The Governess Affair: Deleted Scene
In the first draft of The Governess Affair, Serena didn’t discover that Hugo Marshall was the Wolf of Clermont until she went to his office—until she walked in and saw him sitting there. There were lots of problems with that version of things, most of them coming down to this: that secrecy/ignorance made Serena look less intelligent, and Hugo look even less honorable (which he didn’t need), and so in the final version, the air is cleared much earlier.
But one of the casualties of that change was this: a scene where Hugo takes Serena dancing. Once Serena knows who he is, she would never go with him. I argued with myself back and forth, because there was a lot that I liked about this scene, but I had to cut it. I don’t regret taking it out, but I’ve always wished that there had been a place for it in the story.
Here it is.
Note: This contains spoilers for The Governess Affair. Please don’t read this if you don’t want to be spoiled. And while we’re offering warnings, there’s an assault in this as well as a few gendered slurs.
THE FIRST THING SHE NOTICED was that the room was loud in a way that she had never heard before. She couldn’t make any sense of what she heard—her ears seemed overloaded. And she was consumed by a blast of heat, one that had her reaching for the clasp of her cloak. When it slipped off her shoulders, Mr. Marshall was just behind her to take it from her. He turned around and spoke to someone—how anyone could hear in this din, she didn’t know—and passed her cloak and his greatcoat to someone behind her. There was scarcely room to turn around; she craned her neck, trying to see him over her shoulder.
He simply put one hand on her elbow and guided her to the side of the room. He leaned in to her. He was so close, he might have kissed her. She wasn’t quite sure what this place was, but she could see a young couple leaning against the wall, the man’s hand resting lightly on his sweetheart’s side. To the side, another man gave a woman a smack on the lips—a long, lingering one, that had the crowd calling out suggestions. But despite those intimacies it didn’t seem like a bawdy house.
Serena pulled her attention from the young lovers and met Mr. Marshall’s gaze. “What is this place?” she shouted, to be heard over the din.
“A cellar,” he yelled back.
“Pardon?” She cupped her hand around her ear and leaned closer, sure she hadn’t heard him correctly.
“Just a cellar with a fiddler.” He gave her another little smile. “There’s a keg of gin out to the side, too. This is where most people go to feel alive. It’s not licensed, and it’s not legal.”
“You’re taking me here? And here I thought you were a straight-laced accountant.”
He gave her a hard smile. “I keep telling you that I’m unkind and selfish. You keep not believing me.” He set his hand on her wrist. It wasn’t a caress, that touch, but still, it felt familiar.
She took her hand back. “You can’t do that,” she shouted through the noise.
“You took my walking stick at the entrance. How am I to strike you?”
He didn’t move his hand. “How are you, indeed? I did mention my unkindness.”
It was hard to believe him when he’d done so many kind things for her—the umbrella, the tea, this attempt to cheer her up. There was no doubt that he had other motives—Serena recognized attraction in a man when she saw it, and he positively exuded it. But he’d been quite kind to her, when she’d not expected any kindness at all. He seemed almost like some sort of romantic hero.
But then, she wasn’t a maiden in distress. She wasn’t any kind of a maiden, and if he knew the truth about her, he wouldn’t be any sort of hero.
He leaned close. “I am here,” he told her, “because I believe it will benefit me. I believe it will benefit me financially. I believe it will benefit me personally.” His hand danced up to touch the side of her cheek. “And, most selfishly of all, I am here because I want to dance with you, and I’ll be damned if I never get the chance to do so. One of these days, you’re going to discover that I’m not the man you believe me to be. Before then, I want…” He grinned at her wolfishly.
“I want to dance with you.” His hand closed on hers. The music started up. She’d learned to dance when she was younger—country dances and waltzes, mostly, things with strict rules and steps. But this music was no country dance. It was loud and rhythmic. A girl in front of her whirled about, skirts rising almost to her calves, but nobody blinked at the display.
A woman could disappear in a crowd like this. She might forget everything that had ever happened to her. She might be made into a new person.
He pulled on her hand, and then tugged her into the crowd. There was nothing but the beat. She was just one of many, trying to forget. But this was not just a dance—it was an excuse, an excuse for his hands to flit at her waist, her side. It took scarcely half a minute for her face to flush, and to feel sweat begin to trickle down her cheek.
And as for Mr. Marshall… He’d stripped off his coat, stripped down to his shirtsleeves. Most accountants, she’d imagined, were lean little fellows, no muscle to speak of. But with his own sweat damping his shirt, she could see the curve of impressive biceps. His forearm alone was twice the size of her wrist. And as if to emphasize that, his hands clamped around her waist, and he lifted her in the air, whirling her around. She could do nothing but cling to him.
He didn’t even seem to be winded by that maneuver.
The music sped by faster; her feet could scarcely keep up. But her breath seemed to catch in her lungs, half laughter, and she’d never smiled so much in her life. When the song came to an end, she was brilliantly worn out—dripping wet with sweat, and yet the farthest thing from weary. The dancers erupted into spontaneous applause, and Serena found herself joining in.
He caught her again and drew her close. “Dancing,” he said into her ear, “is the next best thing to sex. It’s pleasurable, it’s tiring, and there are never unfortunate consequences besides the occasional pulled muscle.”
She found herself blushing. But he pushed a few inches away from her. “You must be parched. Shall I find you something to drink?”
“Yes. Please. Not gin; I can scarce keep my head on straight as it is. I don’t dare add fuel to the fire.”
“Not gin it is. I believe there’s some lemon-barley water to be had. Will that do?”
She nodded, and he disappeared into the crowd.
He’d been right. She needed this. She needed to lose herself, to forget all her troubles.
For the first time, she almost wished that she hadn’t been born half a lady. Her father had been gentry—poor gentry—just wealthy enough to leave his daughters enough to scrape together half an existence. She’d become a governess because it was the only thing for a girl of good family. God forbid that she sew, or make hats, or work in a factory. God forbid that she marry a tenant farmer and help him milk cows. She’d not been good for anything at all—not even dancing in some secret cellar.
She hadn’t ever been allowed to enjoy herself. Not until Mr. Marshall had come into her life.
She leaned against the wall, watching him make his way through the crowd, to the place across the way where people clustered.
Mr. Marshall wasn’t a gentleman. He was all wrong—so completely wrong. Freddy would disapprove. And there was the fact that if he knew the truth about her, he would…
What would he do? Never speak to her again. Or, more frighteningly: see her as a whore, and one that he could use, without any need for wooing. She put her hand over her belly and shut her eyes, forcing herself to breathe it all out.
She should tell him. No matter what he said, he’d been kind enough to her that he deserved the truth. The way they were going…it was simply too dangerous. He was going to ensorcel her. Her sister had it right—there was a reason one didn’t step out with gentlemen at night. No matter how good one promised that one would be, night carried temptations that mere good sense could not possibly counteract.
Just when she’d made up her mind, before she could open her eyes and find Mr. Marshall in the crowd, a male body pressed into hers, sour with sweat.
“You’re a peach,” the man said, whispering into her ear. “And here you are, all alone for the taking. How much is it, then, love?”
She writhed away, pulling from him, but his grip was hard on her elbow.
“Aw, come on then, love. Just a bit of a kiss, and maybe a tickle.” His whiskers brushed her face.
She had imagined this a thousand times in the last few months—what she would do, if ever she was accosted again. She wouldn’t hold still. She wouldn’t do nothing. She would not just step back from her own body and watch. Not again. Not ever again.
Serena had screamed a thousand times in silence. This time, she screamed out loud. And when he stepped back in shock, she slapped him as hard as she could—so hard that her palm stung, and she felt the fury of the blow all the way down to her shoulder.
“Why, you little—” the man started, but she brought up her knee to kick him, hard, in the privates. He doubled over.
“Don’t you touch me,” she said. “Don’t you ever touch me.”
“Bitch!” he gasped out, lifting his head. But his gaze darted behind her. His eyes widened, and suddenly, he swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. He looked to either side, nervously licking his lips.
“You heard her,” a deep voice growled behind her. The man stepped back. Mr. Marshall stepped forward. He did it with a casual grin on his face, one entirely at odds with the tension in his body.
When he stood a few inches before her cowering assailant, he reached forward and pulled the man straight. “Johnson,” he said, his tone mild, “what on earth could you have been thinking?”
“Sir!” the man said wildly. “I didn’t know she was yours.”
“And if she hadn’t been, you thought she was yours for the taking? Your mother should have taught you better than that.” He leaned forward, casually, and picked the other man up, shoving him against the wall.
Serena gaped. Pleasant, affable Mr. Marshall was not at all the sort of man who might pick up another man and push him against the wall with one hand.
“Please,” the other man said.
“Begging won’t help.” Mr. Marshall made a fist with his free hand.
Mr. Marshall drew back his hand, and Serena caught it. “Stop,” she said. “Don’t do this. You’ll hurt him.”
Mr. Marshall looked at her hand on his arm. He looked at the man in front of him—Johnson, Mr. Marshall had called him. “I had rather thought that was the point,” he said mildly. “Do you insist on it?”
Slowly, he unfurled his fist. Even more slowly, he lowered the man to the ground.
“I’d advise you to kiss her feet, Johnson, except that I think even that much of your slimy touch would be unwelcome to her. If any woman is ever forced to strike you again, I will give you a hundred times worse. Understand?”
The other man nodded, backing away.
“You’re scaring me,” Serena hissed. “You could have—”
He gave her a flicker of a smile. “I didn’t even hit him. I gave you ample time to stop me, and if you hadn’t, I surely would have pulled the punch—not that Johnson would notice.” His eyes grew harder. “But everyone could see what he was doing. I told you I wasn’t kind. I told you I was ruthless. People saw you arrive with me; it wouldn’t do for anyone to get any ideas.”
Serena considered this. They were garnering sidelong looks now. Nobody dared to watch them, but everyone wanted to see. “He seemed like he was scared of you.”
He gave her another long look. “Everyone is scared of me, Miss Barton. Everyone except you. Why do you think that is?”
She took a deep breath, and a long gulp of air. “Because you’ve never brought anyone else tea?”
His hand curled about her elbow. “There is that,” he murmured into her ear alone. “But there’s something else, too. It’s because despite everything—despite how wrong it would be—I still find myself wanting to kiss you.”
It was wrong. It was terribly wrong. It also felt right, in a real and powerful sense. She let out a breath.
“I don’t want you striking anyone else on my behalf.”
“I can’t promise that,” he said. “It’s a terrible fault, but I don’t actually think I could sit by and watch anyone hurt you. It is causing me no end of trouble at the moment, all things considered.” His hand fluttered up to her cheek. “I didn’t break my nose falling down the stairs, Miss Barton. You look at me and you see an accountant and a fellow star-gazer. I look at me, and…” He paused and shook his head.
“And what do you see when you look at me?”
His eyes grew darker. “I see a woman I’d like to take outside. Alone. Into the dark.”
Her mouth went dry. It was every kind of foolish to agree… but she’d had nothing of love, nothing even of lust. She’d denied herself all that the minute she became a governess. And she wanted him, now.
She didn’t want what he’d said earlier—sex.
But for once in her life, she wanted someone to kiss her and mean it. She suspected Mr. Marshall would mean his kiss. And so she let him guide her out of the cellar and up the stairs.