DAY 6

In My Once and Future Duke, the Duke of Ware is remote and reserved in part because he was jilted in a pretty embarrassing way years ago: the girl had schemed to run off with someone else less notable, and only pretended to accept Ware's attentions to distract her parents. It gave him reason to doubt his ability to read women, when everyone around him casts doubt on Sophie, the heroine.

Obviously that plot got refined and whittled down but some of it did stay. But this is the scene I wrote, imagining him looking up that woman who had humiliated him years before.

Unused scene from My Once and Future Duke

It was a comfortable house, just shy of elegant, larger than Sophie’s but far smaller than his own. Jack dismounted and tied his horse, surveying it with curiosity. Now that he was here, he suspected he’d gone a bit mad, coming to see her.

He rapped the knocker and waited. A servant answered the door and showed him into a tiny morning parlor, where he waited only a few minutes.

A soft sound in the doorway made him turn. She stood there, even more beautiful than she’d been eight years ago. Her figure had ripened into lush curves and her face had lost the girlish softness. Her clothing was far from elegant, but of course he’d come early. She looked at him in disbelief, one hand pressed to her bosom.

“Mrs. Taylor.” He bowed.

“Your Grace.” She dropped a curtsey—an ordinary one, not the balletic maneuver Sophie managed, Jack couldn’t help noticing. “Forgive me, I was quite astonished to see your card. I never expected—”

“To see me again?” He gave a small, wry smile when she blushed. “Then I must beg your forgiveness, for intruding.”

“Of course not. Come in.”

Jack followed her up the stairs to an airy drawing room overlooking the square. It was a fine house; the commodore had done well for himself. “First I must explain myself,” he said after she had waved him into a seat on the sofa opposite her chair. “I discovered this recently and thought it rightfully belonged to you.” He took the miniature from his pocket and offered it to her.

Portia—Mrs. Taylor—took it, her eyes widening with wonder. “Goodness! I’d forgotten all about this. And you kept it…”

“It had been packed away, and recently surfaced.” Jack didn’t want her to think he’d been mooning over it all these years. He hadn’t. It had lain unseen in the chiffonier for years.

She blushed again, with a contrite smile. “Of course. I couldn’t imagine any other reason.” She closed her hand around the portrait. “Thank you, Your Grace. It was very kind of you to return it—a kindness I do not deserve.”

He looked at her for a long moment. He had lost his head over her, his head and his heart and nearly his mind. “Why do you say that?”

She stared across the room. “For the way I treated you. It was rather abominable, and I know it.”

Jack thought of what his brother would say if he knew where Jack went every night. Philip would curse him from here to Land’s End. He really had no room to complain how Portia had treated him. “I would have preferred to know from the beginning,” he said slowly, “but I cannot fault you for following your heart.”

Mortification flashed over her face. “Of course. I was such a silly child then.” She opened her hand and stared at her youthful face, so eager and lively. “I was only seventeen when this was painted,” she murmured. “So sure of myself. So desperate to see the world and follow my heart, as you put it.”

“I have wondered one thing,” Jack said when she fell silent. “Was your affection for me real, or was your encouragement of my suit simply to cover your engagement to Taylor, as everyone said?”

Portia’s eyes flashed. “Everyone! I suppose I know who; only my sister knew about William, and she thought I was mad to pass up a chance to be a duchess for him.” Animation made her more like the vivacious girl he had known and loved. Jack was thrown off guard as she edged to the front of her chair. “It’s true I had already met William when we met. When he was sent to sea—by my father’s machinations—I thought I would never see him again. I admit I wanted another suitor—desperately. I was young and vain and it crushed my spirit that he left.” She clenched her fist to her heart. “I encouraged you hoping it would distract me.”

“And nothing more?” he asked coolly.

Indignation filled her face. “I never thought I was more than that to you,” she retorted. “The son of a duke! You were kicking your heels, looking for a flirtation. I daresay you hadn’t done anything serious in your life at that moment.”

“That was the problem, wasn’t it?” Jack agreed. “It’s true. I hadn’t. Nothing was expected of me.”

She bit her lip, her anger subsiding. “Now I understand. At the time… I confess it looked rather dull and frivolous to me. William was fighting to protect us from Bonaparte and…”

“Useless fribbles like me were wagering on carriage races.” He finished the sentence for her.

“Well.” She smiled disarmingly. “You were terribly amusing. But… no. I knew we would never do, you and I, even before—” She stopped abruptly. “I am sorry.”

And Jack realized what a fool he’d been. Yes, he’d fallen for her, but he never really knew her. While he hadn’t pined over Portia, he had let her affect his view of women far beyond reason.

There was a tap on the door, and before either could speak, the door opened. A boy about ten years old charged into the room. He had his mother’s ash-blond hair, and deep set dark eyes that must have come from his father. “Mother, may we go—?” He stopped and blinked at the sight of Jack.

“Thomas.” Portia rose and put out a hand to her son. “This is the Duke of Ware, an old acquaintance of mine.”

“Sir.” The boy made a smart bow and joined his mother. “I apologize for interrupting.”

“Not at all, Master Taylor.” Jack inclined his head.

“Thomas is my eldest,” said Portia. She laid a hand on his shoulder. “He’s home from Eton.” There was fond pride in her voice, but when she met Jack’s gaze, he saw the unspoken message there.

She was happy. She had never regretted what she did to him, because it earned her something far more important.

And thank God she had.

The Wagers of Sin Series

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