Unknown to Molly, her husband searched and found her disreputable father. He offered the man two choices; accept a generous financial settlement for leaving town and leaving his daughter alone or leaving town in a less agreeable way. There was huffing and bluffing on one side and quiet and firm determination on the other. Eventually, the decision ended in Molly's favor. To ensure the man's compliance, he was driven - against his will - to the wilds of St. Louis where wagon trains initiated their treks toward the Oregon Trail. He was not heard from again.
Life moved on. Molly became more and more entrenched in her new life. Josiah became more enamored with the woman he chanced to meet and forced to marry. He thought they had something worthwhile and was quite content with his lot in life.
They dined at home almost every night. It was a time to catch up on their days, enjoy pleasant evenings together and engage in the inevitable teasing and more intimate activities of married life. Other nights they were guests of friends or Josiah's business associates. Meals were pleasant and conversation amiable and Molly thought life couldn't get any better.
Unfortunately, it could get worse.
"We're dining with the mayor tomorrow night. Wear something extra pretty," Josiah told his wife. "I like the green gown with the rose trim."
"You like it because the neckline plunges from here," she pointed to the top of her cleavage," all the way down to the good Lord knows where!" Molly laughed. "I swear," she declared. "If anyone peeked down my gown, they could see all the way to China!"
Josiah laughed and grabbed her round the waist. "Only my eyes get to see to China, love. Remember that," he added with a firm swat to Molly's posterior.
She yelped and jumped back. "For a refined gentleman with a pretty wife," she glared. "Sometimes you have the manners of a barbarian."
"I think you like it when it gets a little rough," he teased her. "In fact, I think we'll test my theory. What do you say?"
"I say you're ... How about a game of cards?" Molly suggested. "Winner gets to do what she ... or he wants."
"I'll take that challenge," Josiah winked. "After supper, love. We need to eat everything on our plates so we have the energy to play this game and whatever follows."
As luck would have it, they were in the middle of their evening meal when the butler announced a visitor.
"Who is it, Jarvis? Invite him in for coffee and dessert."
"I believe it might be best to meet your visitor in the library, sir," Jarvis said with that tone he used that signaled unpleasant news.
Josiah arched a brow. "I'll be right there. Excuse me, darling. Go on with your meal; I won't be long."
Molly shrugged, assuming the visitor had urgent news to tell her husband. His business associates frequently dropped by in the evening, though this was the first time one had visited during the dinner hour.
When Josiah left the dining room, Jarvis told him who was waiting for his attention.
"You couldn't get rid of her?"
"I tried, sir but she was about to raise a commotion if I didn't let her in. I steered her straight away into the library."
"Good man. I'll take it from here."
"What do you want, Melanie?" Josiah asked the moment he closed the library door behind him.
"Is that anyway to greet your lover, Josiah?" the beautiful redhead wanted to know as she rushed to meet the man who had kept her in high style for a few years. "I've missed you terribly. Why haven't you been round to see me? And I haven't had a pretty bauble or any sweet lovin' in such a long time."
"It's over, Melanie," Josiah said firmly, pulling her arms away from around his neck. "I settled a healthy sum on you as soon as I was married. There's no room in my life for a wife and a mistress. I explained all that to you."
"But Josiah ..."
"No buts, Melanie. I know for a fact you have other lovers. What did you do? Squander all that money on pure nonsense instead of necessities?" He snorted at his own words and moved to the other side of the room away from his former lover.
"Nobody loves me like you do," the beautiful courtesan pouted. "I want you back in my bed, Josiah Stephens. I *need* you back in my bed."
"What you want is more money and I'm not giving you any more. Go home, Melanie. If you come back I'll have the constable arrest you."
"Josiah!" Melanie yelled as Jarvis unceremoniously escorted her to the front door. "Josiah! I love you!"
"Who's that?" Molly asked, hearing the commotion and peeking in the front hallway to see what the fuss was about.
"No one, love," Josiah replied, blocking Molly's view. Quickly, he turned her around and guided her back to the dinning room.
"*No one* was making a lot of noise," Molly remarked.
"Finish your dinner, love. We have a card game ahead of us. I'm certain I can win the first round."
"I'll win the second and third," Molly smiled, the incident forgotten as she thought about what would follow their game.
The dinner with the mayor was a lavish affair. It was a celebration of sorts and over a hundred townspeople were invited to enjoy the sumptuous buffet. Josiah had warned Molly the cream of society would be in attendance and that she should be on her best behavior. With his wife at his side, Josiah greeted the luminaries before filling their plates. Midway through the buffet, Josiah stopped to chat with business associates and left Molly to visit with their hostess who was pointing out specific dishes for Molly to try.
"What are those puffy little tart things filled with?" Molly asked her hostess as she scooped one onto her plate.
"Nothing you'd appreciate coming from the wrong side of the tracks," a sultry voice said from behind Molly's back. "Stick to the ham and cheese. I'm sure you're familiar with that."
"It takes a tart to recognize one," Molly's hostess quickly interceded. "I don't recall seeing your name on my guest list. How did you manage to get past my houseman? Did you seduce him as easily as the other men under your thumb, Melanie?" The last said with distaste.
"Please ignore her, Molly," her hostess added. "I'll see that she leaves and the sooner, the better," she muttered under her breath."
Molly was dumbfounded. It took a moment for her to recognize the woman's voice as the one she was almost certain had caused the disagreeable commotion in her house the evening before. Then it took another moment for her hostess' words to penetrate. This woman was Josiah's mistress! Could she be jealous?
Mimicking the behavior of other society ladies, Molly turned her back on the woman, ignoring her presence and continued to fill her plate.
Melanie, however, was not to be denied her say. She laid a heavy hand on Molly's shoulder, intent on letting her know that she was a rival for her husband's affection and attention. She wasn't going to slink off into the shadows just because Josiah had a trifling addition to his life - a wife.
"Remove your hand, please," Molly, the lady, said in a soft voice.
"Make me!" Melanie snorted.
"I won't ask you again," Molly Doyle Stephens, the well-behaved wife of the very wealthy Josiah Stephens, warned.
"Remove it yourself," Melanie smirked.
"I will," Molly Stephens nee Doyle, agreed and pushed Melanie's hand from her shoulder.
Melanie reared back and leaped upon Molly's person, intending to render as much physical harm as she possibly could.
Reverting to her days of dodging her father's fists and kicks and defending herself from other street urchins and bullies, Molly ducked. Melanie went flying onto the buffet table, upsetting dishes and platters that were loaded with foodstuffs.
What followed was pure reflex on Molly's part.
She picked up a bowl of creamed spinach garnished with beefsteak tomato slices and smashed it into Melanie's face. Then she grabbed a platter of sliced cold cuts and added that to the melee.
The long tablecloth covering the buffet's display went awry and when it did, the mayor's two dogs - normally well behaved and hiding under it - were startled by the disturbance. Their fine canine senses of sight and smell informed them that food was flying. They quickly availed themselves of this wonderful opportunity.
The mayor's wife fainted.
The mayor shouted.
The guests went helter-skelter - some grabbing their food plates and exiting the room - others standing frozen in shock at the frenzy taking place in front of their eyes.
Not completely happy with the havoc done to her husband's former mistress, Molly grabbed the woman's legs and pulled her off the table and onto the floor. A cheese platter tumbled onto Melanie's head. Small bowls of mustard and steak sauce followed, drenching the woman even further. Her skirts rose to upper thigh ...
"Now that's a pretty dish," one of the gentlemen noted.
"Dog gone it!" another remarked as he watched the mayor's out-of-control animals attempt to devour everything in sight.
Guests laughed, gasped and rolled their eyes.
Except for Josiah Stephens.
With not so much as a word of apology or chagrin or even chastisement, he scooped Molly up into his arms and over his shoulder and left the mayor's house. Settling her onto his lap in their carriage, he was astounded that there was not one iota of foodstuffs on her person. He couldn't imagine how that happened.
"I didn't do anything, honest," Molly said, unsure of her husband's reaction to the whole affair and certain - all things considered - she had been a saint.