DAY 15

The Churchill-Gray family did not begin as one of my fully-thought-out ideas, but I honestly think they are one of my favorites. Originally it was just George (called Gray), the baby of the family, who caught a runaway heiress in A Study in Scandal. But of course those older brothers and parents began to take on personalities and shapes in my mind, and when I needed a rakish hero for Lady Georgiana Lucas in When the Marquess Was Mine, the oldest brother came to mind. And once again, I had the pleasure of writing a hero going to his parents, who were both still alive and even in love with each other.

This scene is my original take on how Rob (West) got busted after his night of birthday debauchery and revelry. I kind of liked having his mother make him squirm… But in the end I changed it, wanting to leave her appearance until later in the book.

Deleted scene from When the Marquess Was Mine

“What on earth were you thinking?”

It took Robert Churchill-Grey, Marquess of Westmorland, several minutes to decipher who was shouting at him in the middle of the night; it felt as though he’d only just fallen into bed, and his head pounded with drink. Why was anyone in his bedroom?

A blinding blast of light fell across the pillows. Cursing, he flailed for the blanket, dragging it over his face to prevent himself going blind.

“I’m not going away. You might as well wake up and get it done with.”

It was the amused tone of voice that got him. Trying not to wince at the stab of the light in his face, he pried open his eyes and blinked up at the woman who had thrown open the drapes. “It’s very early to call on someone, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” Her brow went up. “Robert, it is past five in the afternoon. Even by your standards, it is not early.”

Gads. Was it really five? He would have sworn it was still morning. “Nevertheless,” he tried again, clinging to the blankets as if they conferred some dignity, “it’s not proper for you to come into my bedroom.”

“I came this morning and left a note. At one I sent another message. You did not reply to either one. Now I have run out of patience, and decided to rouse the bear from his den.” With a swish of skirts she seated herself at the desk across from the bed. “The stories about your latest escapade are far less proper than a mother visiting her son, in any event.”

Slowly West inched his way upward against the pillows. It made him feel like a naughty boy to cower in bed under his mother’s stern gaze, but he had no clothes on. Nor were any in sight, conveniently near. Curse Hobbes. Why had his valet let her in?

“If you prefer, I can send your father,” she added.

“God, no!” He winced at the sound of his own exclamation. What had he done that was so bad she threatened to send his father? “I’m delighted to see you, I meant,” he added weakly. “Even at this obscene hour.”

She sighed, not fooled. “He’s not amused, either. What were you thinking?” She spared him the trouble of answering—not that he could have, really—with an upraised hand. “Not that it matters. Now you must focus on repairing the damage.”

He tried hard to think, and could almost hear the slosh of his brain floating in brandy. If he were less tired, or less drunk, he would mount a more intelligent defense. But as it was, he hadn’t the strength or the wit, and knew from experience his mother wouldn’t be fooled by any half-arsed answer. He gave up. “What damage?”

“Your exhibition the other night, a parade of debauchery that is the talk of London.”

“Oh.” He relaxed a tiny bit as something finally came into focus. “It was my birthday…”

“I know that,” she said dryly. “I was there when you were born—a far more sedate occasion than this commemoration of it, I gather. But clearly I have failed as a mother if you thought a birthday meant you could throw off all semblance of decorum and decency.”

“Heath planned it,” he mumbled, feeling closer to ten than to twenty-nine.

“Lord Heathercote did not defraud a young man of his house and home, as you are rumored to have done, and threaten to turn it into a house of ill repute.”

He raised his head in surprise, despite the dangers to his balance in doing so. “I did no such thing.”

“And yet that is the gossip this morning. I heard it from Lady Cowper and Lady Thistleton.” The duchess tilted her head. “Explain yourself.”

He didn’t know that he could. Dimly he remembered the extravagance of his birthday celebration, plotted and carried off in high style by his best mate, Heathercote. There had been good friends, wine, excellent food, brandy, women, more wine, gambling… They might have sung God Save the King whilst flashing their arses at Carleton House.

“It must have been at Vega’s,” he finally said. He knew the night had ended there mostly because he’d received a receipt of his winnings from the manager. That part of the evening remained a blur in his memory, although apparently he’d won a handsome sum. Rather impressive feat, now that he thought about it. But of course his mother wouldn’t see it that way.

His mother sighed. “I sense this was just another lark to you. I am trying to warn you, it was not, or at least it has become more serious. It is one thing to gamble and another thing to be accused of fraud. Do you recall Sir Charles Winston at all?”

The name meant nothing. Slowly he shook his head.

“Did you win a house from him?”

Something sparked in his mind, Heath telling someone to play with markers, an argument with Dashwood. “Might have done.”

“It was his home, where his mother and sister live, along with his wife and infant child.”

“He ought not to have wagered it, then.”

“Robert!” she snapped, making him wince again. “You know that goes too far.”

“I didn’t want it,” he growled. “I didn’t tell him to risk it.” He was sure of that much. What would he want with some country house? There was no conceivable way he would have urged anyone to wager something he neither needed nor wanted, not even in the spirit of competition.

“If you don’t want it, then perhaps you ought not to take it,” said his mother with a sharp look. “I understand he’s a young man.”

“Is he?” West couldn’t recall the slightest thing about the man. That didn’t stop him from hating the fellow, though, for being so stupid as to wager his house and then so careless as to lose the bloody thing. Now West would have to do something about it, to placate his mother if for no other reason. He did not like having to do things.

“When you were young and foolish, your father had to tidy up behind you many times. Since you were so eager to commemorate your recent birthday, you’re obviously old enough to tend to your own mess.” She rose. “Do it today, Robert. I don’t enjoy listening to ugly gossip about my son.”

“It’s late,” he protested.

The duchess paused at the door. “I shall give you until the day after tomorrow. After that I will let your father come put some sense into you.” She was out the door with a swish of skirt, leaving him suddenly wide awake and furious.

The Wagers of Sin Series

<My Once and Future Duke> An Earl Like You When the Marquess Was Mine Fortune Favores the Viscount