The Duke's Shotgun Wedding (Entangled Scandalous)(8)

By: Stacy Reid

As the vicar’s voice droned on, he only partially listened to the words of affirmation and commitment. He responded when needed, a smile quirking his lips whenever he noted the wild fluttering at Jocelyn’s throat that belied her serene expression. He couldn’t help but admire her aplomb.

“Your Grace, the ring.”

He withdrew it from his pocket and her hand shook when he slid the turquoise encrusted, rose-cut diamond ring on her finger. He could feel her surprise at it, no doubt wondering how he had come to procure such a beautiful ring so quickly.

A light sheen of disbelief then glazed her eyes as he tightened his fingers on hers, and said, “I thee wed, Jocelyn Virginia Charlotte Rathbourne.”

Vicar Primrose asked her to repeat her vows. She complied, voice smooth and sure, holding his eyes captive the entire time.

The final words of the vicar binding them together resounded through the library. “Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Gratified, he listened to the vicar pronounce them man and wife. That had gone better than expected.

“Lady Calydon,” he drawled, and slid his left arm about her waist drawing her close. He took her mouth with deliberate gentleness, aware of their audience. Her lips parted, and her taste, hot and sweet, sank into him. And slowly the kiss became deeper, hungrier. Only the discomfited squeaks of the vicar’s wife and daughter pulled him from his bride.

He lifted his head, drinking in her beauty, anticipating the upcoming night. A blush reddened her cheeks, but her eyes glittered with heat. He felt like he was holding fire in his arms, and he wanted her with a ferocity that stunned him.

Not good. This was the way of folly. The path to losing one’s heart, only to have it broken.

He stepped away from her, hardening himself against such treacherous emotions. She was a means to an heir, and a willing body to sate his needs, nothing more.

She was the Duchess of Calydon.

The lush countryside, the fresh bite of air did nothing to soothe Jocelyn’s shattered nerves. She was still a little confused at what had happened in the library. The powerful Duke of Calydon had married her.

Her heart thumped in fright as she wondered for a moment if the marriage was legitimate, or if he had somehow seized a winning hand about which she knew nothing. She dismissed the notion as a product of the stress of the day. What could that possibly serve him?

When she had demanded marriage from him, it had been sheer recklessness that had driven her—and the bitter taste of failure. Never had she expected Sebastian to summon the vicar and actually wed her. She had been hoping to drive a harder bargain and have him offer two hundred thousand pounds. She still could not believe she went along with a marriage. In his many recounts of his brother, Anthony had repeatedly stressed how much the duke hated scandal, and how withdrawn he was from the glittering throng of society. Jocelyn had prayed for strength and hoped on that account he would affiance her to Anthony. She had also logically realized he would most likely offer monetary compensation in lieu of that, but while making the cold morning trip from Lincolnshire to his ducal estate in Norfolk, Jocelyn had been quite determined to secure marriage—to Anthony. Her family needed more than money. She needed Anthony’s connections, a sponsor into society, if she had any hopes of giving her three sisters a semblance of a future away from the genteel poverty they had all been living in.

But to Calydon himself? The thought had never entered her mind. Not until the moment it had blurted out of her mouth. Last night she had visited her cousin, Rosamund, in Cringleford, and it had been difficult for her to partake in conversation and tea. She’d felt certain he was playing some cruel jest and had braced herself for disappointment when she arrived at Sherring Cross this morning. She’d been both elated and scared witless that he really intended to wed her.

The elegant Calydon chaise rumbled and rocked along the rough country path, the horses’ whinnying jarring her from her thoughts. The carriage was pulled by a magnificent team of six. She knew the duke owned one of the finest stud farms in England, and the sleek, powerful grace of his horses mesmerized her. She leaned forward, peering out the windows as her home—former home—came into view. As usual, her breath caught at its majestic grace, and a smile pure and joyous came to her face for the first time in days.

Somehow, she really had done it!

Not only was her family truly saved, but her childhood home had been saved, as well.

Even though a grand manor with sixty seven rooms, Stonehaven, with its rustic design, paled in comparison to the duke’s country home. The grounds of Sherring Cross, Sebastian’s palatial estate, were stunning. The rolling lawns, the rings of gardens, and the several lakes her carriage had rumbled past had taken her breath. The land had been softly dotted with snow, and the many gardens made up of blood-red roses against the snowy backdrop had made Jocelyn feel as if she were in a fairytale land. But it was the sheer size of the estate that had amazed her. Anthony had boasted it had one hundred and fifty rooms and sat on over forty thousand acres of land.

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