Read an Excerpt
Weddings From Hell
"And of course you know that Violet is to be married next week."
Payen Carr froze, a large bite of rare steak halfway to his mouth. He raised his head to smile pleasantly—falsely so—at the elderly woman across the table. "Who?"
Lady Verge fixed him with a vaguely chiding expression, as though she thought him deliberately obtuse—which, of course, he was. "Violet Wynston-Jones, the Earl of Wolfram's ward. You do remember dear Violet, do you not?"
Payen shoved the steak into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully, savoring the rich juices as they embraced his tongue. Remember "dear" Violet? Damn it all, he couldn't seem to forget her. She was the reason he had left England five years ago, and now on his first night back in the city, she was the first subject he heard spoken of. He began to cut another slice of meat.
Married. Good. At least she hadn't been sitting around pining for him as he'd feared. Not pining at all if she had met someone she liked the look of enough to marry. Enough to share a bed with.
Who was she marrying? Some rich young buck, no doubt. Handsome, he'd wager. Human—that went without saying. And probably hung like a stallion.
He looked up just as his dinner plate shattered. He had driven his knife right through the fine china. Oh, hell. Shame-faced, he met Lady Verge's wide blue gaze. "Sorry, old girl. Wasn't paying attention."
"I'd say it is safe to assume that you do remember Miss Wynston-Jones after all."
A gentleman should remember the womenwhose beds he shared, especially the virgins. Especially those named Violet.
"Of course I remember the girl."
Lady Verge watched him with a gimlet gaze, her eyes unnaturally bright in her pale, English rose complexion. He had met and befriended Lord Verge some forty years past and remained a friend right up until the man's death eight years ago. The most painful drawback of immortality was watching one's friends age and die. Once, Payen had determined to never befriend a human again. That resolve hadn't lasted more than ten years—a damn sight longer than most vows he made.
One vow he took very seriously was his promise to look after Margaret—Lady Verge—not that she needed his assistance. She was one of the few humans who knew that he was a vampire. At first she'd been a little afraid of him, and more than a little disgusted, but once she'd realized that he wasn't some undead fiend, preying on children, and came to know him as a person, she accepted him as her husband's friend, and her own. Payen had never bothered to tell her that he was part demon, turned that way by willingly drinking from a chalice that contained the essence of the Vampire Queen, Lilith. He had done so to protect that same chalice from others who would use it for some unknown dark purpose, but that didn't change the fact that as a "child" of Lilith he had been cursed to walk in darkness by the Almighty. It was a long story, as most of the good ones were, and he really didn't want this church-going woman thinking he was an affront to her God.
"I take it that you have not been invited to the happy occasion?"
"Must have gotten lost in the post."
"Yes," she agreed politely. "It must have, indeed."
Appetite now lost, his plate in ruins, Payen placed his knife and fork neatly together across the ruined china and dabbed at his mouth with his snowy white napkin. "Miss Wynston-Jones's fiancé, is he a good man?"
"He is." Damn it all, that wasn't sympathy in her eyes, was it? Because it shouldn't be there—wouldn't be there if she knew that he had robbed Violet's soon-to-be husband of his wedding night prize. And no one knew that he and Violet had shared a bed one glorious night. No one but the two of them.
"They had their photograph taken for the engagement. Perhaps after dinner you would like to see it?"
No. He'd rather eat this broken plate. Rather stick this fork into the soft, squishy part of his eye. "Of course."
After a dessert he barely tasted—it might have been dirt for all he knew—Payen followed his hostess to her favorite parlor—the one dripping in lace and painted the most nauseating shade of powdery pink—and sat while she poured them both a glass of sherry. His mind remained focused on the same topic during the entire ordeal.
His Violet was getting married.
That meant she wasn't his anymore. That was supposed to be a good thing. It was. It was a bloody good thing.
Margaret—he was never to call her Maggie, or worse, Peg—joined him on the sofa a few moments later with a glass of sherry, which might as well be water as far as the effect it would have on him—and a small framed photograph. Despite the wine's lack of potency, he took a drink before looking at the picture.
Black, white and gray did nothing to capture the essence of Violet, yet there she was all the same. A kick in the chest would have affected him less. In a tightly fitting gown with a demure square neckline and lace at the elbows, and her thick hair piled up on top of her head, she looked every inch the proper young woman. Only he knew there was nothing demure about her, nothing at all. But where was the gleam in her eye that he so adored? Why wasn't she smiling and turning her cheeks into little apples he so loved to nibble upon? She looked so serious, so mature. He may as well be looking at a stranger with black hair, gray eyes, and pale gray skin, garbed in yet more gray. This was not his vibrant Violet.
And he blamed the equally colorless man seated in front of her.Weddings From Hell. Copyright © by Maggie Shayne. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.