Most scenes I write that end up cut from a book shouldn’t be there… or anywhere else, for that matter.
However, I originally had a different idea for the Westruthers series and THE GREATEST LOVER EVER had a different beginning. I decided to post it because it provides a little insight into the Westruthers’ childhood. Hope you enjoy!
Thirteen-year-old Marcus, Earl of Beckenham, was bowling a bouncer at his cousin Xavier when a cry made him skid to a halt, his arm frozen in mid-air.
Tightening his grip on the cricket ball’s seam, Beckenham dropped his arm and turned his head in the direction of the shout. Lydgate pelted down the grassy slope toward them. The six-year-old ran as fast as his legs could carry him, gold curls flying in the breeze.
The summer day was sultry, with dark clouds on the horizon gathering themselves to storm. Beckenham wiped his brow on his sleeve as he started toward Lydgate. “What’s wrong?”
As Lydgate halted, panting before him, Beckenham saw that the little fellow’s cheeks were flushed with strong emotion. On a spurt of vicarious embarrassment, he realized those cheeks also shone damply.
Beckenham gave his cousin an awkward pat on the head. “Come on, then. Can’t be that bad, can it?”
Xavier strolled over to them, dangling his cricket bat from one careless hand. “You’re interrupting the game, brat. Out with it. What is it this time?”
“It’s true! Xavier, you were right. I heard the duke.” Lydgate’s gaze ricocheted from one to the other of them, his tongue tripping over the words. “He was t-talking to Lord deVere.”
“You shouldn’t eavesdrop, Lydgate,” Beckenham said automatically.
As the eldest, Beckenham felt he ought to set a good example, but he couldn’t deny that Lydgate’s singular skills at espionage came in useful.
Lydgate and Beckenham were wards of the Duke of Montford. They lived together with the duke and another distant cousin, Jane, here at Harcourt. Xavier and his sister Rosamund spent their summers here, but most of the year they lived with their parents, the Marquis and Marchioness of Steyne.
On the whole, Marcus thought he and Lydgate had the better lot. He’d prefer no parents at all to ones whose vicious arguments were legendary.
But regardless of who had parents and who had not, all of them were under the duke’s ultimate control. Montford was the head of the House of Westruther. With his rank, wealth, ancient lineage and political acumen the duke was reputed to be more powerful than King George himself.
Because Montford ruled their lives with ruthless disregard for their wishes and never told them anything, the cousins were obliged to resort to underhanded means to gather intelligence. They were helpless to control their own futures, but at least they might know what was being decided for them.
Xavier cast Beckenham an impatient glance. “What was I right about, brat?”
“It’s Rosamund,” said Lydgate. “Montford said she is to marry one of the deVeres. They’ve signed papers and everything!”
The announcement struck Beckenham dumb. By all accounts, the deVeres were a rough, uncouth lot. That sweet little Rosamund should be consigned to a man of that family revolted him utterly.
Beckenham looked to Xavier, who contemplated the news in silence, his flyaway black eyebrows forming a deep V, his dark blue eyes stormier than the clouds overhead.
It ought to be impossible to associate Xavier’s golden haired little sister with something as lofty as betrothals and marriage, but Beckenham knew the Duke of Montford and his schemes quite well by now.
Still, he said numbly, “But Rosamund’s only a baby.”
“She’s five,” said Xavier, snapping out of his trance. “Old enough to be betrothed.”
“You must speak with your father,” said Marcus. “Surely he would not allow this.”
Xavier curled his lip. “My sainted papa washed his hands of us after the last row he had with the She-Devil. He don’t care what becomes of Rosie and me.” His hands clenched into fists. “Montford won’t listen to me, to any of us. There’s nothing we can do.”
“I won’t let this deVere fellow take her!” said Lydgate stoutly. “I’ll run him through with my sword first!”
Since the only sword Lydgate possessed was made of two bits of wood nailed together, Beckenham and Xavier paid this bloodthirsty statement no heed.
Beckenham racked his brain for a way to help, as much for Xavier’s sake as for Rosamund’s. Xavier worshipped his little sister. She was the only person on earth he truly loved.
A sick sense of frustration boiled inside. It was Beckenham’s duty to take care of his younger relatives. Sometimes—rarely, but sometimes—the duke actually listened to him.
But Beckenham didn’t see how he could make everything right this time. He might be an earl due to his father’s untimely death, but in the eyes of Montford and the other adults around him, he was still a child. And he had never felt so powerless as he did now.
He said, “The duke gains by this. He would not sign away an heiress like Rosamund without getting something equally valuable in return. It sounds to me as if there is already an agreement. He won’t break his word. There’s nothing we can do.”
“Xavier and Rosamund could run away,” suggested Lydgate eagerly.
Beckenham frowned at him. “Of course they can’t! Hold your tongue.”
Xavier looked taken with the idea, but then reluctantly, he shook his head. “The duke would find us. He found Jane, didn’t he? Besides, even marrying a deVere would be better than starving to death. We have no money and nowhere to go.”
“At least it’s a long time before she has to marry anyone,” Beckenham offered. “We must… We must wait. When we’re all older, we can fight him.”
He wanted to offer Xavier comfort; he considered clapping his cousin on the shoulder, but the way Xavier held himself like a taut ball of fury, Beckenham knew any gesture would earn him a punch on the nose.
He said, “We won’t let him hand Rosie over to them, Xavier. I swear it.”
The three of them fell silent again. The longed-for time when they would all be their own masters seemed as far off and ephemeral as a desert mirage.
With a sudden, filthy oath, Xavier hefted the cricket bat over his head and smashed it down on the pitch, splitting the wood right up the middle. Then he snatched the cricket ball from Beckenham’s slackened grip, turned and threw it with all his might, shattering the wooden cricket stumps so that the bails flew into the darkening sky.
Xavier whirled on them. “Montford might make the girls pawns in his games but he won’t do that to me! Or any of us.” He looked wildly, hotly from Marcus to Andrew. “Swear it, both of you! We won’t let him ruin our lives. We will not marry anyone of his choosing, no matter what threats he holds over our heads. We’ll be bachelors the rest of our days if that’s what it takes to thwart him!”
He spat on his hand and thrust it out to them.
Solemnly, all three of them swore.