So, I love my books. Even the parts of them that made me tear out my hair in frustration. And in each one, there is a scene, or a few scenes, that I love more than the rest. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was the easiest scene to write. In fact, it’s often the case that the most difficult scenes to create earn a higher place in my esteem.
This particular scene from An Unpracticed Heart takes place a little further into the story, and it is one that did make me tear my hair out (and consume a large amount of chocolate), and yet here it is, a few paragraphs that I think show the heart of this story.
“This is pleasant,” Charlotte remarked, then bit her tongue at the banal words. There was so much she wished to say, so much she wasn’t certain she should risk saying, and she could not trust just how much her stepmother might be capable of overhearing. When Lord Cowden made no accompanying comment, she took to busying herself with the arrangement of her skirts as she crossed her ankles beneath her. She looked over at his right leg, close enough that she could simply extend her arm and place her hand on his thigh if she wished. She swallowed hard at the traitorous thought, and curled her hand into a fist before she could give in and dance her gloved fingers across his knee.
“You’re still a terrible liar, you know.” He didn’t look at her, instead keeping his gaze directed at some point beyond the railing. He cleared his throat as he adjusted his position, his shoulders at once slumping forward before pushing back again as if he could not find a way to be comfortable and practice decent posture at the same time. “Your stepmother does not want you here,” he continued to grouse. “And I tricked her into allowing you to come. Ballard is going to talk until her ears revolt and attempt escape from her head, and I have to sit here and pretend that I’m rather indifferent to your company, all so that she won’t suspect there is something between us.”
She turned to look at him. “Is there something between us?”
His lips parted as he drew in a deep breath, but a full minute passed before he ventured to speak again. “I don’t know what to do with you. One minute, and I think I want nothing more than for you to be in my bed, as my wife. And the next… I wonder if my most magnanimous act would be to leave you and never seek you out again.”
Charlotte twisted her hands in her skirt, careless of how wrinkled the silk would be by evening’s end. Her heart had thudded in her chest at his mention of marriage, a possibility she had discounted for herself years before. And there he sat, dangling the words before her like some kind of matrimonial carrot, and she wondered if she would take to buffeting him about the head with her reticule should he prove to be speaking in jest. “There is something you forget,” she said, the words spoken on a rush of air that hardly stirred her voice to life. “None of it is entirely your choice to make. You may say that you would not be a good husband, continue to cling to some absurd notion that I deserve better than what you can give me. But in the end, shouldn’t I have some say in the matter?”
He looked at her, a stricken expression on his face. She wanted to shake him, then. To grasp him by the shoulders and make him see that all was not lost, no matter that his darkest thoughts had taken to convincing him otherwise. Instead, she leaned forward slightly as the first performers appeared on the stage, as their voices carried upwards and filled her senses with a music unlike anything she had heard before.
Charlotte kept her attention on the stage. In front of her, Lady Alvord had begun to sneak surreptitious glances over her shoulder towards the two of them, or at Lord Cowden in particular. Mr. Ballard continued to chatter away, always snagging his companion’s interest before she could fully swivel around in her seat and attempt to inquire as to what they sat whispering about.
“You don’t understand,” Lord Cowden said several minutes later, his voice closer to her ear than she had anticipated. He had slid forward in his seat as well, most likely under the guise of wanting to see the singers as they paraded from one side of the stage to the other. “I would not be a good husband for you. I would bring you nothing but bitterness, and you would resent me for that.”
The song ended on a note that set her teeth on edge. The audience, however, broke into thunderous applause. Charlotte smiled and clapped along with everyone else, the explosion of sound loud enough that she could turn to Lord Cowden and speak without fear of being overheard. “Then I would have to be a good enough wife for the both of us.”
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