The Duke's Shotgun Wedding (Entangled Scandalous)(9)

By: Stacy Reid

And she would be its duchess.

Jocelyn hugged herself and grinned. And refused to let the thought that tonight she must dance to Sebastian’s tune mar her joy.

I am looking forward to our wedding night.

She swallowed, recalling the parting words he had whispered against her lips. She had been so nervous when the vicar had made the final pronouncement that bound them together for life. For some reason she had pictured Sebastian whisking her off and ravishing her right then and there. She had been so relieved when he acquiesced to her request to return to Lincolnshire immediately to inform her family.

The only thing he had been unbending about was that she must return tonight. Then he had summoned one of the most beautiful carriages she had ever seen, and unceremoniously loaded her in it, uttering those compelling parting words. Anticipation? Or a warning…?

She forced her thoughts from her new husband, and let her plans for restoring Stonehaven occupy her mind. Only a skeleton staff operated the estate and had done so for years. She relished filling it with the full staff that was sorely needed. Her father had faced the looming threat of debtor prison, but no more. Joyous relief pulsed through her once more, overshadowing the worry that she must soon return to Sherring Cross.

The chaise rumbled into Stonehaven’s courtyard, and she flew out the door as Flemings, the manor’s sole footman, opened it for her. “Welcome back, Lady Jocelyn.”

She smiled warmly at Flemings then hurried inside the massive oak door already held open by their butler, Cromwell.

“Welcome back, milady.” He took her coat and smiled back—a rare thing. Her happiness must have been contagious.

“Where is my father, Cromwell? I am most anxious to speak with him.”

“He is anxious to speak with ye as well, milady. He has been awaitin’ your return in the green parlor.”

Her steps faltered when she saw Cromwell’s wrinkled forehead. His brown, rheumy eyes gazed at her with concern.

Oh, dear. “My father knows of my journey to Norfolk?” she asked.

“I believe so, milady.”

“I see. Have Mrs. Winthrop bring tea and cake.”

“Yes, milady.”

She smiled tightly and hurried to the parlor. She blew into the room and saw her father, Archibald Grayson Rathbourne, the seventh Earl of Waverham staring out the window pensively at the east gardens, gardens that her mother had tended so lovingly. It was why Jocelyn had ensured they always had a gardener to maintain the exquisitely designed grounds that her mother had poured so much loving energy into, and to furnish her grave with fresh flowers at all times.

Her father was a portly man, more scholarly than physical. His hair had just begun to pepper with gray, and glasses were perched on his aquiline nose. He rose at her entrance and his eyes, so much like her own, lost their worried expression

“You’re back, my dear! Now tell me where have you been since yesterday? I was concerned when you didn’t appear for breakfast, and have been gone all these long hours. I received your note that you would spend the night with Cousin Rosamund, but it all sounded so mysterious and unexpected.”

“Oh, Father.” She rushed over and threw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly.

“You are trembling, Jocelyn.”

She did not lift her face from the crook of his neck as the door opened. She listened to the footfalls of Mrs. Winthrop and the clanks of the china as she laid out the tea and cakes.

“Come, come. Let us sit down.”

He led her to the sofa that was in desperate need of upholstery, its green color faded and discolored. She gratefully sank into its depth and smiled tenderly at the sight of her father pouring her tea and arranging her favorite sweet cakes on a plate. It bespoke how worried he must have been. She gratefully accepted the teacup, curling her hands around it, loving the warmth that flowed into her.

The sofa creaked as he sat. “Now tell me, my dear, what has happened to put such a strange glint in your eyes?”

Jocelyn did not hesitate. The words tumbled from her lips, unstoppable as she poured out the day’s events to her father. She paused several times to compose herself, and at last she met his gaze as she ended her tale. Her father’s expression could only be described as flummoxed.

“Are you saying, my dear child, that you are now the Duchess of Calydon?”

“Yes, Father.”

He stared at her in disbelief. “You are married to the Duke of Calydon, Sebastian Jackson Thornton?”

“Yes, Father!”

She fidgeted under his intense scrutiny.

Then his shoulders slumped. “My God. I have failed you.”

With a gasp of distress, she leapt to sit beside him and clasped his hands. “You have not failed me, Father. Please do not say such a thing.”

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