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And the Bride Wore Plaid
By Hawkins, Karen
Avon BooksISBN: 0060514086
I pity people who think to fool their fellow man. Take poor Mary Gillenwather. She stuffed the front of her gown with paper in an effort to appear better endowed. We all knew she'd done it, but no one said a word; you simply cannot work that sort of thing into a genteel conversation. But it wasn't necessary after all. Last night, at the Pooles' dinner party, she sneezed and dropped an entire issue of the Morning Post into her soup.
Lady Mountjoy to her friend
Miss Clarissa Fullerton,
while sipping chocolate at Betty's Tea House
It was raining. Not a soft, whispering rain, the kind that mists the world into a greener, lusher place, but a harsh, heavy deluge that sopped the earth and saturated the very air with unending grayness. Water pooled, collected, swirled, swelled, and then burst into fields, raged through ditches, and rampaged across roads.
It was in this heavy, unending torrent that the lumbering carriage finally reached its destination late at night. The driver and footmen were exhausted, the horses straining heavily as they pulled the mud-coated ornate wheels through the muck and mire that had once been a road.
Ten minutes later, around the curve of a hill, appeared a looming stone castle that stretched up into the blackness of night. The coachman didn't even bother to wipe the rain from his face as he halted the carriage at the door. Too wet to do more than tilt his hat brim to empty it of whatever water had collected, he squinted at the dark edifice that loomed in front of them. "Gor," he said softly, awe overwhelming the tiredness of his voice.
Beside him on the seat was Paul the footman, a relatively new arrival to Mr. Devon St. John's rather considerable staff. Paul was inclined to agree with John the coachman. "Dark, it is. It fair makes me shiver in me boots. Are ye sure we've come to the right place?"
"Mr. St. John said to go to Kilkairn Castle and to Kilkairn Castle we've come." The coachman shook his head disgustedly. "Though to tell ye the truth, I think Mr. St. John has bumped his noggin."
"Why do ye think that?"
"Just look at the facts. First he leaves his own brother's weddin' afore it even begins and then he orders us to bring him here, drivin' through godforsaken rain fer days on end. And when we do get to this lumbering pile of stone, there's nary a light on!" He sourly regarded the bleak building in front of them. "Looks deserted and hainted by ghosties, if I ain't mistaken."
Paul stood, stealing yet another glance at the dark edifice before them. While he wasn't a great believer in ghosties, the castle definitely left him with an uneasy, spine-tingling sensation that was as unnerving as the constant pour of rain.
Biting back a sigh, Paul made his way down from the seat, landing in a huge puddle of muck that sank his wet boots up to his ankles. "The drive's a rank mess."
"I only hopes they've a barn, though I daresay it is as leaky as a sieve, judging from the looks of things. Didn't they knowed we was comin'?"
"They was tol'. I posted the letter for Mr. St. John meself." Paul tugged his hat lower, though it was so wet it no longer protected him from anything the elements had to offer. He hoped the owner of the castle was not as ramshackle as his edifice and had a place prepared for them all.
Holding this warming thought in place, the footman trudged back to open the door for his master, stopping to collect a lantern from a side hook. It took a while to get the blasted lamp lit.
He carried the lantern to the door and hung it on a hook there, the golden pool of light greatly diminished by the weather. He tugged on the door handle, opened it, and then let down the steps.
Inside the plush carriage sprawled a long, elegant figure dressed in a well-fitted coat and breeches, sparkling top boots, and a perfectly starched and folded cravat, set with a blue sapphire. The jewel echoed the master's blue eyes in an uncanny manner. There was no mistaking a St. John -- black hair and blue eyes, a square, determined chin, and a sharp wit marked them all.
At the moment, though, Paul couldn't make out his master's face in the shadows, which left him momentarily anxious. Though it was rare that Mr. St. John took an irritation, he could be cold and cutting when occasion called for it. Paul cleared his throat. "Mr. St. John, we have arrived at Kilkairn Castle."
The figure inside stirred, stretching lazily. "It's about time. I fear I had fallen into a stupor when -- good God!" Mr. Devon St. John's blue eyes widened as he looked at Paul. "You're drowned!"
"Just a bit wet, sir."
"That is an understatement if I've ever heard one. Go ahead and say it -- it's wretched, horrid, awful, godforsaken rain and you wonder why we're arriving so late at night."
Paul hesitated, then nodded. "Aye, sir. All that and more."
"Indeed," the master said. "The reason I pushed us so hard was because I mistakenly thought we'd be able to outrun the family curse."
"The St. John talisman ring. It's a curse if there ever was one. It seems that whoever holds the bloody thing is doomed to wed."
Paul had heard of the St. John talisman ring, and it sounded horrid indeed. "Do ye hold the ring, sir?"
"Unknowingly, I've held it since before we left England. My brother Chase hid it in the blasted carriage. He must have known I'd flee before the wedding, the bastard. I didn't discover it until we were well on our way."
Paul shook his head. "Then ye're doomed."Continues...
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