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Upon a Wicked TimeChapter One
It is my wedding night. My wedding night. Even repeating the thought did not make it seem real.
The world was changed somehow, a different place. Or was it just her? Tessa sighed, then smiled. She stood and walked around the room again. How many times had she traversed it? As many times as one could in an hour.
She was married. Truly. She twirled in a tight circle, her nightgown blooming around her. She stopped, hugged herself, then put her hands to her mouth as if to stifle the laughter.
What a glorious, day it had been! The wedding ceremony might have been designed to put a new bride at ease. The only attendants had, been her family and Jered's. The wedding banquet had been held in the state dining room, and although the room had been large and ornately decorated, the dinner had been intimate. Again, only the families were present. Most of the celebrations to mark the Duke of Kittridge's nuptials, she'd been told, did not require the newlyweds' presence. Instead they were to have their wedding trip, time in which to learn of the other, to form a foundation for the marriage.
Kittridge was close enough to her own home that her parents had chosen to return there tonight. It was either that or find rooms among the hundreds of post, wedding guests. All afternoon long a steady stream of carriages had arrived, disgorging their passengers at the steep steps that fronted the east entrance.
At one of the windows, she stopped her pacing, knelt in a pouf of silk. Her nightgown, adorned with the most delicate lace, flowed from neck to her ankles. It was quite beautiful, sewn in London, conveyed on a special coach in order to reach her on this day.
She opened the latch, raised the window, then knelt with both arms upon the sill. The view was unfamiliar, only one of the things she would have to learn. There were no rolling hills, no gurgle of water from a nearby brook, and the rose garden was so distant its presence was only hinted at by a gentle breeze. The park stretched out for acres in front of her, the sweeping vista broken only by the gazebo, its shadows seeming not as mysterious as beckoning.
Night was almost upon them, descending over the landscape and Kittridge itself like a soft blanket. It obscured sounds, encouraged whispers, softened colors.
Soon he would come to her.
She leaned her chin upon her folded hands, looked out at the home that would be hers for the rest of her life. She'd passed Kittridge often, but tonight was the first time she'd sleep beneath it's sprawling roof. The iron gates had swung open this morning to admit her as if knowing she would pass from earl's daughter to duchess by noon.
And tonight she would travel from maiden to wife.
She had never dared to hope that she would be married to him. Even after her godfather bad suggested it, she'd not let herself believe, it might really happen. Instead she had pretended it would not, to prevent disappointment should the Duke of Kittridge object. But he hadn't. He'd sent a short note to her parents accepting the union; and to her, the betrothal ring that all the Kittridge heirs presented to their affianced brides an emerald ring with the Mandeville crest carved into the surface of the stone.
She told herself that if she were wise, she would remember the exact nature of this marriage. This was not like her parent's union. They had married for property and then discovered love. She should not remember nights when she and her brothers had giggled over the sight of them dancing upon the terrace in the moonlight, the only music a tune her father hummed. She truly should forget the glances between them at the breakfast table, or the teasing that made her mother blush or her father laugh heartily.
This was a marriage of convenience, especially on the Duke of Kittridge's side. She would provide him heirs to the dukedom and he would provide for her future and her children's protection. Most girls did not receive as much, nor dared to dream of more.
And most girls were not married to Jered Mandeville.
Their betrothal contract had been signed by proxy, as if the duke could not bear to tear himself away from the iniquities of London for, something so tame and mundane. It did not matter, though, did it? She was married to him now.
She pillowed her cheek upon her hands. Kittridge was a great house, a magnificent heritage. Her son would inherit it, her daughter would marry from it. Her suite of rooms parlor, withdrawing room, private dining room occupied a full corner of Kittridge. Jered's rooms did the same, but on the opposite comer. And between them, bedrooms that adjoined. She wondered if his was decorated with such lavish detail and then realized that of course it would be. This was Kittridge, the home of legendary ducal majesty.
She turned and looked over her left shoulder at her bed. It gleamed whitely a perfect maiden's bower.
She should have been afraid, not so excited. But fear was not an emotion she experienced when she thought of Jered Mandeville. Anticipation, yes. Or joy. Or the heady feeling of being granted the most wonderful wish in her whole life.
For some damn reason, his fingers trembled.
His valet paused from unbuttoning the last of his waistcoat buttons, turned, and offered Jered the salver. On it rested a generous portion of brandy in an etched crystal goblet.
"The hair of the dog, Chalmers? Bless you and all your progeny," he toasted as he lifted the vessel from the tray. The candlelight glanced off a facet of glass, creating a diamondlike prism. It shined in his eyes as if to illuminate his headache, devil-sent to welcome this day with a vengeance.Upon a Wicked Time. Copyright © by Karen Ranney. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.