Excerpt from A Diamond in the Rough
Derrien bit her lip, frantically searching for some plausible reason as to why she had interrupted Adrian's stroll with his intended bride. Now that he stood there in front of her, foot tapping in impatience, she felt totally foolish. To her mortification, her cheeks began to burn as hot as a flame, and the thought of how silly she must look caused her jaw to clench.
"I... wish to apologize for my rudeness of the other day," she muttered. "As I told you, I have an unfortunate knack for letting my tongue run away with me."
For an instant he looked surprised, then his expression quickly changed into one of amusement. "Somehow, Miss Edwards, such contrition is not overly convincing."
A quirk of a smile appeared on his lips. "Because you are scowling as though that tongue of yours would rather run all the way to China than be forced to apologize to me."
"T-that's not true. Not entirely." Her head ducked. "I am sorry for what I said. I am aware that I have no right to comment on your... personal affairs."
"No, you do not. Especially when you don't understand them," he said softly.
Derrien was taken aback by the raw emotion in his voice, so at odds with his cool demeanor. "But you have admitted you are here in St. Andrews because of a wager. If I am wrong in what I said, I should like to... to understand why."
"Understand, Miss Edwards?" He turned his head to stare out over the sea, where a rising breeze had kicked up a froth of whitecaps, and his expression twisted into one of weary cynicism. "Understand what—that my father is a wastrel and has risked the family estate on the turn of a card, leaving me with the task of salvaging the whole sordid affair? I doubt a young miss like you, raised in a warm and loving family, would understand that sort of obsession. Just as you wouldn't have any idea what it is like to live with the uncertainty of whether there was enough blunt for food or whether your father was going to beat you while in a drunken stupor. Or your mother abandon you for months on end in a cold, drafty house with naught but an elderly—"
He caught himself and a dull flush spread over his cheeks. His eyes pressed closed for a moment, accentuating the fine line of worry etched at their corners, before he spoke again.
"Now it is I who have let my tongue run where it should not," he said quietly.
For the second time in as many days, Derrien was forced to hang her head in shame. If the viscount's revelations had even a grain of truth to them, she was guilty of a gross injustice in judging him so harshly. Not that she doubted any of it—she had seen a glimpse of his inner pain in the depth of those grey-green eyes before he regained his usual icy composure.
She opened her mouth to speak but words seemed to elude her. No explanation seemed adequate to express the tangle of her confused emotions.
He slowly forced his gaze back to meet hers. "I pray you will do me the favor of forgetting this little scene. Your apology, though unnecessary, is accepted." He reached out his arm. "Shall I escort you back to your friend—"
His gesture caused her to step forward and lay a hand on his arm. "I-I always imagined a titled gentleman would have a... a perfect life."
Adrian gave a grimace of self-mockery. "No, Miss Edwards. More likely it is you who have had the perfect upbringing, with doting mother and father, and now an aunt who—"
"I never knew my father," she blurted out, not quite sure why she was moved to make such an intimate revelation to him, of all people, when she had never been able to discuss such painful truths with even her closest friends.
"I'm sorry." There was a slight hesitation. "I take it he passed away when you were very young?"
She shook her head. "No, that's not what I meant, sir. I... never knew who he was. Other than he was a titled English gentleman, an officer posted for a short time in Edinburgh." The toe of her half boot scuffed at the ground. "And one who felt free to indulge in the sorts of amusements men of his rank and fortune feel they are entitled to..." She paused to control the tremor in her voice.
"Like gambling, carousing and seducing innocent young ladies." There was a flicker of sympathy in the viscount's eyes. "I see."
Derrien somehow knew that he did.
"Well, that certainly explains your aversion to me."
"No!" she exclaimed. "That is, I admit I wanted to feel that way at first. But the more I have come to know you, sir, the more I see it is not always right to make such sweeping assumptions—"
He interrupted with a short chuckle. "That's quite generous of you, Miss Edwards, but I would hardly say that you have come to know me all that well. After all, we have not spent very much time in each other's company."
Ha, she thought with an inward grimace. More than you imagine! However, she kept that particular revelation to herself.
"I'm afraid you would soon discover I have more than my share of faults," he continued. "I can be all the things you dislike—arrogant, short-tempered, moody—"
"Oh, I'm well aware of that."
His brows drew together in question.
"I-I mean, all of us have the sort of faults you speak of." She swallowed hard, then went on in a halting voice. "But in truth, it is I who deserve your scorn, not the other way around." Her chin rose just a bit. "After all, you now know my dirty little secret. One born on the wrong side of the blanket is hardly fit to pass judgment on anyone else."
"We all have our dirty little secrets, Miss Edwards." He tucked her hand under his arm and started their steps toward the high granite walls of the old church. "Rest assured that yours is quite safe with me. And you may also be sure I think no less of you for it. I have come to realize over the years that the only people deserving of scorn are the individuals who, through their own selfishness, have caused pain and suffering for others." He drew in a deep breath. "Though perhaps what they really deserve is pity."
They walked for a bit without speaking, but it was more a thoughtful silence than an awkward one. As they approached the first of the crumbling aches, Derrien finally ventured to break it. "Lord Marquand?"
"Yes, Miss Edwards?"
"Do you think we might... continue to converse about gardens?"
Adrian smiled. "Ah, gardens. There is something very magical about them, isn't there? They are all about life and growth. Cold and drought may cause them to lie fallow for a time, but there is always a rebirth of beauty, of color, of vibrancy. Such constant renewal in the face of the elements gives one cause for hope, I suppose. In any case, they rather lift the spirits." He paused. "Yes, I should like to continue our discussions."