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A Night with the Bride

By:Kate McKinley

A Night with the Bride

By Invitation Only

Kate McKinley

              Chapter One

Nothing livened up a house party like the arrival of a duke. Indeed, every unattached female between the ages of sixteen and thirty were instantly on alert, tripping all over themselves to gain the duke’s notice.

Gabriella Weatherfield stood with Julia and Mary, her dearest friends, in the Leventhorpes’ parlor and watched Nicholas Montgomery, the infamous Duke of Somerset, with interest. He was younger than she’d envisioned, and tall with broad shoulders, sandy-colored hair, startling blue eyes, and a glare that could subdue an army.

He and his sister had arrived this morning in a flurry of coaches, trunks, and servants. They’d descended on the already raging house party like an invading army, causing a general sense of confusion and mayhem throughout the house.

“The ‘Unseducible’ Duke of Somerset,” Julia said in an excited whisper. “He hasn’t been out in society since his intended cried off in the middle of their engagement ball three years ago. She left in tears and he is said to have gone mad.”

“Curious.” Gabriella flicked a glance his way. “I wonder what drew him out into society after all this time.”

Julia shrugged. “Whatever the reason, every woman present will be vying for his particular attention.”

Mary gave Julia a blank stare. “They can clamor for his attention all they like, but they call him the ‘unseducible duke’ for a reason. Look at him; he hasn’t moved from that spot all night, and no one besides Mr. Leventhorpe has dared speak to him.”

“If he’s breathing, then he can be seduced.” Gabriella flicked her gaze over his powerful frame and devilishly handsome features. “I’d wager my fortune on it.”

Gabriella had never intentionally seduced a man, but after three years on the marriage mart and half a dozen proposals, she had enough experience with them to know just how tiresome and predictable they could be—especially when it came to the fairer sex.

“You sound awfully confident,” Julia said.

“You couldn’t possibly seduce the duke,” Mary said, haughty. “Let’s forget, for a moment, that he is clearly unsociable. There is still the fact that your father is in trade and you aren’t likely to attract the attention of a peer. For men of his station, beauty and wealth are nothing without breeding.”

Gabriella might have been offended by the way Mary whispered trade, as though it were a filthy secret, if Mary weren’t also a tradesman’s daughter. The fact was, Gabriella’s father had accumulated a great deal of wealth through dedication and hard work—which was something to be admired in Gabriella’s view. She refused to feel ashamed.

“Not every aristocrat is a shortsighted cur, Mary. I do believe even someone like me could tempt a peer.”

Mary pursed her lips, her brown curls glinting in the candlelight. She hated being wrong. The woman could talk a point to death, even when she was clearly in error. For two weeks, she’d once insisted the sky was not blue, as popularly thought, but a very distinct shade of azure, which was somehow different. “Then prove it. We have three days left of the party. If you can win a kiss from the duke by the ball on the last evening, then I will admit I am wrong.”

A thrill of excitement washed over Gabriella. Every year the Leventhorpes had a house party, and every year, on the last night, they held a grand soiree, inviting every family of distinction within twenty miles. It was one of the most anticipated events in the entire county, and the perfect backdrop for something exhilarating and all together improper to take place.

Julia clapped her hands together in excitement. “Oh, this I must see. Do accept the dare, Gabriella, if only for the amusement of hearing Mary admit she is wrong about something. Consider it my early birthday present.”

“Your birthday isn’t for six months yet,” Gabriella said. “And if I’m doing this at all, it’s to prove that even tradesmen’s daughters are worthy of a duke’s attentions.”

A point simply must be made on the subject. And if she had to kiss a duke to prove that point, well, that was a sacrifice she was willing to make.

Gabriella swallowed and glanced at Somerset, who stood just a short distance away. A wave of doubt suddenly struck her. Could she convince him to fancy her in just three days? It seemed like such an infinitesimal amount of time. The task seemed momentous, especially given his propensity to scowl at any given female who stepped into his line of vision.

For the first time, she questioned herself. Perhaps he wouldn’t find her desirable. Perhaps he would turn her away, just as Mary said he would.