Changes in Proof by Seduction
(caused by Trial by Desire)
Once upon a time, the original plan for Trial by Desire, as expressed to my agent back when we were putting Proof by Seduction on the market, went like this:
Four years ago, Ned Carhart compromised Lady Kathryn, daughter of the Duke of Ware. At her insistence, he left England shortly after they married. The only thing that's gotten him through the last years—years spent away from friends and family, in the midst of a war fought not for principle, but for the profit on the opium trade—is the promise his wife made before he left: When he returns to England, she will try to accept him as a husband.
On the night he returns to London, his wife shoots him. And while she claims it was an accident, in his absence, she’s cut her ties with everyone who was once important to her—friends, family, and the father who dotes on her. Her behavior suggests that Ned’s long exile was pointless. She never intended to keep her promise. Kate has no need for an inconvenient husband, and particularly not one who seduces Kate into believing in the future, when she cannot even make amends for her past.
You will notice, among other things, that in this version of things, Kate insists that Ned leave her. That didn't last for a number of reasons. But, originally, the scene from Proof by Seduction where Kate and Ned agree to marry didn't end as simply as it did. I still like the old version better—it's sweeter—but I could never get the story to work that way, and so this is the version that fell by the wayside.
Warning: This has spoilers for Proof by Seduction!
Finally, the duke stood and walked to the door, his legs stiff. He threw it open. On the other side leaned Lady Kate, her hand cupped where the door had been.
She stiffened into a guilty curtsy. “Papa. Mr. Carhart.”
Ned bowed. “Lady Kate,” he said. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Well, poppet,” Ware said with a sigh. “Shall I slay him?”
The angelic Kate shook her head. The light caught her hair in a fine nimbus, almost like a halo. “No, Papa.”
Ware deflated. “I was afraid you would say that.”
“Not in the parlor,” she added. “Blood stains so.”
“So it does. So it does. I suppose you’ll talk to him, then?”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to.”
Ware jerked with his thumb. “Call out if he annoys you. I’ll come in and gut him with the poker.”
Ned’s gaze traveled to the fireplace where the implement rested. “But it’s not even remotely sharp!”
Ware smiled broadly and rubbed big, hairy hands together. “I know.”
Well. At least Ned could discard the worry that she’d turn him down because she feared he was mad. She was likely used to it. The door shut and Ned was left alone with Lady Kate. His lady, now, in his aspirations. If only he could get her to agree.
Right. He got down on one knee. She stepped back, a look of horror lighting her face. Silence stretched.
“See here,” he finally said. “We had better get married.”
She winced and flattened herself against the wall. “No. You’re wasting your breath. I don’t want to marry you.”
Ned grimaced wryly. “Given what you know of me, I wouldn’t want to marry me, either. But I won’t be that fellow. I’ll be different.”
She choked and looked away. “Were it not for your behavior last time we met, I would not find you entirely objectionable. But even so, I don’t want to marry. Not you. Not anyone. I don’t want to marry.”
“Reasons.” She had not yet met his eyes. “Good reasons.”
“Do these reasons have anything to do with your visits to servants quarters?”
She turned towards him slowly. “You’re not stupid, no matter how much you act the part. Yes, Mr. Carhart. They do. There is—there is something I must do. And a husband would only get in the way.”
She snorted. “You have already gotten in my way, and we’re not even betrothed.”
“Tell me,” Ned said, “does social ruination get in the way of whatever these good reasons are?”
She swallowed. “Yes,” she finally whispered. “Rather.”
“Would I disapprove of these reasons, were I to discover them?”
“Oh, yes. You’d better assume the worst. I’m a thief. I’ve taken a lover. Maybe I’m secretly plotting a murder.”
A little dramatic. Probably par for the course, given her father’s performance. “What assurances do you need that I will not interfere?”
She shook her head. “You will interfere, if you find out what I’m doing. You wouldn’t dare not.”
Ned shut his eyes. From this point, he could see no path to the honor he wanted. Without knowledge, without information, he couldn’t convince Lady Kate to give in. “What if I’m not here?” he asked.
“What if I am not here, in London.”
Lady Kate smiled. “I’d trust you halfway round the world, Mr. Carhart. Not much closer.”
She liked drama, did she? “Done.”
The smile faded from her face. “What?”
“You have something to do. And I owe—” Ned stopped, momentarily arrested by the weight of his obligation. Before he’d entered this room, he’d thought that resolve by itself would be enough. Now, though, he saw that his resolve would carry him farther than he’d imagined. “I owe you the chance to do it. You can’t do it if you’re socially ruined. You can’t do it if I’m constantly hovering over you. You apparently can’t even do it if you’re worried I will hover. Marry me. Save your reputation. And I’ll go halfway round the world.”
She shook her head. “There’s another problem. There’s another reason I won’t marry you—you or any other man.”
Her voice dropped. “I’m not interested in consummation.”
“Oh.” The idea shot through Ned like fire. “That. Consummation. It’s not so bad, you know. No matter what you’ve been told.”
She shook her head rapidly. “No, you don’t understand. I’m really not interested.” Her breathing had gone all shallow. Ned could hear it from across the room. She was afraid. Not just reluctant; well and truly afraid.
Ned thought about what he’d envisioned for his future. He’d imagined a world in which he was able to one day convince Lady Kate to trust and care for him. He’d imagined, God help him, an enjoyable consummation. More than one. Many more. He’d reconciled himself with the possibility of family. He’d thought he might fall in love with her, eventually, and hoped she might fall in love with him.
Instead, she wanted him to go halfway round the world. Without any consummation at all.
If he married her, he could not in good conscience go to another woman. He would be celibate for years. Perhaps for the rest of his life. He was twenty-one. He could live half a century longer. Without consummation. Ned shuddered.
“No consummation,” Ned said reluctantly. “And I’ll leave the day after we marry.”
She looked up in surprise. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I owe it to you. And I owe it to myself, to find a way to live with honor.” Ned swallowed, and thought of the dreams he’d told himself about their future. Lie, Ned thought fiercely. Let this be possible.
“But I owe it to us to ask one last thing of you.”
“What is that?”
“I return,” he said hoarsely. “I’ll go halfway round the world for you, if that’s what you want. I’ll let you do whatever it is you need to do. But I’ll come back in three years. And then. . . .”
“Then you’ll consummate the marriage, whether I want it or not.”
Ned shook his head. “Then you’ll let me try to convince you to want it, too.”
She was silent for a very long time. Finally, she took his hand and shook it firmly. “Agreed,” she said.
And like that, Ned was betrothed.