For each of my books, I’ve written scenes that (very rightly) never made it to the final draft. That doesn’t mean writing those scenes was a waste of time. In most cases, those scenes helped me work out something important about the characters or story. This was definitely the case with the prologue I originally wrote for Goddess of the Hunt. It didn’t belong in the final book, but writing the scene helped me work out the characters’ shared history. I thought I’d post it just for fun, in case anyone’s curious how Lucy and Jeremy’s first meeting went.
On the fine autumn afternoon he nearly shot her head off, Lucy Waltham decided she would marry Sir Toby Aldridge. One day. There was the small matter of surviving to see her twelfth birthday first.
She had begun by stalking her quarry surreptitiously – her brother, Henry, and his party of would-be huntsmen. She threaded through the trees, taking care to muffle her steps as dry leaves crunched underfoot. Lucy soon realized attempts at stealth were pointless. The four men were raising such a racket, a wild boar could have crashed through the woods unnoticed, let alone a reed-thin scrap of a girl.
Another shot boomed through the woods, and Lucy clapped her hands over her ears. She removed them in time to catch an earful of blasphemy.
If curses could kill a partridge, Waltham Woods would be littered with felled game. At this rate, a bird was more likely to choke on a cloud of gunpowder than be hit by a musket ball. Lucy was sorely disappointed.
The men resumed their tramping, and Lucy followed, making a game of leaping from one giant bootprint to the next. As she went, she tried on the gentlemen’s oaths for size, the way another girl might try on her mother’s jewels.
“Blast!” She hurled the curse at a nearby squirrel, screwing her features into a melodramatic scowl. The squirrel blinked one beady eye, wholly unimpressed. Lucy puffed her chest and tried again. “Damn!” A great improvement. The squirrel skittered into a tree.
Cursing was rather fun, Lucy decided. She understood why men engaged in it when their other amusements failed.
“Hell’s teeth!” she snarled as her boot squelched in loamy soil. They must be nearing the stream. Lucy grabbed the nearest tree limb, a branch of young alder loaded with catkins.
The branch snapped in her hand. A startled partridge took flight from the underbrush, its wings beating furiously. The thunder of gunshot sent Lucy sprawling. She felt a musket ball fly by her scalp, blazing a neat part in her unruly curls.
“Son of the devil’s hopper-arsed whore!”
First-rate, that curse. Long, loud, and let fly with conviction. Lucy felt rather proud of it, even if it had given her away. She raised her head. Four slack-jawed gentlemen and two yapping hounds bounded through the trees toward her. She fell back against the ground and clamped her eyes shut. She was dead. One way or another. Once Henry realized the musket ball hadn’t done her in, he’d finish the job himself.
The dogs reached her first, pressing their wet, sniffing noses to her face, hands, belly. “Shoo, Farthing!” Lucy whispered. “Sixpence! Off!” Blasted hounds. How was a girl supposed to play dead with one dog nuzzling her neck and another gnawing her boot?
“Lucy!” Henry hauled her to her feet. He performed a quick survey of her head and limbs. Finding her unharmed, he grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her shake that rattled her teeth. “What the devil do you think you’re doing?”
Lucy was tempted to conveniently swoon, but she and Henry both knew she wasn’t the swooning sort.
Henry gave her another shake. “Of all the damn fool things to do. You could have been killed!”
“Not likely. The lot of you haven’t hit a thing all day.”
Henry’s eyes narrowed. “Where is your governess? I’ll sack her at once.”
“Miss Roche? She quit three days ago, Henry. I thought you knew.”
Her brother straightened to his full height and glared down at her. “Damn it, Lucy – that’s two already this month.”
She shrugged and flashed him her sweetest smile. “Yes, well. Apparently I’m incorrigible. But you knew that already.”
“I suppose I did.” His mouth quirked in a wry smile. He reached out with one hand to tousle her hair and roughly drew her head to his chest. “Good Lord, Lucy, could you give a man a break? I’m new to this guardian business, you know. You’ll be the death of me – if I don’t kill you first.”
He gave her a brief squeeze about the shoulders before pushing her away. “Now – go home.”
“No, Henry!” She grabbed the sleeve of his coat. “Please don’t make me go home. You can’t ask me to walk back by myself. I might get lost, or hurt – or attacked by another crazed partridge! And it would be a shame to call off your outing on my account. Let me stay, Henry. I promise to stay perfectly quiet and absolutely still. I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.”
Henry snorted in disbelief at this last. But he looked to his companions, silently inviting their opinion on the matter.
“I don’t mind,” the one called Felix piped up. He flashed Lucy a wide grin that spanned from one ruddy cheek to the other.
Lucy smiled back. She knew she liked Felix, even if he made a poor excuse for a huntsman. He was shorter than the rest, and he hadn’t the others’ broad-shouldered, athletic build. If not for his tall hat, his shock of carrot-colored hair would surely frighten away the game. It was a great relief to be introduced to him yesterday and see at once he was a jolly sort – because Lucy would never be able to call him “Mr. Crowley-Cumberbatch” without laughing.
“The more the merrier, I always say.” Felix winked, and Lucy’s smile widened.
With a questioning look, Henry turned to his stern, black-haired friend. Lucy’s smile faded instantly. Now this one had no excuse for his poor marksmanship, she judged. He towered over Felix and had long, brawny arms designed to master a musket. The upstairs maid, Becky, had positively wilted under his glare. Perhaps he was too preoccupied with his thoughts to concentrate on his aim. His serious mien made him look ages older than the others, even though Lucy knew all four had been classmates at Eton. Utterly humorless, Lucy decided, and therefore completely uninteresting. Even his title was ponderous. Was he a viscount? Or perhaps a marquis? She couldn’t be bothered to remember.
“You can’t let her stay, Henry,” he said. He trained his solemn blue stare on her, and Lucy stood up a bit straighter. “She’s a child. This is no place for her.”
Lucy’s hands went to her hips. “I’m not a child. I’ll have you know I turn twelve in two months.”
“Twelve?” The black-haired man’s jaw clenched. He turned to her brother. “No, Henry. Absolutely not.”
“Come now, Jem,” said the fourth man. “Don’t be so severe.”
Oh, at last – Sir Toby to her rescue.
Sir Tobias Aldridge. Now there was a name – and a face – a girl didn’t forget. Lucy forgave him his shoddy marksmanship outright. Sir Toby was not the type who needed to hunt for anything. Everything good in the world would naturally be drawn to him.
She’d stayed up half the previous night, searching through the plates in her old books of fairy stories. She was certain she’d seen his face before, somewhere within those volumes. Sir Toby was the very image of a charming, purple-robed prince. Or perhaps a dashing knight on a dangerous quest. His golden-brown hair fell in smooth waves. His complexion was flawless. His lips were curved in a permanent smile.
The hero in question turned to her with a warm brown gaze that melted straight through the autumn chill. Lucy thought she might have been mistaken. Perhaps she was the swooning sort.
“Let her stay,” Sir Toby said. “I don’t see the harm in it.”
“You don’t see the harm in it?” the one called Jem replied. His voice was so low, Lucy’s toes curled around it. “You nearly shot her head off. And a twelve-year-old girl is just that – a girl.”
“Exactly,” Henry said. “I can’t very well send a girl home alone. We’d all have to turn back.”
“I haven’t even bagged my first bird yet,” Felix said.
Lucy thought his optimism rather sweet.
“Perhaps it’s healthy for her, getting out of the house,” Henry continued. “She’s been rather cooped up ever since my … ever since we’ve been in mourning.”
The four men fell into an uncomfortable silence. If there was anything more maddening than being addressed as a child, Lucy thought, it was being discussed as if you weren’t there at all. And she’d been discussed plenty in the months since her mother died. However, if her pitiful orphan status earned her the right to stay, she wasn’t about to object.
Jem shrugged. “She’s your sister, Henry.”
And wasn’t Lucy thankful for small mercies. She shouldn’t like to be Jem’s sister one bit.
“Very well, Lucy, you may stay,” Henry said. She jumped to catch him in an exuberant hug, but he stopped her at arm’s length. “Not so fast. There are rules. You are to remain absolutely quiet and stay directly behind me at all times. You are not to touch – or so much as look at – a musket. When I tell you to do something, you do it.” She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. “Without argument.”
Lucy merely nodded in agreement. Henry dropped to one knee and put his hands on her shoulders. She looked into his clear green eyes, a mirror of her own, and read a stern warning.
“The last rule, Lucy – you are not to cry. This is a hunting party, you understand. We mean to shoot and kill a few of God’s innocent creatures, with no nobler reason than to satisfy a thirst for blood and a hunger for pies. The moment you shed a tear over a pathetic partridge is the moment you march straight home.”
She nodded again. Henry shouldered his gun. He tramped off, signaling the others with a slight tilt of his head. Lucy followed in his bootprints, and Sir Toby fell in step alongside her.
“Say, Lucy, I’m awfully sorry. For nearly shooting your head off, I mean.” His smile teased, but his eyes held genuine apology. “I do hope you won’t hold it against me.”
“Not at all,” she said. “Although most people last a full two days in my company before they feel like shooting me.”
She stole another sidelong glance at him. He flashed her a wide grin that set her heart drumming like the wings of an overexcited partridge.
“Maybe you’ll be our good luck charm, Lucy,” he said. “Lord knows this lot needs a bit of good fortune, if we’re to avoid going home empty-handed.”
“Am I a wood sprite, then? Or a brownie?”
“Well, I must admit you do look a bit wild.” He pulled a leaf from her tangled curls and tossed it aside. “But I think we’ll need more than fairy-dust to make this hunting excursion a success. We need divine intervention. A goddess.”
He pulled a few branches from a nearby winterberry bush and twisted them into a wreath.
“It isn’t laurel, but it suits you,” he said, placing the crown atop her mass of dark-brown curls and making a sweeping bow. “Hail Diana, goddess of the hunt. May she look upon our sport with favor.”
Lucy felt the tips of her ears blaze bright pink. How perfectly embarrassing, to blush. How unforgivably … girlish. The shade of her cheeks must rival the winterberries’ crimson hue. She would have to marry him now. There wasn’t any other way around it.
“Really, Sir Toby –”
“I admit to ignorance of the protocol between the mortal and divine,” he interrupted. “But I am reasonably certain that a goddess needn’t address anyone as ‘Sir.’ You must call me Toby. Then there’s Felix.” He nodded toward his friend. “And that’s Jeremy, but you may call him Jemmy for short.”
“Jemmy” shot Toby a look that would convince a partridge to lie down and die of its own accord. Clearly the nickname annoyed him greatly. Lucy resolved to address him by it at least a dozen times a day.
“Ho there!” Henry cried. Sixpence flushed out covey, forcing a half-dozen birds into the air. Felix was first to manage a shot, and to everyone’s surprise – not the least, Felix’s – a partridge dropped from the sky like a stone.
“I’ll get it!” Lucy called, scampering off after the hounds.
“Lucy, wait.” Heavy steps followed behind her, but Lucy did not slow until she came upon the partridge in a small clearing.
Farthing and Sixpence whined over the bird, prodding it gently with their noses. Its striped plumage was matted with blood. One feebly twitching wing stood out at a grotesque angle, and the creature rasped for air with horrid gurgling, wheezing sounds.
Lucy froze in mid-step a few feet from the bird, mesmerized by its frantic struggle to live. Or to die. She stood there staring for moments, minutes, perhaps hours – until Jemmy brushed by her and picked the partridge up, snapping its neck with one efficient twist.
Lucy sank down in the brown, stubbled grass and folded her feet under her.
“Do you feel ill?” Jemmy asked.
She shook her head. Lucy wasn’t so stupid as Henry’s warning implied. She knew the purpose of a hunt was to kill, and she’d fully expected – even anticipated – the sight of a dead partridge or two.
She just hadn’t expected to watch one die.
“Is it always like that? The dying, I mean.”
“No,” he answered. His voice was low and solemn, but soft. “No, it isn’t.”
Lucy realized she’d been holding her breath, and she exhaled a rush of warm air.
“Did you want to have a weep, then?” He was looking down at her with a rather distressed expression.
Lucy stifled a wry laugh. As if anyone should ever want to have a cry, she thought. A more useless occupation couldn’t be found. She might sit here in the grass and shed an ocean of great, salty tears, and it wouldn’t do a bit of good. She could sob into her pillow for hours every night, for months on end, and it wouldn’t do a thing to bring her – it, she corrected – back.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I don’t cry.” She coughed slightly and forced her lips into a tight smile. “I’m just a bit shocked. I didn’t think Felix had it in him.”
He crouched beside her. He removed his bloodied gloves and stretched out one hand to give her a brief, awkward pat on the shoulder. “Lucy, if you want to cry, it’s all right. I promise not to tell.”
Lucy bristled. She hated being an object of sympathy, especially from someone so … so unsympathetic. “Should I cry for the partridge? Or for Felix?”
Bewilderment chased the concern from his face. He looked as though she’d tossed him a ball – and now that he’d caught it, he didn’t know quite what to do.
Goodness, thought Lucy. Somewhere in the North Sea, there was an iceberg melting faster than this man’s reserve. She tucked her curls behind one ear and laid a hand on his shoulder. “If you want to laugh, it’s all right. I promise not to tell.”
The corners of his lips bent into a smile, and his cool blue gaze warmed a few degrees.
He really ought to smile more often, Lucy thought. He looked a sight better when he did. The little crease in the center of his brow disappeared, and the curve of his mouth softened an otherwise severely square jaw. Still nothing to touch Toby, of course – but greatly improved. If he weren’t so bent on being dignified, he could be almost handsome.
He’d do, Lucy decided. When she married Sir Toby Aldridge, this one would make a passable groomsman.