There are a lot of reasons why I deleted this scene. It was a slow, emotional scene that took place in a part of the book where there were already a lot of slow, emotional scenes. The emotion and character development didn’t quite fit into the space where it was slotted. It also acted as a spoiler for the wedding night—I didn’t want to give anyone hints as to what was going to happen there.
So this got deleted before I even had a first full draft, but there is a lot that I like about it.
This takes place just before Minnie and Robert’s wedding. There are probably typos, and it’s certainly not as smooth as a final draft would be.
Note: This contains spoilers for The Duchess War. And it is probably not safe for work.
MINNIE HAD CONVINCED HERSELF that her aunts would do nothing so ridiculous as provide her with instruction on the night before her wedding. But when she looked up in the middle of packing her last trunk with the clothing that the Duchess of Clermont had insisted she needed, she saw them standing in the doorway of her room, watching her, twin expressions of uncomfortable duty marking their faces.
“Minnie, dear,” Caro said. “Might we come in?”
Minnie gestured. They filed in, not quite looking her in the face. Eliza settled herself slowly into the chair at Minnie’s desk; Caro let herself down to perch on the edge of the bed.
For a few long seconds, they didn’t speak. They just looked down.
Finally, Eliza took a deep breath. “Minnie,” she said, “we’ve come to talk about what you should expect on your wedding night.”
They were. They were going to talk to her about it. Minnie felt an embarrassed burn creep up the back of her neck.
“The operative word there,” Caro said, “is should.”
They lapsed into silence once more, as if gathering up their nerve to blurt out the basics of procreation.
Minnie laced her fingers together and looked up at the ceiling. “You know,” she murmured, “there really is…very little need for this. My father didn’t just pretend that I was a boy. He brought me everywhere with him. By the time I was nine years old, I was having port with the men, and believe me, the ones my father spent time with did not believe in mincing words. I have a fairly good notion of what will happen.”
Minnie wasn’t sure what she had expected. At the very minimum, she’d imagined that her great-aunts would let out a breath of relief, happy to not have to perform this particular duty. She’d expected them to decamp. Quickly.
Instead Caro set her jaw, and Eliza looked even more grim. They exchanged another unhappy glance.
“Men,” Caro said. “They make you think that they know everything simply because they happen to have practiced the mechanics of the matter.”
“Oh, yes,” Eliza said. “Back when Caro was engaged—” She stopped at the look on Minnie’s face. “Oh, didn’t you know that? It was so long ago, I scarcely think of it anymore, but those were terrible days. Back when Caro was engaged to be married, her mother sat down with her and gave her the talk: Your husband will know what to do. Keep quiet and follow his lead. Keep clean cloths nearby, because it will be messy.”
Caro made a face. “Ugh,” she said passionately. “And all I could think while she was talking was that he kissed like a fish. Why was I supposed to trust him to know what to do with his penis when he couldn’t even manage his lips properly?”
Minnie’s eyes widened and she bit her lip to keep from smiling. Her aunts were usually so proper.
Eliza giggled and covered her face with her hands. “Oh, Caro. You didn’t. You didn’t just use that word.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Caro said. “We can’t very well have this talk with Minnie if we refuse to use the word ‘penis,’ can we? What are we supposed to call it, his pillicock? His rubigo? His virile, priaprian member?”
Eliza looked upward. “Actually, we could. We could spend the entire time without mentioning the word or any of its synonyms.”
“We cannot, not unless we want to give her the same claptrap about keeping quiet and following his lead.”
Eliza shook her head hurriedly. “Not what I meant. Truthfully, the—” Her face flushed pink, and she cleared her throat. When she spoke again, she leaned forward and whispered. “The penis is not strictly necessary.”
“From your point of view,” Caro added dryly. “I imagine that he would disagree.”
“Yes, precisely. This is what I’m trying to say. He’s a man. He thinks he knows what to do, but thus far, he’s only ever had to keep himself happy.”
“How do you know that?” Minnie asked.
Caro rolled her eyes. “He’s a man,” she repeated. “And a duke. He’s rich. And he’s quite handsome. As I am sure you are quite aware, Minnie, because don’t think I didn’t notice where your hand was when you were kissing him earlier.”
Minnie bit her lip and tried not to sit on her offending hands.
“He’s never had to make anyone else happy. That’s precisely what everyone else would tell you,” Caro continued. “That he is in possession of a penis, and therefore he is capable of instructing you. That even though he has no experience of living in your skin, he will know better than you what to do. Anyone who tells you that is wrong. Entirely wrong. He knows how to please himself. He doesn’t magically come into possession of the knowledge of you. That’s not a magic wand between his legs, no matter what he thinks.”
Eliza nodded. “You know you,” she said quietly. “You know what you like, what you don’t like, what you feel indifferent to.”
Caro didn’t look at her. “We came here to tell you what you should expect on your wedding night, not what is likely to happen. On your wedding night, you shouldn’t have to be some quiet damsel, waiting to be despoiled.”
“You’re not there for his pleasure,” Eliza said. “You’re there for yours.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Minnie muttered to herself.
But Caro heard her, and she frowned at her sternly. “You cannot believe you’re hearing this? From us?” she asked gently. “Why is that?”
“Did you really think,” Eliza said, “that we would lecture you about your duty? That we would tell you that it was a woman’s lot to endure pain? That we would feed you some claptrap about how sexual intercourse is pleasurable for the man, and so long as the woman doesn’t make things difficult by resisting, can become merely acceptable to her?”
Minnie shook her head.
“Did you think,” Caro said more softly, “that we would tell you that it was your obligation to please him?”
She shook her head again.
“Because,” Caro said, “you’re marrying a duke. And Minnie, all your life, everyone will be telling you that it is your obligation to please him. That you should be grateful and indebted to him. And maybe—just maybe—a part of you might even feel that way.”
Minnie swallowed and still didn’t speak, unable to tell them what she’d thought—that this had to be a dream, that it would end at any moment. That at some point, she’d wake up and find that the hope of security had been an illusion. That she was still in danger.
That she had to keep him happy, or risk losing it all. That no matter what she did, she would always be on the verge of losing it all.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that it is your duty to remain silent while he hurts you.” There was a far-away look in Caro’s eyes, as if she were standing on the edge of some cliff looking out over a distant sea—at some alternate future, one that might have come to pass. Something impossibly distant, and yet so narrowly escaped.
Minnie could only shiver with the narrowness of her own escape.
There was a longer pause. Her aunts looked at each other.
They looked at each other a great deal. Minnie had always noticed that. She had assumed it was a matter of communication—that they’d known each other so long and so well that they had only to look in each other’s eyes to know what they were thinking.
Maybe, they were just looking.
Eliza stood. She crossed over to Caro and helped her to her feet, patting her hands, and then handing over her cane.
Caro paused in the doorway. “If he needs any help,” she said, “send him to us. We have some very good ideas.”
Minnie closed her eyes and put her hands over her belly.
“As do I,” she whispered. “As do I.”
She didn’t even hear them leave.