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Fifty Shades of Ash

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Since there was no way out, but through, Edouard went to call on Miss Hazel the next day. They sat in her parlor lined with potted plants. Before he had a chance to say a word, she said, "I've driven off all the other suitors sniffing after daddy's company, but I suppose you'll be harder to send on your way." She wrinkled her face into a sort of smile. "Daddy's been singing your praises for years. I don't see it myself."

He spread his hands wide. "You don't want to marry at all, but can't move into your own home until you do marry. I would consider this a business merger. Your own room and no interference from myself in your own interests."

He held out his hand. Hazel looked at him for a long moment. They shook on it.

It wasn't particularly what Edouard wanted, but business was like that sometimes.

Since Hazel was a not particularly young thirty-two, her Father decided that the wedding should happen before she got any older.

At first Ash felt nothing but a dull ache. But as she readied the house for a new mistress, something inside of her screamed that she didn't want to go.

The day of the wedding, Ash looked over Edouard's room for the last time. She looked at the bedspread that the servants had put on the bed. She thought, "This was my bed for over ten years. If another woman gets in it, then she's getting in it with my coverlet." She pulled her silk brocade out of its box and put it on the bed where it belonged.

She was still looking at it, when Mrs. Jennings came up from the wedding supper going on below, to be sure that the hussy who'd been filling Edouard's bed didn't mess anything up for her baby girl. She steamrolled into the room like a freight train and stopped dead in the door when she saw that silk brocade. She said, "Where did you get that?"

Ash said, "I've always had it. It was left with me when I was abandoned. This silk and a gold ring."

Mrs. Jennings said, "Show me the ring." Ash was wearing it on a gold chain around her neck, so it was easy enough to show it to Mrs. Jennings, who sank down on the bed looking poleaxed.

"Years ago, before I had my Hazel, I went to a baby shower for our neighbor, who'd had twin boys. I'd been trying for a baby for years and out of spite, I said, that I couldn't understand why we were celebrating because clearly a woman who had twins had slept with two men." She shook her head. "Her husband heard and he got terribly angry. He divorced his wife and kicked her babies out with her. I hadn't meant to make that happen. I was just so jealous of those baby boys. Then when I finally became pregnant myself, it was my curse that I had twins." Tears were rolling down Mrs. Jennings' face. "You have to understand, I would have been ruined. I had my maid put you somewhere where you would be cared for. But I made sure that you were left with a piece of silk from China and my papa's signet ring. He was a ship captain. That way whoever found you would know that you were from a good family."

Ash stared at her mama and all she could think was, "I am the child of an idiot." What she said was, "Well, you've gotten us into a bit of a pickle."

Her Mother was openly sobbing now. "I don't know what to do."

Ash sighed. "Here's what you're going to do. You're going to go to your husband and you are going to get down on your knees in front of him and you are going to cry just like you are right now. You'll tell him that you've done something silly that you're afraid that he can't forgive you for and you're going to refuse to get up until you've made it up to him."

"But I can't possibly make it up to him."

Ash couldn't believe she was having to have this conversation with any woman, much less one who turned out to be her mama about how to handle her papa. "After you've made it up to him by pulling what he's got under his flies, then you tell him what you've done."

Her Mother's hand fluttered to her face. "Oh, I couldn't."

"Well, since you could apparently abandon a baby in a tree because you were embarrassed, you can do this." Ash couldn't believe the words that were coming out of her mouth. But looking at her Mama, she was just so very angry.

Her mother squeaked. "I'll do it."

About an hour later, Mr. Jennings came out of the library looking ruffled and relaxed and astonished to find out he had another daughter grown.

Ash looked Edouard who was staring at her from the far side of the room with his Saint Paul's eyes. She said, "Edouard, I think it best if you get down on your knees and propose to me."

Edouard got down on his knees, and took her hand in his. He looked at her with all the intensity of long ago. "Ash, I married your twin sister."

Ash considered her Father and her Mother and her new sister. "I'll be moving in with my family until the annulment and the wedding. Until then my brocade will stay where it's supposed to be." She raised her eyebrows at him and put the gold ring she'd been wearing around her neck on his ring finger.

He turned his hands so that she could lift her hands away at any moment. "What will my board think? The stockholders."

Her papa, and what an odd though, boomed, "They'll think he's damned lucky to be marrying a daughter of mine. If I met you once, I met you a thousand times. Can't imagine how I didn't see the resemblance to my Hazel."

Edouard's expression said he doubted it. She brushed back a lock of his hair. "We'll spin this in the papers first. About how I was tragically stolen as an infant by a servant. No, a business rival. Someone out of a penny dreadful, who abandoned me in a tree, where I was raised the Abbey on Angel Island."

"We slowly fell in love, but never acted on our feelings or said anything, because of all the things that stood in our way," said Edouard leaning his head into the palm of her hand.

"It was only when it was almost too late that the truth came out," said Ash. "Well, Edouard."

He smiled. "Miss Ash, will you do the honor of renegotiating our agreement."

"Yes, Mr. Gurun, I will." They kissed chastely enough given the audience.

After that, Ash met Hazel, who was nice enough, if completely a little distressed to find she wouldn't be moving out of her parent's house after all. Ash sat next to her for about five minutes listening to her talk before saying, "You need something that is just yours. Let me see if I can help you with that."

Aunt Ines came to the next wedding. Ash wore a blue dress and a matching gold ring that Edouard had made, and was walked down the aisle by her papa, who seemed nice enough. Aunt Ines cried.

That night, she tied Edouard to the four posts of their bed. He looked beautiful to her spread out on their silk coverlet. He shuddered when she dragged a metal clamp across the skin of his chest.

She said, "You married another woman."

He said in that low growl voice of his, "I'm glad you are such a kind hearted woman that you were going to leave me this damned coverlet on my wedding bed."

She tightened a screw on a clamp to a hitch of his breath and smiled. "So am I, Edouard. So am I."