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Married By Midnight(10)

By:Julianne MacLean

The duke had been a harsh parent all his life and had never shown any love to Garrett, but now he approached with arms outstretched.

Garrett was intensely aware of Lady Anne stepping aside to give them room to embrace. The shock of his father’s warm welcome was enough to make Garrett wonder if he had fallen down the rabbit hole.

“My dear, dear boy.” The duke wept as he squeezed Garrett tightly. “I feared I would never see you again, but you have come home to us at last.” As he recovered his composure and wiped his eyes, he stepped back to hold Garrett at arm’s length. He grinned mischievously. “And with a lovely fiancée, I am told?” He nudged Garrett in the ribs. “Where have you been hiding this little one, eh? She looks like an angel. Introduce me if you will, before I dash off to marry her myself!”

The rest of the family laughed at the duke’s teasing tone, but there was an obvious discomfort in the room, as if they all feared he might take hold of Lady Anne and actually do it.

Still shaken by his father’s affable behavior, Garrett turned to his betrothed. “Father, allow me to present Lady Anne Douglas.”

She fell into a proper curtsy. The duke took hold of her hand and helped her rise. “My word,” he said, “but you are an absolute angel. How lucky my sons have been to marry such lovely creatures. Garrett is the last now, but certainly not the least, for he is the one who will break the curse. It’s all up to you now, my boy. Isn’t that right?”

Another hush fell over the room, and Garrett felt a stirring of unease at his father’s high expectations. Was there a veiled threat in it?

You’re useless. You’ll never be anything but a bloody bastard. Get out of my sight, boy. I can’t even look at you.

Garrett pushed the memory down and focused on the point of all this, and why he had come home. The money. He would say and do what he must to secure it.

“Indeed,” Garrett replied. “On Christmas Day, everything will be put to rights. You’ll see.”

Yes. To rights—for I will be well on my way back to Greece by then with a substantial piece of your vast fortune in my possession. And you will never have to see me again. Just as you always wanted.

The duke turned to Lady Anne and offered his arm. “Why don’t you come with me, my dear? We shall sit by the fire and sip claret, and you can tell me all about your home in Yorkshire.”

“I would be delighted, Your Grace.” With a charming smile, Anne accompanied the duke to the chairs in front of the fire while Garrett watched her with a hint of concern, for surely she must feel as if she had fallen down a rabbit hole as well?

She gave no evidence of that, however, as she began to converse with his father. She smiled dazzlingly and laughed at all the things the duke said.

At one point the duke reached forward and kissed her hand. It appeared she had captured his heart completely in the first few minutes of their acquaintance.

If he even had a heart... Garrett sincerely doubted it.

“Well? What do you think of her?”

Garrett turned to his brother Devon who handed him a glass of sherry. “You chose well,” he said. “Father seems to like her, and she is a beauty, to be sure.” Garrett raised the glass to his lips and took a drink. “Makes me wonder, though.”

“Wonder what, exactly?”

Garrett frowned as he continued to watch her in the dancing firelight. She was not just another pretty young lady. There was something particularly enticing about her—a beguiling charisma that made it difficult not to stare.

“What the devil is wrong with her?” he replied. “One would think a woman like that would have been snatched up on the first night of her first season.”

“Perhaps you should ask her about that,” Devon replied as he set his glass down on a table. “You will have plenty of opportunity tomorrow. We’ve organized a sleigh ride and an afternoon of skating at the lake.”

Garrett continued to watch Lady Anne converse easily with their father. “So there is a reason, then,” he replied. “A blemish on her character. I shouldn’t be surprised, for she and I are both selling our souls to the devil this Christmas. Does Father know?”

“No, and we intend to tell him nothing. All that matters is that you sign the marriage certificate by midnight Christmas Eve, then Father will rest easily in his old age and our family’s fortune will be secured.”

Lady Anne turned her enormous dark-lashed green eyes toward Garrett just then, and smiled. Her open gaze and astonishing beauty caused a spark of excitement in his core, which caught him off guard and caused him some discomfort—for he had certainly not come home to enjoy himself.