Last week I shared the opening scene to The Value of Pity from my “difficult” heroine’s point of view. I deliberately plunged readers into it without explanation to see how my readers might react to her. This week I’m giving you the scene that precedes it, from the hero’s POV. Is this young lord up for her? Instead of will they / won’t they, this story may be a can they/can’t they. What do you think? Does this story have hope?
(You may recognize his father’s title, by the way. The father, Will, Earl of Chadbourn, was the hero of A Dangerous Nativity, and secondary in several of my novels and novellas)
The Great North Road, November 1838
Long hours trapped in a lumbering carriage in foul weather, watching the rain shrouded hills of Northumberland give way to Scotland, would make any man irritable. Enduring it with a sister determined to air grievances and injustices best left behind in London, required the patience of a saint.
Arthur Richard Gareth Landrum, Viscount Rochlin, oldest son and heir of the Earl of Chadbourn, was no saint, though his sister accused him, quite unfairly, of aspiring to the position.
“You, of course do nothing wrong, at least in Papa’s eyes,” she complained, punctuating her latest recital of her woes with the tiresome refrain.
Not true! He kept the words to himself, but chewed on the thought. He’d done his share of carousing and wenching at university hadn’t he? Perhaps he’d done less than others, but surely enough to disqualify him for a halo. He wouldn’t apologize to her for retaining their parents’ respect, although the demands made on a dutiful son could be tedious, this trip being a sterling example. They needed someone to rescue a childhood friend from her brother’s foolish decisions; who did they call on? Arthur. As they always did in a crisis.
In this case, it made sense. He had been rescuing Catherine Mallet from one thing or another since they were children. When their siblings and cousins mocked her for inappropriate comments or behavior—demanding that they call her Athena, ceaselessly repeating her questions about whatever topic fixated her at the moment, or any other odd start—she would stare back, baffled, a tiny sprite confused but courageous. He didn’t pretend to understand her odd ways, but he admired that courage. He smiled at the thought of her wide blue eyes, fairy like features, and long blond hair.
“I still don’t see why Mama swooped down on me at Chalfont’s house party,” Emma whined on, ignoring his abstraction. “She arrived like an avenging angel, hustled me into the family barouche, and—”
“You lied to her.” Arthur, weary of the entire episode, spoke without looking at her.
“A small lie of omission. Belle and I did visit her aunt in Richmond. We had lunch with her before continuing on Chalfont’s do. They would have refused to let me if I asked, so I simply didn’t tell them.”
Emma had become quite expert at concealing details from their parents, but most of her previous exploits had been nearer to home and confined to narrower events. This one…
“The Earl of Chalfont is twice your age, a rake, and a lying snake. The miscreants in his circle are as bad. His house parties are notorious. Of course, they would have said no.” He turned to glare at her.
His sister huffed and lifted her chin. “I can handle Trey.”
Trey? Emma calls the earl by his diminutive name? Worse and Worse. He tipped his head back, tired of trying to reason with her.
Blessed silence lasted until they hit a rut, jarring his shoulder and knocking Emma sideways. “Now I’ve been sent off into exile.”
“Not exile, though it suited the parents to remove you from London.”
“They could have sent me home to Chadbourn Park to rusticate. They didn’t have to send me to benighted Scotland.”
“I needed your help. I can’t escort Catherine home without a lady’s assistance.”
Emma snorted. “Aren’t they afraid I’ll taint her with my reputation? And why is it my job to rescue Katy Mallet?” She pinched her mouth into a pout.
He ignored her. He hadn’t wanted the assignment either, but the Mallets were among his parents’ closest friends, almost an uncle and an aunt. Andrew Mallet couldn’t travel easily, Aunt Georgie couldn’t go alone, and Arthur couldn’t say no. Sending Emma with him had been his mother’s idea, to remove her from the gossips as much as to lend propriety on the trip home.
He scowled at the driving rain. Thank God for Arthur they all say. The dutiful son. The obliging nephew. The reliable friend. His sister runs wild. His brothers wreak havoc at school. His closest friends hare off to China or Egypt or Scotland, but old reliable Arthur can always be counted on to rescue them from catastrophes of their own creation. Maybe he deserved that halo.
He thought of Catherine as he saw her last, watchful and wary, standing rigidly on the sidelines at the Duchess of Sudbury’s ball the previous Spring. Her mother and his had smiled beatifically at him when he asked her to dance, and she had stepped through the patterns without mistakes, if little grace. She attacked dance with the same analytical determination she did everything, and he had no idea how to make her relax. Still, he had feasted on the sway of her gown, a masterpiece in pale blue silk clinging to delicious curves he had never noticed before that night. Those newly discovered curves haunted him for a week with thoughts that ought to prove Arthur Landrum was definitely not a saint.
Emma’s complaints echoed through the carriage setting his nerves on edge.
“I have to admit, chasing her brother to university in Edinburgh impressed me—I didn’t think she had it in her. Katy’s a shy little thing. Maybe, when I see her, I’ll say ‘Good for you.’” Emma leaned forward and touched his arm, as if on a sudden thought. “Do you think Archie actually smuggled her into the university? She’s been telling anyone who would listen she wanted to attend the medical school. What an uproar that would cause! As bad as Ambrose smuggling a goat into chapel, I would think.”
More like a riot. A vision of Catherine in the middle of such an uproar chilled him. She couldn’t cope with chaos. “That bit of madness got our brother sent down for a semester,” he said.
“What do you think they’ll do to Archie Mallet?”
Whatever it is, it isn’t enough.
Note: excerpts from works in progress may have not yet been edited, will likely undergo change, and may not even make it into the final work!