Trial by Desire: Version 3
This is the prologue from the third version of this book. It looks a lot more like the final version—in fact, if you read an ARC or a version of this book off of NetGalley, this is probably the version you read. Nonetheless, some 20,000-30,000 words were changed between this version and the version that was printed…I hope for the better!
At nineteen years of age, Lady Kathleen Carhart had almost everything a woman could desire: a brilliant place in society, a flattering and fashionable wardrobe, and a marriage to a man who, while not a peer himself, was the heir to a marquess. There were only two tiny ways in which her life fell short of perfection.
First, she wished her efforts to contact her dear friend Angela would have come to fruition.
And second... well, the second thing sat before her now at breakfast. Sat, Kate mused, was the wrong word. Mr. Edward Carhart, her husband, did not sit straight and still and rigid, with his shoulders back, like a proper English gentleman; he almost seemed to vibrate in place, as if the strain of staying still for even half an hour was too much. He ran his hands through his hair, mussing his valet’s hard work.
He seemed to always be in motion—stirring tea, spreading butter, leaning to one side to glance at the back garden out the window. Even at breakfast, in a room he’d entered almost fifty times in Kate’s presence, he looked everywhere about him, at anything that might have been of interest.
Anything, that is, except one thing.
At this moment, he was perusing the freshly-ironed pages of the paper. He canted forward, as if leaning closer would bring the words to his eyes faster. And he shook his head as he read.
There were a thousand ways Kate’s husband deviated from gentlemanly perfection. He never sat still. He made her laugh at inappropriate times; the first time they’d had breakfast together, she’d nearly choked on her tea. He didn’t fence, didn’t box, didn’t hunt—but when they’d taken their wedding trip to the country, he’d ridden out doors at break-neck speeds, in nothing but his shirt sleeves. Everything he did, he did completely, with the entirety of his heart.
Everything, that is, except one thing.
He set the paper down now and for the first time that morning, his gaze fixed on her. His eyes were a dark, liquid brown, three shades beyond chocolate, uncannily dark next to the sandy brown of his hair. There was an essential sweetness to him, one that he couldn’t hide with any amount of fidgeting. She’d been stealing glances at him all morning, but this was the first time he’d looked at her.
Kate’s toes curled. She wished—no, she wanted—no, she desired. And that was the hell of it.
Because there was only one thing that Mr. Edward Carhart did properly and politely, and it was his newly-acquired wife. From his morning greeting, to their separate bedrooms, to up and including the delicate propriety of marital intimacy. Towards her, he was every bit the gentleman—as if he were afraid that if he touched her too roughly, he’d smear the ink on their wedding license.
Kate, however, had a plan. She always had a plan written down, accompanied by numbered lists. Preferably shopping lists.
“Well,” Ned said, “So I was talking to Blakely a few days ago.” His tone was overly casual, the sort he would use to set up a joke. And if he was talking about his elder cousin, the marquess, a joke was likely coming. Ned was Blakely’s heir—for now—and Ned enjoyed tweaking the man.
“Oh?” He wouldn’t be joking when he saw her tonight. Kate smiled in anticipation. “And what did Blakely have to say?”
“You know that some of our holdings are in the East India Company?”
“Isn’t everyone’s? It’s a good investment. They trade in tea and silk and saltpetre...” Her voice trailed off into roughness.
If he’d known what she was thinking of when she said the word silk, he’d not sit there so sanguine. Because that was the essence of her plan—and the previously-executed shopping list. She’d purchased a filmy night rail made from imported silk on Bond Street. It fastened together in front by means of lavender ribbons, and those scraps of opaque fabric were the garment’s only concession to modesty.
“Silk,” Ned said, without any evidence of having noticed the way she leaned forward, “and other things. Like opium.”
“Opium was not on my shopping list.”
He didn’t smile, and Kate began to feel a bit uncomfortable.
“In any case, Blakely and I were talking about the recent events in China,”—Ned shook his paper at her—”and we decided it would behoove someone to inquire more closely into what is going on over there.”
For once, he sounded serious. Kate frowned at him. “By someone, you mean, Mr. White, and by over there, you mean the office over in—”
“By someone,” Ned said distinctly, “I mean me, and by over there, I meant China.”
This was surely a joke. A sarcastic joke, of course, but a joke nonetheless. At any moment, he was going to grin at her. She relinquished her hold on her teacup gingerly and essayed a small smile. “Have a lovely journey. Will you be home for tea?”
“No. The Peerless is leaving St. Catharine’s at noon, and I intend to be on it.”
She raised her eyes to him. “Oh, God. You really meant it. You’re leaving? But I thought—” She’d thought she had time for that silk night-rail, folded carefully in paper in her chest of drawers.
He shook his head. “Kate, we’ve been married three months. We both know that the only reason we’re here is because people found us alone together and imagined more than what happened. We married to stave off the scandal.”
“But—” “But it was my fault,” he said quietly. “And the truth is, neither of us are ready to be married, not really.” He stood and pushed back his chair. “There’s this thing, you see—” He stopped, and shook his head. “The thing is, I’ve never had the chance to prove myself to anyone. And...” He trailed off, his hand scrubbing through his hair. “And I want to.”
He stood, not quite looking at her. He set his serviette down atop his plate and turned around. The world swirled around Kate, as flimsy and insubstantial as the night dress upstairs.
He was walking away, as if this had been normal breakfast conversation on a regular day.
He paused, not even turning his shoulders to her.
She didn’t have the words to capture the cold tremor that ran through her. She settled on: “I wish you wouldn’t. I wish you would stay.”
He tilted his head, just enough to look at her over his shoulder. For just that one second, he looked at her as she’d always hoped: with a deep hunger, an almost open yearning, as if she were more to him than a line drawn between them in the lineage in the family Bible.
“I wish,” he said hoarsely, “I wish I could.” And then he turned and left.
She wanted to run after him, to say something, to say anything. But all that motion wasn’t fidgeting, she realized; it was restlessness.
And so she stared at the empty doorframe where he’d disappeared.
“My lady,” said a voice at her side. She turned to see a footman standing by her, a note on his salver. She took it in a daze and opened the paper before her.
At first glance, she felt a welcome sense of relief. Everything would be perfect again. She’d finally heard from Angela. At least one of her two plans had been successful. She’d found out why one of her oldest friends had stopped responding to her letters. Finally, she could do something to fix the situation.
But then she read on.
This was no breezy communication, no light and gossipy letter. She’d finally heard about Angela. While Kate read, her hands grew cold. When she had finished, she shut her eyes. A little thing like her husband’s imminent departure paled beside this news.
Fifteen minutes ago, she’d thought herself a grown, married lady, with an almost perfect life. But that flawless world had just fractured along its fault lines.
She’d casted about, making only desultory inquiries into Angela’s situation. She’d wasted three months before she purchased her night rail. She’d imagined that any difficulties she’d encountered would be of the sort she could solve with a new, longer list of items, which hopefully could be obtained at the haberdashery.
She’d been mistaken. Kate squeezed her lids shut and felt her childhood seep from her.
She’d shut her eyes on a world that she’d assumed would be good to her. She opened them on a world of uncertainty. Only one thing was clear: She was going to need a better plan.