
She considered him. “Tell me, Thomas,” she said. “Do you want to be with me because I’m a woman of stature, and you’re eager to prove to everyone that you’re a man of it?”
“I want to be with you because I love you.”
She bit her lip.
“It’s why I wanted to see you when you sent me word that you were in London,” he said, reaching up, and touching her cheek. “It’s why I wanted to impress you. It’s why I told myself I’d take just a night with you, and why when the night was over, I wanted another night with you.”
“You’re going to have the rest of your nights with me now.”
“Polly hasn’t scared you off?”
She scoffed, and he smiled, and tucked her hair behind her ear. “No,” she replied. “Polly is going to have to do a lot worse than make a couple of comments to scare me off.”
“I’d say it’s that husband of yours we’ve got to worry about, isn’t it?”
“I can get a divorce on grounds of separation,” she said.
“It’ll just take a bit of time.” She stepped in closer, wrapping her arms around him. “If I promise not to be scared off by Polly, do you promise you’ll wait for it to go through?”
He pulled her closer. “Grace,” he murmured. “Oh. Grace, Grace, Grace. Haven’t you realized it yet?” He kissed one of her cheeks, and the other. “I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not letting you go anywhere either. For you, Grace?” He held her gaze. “I’ve got all the time in the world.”
Tommy had accomplished all of the things he’d once brokenly sworn to her that he would, and he’d become a man of wealth in Birmingham, was striving still to be a man of class, and of standing.
If it was important to him, she’d help him; after all, it was the world she’d been born into.
He covered her eyes before he walked her to the house he’d bought for them, and let her see it. She was stunned, but he was so excited it was infectious, so eager, and she laughed, and pushed up on her toes to pepper his face with kisses. The house was a sight to see, and the inside was beautiful, was polished, and grand, and she exclaimed over everything, liking the feel of his smile pressing into her temple.
She took over the decoration of the house. He told her to spare no expense. “I didn’t know you had expenses,” she teased. His suits were on the house, or the house burned down.
“I’m respectable, Grace.”
She kissed him, and told him she wanted to order a chandelier from a company in Philadelphia, and he sighed, but his eyes were bright.
Even before he’d become a man of wealth, Tommy was a man of power in Birmingham, and that hadn’t changed with his rise in fortune. Overnight, Grace became royalty in Birmingham. She was Tommy’s girl. Every hat tipped to her, and every door opened. In every single store, she was first to be served.
She was apologized to when a baby was crying.
“No, please,” Grace said. She looked at the ruddy pink cheeks of the baby, and his tuft of light, downy hair, and she smiled. “He’s darling,” she assured, touching a hand to her belly, and her own, unborn child.
She didn’t much mind the way that she was treated, and knew it was inevitable.
Back when she’d first come to Birmingham, Harry had warned her about the way people would treat her if she became a barmaid at the Garrison. But, mostly, everyone was respectful of her. At the start, there had been a few crass men who’d leered at her while she worked, and openly, drunkenly commented on the things they’d like to do to her. That had petered off rather quickly, though, and she’d felt perfectly safe at the Garrison, or at least as much as was possible when considering what she was doing there, and who she was lying to. She hadn’t thought to question it, assuming that the men were more respectful of a nice, pretty Irish girl who sang for them than Harry had thought they’d be.
She’d had her back turned the day she’d learned that was far from the case.
“Forget the whiskey,” said a man. “I’ll have the barmaid. How much do you think it’d cost to bend her over the bar?”
“It’d cost your bloody life,” replied a regular.
“Cunt is taken?”
“Watch your mouth. That there is Tommy Shelby’s girl. Don’t even bloody look at her."
She’d been far from Tommy’s girl at that point, but, naturally, Tommy had chosen that moment to rap his knuckles on the bar in a way that was meant to let her know it was he.
She’d poured him a dram, and he’d cast an eye at the men nearest him.
One of them had fallen out of his chair in terror, and Gussie had assumed he’d been the one to talk of bending her over the bar.
She’d felt a rush of satisfaction at his discomfort.
She should have known at that moment how the course of events would unfold.
Instead, she’d just turned away, and smiled at the bottles of whiskey, and she’d wondered if Tommy knew that Birmingham thought he’d staked his claim.
Three years later, she asked him.
“Did I know the way that men at the Garrison talked about you, or did I know they were certain to keep their distance?” he asked, and he was amused, and that was her answer.
“You’re terrible,” she said.
He shook his head. “I’m yours,” he said. He grinned.
She kissed him, and wound her arms around his waist, laughing when he tilted his head to kiss her throat. “You’re a rascal, Tommy Shelby,” she told him, and he blew a raspberry into her neck in reply, making her squeal. Tommy might own Birmingham, but she owned Tommy.
She wrote to Clive, but she never, ever received a reply. She wrote to a friend, and got a response very quickly. Bess wrote that Clive had claimed they had decided to separate when they realized their marriage was a strain on both of them, and Grace had decided to stay in England with her family for a time. Do you plan to get a divorce? Bess asked. Grace wrote again to Clive.
She was upset about his refusal to response, though she tried to keep it to herself.
He returned to their grand new house at the end of the day, holding something behind his back. “Close your eyes,” he instructed. She was amused, but she closed her eyes dutifully.
Something was pressed to her cheek in the imitation of a kiss.
She opened her eyes.
It was a small cuddly bear with fine brown fur, and black marble eyes.
“For the baby,” he said.
“Tommy!” She took the bear in delight. “He’s sweet.” She looked at him. “You are, too.”
Tommy squatted in front of Grace’s chair, turning the bear’s head just slightly to face Grace’s swelling belly. “Hello, Baby,” he said. “I am your friend, Bear.”
Grace smiled. “Hasn’t he got a name?” She raised her eyebrows.
“Right.” Tommy nodded, and cleared his throat. “I am your friend, Mr. Bear.”
She knew that she needed to go to New York to demand a divorce. But she was loath to leave Tommy, and he was busy with the money that was pouring in, and with the business that he refused to tell her about, although he’d promised her repeatedly that he was getting away from that sort of thing. She was heavily pregnant anyway, and the idea of taking a boat while her belly was swollen made her sick just to contemplate.
(Arthur eyed Grace. “Is it twins?” he asked.
Tommy sighed, and reached out, smacking his brother in the back of the head, and making John, Michael, and Isaiah burst into laughter. “I was just pointing out that she’s got real big recently!” Arthur defended. “I know it’s the baby, though! The baby is big! I didn’t mean she looked fat, or nothing!”)
For now, she’d have to live in sin. She didn’t really mind. She’d long ago given up heaven for love of hell.
Grace was lying on her back with a pillow wedged helpfully under her back, and her legs in the air, her ankles hooked over Tommy’s shoulders, and she was panting, and close, curling her hands into the sheets under her while Tommy fucked her, and neither of them heard the door to their bedroom open suddenly.
“Whoa!” John exclaimed.
Grace pushed at the skirt of her dress, trying to cover where Tommy was buried to the hilt in her, and “told you they love it when they’re pregnant,” John said, a grin in his voice, and he rocked on his heels, winking at Grace.
“Get the fuck out of here!” Tommy yelled.
“I’m supposed to tell you that—”
Tommy grabbed the lamp off the table by the bed, and hurled it at John.
John ducked, and laughed, and sauntered out of the room, yanking the door shut after himself.
“I’ll kill him,” Tommy muttered.
Grace laughed. “Kill him later,” she said, and she rolled her hips, getting him back on task.
She was helping with finances for the legitimate, betting business, though only what was legitimate, and Tommy remained quick to assure her that everything was going to be legitimate very, very soon.
(She was glad that he was serious about that. She didn’t like when he came home after a day of “business” with specks of blood on his shirt, and a difference in his gaze. She wanted him to get away from that kind of business before it cost him more than he had to give. Also, well. She was selfish. If there was a part of his life that he couldn’t trust her with, she wanted him to finish with that part of his life as soon as possible.)
It didn’t really take up a lot of her time, though.
She busied herself mostly with the decoration of the house, and with the plans for their foundation.
She spent time with his family, too.
Ada called her from London to talk on occasion, and visited, too, and it made Grace wish that Ada lived in Birmingham.
She was getting on with the rest of Tommy’s family, but.
Esme was kind to her, although she seemed slightly defensive of herself around Grace, and Grace suspected that Esme feared Grace looked down on her. Finn was kind, too, because he was young, and sweet, and liked the attention she gave him, and Michael didn’t seem to have any problem with her, and John had called her “Tommy’s woman” enough times now that she assumed he’d accepted her, too. Slowly, even angry, easily set off Arthur was warming up to her; he had a softer, gentler soul than he liked to let on, and it helped, too, that he had met a Quaker, and seemed to be infatuated with her.
But as kind as they were to Grace, she remained an outsider to them.
Polly was a whole other animal.
“Give her time,” Tommy said, unconcerned.
“Women don’t forgive,” Grace insisted, “and she is set on proving as much to me. And I can’t even get angry with her for it, because—” She cut herself off, dropping his gaze.
“Because it isn’t wrong of her to hate me. Not really. I betrayed her family; she should hate me.”
“That again,” he said.
He stood up from his desk, leaving his work at last, and moving to sit on the edge of the tub. Her hips had begun to ache terribly now that she was nearly due, and the physician had recommended she take baths to ease the pain. “It was a long time ago,” he murmured.
“I betrayed you,” she said, soft. It was among the things they never talked about. Grace knew that Tommy had decided they didn’t have to talk about it, but she wanted to.
“You finished what you started,” he said. “I don’t blame you. I would have done the same.”
“My father was murdered,” she told him.
He was quiet.
“He was a copper, see, and he refused to tolerate the IRA, and they killed him for it.”
Tommy sighed, and leaned his head on the wall.
His face was expressionless, but his posture was relaxed, and she continued. She told him about her father, and how she’d always been closer to him than to her mother. She explained how the anger had burned in her belly after his death, and she’d needed to do something. She confessed for the very first time that she’d followed the man from the IRA who’d tried to buy the guns, and she’d shot him when he’d caught her, and threatened her.
“I should have known,” Tommy said, giving her half a smile.
“I thought Campbell would leave you alone once he had the guns,” she whispered. “But he asked me to marry him, and I refused. I would have refused him regardless, but he knew that I was in love with you, and—I’m why he went after you, Tommy, and why he tipped off Kimber.”
“Campbell is dead.” He lit a cigarette. “And the past is, too. It’s gone. It’s done.”
She smiled, and grabbed for his hand, forcing him to bend slightly when she pulled his hand into the water, and onto her belly to feel the baby.
The smile spread slowly on his face.
Yes, she thought, and she drank in the joy on his face. The past is done, and the future? The future is bright.
Finn had a habit of getting into trouble for the sake of it, and it was beginning to escalate. Grace was in town with him when an older, portly man came at them suddenly, yelling. “You fucking little bastard!” he shouted, and he was red in the face, spitting, and stabbing the air in Finn’s face.
Grace was stunned.
The man turned nearly purple with rage at that, and he lunged.
Finn socked him.
He stumbled, and swore, covering his nose, and turning his glare on Grace. “Do you have any idea what I caught your ingrate of a son doing last night?” he yelled. “He was stealing the petrol out of my car! I saw him! He ran off laughing with his friends, but I saw him! The police didn’t believe me, but I know what I saw!” He was wheezing with rage.
“I think you might be losing it, mate,” Finn said.
“Enough,” Grace said.
“I’ll have you arrested, too, you bloody fucking whore!”
Finn tried to shove past Grace. “You know who the fuck you’re talking to?” he shouted, and Grace had to turn her back on the stranger to restrain Finn, to get a grip on his arm, and march him away.
They were finished with this man.
He shouted after them, but he didn't try following them.
“You should have let me knock his teeth in!” Finn said, furious, and jerking out of Grace’s grasp.
She ignored him.
They went to the Garrison; she needed to sit, and she needed a drink.
Once she was on a stool, and had a drink in front of her, she calmed, and turned to him. “Is that something you do with your friends a lot?” she asked. She demanded his gaze, and he gave it, sulking.
“It’s just a bit of fun.”
“It’s making a lot of trouble for the sake of it,” she said.
It figured that word was going to travel quickly about a stranger calling Grace a whore in the street, and that Tommy was going to get the rest of the story, too, and how it started with the petrol.
“Tommy,” Finn said, rising to his feet.
Tommy grabbed him by the back of the neck, and smacked him across the face.
“Fuck!” Finn shouted. “Get off me! Fuck, Tommy!”
“What have I told you?” Tommy said, and walloped him, and clutched Finn’s face in his hand. “This family doesn’t steal fucking petrol from fucking cars! You hear me? We don’t start fights in the street like common fucking criminals! Do you fucking hear what I’m saying to you?”
“He called Grace—”
“Whose fault was that?” Tommy roared, and he shoved Finn into the bar.
It was silent.
“What are we going to do about this gent?” Arthur asked.
Tommy tore his eyes off Finn to look at Arthur, and he jerked his head to their room at the front before stalking silently for it with Arthur at his heels, and John after them, slamming the door.
Finn’s jaw was clenched.
“Here,” Grace said. “Here. Let me have a look at you.” He tired to yank his face out of her grasp, but she pursed her lips, and raised her eyebrows, and he deflated, letting her turn his chin. She inspected where his face was swelling from Tommy’s blows. “You’ll be fine,” she decided.
“It was just a bit of fun,” he muttered, sliding onto a stool at the bar.
“You couldn’t have gone to see a picture?”
“I didn’t know the fucker would come after you like that.” He looked at her. “I didn’t.”
She sighed. “I know.” She brushed a hand over his hair, and wrapped an arm around his back; he leaned into her easily, resting his cheek on her shoulder.
He was growing up, but there were shades of the sweet little boy he’d once been in him.
In the years she’d been apart from Tommy, she’d remembered Finn fondly.
To her, he’d been a sweet, eager boy who liked to play the harmonica, tended to kick his legs restlessly when forced to sit in a chair for long, and thought the world of his brothers.
How many times had he trailed after his brothers into the Garrison, and been left outside in Grace’s company while they had a meeting?
He’d pull out a chair for her, and make her sit, and she’d smile, and cross her ankles, and listen to him play his harmonica for her. He’d been truly awful, but he’d tried very hard. She would happily listen, and applaud when he was finished, and he used to bow. Sometimes, she’d clap in time with his song, or she’d sing, and they’d practice breathing through their noses when his brothers were taking a very, very long time, or she would hum music for them, and try to teach a dance to him.
He’d been stepping on her feet while she tried to smother her laughter with humming once when his brothers had emerged from their meeting.
John had ribbed his brother.
Arthur had told Grace to show Finn the back of her hand if he was giving her any trouble.
Tommy hadn’t said anything, but he’d stared, and that was the moment that she'd known. She was in trouble. She was falling for the criminal she was working undercover against, and it was going to be a long, hard fall.
In America, she had lain in bed beside her husband night after night, and thought of the look on Tommy’s face that night.
That was the past, though.
“I’m always just going to be a baby to them, aren’t I?” Finn asked, drawing her into the present.
“If you act childishly, you are,” she replied.
The next morning she learned from Esme that the boys had destroyed that man’s car. They'd bashed in the headlights, and dented the doors, pouring a can of gasoline over the seats, and dropping a match. She’d known they would do something. In bed that night, she felt the heat of Tommy’s breath on the back of her neck while he slept, and she thought of Finn. You don't fuck with the Peaky Blinders, she thought.
She was in the middle of a contraction when Tommy burst into the room, and she didn’t even realize he was there until she heard Esme trying to shoo him out. “This ain’t the place for you,” Esme said, stepping into his path to stop him. Grace was flushed, crying, and trying to catch her breath, and she stared at the clench of his jaw for a moment, panting, before her eyes found his.
“I’m fine,” she told him.
“I can’t just wait,” he said, and he was talking to Esme, but he was looking at Grace.
Grace grasped Ada’s hand tightly, feeling it coming on.
Ada rubbed slow circles into Grace’s back, breathing in time with Grace, and “now,” she said, and Grace grit her teeth, and pushed, screaming.
Esme shouted, and Tommy climbed onto the bed.
“Thomas,” Polly started.
He ignored her, brushing his hand over Grace’s hair, and pressing his face to her cheek, murmuring her name into her ear. She sank into him. He took her clammy, searching hand in his own, squeezing in reassurance.
“Ada,” she cried, because they were coming so quickly now.
“Let him stay,” Ada said, and “now, Grace,” she instructed, and the pain was too loud for Grace to hear anything else.
Tommy shifted until he was behind her, and holding her.
“It’s got hair!” Linda announced.
She could barely keep her eyes open after her last awful push, but a shrill, new cry cut the warm, stuffy air of the room, and she gasped at the sound, crying. Tommy kissed her temple. She sank into him, and Esme warned her that she wasn’t finished yet, but the rest was easy.
At last, Polly gave her the baby.
“It’s a boy,” Polly said, and her voice was softer than usual.
“Congratulations,” Linda said. “He is beautiful.”
Grace stared at her baby’s sweet, red cheeks, and his teeny, tiny nose. He had a layer of dark, silky hair on his hand. He was beautiful. “I love you,” she breathed. He squinted at her, and she traced a finger over his cheek. “Hello, my baby.” She was tearing up. “I love you.”
She leaned into Tommy, and glanced up.
Tommy’s gaze was caught on the baby, though, and Grace smiled.
“I think he takes after you, Tommy,” Ada said.
Tommy swallowed. “No,” he murmured, and he touched his hand to the baby’s belly, and chest, and the tips of his finger grazed the bottom of the baby’s sweet, round face. “He’s perfect."
She’d never loved anyone the way she loved Charles. They’d made him. He was a piece of her, and a piece of Tommy.
He fussed at a lot of noise, and Esme said he wasn’t a very happy baby, that she couldn’t have managed a baby as fussy as that. “He isn’t unhappy,” Ada said, annoyed. “He’s particular.” Grace agreed, and she adored her shy, particular baby. Charles fussed when there were too many people in the room, startling him. He liked when things were quieter, and calmer, when he was in Ada’s arms, or in Tommy’s. He never, ever fussed in the quiet of his nursery with Grace’s voice to lull him to sleep.
He was healthy, and growing, and perfect.
The boys threw a big, raucous party for Grace’s birthday, and it was fun to have everyone they loved at the house, to dance with Tommy, and to drink, to laugh with Ada, and be happy.
But she snuck away from the party after a while, and snuck into the nursery.
She needed to nurse her baby, after all.
She sang while she nursed him. She rocked him, and nursed him, and sang to him, and when at last he’d fallen to sleep at her breast, she looked up, and saw Tommy in the doorway. She could feel his gaze through the dark, and saw the soft, red glow of his cigarette.
She closed her eyes, and went on, letting him watch.
“And Daddy goes sailing, a-sailing no more,” she sang, “the nets will be drying, the net's heaven blessed, / And safe in my arms contended he'll rest.”
She was working on correspondences when she heard Tommy come in. It was late; she’d expected him hours ago. She smiled, and pushed to her feet, thinking she’d tease him, and ask him what time do you call this?
But she stepped out of the office, and saw him, and the words caught in her throat.
He was bloody, and battered.
She raked her gaze over the bruises that purpled his eye, and his nose, and the edge of his jaw, over the cut that split the bridge of his nose, and was bleeding from his forehead. Blood was splattered on his shirt, too. He hadn’t just been in a fight; he had been beaten.
“Nothing?” she said, gaping. “You’ve been beaten to a pulp! That isn’t nothing!”
“It was business.”
“Business,” she repeated, and she watched him pour himself a drink, and down it. “Fine. You want to call it business? We can call it business. But I’m still going to need an explanation, because the business I’m privy to doesn’t involve you getting your teeth knocked in!”
He started up the stairs.
“Tommy!” She followed him up, and to their bedroom. “Thomas.”
He looked at her, holding up his hands. “Everything is fine. I promise. We had a problem, and I dealt with it. Problem’s gone. I took care of it. You don’t need to worry about it.”
“You told me you were done with this kind of thing.”
He began to undress.
“If you aren’t, fine,” she said, and his back was to her while he lit a cigarette. “I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to marry you. I knew you couldn’t make everything legitimate overnight. I understand. I just need you to be honest with me.”
“I am being honest with you,” he said. “It’s over. And you don’t need to worry about it.”
She pursed her lips.
“I’m going to clean up,” he murmured.
It was when she heard the sounds of the bath that she decided what she was going to do. She was dressed for bed, but that was easy to change. She dressed for a walk, and left. Charles wouldn’t need to be nursed for a couple of hours, and she needed some fresh air. It was warm out, and she was tempted to go into town on foot.
She took a car, though; she didn’t need Tommy to realize she was gone, and be able to chase her down.
She went to the Garrison.
“Ms. Burgess,” Harry said, surprised.
“Grace,” she corrected. “May I have a drink, please?”
“Grace,” Michael said.
She looked at him in surprise, and saw he was surprised, too. “Evening, Michael.” She took her drink, and smiled at Harry in thanks.
“Home,” she said. “He needed to wash the blood out of his clothes.”
Michael sat beside her. “Does it bother you?” he asked. He nodded at Harry for a drink. “The things this family does?”
“It bothers me that I don’t know what those things are.”
“Once upon a time, I was supposed to have your job.” She took a sip of her drink. “I was supposed to be the bookkeeper, and bring a bit of class to the company while I was at it. Now I’m just Tommy’s girl.”
“Polly told me what you did.”
Grace smiled sourly at the bar, and downed the rest of her drink. Polly loved to remind everyone of what Grace had done. She caught Harry’s attention, and nodded for another.
“They don’t know what it’s like,” Michael said.
She looked at him.
“To grow up in a place you don’t belong. My mother, and Tommy, and the rest. They don’t know.”
“You don’t miss your family?” she asked.
She thought of her family. She missed her father, but her father was dead. Her relatives were unlike her, and had told her year after year when she was growing up that her behavior was unfitting of a lady, had disapproved of her working for the Crown to avenge her father. She’d never even been close with her mother. “Tommy’s my family,” she said.
“See?” Michael said. “They don’t know. They think we had a choice.”
She turned to him. “Do you trust me?” she asked. He would be truthful with her.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“I can,” she said. “I don’t promise that I will.”
He smiled. “I trust you more than most of them, Grace,” he said. “Because you’re smart. You don’t make mistakes.”
She lifted her glass.
He tapped it with his. “To the business they say we're too good for,” he said. There was a smirk in his gaze.
She’d drink to that.
“Do you want me to tell you what today was about?” he asked.
She considered. “No. Tommy is going to tell me.”
She couldn’t stay very long, needed to feed her baby. She finished her drink, and touched Michael’s shoulder in goodbye, standing. She hadn’t drunk enough to worry about driving, though she sat in the dark of the car for a moment, and took the time to smoke a cigarette.
At home, she walked in, and Tommy was waiting for her.
“Where the hell have you been?”
“I got out of the bath, and you were gone,” he snapped. “I thought something had happened to you. I was about to get the whole fucking family out of bed!”
“Is there something that could have happened to me?”
“I wanted a drink,” she said.
“You couldn’t have had a drink in the fucking house?” he demanded.
He struggled with himself for a moment.
“I needed to go to the Garrison,” she told him. “In this house, I’m you wife. We might not actually be married yet, but it’s what I am. And in this house, it’s all I am.” She stared. “I wanted to go to the Garrison to remember when I used to be more than that.”
He was silent.
From the nursery, Charles began crying.
She turned pointedly away from Tommy, and headed up the stairs, starting to unbutton the front of her blouse. “Mama’s here,” she murmured, taking her baby from his cot, and he calmed just slightly, continuing to squirm until she’d sat in the rocker with him, and put him to her breast. “There, my love. There.”
He drifted off again as soon as he was finished, and she returned him to his cot.
In their bedroom, Tommy was sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking, and waiting. “C’mere,” he said. He titled his head.
She sat beside him.
He put out his cigarette, and, to her surprise, moved to his knees in front of her.
She brushed her thumb over his jaw. “You need to see a doctor about that cut on your nose,” she said, and she turned his face slightly to look at it properly. It was deep.
“I want to get away from this shit, Grace.”
“And until I do, I don’t want you involved in it.”
“I know, Tommy.” She touched his cheek, and he leaned into her hand, kissing her palm. “But as long as I’m with you, I’m involved. I want to know what I’m involved in. Is that really so awful of me to ask?”
He sighed. “Italians,” he said. “We took their business, and they weren’t pleased about it.”
“Do you remember the licenses that we burned at the race that day you told me you were pregnant? They belonged to a man by the name of Sabini. Do you know that name?”
She shook her head.
“You don’t need to know it. We took his business, and he’s done. He’s got no way to touch us.”
“It looks to me like he touched you.”
“He won’t get the chance to do it again. Believe me. Sabini is finished. You don’t have to worry about him. I’ll keep you safe, and I’ll keep the baby safe.”
“Can you keep yourself safe?”
“I promise you that I’ll keep this whole family safe. I love you. I promise, Grace.”
She wanted to tell him that she could keep herself safe if he’d let her. But she watched him swallow, and saw the vulnerability in his gaze, and she knew that he needed this, needed to prove to her that he could make a success of things, that he could have a real, legitimate business. He thought the world was against him, and he needed her to be with him.
“Do you believe me?”
“Yes.” She smiled. “I believe you. I love you, Thomas.”
He rose up slightly, and hugged her.
He smelled of soap, and cigarettes, and she breathed in the scent, loving it dearly. It hadn’t changed in all the years that she’d known him. She pressed her face into his neck, and whispered again that she loved him, feeling his arms tighten around her in answer.
Ada came for a visit on Karl’s birthday. Tommy gave his nephew a new train set that Karl loved, and didn't want to let out of his sight. The cars were electric, and able to travel on the tracks without being pushed. Ada was eager to dote on Charles, and Grace was happy to let her; they traded their boys for an afternoon: Ada sat in the rocker of the nursery with Charles, and Grace played trains with Karl on the floor. They built the track into different, complicated patterns, and raced the trains.
One of the maids came into the nursery to announce that tea was ready. Grace nodded. “In a minute,” she said, and smiled at the maid, who gave a curtsy, and left again.
“Do you mind it, having servants about?” Ada asked.
“It makes me uncomfortable.”
“Tommy, too,” Grace said, amused. “He asked me to hire the lot of them, but he refuses to talk whenever one is in the room with us, and glares until the poor, innocent soul scurries off. I think every maid in this house is terrified of him.”
“I guess it’s one of those things you’ve got to be raised with.”
Ada sighed. “This is quite the toy that Tommy’s got him,” she said, shaking her head. “Our boys aren’t going to have a childhood much like mine, are they?”
“It’s never seemed like your childhood was all bad.”
“I spent the majority of mine with nannies who yelled at me for tears in my stockings, and told me that I could not, in fact, grow up to be my father. I had Rupert, though; he was my closest, oldest confidant, and my lieutenant in solving the crimes of the neighborhood.” This wasn’t something that she usually talked about with Tommy’s family, assuming their sensitivity to their subject. Ada was different, though. “It was my best, proudest accomplishment at six years old when we solved the case of the grasshopper in the house.”
“I assume this dashing young confidant was handsome, too,” Ada teased.
“No,” Grace said. “He was my dog.”
“I’m going to have Tommy get Charles a dog as soon as he’s big enough for it.”
Ada nodded. “Tommy takes good care of his family,” she said, softer. “He’s a father to Finn, and he’s always looked after us. I’ve . . . I’ve thought about returning to Birmingham when Karl is older.” She paused. “If he can’t have Freddie, I want him to have Tommy. I can’t be everything for him, you know?”
Grace smiled. “I’d like it if you were back in Birmingham,” she said. “Tommy, too. And I know that Charlie would love having his auntie nearer, too, wouldn’t he?”
Ada tickled him, and made him giggle, and the maid came into the room hesitantly to say that the tea was going to be cold. “Oh, yes," Grace said, apologetic. They got up, and managed to drag Karl away from his trains, promising him they’d be exactly where he left them after he’d had tea.
Arthur got engaged very suddenly, standing up in the middle of a meeting to take a deep, nervous breath, and announce his love for Linda, and their decision to be married.
“You aren’t supposed to ask us for her hand,” John said.
Polly glared until John smothered his amusement. “She is lovely, Arthur,” she said. She smiled.
Grace was happy for him. Linda had helped him to sober up, and she’d calmed the rage that lived in him. He seemed a happier, healthier person for it, and he deserved such happiness.
Tommy thought Linda was judgmental, and self-righteous, and “wants to be his mother, not his fucking wife.” Grace rolled her eyes, and told him he didn’t have to like Linda for Arthur to love the woman, and want to marry her. “Don’t let her get to you, too,” he replied.
The wedding was small, and for family.
“I don’t know what you’re doing here,” Polly said.
“I hope your spite keeps you warm when you’re alone at night,” Grace said.
Linda was glowing with joy that afternoon, though she maintained the calm, knowing demeanor that Tommy disliked.
Arthur was happy, too.
“I always liked you, Grace,” he said, finding her in the backyard with the children.
There wasn’t drinking at the small afternoon dinner that Linda had arranged to follow the ceremony, which meant the men were inside just smoking, and sulking, and Grace preferred to watch John’s children play in the yard while Charles sat in her lap, and she tickled him with grass.
“I came out here just because I wanted to say that I’m glad you’re going to be a part of this family.” He smiled. “Tommy’s better with you.”
“I’m better with Tommy,” she said.
(She had always easily gotten on with Arthur. He was the sort of man she’d been prepared to manipulate when she’d gone undercover. Better, his sweetness meant that she never, ever really feared him. She’d once spent close to an hour trying to teach him how to roll a coin between his fingers, and he’d gotten very frustrated at his inability to do it; he’d shouted, and shoved a man off the barstool that was closest. But he’d assured Grace that, “I’ll get it, sweetheart,” and she’d smiled, and she’d liked him.)
“You’re sweet,” she told him. “I’ve always liked you, too. Linda is lucky to have found you.”
“Luck is something you rely on when you don’t have God to rely on.”
She repeated his words to Tommy that night, coming up behind him while he unbuttoned his shirt, and wrapping her arms around him, resting her cheek on his back. “Do you think God brought Linda to Arthur?’ she asked, teasing him. He sighed, because he knew she was teasing him, and she smiled.
“I don’t know what God wants with Arthur,” he replied.
“I say we let God have him,” she said. “And I’ll keep you.” She slid a hand from his stomach to his waist, undoing the fastening on his trousers.
“That’s how it’s going to be, is it?”
She laughed, and he turned, pulling her into him, and grinning, and kissing the laugher from her mouth, sliding his around her sides, and squeezing her backside. She felt his erection, and she began to push his shirt off his shoulders. He helped her, only to pull her fully against him again after, and, fuck, she’d missed him.
She’d missed this.
They hadn’t been together since Charles was born.
He kissed her neck. “Grace.” His voice was rough, and threaded with need.
“Can you go slow?” she asked.
She turned her back to him, and he began to unhook the line of pearls that trailed from the collar of her dress to the waist, folding open the dress while he went, and kissing the knots of her spine. She slipped her arms out of the sleeves as soon as she was able, and the dress slipped down at last, pooling at her feet. He walked her to the bed, and she smiled at him when he spun her, allowing her to fall onto her back on the mattress. He undid the hooks of her garters, and pulled off her stockings, and she reached for his trousers, had to get him out of his clothes, too. He had ideas, though, and spread her legs, sank to his knees, and put his head between her thighs.
She fisted a hand in his hair, and cried his name aloud when she came.
She hadn’t yet caught her breath when he shucked the last of his clothes, and climbed on top of her.
Afterward, he shared his cigarette with her.
“It’ll be us soon,” he murmured.
She smiled, and took his hand to kiss the backs of his fingers. She loved his hands; she loved the strength of them, and the sureness of them, how he kept his nails blunt, and clean. “Soon,” she promised, and he gazed at her steadily, seeing her, and loving her.
She wrote to Clive yet again, telling him that she had a son, and she wanted to marry the father of her son. I know that I was unkind to you, she wrote. I know that you owe me nothing. I’m begging you. She thought about enclosing a picture of Charles, and decided it might be cruel.
He still didn’t reply.
“Let me write to him,” Tommy said, rubbing her back.
She agreed, but she wanted to read what he wrote before she allowed him to send it.
My name is Shelby, and I’m writing you because I am in love with your wife, and wish to marry her. I’m from Birmingham. It is a place unlike any you’ve been to; I know, because Grace tells me you are man of a wealth, and society, and neither are found in Birmingham. It was never a place for Grace, and I did not blame her for leaving it when she did, though I loved her, and would have followed her to America if I had not been who I am. I am a man of war, and of lying, and stealing, and fighting. There is not a doubt in my mind that you would give Grace a much kinder life than any I can give her. Regardless, I love her. She is the mother of my child, and, more, she is my likeness.
You can give her a kind life, but you cannot give her a life that suits her.
I fell in love with Grace because she saw me for what I am, and was unafraid, because I saw her for what she is, and knew she was like me. We are the same. There is a kindness in her that I lost in the war, and I love her for that, too. That is all you see in her, though, and it is not all she is. Do you want the truth about us, Mr. Macmillan? We are calculating, and vengeful, and manipulative. We see the darkness in the world that others are afraid to see. We are out of place in the company of others, of the rest of the world. Hate me, and condemn me. I deserve it. But if you are as good as she says you are, release her, and allow her to be who she is. Find a woman who loves you, and let me have the woman who loves me.
Thomas Michael Shelby
“You’re wrong,” she said, folding the letter.
He raised his eyebrows.
She kissed the corner of his mouth, avoiding the cigarette held between his lips. “It wasn’t lost.” She found an envelope for the letter, planning to post it in the morning.
Three days later, she received a letter from Bess.
It was too early for Clive to have got Tommy’s, and she wasn’t expecting anything of interest to be in Bess’s letter. She learned, though, that Clive wasn’t ever going to receive Tommy’s letter. In carefully chosen sentences, Bess wrote that she was unsure if Grace had learned yet that Clive had taken his life, and in case she had not, Bess thought she ought to know.
She planned to take Charles with her because she didn’t see a reason to be parted with him. He was a strong, healthy boy, and capable of a long boat trip. It surprised her, though, when Tommy told her that he planned to come, too, that they’d make a trip of it.
“You don’t have to,” she said, but her smile gave her away.
It wasn’t really going to be a very pleasant trip.
There had been a letter from his attorney, saying that Grace was needed for the reading of Clive’s will, and to deal with the estate, and she knew things were likely to be nasty. She’d have to face his family. Still. She would be able to show Tommy a part of her life that he knew nothing about, and when she faced the worst, she’d have them there with her to support her. She wanted him there with her.
On the boat, Tommy was seasick.
It amused her more than it should. Charles was perfectly fine, but Tommy was pale, and clammy, and throwing up violently for days at a time. She had to smother her laughter when he tried to pin her with a glare, and managed only to look as pathetic as he felt. She tried to help him, of course. She lay in bed with him, and she sang at a whisper in his ear, and she pushed a hand up under his shirt to brush her nails lightly over his sweaty, feverish back.
Eventually, he seemed to adjust, and regain his color.
He was restless, though, and paced the deck with Charles in his arms.
They found ways to pass the time.
They played cards in their quarters, and danced on the deck when a quartet was playing.
She got on her knees after Charles was asleep, and took Tommy’s cock of his pants, put her mouth on him, and held his gaze while she sucked him off. It was something she’d never done with anyone else before, thinking it degrading. It was different with Tommy, though; he gave up control so rarely, and she loved when he gave it to her, loved the burn of his gaze, and the sound of her name in his rough, broken voice.
At last, the Statue of Liberty came into sight.
“There it is, Charlie!” she said, pointing, and he babbled in reply.
Tommy stood behind her, and she leaned into him slightly, letting him take her weight. “Ready?” he murmured, and she was. It was time to end this chapter of her life, and begin the next.
From their hotel, Grace phoned the attorney with the number he’d given her to say that she’d arrived in the city, and was available to meet for the reading of the will. It was arranged for the morning. She was anxious that night, and she practiced in her head what she might say to everyone.
She was right to be anxious.
It was awful, going to the house that she’d shared with Clive, and seeing his family.
Barbara was the angriest, and she screamed at Grace that this was her fault. “You killed him!” she yelled, red-cheeked, and wide-eyed, and when she burst into tears, her grandmother had to calm her for the attorney to be able to read the will. Grace avoided looking at either of them.
His family was furious when they learned that Clive hadn’t changed anything since Grace had left him.
“You must have known,” Barbara said. “That’s why you’ve shown up at last, isn’t it? You married my brother for his money, and now you want it!”
“I don’t want anything.”
“You’ve already taken everything!”
Tommy sat, and smoked, keeping his thoughts to himself.
“Don’t you talk?” Jim asked.
“Is there something you’d like me to say?”
“What is the matter with you?” Barbara demanded. “He took his life because of you, and you have to gall to return to this house after with the man you left him for, and your bastard? Did you ever love him?"
“No,” Grace said.
“I don’t want any money,” Grace continued. “I came to collect my things, and because I needed to be here for the estate to be settled. I’m not trying to take what isn’t mine.”
“You took my brother, and you broke his heart.”
“I never should have married him. The first time he asked me, I refused. I knew I wasn’t in love with him. But he continued to court me, and asked again, and I was lost, and lonely. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry. But I am not the reason your brother is dead. He chose to take his life.”
“You are despicable,” Barbara hissed.
From his pram, Charles began fussing at being rudely woken. Grace had to pick him up to quiet him, and she used the opportunity to turn away from Clive’s family. She felt Tommy’s gaze, steadying her.
“You’ll sign papers to the effect that you don’t want any of the estate?” Henry asked.
She turned. “Yes. I will.”
“Fine,” he said. “Get your things, and go. I’ll bring the papers to your hotel in the morning.”
She gave Charles to Tommy, and took her suitcase to collect her things.
Everything was exactly where she’d left it. She found the books from her father in the library. His pocketwatch was among the jewelry that Clive had gifted her, and she took it, and left the jewelry. There was a photograph of her parents that had a small, silver frame, and she found it on the mantelpiece of the bedroom, sitting with the matching silver candlesticks that had belonged to her grandmother. She found her father’s Bible, too, and that was the last of what she needed.
Downstairs, Clive’s relatives were ignoring Tommy, and Charles.
Tommy rose to his feet at her reappearance, and he put Charles into the pram before he took the suitcase from Grace.
“That’s it?” Jim asked, eyeing the suitcase in suspicion.
“This was never really my life,” Grace said.
“I found the letter that you wrote,” Sarah said. She was looking at Tommy, but she moved her gaze to Grace after a moment. “Do you know what your new man said about you?” she asked. “He painted a picture of you very different than who my cousin had believed you to be.”
“I never lied to Clive,” Grace replied. She swallowed. “But I was never who he wanted me to be.”
Barbara’s lip curled.
Grace thought about apologizing again, but she didn’t. She pushed the pram out of the room, down the hall, and to the door. She stepped into the sunshine with her baby in front of her, and Tommy right behind.
They didn’t book passage to return to England immediately. Grace took Tommy to the local Irish bakery that she loved, and to park that she used to read in; they played in the leaves with Charles for hours. They had a proper picture of them taken in front of the Statue of Liberty, and he bought her a cone that afternoon, and laughed at her efforts to eat it while it melted, dripping on her fingers. She took him to the library, and to the huge, beautiful department stores, and they shopped, buying a lot of presents to bring his family.
She managed to hide from her guilt for a while, but it found her at last, and she pressed her face into the pillow, and trembled with sobs she couldn’t quite suppress.
She cried for Clive, and for what she’d done, how cruel she’d been.
She stilled when Tommy’s hands touched her back, but he pressed in close, crowding her. “We make our own choices,” he murmured. “All of us. He made his own choice. You didn’t make it for him.” His breath was warm on her neck, and he was surrounding her.
She found his hand, and grasped it, keeping his arm around her.
In the morning, she took him to the pub that she’d visited on occasion in secret.
“It reminded me of the Garrison,” she admitted.
They didn’t go in, of course, because Charles was with them. Tommy kissed her, though, in the street for the world to see, and it was what she’d wanted. It was an end, and a beginning.
The institute that she’d been dreaming up for months was close to becoming a reality at last, and it kept her busy, dealing with details. If the wedding wasn’t requiring her attention, she was working on the institute. It was up to her to determine how the institute was going to be run, and she wanted to be certain to think of everything.
Mary was happy to look after Charles while Grace worked, but Grace liked having him with her.
He was a very inquisitive boy, and he loved to look at the pictures in books, turning the pages, and pointing at things. He liked it when she joined him, and pointed out things, too, but he was happy to do it by himself, and he’d keep her company in her office while she worked.
“Rabbit,” he said.
“Is there a rabbit in your book?” she asked.
He looked up.
“Is there a rabbit in your book?”
She pushed back slightly from the desk, and opened her arms. He toddled up, and to her, bringing his book, and putting it on her lap. It was The Velveteen Rabbit. “I like this book,” Grace said, smiling, and lifting him into her lap, too. “Do you like this book?” She found the picture of the rabbit.
“Rabbit,” he said, pointing.
“Can you wiggle your nose like a rabbit?”
She wiggled her nose, making him giggle at her.
He looked at her desk, and the papers in front of her, and reached for them, curious. She pried a letter from a donor gently from his grasp. “No,” he said, reaching to grab it back.
“Mama is working on her plans for a foundation,” she told him.
“Yes, my love.”
She smiled, and combed her fingers through his hair, loving the sound of his sweet little voice, the way he’d sound out words carefully, and repeat them, tasting them and testing them.
“Can you say I love you?” she asked.
“Charlie, can you say I love you?”
“I love you,” he repeated.
She smiled, and that made him grin, showing off his little white teeth. She tickled him, and he squirmed, and giggled, and she peppered his cheek in kisses. “I love you, too, Charlie,” she promised. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” she sang, and he babbled his love right back.
“Rabbit,” he said.
She grinned. “Where should we start?” She flipped a couple of pages.
“Is that where we left off?” She cleared her throat, and began to read. “‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.’” Charles was listening with his usual sweet, rapt attention. She kissed the top of his head, and read on.
Tommy seemed to change with the approach of their wedding, growing increasingly distant.
She knew it was business.
But he wouldn’t tell her about it, and it made her fear silly things. It made her fear that she didn’t have his trust, made her fear that he was marrying her simply for their son, made her fear that he was beginning to regret that he'd asked her to share a life with him. She wanted to question him, but she refrained.
How many times were they going to do this dance?
He was so desperate to prove to her that he could be the kind of man she was meant to be with.
She’d tried to tell him that she didn’t need him to be any type of man besides the man he was, but it fell on deaf, stubborn ears.
She couldn’t keep herself from confronting him the night of their wedding, but she let him brush it off again when he smiled, and flirted. They were married. Finally. After everything they had been though, they were married. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and let herself be happy.
She moved to straddle his hips, plucking the cigarette from his lips, taking a drag, and stubbing it out in the ashtray by the bed. She straightened. “Tell me,” she said.
“Something must’ve happened to scare you today, Tommy, and you don’t get to look me in the eye, and say it was business, because you rushed into our baby’s room, and you were scared. He’s my son, too. If something is going on that threatens him, I deserve to know about it.”
“It was nothing,” he dismissed.
He clenched his jaw, and made to sit up, but she refused to get off him, and kneed him in the stomach when he tried to force her off.
“Why were you scared?” she demanded.
He sighed. “Somebody I was doing business with threatened him, alright?” he conceded. “But you don’t have to worry about it, because I’m not going to let him get hurt.”
“If you’re worried about it, I’m going to be worried about it, too.”
“I’m not worried about it.”
“You’re a liar is what you are, Thomas Michael Shelby.”
He stared, and she met his gaze, waiting. “Before you came back, I got dragged into something,” he said at last. “Our old friend the Inspector got me dragged into something. He wanted me to kill for the Crown, and I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t, Grace. I thought it’d all be over after Campbell was finished, but it wasn’t. It’s not. That’s what happened today. They were reminding me that I have to follow orders, or the people I care about will get hurt.” He was tense under her.
“How do we get you out of it?”
“I’ll be out of it soon.”
She wanted to tell him that she could help, wanted to question him further, and force him to accept her help. But she knew it was time to let up. She leaned in, and kissed him. It took him a moment to respond, but he reached up finally to cup her cheek, and his hands went to her thighs, sliding up under her slip.
They had both undressed for bed already, and it was easy to rise up, and pull his cock out of his boxers, to sink onto him.
He held her waist, and she moved over him slowly, holding his gaze.
“I love you,” she told him.
His fingers dug into her stomach. “I won’t let anybody hurt our boy,” he murmured. She leaned in, shifting her hips, and kissing him, clutching at the skin of his shoulder when the change in angle allowed her to take him deeper. “Do you hear me, Grace?” he growled. His gaze burned her face, intoxicating her.
“Yes,” she gasped, and he slid a hand up her stomach to squeeze her breast.
“I hear you, Tommy.”
He moved to sit up, but she shoved his chest, and arched her back, riding him until she reached the precipice that was so very, tantalizingly close, and fell off, crying out. He rose up again, and rolled her onto her back, fucking her wildly, and she grasped his face, whispering to him that she wanted people to see when she couldn’t walk straight in the morning, that she wanted them to know that her husband took care of her. “Make them see, Tommy,” she breathed, and he grunted, and she came again with the gasp of his name before he came, too, staring at her.
She could hear her mother’s voice in her head, telling her that the sapphire from Tommy was tasteless at an occasion like this.
She ignored her mother.
How was it that she seemed to know the least about his business of anyone?
She knew how. She’d let it happen. That’s how. He’d needed to prove that he could do everything he’d said he would, and she’d wanted to give him that, so she’d let him keep her out of the business. She’d swallowed her questions, and taken his scraps of explanations, made him repeat his promises to her, and tried to prove that she trusted him, and he could trust her.
She wanted to hate him for that, but it was her fault.
He wouldn’t let her be angry with him.
“Fuck these people,” he said, squeezing her arms. “Fuck ‘em. I need you to be all right. I need you, Grace. I need you.”
It didn’t fix anything, but she knew he meant it.
She caved, and kissed him, thinking to herself that she would start doing things differently, and that was the last thing that she remembered clearly.
She heard the pop of the gun, and felt the bite of pain, lost her breath at the impact. She was cradled in Tommy’s arms. She stared. She saw the panic in his eyes, and the shape of his name on his lips. She breathed in, and it hurt. She was gone.
She woke up slowly at first, feeling the bed under her, and blinking, realizing that it was light out. It was time to get up. She tried to roll onto her side, but she had a cramp, or something, and pain seized her shoulder, and her side. She must have slept on it funny. She was going to reach up to rub it, but she couldn’t.
Her arms were pinned down.
Her eyes flew open, searching in panic to figure out what the hell was going on.
It was quiet, and everywhere she looked was white. Sunlight was filtering in from a window that if Grace craned her neck, she could see, and there were bars on the window. There were restraints on the bed, pinning her down, and bars on the window.
“Hello?” she called.
She tried to remember what had happened, and she did.
She'd been shot.
She looked at her shoulder. Somebody had dressed her in a cheap white gown that was slipping off her shoulder, allowing her to see that her shoulder was bandaged. She must be in a hospital.
Why was she restrained? What hospital was this? Where was the Birmingham-born, Birmingham-bred Peaky Blinder who took off his hat when he spoke to her, called her “Mrs. Shelby, ma’am,” and would be posted to guard her room when Tommy couldn’t be there himself?
“I see you’re awake at last,” said a woman, and Grace’s eyes flew to her. She was older, and dressed in a nurse’s white uniform. She bent over Grace, checking her bandage.
“Where is my husband?” Grace asked.
“It’s healing up nicely,” she said. “You’re a fortunate young woman. It was damnation that awaited you.”
“It is a sin to take your own life.”
“I’ll tell the doctor that you are awake at last.” She began to walk away again. “Try not to move too much, or you’ll hurt your shoulder, and undo the progress you’ve made.
Grace was stunned.
She tried to keep herself from panicking, trying to remember if something had happened that she was forgetting. But she couldn’t remember anything past the bullet, and the despair on Tommy’s face. She had no idea how she’d ended up here, or why that woman thought she had tried to kill herself.
He was talking to her, wasn’t he?
The man who’d come into the room was short, balding, and pot-bellied, and he grinned at her cheerfully, coming to her bed, and pulling up a chair. He had a folder with him, though he didn’t open it. He only sat, crossed his legs, and smiled at her. “How are you feeling?” he asked. There were pockmarks in his cheeks, and, from this angle, she could see the hair in his nose.
“I thought you might be. But you need to know that you’re safe, Hannah. We’re going to take care of you.”
“My name isn’t Hannah.”
He sighed. “Yes. It is. That’s why you’re here, Hannah. You’re sick.”
“Sick?” she repeated. There was something about his smile that put her off. “I was shot.”
“Yes,” he said. “You tried to kill yourself, and we must thank God that your father came in time, and tackled you, stopped the bullet from going right into your heart. He saved you.”
“My father was murdered when I was eighteen.”
“He wasn’t. That’s something that you’ve made up in your head, and it’s why your father brought you to us. He wants to help you.”
“Where is my husband?” she asked.
“You aren’t married.”
“Yes, I fucking am. My name is Grace Helen Shelby, my father died when I was eighteen, and if my husband doesn’t kill you, I will unless you tell me what the fuck is going on! Who are you?”
“Your name is Hannah Mary Cassady, and you are sick.”
She yanked at her restraints.
“Your father’s explained what’s occurred of late, and it’s my belief that you are suffering from a bout of psychosis. We are going to try to help you to recover your memory, and your personhood. That is what we do in this asylum, Hannah; we care for confused young women like yourself.”
“I can prove to you that I am who I say I am. Let me use a telephone. I’ll phone my husband.”
“I’m afraid that we don’t allow our patients access to telephones.”
He smiled, and she knew that he was aware of who she was, and what was going on.
“This is an asylum,” she said.
“You’ve locked me up in an asylum for lunatics.”
“You’re here to be helped. We want to keep you safe, and we want to give you back your mind. We’re going to help you.”
“Go to hell.”
“I’ll tell your father that you’ve woken.” He moved to his feet. “He’ll be glad to know of your absolute physical recovery.”
She curled her hands into fists, refusing to give him the satisfaction of watching her fight her restrains, or panic, and scream, and demand that he admit this was some twisted, manipulative plot.
She pulled at the restraints.
It was useless.
She was locked in an asylum, and had no idea how she’d gotten there, or who’d put her in it. How long had she even been unconscious? She didn’t understand how anyone had managed to take her from Tommy after she’d been shot.
She closed her eyes, taking a breath to keep from panicking.
Tommy was going to find her. If he had tear the country to shreds, he’d find her. These people likely wanted her to force Tommy to do their bidding, and if that the case, he’d do it. She had no idea in her mind that he’d do whatever it took to get her back. Tommy was going to get her out of here.
Her shoulder was deemed to be better, and she was taken from that room, and placed in another.
It was larger, and windowless, had the same low, plastered ceiling, and white, suffocating walls. There were restraints on her bed in this room, too, though they weren’t used, and she had the freedom to pace the room. She had company, too. There were two other beds, and both of them were occupied with women who teetered on the edge of sanity. One of her roommates was bushy-haired, and wild-eyed; she was taken out of the room screaming, and returned to it screaming, and restrained. The other was older, had sagging, paper skin, and muttered to herself for hours at a time, existing in a world that was her own.
Grace was released from the room for meals, and to use the toilet at three allotted times.
The meals were sludge, and made her sick.
She threw up violently at night, getting it on herself, and her bed, and the floor, and making her roommate scream hysterically, and thrash in her bed. Nobody came, though, to check on them. In the morning, Grace was dragged out of the room, and shoved into the asylum’s communal shower, and held under an icy, unrelenting spray until she was drenched, and clean.
She hated it, but at least it kept her cleaner than most.
There was a smell in the asylum that Grace realized was the odor of unwashed, uncared for bodies. The women in this place were treated like dogs. They were given food, and beds, and the place was kept fairly clean, but they weren’t. They weren’t given baths, and it turned out that laundry was done only once a month, and the experience was humiliating; orderlies came into their rooms, stripped their beds, and made them strip their gowns, and they were left naked for hours until their stiff, damp gowns were returned to them. The women all smelled of months without soap, and there wasn’t the smell of the world to hide it, of cigarettes, or coal, or wet horse shit on the road.
The smell was the least of her misery, though.
She missed Charles so much it was physical; she ached for her baby.
Tommy, where are you?
She attempted to escape after she felt she’d gotten a feel for the layout of the place. She was caught, and punished with a baton to her face, spit in her eye, and a night in restraints. She peed her pants that night. They were locked in their rooms, and, outside of their rooms, there were orderlies at every fucking turn. It was impossible to escape.
She paced the room, wishing for a window, and thinking of Charles, hoping that he was safe, and cared for.
It was startling to walk into his office after weeks in the rest of the asylum. There was wallpaper, and carpeting, and the doctor was seated comfortably behind a large, mahogany desk, smiling at her arrival. She was forcibly sat in a chair in front of his desk.
They were left alone.
“Do you have a name?” she asked, meeting his gaze.
“I am Dr. Capello.”
“I was disappointed to hear that you’d attempted to escape.” He sighed. “I am sorry that you do not feel safe with us.”
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I want to help you.”
“Let’s start with discussing the identity you’ve fabricated for yourself.”
“Clever,” she said.
“If you want to know information about Tommy, why don’t you just fucking ask me?”
“Thomas Michael Shelby."
“He is my husband.” She smiled, too. “If you don’t believe me, phone him. He’s in Birmingham. But you do believe me. We’re just pretending that you don’t.”
“I know of Shelby Brothers Limited,” he said, relaxing in his chair. “And I know that the patriarch of the family was married not long ago. Unfortunately, his wife was murdered. She was shot at a dinner. You must have seen that in the paper, and decided to add it your fabrication.”
“He is going to kill you," she said. "And if he doesn't, I will."
“Careful,” he replied. “Threats of that nature are worrying. Continue, and I’ll have to consider drastic measures to help you, and, I should warn you, they aren’t pleasant.”
She pursed her lips.
He sighed, and rose to his feet, opening a drawer in his desk to retrieve something before coming around the desk. She tensed. It was a pocketknife. But he didn’t put it to her neck. He grabbed a fistful of her hair, and sawed at it, cutting it. He returned to his desk, and she watched him put the locks of hair into an envelope.
Tommy, she thought.
He called for an orderly. “Remember, Hannah,” he said. “We can’t help you unless you let us.”
She was returned to her room.
“Did you kill him?” Jane asked, rocking in her bed.
Grace stared. “I will.”
It made the other woman cackle, and she began to thrash in the bed with her laughter, yanking at her restraints, and chasing off the glimmer of sanity that had gripped her.
She was pregnant. She’d had suspicions in the back of her mind even before she’d been shot, and woken up in this place. Now she knew for certain. The constant, nightly sickness was familiar to her, she hadn’t had her monthly in quite a while, her breasts were sore, and swelling. She knew. She was going to have a baby.
She needed to keep it a secret for as long as possible.
She had read about the practice of eugenics, and was terrified of what they’d do if they learned she was pregnant.
Her nausea disappeared overnight, which had been the case with Charles, too.
She was going to start to show soon.
She pushed her hands under her gown, and touched her stomach.
I’ll keep you safe.
She thought of Charles, and cried, wanting so desperately to lay her eyes on him, to hear his voice, to hold him in her arms, and remember his warmth, and his weight, his smell.
Months passed, and the tedium of the asylum was numbing.
She paced, trying to avoid her bed during the day. She did numbers in her head. She sang, picking the lullabies that Charles liked, and whispering to the baby about his brother.
She thought of Tommy, of how he was faring.
He’d blame himself for what happened to her, and he’d let it torture him, withdrawing from everyone.
She began to talk with one of her roommates. Jane was a lunatic, but she was company, and Grace had to talk to someone, had to use her voice, and remember it existed. Grace talked, and Jane laughed, and screamed, and, on occasion, pretended to understand what Grace was saying.
“Did they rape you?” Jane asked.
“Did he love you?”
“Liar,” she said, stretching the word on her tongue. “If he loved you, he wouldn’t have put you in this place. This is where they put the women they don’t want, because we know.”
“What do we know?”
“That if they didn’t lock us up, we’d steal it.”
Grace rubbed her belly; it had swelled much faster with this baby.
They would do laundry soon, and they’d see. They’d know. She couldn’t keep it a secret much longer.
I won’t let them hurt you.
“I hope it’s a girl,” Jane said. “Men are useless. Blind, and full of rape. If it’s a girl, what will we call her?” She shook her head. “No. No, no, no. They’ll take her away from us. They’ll send her off to be ruined, so that she can’t become like us. Our poor, poor baby.”
“I was surprised to learn of your condition.” He reclined in his chair, running a hand over his bald, shining head, and dropping his gaze to her belly. “I wrote to your father, of course, and he, too, was concerned.” He shook his head. “Can you tell us who the father is?”
She was silent.
“I hope you aren’t going to make this difficult, Hannah.”
“The father is my husband.”
“Yes. Thomas Michael Shelby. You believe you are married to the king of Birmingham.” He smiled. “Let’s talk about that, shall we?”
The baby kicked her softly.
He asked about the life she had invented for herself, and she told him about the institute, going on about the fundraising she’d done for it until he cut her off. He asked for details of the company, and she lied, implying that Arthur was in charge of finances, and spinning him figures that were false, telling him she’d overheard Tommy talking about expanding the business to America. He asked her if she thought that Polly was privy to the business of the family, and she smiled at him innocently.
“Who is Polly?”
He smiled, but his eyes were cold.
“She knows what she’s overhead,” Grace said. “This kind of business isn’t meant for women. I need to use the toilet.”
“You’ll have to wait.”
“Have you had to scrub piss out of this carpet before?”
He called for an orderly. “Return her to her room. You’ve been very helpful today, Hannah. I hope you’ll continue to behave in the future.” He picked up his phone, and she was taken from the office.
Tommy wasn’t going to come for her. It had been months, and if he hadn’t come yet, he wasn’t going to. He thought she was dead. Fine. She’d just have to let him know she wasn’t. He’d needed to believe he could take care of her completely, and she’d let him, but that didn’t mean she’d forgotten how to take care of herself completely.
She was going to get herself out of this place.
It had to be soon. The moment her baby was born, they were going to take it away from her. She couldn’t let that happen.
Now that they knew she was pregnant, she was taken to a small medical ward for a check up once a week.
It gave her an opportunity. The orderly who’d been assigned the task of escorting her was young, and wished to be handsome. Though he was distinctly plain looking, it was clear he took pains with his appearance.
“You’re Irish,” she said.
He was startled that she was speaking to him.
“You are, aren’t you?”
“Can you—would you do something for me?” She made her eyes slightly wider, softer. She let her chin tremble, and pursed her lips noticeably right after, pretending to get herself in check. “We aren’t to have anything to occupy our minds,” she continued, “and that includes a Bible. I don’t know what kind of Catholic that Italian is, but I . . .” She straightened. “There isn’t God in this place. I know you’re likely to sneer at me, but I thought I’d ask.”
“You want a Bible,” he said.
She nodded. “You aren’t Protestant, are you?” She frowned.
They had reached her room, and he unlocked the door, opening it for her.
She paused as though to say something to him, only to purse her lips again, and turn, going into the room without a word.
She returned from breakfast the very next day to find a Bible on her bed.
She’d always been good at this kind of work, had been the best among those with whom she’d trained. She’d only ever once failed. Tommy had been so unexpected; he’d disarmed her, and made her fall in love with him, seeing her for who she really was in a way no one ever had.
This overeager, arrogant orderly was nothing like Tommy, though.
He flipped a coin between his fingers while they waited for a nurse to be ready to look at Grace.
“Neat,” she said.
He smiled. “You want me to show you how to do it?” He was already on his way to her. He moved the coin between his fingers slowly, allowing her inspection of the motions, and told her what the trick was. “Give it a try,” he said, handing her the coin with a smile.
She tried, and laughed at her failure.
“It’s Hannah, isn’t it?” he asked, walking out of the ward with her.
“Colin,” he said.
“Nice to meet you properly, Colin,” she said.
He was ready with a smile as soon as he saw her the week following that. It was on their return from the ward that he checked to see that the corridor was empty, and stepped in close to her, reaching into his pocket for something, and pressing it into her head. It was a string of cheap rosary beads. She gasped, and looked at him with a slow, growing smile, biting her lip to try to stem it. “I thought you might like that,” he said, pleased with himself.
“You’re sweet,” she told him.
They continued on their way to her room. “Can I ask you a question?” He looked at her, and his eyes were searching for something.
“Why are you in here?”
“If you ask my father, he’ll say it’s because I’ve forgotten who I am.” She touched her belly. “He’s the one who doesn’t want to know me, though.”
Colin was quiet.
“He wanted me to get rid of it, but I wouldn’t.”
Before he shut her into the room, he touched a hand lightly to her arm, and she took his hand, and squeezed it. In the room, Jane was humming to herself. Grace leaned back against the door, and smiled.
Colin told her what his schedule was, complaining about his day. Innocently, she asked a couple of questions, and learned how the schedule for orderlies actually worked. She learned about patrolling duties, too.
She was fussing with her hair when he came to pick her up.
“It’s got so long,” she said, embarrassed. “And I can’t even do anything with it. I don’t even have any hair grips.”
Three days later, they were sitting on her pillow.
That night, she knelt in front of the door.
“What are you doing?” Jane asked, rocking in her bed, and rocking her head.
“Something,” Grace said. She found that vague, unhelpful answers were best with Jane. The tip of her bent hair grip found the binding pin, and she pushed it up. Slowly, she pushed up the rest of the pins, and twisted the knob bit by bit. She released a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding when the lock gave way at last, and opened. She was free.
She opened the door, and peeked into the hallway. It was empty. Colin had told her that the orderlies were few at night, and far between.
Jane clicked her tongue at Grace.
“Quiet,” Grace said, and she slipped out of the room, closing the door.
Her heart was banging on her ribs, bruising them.
She wouldn’t be able to escape the building, and if she miraculously did, she wouldn’t be able to navigate dark, unfamiliar grounds. There was likely to be a gate, too, and she wouldn’t be able to pick that lock. There was no way she was escaping this asylum. She didn’t need to escape it, though. She just needed to get into Capello’s office, and she’d learned the way.
She kept to the walls, and crept as quickly as she could.
The door to his office was locked.
She had nearly got it picked when there was a shout, and she looked over her shoulder to see an orderly at the end of the hall.
She needed to do this.
“The fuck are you doing?” yelled the orderly.
She got the very last pin, and turned the knob, opening the door. She scrambled up, and in, slamming the door shut after her, and locking it just before the knob was rattled.
“Open this door!” he shouted.
She stumbled in the dark of the office, grabbing a chair, and dragging it to the door, shoving it under the knob. It wouldn’t hold anyone off for long, but she didn’t need long. She hurried to the desk. The whole door shook; he’d thrown himself against it. She grabbed up the phone, and gasped the information to the operator, closing her eyes when she was connected, and heard the rings.
“Finn,” she breathed. She felt tears rise in her throat. It was Finn.
He was silent.
It was quiet outside the office, too, which meant the orderly had gone to get reinforcements. She had to be quick.
“It’s Grace,” she said. “Finn, it’s Grace. I need you to listen to me. I know the paper says that I’m dead, but I’m not. I’m alive, and locked in an asylum under the name Hannah Mary Cassady. The doctor at the asylum knows who I really am. He’s Italian. Dr. Capello. Tommy ruined an Italian by the name of Sabini. He could be at the root of this.” She swallowed. “Finn, are you there?”
“Prove it,” he said. “Prove you’re—her. Grace.”
She tightened her grip on the phone. “I had a room for you in our house,” she said, “and told you to stay over whenever you liked, and Polly was angry with me when you began sleeping over with us more often than you slept in your room at her house.” She drew a breath in sharply. “You used to bow after you’d play your harmonica for me. You called me Gracie. You told me once that your mother had been as pretty as I am, and you brought a picture of her to the Garrison to show me. You were only a little boy then. Do you remember?”
“Finn, I’m pregnant. They’ll take the baby from me. I don’t have much time.”
“We thought you were dead.”
There were voices in the corridor, and the doorknob rattled suddenly with the effort to force it open. She was out of time. The voices grew louder, and there was knocking. “Open up!” The door trembled violently again, and again; they were going to kick it open.
“I think I’m in Ireland,” she went on quickly. “The orderlies are Irish. The doctor, though. He’s Italian. His name is Capello, alright? Tell Tommy everything I’ve told you. Tell him—”
The wood was splintering.
“I have to go.”
She hung up, and began to pull open the drawers of the desk, pulling out papers, and rifling through them.
The door came crashing open.
The orderlies were yelling, and turning on the lights, and she saw the angry, red face of one before his baton came down on her, biting her cheek. She stumbled with the force. She would have fallen into the bookshelf, but one of the men grabbed her by the arm, and yanked her forward, smacking her across the face.
She was dizzy from their blows when dragged her back to her room at last, and used the restraints, strapping her to the bed.
She woke to Dr. Capello’s face looming over her. She blinked. He was gripping her face in his hand, pressing his fingers into her cheeks. It hurt. Her face was battered, and she choked on a cry of pain at the press of his thumb to her bruised, swollen cheek. The baby moved just slightly, reassuring her.
“What were you doing in my office, Hannah?” he asked.
He released her face, only to smack her, and whip out his pocketknife, flipping it open, and pressing the blade to her neck.
“I was—was just looking for proof,” she gasped. “Proof that you know who I am.”
“I just wanted proof.”
The knife pressed in, breaking her skin. “If I could kill you right now, I would,” he growled. He curled his lip, and barred his teeth in disgust.
“Bastard!” Jane hissed. “Leave her alone!” She began to shriek, and flail. “Bastard! BASTARD!”
He straightened, and took the knife from Grace’s throat.
Jane was pulling at her restraints.
Capello looked at her, and at Grace, and Grace knew what he was about to do a moment before he did it. “No,” she whispered. But he strode towards Jane’s bed. “No!” Grace yelled, and Jane was yelling to the ceiling when Capello slit her throat in one swift cut. Grace had to listen to her choke, had to watch her die.
“This is your fault,” he said, pointing the knife at Grace. “You did this. You killed her.”
Grace pressed her lips together, trying to keep from crying.
He stalked from the room, slamming the door, and she heard the click of the lock. She looked at Jane, and had to look away again, seeing her frozen, contorted face. Across the room, her older, quieter roommate had ceased her muttering, and was moaning. She squeezed her eyes shut, and heard the slow, steady dripping of blood onto the floor. The bruises on her face stung with pain when she sobbed.
“They know it was me who gave you those hair grips,” Colin said, glaring at her. She was strapped to the bed, and could do nothing but look up at him, and his hatred. “They’ve docked my pay, and are having me scrub the toilets.”
“Did they tell you who I am?” she asked.
“You’re a madwoman.” He spat in her face. “You’re a mad, lying whore, that’s what you are.”
It was a week to the day she heard Finn’s voice that she went into labor. She ignored the contractions at first, begging for a little more time. She’d talked to Finn. They were coming. “Please,” she whispered. “Please, Baby. You just have to wait for your daddy.”
She was in labor, though, and she couldn’t stop it, couldn’t even slow it.
It was faster this time.
She was alone, had only strangers with her when before she’d had Ada, and Esme, and Tommy, and she was terrified, but it happened much quicker, and the pain wasn’t as sharp, as blinding.
“It’s a girl,” said a nurse, talking to another.
The baby was crying, but Grace couldn’t see her. “It’s a girl?” she repeated. It was a girl. She had a daughter. “Let me see her.”
The nurse just began to walk away with Grace’s daughter, and Grace was left to scream, and to sob, and to demand her baby back, but it was useless. They took her. Grace tried climbing out of the bed, and was threatened with restraints, was restrained, and screamed until her throat was raw, and ruined.
They didn’t return Grace to her room, taking her instead to a different, isolated room. She didn’t have to listen to her roommate’s muttering, or see the empty bed where Jane had lain before they’d finally come taken her body. This room was worse, though. It was smaller, and darker, was cold, and there was a toilet in the room; food was brought to her. She was in a kind of solitary.
What had happened to her baby?
There weren’t sheets on this bed, but she pulled up the end of the pallet, and hugged it.
Her mind circled over things she’d thought about half a hundred times in the months she’d been a prisoner in this nightmare.
Why had she been taken, only to be kept hidden away like this?
How had she been taken?
Hadn’t Tommy gone to the hospital with her, and waited to see if she lived, or died? He must have, and they’d declared her dead, and what? He’d just accepted it, and never needed see for himself that she was really, truly gone?
I was a trophy to him, she thought.
She was a woman of class, and another man’s property that he’d relished in taking.
Once upon a time, she had hoped to help Tommy create a new, legitimate business in America. “I have a plan,” she’d told him. There had been a part of her that knew he wouldn’t be able to follow her, but she’d hoped. He’d made her hope. She’d been so stupid.
She hated him.
She thought of Charles, and who was taking care of him. Ada? Polly? The housekeeper, Mary? She hoped it was Ada. Ada was so good, and so strong; all the good that was in Tommy was in his sister, too. Love him enough for me, Ada, Grace thought, and she cried for him.
She cried for Helen, too. Her daughter. That was her name.
Her mind began twisting, and changing.
In the letter, he’d said she was his likeness. She heard Charles laugh. She thought of Polly, and wondered if Polly was happy. She wanted her baby, wanted her baby, wanted her baby.
They opened the door to shove in a tray of food, or what they claimed was food. It really didn’t matter; she hadn’t touched yesterday’s tray, and wasn’t planning on touching today’s. She pulled on the pallet, holding it closer, and tucking the corner of it under her chin.
“Grace,” he said. His voice was low, and rough. She’d heard it before.
There were footsteps, and he touched her back, and touched her cheek, brushing her hair from her face, and she knew what she’d see if she opened her eyes. She did, though. Tommy’s face loomed over her. “Go away, Tommy,” she muttered, closing her eyes at the apparition.
“Grace.” He clasped her face in his hands. “Grace, I . . .” His thumbs brushed her cheeks.
She opened her eyes.
He was right in front of her, and his hands were warm on her face, and he smelled of cigarettes.
“What’s the matter with her?” Finn asked.
“Thomas,” she breathed.
He nodded, and there were tears in his eyes. “Grace, I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I’m sorry.”
She covered his hand with her own, curling her fingers over his.
“I didn’t know,” he said. “I didn’t—”
She reached for him, and his arms slid around her, pulling her up, and into his chest, hugging her. She clutched him, grasping at his arms, at his back, at his shoulders, at the back of his neck. He was real. She squeezed her eyes shut, pressing her face into his cheek. “Tommy,” she whispered. “Tommy, they took her.” She drew back again to look at him, staying in the circle of his arms. “They took my baby. Right when she was born, they took her. They wouldn’t even let me hold her. Tommy, they took her.” She was crying.
“We’ll get her back.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t even get to hold her.” She leaned her forehead on his.
“I’m going to get her back, Grace.”
She hugged him.
Over his shoulder, she saw Finn in the doorway.
Her gaze met his, and she choked on tears at the sight of his bright, anxious eyes, looking her over.
“Come on,” Tommy said. “Let’s get out of here. Can you stand?”
His hands brushed over her arms, and he rose up, tugging off his coat, and wrapping it around her. She slipped her arms into the sleeves. It was deliciously warm, and she breathed in the smell of him, pulling it tightly around her, and climbing out of the bed.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
“Charlie,” she said.
“He’s fine,” Tommy assured. “He’s safe, and he’s—he’s missed you. He asks after you all the time.”
Finn rocked on his feet, and Grace moved from under Tommy’s arm to hug him. He had grown even taller, and was an awkward mess of gangly, bony limbs. She squeezed him tightly, and he pressed his face into her neck for a moment.
“Come on,” Tommy said.
Her legs were shaky under her, but Tommy had his arm around her again.
She realized they were heading for Capello’s office. Finn opened the door for them, and it was just in time for Grace to see John’s foot connect with Capello’s face, spraying blood across the carpet. Grace stared, swaying on her feet, and the hatred was smoke in her chest, dark and heavy and hot.
“Grace,” Arthur said.
She tore her gaze from Capello to look at him.
“The baby was put with some old widow,” Michael said, stealing her attention. “We’ve got her name, and her address.” He met Grace’s gaze, and his eyes were triumphant.
“What do you want to do with this?” John asked, sneering at Capello.
“I told you everything,” Capello panted.
“Oi!” John kicked him. “I wasn’t fucking talking to you.”
Capello coughed, and looked up, looked at Grace.
Grace didn’t think. She reached for one of the gun strapped under Tommy’s arm, and pulled it out easily. “Whoa!” Arthur said. Grace ignored him, ignored all of them, cocking the gun, and aiming it at Capello. His face was swelling, and bloody, but he met her gaze.
“Say my name,” she ordered.
“Grace,” he said, swallowing. “Your name is Grace.”
Tommy’s hand grasped hers around the handle of the gun, stopping her. “Not yet,” he murmured. “Grace.”
“This isn’t about you, Thomas.”
“I know,” he said, and she could feel his stare on her face. “I know. But let’s get the baby first.”
Slowly, she lowered her arm, and the gun.
“Get him up,” Tommy said.
They did. John grabbed him up, and Arthur seized his arm, pressing a gun into his side. “You’re coming with us,” Arthur said. John punched him in the stomach, and he would’ve fallen again if Arthur hadn’t been keeping him up. He was a small, beaten man.
Grace turned away from him, turning into Tommy’s chest.
In the hall, they passed a nurse. She started to scream at the sight of them, but clapped a hand to her mouth, and pressed into the wall, terrified. Michael gave her a smile.
They walked to the front of the building; Grace hadn’t been allowed there before.
Michael opened the door, and they stepped out under a gray, rainy sky. It was drizzling out. Tommy made to pull Grace closer, but she didn’t need protection from the rain. She turned her face up, closing her eyes.
She hadn’t been outside in months.
She opened her eyes. The grounds of the asylum were expansive, and a wide gravel road lead from the front of the asylum to the arch of the gates that enclosed it. Grace stared. She was leaving. Finally. She was going to get her baby, and she was going to go home.
The boys had come in two large cars, and they drove them now to the address that John had beaten out of the doctor. It was to a shoddy little house in the narrower, numbered streets. Grace refused to wait in the car, glowering at Arthur as soon as he started to suggest it.
The woman who opened the door saw them, and tried to shut it again, but Tommy forced her back, and forced the door wide open.
They got Grace’s baby.
Grace’s breath caught as soon as she saw her in the cot. She looked like Charles had, was dark-haired, and sweet-faced, was a big, healthy baby, and Grace knew it was her baby, her daughter. She was crying when she lifted her from the cot. Helen. Grace touched her cheek to the Helen’s, and breathed in her sweet, new baby smell. Helen fussed, and “shh,” Grace breathed. “I’m here, my love. Mama’s here, and I love you. Mama loves you.”
Tommy hugged Grace, and Helen was safe between them.
Before they left the house, they stopped in the kitchen, and Grace saw Capello on his knees.
“We don’t need him,” Michael said.
Grace looked him in the eye, and Michael shot him in the head.
John started saying something to the terrified, trembling widow, and Grace heard Sabini’s name, but she didn’t try to listen to what he was saying. She’d demand more answers later. She just wanted to go home now, wanted to see Charlie, wanted to be far, far away from this house, and the asylum, and this cruel, twisted nightmare of a life she’d been living.
She left the house with Helen in her arms, and Tommy followed, keeping a hand on her back.
Grace felt like she was walking into the past when she walked into the large, quiet house. Ada must have heard them coming up the drive; she stepped out of the parlor, coming into the hall, and gaped at the sight of Grace for a moment before suddenly she broke into a smile, and surged towards Grace. “Grace,” she said, and Grace smiled, too.
Ada hugged her, and when she drew away, she looked at the baby, and at Grace again, and she beamed.
Grace’s gaze snapped from Ada to the top of the stairs, to Mary, and to Charles.
“I’m here,” Grace breathed. Ada reached for Helen, and Grace gave her the baby. “I’m here, Charlie!” Grace called. She started for the stairs at a walk, breaking into a run. Charles was squirming in Mary’s arms. Grace took the stairs two at a time. “I’m here!”
Mary set him on the ground, and Grace scooped him up.
She was crying, but she laughed, too, and she began to pepper his sweet chubby cheeks in kisses, hugging him tightly. “I’m sorry I’ve been away,” she murmured. “I thought of you every day, and I missed you. I missed you so, so much. I love you. Mama loves you, Charlie.” She pressed her nose into his cheek.
“Love you, too,” he said. He’d gotten so much bigger, and he was talking to her, was really, truly talking.
“I love you,” she promised. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
“Do you want to meet your sister?” she asked. She took him down the stairs, and Ada met her at the bottom, holding the baby. “This is your sister,” she told him, smiling.
Shyly, he curled into Grace.
Tears beaded in Grace’s eyes, and she kissed the top of his head, laughing a little. She looked at the baby, and at Ada, and began crying in earnest, touching a hand to her mouth. “Oh, Grace,” Ada whispered, stepping in closer to pull Grace into her arms with the children held between them. Grace sank into the embrace, closing her eyes despite her tears. She was home, and her children with her, and it was over. It was really, truly over.
She opened her eyes. It was Polly. Grace looked away quickly, straightening, and pulling away from Ada, wiping at her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, talking to Ada. Ada shook her head to dismiss it, and Grace smiled.
She realized that the whole Shelby family was there, standing in the hall with her.
“I guess there are things we need to talk about,” she said.
Arthur smiled. “It’s time for a good, old family meeting,” he replied. He clapped a hand on John’s shoulder.
“I think it’s time for dinner,” Ada said, raising her eyebrows at Arthur, and daring him to argue. She looked at Grace. “You need to eat; if you turned sideways, I’d lose sight of you.”
They did both at once.
One of the maids brought in food while Grace sat at the table with Charlie in her lap, and Grace had them talk first.
She learned that they’d thought she’d died, and it was months before Tommy got an envelope with a picture of the back of her, then an envelope with locks of her hair in it, and he began to suspect that someone was trying to haunt him, to break him. Soon after that, Finn had talked to Grace, and he’d told the rest of them immediately. They’d dug up Grace’s grave, needing the proof. The body in her coffin hadn’t been her body, and they’d been relentless in looking for her after that. Grace shoveled in the eggs on the plate in front of her, though her stomach had shrunk, and began protesting before long. If she was eating, she didn’t have to respond to what they were telling her.
“How did you get to a phone?” Polly asked.
“I used the telephone in Capello’s office,” Grace said. “I was caught, of course. Capello couldn’t hurt me, but. Instead, he—he killed my friend. He slit her throat right in front of me, and left her body in the room with me overnight. She’d been trying to defend me, telling him to leave me alone when he was threatening me. Her mind wasn’t all there, but she . . .”
“I’m sorry,” Ada said.
Polly reached, and covered Grace’s hand with her own, squeezing it.
Grace pulled her hand away from Polly’s.
“What about Sabini?” John asked. “Did you ever see him?”
It was quiet.
“I was left on my own,” Grace said. “Mostly. I was brought in front of Capello a couple of times. He wanted me to tell him about the identity I’d fabricated for myself.” Her smile was humorless. “I lied, but he seemed to believe me.” She looked at Tommy. “If anyone implies they knew about your plans to do business in America, you’ll know that person was working with Capello.”
Grace kissed the top of Charles’s head. “I should put the children to bed,” she said. It was late.
There was more they needed to discuss, but she couldn’t right now.
She began to stand. “Ada, can you—?” Ada nodded, and rose to her feet with Helen in her arms. Grace didn’t look at any of the boys, or Polly. She’d deal with them in the morning. She needed to put her children to bed.
In her bedroom, she tried to nurse the baby. She’d tried earlier in the car, too, turning into Tommy for privacy, and folding a side of Tommy’s coat over the baby. Her breasts had been full after Helen was born, but it had been six days, and she was afraid that her milk had dried up.
Regardless, Helen seemed happy to suckle.
“I think she’s getting a little something,” Ada said, trying to help. “Just keep trying, and more will come in.” She stroked a hand over Helen’s soft, downy baby hair, and smiled.
There was a knock at the door, and Tommy let himself in.
“I should check on Karl,” Ada said. She paused. “I’m glad you’re home, Grace.”
Ada leaned in slightly to press a kiss to Helen’s tiny little foot, then gave Charles a loud, wet kiss, and left.
Charles asked Grace to sing.
She shifted, and he curled into her side, sucking his thumb. “For your smile is a part, / Of the love in your heart, / And it makes even sunshine more bright. / Like the linnet's sweet song, / Crooning all the day long, / Comes your laughter and light.” She stroked his hair while she sang, and he drifted off quickly, breathing loudly through his sweet, open mouth.
Tommy was quiet, smoking from a chair by the bed.
She realized that Helen was asleep, too, and she took the baby from her breast, laying her gently on the bed.
“Have you picked a name?” Tommy asked.
She blinked. Hadn’t she told him yet? “Helen,” she said. It was her paternal grandmother’s name. She’d never met the woman, but her father had always told Grace that she was just like her. “Helen Iris Shelby, I thought,” she said, “after my father’s mother, and her father’s mother.” She looked at the tiny pink bow of Helen’s lips. “Is that alright?”
She looked away from him. “I should take a bath,” she said. She was still in Tommy’s coat, and her gown from the asylum.
He was silent.
She was careful not to jostle the children when she got up, and out of bed, though she bent to press a kiss to Helen’s head, and brush her fingers over Charlie’s before she left the room.
She began to run a bath.
She looked at herself in the mirror, and was startled. She hadn’t seen herself in months. Her skin was much too pale, was dry, and unhealthy. She had thinned too much, too quickly; her face was sunken, and sickly. They really did make her into a ghost, and she didn’t recognize herself.
Next to her reflection, she saw Tommy’s face.
She met his gaze.
In the asylum, he hadn’t been able to keep his hands off her. But he’d kept his distance since they’d arrived in Birmingham. He was keeping it now, staring at her through a mirror.
She turned off the tap for the bath, and when she began to take off Tommy’s coat, he came in, and helped it off her shoulders. She undressed, and climbed into the bath, sinking into the water. It was heavenly, and she sighed, closing her eyes for a moment.
In a way, it all seemed so unreal.
She was home.
Tommy sat on the edge of the tub, and when he lit himself another cigarette, she reached for it, and he gave it to her. She took a drag. He ran a hand up her wet, bare back.
She washed, and he smoked.
She asked him for a towel when she was finished, and he fetched it, and held it up for her, wrapping it around her when she stood, and climbed out of the tub. She held it closed at her chest, and he touched her arms, looking at the starburst of scarred, puckered skin that marked where she’d been shot.
“Tommy,” she said.
He wet his lips. “You died in my arms.” He looked at her.
“I thought you were dead.”
She kissed him.
He tightened his grip on her arms, and broke the kiss when her tears broke free.
“What happens now?” she asked. “Because, Tommy, I can’t—” She shook her head. “It can’t be the way it was before. I don’t have it in me.”
“What do you want?”
He ran his fingers through her wet, unruly hair. “Tell me.”
“Do you remember the very first night we were together?” she asked. “How you asked me to help you? You asked me to help you with the whole fucking thing?” She swallowed. “Do you remember that?”
“I wanted that, Tommy. I wanted it so badly. I had this need for revenge after my father died, and it’s why I became an agent of the Crown, and—but there was more to it than that. There’s a part of me that nobody’s ever really seen, and you saw it. You saw it, and you loved it, and you wanted me to be your partner. I wanted it, too. I wanted it so badly.”
“I wanted it, too.”
She smiled, and looked away from him, wiping under her eyes. “But I couldn’t have it after what I’d done to you,” she continued, “and I ran, and I . . . I tried to be who everyone had told me to be when I was growing up, because—because what else was there for me to do?” She shook her head. “It was stupid.” She looked at him again. “I was stupid.”
“I got you back,” she said, “but it wasn’t the same. You didn’t want me anymore.” She saw the change in his eyes, the protest at her words, and she smiled. “Not the way you had before. You didn’t want a partner. You didn’t want my help with the whole fucking thing. You wanted what Clive wanted. You wanted a pretty, upper class woman to throw your parties, and keep your house. And I was so in love with you, I wanted to give that to you. But I don’t think I can do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to throw your parties, and never really know what they’re about, or what is going on. I don’t want to be your wife, Thomas. I want to your partner, and if I can’t be, then I . . .”
She knew he’d need to think.
She pulled out of his grasp, and returned to the bedroom. The children remained sleeping. She ought to put Helen in a cot, but she wanted the baby in the room with her. She dressed. Tommy hadn’t gotten rid of her clothes, and she looked, and realized that all of her things were untouched.
She wondered if he’d slept in here while she was gone, or avoided it.
Tommy followed her into the room purposefully, and took her hand, leading her to sit in a chair.
“The children,” she said, soft.
He waved a hand at them, dismissive. “I love you,” he started. His gaze was burning, steady and certain and intoxicating.
“I don’t think you do.”
He ran a hand over his face. “I—” He knelt in front of her, and reached for her hands, pressing his face to them for a moment before looking at her. “I thought if I just kept you away from all the shit, then it would prove that I could be away from it all, too. But . . .” He shook his head. “But this is who I am, Grace. This is . . .I’m a Peaky fuckin' Blinder.”
“I know,” she said. “I know, Tommy. We’re the same.”
"I never meant to make you think all I wanted was a woman of class to wear on my arm. I wanted you, Grace. It's always been you."
"Thomas," she whispered.
He was so rarely open with her, with anyone. So rarely vulnerable. “I was going to be better," he went on, swallowing. "I spent all this time trying to be better than I am, to be more, and all it did was cost me you. And what was the point? I don't even know. I’ve lost sight of it.”
“You wanted your family to be safe,” she told him. “You wanted your brothers and your sister and your aunt to live without fear of coppers who take their children, and officers who leave them in the mud.” She took his face in her hands. “You wanted that for your children, too. You wanted to be a man of respectability, because nobody steps on a man of respectability.
“Right,” he said, “and it landed my wife in a fucking lunatic asylum.”
“You’re going to make them pay, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” His voice was rough. “I’m going to make them pay.”
She nodded. “Good.” He turned his cheek into her hand, and kissed her palm, and her wrist, and he grasped her elbow, kissing her arm. She drew his face up. They kissed, and it was gentle at first, but he cupped her face, and deepened it, kissing and kissing her. “Tommy,” she breathed, touching his hand where it was sliding up her thigh.
He paused. “I know,” he murmured. It took him a moment, but he rose up and away from her.
She stood, too, reaching for his hand.
She glanced at the children on the bed, assuring that they were sleeping, and took Tommy into the bathroom. She turned, and hugged him, tilting her head up. He responded, kissing her, and backing her slowly to the counter; she clutched his shoulders when he grasped her waist, and hoisted her up, and onto the counter. He trailed his lips to her neck, and she grasped at his shoulders, closing her eyes. He pushed her slip up her thighs, and she reached for the front of his trousers.
“I can’t have you yet,” she breathed, and she licked her hand, and pushed it into his pants, grasping his cock.
He was leaning over her, and panting, gripping her thighs
“Doesn’t mean you aren’t mine, though,” she said, stroking him. “You haven’t forgotten, have you? You haven’t forgotten you’re mine?”
She loved the strain in his voice “Good.” She smiled.
He kissed her.
She scraped her nails over his scalp, and gripped the back of his neck, holding him to her. His mouth went slack, and he pulled at the strap of her slip on her shoulder, pulling it down, and baring her breast, dropping his head to her neck. She brushed her hand up his back.
His breath was coming faster, shorter.
She turned her to whisper in his ear. “I love you.” She arched into him when he jerked slightly against her.
He started to come.
“I love you, Thomas,” she told him, continuing to stroke him until he was soft in her hand.
It took him a moment to recover, but he lifted his head at last.
She touched his face.
“I love you.”
He moved away slightly to reach for a towel, and clean up; he wiped her hand for her, and tucked his cock back into his pants, tossing the towel at the sink. She smiled. He stepped out of his trousers, kicking them away, and he reached for her, setting her on her feet.
She kissed him.
“I won’t lose you again,” he said. “I need you, Grace. I need you.”
“What do you need me for?”
From the bedroom, there was the sound of fussing.
It was Helen. Grace sat by the bed, and Tommy handed Helen to her. She put her to her breast, wincing a little. Charles remained asleep. “He’s become a good little sleeper, hasn’t he?” she asked, smiling. She looked at Helen. It was going to be a while before she was able to sleep any stretch of night.
Tommy was quiet at first, pulling off his shirt. “He missed you,” he said. “He had trouble sleeping without you to put him to bed. I’d bring him into bed with me.”
She knew he was disappearing into his thoughts. “Nobody’s going to step on us, Tommy,” she murmured, and it pulled him back to her. “We won’t let them. We’re the Peaky fucking Blinders." She held his gaze in the dark, and he bent to take her face in his hands, and kiss her.
She woke, and she was paralyzed for a breath, thinking she had woken from a dream, and was back in a nightmare. She wasn’t in the asylum, though. The bed under her was wide, and soft, and Charlie was clinging to her back like a monkey, breathing into her ear, and, in the dark, she heard Tommy’s voice.
“Don’t give me that look,” he murmured. “I’m doing you a favor. You don’t want to hear me sing.”
Slowly, she made out the shape of him.
He sat with the baby, and he was talking to her, holding her the way he used to hold little, newborn Charles. She pressed her smile into the pillow. The moment she closed her eyes, she drifted off again.
In the early, gray hours of the morning, he told her about Churchill, and the Russians, and everything that happened the night of their wedding. She listened, and he went on. He gave an explanation of Tatiana’s role, and told her of the deranged, pedophile priest, and he curled his hand into a fist when he talked about Charles.
“We got him back,” Tommy said. “He wasn’t hurt. We got him back.”
She was silent.
He continued, and she knew to read between the lines when he talked of his final, awful meeting with the duchess.
“You fucked her, didn’t you?”
She considered him. “Lizzie, too?” She didn’t really need the confirmation.
(It had occurred to her when she'd been in the asylum that he'd probably end up bedding another woman if he thought Grace was dead. He'd never, ever cheat on her, but he thought her body was in the ground, and there was no one left for him to be loyal to. Could she hold that against him? He won't fall in love, though, she'd thought, and it had given her a kind of strength. He'd only ever loved her. They'd never actually talked about it, but Grace wasn't oblivious to the fact that Tommy had never wanted to take her from behind, had always wanted her facing him when he fucked her, and she'd sussed out why. There was sex, and there was love.
No, she wouldn't hold it against him.)
“I could never have forgiven you if something had happened to Charlie,” she told him.
“I couldn’t have forgiven me.”
“Is that it?”
He told her that most of his family was arrested, “but it was part of the plan,” he said, and he explained. “My plans weren’t much for a while. This plan, though. This plan worked.” He lit a cigarette.
“Has your family been able to forgive you?”
“I guess.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t long after that you phoned, and I guess they forgot to be angry with me.”
Charlie stirred. “Mama?” He began to cry, sitting up. "Mama!" He was panicking.
She hurried to the bed, and scooped him up. "I'm here, my love; I'm here." It calmed him, but he clung to her and wouldn't let go. She knew it would be like this for a while, that he was going to want to keep her in his sight, and panic as soon as she wasn’t. She understood. She didn’t want to be away from him either.
“M’m hungry,” he muttered.
“Hungry?” she said. “Well, I think we could do something about that. Should we have some breakfast?”
Downstairs, Grace had Tommy open the windows despite the rain. She liked the breeze, liked the smell of fresh, open air. She was never going to spend a day for the rest of her life without fresh, open air.
Finn must’ve smelled food in the oven, because he came stumbling down the stairs, and to the table.
“Morning,” Grace said, amused at the way his hair was stuck up.
“I’m starved,” he replied. “Didn’t have nothing to eat last night. I could a whole fuckin' pig.”
“Watch your mouth," Grace warned.
He glanced at Charlie, and at the baby. “Right,” he said, and scratched at his chin, abashed. “Sorry.”
There was a shout, and Karl ran into the room, half-hopping, and half-sprinting, and Grace laughed at his enthusiasm, bending for a hug despite the baby in her arms. He smacked a kiss to her cheek. “I missed you!” he said, loud, and earnest, and he was so, so big.
Over his head, Ada smiled.
“What have we got to eat?” Michael asked, coming in.
“Jesus,” Tommy said. “Did the whole fucking family stay the night?”
“Watch your mouth,” Finn said, pointing.
Tommy swatted a hand at Finn, who ducked, and laughed, and took a plate of food from Mary. Tommy shook his head, sitting beside Grace, and resting his hand on the back of her neck. She leaned into him to accept a kiss on the cheek, and smiled at Karl to show him that she was listening to his chatter about horses.
She heard Charlie giggle at something. Tommy’s thumb stroked the side of her neck. Everything was going to be all right.
She sat with a cup of tea, and read his letter again, smiling at the cartoons that he’d drawn in the margins. They were silly, and very, very good. He had turned out to have Tommy’s musical abilities, which was to say none at all. But he was gifted with a pen. She traced her eyes over the drawings, and tried to see him in her mind, sketching in a moment of rest.
Things seemed darker with every passing week.
Karl was missing, and half of Charlie’s friends from childhood were dead, and Esme had got a letter just yesterday that Johnny was injured, though it told her nothing in detail.
Grace lay awake at night, trying to remember the prayers she’d learned when she was young.
But as long as he continued to send her letters with cartoons of talking muffins, dancing cats, and a reoccurring, irate weasel he’d named Westcott the Weasel in the margins, she’d carry on.
It was so nice to get a letter from you. I’m glad you had a couple of days of rest. I told Mary the joke about the muffins, and she looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
I’ve lots to tell you; I hardly know where to start.
Uncle Arthur was pleased to learn that you are undefeated in your platoon at cards. He strutted about proudly after I told him, crowing to anyone who’d listen that he taught you everything you know. He sends his love, and told me to tell you that he prays for you every single night.
Your brother isn’t talking to me again. I foiled his plans to join you when I caught him climbing out of the window of his bedroom in the middle of the night. He remains stubbornly convinced that the army would love to have a ten-year-old.
The dogs have been very lethargic of late. I think they miss you. Uncle John told me they’re just acting that way because they know I’ll spoil them more if I’m worried they’ve taken ill. I told Uncle John to stuff it. By the way, I read the letter that Dad typed you, and he’s a liar. I never told him I loved the dogs more than him. Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean I’d say it to his face.
Dad’s new horse won again at the races. He’s getting a bit of an ego about it. Dad, not the horse.
I recorded a song on Tuesday. It was Dad’s present for my birthday. We had a session in a studio, and everything. It’s strange, getting to hear my voice that way. You’ll have to have a listen of the recording when you’re home, and tell me if that’s really what I sound like. At the beginning of the record, you can hear me asking Dad if it’s recording.
I have to go. Dad took Nell to the racetrack this afternoon, and I can hear they’re back now. Stay safe, my love. I’ll write again soon. I love you.
She folded the letter carefully, and put it in the envelop with Tommy’s letter. She sealed the envelope, addressed it, and hugged it to her chest. I love you, I love you, I love you, she thought. She heard Tommy calling her name. She wiped at her eyes, and “I’m coming!” she said, glad that he was home, and going to greet him.
This time, This time,
Turning white and senses dire.
Pull up, pull up,
From one extreme to another.