Surprise! I'm excited to share with you today a bonus chapter from A Game of Hearts, a scene I ended up cutting because I felt like it did not quite fit with the pacing and flow of the story. But I still love it and so I wanted to share it with all my wonderful readers as a thank you!
PS. There are MAJOR spoilers if you read this scene! I highly recommend reading A Game of Hearts first for the most enjoyment of this bonus chapter.
A little set-up: this takes place in between chapters 27 and 28 - after Tristan begins helping with the society but before the Lady Patroness's Meeting. I've edited this as best I can, but if there are small inconsistencies with the finished book, I apologize! This is just a fun extra for you all.
A Game of Hearts - Bonus Chapter
Three days before the prize shoot, I cut short my personal practice to go inside and dress for dinner. Mr. Raines had got it into his head to host a dinner party honoring mine and Tristan’s engagement. I’d nearly laughed when we’d received the invitation a week ago—our betrothal had come from desperation, not from any real desire to wed. It had seemed silly to host a party honoring such an event.
It seemed less silly now.
I knew my feelings toward Tristan were shifting. Into what, I was uncertain. But the longer I spent in his company, the more hours I craved with him. His teasing, his small touches, his dark, intense eyes.
It alarmed me, in truth. Was I so changeable? Were my affections so easily won?
But I knew in my heart it was not that. It wasn’t just that my feelings had changed. It was that Tristan and I were changing, slowly but truly. And it sent a nervous thrill up my spine to think of where we might be heading.
When we arrived at Stavely Hall for the party, Mr. Raines and Tristan stood as we were shown into the drawing room. Tristan looked terribly handsome in his dark jacket and green waistcoat, and my eyes lingered on his form as he came to greet me.
“Good evening,” he said with a little bow. “I do hope you are prepared for the awkwardness that is ahead.”
I smiled as I bobbed a curtsy. He never was one to beat around the bush. “I like to think we are rather accustomed to it by now.”
“True enough.” His eyes drifted over me a moment, then snapped back to my face. Were his cheeks pinker? He cleared his throat. “You look—you look very pretty tonight.”
My eyes widened and my own cheeks heated. Had Tristan ever said anything like that before?
Before I could respond, the butler announced dinner, and Tristan gave me a half smile before going to escort Mrs. Penrose into the dining room. I pressed my hand to my stomach, which fluttered like so many feathers, soft and light. He was just being kind, surely.
Dinner proved to be a surprisingly cheerful affair, considering its purpose was to celebrate a forced engagement. The time passed in a blur of food and drink, Mama and Mrs. Penrose enthusiastically discussing their plans for the two weddings. Mr. Raines and Mrs. Penrose had decided to marry a week after Tristan and me, a strange sort of deference to our difficult situation.
My eyes met Tristan’s across the table throughout the meal. Was he looking at me more than was usual? My heart pounded more fiercely each and every time our gazes caught one another.
After dinner, Mama, Mrs. Penrose, and I took ourselves back to the drawing room while the men had their port. The two continued their wedding talk, of which I had little interest, so I wandered to the window, looking out at the gathering dusk. I could see Mrs. Penrose in the reflection, her eyes bright as she discussed flowers and the fabric she’d purchased for a new gown.
The men joined us a few minutes later, and groups formed for cards and conversation. Tristan spotted me across the room and immediately came to join me. I tried not to show how pleased that made me.
“You are not playing cards?” he asked, facing me as he leaned against the windowsill.
I shook my head. “I haven’t the mind for games tonight.”
“A revelation, indeed,” he said. “Marigold Cartwell does not wish to win at something.”
I shot him a superior glare. “I needn’t prove myself every second of the day. I am quite content in the knowledge that I could win if I wanted to.”
He laughed, and I could not stop the corners of my mouth from darting upwards. This was how our interactions had gone over the last fortnight. Light and airy, some teasing and joking, never anything too serious. It wasn’t unpleasant—and certainly an improvement from our arguments of the past—but after our time together in the mine and our surprisingly emotional conversation at the assembly, it now felt . . . lacking. So much was left unsaid between us, including any talk of our upcoming wedding. It was easier to pretend it wasn’t happening. For me, at least. I wasn’t sure why he never spoke of it.
Tristan’s smile faded a bit as he crossed his arms. “Your mother came the other day to see the dower house.”
I cleared my throat. I knew what he was too polite to mention: that I very clearly had not accompanied her. “Yes, she said everything looked well in hand.”
Mama had wanted me to come with her, but I’d pretended I was too busy preparing for the shoot. She knew I was lying, of course. She was my mother. But she let me be.
Tristan nodded. “The maids have been busy. The cottage was a bit dusty since no one has lived there in years, but the furnishings are in decent condition.”
“That is good.” My throat was dry. I swallowed. “I shall come see it soon, of course. Once things have . . . calmed.”
“Of course.” But he looked out the window, avoiding my gaze.
I could only imagine what he was thinking. Perhaps that I was so obsessed with the prize shoot that I couldn’t be bothered to spend one minute thinking of my future home. A home I would soon share with him.
I glanced to where the others sat at the card tables, laughing at something Mr. Raines had said. No one seemed to notice the two of us, talking off to the side.
I turned back to Tristan. “We can go now.”
“Go where?” His eyes flicked to mine.
“To the dower house,” I said decidedly. “We’ll sneak away without anyone seeing. It will be great fun.”
He straightened. “You truly wish to see it now?”
“Anything to escape talk of the weddings,” I said. “It is all Mama and Mrs. Penrose can speak of.”
That was perhaps the wrong thing to say if I was trying to convince him I was not dreading our upcoming nuptials. But he only glanced at the rest of the party, then faced me again with a new glint in his eyes. “Come on, then.”
With careful glances back at our families, we slipped out into the corridor and crept toward the garden door. When we stepped outside, the mid-summer air was light and fresh, the full moon low on the darkening horizon.
“This way,” he said, leading me north of the house toward thick growth of shadows. “A previous occupant of Stavely Hall planted this mass of elm trees between the manor and the dower house. Apparently he did not much care for his mother.”
I laughed. “Your uncle will be glad for the trees soon enough. I daresay even a forest won’t be enough to muffle our bickering.”
“You must admit we are bickering much less than we used to.”
“Oh, of course,” I said airily. “An engagement brings a natural maturity to a person, you know.”
“Does it, now?” he asked as we started along the path through the trees. “Is that why you told Mrs. Vale I enjoyed poetry and she spent a half hour at the last practice elucidating the themes of Lord Byron’s latest work?”
“You do not like poetry?” I asked, pretending shock. “How disappointing. I was so sure.”
“Never fear,” he said. “I made sure to mention how you enjoy pickled oysters. I imagine she’ll be presenting you with that delicacy at tomorrow’s practice.”
“You did not!” I pushed his shoulder with one hand, though he barely moved at all. Heavens, the man was sturdy. “She is relentless. She will never forget and I will have to pretend I love pickled oysters for the rest of my life.”
He grinned. “You might have thought about that before setting her after me with Byron.”
He made this too easy—this new friendship between us, for lack of a better word. It was almost starting to feel natural. But that was only to be expected considering how much time we’d spent together recently. Wasn’t it?
“Here we are,” he said as the trees opened up to reveal the shadowed cottage. It was smaller than I’d remembered, though it looked pleasant enough in the moonlight, with white shutters and ivy creeping over the gray stone.
“How will we see inside?” I asked. “Have you a key?”
“Yes,” he said dryly. “I always carry a key to the abandoned dower house.”
I made as if to shove him again, and he stepped quickly from my reach, laughing. “Perhaps we could look through the windows.”
I gave a dramatic sigh as I moved past him. “Oh, very well.”
I peered inside the front window, streaked from the recent rain. I could just make out the furniture—what looked like a worn sofa, a few armchairs, and a small writing desk. The wallpaper was a pretty floral, if a bit dated, and a modest fireplace stood directly across from me.
“What is the verdict?”
I glanced at Tristan, watching me from a few feet away. There was a new look in his eyes—apprehension. He cared what I thought.
“It is a lovely room,” I said honestly. “Perhaps in need of a few updates, but I imagine it will have wonderful light in the mornings.”
Tristan raised an eyebrow. “Wonderful light?”
“Yes,” I said. “For my . . . my sewing.”
He choked on a laugh. “Your sewing? When was the last time you ever held a needle?”
I glared at him. “I am trying to be kind.”
“So you admit the room is a bit dreary?”
“It is nothing that cannot be fixed with new curtains and a vase full of fresh flowers,” I said, raising my chin.
He paused a moment. “I know it is not what you are used to.”
“I do not need what I am used to,” I said. “Now stop trying to make me dislike this house before I even have a chance to see the whole of it.”
I walked to the back of the cottage, peeking in windows as I went. I spotted a dining room and what might pass for a study or small library, with empty bookshelves and a desk.
He followed, hands in his pockets. “It hasn’t any books.”
“I’ve never been much of a reader.” I was determined to be optimistic.
I reached a window at the back of the cottage covered by two splintering shutters. One of them looked loose, hanging down at an awkward angle. I took hold of it and pulled it open, its hinges giving a great squeal. There was no glass beyond, only a dark room with a long table in the center. My eyes adjusted slowly and I saw the gleam of copper pots. The kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Tristan asked, eyes narrowed.
I propped one hand on my hip. “Can a lady not explore her prospective home? Come, help me inside.”
“Marigold, you’re wearing an evening gown.”
“And?” I looked around and spotted a rusty bucket tucked beneath a bush. I fetched it and placed it upside-down under the window to act as a stool. “There.”
I stepped on the bucket, but as soon as my full weight was centered on the warped tin, it crumpled beneath me. I gave a little yelp as I toppled sideways, the ground rushing to meet me--
Tristan’s arms wrapped around my waist, solid and strong, and I fell back against his chest. I inhaled a sharp breath, my hands grasping his forearms. For the most vivid of moments, I could feel nothing but his steady warmth surrounding me, his masculine scent invading my senses and his soft breath against my ear setting every inch of my skin aflame.
“I thought that might happen,” he said, exasperated.
I blinked. My face—flushed from his close proximity—now took on an immediate coolness. I found my balance and quickly scrambled free of him. “You just happened to guess the bucket would break? How intuitive you are.”
He crossed his arms, and I refused to notice how the evening shadows emphasized his lean, muscular figure. “Are you irritated with me for catching you?” he asked in disbelief.
“No,” I said shortly. “I am irritated with you for assuming I could not catch myself.”
His eyes narrowed. “But if I had let you fall, you would be irritated with me for not catching you.”
We both stared each other down. Then Tristan’s lips twitched. Mine followed suit, and then the two of us were laughing softly, shaking our heads.
Tristan raked a hand through his hair. “I suppose we are not entirely finished bickering.”
“We’d gone too long without an argument. It was bound to happen sooner or later.” I paused. “But I am sorry for snapping.”
“And I am sorry for catching you,” he said. “At least, I think I am.”
“Ha,” I said wryly.
He blew out a long breath, then went to stand by the open window. “Come on, then. I’ll help you.”
I eyed him, but he seemed sincere. I followed him to the window and he made a basket with his hands, as if helping me mount a horse. I placed one slippered foot on his interlocked fingers, my stocking a flash of white in the moonlight. Too late now to be concerned for modesty.
“Hold on to my shoulder,” he said.
I did as he said, steadying myself against the firm curve of his shoulder. My heart beat in my ears, quick and loud, then he lifted me. I found a wobbly seat on the narrow windowsill, bracing myself on either side of the opening. Then I swung both of my legs inside and slipped down from the window, my feet landing with a dull thump on the worn wooden floor.
“Does it appear safe?” Tristan leaned his forearms on the windowsill as he peered in after me. “You know how I like to send you into dangerous places before entering myself.”
A short laugh burst from me. “A gentleman through and through. But yes, it seems safe enough, unless you are frightened of spiderwebs.”
“Ah, you’ve found my Achille’s heel at last.” He climbed through the opening much easier than I had, dropping lightly to his feet beside me. He turned around, peering at the moonlit kitchen. “We should have brought a candle.”
“This is far more light than we had in the mine,” I pointed out. “I think we can manage.”
I started toward the kitchen door, but he caught my elbow. “No, no. Let me go first. Then I can fight off any ruffians.”
“Ruffians?” I echoed with a laugh. “There are ruffians in your dower house?”
His lips twitched. “Only the best for the future Mrs. Gates.”
He started off before his words landed in my mind. Quite thankfully too, because I froze, staring after him. Mrs. Gates. That was to be my name. My stomach tumbled.
“Are you coming?” he called over his shoulder.
I took a deep breath and followed after him. I’d known I would be marrying Tristan for nearly a fortnight, but tonight was the first time my future had manifested itself so clearly before me.
And I was still not entirely sure I was ready for it.
I made my way along the corridor, one hand on the wall to guide me. The moon was full outside, but only snatches of bare light made it to the center of the house. The back of my neck pricked with awareness—Marigold was right behind me, the soft scuffs of her feet bringing back memories of our time in the cave. That was the first time I had realized that Marigold was not who I thought she was, and it had certainly not been the last.
How many times over the past fortnight had she surprised me? And it was the smaller things more than the big. The kindness and time that she gave so freely to her society ladies. The optimism she was showing now, even though I knew the dower house was far from the home she’d imagined for herself. The moments when I found her watching me with those bright, blue eyes, thoughtful and perceptive. What was she thinking when she looked at me like that?
“What is that room?” she asked from behind me as we approached an open door.
“The dining room.” I stopped at the door, but she squeezed past me, her warmth and scent lingering as she moved into the room. I watched as she inspected the long table, the dull copper candlesticks and faded curtains. She could not possibly approve, but no look of displeasure crossed her moonlit face.
“I suppose I shall have to learn your favorite meals,” she said, letting one hand drift over the newly-dusted surface of table. “If I am to be a proper wife.”
I cleared my throat, my neck heating. “I can assure you that pickled oysters are not among them.”
She laughed, her eyes flitting back to mine as she rounded the far end of the table. “A shame, considering Mrs. Vale will surely keep us well-stocked.”
“Next time I will assure her you enjoy cheesecakes.”
Marigold made her way into the next room, the parlor she’d seen from outside. It had been cleaned and polished until every surface shone, which almost made up for the fact that the sofa was worn and lumpy, the fireplace small, and the floor creaky.
“Yes,” she said firmly, placing both hands at her waist as she spun to take in the whole room. “This will do nicely.”
She was being obstinately optimistic, and I did not know if I was touched by her efforts or exasperated that she was hiding her true feelings.
“We can make improvements a little at a time,” she said “A new challenge for us.”
“You know how I like a challenge,” I said wryly.
She grinned. “Come. Show me the rest.”
We made our way to the entryway and I paused at the creaky staircase, sending her a cheeky smile. “Should you like to go first? Then I might catch you if you fall again.”
Marigold’s eyes glittered. “I think I can manage a set of stairs. You may go first, so that when the ruffians attack, I shall have time to escape.”
Once upstairs, we peeked into three small bedrooms. They were each clean, if sparsely furnished. We reached the last door, which opened to a large chamber with a canopy bed and decidedly feminine décor—faded pink wallpaper, soft damask curtains, and a worn but thick rug covering the wood floor. I put my hands in my pockets and leaned on the doorframe, watching Marigold closely as she explored the room.
“This one is not so bad as the others,” she said with an approving eye, moving to the window. “It certainly has the best view.”
The moment I’d seen this room last week, I’d known she would like it. I did not know how I’d known it. Instinct, I supposed? “It is yours if you want it,” I offered.
Marigold straightened suddenly, her meandering steps halting. She did not look at me.
“Oh,” she said, then coughed, as if her throat had gone dry. “Thank you. I am . . . that is, I shall think on it.”
I furrowed my brow. What was there to think of? I was offering her the best bedroom in the house.
Her eyes moved over the room in one last sweep, then she spun on her heel and came back to the door. “We ought to return to the party,” she said, her voice raspy. “They’ll be looking for us.”
I caught her arm as she tried to move past me. “Marigold, are you well?” Why was she acting so out of sorts?
She froze in the doorway beside me, my hand on her arm. Her eyes darted up to meet mine, her chest rising and falling as if she had just run a mile.
“I am fine,” she whispered.
We stood close together, framed in the doorway like a painting. It would take nothing—the barest movement, the smallest dip of my head—to catch her lips with mine. But I did not move. Because in her eyes, I saw something wild and uncertain. Panic.
This had been too much. I should not have brought her here until she was ready. Now I’d overwhelmed her.
I knew the feeling well.
I dropped my hand from her arm and moved into the corridor, allowing her some space. “Let’s return to the house,” I said. “Perhaps you now feel like winning at whist?”
She managed a small smile as she followed me toward the stairs, but I did not miss the backward glance she sent the bedroom.
We descended the stairs and let ourselves out through the front door. “I’ll find the key and return to lock it tonight,” I assured her.
“To keep out the ruffians,” she said lightly, as a peace offering.
But I wasn’t angry or frustrated. I understood better than anyone how it felt to lose the future one had hoped for.
The thought flashed through my head before I could stop it: she would not feel this way if she were marrying that cad Eastbrook. She would have been counting down the minutes, packing her trunks with eager anticipation.
I refused to let that thought fester inside me. It would not do any good to think of what other paths our lives may have taken. This was the road we had chosen. There would be ruts and puddles, rain and mud, but I would do whatever I could to make the journey easier for Marigold.
The walk back to the house was quiet. She said nothing, and I did not press her. But as we walked side by side, our hands brushed and a tingling awareness surged up my arm. I did not hesitate. I took her hand in mine, so small and delicate. So strong and capable. I held it gently, allowing her to pull away if she wished.
But she did not. She entwined her fingers with mine, and held tightly.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this extra little peek inside A Game of Hearts.
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