The original draft of In Search of Scandal contained even more brooding and tortured longing for Will and Charlotte. The following is the deleted Chapter 7. Charlotte has kissed Will (disastrously) at Spencer's dinner. The couple are again at odds. The lost scene occurs the next day at Hyde Park, as Will agonizes over the kiss, and waits for Charlotte to appear...
Hyde Park on a Saturday afternoon was where Will Repton came to battle his demons. He had too many demons, to be sure. Mammoth, immortal demons that could, at times, be quieted with work or exercise or, at times, drink. But this small demon—with heart-seizing blue eyes and an angel dress—he needed a clear head to fight, and a quiet bench along the Serpentine in the park was his battleground.
Why did she kiss him? Him?
Last night played over and over in his exhausted mind and he dropped his head in his hands. He needed sleep, any sleep. Even if it brought the usual dream.
Christ, now he knew the feel of her lips and the taste of her skin. He fisted his hair, welcoming the sharp pinch on his scalp. He deserved pain. He deserved worse.
A sudden breeze rustled the leaves in the tree above him, in agreement or censure. Aware of the pathetic spectacle he was making of himself, he sat up on the bench. But staring across the water, he saw only delphinium eyes. And her tears.
She’d kissed him. And he’d kissed her back.
Kissed her like he'd meant to stay.
The throbbing in his temples deepened. What did it matter? Spencer would propose. She would be a viscountess in the fall and he’d be where he belonged: on a boat for Tibet. Whatever madness had taken hold of them last night with the perfume of jasmine and peonies in the air was of no account.
Christ, how would he face her now? An apology was in order. Groveling and self-flagellation may be in order. And if Wallace and Ben learned of what had transpired, he should prepare for a sound beating and a matching limp for his other leg.
He could write her. Apologize and promise he’d not bother her again. And if she wanted him away…
The thought burned all the others to ash. If she told him to stay away, could he obey? He’d never see her. He’d never see Jacob in his little sailor suits. He’d never see any of them.
His heartbeat quickened. If he didn’t see her, what would he remember? The smell of her hair? Her white dress? Their dance? Her kiss? Would he turn every memory over and over in his mind as he did those that died in Tibet? If she left him so suddenly, so completely, like the others…
What would his crippled mind do with the memory of her?
Fear seeped through his skin. No, he didn’t want to remember her. He wanted to see her now. Now and every day until the day he had to leave—as he planned, as he prepared. As ordinary a parting as he could make it so he could free her to her future.
And to his past.
She wouldn’t vanish like the others. He’d apologize but he’d not stay away. Even if he had to see her out in the city. At the park with Jacob and his nurse.
As he was seeing her now.
Even expected as it was, the sight slammed through him, pinning him to the park bench. He didn’t know what to call what he was feeling, this overwhelming relief, this satisfaction, so he called it gratitude. Though ‘gratitude’ seemed too mild a word for what he’d been craving.
He’d waited two hours, knowing she came to the park on Saturdays so Jacob could sail his boats. The trio didn’t see him, seated as far as he was. Swans and ducks floated closer, curious over whether the new arrivals might offer food. With her remarkable grace, Charlotte gathered her skirts and dipped level with Jacob. The sun sparkled off the water behind them, blinding him with brilliance.
She laughed and Will's hand sought the handkerchief in his coat pocket that he’d used to blot her tears.
He’d made her cry. Charlotte Baker wasn’t meant to cry.
The knot in his chest loosened, his lungs seemed suddenly filled with air. Seeing her was enough. He rose to leave, and nearly made it to the path when familiar steps ran behind him. Jacob. The boy must have recognized his bloody limp.
Jacob’s high, laughing voice arrested his step. Careful to set his face to a placid mien, he turned to the child.
“Jacob, hello.” His conjured surprise sounded entirely false.
Charlotte followed slowly, her eyes unreadable in the shadow of her bonnet.
“I’m going to sail my boat.” Jacob held aloft his toy sailboat. “Do you want to see it? It goes fast if there’s wind.”
Charlotte reached them and tipped her head to the boy, blocking her face from his sight. “Mr. Repton was leaving, Jacob. He must have an appointment somewhere.”
But the boy stood quiet, and his eyes were so hopeful, that at that moment, he didn’t much care about Miss Baker’s discomfort or his own. He could do one, small decent thing and maybe he’d sleep tonight.
He braced his knee against the protesting pain and sank onto his haunches. “That’s a fine ship. Let’s see it sail.”
The boy’s joy at the turn of events couldn’t be contained. He bounced down to the lake. “Over here, Mr. Repton.”
Charlotte turned to follow but he placed a staying hand on her arm. The nurse cast a curious glance at his hand on her lady’s arm but kept pace with Jacob down to the riverbank.
Charlotte avoided his gaze but her skin was pale and there were shadows beneath her eyes. If there was one thing he recognized, it was the face of a sleepless night.
“I apologize for last night.”
“I acted without thought and only caused greater discord between us. Please forgive me for… everything. You have my promise I will not bother you again.”
His hand tightened on her arm. “I was wrong—”
“You were not wrong. Last night was… merely another of my fanciful notions.”
Before he could make sense of her words, she was walking to join the others by the water.
Was that it? Would she not let him make amends?
“Look, Mr. Repton!” Jacob clapped as the sailboat swayed drunkenly on the water toward an indignant duck, his little fist holding the string attached to the bow.
Charlotte smiled and the nurse was clapping and in raptures over its buoyancy. The best he could manage was an approving nod as he walked to join them. “That’s a yar ship.”
Jacob handed him the string, his little fingers soft and damp in his palm. “You can sail it, Mr. Repton.”
Will looked at the string in his hand, then at the boy squinting up at him against the sun, and then his heart cracked right in two.
Oh damn. Damn, damn, damn.
He was exhausted, overwrought. It was this business with Charlotte. The boy smiled at him, sharing his perfect child’s joy. Little Emile smiled like—enough.
“Jacob, I have an appointment I must get to.” He put the string back into the child’s hand and patted him on the shoulder. “Thank you for letting me sail your ship.”
Will walked away as quickly as he could. Jacob called ‘goodbye’ but he didn’t turn. It was all he could do not to run.
He'd almost made the bridge when a dog began to bark, and a child’s terrified cry pierced the wind.
And it sounded like the cry of an almost five-year-old.
He looked back—and this time, he did run.
A large dog was bearing down viciously on Jacob, who’d fallen on his bottom and was scrambling to his feet to flee. Charlotte and the nurse hurried after him but Jacob was screaming and running blind.
Will zigzagged past confused strollers frozen on the grass, losing sight of the boy between the bodies. His eyes tracked ahead… to the bridle path.
Blood pounding in his ears, he streaked toward Rotten Row and caught the boy seconds before he ran into the crush of riders. Hauling him into his arms, he hugged the child’s shaking body against his chest. “I’ve got you, Emile, I’ve got you.”
His heart was pounding, but not from the run. Panic swept him. The dog bit him—bit something off him. “I’ve got you. You’re all right.”
The boy wrapped tight arms around his neck and released a shattering, high-pitched scream straight into his ear—God, no! The children, where are the—?
Will wavered on his feet but caught himself before he fell. Paralyzed with dread, with memory, he was only dimly aware that Charlotte and the nurse had reached them.
“Oh, love. Oh my love, are you all right?” Charlotte was flushed and panting from her run. Her voice reached him through a tunnel, but she was warm and real against his side. “Did that dog scare you?”
Scare him? He opened his mouth to speak but no sound emerged. Jacob’s cries subsided and his face burrowed against Will’s neck.
He couldn’t look down, couldn’t look to see what he was sure he’d see. He stared straight at Charlotte standing a breath away, begging her wordlessly to help him. “The ground,” he croaked. “The ground.”
Her eyes settled on his face and sharpened with worry. Firm and steady hands cupped his cheeks. “He’s fine. Jacob is fine. Just frightened. He’s not hurt.”
“He’s not hurt.” He spoke aloud, not asking. Just needing the words to be true.
She came closer, bracing him with her hands, and he focused on her face.
This would pass, the other times passed. He would wait and breathe and stay on his feet, and it would pass.
“No, he’s not hurt.” Her eyes were huge with concern but she didn’t look away or release him.
Will gulped in a breath. He shifted the boy higher into his arms to look into his red, tear-stained face, his lips still trembling. No blood. No torn flesh. No ripped shirt or pants or shoes. Jacob was just frightened.
Just frightened. Thank God.
He patted Jacob’s back with a trembling hand that spanned the boy’s entire back. His little body was so small, so vulnerable. Not Emile. He blinked and the picture of a six-year-old boy lying on the frozen ground in Tibet flashed. He jerked, forcing his eyes wide to drive the picture away. A picture he couldn’t see right now. Not when he was holding Ben and Lucy’s precious son.
That wasn’t a demon he could fight.
“I don’t know what come over Ripley.” A withered voice came from two feet below him.
Will looked down at an old woman, with the big dog on a lead. Jacob turned his head and hugged him harder.
The woman smiled remorsefully. “My dog don’t mean no harm, but the old boy don’t hear good anymore. The little tyke surprised him and he barks loud cause he don’t hear himself.”
The nanny scrubbed the now-gentle dog’s big head. “Well that makes sense. He was just scared.”
Charlotte leaned close to whisper to Jacob. “Did you hear that, sweetest? The dog couldn’t hear you and he barked because he was frightened.”
Jacob’s voice was small. “He was scared of me?”
“Yes, love, but he’s not a bad dog.”
Jacob peeked down at the dog, and the mongrel looked back meek and sad as if he knew of all the commotion he’d caused.
“I’m sorry he scared your boy,” the old woman said to him before she walked away.
It was a natural assumption, and no one paid any notice, but her words lodged like a stone in his belly. He couldn’t protect him. Not him, not Emile, not anyone. Not little Aimee.
“Can we go home, Aunt Charlotte?” Jacob asked.
“Are you sure? Do you want to stay and sail your boat?” Charlotte asked.
Close as she was, her crisp perfume comforted him. The same scent from last night. He’d thought it was the peonies.
“Everybody saw me cry,” Jacob said.
The boy looked miserable and Will held him a little tighter. “So what if they did?” He paused to temper his defensive tone. “Everyone knows it’s bloody awful to be barked at by a huge dog. And look how quick you stopped crying.”
Charlotte’s eyes slid to his at the impolite word, which Will had no choice but to ignore. Jacob’s eyelashes were spiky with tears and his grey eyes scanned his for any falsehood. Seeing none, he wiped his eyes with a pudgy hand.
Charlotte kissed the boy’s cheek again, which brought her near Will’s lips. Stupidly, he wanted one small kiss of his own.
“My sweet boy,” Charlotte murmured. “Let’s go sailing, all right?”
Will bent to set the boy on his feet, holding him a second longer to ensure the boy’s legs steady beneath him. “Jacob?”
“Yes, Mr. Repton?”
“Don’t say ‘bloody.’”
Will straightened on his own swaying legs. In the commotion, the nurse had retrieved Jacob’s boat and now took the child’s hand from his. He didn’t want to look at Charlotte. He'd never wanted her to see him like that.
“There’s a bench over there,” Charlotte said. “Will you sit a moment?”
Charlotte was handling him like a ninety-year old, which is exactly how he felt. But he couldn’t let the boy out of his sight. Not just yet. “Yes, I’ll sit.”
He dropped to the bench, his knee rigid, and Charlotte sat beside him, her face drawn in concern. “You’ve been cried upon rather a lot the past twenty-four hours. I am sorry we are so wearying on your nerves.” She offered a small smile but it didn’t last. “You look quite pale, Mr. Repton.”
He shook his head, unable to say what he felt, what he remembered. Charlotte somehow knew not to press him, knew to sit quietly and let him recover.
The sun was shining and a breeze from the river buffeted his jacket open and stirred his hair. A peaceful Saturday afternoon. And he felt no peace. London, and he saw it from half a world away and felt it with a stranger’s body.
Charlotte took up his hand and held it on her lap. Warm. That he could feel. He closed his eyes and, thank God, there was nothing. Just the sun, at last, hot on his face and the smooth cotton of her gloved hand holding his. He was so tired. But he deserved no rest.
He pulled his hand from hers.
“I… I’m sorry.” Charlotte straightened from him and rose. “I promised… I’ll not disturb you any longer.” She started for the river.
He should let her go, he should. He was broken. He was almost certainly mad. But Goddamn it—couldn’t he have one balm for his days? He didn’t deserve it; they were the scraps of another man’s feast. But just for a while? Just while he was here? “Miss Baker?”
She stopped but didn’t turn. He parted his lips to speak, but there wasn’t one question he could truly ask.
Perhaps only the smallest one.
“Do you think… we might ever manage to be friends?”
She didn’t answer right away. Nor did she turn around. And only then he realized how perilously high his hopes had climbed.
“No, Mr. Repton,” she said quietly. “I can no longer imagine it.”
PUBLISHED CHAPTER SEVEN
On the third Wednesday of each month, Lady Henrietta Abernathy invited a select group of two dozen, like-minded ladies to her front parlor to discuss the serious topics of the day…