The Arrangement – A Homestead Legacy Story
1895. New York.
Gabriel Webster’s pack is in trouble. His father’s failing health and his mother’s untimely death mean that the vultures are circling. It won’t be long before his family’s assets are stripped and his pack disbanded. When an offer of help arrives in the form of a marriage of convenience, he has little choice but to accept.
The arrangement would be the perfect solution, if not for one thing. Gabriel is to marry Nathaniel Hayward, the Alpha who was badly injured in the accident that killed his brother ten years before—and the man Gabriel has been in love with for as long as he can remember.
Trapped in a business arrangement masquerading as a marriage—in a strange, empty house with a damaged husband who barely tolerates him—isn’t what Gabriel expected from life.
But sometimes the last thing we want is the beginning of something more.
And an ending can be the start of something beautiful.
**A standalone story set in the Homestead universe**
Novel – 56k
AVAILABLE TO BUY
1895. New York.
It was a bright day, and yet the sunshine barely penetrated the windows on this side of the house. It made the short walk to his father’s study all the more gloomy. Not that Gabriel would be otherwise engaged, out gamboling on the lawn, or taking the carriage to town to parade around the park. When he had been summoned, he’d been going over the household accounts with the housekeeper, hardly an arduous task given Dinah’s propensity to ply him with ginger biscuits as they worked. Together, they had managed to find a way to eke out the meager allowance to feed the dwindling household this month without resorting to selling the silver and were even able to laugh about it as they penny-pinched. It might not have been hard labor, but his body was suffering the effects of the constant tension in his mind and shoulders, wondering how much longer they could go on like this.
Gabriel had no reason to think he would be receiving any good news as he knocked lightly on the heavy wooden door to his father’s study before pushing it open. And yet, he thought as he walked in, the old man was smiling, albeit fleetingly, at the papers in his hand.
“You sent for me?”
Looking up, his father beamed at him, the same indulgent smile he had always bestowed on his youngest—now only—son. It would have been untrue and discourteous to imagine Gabriel had been the favorite. Abraham Webster had loved both his sons equally, if differently, valuing their individual qualities and never comparing the two. Even after Reuben’s untimely death, Abraham had never once asked Gabriel to emulate his sibling, to try to be more like him to keep his memory alive. It would have been impossible anyway. Where Reuben had been athletic and rambunctious, Gabriel was bookish and quiet. Either trying to blend into the other would have been impossible.
“I did,” his father said, his voice breaking a little. “I hope I didn’t take you away from anything too important.”
“Dinah and I had just finished up. Do you need me to fetch you anything? Some tea for your throat, perhaps?”
His father shook his head and gestured to the seat next to him at the large wooden desk. In all the years since his mother’s death, Gabriel had never once seen his father take the seat behind the desk, always preferring instead to sit on the other side. It was an unspoken arrangement, one that needed no explanation, at least not to Gabriel. His mother had been the Alpha, the head of the pack. With her passing, the title and responsibilities should have moved to Gabriel’s brother but being that he had died some years earlier, Abraham had found himself in a position where he’d had to fight to hang on to the estate—their property, and more importantly, their name—in order to keep their home out of the hands of the bank and several less savory branches of the family, who would happily strip the assets to nothing.
Now, with his father’s failing health and the effects of some bad investments, it was looking likely that all that effort might have been in vain and they would lose the house anyway. The stress of which took an even greater toll on Abraham and thus the vicious cycle ate away at Gabriel’s life minute by minute.
Gabriel took the chair next to his father, twisting on the hard wooden seat to face him. There was a curious look in Abraham’s eyes, which Gabriel couldn’t quite read.
“I received a letter yesterday.” Abraham paused, as if waiting for a reaction or response.
Having none to such a blank statement, Gabriel could only reply, “Oh?”
“You have something you wish to tell me?”
Gabriel was genuinely perplexed, and must have looked so, as his father’s teasing smile dropped away. “I see. This makes it all the more curious.”
“What is it and why is it curious? Father. Honestly, you do talk in such riddles.”
“A solution, I think,” Abraham said solemnly, holding out the papers in his hand. “Although, what you’ll think of it, I have no idea.”
Drawing the letter slowly from his father’s grip, Gabriel didn’t know what to expect, and indeed, the words on the page were the last thing he would have ever anticipated.
Reading intently, he reached the bottom of the page and swiftly returned to the top, tracking the meticulous handwriting yet again, this time mouthing each syllable carefully, too afraid to actually speak them aloud but needing to make sure he was fully understanding what was in front of him.
Finally, he let his hand fall to his lap, the page crumpling in his grip, and looked up at his father. “Is this decided then? Do I get any say in the matter?”
“Of course you do. If you really can’t stomach the idea, then I will refuse him immediately.”
“But?” Gabriel knew there was a but coming.
The lines on his father’s face deepened as he frowned, etching his countenance with sadness. It was all the reply Gabriel needed and the burning fear the letter had stoked in his chest snuffed out, leaving only a cold stone of resignation lying heavily within him.
The old man cleared his throat; his voice weaker than Gabriel could bear to hear. “If there was any other way… I have tried, Gabriel, I have. But there is no denying the reality of our situation. I’m not much longer for this world, and when I die the vultures will descend on this house and they will strip it bare. My greatest fear is that you will be left with nothing and no one. This arrangement would stop that from happening. You and the household would be under the protection of someone we know to be a good man and an Alpha I trust. I can die knowing you’ll be taken care of. ”
Reaching out, Gabriel took his father’s hand. The old man had been failing since the death of his mate, and in truth had never truly recovered from the death of his oldest son ten years before. The grief may have lessened over time, but the damage was done, and the strong, vibrant man he had once been had died along with Gabriel’s brother. Since the passing of his wife, there was very little doubt in anyone’s mind that his time was short.
“I don’t blame you. I just—” He sighed. “I suppose I’m simply a little surprised you should have asked him, of all people.”
Abraham shook his head and smiled softly. “I didn’t ask him. That’s why I thought maybe you had taken the initiative.”
Gabriel didn’t know quite what to think. He screwed up his nose and grimaced. “So, you didn’t—” His father shook his head. “So, that means…” Amusement crept onto Abraham’s face. It was the first time in a long while Gabriel had seen anything but worry and sadness there, and regardless of logic and good sense, that alone was a good enough reason to go along with it. Gabriel slumped down and let out a long breath. “Well, then,” he said quietly, “it seems I’m to be married.”
“I’m sorry, Gabriel. I know this isn’t want you wanted. And you must know I’ve always wished for so much more for you.”
His father sounded so apologetic and guilty, Gabriel forced a smile and reached for his other hand. “I know and it’s not that. It’s just…” His father looked questioningly at him, but all Gabriel could say was, “It’s just—Nathaniel Hayward? Of all people. Really?”