There was originally a much more painful scene in A Bride Worth Taking, back when it was titled Mr. Gerrard Takes A Bride, and we decided to shift away from it. It comes in two parts, the revelation and the fallout. So take a read through and see what you think:
- Kit turned and sighed impatiently. “Then what is it, Marianne? You wanted your independence, I am letting you have it.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
“Breakfast and servant selection aside,” he allowed with a roll of his eyes.
“I had a question I wanted to ask,” she said simply.
He gestured irritably. “So ask.”
She gnawed her lip a bit, suddenly terribly awkward and uncomfortable.
“What, Marianne?” Kit all but barked.
Her eyes shifted over to the valet, who was staring between the two of them curiously.
Kit exhaled slowly. “Pearce, if you would leave us, please.”
Pearce bowed, and departed, but no doubt remained close in the hopes of hearing them.
“What is it?” Kit asked, his voice noticeably quieter.
Marianne steeled herself, and said, “I was wondering when you anticipated visiting my chambers.” She raised her brows a little to emphasize just what she was asking, hoping he would understand her.
Kit blinked slowly twice before answering. “I see no reason to pursue such a course until an heir is needed and desired.”
Her mouth popped open. She had not expected that. “But what about our…consummation?” she asked, gesturing a little.
He raised a brow. “It will happen at that time.”
“You don’t wish to do so now?” Really, this was not making any sense. What man in London was not anticipating such things? Particularly with her…
She was not generally so highly opinionated of herself, but really, the proof was there.
He sniffed once. “No. Don’t be so anxious to have such attentions, Marianne. It makes you seem vulgar.”
She frowned at him, her ire rising at his superior airs and his smug smirk. “I was not anxious about the marriage bed. Merely wondering when to expect it.”
“As I said, not until I must.” He looked as pleased about the idea as she felt, and that, for some reason, drove her irritation higher.
“If you have no desire to touch me until you must, why bother at all?” she snapped, folding her arms more tightly. “I could have this marriage annulled, you know. It would be only too easy to inform the proper individuals that the marriage remains unconsummated and I a maiden untouched.”
He snorted and gave her the most condescending look she had ever seen. “Please, Marianne. No one in the world believes you are still in possession of your virtue. After your behavior this past week, and the last few years, in fact, there has been very little question as to that point.”
He inclined his head and spun on his heel and was out the door before she had blinked once.
The next breath she drew in was a series of fractured sobs of air, and her lungs began an unsteady pace that she could not maintain. Her heart ached, her knees shook, and her head throbbed, blood roaring in her ears. She slowly made her way to the stairs and started up.
A servant of some kind asked if she needed assistance, and she ignored them.
So that was why Kit had stipulated no lovers. He thought she already had them.
No one in the world thought her innocent?
Not even him?
Something wet splashed on her hands, and she looked at them in confusion, then felt her face, where her cheeks were damp. More tears fell without her being aware of them, and she staggered to her room in the home that might never be home.
Why save her if he thought her already ruined?
Why marry her if he thought she was so wicked?
What did the rest of the world think?
She sat down in a chair by the window of her room, folded her wrap securely around her, and let her tears fall, unaware of anything else at all.
Mrs. Wilton appeared, a furrow between her brows and a frown on her face. She saw Kit and came over to him, curtseying politely. “Welcome home, sir,” she said with a weary note in her voice.
Kit looked at the woman in concern. “What is the matter, Mrs. Wilton?”
Her lips compressed into a tight line and her fingers slid together anxiously. “I know I am new to your employ, sir, and there has not yet been time to get to know each other or find a balance within the house, but I wonder…” She trailed off, looking uncertain.
From what Kit understood about this woman, uncertainty was not in her nature. Whatever troubled her must have been serious, indeed. “Wonder what?” he prodded gently, his anxiety rising. If his wife had turned into a terror already…
She met his eyes, and the concern in her dark eyes was evident. “Might I speak freely, sir?”
She exhaled shortly and folded her hands before her. “Does your wife have much of an appetite, sir?”
He smiled a little and nodded. “Yes, Mrs. Wilton, and quite a good one, at that.”
To his surprise, her brow furrowed further and her neatly clasped hands started wringing together. “I was afraid of that.”
Kit tilted his head, his uneasiness growing. “Why?” he asked more sharply than he intended.
Mrs. Wilton’s mouth worried a little. “She has not been seen since breakfast, sir. She has been locked in her room, without seeing a soul or eating a thing.”
That was not like Marianne at all. She craved attention, she would never shut herself away completely. Even at his estate in Yorkshire she had not been entirely reclusive. She had avoided him, and the others, most likely out of shame and embarrassment, but she had come and gone at will.
And she would never turn down food.
“How do you know she has not eaten?” he inquired calmly, forcing himself to seem merely curious.
“The trays remained outside her door, sir,” the housekeeper replied in a like tone. “I tried to get her to open up and take something, but she never did.”
He exhaled a hum and looked up the stairs towards her room. “I will see to it, Mrs. Wilton. Thank you for informing me.”
Sensing the conversation was over, Mrs. Wilton’s expression cleared a little. She curtseyed with an inarticulate murmur and started to walk away.
“Mrs. Wilton?” Kit called after her.
She turned almost on her heel. “Sir?”
He gave her a faint smile. “You may always speak freely with me. No permission is necessary.”
A small smile appeared on her face. “You and your wife, sir, are two of a kind.” She inclined her head and left the entryway.
Kit frowned and stood indecisive for a moment. Two of a kind? The poor woman was deluded. He would have to speak with Caldwell about that.
Then again, she did not know them well at all. If Marianne had given her a false impression of herself, he supposed it was possible to create similarities between them. But in reality, they were nothing alike.
And Marianne’s pouting now certainly proved that.
He exhaled impatiently and ventured up the stairs. Marianne was a grown woman who ought to have been beyond such childish things, and he would tell her so. He would set some rules and boundaries with such clarity that she would understand, in no uncertain terms, how she would be expected to behave. He had told her he would not be high handed, but it could not be helped if this was how she would behave.
He knocked firmly at the door to her bedchamber, and there was no response from within.
“Marianne,” he called in a perfectly calm, controlled voice. “Let me in, please.”
Again, he heard nothing.
He had to be controlled, contained, and above barbarity. He was in the hallway of the London house they had lived in for two days, he would not let her drive him into such disarray so publicly before strangers, no matter how disinclined they were to speak of house matters.
He reached for the door handle, and found it unlocked. Had it ever been locked at all? He took a moment to shake his head, wondering at the intelligence of the servants in this place, and then entered the room.
It was dark but for the moonlight streaming through the windows. The fire in the grate had long died out, and no candles had been lit. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness, and then he caught sight of Marianne.
She sat in a chair that faced the window, still and unmoving.
“Marianne, this is enough,” he said firmly, feeling very much as though he were scolding Rosie again.
He heard her exhale sharply, and it irritated him more than it should have.
“Come,” he ordered, going over to the chair. “Stop being childish. If you do not get yourself out of this room and downstairs, and eat an entire plate of dinner under Mrs. Wilton’s attention, I will carry you over my shoulder and—”
Her face turned towards him and effectively silenced him as he took in the hollow, weary expression. There were no tears, but he suspected there had been. She still wore the nightgown and wrap from the morning, while her hair hung limply around her. She looked almost fragile, though she had been vibrant enough only hours ago.
He almost fell back a step at the picture she presented, and he knew he would never forget it as long as he lived.
She licked her lips, swallowed, and seemed to consider him with the sort of assessment one gives a criminal. “I always thought you were the sort of man who would believe the best in people. Particularly if you knew them well.”
The complete lack of emotion in her voice stole his breath and he shook his head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
That was clearly not the answer she had thought he would give, for she made a strange noise of distress.
“When you said no one believed I had virtue left,” she said in a choked voice. “I am not stupid enough to think the subject has never been whispered about in Society. But I didn’t know that included you.”
His eyes went wide, and he took in her disheveled and emotional state more carefully. She looked as though the stars had fallen from the sky or the world had faded into nothingness. As though her eyes had been opened to a horror unimaginable. As though she had suffered the worst sort of betrayal.
He nearly swore aloud as the pieces slowly fell into place. “You are innocent, aren’t you?” he breathed, feeling an odd choking sensation in his throat.
She slowly nodded, fresh tears rolling down her face, and hiccupped on restrained sobs.
He was nearly driven to his knees with guilt, shame, remorse, and a hundred other emotions far less easily defined. “Marianne, I am so sorry,” he said hoarsely, unable to draw a full breath. “I shouldn’t have… I didn’t mean…”
She shook her head, her dark hair whipping against her nightgown. ”Get out,” she whispered.
There was no mistaking the betrayal in her voice. He opened his arms and approached to try and comfort her, anything to ease her pain and his burden. “I would never—” he tried.
“Get. Out,” she hissed through clenched teeth, fighting her tears still.
He dropped his hands uselessly, his mouth working on another silent apology, but none would come. What could he say to her that would be worth anything?
She turned her face back to the window, her tears still flowing unchecked, and she swallowed with difficulty.
He did not reply. Indeed, he could not. He only felt more shame as he went to the door, closed it softly behind him, and left her alone, as she had asked.
It was the least he could do.