My American Duchess Deleted Scenes
Note: These are not in order, because I don’t write in order. I thought it was more like a puzzle if you try to figure out where each segment might have gone! –Eloisa
It was extraordinary that he and his brother had both found wives at the same time—and yet, their lives had paralleled each other in so many ways that perhaps it wasn’t extraordinary at all. It was deuced uncanny, this twin business.
Unfortunately, his American was delectable, while Cedric had bluntly said that the woman he’d chosen wasn’t attractive, in fact, “fat as a flounder,” in his brother’s characteristically unpleasant phrase. Trent dismissed the thought with a shrug.
The very word “wife” sounded fretful and emotional, summing up Trent’s feelings on the matter. Husbands had to watch their wives weep, and then do something about it. Providing comfort was not one of Trent’s talents, and he had no delusions about his ability to improve.
But his feelings about wives were irrelevant, because marriage could be the solution to his brother’s problems.
Of course, this American heiress would have to be the right kind of woman.
An interfering, if loving one. The opposite of their mother. A woman who was capable of seeing the real man behind the fancy coats and brandy breath, and of transforming Cedric back into Trent’s brother, rather than the boozy, sharp-tongued stranger he had become.
She would have to be tender, to be able to soothe the shattered glass at Cedric’s core, the part of his twin that the ladies of the ton who cooed over the refined, urbane Lord Cedric didn’t see. They were blind to the raw pain that made his brother drown himself in glasses of brandy before he could sleep.
The next morning, Merry woke up alone. She dressed and then she and George—who was celebrating his third week without a single accident—took off in a dog cart driven by her favorite footman, Peter, to visit a tenant who had just had a baby.
The farmer’s wife, Mrs. Acker, was clearly surprised but pleased when Merry hopped from the cart, totting a basket of food that the Cook felt was good for nursing mothers.
Merry stole the baby and took her to the rocking chair. Emmy had a single tuft of black hair and a fat cherubic face and Merry had a wonderful time cooing at her and tickling her fat tummy.
Merry heard all about the birth—which sounded both messy and painful—and then she watched Emmy feed at the breast.
“You’ll never do this, of course,” Mrs. Acker said, deftly moving Emmy from one breast to the other.
“I most certainly shall,” Merry stated.
“Ladies don’t,” Mrs. Acker said simply.
“I’m not an English lady; I’m an American,” Merry pointed out. She watched as Mrs. Acker burped Emmy and then held out her arms. “May I hold her again?”
Mrs. Acker had a torn look on her face. “It isn’t proper.”
“I expect you wish to beat down that bread that’s over-rising, and I certainly can’t do that for you.”
Mrs. Acker glanced at her bread dough, frothing itself onto the table, and she quickly tucked Emmy into Merry’s arms.
“Peter,” Merry shouted through the open door, “make yourself useful. What would you like done, Mrs. Acker?”
Peter poked his head in the door of the cabin.
“Oh, he couldn’t,” Mrs. Acker said, “not dressed as he is.”
“It’s just livery,” Merry said. “You may not have noticed, Mrs. Acker, but the ducal livery was made some time in the last century. It’s extraordinarily durable. Why don’t you chop some wood, Peter. And draw water too, so we can bathe Emmy.”
She sat there for two hours, rocking in the sunshine and watching Emmy chew on her fist while Mrs. Acker told her that Mr. Kestril’s mother must be turning in her grave to see what’s become of her house.
It turned out that Mrs. Acker’s mother had been the Kestril nanny, and Mrs. Acker had watched as the Kestrils spoiled their only son (or so his nanny felt). “She said he was a good boy, but they treated him like a two-headed nightingale, and just look what it did to him.”
Merry rocked and listened absent-mindedly to Mrs. Acker’s account of revelries in the Kestril mansion.
A tall, thin man was ushered into the room by their butler, who introduced him as Mr. Bartleby, who had insisted that his news could not wait until their Graces had finished the meal…Merry didn’t actually pay much attention.
Not until she looked across the table and saw her husband come to his feet, suddenly white.
“No,” he said. “No.”
“Your Grace, I am sorry to be the bearer of terrible news,” Bartleby said. Belatedly, Merry realized that he wore a black armband to match his undertaker’s expression. “Lord Cedric Allardyce has been reported dead.”
“‘Reported,’” Trent repeated.
She hurried around the table and pushed her way under his arm, putting a hand on his flat stomach. “What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“I received a missive from the Lord Admiral Pentable. Lord Cedric has been reported lost at sea, the Aegean Sea, to be specific.”
“No,” Trent stated. He wrapped his arm around Merry and pulled her to him so tightly that she gasped. “My brother is not dead.”
Mr. Bartleby’s face was anguished. “I’m afraid that no body was recovered, but they didn’t expect to; the ocean in those parts is full of strong currents.”
“Cedric must have been drunk,” Trent said, his voice sharp as a knife. “It’s my fault. I never should have let him go aboard ship. They’re as bad as curricles—worse.”
Merry turned and wrapped her arms around his waist. “No one could have imagined that Cedric would lose his life at sea.”
“Lord Cedric Allardyce was not in his cups,” Bartleby announced, sounding as if he were relieved to finally be able to say something cheerful.
“Then what happened?” Trent asked. His voice sounded flat and dead to Merry’s ears.
“An orphaned child was being taken from India to England after his parents died of the fever. Lord Cedric had befriended this lad.”
Trent made a sound and then buried his face in Merry’s hair.
“The boy was swept overboard, or fell overboard…it’s not clear. Lord Cedric went after him, and they were both lost.”
“No,” Trent said hoarsely. “I would know if he was dead. I would know.”
Merry stroked his back, looking over her shoulder at the solicitor. “Is there no way that we can be more definitive?”
“The chance is small to none, Your Grace. They were sailing in a part of the sea that has many islands, but the captain felt there was no hope. Lord Cedric left this in my possession in the event of his death,” Mr. Bartleby said.
He presents a letter from Cedric:
It occurred to me that I should write this letter before I leave England, because I show every sign of following in our father’s footsteps. Every night, I tell myself that I won’t drink a drop of brandy the next day, and every day I fail.
If you’re reading this, the chances are pretty good that I died as drunk as a wheelbarrow. I hope I didn’t make a fool of myself and embarrass you. But truthfully, I can see the point at which life won’t be worth living. As it is, I think about brandy all the time. I can’t sleep worth a damn. The brutal truth is that I haven’t bedded a woman in two years.
I’d rather go out suddenly, like a shooting star, rather than decline into the sort of slobbering old drunk whom no one wants to sit with at dinner. What they don’t realize is that the old man is bitterly sad, though no one can see it. You are going to blame yourself, but it had nothing to do with you: you were the rock that kept me sane and alive as long as I was. Of course, I’ve been jealous of your title, but I’ve begun to think that I never really wanted it. If Mother hadn’t told me so many times that I was better fit to be the duke, I probably wouldn’t have given a damn.
Merry lay on her back, the cool air making her shiver, even though she’d been overheated a minute before. Trent’s seed slid down the curve of her thigh, making her even colder—and more enraged.
She snapped to her feet, pulling on her robe, and threw open the door between their rooms. She was so angry that her vision blurred, but she saw her husband washing his face at the basin, shoulders hunched.
“Why are you being such an arse?” she demanded, slamming the door behind her.
Trent straightened with a muttered exclamation, turning around.
“I’m your wife and as such, I deserve respect,” Merry cried. “You spoke to me as if I were a doxy whom you had hired for the night. No, not for the night—for a matter of an hour or so!”
Instead of contrition, she saw grim satisfaction on his face. “I spoke to you like your lord and master, which I am.”
“You are not my lord and master,” she said sharply. “I’m American, remember? American, Trent. Where all men are created equal—and I count myself one of them.”
“You married an Englishman,” he stated.
The very air felt harsh in her lungs. “Please tell me that you didn’t treat me like that in order to teach me a lesson?” Her voice rose, though not to the heights it had when he drew out her second orgasm. Or her third. “You are behaving despicably,” she said hotly.
His mouth curled at the edges. “What is despicable about teaching you the ways your husband wants to be touched in bed?” His voice was silky, but his eyes were cold as ice.
“I hate you,” she breathed.
Instantly his eyes went blank.
“There, that didn’t take long, did it?”
“I don’t want you catching influenza.”
She smiled at that. “Influenza is nothing serious, not like scarlet fever.”
Of course, she caught the illness. It made him feel wild and panicked to see her lying in bed, eyes closed, looking limp and pale as death.
He sent a carriage to bring a couple of doctors from London, but they both said the same thing: the influenza had to run its course. She was shivering in her sleep, so he stripped off his clothes and crawled under the covers behind her, drawing her fiery little body against his.
She shivered against him but he held her close and murmured words that didn’t make any sense until she relaxed again his chest and went to sleep.
By the time she got well, she was too thin, and yet she never seemed to eat.
Merry stood staring at the closed door that led to her husband’s chamber, arms wrapped around herself as if she could stop her body from shaking.
Then she walked around to the far side of the bed—her side—and huddled under the covers like a homeless person with one blanket, shivering in winter air.
Her sins had come home to haunt her in a way she had never imagined. Her own husband considered her so shallow that he didn’t want to discuss her love for him, certain that it would last no more than a week.
She felt as if she had listened to Trent describe a stranger rather than herself, someone with a hard heart and a shallow spirit.
Her gaze blurred and a sob rose with such force that it hurt her chest. The next morning she woke in a tangle of hair, with salty cheeks.
She had breakfast in bed, then trailed drearily down into the garden and transplanted some seedlings. An hour or so she peeled off her earth-stained ball gloves and returned to the house, spending the day in her sitting room going through the house with Mrs. Honeydukes and making a list of renovations that ought to be done.
After that, Oliver took her in the pony cart to the village to discuss drapery with the local seamstress, and returned too late for luncheon. As the light drew in, she retreated to her sitting room.
One of the projects she planned was a complete refurbishment of the Hawksmede maze, which had fallen into disrepair. Hedges were missing, and saplings had grown three or four years high in the midst of rows. She grew calmer as her pencil shaped an intricate design that would lead inexorably toward the center.
Unfortunately, she had bid guests to dinner, because there was nothing she would like better than to take dinner on a tray. But she told herself that would be cowardly, and dressed carefully. Hawksmede’s great rooms were chilly in the evening, even in the summer, but she wore one of her Parisian dresses that bared a good deal of bosom and shoulder.
When she walked into the drawing room that evening, her heart thumped because Trent was waiting for her, so tall and large and beautiful that she couldn’t believe she had ever thought she could love another man.
She smiled and turned to take a glass of sherry offered by Oswald. “I trust you had a good day?” Her wine stung her mouth, but the sting was nothing compared to that in her throat.
This was going to be hard. Why had she ever thought that she could read Trent’s face? She couldn’t. Oh, when he was Jack, and he was looking at her with raw desire…she understood that.
But when he stood in the drawing room, she had no idea what he was thinking.
The door opened and Oswald announced the vicar and his wife. Merry wheeled to greet them with rather more warmth than she usually did.
Squire Trent and Lady Pearl were followed by Mr. Kestril, who had brought along a clipping from Sowerby’s English Botany, describing a new cultivation of irises.
Somehow she survived the meal, talking of flowers and other trivialities that covered up an aching heart. Trent sat at the other end of the table, part of a lively conversation about the village barber and his conviction that billygoats were the most intelligent farm animals.
Once or twice, she was certain she felt her husband’s gaze. Merry’s body burned with yearning. But she couldn’t give in and look at him for fear that a glimpse of his disdain rather than the heat that she wanted would make her break in front of their guests.
When the ladies retired, she left the room without meeting her husband’s eyes. And after the gentlemen rejoined them in the drawing room, she made certain that she was cozily ensconced in a settee made for two, talking to the vicar’s wife.
There was no avoiding the conclusion of the night, though. Their guests rose and took themselves to the drawing room door, talking like magpies, though English gentry probably wouldn’t like to be compared to such pedestrian birds.
Merry kept her back very straight as her husband came to her side, bowing his farewells. Finally, the vicar and his wife—always the first to arrive and the last to leave—tripped away to their waiting carriage.
“That went well,” Merry said, forcing her mouth to form the words. She curled her hands into fists and then quickly relaxed them.
“Your dinners always do,” her husband said, taking her arm. He added something she couldn’t hear, because he was towing her up the stairs so fast that their steps clattered on the old wood.
No. She could not simply make love, not when her heart felt as if it had been flayed. When they reached the door of her bedchamber, Merry slipped her hand from his arm and put a composed smile on her face. She could mask grief as well as any English lady.
“Good night, my lord,” she said, turning to pull open the door.
An open palm above her head kept it shut.
“May I pay a visit to your chamber?”
“I have something of a headache, so I think I will ask my maid to bath my forehead in vinegar.”
Trent looked down at her, his dark eyes unreadable. “Perhaps tomorrow if you are feeling better.”
He came up on one elbow. “Couples in a long marriage face many problems,” he said, putting a hand on her back. “You once told me that you fall out of love after you get to know your fiancés better. The truth is that I have many faults,” Trent said, ignoring that claim. His palm rubbed light circles on her shoulder. “Hundreds of them. You’ll see them clearly in no time. Look how quickly you figured out what Cedric is really like. “You’ll figure me out in no time,” he said. “I think that’s the solution. Once you get over this-this emotional side of things, we can go back to the way we were before.”
She thought about trying to disabuse him—she would love him to her last dying day—but what was the point? Trent seemed happy to think that she would shed her love for him in a matter of a week or so.
And it didn’t matter, did it?
What really mattered was not her feelings, but her behavior. He didn’t care if she loved him, only if she made a fuss about it.
“So what are your worst traits?” she said, with a sigh.
“Don’t you think that I should leave you to figure them out on your own?”
She shook her head. “You might as well give me a head’s up.”
“I work night and day,” he said promptly. “You’ll learn to hate that. I never keep regular hours. I eat supper in the middle of the night, in the kitchens.”
“We’ve eaten together every night since we married,” she pointed out. “What else?”
“I’m harsh,” he admitted. “I don’t mean to be, but I am realizing that it’s not just my brother who is angry. I always thought he was the only one scarred by our childhood, by my father’s drinking.” He was silent a moment. “But I can behave like a real bastard.”
“You are certainly not sweetness and light,” she agreed.
“I am also extremely possessive,” Trent said, meeting her eyes. It was true. He regarded her with all the pride of ownership that Cedric had displayed for that new coat with the inlaid buttons.
Stupid woman that she was, it gave her a thrill, as if it meant he actually treasured her. Which he clearly did not.
She sighed. “For some reason, that isn’t putting me off.”
“You’ve lost weight, my lady,” her maid said disapprovingly in the afternoon, as she helped her from the bath.
Merry never felt like eating these days. “I am a bit queasy,” she said, putting a hand on her stomach.
“Perhaps you’re carrying a child!”
She shook her head. She couldn’t say exactly how she knew, but she did. Her queasiness was likely all the salty tears that she hadn’t shed. They were poisoning her.
“I’m sure you are!” her maid said, clapping her hands. She lowered her voice. “Anyone can tell that the duke is doing his best to make certain of his heir, if you’ll forgive the impertinence, my lady.”
The thought was rather horrific. When they had the requisite heir and spare, would Trent still come to her bed at all? Didn’t he say that his enthusiasm was only because she was a shiny new toy?
Women who had given birth to a child weren’t shiny or new. Suddenly she understood why ladies didn’t breast feed their own children. Her breasts would probably grow so large that she’d look like a cow with udders.
Trent would be disgusted and stay in London just to avoid looking at her. Merry was perfectly well aware that she was being idiotic, but she couldn’t seem to talk herself out of it.
Whenever she was tired—and since she didn’t sleep well, she was always tired these days—she just heard his voice saying that he would never love “anyone like her.” That just made her mind chase in circles, listing all the reasons she was unlovable.
Her maid was happily trotting around the room talking of babies, but
Her hand went to her stomach again and she actually swayed where she stood. All of a sudden, her maid rushed over and pushed her into a chair.
“That’s it, Your Grace!” she said with a little scream. “You’re in the family way!”
Trent frowned down at the note he held.
His butler appeared to be ordering him to return to the country, as the duchess had taken ill.
He read the note again. Her Grace was feeling queasy.
The word slammed into him with all the force of an avalanche. There was only one explanation for his butler’s unusual interest in his whereabouts. Merry was carrying a child.
A future duke, perhaps. Or a little girl with Merry’s curls and her bright, curious eyes.
They weren’t so bright lately.
The note crumpled in his hand. Whatever had gone wrong with their marriage had to be brought into the open. Something had rotted at its core, and it was no good pretending that it hadn’t.
“Your breasts are already larger,” her maid said happily. “This gown won’t be decent in a month or so.”
“I am not enciente,” Merry told her firmly.
“His Grace may join you at the dinner,” the butler announced, as he helped her with her pelisse so that she could take the short carriage ride over to the squire’s house, a mere three miles away.
“Truly?” Merry asked, startled. “I thought the duke planned to be away for several days.”
“I’m believe His Grace will return this evening,” the butler stated.
It shouldn’t surprise her to find that the staff were better informed about her husband’s plans than she was.
It wasn’t until she was in the carriage on the way to the dinner being given by the squire that she realized the reason why Oswald was certain Trent would return.
It was the same reason he had been so care-taking, urging her to sit down while she waited for the carriage to be brought again. Her heart sank.
Her maid had shared the idea of a baby. Now she thought of it, there had been a distinct buzz of excitement in the household all day.
Worst of all, it seemed their butler had seemingly taken it upon himself to send a groom to London to fetch Trent.
They walked slowly from the room. “I expect you have need of a chamber pot as well,” Lady Peel said in the carrying voice of a nearly deaf person. “I remember well what it was like when I was carrying a child. I peed so many times a day that I felt like a rain spout in April.”
Merry’s mouth opened and closed, like a trout. “To the best of my knowledge, I am not carrying a child.”
Lady Peel smiled at her over one stooped shoulder. “You mustn’t worry about losing the mite. You’ve got good sturdy hips, as my husband noted to me when we heard about it.”
Her hips? Her neighbors had been discussing her hips?
“When you heard about it,” Merry repeated. “When was that?”
“This afternoon, of course. Did you not know that one of your grooms is the younger brother of our coachman? There’s no keeping good news to yourself, my dear.”
“I truly don’t believe that I am enciente,” Merry ventured. They approached the door of the retiring room, where a maid waited at the door.
“I never credited it either, until there was no avoiding the truth,” Lady Peel said, collapsing into a chair. “One always hears that sort of thing from one’s maid. They pay attention.”
A few minutes later they returned to the party, Merry feeling positively green at the idea that everyone had spent the day speculating about a baby who didn’t exist.
No English husband. No impossible demands that she become someone she wasn’t. No withering scorn at the mistakes she made, whether they involved sugar tongs or foolish adoration.
She should be home by now. Not stuck in a foreign country, loving a man who disdained her. Who would never love her. Who was utterly convinced that she was faithless and superficial.
After all, he could never love “someone like her.” Those three words banged around in her head until she finally fell asleep.
“I wish to God that we had never come to London,” Mrs. Pelford said with feeling. “We should have tried Virginia.” She turned to Trent. “I asked you to leave the premises. Duke. Shoo!”
Not only was Trent planning to marry a woman who had little respect for his title, he was marrying into a whole family that thought—well, that thought he should be treated like any other man.
“All right,” he said, giving in. “I shall pay you a call tomorrow morning, if I may.”
“There is no need,” Merry said.
Someone cleared her throat angrily, and he looked up.
“Aunt Bess,” Merry squeaked, spilling off his lap and jumping to her feet.
Trent rose more slowly.
“Merry Eleanor Pelford,” said the lady ominously, her plump figure visibly quivering. “I need hardly say how disappointed I am by your behavior. I thought to console you on the demise of your betrothal, since the entire ballroom is discussing your ill-chosen exchange of words with your fiancé. And what do I see?”
Trent put a hand on Merry’s back. “Mrs. Pelford.”
She didn’t even spare him a glance. Her voice rose with majestic emphasis. “I see a sight that disappoints me beyond words!”
“Our embrace was entirely my fault.” Trent gave Merry’s aunt a look that had been perfected by generations of dukes, and was guaranteed to produce a chastened silence.
“Beshrew me if that’s the truth!” she retorted, his stare having no effect whatsoever. “I didn’t see my niece struggling. It’s a wonderful the two of you didn’t flare up like an old cottonwood hit by lightning.”
Merry stepped away from him and took her aunt’s hand. “It was nothing more than a kiss, Aunt. The duke was comforting me because of the argument I had with Cedric.”
“And that’s another thing,” her aunt said. “I cannot believe that you lowered yourself to acknowledge Lord Cedric’s debts—in public. I am horrified by the vulgarity of the entire conversation you reportedly had with your fiancé. Ladies do not discuss financial matters where other might hear them!”
Merry’s chin rose in the air. “You taught me to defend the weak, Aunt. I spoke as I did in defense of Mrs. Bennett, and I do not regret a word of it!”
Bravo. Merry Pelford takes a stand. Trent bit back a smile. She would be a formidable duchess.
A stain the color of raspberries had crept into Merry’s cheeks. “More importantly, His Grace only kissed me because I was distressed by the unpleasantness of my conversation with Cedric.”
Mrs. Pelford turned her scowl to Trent. “I am forcibly reminded of two schoolboys squabbling over a toy. No American gentleman would think of seducing his brother’s fiancé.” Her voice took on a ferocious undertone. “Tell me that this kiss was the result of a bet between you, and pistols at dawn will be the least of my husband’s revenge.”
“There was no bet, and I have no intention of seducing your niece.” Trent never explained himself, never. But Merry’s aunt was owed some sort of account. “My brother understands his betrothal to Miss Pelford is at an end.”
“You have no reason to worry,” Merry said quickly, turning to him. “As my aunt has made clear, there will be no consequences of your—of the comfort you gave me.”
Worry about what? Surely she didn’t think that he sat around kissing ladies whom he didn’t plan to marry?
“I shall fetch Thaddeus. And you,” Mrs. Trent rounded on Trent, “shall leave immediately. If your carriage is not in the vicinity, I would request that you take a hired vehicle. There is a great deal of unpleasant chatter circulating in the ballroom.”
Merry put her hands over her face.
“We shall face a gauntlet when we leave this chamber. No one knows if Lord Cedric has left the ball, but everyone knows that Merry was last seen in your company.”
“You leave immediately, Your Grace,” Merry said in a strained voice. “If I am nowhere to be seen, the rumors will quickly die.”
“I’m no good at making wax flowers or painting glass,” Merry continued. “I haven’t any children, obviously.”
“I see,” Mrs. Honeyside said.
“The solution may lay in the gardens.”
“In the gardens?”
The housekeeper looked as if she’d announced an intention to seek treasure by digging up the rose beds.
“It was dark when we arrived last night, but I expect there are any number of gardens around the house. I glimpsed a large formal one from my bedchamber window.”
“Designed in the time of good king Henry VIII.”
“The very definition of a design that is out of date,” Merry said cheerfully.
The housekeeper’s body stiffened. “The duchy gardens have been the same time out of mind.”
“My point is that we shall get along much better if you don’t consider me as a lily who neither labors nor spins.”
Mrs. Honeyside looked surprised. “Matthew 6:8.”
“Precisely. I am likely to change many things around the duchy. It would be best if we could work peaceably together,” Merry said. “So, where are you from, Mrs. Honeyside? And would you like a cup of tea?”
The housekeeper was thoroughly rattled by now. Her look of composure gone, she looked more angular, with high cheekbones emphasized. “My parents are Irish,” she said, “but we moved here to the village when I was a wee one.”
“Excellent! So you can tell me all about the neighborhood.” Merry handed her a cup of tea. “But first we should discuss the household.” She took another crumpet. If she didn’t start paying attention, she was going to become as round as a beer barrel. “Would you like a crumpet?” she asked.
“No, thank you, Your Grace.”
“How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking?” Merry enquired.
“That’s very young to have become a housekeeper of a house this size,” Merry said encouragingly. “Have you been here for years?”
“Did you know that Shakespeare’s plays were banned in Boston for many years?” Merry asked. “The first performance of Hamlet didn’t happen until 1754.”
“You have the oddest way of coming out with dates and such like,” Lady Caroline said. “Odd” was no compliment.
“I suppose the Puritans were in charge fifty years ago,” the duke said.
“My father was not a Puritan, but he was a member of the first Continental Congress. They passed a law in 1774 forbidding public entertainment such as the plays—because Shakespeare was British.”
Lady Caroline recoiled. “British? Merely because he was British?”
The duke was looking distinctly amused. “If I remember correctly, Miss Pelford, there was also talk of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners.”
Merry was wearing her favorite riding coat, dark rose with a double row of brass buttons down her front, and tight as it could be. It had been created by a master and somehow managed to make her look taller and slimmer, all at once. “This was not made by an American modiste—” she began.
But Cedric interrupted. “Whoever made it wasn’t thinking about British society.”
That would be because the modiste was Parisian. And he was thinking of men.
Her experience of men—all those fiancés proved useful, she thought wryly—had taught her that they wanted what they could not have, and they discounted anything in their grasp.
If she lavished love on Trent, as every instinct in her heart told her to do, he would have everything he wanted, without working for it. His brother dropped her into his lap like a ripe plum. He hadn’t had to declare interest, or even consider the idea that she might refuse him.
She had the sudden notion that they could remain frozen in limbo, in love but not loving, making love but not acknowledging it.
Merry got up and brushed off her gown and walked back to the house feeling better than she had in days. If the Duke of Trent needed a challenge then, by God, she’d give him a challenge.
Yet marriage to her—for all he offered logical reasons—hadn’t been rational. She was American and his brother’s fiancé. He could have stayed miles away. He hadn’t. The man who never attended society events had gone to two balls and a dinner party. He had kissed her twice, even though he knew it would cause a tremendous scandal.
Merry even found that she was smiling as she drew her little circles in the dirt.
If her husband cared nothing for her, he wouldn’t give a damn whether she fell in love with him or not. It wasn’t that he loathed her for being shallow; he was afraid she would stop loving him.
As if she could.
He’d got what he wanted…right? A tiny smile curled Merry’s lips.
Trent was afraid of love. When she confessed to loving him, he went into a blind panic. It seemed anathema to speak of “fear” in relation to her husband: he was fearless, if not ferocious.
But there was no reason for him to behave so irrationally if he didn’t fear the emotion. To all appearances, he was the epitome of rational control in normal life, almost certainly in response to the chaos caused by his father’s love of drink.
For the first time in two days, the poisonous chill in her stomach eased.
It might take a while for Trent to realize that her love was not infatuation, and wouldn’t go away. He was confused, and when men were confused, they became angry.
Apparently, English maidens were expected to have girlish figures and not, as Miss Fairfax put it, glitter like a cheap trinket.
Or at least her cleavage did.
“The author of the conduct book I am recommending is sister to a duchess,” Cedric said, “and I can assure you that her book is read by young English ladies as well.”
Merry had learned quite a bit about duchesses and their ilk in the month since they arrived in London. Her own fiancé’s brother had never bothered to introduce himself in the three weeks that Cedric had been courting her. The man was probably disgusted to imagine that his future sister-in-law would be an American.
Not that she cared. Dukes likely sat about eating sugarplums all day, and she hadn’t the faintest interest.
She cocked her head to the side, suddenly curious. “Is there an equivalent for young men?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you handed a book telling you exactly how to acquire the veneer of an English gentleman, or did it come with birth?”
Too late, she realized that he didn’t really have that veneer. Not with his brutally short hair and plain coat, as dark as midnight. There might be a book—and if not, Cedric could write one—but this fellow hadn’t found it.
“To the best of my knowledge, there is no such book,” he said, confirming her thought.
“Do all Americans have poor memories?” the man enquired. “From my limited experience, I find your abrasiveness quite characteristic.”
Merry ground her teeth. “No, we have a very long memory for some things,” she said, meaning the whole sorry history of their two countries. Rage probably wasn’t a ladylike characteristic, she was certain.
There was something about this particular Englishman, his air of absolute command, that made her want to poke him.
“Don’t tell me that you Americans are still complaining about the treaty between our countries? It’s five years old now. And it was brokered by your chief justice, after all.”
Merry’s eyes narrowed and she folded her arms over her chest. “Why wouldn’t we complain?” she flashed. “In those five years, the British have seized any number of American goods bound for France. That’s piracy, by another name!”
“We’re at war with France,” the man said in an infuriating patience, as if he were explaining politics to a five-year-old. “And your country is our ally in that battle.”
“You, sir, are very lucky that French privateers have been so unreasonable in their demands. At any rate, America has never formally declared war.”
“Lack of courage?”
“Never!” she flashed back. “We lost only one navy ship to the French, the Retaliation, may I point out. Whereas your country, Sir, lost many more.”
Note: And here is the full chapter depicting Merry’s betrothal to Cedric, which I had to radically truncate in order to keep the pacing right in the book. I hope you enjoy! –Eloisa
April 5, 1803
Lady Portmeadow’s ball
15 Golden Square
Her heart bounding, Miss Merry Pelford gazed down at the buttery curls of Lord Cedric Allardyce as he knelt before her, his proposal a mix of poetry and emotion. Outside Lord Portmeadow’s library, a rainy April held London tight in its dark, wet grip—but Merry was oblivious to it, for Cedric had just compared her to “a summer’s day.”
Merry had not given up hope that men existed who were as kind as they were handsome, but she had given up hope of finding one. She had finally vowed to herself that even if she couldn’t find a perfect man, her third engagement ring would be her last.
But now she understood that the old saying had come true: the third time really was the charm.
She couldn’t imagine changing her mind about Cedric. He was as handsome as her second fiancé, Dermot Popplewell, but—more importantly—he was a good man. Directly after meeting him in March, she had learned that he had been instrumental in raising funds for a charity hospital being built in East London.
What’s more, he was unfailingly gracious. He noted her Americanisms but never scolded her for them. Every word he uttered was eloquent. After her first fiancé, Bertie Pike, proposed, he’d told her that she was “as pretty as a red wagon.”
A red wagon! She should have known from that very moment he was unsuitable, but she’d been infatuated.
Cedric, by contrast, had just compared her to a “darling bud of May.” Would Bertie have sworn that he loved her to distraction?
No. The only thing that distracted Bertie was a new rapier in a shop window.
Cedric didn’t give a flip about her money, either. He was a duke’s son, for goodness’ sake. Her uncle Thaddeus had told her that very afternoon—while noting that Lord Cedric had his permission to propose—that his lordship had no need of her fortune.
Honestly, Cedric was almost too good to be true. She felt a niggle of worry. But she pushed it aside.
He was perfect for her.
As she watched, rapt, he caught up her right hand, delicately removed her glove, and slid a diamond ring onto her finger. Emotion was pressing so hard on the back of Merry’s throat that she hadn’t even croaked “yes” before he touched her lips to her fingers, and rose as gracefully as he had knelt.
Cedric smiled at her and ran a finger down her cheek. With a thrill, Merry realized that he was going to kiss her for the first time. He leaned forward, and a shiver ran through her.
“I’m morally opposed to kissing young ladies to whom I am not affianced, Merry. Will you say yes?”
He was so ethical, so unlike the lecherous boys she had known back home. “Yes,” she breathed. He bent toward her again and Merry’s eyes drifted closed. His lips brushed hers, once, then again.
She swayed toward him, tilting her head to receive another kiss, a real kiss this time, one where he would draw her into his strong arms and kiss her as if he was scarcely able to contain himself.
No kiss came.
She opened her eyes. Her fiancé had turned toward the library table, and was picking up the glass he had carried with him from the ballroom.
With a start, Merry remembered her governess’s instruction. An English lord would never be as indecorous as Bertie, who stole kisses every chance he got. Even worse, if Bertie managed to catch her alone, he would caress her in most inappropriate ways.
She wouldn’t like Cedric to behave in such an unseemly fashion. Well, perhaps she would like it, but it would never happen because Cedric was a true gentleman, as principled as he was handsome.
“I don’t suppose you ever imagined as a little girl that you would marry into the English peerage,” Cedric said.
“No, I hadn’t,” Merry admitted. After a brief encounter with a Mohawk warrior at age eleven, she’d always imagined herself as the adored bride of a warrior with high cheekbones and the touch of wilderness in his eyes—most assuredly not an English peer.
That girlish foolishness had led directly to her acceptance of Bertie’s proposal. Obviously, Cedric was as unlike Bertie as a swan to a potato.
Lord Cedric Allardyce epitomized British aristocracy. If she was a summer’s day, he was the glitter of sun on snow.
As dazzling as the ring he had slipped onto her finger. “Did you know that the first diamond ring in honor of a betrothal was given by the Archduke Maximilian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy?” Cedric asked, nodding at her hand. “I chose this ring because you are as lovely as that archduchess.”
“I’m honored,” Merry breathed. As much as she loved Dermot’s hair, his woven-hair ring was revolting by comparison to this. “It is exquisite. I love rose-cut diamonds.”
“Your ring finger is as perfect as the rest of you.” He smiled down at her. “Just imagine what your friends will think when they learn you will be Lady Cedric Allardyce. Surely to be a lady is the dearest wish of every schoolgirl in America.”
Merry bit her lip. She was certain he didn’t mean to condescend. But before she could offer her opinion about the ambitions of an entire nation of schoolgirls, Cedric added, “I say, have I put my foot in it? Did you have a governess rather than go to school? I have no idea whether there are governesses in the United States, what with the wilderness aspect and all. I do apologize.”
His worry about insulting her was typical of Cedric’s sweetness. His knowledge of New England was very limited, but that was true of everyone she’d met in London. Earlier that evening, for example, Lady Prunella Smithers had been astounded to learn that Bostonians drank tea. “For some reason, I thought you threw it all in the harbor,” she had said, puzzled. “I distinctly remember my governess telling me that Americans abhorred tea.”
“Boston is quite civilized,” Merry informed Cedric. “Though as it happens, I had an English governess.”
“Indeed? Ah, that explains your charming manners. She must be very proud of her charge,” Cedric said, returning her glove.
In fact, Miss Fairfax would likely faint from shock when she heard the news.
Back in the summer, her governess had vehemently protested Aunt Bess’ decision to take Merry to London for the season, arguing that no English gentleman would want to marry her charge, whom she deemed entirely lacking in ladylike graces.
“Let me be the first to admit that I have failed, after a lifetime of instructing the very finest young ladies,” she told them shrilly. “I have failed!”
“Merry’s reputation has suffered from breaking two engagements,” Aunt Bess had pointed out. “My husband and I both think that it would be advisable to go farther afield.”
It wasn’t as if Merry had left Bertie and Dermot at the altar. She’d ended things as soon as she’d recognized her mistakes, although unfortunately she hadn’t been certain about Bertie until the day before she was due to marry him.
Aunt Bess was right. People were calling her “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary” behind her back. What sensible man would trust her to keep her promise?
“Well, this is a thirsty business, proposing,” Cedric said, as Merry carefully drew the glove over her newly bejeweled hand. “Why don’t we find you some lemonade?”
Merry had discovered earlier that evening that the lemonade on offer looked like piddle and tasted like water. Not that she had voiced this observation, because—thank you, Miss Fairfax!—she was perfectly capable of tact. Besides, the lemonade served at balls in London never tasted like much, which suggested it was a preferred taste.
She suspected Cedric was drinking something other than lemonade, since she had observed that gentlemen usually had different, and presumably better, drinks than did the ladies.
“May I try yours instead?” she asked, reaching toward the glass he held.
Cedric fell back a step. “Snatching a drink from a man’s hand is simply not done, Darling. But don’t fret; I shall guide you through the thickets of English decorum, pointing out little faux pas before anyone else notices them.”
Merry felt her cheeks warm with embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I shall be very grateful for your advice.”
“British ladies do not imbibe brandy, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic. I’m sure I can find you something better than lemonade.”
He turned and headed for an array of decanters that stood on the sideboard. “I can’t imagine why people believe that the lemon is an adequate substitute for the grape.” Just as if he were a son of the house, he started pulling the stoppers from the decanters and sniffing them.
“I believe you’ll enjoy this,” Cedric said, and handed her yet another pale yellow drink.
She thanked him and took a tentative sip. It was like wine, but sharper and more flowery. “This is lovely,” she said, beaming at him.
“Canary wine looks just like lemonade, so no one will know,” he said conspiratorially, clicking his glass against hers. “Here’s to your health!”
He refilled his glass and then ushered her to the sofa, respectfully seating himself at the opposite end. Merry could hardly believe that this was actually happening to her.
She was betrothed to an English lord, who was telling her in his delicious accent where they would live once they were married. Naturally, he owned a house in one of the city’s most genteel areas. Too dazzled—and frankly, too ignorant of London geography—to contribute to the conversation, she finished her wine in silence.
Cedric bounded up and refilled it for her. He settled himself back into his end of the sofa and began telling her about the previous day, when he had wagered against the Prince of Wales at cards, and won.
“You played cards with the prince?”
“Prinny is one of my dearest friends,” Cedric assured her. “He approves of our marriage, by the way.”
Merry wasn’t sure what to think about that. What she knew of the prince hadn’t led her to think he would be good company, but it could be that her impression was tainted by her nationality. Americans did not approve of the monarchy.
“I informed him that I was thinking of marrying a granddaughter of Lord Merrick,” Cedric continued. “I told my brother the same, last evening.”
“I have yet to meet your brother,” Merry said, seizing an opportunity to change the subject.
“Later, I shall introduce you to the prince and to my brother. His Grace is rarely seen in a ballroom,” Cedric said, sighing. “The duke isn’t at home in refined surroundings. He wasn’t lucky enough to inherit…shall we say, my aplomb? He’s always been resentful of me, and the fact I have won the hand of such a beautiful woman will make him more petulant than usual.”
A beautiful woman! Merry generally thought of herself as pretty, but never beautiful. “Beautiful” was a word reserved for women with silky locks as long as their gazelle-like legs. Merry’s hair was thick, unfashionably dark, and curled too much to grow past her shoulders.
Her eyes weren’t starlike, her lips weren’t rubies, and there was nothing willowy about her—so being told she was beautiful made her feel an pulse of pleasure that went right to her toes.
Bertie’s red-wagon remark had dealt a blow to her self-esteem. But Cedric’s compliments were in an entirely other realm—gracefully delivered, with such deep sincerity. She couldn’t stop smiling.
“I feel I must warn you: you mustn’t expect His Grace to greet you with open arms,” Cedric was saying. “My brother dislikes both America and Americans, I’m afraid. He always votes against you in Lords.”
Oh dear. Well, it was better to be forewarned. Merry made up her mind on the spot to avoid the duke whenever possible. The last thing she wanted was to cause Cedric any strife owing to her nationality.
“His opinion is unimportant,” Cedric said, sliding closer, a debonair, rakish look lighting his eyes.
Merry’s heart instantly beat faster. He was going to kiss her—really kiss her. Pull her into his arms and…
He pressed a kiss on her lips.
“You look quite flushed,” Cedric said, pulling back. “Perhaps the wine is a bit strong for you?”
“Oh no,” Merry cried. “I love it. I love canary wine!” She hastily drained her glass, set it down, and snatched up her fan. He probably thought she was a country bumpkin. “Did you know that laudanum is sometimes made with a base of canary wine?”
Too late, she remembered that her governess had deplored Merry’s tendency to rattle off facts when she was embarrassed.
“If a gentleman doesn’t know something,” Miss Fairfax had said over and over, “it is not for one such as you to mend his ignorance. Besides, facts are boring.”
Cedric raised an eyebrow, but tactfully ignored her inept question. “Permit me to refill your glass,” he said, and stood.
“I shouldn’t drink any more wine,” Merry said, not wanting to admit that her head was spinning. But, well, it was. Spinning, that is.
She felt distinctly tipsy.
“But we must share a private toast to our betrothal,” Cedric said, turning around with a decanter in his hand. With his wavy locks falling over his eyes, he was heart-stoppingly handsome.
She nodded, wondering if she ought to simply confess how gauche she felt. They were going to be married, and he would be her most cherished friend in the world. And he was so sweet that he would instantly understand. She opened her mouth—
Cedric said, “You must be feeling terribly out of place.”
He understood her!
“Americans are often out of place when they first come here to London,” he continued, seating himself again.
Merry frowned. She didn’t think it was a question of nationality.
“Prinny said it best,” Cedric went on thoughtfully. “He noted just the other day that the spirit of Englishmen is entirely different from that of Americans. You can perhaps see it most readily in the servant class; ours are not only more obliging and industrious, but look better pleased and happier.”
“Well,” Merry began, hardly knowing where to start.
“You are a natural inhabitant of my country,” Cedric said. “Prinny was most reassuring about that. You may be American now, but in short order, your mother’s blood will prevail, and you will find yourself refined by the very air of England.”
Merry felt as if she’d lost track of the conversation some time ago. “By the air?” she echoed.
“You will quickly learn all the little things that characterize an English gentlewoman. The habits of mind that bespeak gentility without words. For example, I have heard that in America, a man might eschew tongs entirely and pick up a lump of sugar with his fingers.”
“A pair of tongs is certainly more proper,” Merry ventured, beginning to wonder how much she should defend her countrymen.
“Yet Americans are innocent of a charge of nastiness,” Cedric said earnestly. “Where there are no rules, one cannot be wrathful about such an abomination, but in England, things are quite, quite different.”
Merry knew very well—because Miss Fairfax had informed her again and again—that she didn’t possess a proper delicacy of mind. Obviously, this was a sign of it, because she often snatched up a lump of sugar and dropped it into her tea without a second thought. In fact, she had occasionally done the same when serving her uncle.
Panic fluttered in her stomach. Hopefully, the air of England would start working on her before Cedric realized what she was truly like. What if London’s civilizing effect didn’t work its magic?
She couldn’t—she simply could not—break off another engagement.
“Merely by living in this great city, a person acquires elegance of manners,” Cedric concluded, setting his empty glass to the side. “Shall we return and announce the happy news that you have accepted my proposal?”
As they reentered the ballroom, Merry saw at once that there was no need to make a formal announcement of their betrothal; twenty or more heads swiveled expectantly in their direction. She glanced up to find her fiancé smiling tenderly at her, for all the world as if she were Juliet and he her Romeo.
Her heart thumped again.
The third time truly was the charm. Cedric was ideal.
All she had to do was make herself as perfect as he was.