How to Lose a Bride in One Night Forgotten Princesses Online Page 0,1

stomach being wed to a female who cannot engage me in discourse. It is my greatest fortune that I can see you better than these other fools.

“Nervous?” Marguerite, one of her half sisters, fell into step beside her. Her skirts swished softly on the night, mingling with the hum of conversation and soft laughter surrounding them.

Annalise tore her gaze from the sour-faced Joanna and offered a smile that belied the tremor in her voice. “Not at all.”

“It’s fine, you know,” Grier added from her other side. “If you are.”

Of her three half sisters, Annalise knew Grier the least. She’d only just arrived from Maldania a fortnight ago in order to meet Annalise and attend her wedding. The shock of marrying a duke was nearly as astonishing as learning that her half sister was a princess.

Until a year ago, Annalise had been an orphan, inhabiting a rented room in Yorkshire with two other shop girls employed by Madame Brouchard. Jack Hadley’s man had found her. Evidently, Annalise’s mother, dead these last six years, had once been Jack’s paramour, and Annalise was in fact the bastard daughter of one the wealthiest men in England. All her life, she knew nothing of her father. Her mother never spoke of him and only scowled when Annalise mentioned him.

It was a fairy tale come true. Her father riding in on his white horse to save her from a life of drudgery. And the fairy tale only continued once she reached London and met the duke. After a whirlwind courtship, he’d proposed. It didn’t matter to him that she was illegitimate. Or a cripple. Or plain as a wool sock.

Oh, she was no fool. She knew her dowry played a significant part in his interest, but he had assured her that he’d come to care for her as well—that they would have a marriage in the truest sense. That they had found love together. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach.

“I am a bit nervous,” she admitted, wobbling when the foot of her lame leg hit a patch of uneven ground. Grier’s arm tightened around her, stopping her from falling. It was a nuisance, but she had grown accustomed to this limitation of her body. She’d lived with the disability long enough. At fourteen she fell from a tree and broke her leg. Unfortunately, her limb never healed properly.

“Very normal,” Marguerite asserted. “But anyone can see your handsome duke is clearly besotted with you. I’m certain he’ll be a most solicitous husband.”

Grier nodded. “For certain. Do you not agree, Cleo? You are the newlywed among us, after all.”

Annalise glanced at her other sister—the first she had met upon moving to London. Cleo walked beside Grier, her lips pressed into a straight line that was unlike her usual smiling self. Especially since she’d married her Scotsman. She was rarely without smiles now. Only today she had been oddly solemn. All throughout the wedding ceremony and during brunch, she sat in pensive silence, even as her husband offered up a congratulatory toast.

“Cleo,” Grier prodded.

Cleo blinked as if her thoughts were somewhere else. “Of course. I’m certain His Grace will be most gentle and understanding with you.”

Grier shook her head and looked back at Annalise. “It will be lovely.”

“Have more champagne,” Marguerite suggested. “that shall relax your nerves.”

Grier nodded in agreement.

Cleo continued to stare ahead. Almost as though she was attending a funeral and not a wedding.

They reached the dock and the chatter grew to a surge all around them. The wedding barge swayed softly on the current. Bloodsworth approached her and claimed her hand. Richard. After he had proposed, he insisted she call him by his Christian name, but it still felt strange. She wondered when it would become natural. When would she think of him as Richard and not Bloodsworth or simply the duke?

Bringing her hand to his lips, he pressed a moist kiss to her knuckles, his smiling gaze brushing over her briefly before addressing the wedding party.

“Thank you all for your delightful company on this most glorious of occasions.” His free hand moved naturally, gracefully, as he spoke.

She’d noticed that about him right away—his inherent grace, the smooth elegance of his hands. Not like her own—thankfully snug within a pair of gloves so he couldn’t feel the rough, chapped palms, testament to her life of toil.

Applause broke out, perhaps none louder than Jack. Her father had finally gotten his wish. His daughter had married a duke—about as close to a British prince as he would ever get.