You're invited to four unforgettable weddings-each with a scandal that would make a bride blush!
In this delightfully wicked collection, four bestselling authors depict weddings at their most scandalous-and tying the knot has never been so outrageous. Steamy, sensuous, and more delicious than a piece of wedding cake, Scandalous Weddings is the romantic event of the season!
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||409 KB|
About the Author
Brenda Joyce is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 22 novels. She divides her time between New York City and Colorado.
Jill Jones lives in western North Carolina with her husband, Jerry, who is a watercolor artist.
Barbara Dawson Smith is a New York Times bestselling author. Writing as Olivia Drake, she is the author of Seducing the Heiress, Never Trust a Rogue, and Scandal of the Year. She has been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1981, and her novels have won the Golden Heart Award, Best Historical Romantic Suspense and Best Regency Historical from Romantic Times, and the prestigious RITA award. She lives in Houston, Texas.
Rexanne Becnel's love of English history probably stemmed from the childhood years she lived in London. She now lives and works in New Orleans, another locale drenched in history and romance. She has won many awards for her historical romances.
Brenda Joyce is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen novels, including Deadly Pleasure and Deadly Affairs. She lives in southern Arizona with her significant other, her son, and her dogs, Arabian horses, and cat.
Barbara Dawson Smith is the New York Times author of Seducing the Heiress, Tempt Me Twice, and Scandal of the Year. She has been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1981, and her novels have won the Golden Heart Award, Best Historical Romantic Suspense and Best Regency Historical from Romantic Times, and the prestigious RITA award. She lives in Houston, Texas.
Rexanne Becnel's love of English history probably stemmed from the childhood years she lived in London. She now lives and works in New Orleans, another locale drenched in history and romance. She has won many awards for her historical romances. Her books include The Matchmaker, The Maiden Bride, The Bride of Rosecliff and many others.
Olivia Drake is the author of Seducing the Heiress, Never Trust a Rogue, and Scandal of the Year. She has been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1981, and her novels have won the Golden Heart Award, Best Historical Romantic Suspense and Best Regency Historical from Romantic Times, and the prestigious RITA award. She lives in Houston, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
By Brenda Joyce
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Brenda Joyce
All rights reserved.
NEW YORK CITY, 1903
"A lovely day fer a weddin'."
The gleaming brand-new Packard purred as it idled in the circular, cobblestoned drive. Pierce St. Clare did not reply immediately, his gaze not on the small man beside him, who was driving the motorcar, but on the mansion facing them. Vast lawns and elm trees surrounded the four-story limestone house on this particularly glorious Sunday afternoon, and high wrought-iron gates barred the public from any access to it or the Fifth Avenue property it was on. Those iron gates were now wide open, as a few of the very last wedding guests continued to arrive in their handsome coaches and carriages, and were no cause for concern. But the trees disturbed him. They were very tall and level with the second story — they might interfere with his signal. "Keep your eyes open," he finally said.
He stepped from the motorcar, a tall, lean, inherently elegant man, clad now like the two hundred other gentlemen present, in a black dinner jacket and matching trousers, a dress shirt and white bow tie, a white carnation pinned to one lapel. Dark hair swept across his brow, carelessly combed into place. His eyes were a brilliant blue. "I should be no more than twenty minutes. Look for my signal, Louie." There was a warning in his tone.
The thin, middle-aged Louie, clad in tweeds, smiled at him from beneath his felt hat, revealing a silver front tooth. "Guvnor, a true piece o' cake," he said with a cocky wink.
Pierce eyed him then turned his attention upon the Boothe mansion. He strode briskly across the drive as Louie drove the Packard out of the way of the last few oncoming carriages. The invitation had suggested that one be prompt; the ceremony would start at precisely four P.M. Several couples were just entering the house as he fell into step behind them. The women were walking behind their escorts and had their heads together as they spoke in hushed tones, but he overheard their conversation anyway.
There was a queue, and it had stalled. Pierce stood very still, in spite of the fact that he was filled with restlessness and impatience.
"So fortunate," the lady in low-cut pale blue silk was saying. "I cannot believe that poor, poor Annabel's good fortune. I do mean, what an amazing turn of events! Who would have ever thought!"
The blond lady in silver chiffon agreed. "One would have never thought she'd land a husband. Good Lord, I mean, after all, she is twenty-three, is she not? Twenty-three with her two younger sisters already married for several years now — with little Elizabeth expecting! This is so fortunate for the so very unfortunate Annabel Boothe. I mean, Jane, I must admit, I truly thought she would remain a spinster for the rest of her days in spite of the Boothe fortune."
"I thought so, too," the brunette said. "After all, when one's father cannot buy one a husband, why, there is truly no hope."
"He must be smitten. Can you imagine? Why else would Harold Talbot marry her? He has his own fortune, you know."
Pierce sighed, his gaze straying past the two women, hardly interested in the bride and her good — or bad — fortune. However, the Boothe fortune did interest him. George Boothe owned one of the most popular dry-goods emporiums in the northeast — if not in the entire country. G. T. Boothe's was the most fashionable destination for those women venturing out upon the Ladies' Mile. Recently, his net worth had surpassed that of John Wanamaker, his closest rival.
Pierce had already been a guest at the Boothes' Thirty-third Street mansion, but he scanned the interior yet again. The foyer was huge and circular, the floor and pillars marble. Directly ahead, he could see most of the four hundred wedding guests finding their seats in the vast, domed ballroom where the ceremony was to take place. Overhead, a dozen huge crystal chandeliers hung. An altar had been set up at the very opposite end of the ballroom, framed with arches of pink and white roses and brilliantly lit up with hundreds of high, wide ivory tapers. Rows and rows of benches had been assembled to accommodate the guests, on either side of the long aisle upon which the bride would walk down. Perhaps fifty tall, wide ivory tapers on high pedestals graced either side of the aisle, interspersed with more floral arrangements. It was visually breathtaking, but Pierce remained oblivious. The ballroom interested him as much as the bride. But just outside of the ballroom, to his right, were the stairs.
It was a sweeping staircase of brass and cast iron.
The brunette, who was very attractive, was looking at him over her shoulder with a smile. Pierce realized she had caught him studying the house and he smiled back at her. She demurely lowered her eyes, but now the other woman turned to stare. Her cheeks became pink and she instantly faced forward, ducking her head toward her friend.
"Who is that?" she whispered, but he heard her anyway.
"Ssh. Not now. I do not know." The brunette glanced quickly at him again.
This time, he bowed.
She flushed. Her wedding ring, the diamond at least eight full carats, glinted on her left hand. Purchased at Tiffany's, it had cost an astonishing seventy-five thousand dollars.
And then the line moved forward, and George Boothe was greeting the two couples. Pierce remained relaxed.
Boothe saw him and smiled widely. "My dear Braxton," he said, clasping his hand. "I am so pleased you could attend my daughter's wedding after all." He was in his late fifties, heavyset and jovial, with huge muttonchop whiskers.
Pierce smiled, a flash of dazzling white teeth, by now quite accustomed to the name that was not his. "George, how could I miss the happy event?" His British accent was pronounced and unmistakable.
Boothe stepped closer and lowered his voice. "I am extremely excited about the merger we discussed. I have scheduled a trip to Philly to look at your emporium next week and my bank has assured me, pending my inspection of the premises and your books, that there will be no problems at all. It looks as if we shall be moving forward far sooner than anticipated, my boy." He beamed.
"I am very pleased, also," Pierce said emphatically, the irony of the situation not lost upon him — poor Boothe expected to make another million or two when all was said and done, and he, Pierce St. Clare, knew not a whit about retail merchandising and hardly owned the emporium Boothe would soon be visiting. However, Pierce had no intention of being anywhere in the northeast by the time Boothe put two and two together and realized he had been taken, and royally. Pierce did smile at the irony of that.
He moved on, handing his hat and gloves to a waiting servant and pausing just inside the ballroom without taking a seat — so he could slip out as soon as possible.
He lingered until everyone was in the ballroom then stepped just past the threshold. When the foyer was empty, not a servant or guest in sight, he took the stairs two at a time to the second floor. No one saw him. He made sure of it.
He was sweating. One quick glance out of the window showed him that Louie might not see his signal, but there was a backup plan. He checked several doors until he came to the master bedroom, which was unlocked — not a good sign — and he quickly let himself in. The suite was an onslaught upon the senses — reds and golds competed with silks and damask and marble and wood. He knew where the safe was — and even if he hadn't he would have been able to find it immediately, as the location was hardly original. The vault was behind the huge Tiepolo that was hanging on the crimson-flocked wall facing the draped, canopied bed.
He extracted a hearing trumpet from an interior pocket, slipped a ball of wax in his other ear, and got to work. Within sixty seconds he had opened the safe, feeling a surge of satisfaction as he did so. And then he stared.
It was empty.
Which explained why the bedroom had not been locked.
Pierce thought of Lucinda Boothe's good friend Dariella, an extremely loquacious woman in bed, and he cursed. She claimed that Lucinda kept all of her jewels in the safe in her bedroom, and by damn, she had been wrong. For one moment, he felt like throttling the beautiful redhead for her misinformation — as guileless as it was.
But he had no time to lose. He checked his pocket watch. Eleven minutes had elapsed since he had left Louie outside. He slammed the safe closed, replaced the painting, and tucked his hearing trumpet in one of the many secret pockets that lined the interior of his dinner jacket. He stepped to the door, cracked it, and was reassured that no one was about. He hurried downstairs.
There was another possibility. In the foyer, he paused briefly to compose himself, glancing at the guests in the ballroom, all of whom were now attentively and restlessly awaiting the start of the wedding ceremony. A male servant suddenly entered the rotunda. But the man paid no attention to Pierce, disappearing down another hall with very brisk strides. Pierce turned and strode in the opposite direction. As he did so, he heard the organ in the ballroom begin to play. He was relieved, and he smiled.
Four hundred guests and the Boothe family would be very preoccupied for the next half an hour or so.
The very solid teakwood door to the library was closed. Only four nights ago he had been drinking a very fine and very old port wine within its confines, with George Boothe himself. The notes of the bridal march washing over him, Pierce tried the knob and found it locked. Instead of being dismayed, a thrill washed over him. He extracted a ring of skeleton keys from one of his pockets, trying several. The third let him in.
Pierce quickly closed the door behind him, his gaze slamming on the verdant John Constable landscape hanging over the fireplace. He smiled. And when he removed it from the wall, the dark metal vault stared back at him. Again, Boothe's placement of his safes was hardly original.
In less than sixty seconds he had the vault open. His pulse surged when he saw the velvet boxes and pouchesinside the dark interior. Quickly, he began dumping all of the contents out. There were rings and necklaces and earrings, a lifetime's worth of jewelry. He sorted through quickly, looking for one piece in particular. And at last he found it. The pearl necklace. Pierce quickly inserted it into the specially sewn pocket that lined his dinner jacket.
He closed the safe, lifted the painting, which he did not pause to admire, and set it back upon its hooks. As he turned, he heard a noise, and realized that he had company.
And stared at the rotating brass knob on the library door. Someone was about to enter the room. Less than a second passed and Pierce moved, diving to the floor and scrambling over to the claw-footed green sofa, just as the door creaked open.
"Damn it," a woman muttered very unhappily.
He relaxed very slightly — a woman would be easier to deal with than a man. His mind raced. His hiding place was a sham. He could not get under the sofa, the bottom was far too low, and while right now it served its purpose, because the couch was between him and the woman, it would become useless if the intruder did not stay on the other side of the room.
"Damn, damn, damn," the woman moaned.
He stiffened again, because he could hear her soft footsteps as she entered the room, along with the rustling of her skirts. Worse, he had not heard her close the door and the dim light in the library had become brighter. The wedding march sounded far too loudly for comfort now. Why was this woman not with the guests? He glanced awkwardly toward the hearth. And he cursed silently. The Constable hung at an obviously unstable angle, a dead giveaway of the burglary that had just taken place.
Pierce gritted his teeth. He would have to straighten it before he made his hasty exit.
"Oh, God," she moaned again, as if suffering very greatly. Pierce shifted so he could gaze beneath the sofa in her direction and he froze. Her skirts were stunningly white, beaded, and covered with lace. If he did not miss his guess, the woman was the bride.
He almost cursed aloud.
"Oh, God, what am I going to do?" she cried.
He stared at her skirts, not many paces from the sofa. The bride was in the library, but she was supposed to be walking down the aisle. From her tone, it did not take a genius to assume that she had little intention of doing what was expected of her — at least not in the near future. Worse, she was walking toward the couch. A dozen excuses for lying on the floor raced through his mind. He dismissed them all instantly as absurd.
And then her white slippered feet veered away. Pierce froze again, shifting, turning his neck at an impossibly awkward angle — she was walking around the couch. He held his breath, prepared to be discovered at any moment.
But she did not walk around it to sit down. Instead, she ambled past the sofa and the table and chairs surrounding it, her long pristine white skirts and equally long sheer veil trailing behind her. His gaze was unwavering. But now he was surprised. For an open bottle of champagne was clasped by its neck in her right hand.
She halted at the window, her back to him, gazing out at the sunny afternoon, or so he assumed. "How has this happened?" she whispered, and she raised the bottle and swilled directly from it.
The bottle was, he saw, two-thirds empty. Goddamn it. The bride was unhappy, she was drunk, and she was never going to leave the library so he could make his escape.
He quickly considered the possibility of slipping out of the room without being detected while she drank at the window. It was too risky. He considered standing up, before she turned, and introducing himself. Again, too risky — he'd be accused of the heist later. These two options he analyzed with lightning speed, within the span of several seconds. As a third option came to him, she turned, once again drinking from the bottle like a common saloon girl.
She swigged. And for another moment, as she clutched the bottle, he saw that she was drinking la grande dame of champagnes, a vintage year of Veuve Cliquot, and he gave her half a dozen points for her good taste and her ability to hold her liquor. She did not see him yet, but that would change in a moment. But where were her warts and birthmarks? Poor, unfortunate, just-barely-a-spinster Annabel Boothe was not what he might have expected — had he been expecting anything. She was blond, blue-eyed, angelically beautiful. Then he saw that she was staring at the painting that was hanging so lopsidedly over the fireplace. "Oh, dear," she said to herself.
He grimaced, about to rise from his very awkward position on the floor.
And then her gaze moved directly to, and upon, him — where it riveted.
He smiled up at her, feeling rather foolish.
"Hello," he said, aware of using his most devastating grin upon her.
"Oh, dear! Are you hurt?" she cried, rushing forward.
"Actually," he said, seizing upon the excuse, "it is my knee. A bad injury, you see." He began to rise.
To his surprise, she put the champagne down and in the blink of an eye was actually assisting him to his feet, supporting his weight with her shoulder. "Did you fall down?" she asked when he was finally standing upright, her arms still around him.
He stared into her brilliantly blue eyes, a blue that even two thirds of a bottle of superior champagne could not dim. In other circumstances, he would enjoy her concern and take advantage of it. "Yes, thank you, I did."
"Here, let me help you to sit, then," she said, pushing him toward the sofa.
"No, I am fine." He resisted, and she was strong, surprisingly so for a woman of her size and attractiveness.
"But you are hurt."
"It is an old injury, actually," he said, smiling. "The war."
"The war?" She continued to press her body against his, trying to urge him to the sofa. "What war?"
"The — ah — er — a brief skirmish in South Africa, you see."
"South Africa? Of course, you are British. Your accent is quite pronounced. And —" Suddenly she stopped in mid-sentence. Her blue gaze was on his. He knew the moment she realized that she was embracing him and that he was a man — and an exceedingly rakish one at that. Or so many women had told him.
Her cheeks turned a very becoming shade of pink. She dropped her arms. "Perhaps you should sit," she said, low and huskily, now avoiding his eyes.
He could not help himself, he staggered, as if imbalanced by his bad knee without her support.
"Oh," she cried, with concern. Her arms went around him again.
He smiled at her as their gazes met. Poor, unfortunate Annabel Boothe? Inwardly, he did laugh. "Miss Boothe," he said, as gently as possible, not breaking contact. "Are you not wanted elsewhere?"
She remained flushed, her gaze holding his again. And as she grasped his meaning, her expression changed dramatically. It crumpled, and she stepped away from him. He wondered if he was about to have a weeping woman on his hands. Perhaps she would swoon. That would be convenient. "Miss Boothe?"
But she snatched the bottle and looked at him defiantly. "I am hardly wanted, sir," she snapped. But her tone was tremulous, ruining the effect of her glare.
Excerpted from Scandalous Weddings by Brenda Joyce. Copyright © 1998 Brenda Joyce. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
IN THE LIGHT OF DAY - Brenda Joyce,
THE LOVE MATCH - Rexanne Becnel,
A WEDDIN' OR A HANGIN' - Jill Jones,
BEAUTY AND THE BRUTE - Barbara Dawson Smith,
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