The Duke's Shotgun Wedding (Entangled Scandalous)(10)

By: Stacy Reid



“You are obviously unaware of the reputation of the Duke of Calydon. He is very powerful, and Sherring Cross is one of the richest estates in the realm. But there were rumors that circulated about him years ago. Rumors of stunning depravity, of a duel, and of him killing his mistress.”

Jocelyn recoiled in shock, withdrawing her hands from his. “What utter rubbish! The duke has never been embroiled in a scandal. Even so removed in the country, we would have heard about it.”

She surged to her feet with sudden restless energy. She stalked to the windows and stared down at the flowers dotted with fine flakes of snow, trying to find some comfort from the uncertainty that flooded through her. She did not turn as he draped his hands over her shoulders.

“Think, my dear. He did not marry you because you waved a derringer at him. We’re talking about the powerful Duke of Calydon, with direct familial connection to the prince regent. He is known to me, even here. If he hadn’t wanted to wed, he wouldn’t have done so.”

“But—”

He squeezed her shoulders. “I say I have failed you because of my unwise investments and choices. I am ashamed because you felt you had to lie and deceive in order to wed. You are only twenty-one. You could still have had a season. With your charm and beauty, you would have received many offers. My foolish ways denied you the opportunity every young girl of society should have.”

She twisted to face him. “No, Father. I have no regrets over something I have never experienced. There is more to life than balls and soirees, and I have attended many here in the country and in Devonshire.”

He gave a wan smile. “Hardly the same thing.”

She placed a finger on his lips, silencing him. “As Duchess of Calydon—” She inhaled as the words resounded in her. She continued shakily, “As the duchess, I will have many opportunities to take London and the glittering throng by storm, as you would say. I did not start out my rash scheme to entrap the duke, but Lord Anthony. Never did I imagine that Anthony would already be married, nor that the duke would respond favorably to my impetuous demand.”

He gently brushed a stray lock of her hair that fell forward, and tucked it behind her ear. “But how could he resist such a catch?”

She gave a soft laugh. “I must admit that I, too, am at a loss as to why he wed me. I felt the entire time that he was the one in control and he was directing me toward his own agenda. But that could not be. We had never met until I entered his library.”

“Perhaps Lord Anthony spoke about you?”

“I doubt it. I now realize that the few weeks Anthony spent here in Lincolnshire was merely to gain perspective on Miss Peppiwell. There was a problem he often talked about, one that clouded his eyes with doubt. It must have been her.”

“Were you hurt by Lord Anthony’s defection?”

She considered. “No I am not. I had a grand time with him. He was witty and charming, and he danced beautifully. He did kiss me a few times, too, which was nice.”

“Jocelyn!”

She laughed at the indignation on his face. “I now know they were very chaste kisses, Papa. But I was not so much angry that he made promises then broke them, as I was in despair. Because I had hung all my hopes for my family on marrying him. Not because I loved him.”

“How do you know they were chaste kisses, Jocelyn?” The frost in his voice did not escape her. Heat blossomed in her cheeks, and she turned away.

Too late. He scowled as embarrassment swept through her. “Jocelyn?”

“Calydon— He kissed me. More than once.”

Her father’s jaw worked. “And you did not think they were chaste?”

She cleared her throat. “No, Father.”

Something swept through his gray eyes that she could not decipher. “Did he kiss you before or after the wedding?”

“Before and after.”

“Ah.”

She did not understand his soft chuckle. “What, Papa?”

“Did you enjoy his attentions, child?”

“Father!” Her eyes widened. She swallowed as he patiently waited for her response. “I— I have never felt anything like it. Not even while racing Wind Dancer or dancing a waltz. I burned, yet I felt so alive,” she whispered.

This time it was his eyes that widened, then he fussed with his tea cup. “You are deplorably honest, my dear. I pray you are not quite as guileless with the duke.” He straightened and met her eyes. “You will, however, make him an excellent duchess. Your mother, bless her heart, ensured that you possess all the social grace and polish to walk beside him. I have no doubts you will succeed brilliantly at your new station in life.”

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