To Wed a Strangerby Edith Layton
Is legendary beauty Lady Annabelle beyond redemption? Rejected at every turn and growing older, Annabelle agrees to marry the man of her father's choosing, believing this will lead to a comfortable life free of complications. Miles Croft, the new Viscount Pelham, seems perfect for the part, but instead of finding a comfortable complacency, Miles and Annabelle… See more details below
Is legendary beauty Lady Annabelle beyond redemption? Rejected at every turn and growing older, Annabelle agrees to marry the man of her father's choosing, believing this will lead to a comfortable life free of complications. Miles Croft, the new Viscount Pelham, seems perfect for the part, but instead of finding a comfortable complacency, Miles and Annabelle awaken in each other a greater knowledge of themselves, and discover their need to complete each other.
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To Wed a Stranger
"I do," she said, and only then allowed herself to wonder what she'd done.
But there wasn't time to think once she'd said it. The vicar went on, then her fiancé's voice, light and amused even now, said the words he had to say to her to make her his wife. There was still time to protest to undo it! she thought in sheer panic, which passed as quickly as her new husband's light kiss brushed across her lips.
"Courage," he breathed for her ears only, but even that sounded to her as if it held a world of amusement. He wasn't a fellow who took things seriously, not even his own marriage or the compromise he'd made to be married to her.
Nor was Lady Annabelle Wylde a woman who grieved for what couldn't be, she reminded herself as she straightened her spine and pinned a smile on her lips. Grief didn't matter, nor could it change a thing. It was as useless as tears shed railing against her fate. Good for effect, but effecting no change. She'd learned that, at least.
Annabelle put her hand on her husband's arm and let him lead her up the aisle to the back of the church, where they could greet those few well-wishers who had come as well as the horde of gossips and curiosity-seekers who thronged the place this morning.
They stood in the gray stone vestry, bathed in color, the morning sunlight pouring down fractured and brilliant through stained glass windows high overhead. The bride wore a long-sleeved, high-waisted white gown with a sheer gold overskirt set with myriad brilliants that caught the light, casting icy sparks that glinted on her fair skin. A wreath ofwhite orchids was wound into her soft sable curls. She was small but her figure was perfect, shapely in all its proportions, from her high breasts to her gently swelling hips. Her alabaster face, justly famous for its beauty, was serene; the long lashes that shaded her cerulean eyes hid their expression.
Her new husband took congratulations; she, at his side, accepted best wishes. She believed none of them. These people were there in the same spirit Londoners swarmed to hangings: to see something desperate, titillating, and decisive. Today they gathered to see one of London's most beautiful women finally wed. Beautiful, and doubtless damned, because she was seven-and-twenty and had never managed to marry a man she had wanted. Instead, today she had wed a relative stranger to them all as well as to herself.
Nevertheless, the new Lady Pelham smiled as she accepted their good wishes, false or not, because if she knew nothing else, she knew the correct thing to do. She never lost that smile, not even when a gloriously handsome gentleman and his equally stunning blond wife, who was obviously with child, paused to wish her well. The line in back of the gorgeous pair grew hushed. Not a flicker in the bride's celestial blue eyes hinted that she'd ever thought the gentleman would be the man at her side now, instead of merely offering his congratulations. Her smile didn't slip even when she spoke with his wife, who was carrying the child she'd thought would be hers.
The bride greeted the next couple, a redheaded military man and his wife, with the same sangfroid, as though half of London didn't know he'd been the next man she'd set her cap for. Nor did her smile slip as a tall, thin, elegant gentleman took her hand and his lady greeted her, though he'd been another that rumor said she'd aimed her heart at, a year ago.
She'd give no one cause to gossip this day, even though these men were the reason she was a married woman now. Not one of them had chosen her; they'd gone to other women. Her birth, fortune, those famous good looks, conversation, and charm had done her no good. Each had rejected her only because of fate or chance, or so her mother assured her. London gossips said more. None of it was true, but she no longer knew what was, except for the fact that she'd been rejected so often it was a joke to everyone but herself.
But no more. She'd married this morning. They'd have to find someone else to make sport of.
She watched the gentlemen as she accepted their murmured good wishes. They were bland, cool, and as charming as she was. She was grateful for it. She could bear speculation and gossip, but not pity. Which was the reason she'd passed this bright morning marrying a stranger ... not quite a stranger, she corrected herself. They had, after all, known each other for two months.
Her father had come to her with the viscount's offer two months ago. Then, she'd refused. Until her father sat and talked with her as never before, with solemn insistence.
"I'm a good judge of men," he'd said. "And intelligent enough not to rely on just that. I've had him investigated too. Miles Croft, Viscount Pelham, is entirely eligible. He's recently returned from abroad and newly settled into his honors. He's handsome enough to please any female, only five years your senior, and has a clean reputation. He needs a wife of good standing."
"Why would a fellow of such looks, sterling reputation, and great prospects want to marry a female he's never even met?"
"You didn't always use that tone of voice with me," her father said with a frown.
She'd been honestly confused.
"That note of venom," he explained, "that sly spite."
"But then we don't talk together often, do we, Father?"
He'd looked down. "My fault entirely," he'd murmured.
To Wed a Stranger. Copyright © by Edith Layton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
The foregoing is excerpted from To Wed a Stranger by Edith Layton. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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