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I'm sorry, miss. I'll need payment up front for that."
Hannah stared at the thin, pimply-faced boy behind the counter for a full ten seconds. He shifted from one foot to the other, looking at any corner of the Cigar Emporium rather than back at her. He was new and hopelessly awkward in his new position. "You must be mistaken," she said, giving him the benefit of the doubt.
"No mistake. I'll lose my job if I extend more credit."
She stiffened, at the same time glancing over her shoulder to make sure no customers had heard. Across the room two men stood before a display of chewing tobacco and debated the merits of the three different brands. They appeared unaware of her situation, and she'd like to keep it that way. Only moments before she'd been thinking how she enjoyed the fragrance of the cherrywood tobacco that permeated the small shop as a respite from the brine-laden air outside. Now she could barely think through her embarrassment.
Forcing a calm demeanor, she asked, "Is this a new policy? If so, I'm sure it doesn't pertain to my family."
She pushed the hand-carved ivory pipe across the counter. "Please. I'd like it wrapped."
Still the boy hesitated, wiping his hands on his white apron.
"You do know who I am?"
He gulped audibly and fidgeted with the corners of the massive account book in front of him. "Yes, Miss Lansing. Your family has done business here for years."
"And half of the items in this shop arrived here by way of my grandfather's ships." She softened her voice. "This pipe is for his birthday. You wouldn't deny him his present, would you?"
"I I Your total has reached the limit."
"My grandfather pays the bill monthly. There must be a mistake." The ledger would prove her point. She reached for it to see for herself when a beefy hand splayed over the page, blocking her view.
"I'll take it from here, Toby. Go see to the other customers." The shop's owner, Mr. O'Connell, a heavyset Irish man with a handlebar mustache, turned the book back toward himself as the new clerk scurried away with a look of relief on his young face. "Can't have my other customers' tabs becoming general knowledge, now, can I? I'm sure, given your family's business, you understand, Miss Lansing."
What he implied stung. She wasn't one to manipulate such knowledge to her own advantage, though she knew those who would. She was only interested in the accounting of the Lansing total.
The two customers had stopped their discussion and listened intently now. Good gracious, but this was getting uncomfortable! Her cheeks heated. She never carried much money on her. According to Grandfather, it was unladylike. There had never been any problems in the past with putting items on a tab. Her gloved hands shook slightly as she loosened the blue ribbon cinching her purse and counted out enough money to cover a deposit on the pipe. "In the first place, I hadn't planned to have my grandfather pay for his own present, but it quite takes me by surprise that you won't extend credit to me. I shall return tomorrow with the rest. Good day, Mr. O'Connell." She made a stiff-backed, dignified exita Lansing exit. Grandfather would be proudshe hoped.
Once outside she stopped and took a deep breath, allowing a moment for her cheeks to cool and to put up her umbrella against the light rain. Down the wet street, her carriage waited. She had planned to stop at the milliners to check the designs for a new spring bonnet, but now she was uncertain. Would she run into the same predicament there as she had at the tobacco shop? Perhaps it would be best to first speak with Grandfather.
"Please, take me home," she instructed her driver when she arrived at the carriage. He jumped down from his seat and assisted her inside the conveyance. Only then, obscured by the dark velvet curtains from the curious stares of the few people who had ventured out in this weather, did she sink back into the plush cushions and consider what had just occurred.
It had to be a mistake. Grandfather was always punctual in paying his bills to the point of being regimental. For as long as she could remember, there had been plenty of funds from the shipping enterprise to cover incidentals whenever she'd wanted anything. Perhaps, with Stuart away, Grandfather needed a hand with the business. It couldn't be easy keeping track of everything with all that he had to do.
The carriage jolted into motion, but she paid no attention to the tree-lined city parading by. Absently she tugged on the pendant at her breast. Ever since Grandmother Rose had passed on, Grandfather had been happy to have her run the household. Although she was now proficient at throwing dinner parties and carrying on the conversation with business associates, Grandfather had maintained that the shipping business was a man's task. In the past five years he'd expanded itadding two more ships. Had it become too much for him to oversee without an assistant?
The trip from the shopping district to the Lansing estate on Nob Hill took a matter of minutes. Once there, she hurried up the wide marble stairs and through the massive front door. The faint scent of lemon polish reached her as she deposited her cloak and umbrella into Edward's waiting arms. "Grandfather?"
"In his study, miss."
She headed down the hallway, untying her bonnet as she walked. The sound of her footsteps on the tiles echoed off the high ceiling and walls.
"Grandfather? We need to talk"
His room was empty.
She sighed in frustration, spun around to search farther down the hall and then stopped herself. Something wasn't right. She turned back to the study. Papers and notes were scattered askew over Grandfather's massive desk. Totally unlike him. Neatness and order ruled Dorian Lansing and everything around him. He controlled his estate in the same manner he had once, as a young man of twenty-two, controlled his first shipor so she'd been informed.
She hesitated in the doorway. Slowly, eerily, a moan issued, the sound coming from behind the dark Victorian desk. Her breath hitched in her chest. She ran to the far side of the furniture and found him lying prostrate on the parquet floor, his face pasty white.
"Grandfather!" she cried out, kneeling beside him. In the next breath she screamed, "Edward! Come, quick!"
A significant stroke, the doctor said. Upon hearing it, Hannah's heart plummeted to the pit of her stomach. Grandfather would need constant care and rest if he was to recover. After seeing the family's personal physician out, Hannah called the house staff together in the kitchen.
"Where is Tan Ling?" she asked. "She should hear this, too."
"Mr. Lansing discharged her last week, miss," Edward explained.
"Oh," she said, confused. Grandfather had neglected to tell her. Then she grew irritated. She should have been informed. After all, she was in charge of the household staff. It was her job to do the hiring and discharging. Tan Ling had been with the Lansings for the past three years. What of the letters of recommendation the young woman would need to find new employment? Had Grandfather considered them? Besides, more than any paperwork, she would have liked to have said goodbye.
She looked over the expectant loyal faces of those before her. "Mr. Lansing has taken ill and will require special care. A nurse will be attending him over the next few weeks while he recovers." If he recovers, she thought to herself, and then quickly pushed the traitorous idea from her mind. He had to get well. He just had to. "Please make her welcome when she arrives."
A burning sensation threatened behind her eyes. "This illness will be especially hard on Grandfather. He's he's weak on his right side and unable to get out of bed. I'm sure you know how independent he has been."
Looks passed between the staff.
Hannah understood their trepidation. Dorian wasn't known for his patience or temperate disposition when he was in good health. What would the household be like now?
"That is all. Except, Edward? A word, please."
Hannah waited for the others to take their leave, and then turned to the butler. He had been a sailor on one of Grandfather's ships before coming to work at the estate. He'd been with Grandfather the longest and was a man she knew would answer honestly.
"What happened with Tan Ling? Was there an infraction of the rules?"
He paused, a discomfited look passing over his usually austere face.
"I have known you many years, Edward. Please, speak freely. I know you are cognizant of a great many things within the household and keep them to yourself."
"Very well, then." His brow furrowed as he chose his words. "I believe Mr. Lansing was concerned with conserving costs. The loss of his ships"
Ships lost? She schooled her face to remain impassive. "Obviously it is worse than he confided to me."
Edward exhaled, believing her ruse that she was in her grandfather's confidence. "I believe so."
For the next three days, Hannah studied the Lansing Enterprises ledgers until numbers and cargo listings were leaking from her ears. Foul weather had claimed two of their largest cargos, not to mention the two ships, sinking both to the bottom of the sea. They had but one ship leftan older one that was in dry dock for repairs.
No matter how hard she stared at the figures, she couldn't come up with additional income. The majority of the balances had a minus before them. She longed to discuss it with Grandfather, but the doctor had said that any added stress might cause him to suffer a relapse. He was to be kept as calm as possible. She mustn't burden him with business.
Shuffling through the layers of letters and bills, she categorized them from most pressing to leastthe most being a legal document from San Diego regarding the shipment of furniture and supplies to the Hotel Del Coronado, an establishment that was to rival the Palace in San Francisco. Apparently upon hearing of the downed ships, the owners had sent an immediate claim demanding compensation. She frowned. How considerate of them when Grandfather's health hung in the balance. Some things were more important than their gold-rimmed tea sets. She dropped the offending papers on the desk and then checked the time on the cabinet clock. Nearly noon. Perhaps his tray was ready. She rose to her feet and found Nina in the kitchen assembling Grandfather's lunch. "I'll take it to him," she said, picking up the tray laden with warm, mashed apples and cinnamon, a thin slice of cheese and clam chowder soup. "I'd welcome a respite."
"You'll be sick yourself if you don't rest a bit, Miss Lansing. You must take care. You can't solve everything in a day as much as you try."
"Thank you, Nina." She scooted out of the room. Nina would talk forever if given the chance. Her conversation was at times comforting, but right now Hannah needed solutions, not chatter.
She climbed the stairs and entered Grandfather's room. Upon seeing him sitting up in bed, surrounded by plumped pillows, she stopped short, nearly dropping the tray. "You're sitting up!"
A gruff "Harrumph" punctuated the expectant pause following her words. He had no patience for people who stated the obvious. Quickly she handed the tray off to the nurse and hurried to his bedside.
"Are you well enough to do this?" she asked, worried that the strain might be more than he could handle.
He held his left hand out to her, and she moved to take it, letting him draw her to his side. She sat on the edge of the mattress and expelled a shaky breath. "You you are stronger today?"
At his nod, she motioned to the nurse, who rose and stepped from the room. Hannah had made it a point to help Grandfather daily with his meals. So far, she'd managed to keep from pouring out her worries, but today would be doubly hard. The company lawyer had dropped by with a large packet, and the post had just arrived full of overdue bills.
She spread the linen napkin over his chest and scooped up a spoonful of soup. When she raised it to his lips, his gaze met hers.
"Whas wong?" he said, his words slurred.
Her smile was forced. "Hungry myself, that's all." She scooped up another spoonful, but he clamped his mouth shut.
"Whas wong?" he repeated and pointed to the lap of her skirt where she'd worried the fabric into a wrinkled mess.
She sighed. She'd never been able to get away with anything with him. He could read peopleher especially. The talent had made him a keen businessmanthat and his innate stubbornness. People didn't call him Old Ironhead for no reason. He nearly always got his way. Perhaps it would be smarter to let him help her. Frustration at being kept in the dark would surely be worse than concocting a plan of action.
"I'll tell you if you promise to eat."
In answer, he opened his mouth, ready for another spoonful.
While he ate, she told him how she'd discovered the bills piling up. "Why didn't you tell me about the ships? Perhaps I could have helped."
Grandfather shook his head.
"But it affects me. It affects you and this entire household. You need to trust me with this."
Rather than acknowledge her, he indicated he was ready for another spoonful of soup.
Pressing her lips together, she held back the retort that threatened and brought the soup to his mouth. "It appears Thomas's company reimbursed for the first ship and cargo, but I couldn't find any insurance paperwork on the second ship. Does he have that at his office?"
Grandfather shook his head slightly and glanced out the window. Ignoring her? Or considering what to answer? She wasn't sure.
"Should I send a telegram to Stuart?"
It seemed the obvious solution to her. Stuart managed his own shipping business now, but having trained under Dorian, he still partnered with him on an occasional run. Grandfather furrowed his brows.
He grabbed the paper and pen from his bedside table. Moving them to his lap, he proceeded to write, left-handed and awkward.
"See? You should have learned to sign. It would help now," she said, teasing lightly while he scribbled. He grunted, apparently not flattered by her suggestion.
"Here. Let me take a look." She picked up the note and deciphered his squiggly handwriting. "Accept Thomas's offer?" Her gaze flew to his. "Marriage? You think the answer is for me to marry?"
He frowned at her with only half of his face, took the paper and wrote again. He'll take care of you.
She couldn't believe what he was suggesting. For years he'd said Lansing Enterprises was her legacy, and now he was asking her to turn her back on it? She rose to her feet and paced in the small confines of the room. "But what about the business? Families we employ depend upon Lansing Enterprises for their livelihood. What about them? I cannot consider only myself."
With the pen, he carved the words in the paper, tearing it in the process. You need a secure future.
"But I thought I believed " She searched for the right words. He'd led her to believe she would inherit the company. "This is just a temporary setback. We'll build the business back up. We'll press on. That's what you always say."
He pressed his lips together on the one side of his mouth, and wrote, "Thomas knows what to do."
That was not how she'd envisioned her life. She'd thought she would assume control of the company. She'd made plans . "Grandfather," she began, sinking back onto the bed. She closed her eyes, took a big breath and then opened them again. "This illness has scared you. You're acting like like you won't get better. But you will. Look how much improved you are today compared to yesterday." The alternative, she could not bring herself to contemplate. He'd always been there for her, even when they disagreed. She couldn't lose him.
His glare only reinforced her words. A week ago he'd encouraged her to consider Thomas Rowlings's proposal. Grandfather's business associate was a pleasant sort and rather dashing for a man twenty years her senior. His insurance company was prosperous. She'd want for nothing.
It was a viable solution. She didn't expectdidn't wanta marriage based on love. That emotion led only to disappointment and heartbreak. Yet why did she suddenly feel as though she couldn't breathe? "I know you are thinking only of my good."
Grandfather's gaze never wavered from her face.
She had to get away, had to take time to consider things. She rubbed her forehead. "You truly believe this is the best course?"
He nodded once, slow and firm.
She dragged in a shaky breath. "I see. Thomas is due back from Sacramento in one week. I'll I'll give him an answer then."