Scenes Edited From Secrets Of The Night
When I was writing Secrets Of The Night, Rothgar and Diana began to take over, so I cut their presence down a bit. Two particular scenes happened but weren't shown. Here they are. The first takes place while Rosa is unconscious at the inn; the second at the ball at Arradale House. Enjoy.
Rothgar and Diana's story was told in Devilish, April 2000.
When Rosa throws up at the inn in Thirsk, she throws up over Diana, who then has to accept substitute clothing from the inn while hers are being cleaned. The clothes are dull and sacklike. However, she's more intent on finding a way to leave a message to say where Brand can be found, and assessing the dangers presented by the Marquess of Rothgar. She decides to drop a note so it looks as if it was thrown from a coach leaving the inn, and summons a maid to sit by Rosa.
Diana escaped into the adjoining room, the private dining parlor. This overlooked the square, giving a perfect vantage point from which to watch for the next coach.
As she waited, she saw the Marquess of Rothgar enter the square from a side street and walk toward the inn. Chin sunk on hand, she studied the foe she had to outwit.
No one would mistake him for an ordinary man, or one to be disregarded. In fact, from her elevated point of view, she could see the way people followed him with their eyes, some of them turning to watch as he passed. It was as if he created a stir in the air.
Of course, likely the town was abuzz with the presence of such an important man, but she suspected he'd have the same effect incognito. Was he aware of it? Did he cultivate it? Did she have a similar effect?
How much was rank? How much was power? How much was the person himself?
Whichever it was, she wished him to the devil he looked like.
Ah! A coach.
She watched the laden vehicle turn into the lane, then hurried down the back stairs to the stable yard. Glimpsing Billie, her ostler, working with a group of men to unharness the sweating horses, she made sure to keep out of his way as she looked for a chance to drop her note. How long a stop did the coach have here? It would never do to have the note found in time for the passengers to be questioned.
Diana was learning that a coach's stop at the Three Tuns could vary a lot. Some paused just for a change of horses, but others stopped longer so everyone could have a meal. This coach, unfortunately, was one of those.
Since the maid was with Rosa, Diana hung about in the stable yard in case another coach should come by and leave quickly. To pass the time, and in hope of gleaning information, she chatted to any of the grooms and ostlers who had a moment to spare. It only slowly dawned on her that everyone thought she was a tart, trying to find a man for a bit of fun.
After a moment's embarrassment, she fell into her role with enthusiasm, and even gained two invitations to meetings later.
All in all, it was the most fun she'd had in ages.
Then, as she was chatting with one called Billie about her fictitious home in Lincolnshire, a sudden shift in the noise made her look around. The Marquess of Rothgar had entered the stable yard, and just his presence was creating waves and eddies.
And he was coming straight for her!
Billie yanked her out of the way, and she realized -- as her heart started beating again -- that the marquess was heading not for her but for the stable door behind her.
Once he'd cleared the way, Billie ran round and opened the door, bowing and touching his forelock. Lord Rothgar went through, a casual penny changing hands. Diana was fascinated. She supposed she swept around with exactly that style of arrogance, assuming the way would clear, doors would open.
Deep in reflection, she was caught staring when the marquess turned back. His dark eyes passed over her with perhaps the slightest twitch of the eyebrows, and he beckoned to someone nearby. Fired by sheer mischief, and knowing she must still be in the corner of his eye, Diana curtsied and simpered as if she wanted to catch his lordly eye.
Those shrewd eyes swept back and fixed on her.
Oh mercy. What had she done? "Jessie, milord!" It came out in a convincingly nervous squeak.
"Do you work here, Jessie?"
"No, milord." As she dropped a hasty curtsy, Diana's throat went tight with the effort to hold onto a convincing accent. Servants were one thing. The eminence noire was another. "I'm servant to a lady passing through, milord."
The eyes moved on, to Billie who had hastily stepped forward.
"Billie, milord. Ostler here, milord."
"I would be much obliged, Billie, if you would find the head stableman and tell him I wish to speak to him."
Billie shot off, and the marquess looked around the yard. Without raising his voice, he said, "I wish to know the whereabouts of my brother, Lord Brand Malloren. Anyone with information to contribute about his movements -- anything at all about his recent movements -- will be handsomely rewarded."
After a still moment, people began to come forward.
"He rode out last Tuesday, milord."
"On a brown cob with dark markings, milord."
"Wearing, milord? Plain brown."
"Toward York, milord."
"Yes. Saddlebags, milord."
None of it could be news, surely, and yet a stream of silver sixpences passed from the marquess to the speakers. With a shiver, Diana knew every fact was being matched with a picture in his clever mind, and he was fishing for the one strange detail that would enlighten him.
It was only when he looked at her, one brow raised, that she realized she was still standing close by and staring. He thought she had something to offer. She hastily shook her head. A sudden twitch of humor moved his lips, and something spun toward her. Instinctively, she snatched the sixpence out of the air.
"Thank you, milord! But what for?"
"For a new gown, perhaps." With that, he turned to speak to the stableman who had arrived in a hurry.
Diana glanced around, wondering if anyone else felt as if they'd been hit in the stomach. Lud, but she shouldn't have stood around to be singled out like that!
But he couldn't guess.
He couldn't even suspect.
And, for heaven's sake, why was she still here at all? She was the Countess of Arradale, not a lowly servant wench gawking at a lord. There was such a thing as carrying a role too far!
Melting away, away to the far side of the stable yard, she prayed he'd forget all about her. At last, thank heavens, they were preparing the coach to continue to London.
Then she realized she still had that silver sixpence clutched in her hand. She almost tossed it away, but if anyone saw that they'd think her addled. And anyway, it was the first and probably the last tip she'd ever received. With a grin, she slipped it into her pocket as a memento of this extraordinary adventure.
As the passengers straggled out to take places inside and on top of the enormous coach, she kept an eye on the distant stable door, hoping the marquess wouldn't emerge too soon. She had no doubt that all his powerful faculties were concentrated on finding his brother, and thus on finding the slightest thing that seemed out of place or unusual. Though she told herself she was fancying things, she felt that if he were anywhere nearby he'd see her drop the note.
Then the coachman called the "All aboard!" and moments later, the rig began to sway out of the yard. Two dogs ran forward to bark at it, and everyone moved back and waved. Diana dropped the note as the coach passed her, then turned and strolled into the inn.
At the door she paused to look back. The note still lay on the muddy ground, and the marquess had come out of the stables to watch the coach leave. She felt as if he would spot the white paper immediately.
Then she felt as if he would spot her. Backing back farther into the inn, she wondered if in the eyes of the Marquess of Rothgar, she had a sign posted on her chest, saying, "Suspicious Person!"
"Ey-up, luv. Mind yer back!"
She jumped out of the way to let a brawny man trot by with a huge box on his shoulder.
When he returned, she stopped him. "Excuse me, sir, but would you know where my mistress's coachman is? A Mr. Garforth?"
"Aye, lass. He's in the tap room over there." He pointed to a separate door off the stable yard.
Feeling like a hunted animal having to break cover, Diana made herself stroll across the open space, refusing to even look at the marquess or the note. As she went through the dark oaken door, however, she risked a glance back.
The note was still there!
Was a piece of white, fluttering paper such a common item around here? It was tempting to run and pick it up herself, but that would be folly. Someone had to notice it soon.
The tap room was small, and dark with oak and thick smoke. Eyes stinging, Diana spotted Garforth and the grooms at a table enjoying a pie and ale. They all looked rather goggle eyed to see her there, and her groom almost rose. She urgently gestured him to stay put.
"Mistress wants to go on after all," she said. "You're to get the coach ready. How long will it take?"
"Not more than fifteen minutes, love," said Garforth, admirably as if nothing was amiss. "That do?"
"It'll have to, won't it? We'll be down in a quarter hour, then."
Gratefully, she found a door that led into the inn and risked the wrath of the guarding footman by hurrying across the hall and up the main stairs. At the bend, a long window looked onto the stable yard, and she glanced out just as a lad picked up the piece of paper.
He turned it, peering, then took it to another lad.
Devil take it. She'd never thought that the finder wouldn't be able to read! Surely, though, he'd take it to someone who could. Wanting to hurry to get Rosamunde ready to travel, she still lingered willing the boy to do so.
And where was the diabolical marquess?
Voices in the hall made her start and glance down.
Lord Rothgar appeared below, attended by the innkeeper and the two military officers. He'd already called out the army! Breath held, she eased up the stairs one by one, then ran down the corridor and into the safety of their rooms.
Rosa was up and dressed, thank heavens, and looking much recovered.
"We have to leave!" Diana gasped.
This scene takes place at the ball -- the interaction glimpsed by Rosa through the curtain. Diana suspects that the marquess wants to test whether she's the sort of bold and wanton woman to drug men for her pleasure, and to shield Rosa, she's willing to keep him guessing.
As Diana walked onto the dance floor with the marquess, she cast a puzzled glance at Lord Brand, who seemed undistressed as he chatted to her mother. She'd been keyed up for his request to inspect the Dower House, but now it seemed he intended to leave tomorrow without pursuing it.
Had the servants convinced him? Or was he certain, and needed no proof? If so, what did he plan to do?
"You frown," said Lord Rothgar, jerking her attention back to him. "Because Brand is flirting with that blushing miss? Or because I am not flirting with you."
She flicked open her fan and eyed him over it. "In truth, my lord, a lady is likely to feel badly used if a gentleman at a ball does not flirt a little."
"Perhaps I should warn you, Lady Arradale, that I never do things `a little'."
She fanned herself rapidly, in time with her heart. "Lud, sir, I despise half-heartedness myself. Let us both flirt in the grand manner!"
A moment later, she wasn't sure it was wise to throw down the gauntlet so decisively, but the music had started and the dance must go on. And she had to admit to great curiosity as to how the dark marquess conducted a flirtation.
It was some time before the steps brought them together again. Then, however, the movements called for the gentleman to kiss the lady's hand. Dark eyes on hers, he lingered over it a heart beat longer than was necessary.
A silly thing to make the room spin. She smiled brilliantly at him, and spun off to another gentleman. When next they met she made sure to move around him just a little too closely, so their bodies brushed, keeping her eyes fixed on his.
He smiled in a way that entirely stole her victory from her.
Outclassed, outgunned, outmarshalled. She knew it, but the dance must go on.
At the next handkissing, at the last moment he turned her hand so his lips brushed her palm.
"By heaven, my lord," she said, as they stepped together, side by side, knowing she couldn't conceal her flush, "you southerners have a different notion of flirtation to the ways of Yorkshire."
"Indeed? Then you must show me the local customs, my lady."
Oh lord. She loved to flirt, she was good at it, but with this man it did not feel like the usual innocent game. And it wasn't. The marquess was using this as part of the battle between them, using it to test her and her virtue, and she couldn't hold him off entirely for fear of sending his attentions to Rosa.
So when they were apart, she flirted with eyes and smiles, and when they met in the dance, she teased him with words and sinuous touch. He responded in exact measure, just as he matched her steps perfectly in the dance, and every time the dance called for that kiss on the hand, the contact deepened.
Finally, he nipped her, almost making her squeak, and sending a shudder right through her heated body.
Flirtation! This was more like dancing close to a raging fire, and she could only thank heaven when the dance was over.
"'Pon my soul, my lord," she said as he led her back to the edge of the room, "you dance remarkably."
"Only to a tune of my choosing, Delilah."
At his cynical tone, she flicked open her fan and eyed him warily over it. "My name, my lord, is Diana, though you do not have permission to use it."
"The huntress, rather than the ensnarer?"
"Does a hunter not snare?"
"But Diana used open weapons," he said, "whereas Delilah employed womanly wiles and sleeping potions."
Potions? He knew! Though feeling as if she's just swallowed something vile, Diana tried to express wide-eyed confusion. "And you think me more like Delilah than Diana, my lord? My mother might be pleased. She thinks I am not womanly enough."
His brows rose. "Your mother would wish you to be a Delilah?"
She gave a light laugh. "In truth, my mother would be pleased by any means I used, if I would only choose a man."
"A husband, I suspect."
"I was continuing the theme of Delilah, my lord. A remarkably silly tale, all in all, reflecting poorly on men. Every time Sampson told her a false means of overpowering him, she tried it. Did it not occur to him that perhaps she might be up to no good?"
He gently took her fan from her hand, and began to ply it for her. "He is supposed, I think, to be undermined by devotion."
She felt as if he was slowly taking control of everything, and that she was powerless to stop it. "Is it credible? Could any man be so addled by love?"
"It happens. Sampson was clearly blinded and bound long before his eyes were put out and his limbs were chained. A cautionary tale, wouldn't you say, my lady?"
She met his enigmatic eyes. "I will take it very much to heart, my lord. Like Sampson, I have everything to lose by telling my secrets."
"And by other follies, and yet you play with fire." Still wafting air for her, he glanced around. "Where do you northerners generally go after flirtation?"
She stared. Was he thinking of slipping into a quiet ante-room, or going straight up to a bedroom? Trying not to let her eyes widen any more, Diana echoed, "Go?"
"Beyond flirtation," he said, looking back at her. A glimmer of humor told her his ambiguity had been deliberate. "In the south, we progress to dalliance."
"Dalliance?" She was echoing him like a ninny.
"One step beyond flirtation, but one below seduction."
Giving up an undeclared contest, she turned to view the people assembling for the next dance. "Indeed, then, I know nothing of dalliance."
"Would you care to learn?"
Cool air from her fan achieving nothing at all. She was totally unequal to this contest, and it was time for retreat. "My lord, I think all people should hunger for learning, but some lessons are just too dangerous."
"Dangerous? In what way, my lady?"
She turned to him and reclaimed her fan, flicking it shut. "I am the prize of the marriage hunt, Lord Rothgar. I do not allow the chance of seizure or compromise."
"Ah, but with me, you run no danger."
She laughed. "I do believe I have heard that before."
"But I am different. Are you not aware that my mother went mad?"
She was unbalanced by such a subject, and knew it was another form of attack. "I had heard...."
"It is true. It would be foolish, don't you think, to permit the taint to enter the bloodline when I have brothers well capable of securing the succession. I will not marry, and so I am no danger to you. You can hardly think your rank and estate a temptation to me."
For a moment, Diana was insanely tempted. For these bizarre reasons, perhaps he was the safe lover she longed for. Immediately, however, she knew it would not do. He would burn her up, reduce her to ash, and hardly notice.
He interpreted her silence, and raised her hand to kiss it. Quite properly except that his lips brushed her knuckles rather than passing just above them. "If you ever change your mind, my lady..."
He looked beyond her, and she realized Sir George Mitchell, one of her more persistent and stuffy suitors stood there, doggedly hoping for the next dance. She went with him with more enthusiasm than ever before. He was like a nice wet blanket on top of a raging fire.
But she couldn't entirely stifle the memory of tantalizing words. "If you ever change your mind...."
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Copyright, Jo Beverley. 1999