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Seducing a Princess
By Greiman, Lois
Avon BooksISBN: 006057156X
In the year of our Lord 1819
William Enton, third baron of Landow, detested weddings. They were tedious shams, filled with foolish hope and soppy sentiment -- like attending hell in top hat and tails.
Taking another sip of champagne punch, he wished quite fervently that he were home alone with a bottle of Scotch, quietly drinking himself into oblivion. But it wasn't a common occurrence for the queen of Sedonia to host a wedding. Nor was it every day that the viscount of Newburn wed. Will had little choice but to attend the festivities; thus he gazed across the immense width of Malkan Palace's grand hall and managed not to glare.
Festooned with dried flowers wrapped in bright ribbon, the arched, stone chamber was crowded with elegant gentry and bustling servants, liquored biscuits, baked custards, and spirits. But it was the laughter that kept Will from the stupor for which he fervently longed. It was the pure, unmitigated joy.
God save him.
"Will." Nicol's voice brought him from his watery cups, where he had hoped to remain until well past dawn. " 'Tis good of you to come."
"Not a'tall." Reaching out with his free hand, William clasped the viscount's palm in his own. They had been friends since boyhoodthe impoverished son of a drunken baron and the shabbily elegant heir of Landowsharing their adolescent wisdom and what dark secrets they dared voice. "I wouldn'thave missed it."
Nicol said nothing, but there was something in his eyes that spoke of perceived lies. He was changed since meeting his young brideopen and honest and obscenely happy.
" 'Tis the event of the season," continued William, addressing the doubt in his old friend's eyes. "The fifth viscount of Newburn wedding a virtual unknown. Think of the scandal." He emptied his cup and wondered dimly why he wasn't far drunker. But perhaps one had to expect some sobriety after long years of excess.
"Hardly unknown," Nicol countered. "Sparrow is the youngest daughter of Lord Elsworth."
"Sparrow," Will said, and motioned to a passing steward. The server was there in a moment, one white-gloved hand clasped behind his back as he refilled the empty cup. " 'Tis an unusual name."
"She's an unusual woman."
"And Lord Elsworth. I don't believe I've heard of him."
Nicol laughed, but he was often laughing these days. Not like the viscount of oldcleverly cutting, carefully controlledbut more like a ridiculously elated bridegroom on his wedding day.
Dammit! They must have stronger libations than this watery punch.
"They're Irish," Nicol said, but he was already skimming the crowd, searching for the woman he had married only hours before, as if he couldn't quite bear to spend a moment without her near. As if the very sight of her gave him new life. Something ached in Will's gut even before Nicol's search ended. Even before his eyes lit and his expression softened. That something twisted like a blade in Will's innards.
"You're a fortunate man," he said, and wondered if it was true. Oh yes, the maid called Sparrow was bright and bonny and obviously in love. But did love bring happiness or pain? He had no way of knowing.
Damn, he was morose, he thought, and drank again, though he knew he shouldn't. He should be attentive and clever and charming. But what the hell difference did it make? Nicol's attention was already firmly gripped by that shimmery enigma he called his bride.
Had Will been a different sort of man, he might have been fascinated by his friend's sudden union. As it was, he merely felt tired, battered, and maybe bitter. He supposed he was bitter. But it made no difference. He would parry, he would feign, he would hide away any unwanted spark of emotion behind bland expressions and witty conversation as any true nobleman would do. "She is quite lovely," he said. "Indeed, in a certain light she looks very much like our young queen." Except for her hair color and the lively lilt of life in Sparrow's eyes, they could have very nearly been one and the same.
"Do you think so?" Nicol asked, and pulling his gaze from his bride, smiled again.
"Aye, she could be Her Majesty's twin." Will paused, drank, wondered idly. "Or her impostor," he suggested, and the viscount laughed as if the world was naught but a jest set forth for his entertainment.
"Ahh well," Nicol said, admitting nothing. "The peerage is wont to interbreed. Who knows how the Elsworths and the Rocheneaus might be related on some distant branch of their family trees?"
"I could find out," said Will dryly, but Nicol only laughed again.
"It would do you no good, old chap."
"Are you saying she is truly of noble blood or that I could never prove she's some penniless waif you convinced to impersonate our princess for a time?"
Nicol's teeth shone wickedly white against his dusky features. "I am saying she is more noble than any woman ever I've met, and she is not penniless. Indeed . . ." He found her again and seemed to lose his train of thought for a moment. "She is quite accomplished."
Actual interest percolated in Will's tired soul for a moment. "At what? If I may be so bold?"
Nicol shifted his gaze back to Will's, but his eyes still sparked. "Let me just say that at our first meeting I felt a need to invest in her interests."
"At the time?" He seemed to be looking back, remembering fondly. "Herself."
"And your investment?"
A smile tugged at the viscount's mouth. "My watch . . . though I was somewhat . . . unconscious when I donated it to her cause."
Feelings sharpened like flint in Will's gut. "She's a thief?" Perhaps his tone was a bit harsher than he'd hoped, for Nicol's expression darkened perceptibly.
"As was Jack," he said, "yet I believe you developed a fondness for him." Continues...
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