Outtake - First Sighting (Aligns with Innocence Chapter 4 - The Lordships)

EPOV

My mounts powerful haunches bunching beneath him, as he prepared to launch us over the massive log that had fallen across the path. After he cleared it with room to spare, I nodded in satisfaction; the eighteen-hand black Percheron stallion was worth every guinea I'd paid.

"You've found yourself another ripe one, by the looks," my good friend and fellow connoisseur of horseflesh, Lord Jasper Whitlock, called to me as he slowed his chestnut Thoroughbred to a trot. He, my cousin, and a mutual friend of ours, Peter Edgeley, had taken a slightly easier route through the section of forest, meeting me on the edge of the field closest to Worthington Hall.

"Edward's got the devil's own luck when it comes to choosing cattle," Emmett groused good-naturedly, his big bay gelding prancing sideways even after a long and tiring run.

Luck had nothing to do with it, which my cousin well knew, but he liked to needle me whenever possible. It was a leftover from our youth spent competing for my father's—his uncle's—approval and affection.

"Oh, come on, Em," Jasper spoke up in my defense, not that I was concerned. "Edward knows his bloodlines and has an excellent eye for quality. That's how he finds his champions and why he breeds the best hunters in the country."

Conversing more easily now that we'd slowed our mounts to a walk on our final approach to the stables, Jasper addressed me directly. "Have you bred from the black, yet?"

Nodding, I enjoyed the feel of the horse in questions' long, easy stride. "I've a foal from Sabre and Summer's Folly due anytime now, plus a couple more expected to drop over the next month or two. I'm hoping to breed him with that racer I purchased from Cudmore last winter."

"Speed and strength," Jasper acknowledged, his tone admiring. "You certainly know your stuff, Edward. No wonder you've got them lining up, bags of doss in hand, for whichever foals you can bare part with."

"What do you expect?" Emmett grumbled. "He spent more time in the stables than the schoolroom as a boy . . . yet he still aced every exam. Knows more about horseflesh, breeding cycles, and fertility than the blasted stable master!"

Emmett's complaint drew a smile to my lips, my face stretched by the unfamiliar expression. I hadn't felt inclined to smile of late, and God only knew the last time I had laughed. But now that my father and his new bride had left for their honeymoon on the continent, I hoped to regain the equilibrium I'd lost these last months. It wasn't that I resented my father's newfound happiness; I just couldn't comprehend it, the unaccustomed perplexity not sitting well with me.

Did he not remember the long, dismal years of his marriage to my mother? Her passing, some three years earlier, while publicly lamented with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance required for a grand Duchess, had been met privately with a sad level of indifference. Not even my truly kindhearted younger sister could own to more than a moderate level of distress. Shunned by the self-absorbed and cold-blooded lady who'd birthed us, we had struggled to grieve for the woman who had been mother to us in name only.

But what else was one to expect from a true lady of the nobility? "The bluer the blood, the colder the heart," I'd heard muttered by the servants on more than one occasion in my youth . . . but only when they were dealing with my mother. My father was universally admired. My mother was not, well, not by the staff and servants. Thank God for nannies had been my private conclusion. Alice and my raising had been left in the capable hands of a genuinely good woman of lowly birth but majestic spirit, and we would undoubtedly grieve her eventual passing . . . in all sincerity.

Of course, I understood why my father had married my mother. It was an excellent match with impeccable bloodlines on both sides reaching all the way back to William the Conqueror. The alliance had increased the wealth and standing of both families and, most importantly, was applauded and approved by royalty. The fact that my honorable, considerate father and my grasping, vainglorious mother had absolutely nothing in common, other than a duty to provide the required 'heir and a spare' to the Duchy of Worthington, played little part in the matter.

After my birth, the true state of my parents' match became increasingly obvious with them choosing to live as separate lives as possible. It was to be five years before my mother agreed, albeit reluctantly, to attempt the production of the 'spare.' Alice's birth was a great disappointment to her, and she had refused point blank to endure such indignities ever again. Whether her words had referred to the birth or the conception was not made clear, but the outcome was the same. The marriage was over in all but appearance, and Alice was banished to the nursery to rarely be seen again.

How I had adored my new baby sister . . . and still did.

Alice was now almost eighteen and due to be presented to court during the coming season. While it was frustrating to be spending this time overseeing my father's primary estate and not have Alice in residence, I had appreciated the wisdom in my father's arranging for her to spend time with—and be properly chaperoned by—our Aunt Penelope while he and Lady Esme were abroad. We were all well aware of the tendre she had developed for Jasper. Not that they wouldn't make an excellent match…on paper. While it was obvious that the attraction Alice felt for my undoubtedly handsome and titled friend was mutual, I would need to see a considerable change in Jasper's behavior before I entrusted him with the care of my sister. There was no denying that he was a renowned rake, and he did not seem in any hurry to settle down to the responsibility of his position.

This would not normally have bothered me in the least, as I was similarly inclined and had only fairly recently begun to settle to the weighty responsibilities of my position in life. But Alice was my sister and an utter conundrum as far as I was concerned. She did not fit the mold of the typically coldhearted, social climbing, and empty-headed young heiresses I had grown accustomed to. Her differences: intelligence, sensibility, humour, compassion, and a truly delightful joie de vive would have been applauded in a young man. But I was quietly concerned they would cause grave problems for my sister in relation to her coming to terms with her place in life. Regardless, I greatly admired those differences, and I would do whatever it took to see that she was kept from harm.

If only there was another young woman of nobility like my sister to be found, I would have married her in an instant . . . well, after the required due process, and considering my position and titles, only with the blessing of the crown. But, I was well aware that Alice was unique. I'd spent three god-awful years being pestered by the marriage making mamas of the upper ton and their equally awful daughters. The experience had cured me of the delusion that I might find a wife who fit all the necessary requirements for the role of my marchioness and duchess in waiting, and who I could also respect, admire and maybe even come to . . . love. The young ladies who did meet the stringent requirements for marriage to a Marquess, one in direct line to the throne, were all as coldblooded as they were 'blue.' Like my mother.

I could always handle things the way my father had done, I supposed: marry for duty and keep a mistress for pleasure, making very sure that the two were kept entirely separate and both equally cognizant of their place. But he had dispensed with his mistresses years earlier and now professed to have married for love! While on the surface, Lady Esme did appear to be somewhat different from the typical matrons of the ton, I didn't buy it. I had learned my lessons well. When it came to bloodlines, the females of my class were almost universally characterized by the same traits: coldness, self-interest, greed, and an utter indifference toward those less fortunate than themselves. Excellent qualities to be saddled with in one's wife.

Entering the stable yard, I shook off my miserable musings and handed the reins over to a waiting groomsman. After a few words of instruction, I dismounted and waited for my compatriots to finish their languid discussion of the merits of varying brands of hunting rifle. My mind had already transferred to the veritable mountain of work that awaited me post ride. While I had willingly agreed to oversee my father's estates in his absence—the renovations being conducted on my own country seat a good incentive to vacate for a while—keeping track of the many and varied aspects to the multiple properties involved was no small task.

A glint of light caught my eye, and I looked up to see movement in a first story window overlooking the courtyard. For a moment, the mid-afternoon light reflecting off the window obscured my vision, but then the heavy gray cloud cover once again blocked the sun. That's when I saw her . . . a girl more beautiful than any I had seen before, whether in the country, town, or at court. Her skin was fashionably pale but without the sickly look that often accompanied such pallor. She exuded a healthy vitality with blush pink cheeks and rosebud lips of a slightly darker hue. What little I could see of her hair, framing her exquisite, heart-shaped face, was a rich auburn. At this distance, I could not accurately discern her eye color other than to know that they appeared to be framed by long lashes that made her wide-eyed gaze even more dramatic.

She didn't seem real, more like something out of a dream, and yet I felt a flash of recognition. Although I knew we couldn't have been introduced, or I would have made enquiries of her name, station, and father's interest in an alliance immediately. If I had to be saddled to a coldhearted noblewoman or aristocrat for a wife, please God, let her at least look like this one!

Then my gaze widened, and I took in the clothing she was wearing and that I had somehow missed at first glance, so taken was I by the girls preternatural beauty. The girl wore a stiff necked white blouse, plain black skirt, and white cap that partially covered her hair. Disappointment and unexpected anger coursed through me, and I rubbed my brow, turning abruptly away from her taunting gaze.

She was a servant and completely off limits.

~I-O~

Oooh! I'd forgotten how much we got to know and understand Edward from these scenes. Why did I let the publishers take them out?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

xx Elise