Guests will include Jackson Quincy Graham Channing, New York City banker, and Lady Theodosia "Teddy" Winslow, wedding planner to the finest families in England.
Introductions shall be followed by light conversation, dancing, flirtation, arguing, reconciliation, and an impulsive kiss that both parties are quite certain they will never repeat.
Until they do.
A mutually beneficial fake engagement will be accompanied by all manner of very real complications, scandalous revelations, nefarious schemes, and one inescapable conclusion:
That true love--unlike the perfect wedding--is impossible to plan. . .
Praise for Victoria Alexander
"Sparkling dialogue and endearing characters make this an enthralling read." --Sabrina Jeffries
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The Shocking Secret Of A Guest At The Wedding
By Victoria Alexander
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Cheryl Griffin
All rights reserved.
September 1887, The Fifth Avenue home of Jackson Quincy Graham, President and Chairman of the board of Graham, Merryweather and Lockwood Banking and Trust, his daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Channing and her son, Jackson Quincy Graham Channing. New York City ...
Jackson Quincy Graham Channing isn't the man he thought he was.
A scant five minutes ago, the youngest vice-president in the storied history of Graham, Merryweather and Lockwood Banking and Trust, was not merely accepting of his lot in life but considered himself quite content. Oh certainly, when he was six years of age he had wanted to become Jack the intrepid pirate king and live a life of adventure on the high seas. A notion that vanished when he was seven and decided the adventurous life of Jack the heroic scout in the vast uncivilized recesses of the West would be much more exciting. When he turned eight, he had realized Jack the hunter of lost treasures and seeker of adventures in the jungles of the Amazon or the desert of Egypt, a hero of epic proportions, was much more to his liking. But by the time he was nine, Jackson Quincy Graham Channing understood the duty, the responsibility, and the destiny of the great-grandson of one of the founders of Graham, Merryweather and Lockwood Banking and Trust was to follow in the not quite as adventurous footsteps of his grandfather and his great-grandfather before him. And so he did, exactly as planned.
In five years, Jackson Quincy Graham would turn over the presidency of Graham, Merryweather and Lockwood to his grandson who would soon be officially engaged to Lucinda Merryweather, also an offspring of one of the bank's founders. They would marry in the spring, shortly after her twenty-fourth birthday, just as both families had planned from the day Lucy was born. They would have an appropriate number of children including at least one boy who would grow up to take his place as the head of Graham, Merryweather and Lockwood Banking and Trust.
Life was unfolding exactly as expected, precisely according to plan, with no unseemly excitement, little opportunity for adventure, save that to be found in the world of banking and finance, and few surprises.
That Jackson Quincy Graham Channing now found himself taken completely by surprise was most unsettling. He couldn't recall ever having been at a loss for words before. Obviously his shock now was due directly to the fact that the importance of the moment was rivaled only by its absurdity. No doubt why he said the first thing that popped into his head.
"But you're dead."
His mother winced. The tall, distinguished, older British gentleman standing beside her in his grandfather's wood-paneled library in their grand house on Fifth Avenue, the man who was apparently his father, his dead father, smiled in a wry manner. "Actually, I'm very much alive."
"So it would seem." Jack studied the older man closely.
Colonel Basil Channing looked decidedly familiar although they had never met. But his eyes, his nose, everything about him was as familiar to Jack as ... his stomach twisted. As if he was looking in a mirror. Granted that mirror was considerably older but there wasn't a doubt in Jack's mind that this man was who his mother said he was. Until a minute ago Jack was under the impression his father had died in an Indian uprising before Jack was born. It was a tragic story that his mother never wished to talk about. For more reasons than one, obviously.
"Forgive me for being blunt but surely you understand why I am more than a little taken aback." Jack's gaze slid to his mother. "And extremely confused."
"Yes, well, you might have a question or two," his mother said under her breath, refusing to meet his eyes.
"I might?" His tone rang harder than expected but it seemed ire went hand in hand with shock. "Only one or two you think?"
"Or more." His father's eyes narrowed. "God knows I do."
"Do you?" Jack's brow rose. "How very interesting as most of my questions are for you. First and foremost where have you been for the last thirty years, Father?"
"You would do best to watch yourself, my boy." The colonel's casual tone belied the hard look in his eye. "Until you know all the facts. Wouldn't you agree, Elizabeth?"
"One should always have all the facts before passing judgment." Elizabeth Channing calmly crossed the library to where a decanter of brandy sat, as always, on a corner of his grandfather's desk.
The ever-present decanter marked this room as a gentleman's domain every bit as much as did the commanding, century-old mahogany desk, the floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with precisely arranged, finely bound volumes, the well-worn costly leather sofa, and the imposing portrait of Jack's great-grandfather over the fireplace. This was his grandfather's sanctuary and would one day be Jack's. Exactly as it should be.
"You would be wise to remember that as well, Basil." Mother poured herself a glass and only a slight tremble in her hand indicated she was anything other than completely composed. Interesting as Jack had never seen his mother anything less than completely composed.
His father was right, of course. Besides, Jack never allowed emotion to overcome logic and logic dictated he wait to have the facts of the matter before reaching any conclusions. It was the sensible, rational way to proceed even if there was nothing sensible and rational about any of this.
"Yes, of course." Jack drew a deep breath. "Then perhaps you would be so good as to explain."
"Quite honestly, there's little I can explain. As I said, I have as many questions as you. Until a week ago, I had no idea I had a son." The older man's gaze shifted to Jack's mother. "Nor was I aware that I still had a wife."
Jack's gaze turned to his mother who was doing her best to look anywhere but at him. Or his father.
"Well?" both men said in unison, then exchanged startled glances.
"We're waiting, Mother," Jack said.
"Out with it, Elizabeth," his father said at the same time.
"I have no intention of being interrogated like a common criminal," his mother said in a lofty manner and tossed back a good portion of her brandy. That too was interesting. She did not normally indulge in quite so reckless a manner.
"Why didn't I know that I had a father?" Jack said.
"Everyone has a father, dear," Mother said coolly. "It's rather odd that you thought you didn't."
"You're right. My apologies. Allow me to restate my question." Jack's voice hardened. "Why didn't I know my father was alive?"
"I have no idea." She raised a shoulder in an offhand manner. "I never told you he was dead."
"Not in so many words, I suppose. But you led me to believe he was dead. That he was killed in an Indian uprising before I was born."
"That might have been your grandfather's doing," Mother said under her breath.
"I was in India in '57," his father said. "Sepoy Rebellion."
Jack stared. "Not that kind of Indian."
"Nonetheless, as you can see, I was not killed." He turned toward his wife. "You let him think I was dead."
"How was I to know you weren't? You could have been." She sniffed. "It's not as if you kept in contact with me."
"I wrote to you. At least in the beginning." Indignation sounded in the older man's voice. "Admittedly, it took me a week or so to realize your admonition that it would be best if we did not contact one another was ridiculous. I wrote you once a month for the next, oh, eight months if I recall."
"Yes, well, the ninth month was when I might well have responded," she snapped.
"At that point it seemed hopeless." His father's tone matched his mother's. "As far as I knew, you had returned to America to have our marriage annulled and never wanted to see me again."
"That was the original plan." Mother's eyes narrowed. "However an annulment is difficult when one is going to have a child."
"The two of you were actually married then?" Jack interrupted.
"Of course we were married." She huffed. "I certainly would never have had a child if I had been unmarried. I can't believe you would ask such a question."
"Do forgive me, Mother."
"Sarcasm is not the way to handle an awkward situation, Jackson."
Jack's jaw clenched. "Again, my apologies."
"It's been thirty years, Elizabeth." The colonel's gaze met his wife's. "I would think that at some point during that time, you would have seen your way clear to inform me of the birth of my son."
"You needn't look at me that way. I didn't deliberately not tell you. Indeed, I can't count the number of times I put pen to paper to write to you. Why, I probably wrote a good two dozen letters or more through the years."
"And yet I never received even one."
"Yes, well, I didn't say I actually mailed them." She shrugged. "I really didn't know where to send them. I didn't know if you were still in the army or wandering the world. Regardless, I had no idea where to find you." She studied her husband. "You were an adventurous sort, remember? Always talking about what you wished to see and do, the places you wanted to go."
"If I recall, you wished to see those places with me."
She sipped her brandy. "I was very young and extremely foolish."
The colonel's eyes narrowed. "Weren't we all."
"And therein lies the problem," she snapped.
"One of many," he said sharply, then drew a deep breath. "You could have sent your letters to Millworth Manor. I would have received them eventually."
"I suppose I could have but I didn't." She waved off his comment. "It's really a moot point now. You know everything and—"
"I don't know anything at all." His father's brow furrowed. "Aside from the basic facts that I have a wife and a son, I don't—"
"Oh, come now, Basil, you needn't be so indignant." She rolled her gaze toward the ceiling. "I'll have you know it's remarkably difficult to inform a man he's a father who is not even aware he's still married. And while admittedly I should have, oh, made a greater effort perhaps, this is really not my fault."
"Not your fault?" father and son said in unison.
Mother's annoyed gaze slid from one man to the other. "We're never going to get anywhere if the two of you keep doing that. I find it most disconcerting."
"We certainly wouldn't want you to feel ill at ease, Mother," Jack said.
"Thank you, Jackson," she said in a lofty manner.
The men traded glances. Jack drew a deep breath.
"Nonetheless, I must agree with ..." He looked at his father. What was he supposed to call this man he had just met? "Him. We both have questions and an explanation as to your actions for the past thirty years is certainly in order and long overdue."
"Possibly, I suppose. But it really is a long story and we do have guests." She glanced at her husband. "Only Mr. Lockwood, my father of course, and the Merryweathers and their daughter Lucinda. Jackson and Lucinda will more than likely marry within the year."
The older man glanced at his son. "My heartiest congratulations."
"Nothing is settled yet," Jack said without thinking, ignoring the voice in the back of his head that wondered why it was that nothing was settled. And why it didn't seem to bother him. Or Lucy.
"You've come in the middle of a small dinner party, Basil. Nothing elaborate but as you were neither expected nor invited, it was most inconsiderate of you."
"Do forgive me," the colonel said wryly. "I would hate to be an inconvenience."
"Furthermore, I have said all I intend to say at the moment." Mother started toward the door. "We can clear up all this confusion later."
Jack stepped to block her way. "Absolutely not."
"This is far too important a matter to blithely put off." His father glared.
"Nonsense." She scoffed. "Admittedly, it might seem urgent to the two of you but it's not. This, oh, revelation for want of a better word, is thirty years in the making. It can certainly wait until after dinner."
Jack stared at her. "I'm not the least bit hungry."
"I could use a bite, myself," his father murmured.
"You were not invited," Mother said firmly.
"And yet here I am." His father grinned. It was a surprisingly infectious grin and Jack found himself biting back a smile of his own. "Surely you can see your way clear to allow me to join you for dinner, Betty."
Her jaw tightened. "Don't call me Betty. Betty is not my name nor has it ever been my name."
Amusement shone in the colonel's eyes. "As I remember you used to like it when I called you Betty."
"There are any number of things that I liked in my youth." Her eyes narrowed. "That I have grown out of."
"Have you now?" The colonel moved closer to her, plucked the half-filled glass of brandy from her hand, and took a sip. "Does that include me?"
She ignored the question and cast a pointed glance at her glass. "I'd be happy to get you a brandy of your own."
"I'm fine with this, thank you." His father chuckled. "And you didn't answer my question."
She heaved a resigned sigh. "Goodness, Basil, we were married for less than a week—"
"Plus thirty years," Jack murmured.
"There was no need to grow out of you. I simply had to come to my senses."
"And did you?" The older man swirled the brandy in the glass.
"Of course I did," she said sharply.
"Then tell me this, Elizabeth." He leaned closer, his gaze boring into hers. "Why did you never seek to obtain a divorce?"
She lifted her chin. "No one has ever had a divorce in this family and I have no intention of being the first."
Excerpted from The Shocking Secret Of A Guest At The Wedding by Victoria Alexander. Copyright © 2014 Cheryl Griffin. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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