Sometimes it’s fun to write an obnoxious character. This is one of my favorite scenes from To Kiss a Rake, mostly because I had such a great time writing it. I don’t usually post such a long excerpt, but since it’s a promo day I feel delightfully free to post whatever I want.
Setup: Melinda Starling disappeared from a masquerade ball and is now known to be living at Lord Garrison’s house — so her reputation is ruined. Gossip abounds. Lord G has nobly asked her to marry him (and told his servants they are engaged) but she has refused, because she wants to marry for love.
Now one of her most persistent suitors from the past calls on her at Lord G’s house.
~ * ~
Melinda found Lord Bottleford pacing back and forth in front of the drawing room windows, scowling at his watch.
“You wished to see me?” Melinda said.
He whirled, flipping away a lock of pale hair that had fallen over his brow. “I am shocked, extremely shocked I should say, to find that the gossip is true. You are indeed living in Lord Garrison’s house.”
She put up her chin. “What business is that of yours?”
“It is the business of every decent human being to decry such blatant immorality.”
Melinda bristled but managed to say with commendable calm, “There is no immorality in my presence here. Lord Garrison gave me refuge and is staying elsewhere.”
“Is that the story you’re setting about? It won’t do. Everyone knows he ravished you.”
“They can’t possibly know that,” Melinda said, “because it isn’t true.”
“Do you mean—” He paused, going through some internal struggle. He often did that when particularly moved by some tedious subject. “No, surely not.” His mouth writhed with distaste. “You cannot possibly mean to say that you gave in willingly?”
“I didn’t give in to anything,” she retorted. “If you have come here only to insult me, I shall have you shown out.” She reached for the bell.
“Hold!” he said pompously. That lock of hair had fallen over his brow again. “My disgust got the better of me. I did not come to insult you but rather to offer to marry you.”
She gaped at him. “What?”
“They say you are engaged to Lord Garrison, but that is nonsense. Even if he has told you some such thing, you mustn’t believe him. He will use you and then desert you, like the libertine he is.”
She found that impossible to believe. If he meant to desert her, he’d had plenty of opportunity to do so already. Instead, his behavior seemed excessively honorable—and yet, his dreadful reputation hovered like a black cloud. She didn’t know what to think.
She also didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t say she was engaged to marry Lord Garrison, because it wasn’t true. She couldn’t say she wasn’t, because Mrs. Timms or one of the other servants might hear.
She needn’t have worried. Lord Bottleford, as usual, was prepared to carry the entire conversation himself. He flipped back the lock of hair. “It is not what I would wish, but given the distress you have caused Lady Starling, I had no choice but to step into the breach.”
“I don’t know what story my grandmother told you, but—”
“As I was saying, into the breach. You are a mere female and cannot understand the gravity of your situation. A speedy marriage is all that can save you.”
This was precisely what Lord Garrison had said, but at least he hadn’t insulted her intelligence. Lord Bottleford had a habit of maundering on about male wisdom. She tried to imagine Lord Garrison lecturing in such a way, and couldn’t.
“Lord Bottleford, I am no more willing to marry you now than I ever was. Did my grandmother put you up to this?”
“Lady Starling begged me to help her. Poor lady, she opened the door to welcome you home with open arms, but that fellow had lured you back into his carriage, and it was too late.”
Melinda wavered. Could this be true? Had she misunderstood her grandmother’s intent? Perhaps she had been addled from that blow to the head. Perhaps she could just…go home. She would have to apologize to Grandmama, but she’d done that countless times.
“Allow me to know what is best for you,” his lordship said, and that lock of hair flopped back down over his brow. In the past, his hair had made her want to giggle. Now, imagining what it would be like to face it every day of her life, she shuddered. As for kissing him… She almost gagged.
“Before now, I could afford to be patient with your refusals to marry me. I thought it best to wait until you had outgrown your flirtatious tendencies.” He sighed heavily. “I hope you have now learned the dangers of overly familiar manners, but if not, I shall school you into appropriate behavior. However, my willingness to save you from the consequences of your folly requires that certain conditions be met. First of all, we shall wait to see if you have conceived a child.”
She gritted her teeth. “Did you not hear a word of what I said? The gossip is nothing but lies.”
He tutted as if she were a little girl denying she had stolen a jar of sweets. “If you have not conceived, I am willing to allow the marriage to take place as soon as can be.”
Melinda had borne enough. “You are wasting your time, my lord. Please leave.”
“Otherwise,” he went on, “I shall have you sent away to give birth. I could not allow the evidence of such immorality to sully my beloved estate in Hampshire.”
She should have known he would come around to his stupid estate sooner or later. Grimly, she shoved her growing fury back down her throat.
“The child will be fostered out, after which time we shall start over as if nothing had happened.”
She wanted to kill him then and there, but instead she said calmly, “Nothing has happened. I shall not marry you. Go away.”
He stared. He shook his head, and that lock of hair jiggled crazily. “I don’t believe it. You would refuse my respectable offer of marriage to stay with that—that fiend?”
“Lord Garrison is no fiend. He is a kindly, considerate man.” A good man, the sort one would marry if one loved him—or so he seemed. His behavior towards her made it well-nigh impossible to believe the gossip about what he’d done in the past. But there must be some truth in it, surely, or people wouldn’t still speak of him with loathing and disgust.
Regardless, he was kind to her now, and that was what mattered.
She put her hands on her hips and stared Lord Bottleford down. “You may tell my grandmother that she is too late to salvage the precious Starling name. I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man alive.” She rang the bell. “Leave this house immediately.”
He huffed. “Very well, I shall. I didn’t want to come in the first place. Against my better judgment, I allowed your grandmother to persuade me. Now I see that all the gossip is true.” He stomped toward the door. “You’ll be sorry. He will drop you like a hot coal, and you’ll end your life in the gutter. As for Lord Garrison, some credulous fools believed his side of the story last time, but they won’t anymore. He will be shunned by high and low alike, and rightly so.”
Comprehension washed over Melinda. She’d dwelt only on the consequences to herself, never realizing how this whole catastrophe would affect the man who had rescued her, cared for her, and nobly offered her the protection of his name. If she didn’t marry Lord Garrison, everyone would believe the worst of him—and it would be all her fault.
Her hopes and dreams tumbled down like a child’s building blocks. That shouldn’t be a surprise, she supposed—dreams were evanescent, without foundation, whilst life was crushingly real.
So were obligations—doing what was required of one without hesitation or thought for oneself.
“To think I almost married you,” Lord Bottleford said from the doorway. “Good God, what a mistake. You’re nothing but a little whore!”
~ * ~
Well! Isn’t he just awful? But Lord Garrison arrived home just in time to hear the last part of that conversation. Guess what he does next!
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