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"A Christmas delight!"Amazon Reviewer
"Love conquers all...This was a very fun loving and romantic love story. I loved it, had a difficult time putting it down to cook dinner."Trish Larson, Amazon Reviewer
From USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean comes a passionate and emotional tale of a most unexpected love…
MARRIED BY MIDNIGHT: A Pembroke Palace Novel of approximately 220 print pages
AN UNATTAINABLE ROGUE…
For seven years, Lord Garrett Sinclair-- the ruggedly handsome illegitimate son of the Duke of Pembroke--has been traveling abroad with no intention of ever returning home to Pembroke Palace… until his father commands that he must marry by Christmas in order to thwart a family curse or lose his inheritance forever. Haunted by a tragic accident that has hardened his soul, Garrett entrusts his brothers to seek out a bride who will agree to a marriage in name only. Her reward? A sizable share of his inheritance--payable immediately after the wedding night….
A BEAUTIFUL TEMPTRESS…
Lady Anne Douglas has been ruined by scandal and disowned by her father. Facing a life of poverty and spinsterhood, she leaps at the generous terms of the marriage contract to ensure her independence. But the charade of a two-week engagement proves more of a challenge than either anticipated when they cannot resist the intoxicating lure of the marriage bed. Anne knows they will part ways after the wedding. Will she dare risk her heart for two weeks of pleasure in the arms of an irresistible rogue? Or will her surrender become her undoing after a most unexpected turn of events mere hours before the wedding?
Full length novels in the Pembroke Palace Series:
Book One - IN MY WILDEST FANTASIES
Book Two - THE MISTRESS DIARIES
Book Three - WHEN A STRANGER LOVES ME
Book Four - MARRIED BY MIDNIGHT
Book Five - A KISS BEFORE THE WEDDING (Short Story)
Book Six - SEDUCED AT SUNSET
Release date: September 17, 2020
Publisher: Julianne MacLean Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 148
Content advisory: love scenes, medium heat
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Married By Midnight
Pembroke Palace, England
Christmas Eve, 1874
It was an intimidating prospect––to spend one’s wedding night with a husband one might never see again––but in a few short hours, the deed would be done.
After listening carefully to the terms of this curious marriage contract, Lady Anne Douglas had agreed to everything. Today she would speak her vows before God. She would promise to love, honor, and obey her husband until death parted them, so there could be no turning back.
Not that she wanted to turn back. To the contrary, this was a first-rate offer and she had been grateful to accept, for she was known far and wide, throughout the whole of England, as damaged goods. At least this bizarre pretense of a marriage would provide her with a generous financial settlement that would guarantee her independence forever.
Which was why, in a few short hours, she would walk down the chapel aisle to stand at the altar beside Lord Garrett Sinclair, her future husband, and later she would welcome him into her bed to claim his husbandly rights. To ensure it was all legally binding.
Anne took a breath and let it out. Her heart galloped like a beast, and she worried she might suddenly change her mind, order a carriage, and bolt. Why? It was fear, plain and simple.
Turning away from the snowy landscape outside the window, she paced around the room and labored to steady her nerves. She would not, under any circumstances, entertain the notion that this was a mistake. Just because her betrothed wanted nothing to do with marriage in the traditional sense did not mean she would not benefit from the arrangement. That was why she had chosen this path in the first place.
Up until a few days ago, she had been so sure she could manage it...
A knock sounded at the door, and her maid entered with her wedding gown. Anne’s stomach churned with panic, and she wrestled with the most overwhelming urge to break free and flee into the raging snowstorm outside, because heaven help her, she had been very irresponsible these past two weeks.
She should never have allowed herself to fall in love with him.
Three weeks earlier
After the worst spring England had witnessed in over a century––marked by torrential rains, swelled rivers, and flooded fields that destroyed the summer crops––the country was now covered in a hostile blanket of crusty white snow. It had been a harsh winter with daily temperatures well below freezing, which was not at all normal for England’s temperate climate. It began in early November and seemed to go on without end––for there had been no respite from the fierce, bitter winds and constant spray of sleet and snow. And it was not yet half over.
Sitting by the hearth in her uncle’s stone manor house in Yorkshire, shivering beneath her heavy woolen shawl, Lady Anne Douglas was beginning to wonder if England was cursed, for this was completely incomprehensible.
A sudden blast of ice pellets struck the windowpanes, and the dogs began to bark downstairs. Tugging her shawl about her shoulders, Anne rose from her chair and crossed to the window. She looked down and saw a large black coach pulling to a halt in front of the house. It was a striking image against the pure white landscape. Not to mention the fact that they’d had no visitors for a month––for who in their right mind would venture out into such abominable weather?
The dogs continued to bark like ferocious beasts in the front hall while Anne watched two gentlemen in elegant black overcoats and top hats alight from the vehicle and hurry up the steps. One of them carried a black leather portfolio.
She leaned forward and touched her forehead to the frosty glass, but lost sight of the visitors as they reached the front entrance. There was some commotion below as the door opened and the dogs were put into a separate room, where they continued to bark and growl.
Who were these men, Anne wondered, and what did they want? It must be an extremely important matter of business to bring them all the way to the outer reaches of Yorkshire on such a bitterly cold day.
* * *
A half hour later, Anne was summoned to the drawing room. Her uncle stood before the fire while the two mysterious gentlemen callers sat in chairs with their backs to the door, facing the sofa. As soon as Anne was announced, they rose to their feet, turned, and regarded her with interest. She stared back at them with an equal measure of curiosity, mixed with a twinge of concern.
They were both exceedingly handsome with dark, chiseled facial features, muscular builds, and striking blue eyes. Brothers surely, for not only were they similar in appearance, they wore the same expression of inquisitive intelligence.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” her uncle said, moving closer and dragging her into the room. “Come over by the fire so our guests can get a good look at you.” He shoved her to stand on the threadbare carpet. “She may not be pure, but I daresay she’s appealing to the eye.”
The gentleman on the left cleared his throat and gave her a look of apology as he bowed courteously. “Lady Anne, it is an honor to make your acquaintance.” He fired an irate glance at her uncle, who blinked at him in the muted gray light fighting its way in through the frosty window.
“What’s wrong?” her uncle Archibald asked. “Oh. I have not made the proper introductions, have I? Lord Hawthorne, allow me to present my niece, Lady Anne. Anne, this is Devon Sinclair, Marquess of Hawthorne, and his brother, Lord Blake, both of Pembroke Palace.”
A shiver of apprehension rippled up Anne’s spine. These were very auspicious guests indeed. Their father was the Duke of Pembroke, one of the highest-ranking peers in the realm. His palace, filled with priceless art and antiquities, was considered one of England’s greatest treasures. Some said their Italian Gardens were so beautiful they brought even the most cynical, hard-hearted men to tears.
Hadn’t she recently heard the gardens were damaged?
But what were these illustrious gentlemen doing at her uncle’s manor house, three weeks before Christmas, so far from their home in the middle of a raging snowstorm?
“Good afternoon,” she said.
When she met the marquess’s cool blue eyes again, he inclined his head at her, as if studying her temperament.
“Your uncle speaks highly of you,” he said.
I doubt that. She had the good sense, however, not to speak her mind.
Lord Hawthorne gestured toward the sofa. “Will you join us?”
Her gaze darted back and forth between the two guests and her uncle. They all stared at her as if she were some sort of odd novelty in a glass case.
“Please, Lady Anne,” Lord Blake said, as if he recognized her reluctance and wished to set her at ease.
She studied him for a moment, experienced an inexplicable whisper of calm, and took a seat.
“We understand you spent the past four years caring for your ailing grandmother,” Lord Hawthorne said. “A dutiful and selfless pursuit,” he added.
“It wasn’t duty,” she explained. “It was love.” Her late grandmother––God rest her dear, sweet soul––had been the one person who never judged Anne or mistreated her after her terrible fall from grace.
“We are sorry for your loss,” Lord Blake said.
“Lady Anne was an excellent nursemaid and companion,” her uncle added. “As I said before, she may not be pure, but she is loyal.”
Anne regarded the marquess steadily. “Do you wish me to be a companion to someone?”
A hush fell over the room. “No,” he replied. Then he turned his eyes to the baron. “May I request a moment alone with Lady Anne,” he asked, “so that we may discuss this proposition in detail?”
“There is no need for any further discussion,” Archibald replied. “I have already accepted on her behalf. We need only make the arrangements, though I would like to have my solicitor involved.”
Anne frowned. “Your solicitor, Uncle? What sort of proposition did you agree to? If it concerns me, am I not to be consulted?”
Another tension-filled silence descended upon the room—this time heavy as lead.
Lord Hawthorne stood. “I must insist that you excuse us, sir. It is imperative that your niece understands the particulars. We will speak with her in private.”
At long last, her uncle rose from his chair. “If you insist, Lord Hawthorne, I must defer to your wishes. But rest assured that your proposal will not be refused. It will happen, whether she likes it or not.”
As soon as he left the room, Anne challenged the two men. “What, exactly, will happen?”
“Nothing, if you do not wish it,” Blake replied. “I assure you, Lady Anne, we are not tyrants, and we have other prospects if you refuse––which is your right––but we wish you to know that you are at the top of our list.”
“What list?” she asked, nearly horror-struck by the possibilities.
There was a quiet pause until, at last, Hawthorne answered the question. “We require a practical young woman to marry our brother before Christmas,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
He took a moment to explain. “Our brother needs a wife, but he does not desire a love match, nor does he wish to enter the marriage mart and begin a complicated courtship. He simply wants a contractual arrangement with a woman who understands the situation and desires the same sort of freedom.”
“What sort of freedom are you referring to?” Anne asked. “I do not understand.”
“No, of course you do not,” Hawthorne replied. “I fear we have not explained ourselves adequately. Please allow me to tell you everything. This time I shall start at the beginning.”
* * *
“Did I hear you correctly?” Anne said. “Your father is going mad?”
She could not believe it. The Duke of Pembroke was one of the greatest aristocrats in England. The family had a celebrated history, like no other. The Duchess of Pembroke enjoyed an intimate friendship with the queen.
“That is correct,” the marquess replied. “He believes all four of his sons must marry before Christmas in order to thwart a family curse.”
“What sort of curse?”
Appearing uncertain how best to explain, Hawthorne paused. “In the spring,” he said, “our father believed we would all be washed away by a flood. Now we are in danger of freezing to death, and he expects the palace to shatter like glass if this weather continues. Under any other circumstances it would not matter, except that he has changed his will to disinherit us if we do not respect his wishes. Thankfully, Blake, Vincent, and I found matrimonial bliss earlier this year, but there is one more.”
“Another brother? What is his name?”
“Garrett. He is the youngest and has been living abroad for a number of years. Until very recently, he refused to yield to our father’s demands, for he is not exactly...compliant. But we received a letter from him eight days ago. He has finally agreed to come home and fulfill his duty. He is ready to take a wife and secure all our inheritances. There is also a substantial sum of money he will receive on his wedding day if he marries in time, so he is motivated.”
Anne could not help herself. She laughed out loud. “Why in God’s name have you chosen me? Surely the son of a duke could have any woman he wanted.”
“As I said before,” the marquess replied, “he has no interest in a love match. He wants a woman who will not need to be romanced¬¬––a practical woman who will agree to perform a charade, so to speak, and who will leave Pembroke Palace when he returns to Greece, shortly after the wedding takes place.”
“We will live separate lives?” Anne asked, to confirm her understanding.
“That is correct, but you, too, will have freedom. With the allowance Garrett receives as a wedding gift, and the inheritance due upon our father’s death, he will provide you with a lifetime annuity. You will be free to live wherever you please. You could purchase a house in London, for example. Or perhaps you would prefer the country. Either way, there will be funds for a very comfortable living with a house full of servants––for the rest of your life.”
Anne took a moment to consider all of this. It was not an unattractive offer. Quite the contrary, she felt as if she had just discovered a buried treasure in the garden. It did not seem real.
“What about children?” she asked. “Would I be expected to bear him sons?”
“No. He is the youngest of four. I am the eldest and my wife and I are already expecting a child.”
“Thank you.” He paused.
“Will the marriage have to be consummated?”
“Yes,” he replied. “It must be legally binding to fulfil the terms of our father’s will.”
Anne swallowed uneasily. “What if I become pregnant?”
Lord Blake cleared his throat uneasily. “All of that is outlined in the contract. If a child is conceived, you may choose to raise him yourself, or relinquish him to the care of our family, whereby he would be raised at Pembroke.”
Anne gazed toward the door and wondered if her uncle was outside, listening to these details.
“Do you require time to consider it, Lady Anne?” Lord Hawthorne asked. “Because if you wish to accept our proposition, we have the contracts already drawn up. If you are not inclined, however, we would prefer to know immediately so that we can move on to the next candidate as quickly as possible.”
She glanced at Lord Blake, who tapped his finger on the leather portfolio that rested on the table beside him. “The contracts are right here, my lady, awaiting your perusal.”
“You don’t waste time, do you?”
“No,” he said. “Christmas is not long off. We have only three weeks to satisfy the terms of the will.”
She rolled the idea over in her mind. “Mmm...I do see the basis for your impatience. If there is no wedding, you will all be cursed. Financially, at least.”
She folded her hands on her lap. “What if your brother does not approve of me? Does he know about my sordid past? My shocking reputation?”
She had no illusions about her reputation and her marriage prospects, for she had done the unthinkable four years ago when she ran off to elope with her handsome young tutor. Since then, she had given up all romantic fantasies about her future. Until this moment, she had been fully prepared to live out the rest of her days as a spinster.
“He has already indicated that any past scandals are not relevant,” Hawthorne replied.
“He cares only for the money,” she surmised. “And his freedom.”
“That is correct.”
“But why me? Why am I first choice?”
They hesitated. “Because we know our brother. He prefers women with dark features. He finds them attractive.”
Anne scoffed. “I thought he didn’t want romance.”
“Correct. We simply don’t want to give him any reason to change his mind. That is all.”
She thought about it another moment and imagined herself remaining with her uncle for the rest of her days.
“Money and freedom can have their uses.” She eyed that mysterious black portfolio with growing interest. “I do wish to take a look at your offer, Lord Hawthorne. Will there be any room for negotiation?”
The marquess raised an eyebrow in surprise, while his brother quickly opened the leather case.
Seven days later
In the crisp, early evening air, a heavy crested coach, conveying Lord Garrett Sinclair from the train station, rumbled up the steep hill on its final approach to Pembroke Palace. The young golden-haired lord, who had come all the way from the Greek island of Santorini, was sound asleep inside.
There was neither a breath of wind, nor a single cloud in the sky. The moon’s bluish glow glistened upon the ice crystals that shimmered on the surface of the snow, while the sound of the coach wheels rolling over the frozen rutted road remained the only disturbance.
When at last the vehicle passed under the impressive triumphal arch and the horses’ hooves clattered over the icy stones on the cobbled court, Lord Garrett woke with a start and sucked in a deep gulp of air.
The dream was always the same... The relentless roar of the wind in the sails, the taste and grit of the salt on his lips, Johnny’s small wet hand slipping from his grip...
Like every other night since the accident, it woke Garrett like a violent, spiteful ghost.
Drenched in sweat, shivering in the chill of this punishing English weather, Garrett sat forward and worked to calm his breathing. When would it end? he wondered. Not just the extraordinary weather, but this terrible torment inside of him. Would he know happiness again? He prayed to God that this Christmas would deliver a gift, a reprieve from the agony had endured since spring. Otherwise he wasn’t sure he could go on living.
Sitting back, desperate for a distraction from the memory of that day on the water, he cupped his hands to the cold glass and peered out at the courtyard and palace, brightly lit up in the night.
Not much had changed since he had quit this house seven years earlier. It was still the same ostentatious braggart of wealth and social position––a sickening display of showy baroque architecture with giant towers and turrets, a commanding clock tower over a massive portico at the entrance, and enough steps to intimidate even the most privileged aristocrat––not to mention any decent common man of typical upbringing.
All of this belonged to his family alone, while thousands of decent, hard-working people starved in the poverty-stricken streets of London. Garrett wanted no part of this world, yet he needed the funds that his father had offered out of the strange depths of his madness. Garrett had come home to do what he must in order to secure them and put them to good use.
Nevertheless, what he must do plagued yet another part of him, for he supposed he was no better than a whore––selling himself for money––and he feared he was about to marry a woman cut from the same cloth. He did not know what to expect and was quite certain this was the second lowest point in his life. Not to be outdone, of course, by the first. Never to be outdone by that.
The coach crossed the courtyard and pulled to a careful halt at the front entrance. Garrett did not wait for the driver or a footman to open the door. He had been living too long outside this world of class distinctions and chose instead to flick the latch and alight from the vehicle on his own.
Tugging his coat collar tighter about his neck, he stepped out and exhaled sharply. His breath puffed out of him like thick smoke on the chilly night air. Just then the doors of the palace were flung open, and he braced himself for the enthusiastic welcome he did not wish to receive...until he saw his sister Charlotte approaching. His twin.
At the shocking sight of her––so grown up and lovely in her lavender dinner gown and jewels––whatever was left of his long-suffering heart snapped in two.
Heaven help him, this was not going to be an easy Christmas. Garrett wished he could leap forward in time to when it would be over, but that, unfortunately, was not possible. He would simply have to muddle through.
* * *
“Oh, Garrett! Dear, dear Garrett!”
His sister ran toward him without shawl or cloak and nearly knocked him over as she launched herself into his arms. Somehow he managed to keep his footing on the icy ground, and held onto her more tightly than he’d expected to do.
“Charlotte...” he softly said. “How I’ve missed you.” She was always the one he longed for most.
“And I, you,” she whispered in his ear. “Oh, Garrett. I feel whole again at last.”
He was vaguely aware of the servants collecting his bags, a footman speaking to the driver. Then all at once the world came back into focus and he found himself stepping out of his sister’s embrace to behold the other members of his family. They were all crowded around, shivering in the cold, waiting to welcome him home.
“Mother, it is good to see you.” Garrett stepped forward to kiss her on the cheek.
She looked older. Still beautiful, though. His head was spinning. Had it really been seven years?
As he backed away from his mother, he turned to face his two older brothers, Devon and Blake. They had dark coloring and tall, broad-shouldered frames. Like their father.
Garrett, on the other hand––for reasons no one wished to talk about––bore no resemblance to the duke whatsoever. He and Charlotte were golden-haired like their mother.
“You two look well.” He glanced toward the palace door. “Is Vincent here?”
“No,” Charlotte explained. “He and Cassandra have traveled abroad for an extended honeymoon. We are not certain when they will return. They seemed very determined to enjoy themselves.”
Devon stuck out his hand. “Words cannot express how pleased we are to have you home again.”
Garrett stared down at his brother’s outstretched hand. For a hazy moment, he was overcome by a surprising sense of nostalgia as he recalled the carefree days of his childhood when his father was nowhere in sight and he and his older brothers chased each other through the subterranean passages of the palace and played hide-and-seek in the garden.
Those days were long gone now, however. Garrett knew why the family was so pleased to see him, and it had little to do with brotherly affection. They simply needed him to secure their inheritances.
“Don’t get too used to it,” Garrett replied. “I hope I was clear in my letter. I do not intend to stay long.”
An awkward silence ensued. Garrett met his mother’s wounded gaze and felt an instant’s stirring of regret. She was a kind woman who had been his greatest protector when he was young, and he bore no ill will toward her, of all people. He would have to do better than this.
“I apologize,” he said. “It’s been a long journey. I am overtired and out of sorts.”
“No apologies are necessary.” She slid her arm through his. “Come inside, my darling. It’s much warmer by the fire. Are you hungry? I will have a hot supper prepared.”
“Thank you.” He glanced up at the tall clock tower overhead as they ascended the steps, and it was then that he noticed the duke had not come outside to greet him. Garrett was not surprised.
“Where is Father?”
There was a long pause, as if they each hoped someone else would provide an answer. As it happened, Blake was the only one willing to offer an explanation. “He is sleeping. The doctor gave him something to calm his nerves. We won’t likely see him until late tomorrow morning.”
It hardly mattered. Garrett had no illusions about being welcomed home with open arms by His Grace. The only son the duke ever cared about was Devon, his eldest––and the heir. The rest of them might as well have been born invisible.
Or not at all. Especially Garrett and Charlotte.
A fierce gust of wind blew across the courtyard, and the horses shook in their harnesses. Garrett and the others hurried inside to escape the cold.
A short time later they were seated in the library, crowded around a blazing fire in the hearth. Sparks snapped wildly and flew up the chimney.
Still feeling numb to the bone, Garrett glanced up as Blake handed him a glass of brandy. “You look as if you could use this.”
Garrett accepted it with a nod of thanks. He took a sip, then leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and collect his thoughts.
“Well?” he said. “Is she here?”
Devon cleared his throat while the others remained silent.
“There is no point dancing around the issue,” Garrett continued. “Let us all be frank. I am here to fulfill my obligations and secure our inheritances. I will take a wife––as you have all begged me to do for almost a year––collect the funds that are promised to me, and that will be the end of it. I only ask that we move forward as quickly as possible so that I can be on my way.”
“On your way? But you must stay for Christmas!” his mother blurted out.
“Yes, you must!” Charlotte echoed.
Devon raised a hand to silence them. “Of course we want him to stay, but there is more that we must explain. Garrett, you cannot simply marry the girl tomorrow. Father believes our world will come crashing to an end on Christmas Day if we are not all happily married. Ever since the incident with Vincent––after that sham of an engagement to Lady Letitia––he believes true love is necessary to thwart the curse.”
Garrett frowned. “Oh, God. Are you suggesting I must fall in love with the girl? I’ve never even met her.”
“No, but Father is under the impression that it is a love match. Otherwise the whole thing is pointless.”
“A love match...?” Garrett’s gut turned over with dread. “What lies have you told him?”
Charlotte spoke flippantly. “Oh, what does it matter? He doesn’t remember half of anything anyway.”
“Charlotte, behave yourself,” the duchess scolded.
“I beg your pardon, Mother,” she argued, “but you know it’s true. We tell him whatever we must in any given moment to keep him from climbing the walls and jumping off the roof.”
Garrett drew back with a frown. “Is it really that bad?” He could not imagine his father being anything but in complete control.
“Worse, actually,” Blake replied. “Two days ago, we found him playing billiards alone at dawn.”
“There is no crime in that.”
“He was naked as the day he was born.”
“I see.” Unsettled by the image, Garrett swirled his brandy around in the glass and tried to stay focused on the money, while he wondered how in the world he was going to manage this charade. It was a vast understatement to say that he had never been close to his father. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the duke even recognize him, much less believe he was in love with a fiancée he’d never met?
“You must prepare yourself,” Devon said. “He is greatly changed.”
“He thinks the palace is haunted,” Charlotte added. “He gets up in the night, wanders the corridors, and talks to himself.”
“To be precise,” Devon clarified, “he talks to the ghost of Brother Salvador.”
“Who is Brother Salvador?” Garrett asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“A monk,” Charlotte answered.
“He was the prior here actually,” Blake added, “when this place was a monastery a few hundred years ago. Brother Salvador was murdered when it was discovered he was having an affair with a woman in the village. That woman is the mother of the first duke, our very own ancestor.” Blake’s dark eyebrows pulled together with uncertainty. “But you know all of this, don’t you?”
“I vaguely remember the stories.”
“At any rate,” Devon said, “Father will not rest until Christmas has come and gone, and he is assured that the curse has been thwarted. He has instructed his solicitor not to release your marriage settlement until the twenty-fifth.”
“That is two weeks from now,” Garrett said. “Am I to understand that I must remain here and pretend to be in love with a total stranger until then?”
“She won’t be a stranger by the end of it,” Charlotte mentioned helpfully.
Good God. He had truly walked through the gates of hell. That reality, along with self-loathing, prickled up his spine.
Yes. He supposed that was rather appropriate, for hell was exactly where he belonged.
“When will I meet her?” he asked.
And did she know about all this? The naked billiard games? The ghosts and the murders?
“Whenever you like,” Devon replied. “She is in the drawing room presently with Rebecca and Chelsea.”
No one said a word for a moment. The tension was as thick as London’s fog. Garrett’s family was probably terrified he would change his mind and walk out first thing in the morning.
Perhaps he should. He didn’t want a wife, nor did he care about easing the woes of a father who had always treated him like the bastard son that he was.
But Garrett’s hasty departure would only result in more lives ruined because of him, and he had come a long distance to atone.
Rising from his chair, he moved from the fire to the chilly side of the room where he could take a moment to think. He looked up at all the books on the shelves. A spectacular collection to be sure. Enough to keep one’s mind engaged for a lifetime.
Marriage was supposed to be for a lifetime...
But did that really matter? Time and happiness had no meaning to him now. There was nothing but dust in his veins. He didn’t care who he married, or how he spent his future. Nothing mattered anyway. Except for one thing. The money.
“I will be courteous to the young lady,” he said, turning to face all of them. “I will put on a good show for Father, as long as you promise me that the money will be forthcoming on Christmas Day.”
“I have confirmed it with Father’s solicitors. It will,” Devon replied.
“Good. Then I will do whatever is required.” Bloody hell, he didn’t even know the lady’s name.
Devon rose from his chair. “Excellent. Then let us go and meet Lady Anne. Follow me to the drawing room. I will introduce you and you can spend some time getting better acquainted this evening.”
Wonderful. He could hardly wait.
Anne immediately rose to her feet when the Sinclairs entered the drawing room. The marquess led the way, followed by his sister Charlotte, then the duchess, Lord Blake, and last to enter the room—their youngest brother, Lord Garrett. Her betrothed.
Goodness, her heart was pounding like a drum. She had watched from the window a short while ago as Lord Garrett exited the coach but could see little through the darkness and shifting moon shadows. Now here he stood before her, waiting to be introduced.
His skin was bronzed from the sun, his hair thick and wavy––the color of honey. He had full lips, a strong, chiseled jawline and a charming dimpled chin. He was not tall and slender like his older brothers. Instead, he sported a stocky, muscular build. His hands were big and strong, which was not surprising for she had been told he was a master yachtsman.
He lifted his sky-blue eyes and met her gaze. She could not tell a lie. He was, without a doubt, one of the most ruggedly handsome men she had ever encountered. It was madness that he had to pay a woman to marry him. But perhaps there was something wrong with him.
Lord Hawthorne approached. Anne was vaguely aware of Rebecca and Chelsea rising from their chairs behind her.
“Garrett, this is Lady Anne.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lady,” he said.
He bowed to her, and she gave a polite curtsy while wondering how to proceed from there. What exactly did one say to a beautiful stranger, a stranger one was being paid to marry?
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