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Lady Beneath the Veil

By:Sarah Mallory

Lady Beneath the Veil
Sarah Mallory

       Chapter One

'Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder!'

The words boomed around the small church, echoing off the walls. The  Honourable Gideon Albury grinned down at the heavily veiled figure at  his side. Bless her, she was taking maidenly modesty to new heights!

Perhaps she thought it would inflame him, but she did that perfectly  well without dressing as a nun. With her voluptuous body, golden curls  and cornflower-blue eyes, she was a rare beauty. And that little trick  she had of peeping up at him from under her lashes, those blue eyes  promising the lush delights to come-his body hardened with anticipation.  At last he would be able to enjoy those ample curves to the full!

Not that the little darling had flaunted her charms. She was, after  all, a lady-the Earl of Martlesham's cousin, in fact. He would not else  have contemplated marriage without his father's approval. Depraved as  Lord Rotham might think him, he had not sunk so low that he would marry  out of his sphere. But 'fore Gad, Gideon had never before seen such  perfection in a gently bred young lady. She had allowed Gideon a glimpse  of her pretty ankles, his hands had spanned that tiny waist and her  plump, snow-white breast had been just crying out to be kissed. By  heaven, just the thought of it made it difficult to concentrate on the  marriage service. The register was produced. Gideon scrawled his own  name carelessly and watched as his bride added her name to his. He  guessed that damned veil was making it difficult for her to see because  her hand shook a little as she held the pen. As a witness, Martlesham  signed with a flourish and grinned.

'There-'tis done.'

'So it is.' Gideon smiled down at his new wife. 'I think we can dispense with this now.'

He reached for her veil, but she quickly put her gloved hand over his.

'Not yet,' she whispered.

He laughed.

'Be careful, my love, I shall begin to think I have married a little prude!'

He expected to hear her delicious, throaty laugh, but she was silent,  merely putting her fingers on his arm as he escorted her to the door.

After the darkness of the stone building the spring sunshine was almost  blinding when they stepped outside. He stopped and turned to her again.

'Now, Miss Propriety, let me kiss you... Good God!' He stepped back,  his eyes widening with horror as he looked down into the face of a  complete stranger.





Chapter Two

Dominique stood very still, staring up into the shocked face of her new  husband. It was all there, everything she had expected: horror,  revulsion, disgust. She had known how it must seem to him once the trick  was revealed. He pushed his fingers through his auburn hair, disturbing  the carefully arranged disorder, while behind them Max's cruel laugh  rang out.

'Caught you there, Albury!'

'But I don't understand. Your cousin-'

'This is my cousin.'

Max chortled and Dominique's heart went out to the man standing before her. He looked stunned.

As well he might. Instead of the beautiful, voluptuous blonde he had  courted for the past two months he was married to a diminutive brunette  whom he had never seen before in his life.

'Is something amiss?' The vicar looked from one to the other before  directing a vaguely worried look towards Max. 'Lord Martlesham?'

'No, no, nothing's wrong,' declared Max, still chuckling. 'The groom is  struck dumb by the enormity of the occasion, that's all.' He began  shepherding the guests away from the church. 'Come along, everyone, the  carriages are waiting!'

'Just a moment!' The man beside her did not move, except to shake her hand from his arm. 'Where is Dominique?'

'Lord, Albury, have you not understood it yet? You have married her!'  Max gave him a push. 'Come along, man, don't stand there gawping. Let us  return to the Abbey.'

'Please.' Dominique forced her vocal cords to work. 'Come back to the Abbey and all this can be explained.'

Frowning, he grabbed her arm and set off for the gate with Dominique  almost running to keep up with him. As was usual with weddings, the path  was lined with well-wishers who showered them with rice as they hurried  to the carriage. It was decorated with ribbons for the occasion, the  Martlesham coat of arms displayed prominently on the door. Without  ceremony her escort bundled Dominique into the carriage, climbed in  after her and the door was slammed upon them. Max's grinning face  appeared in the window.                       
       
           



       

'Now then, Gideon, try to contain your lust until after the wedding  breakfast. The journey from here to the Abbey ain't long enough to tup a  woman properly. I know, I've tried it!'

Dominique closed her eyes in mortification. The carriage began to move and the raucous laughter was left behind them.

'So, this was one of Max's little tricks.'

Dominique looked at Gideon. His voice was calm, but there was a  dangerous glitter in his hazel eyes that made her think he might be  about to commit murder. She swallowed.

'Yes.'

'And everyone at the Abbey was privy to the joke, except me.'

'You and...my mother.'

'Max told me she was too unwell to attend the ceremony.'

Dominique bowed her head.

'She does not know. Maman would never have agreed to such a scheme.'

'I take it the female I knew as Dominique was hired for the part?'

She nodded.

'An actress. Agnes Bennet.'

'And a damned good one. She fooled me into thinking she was a lady.  Whereas you-' His lip curled. 'You may be Max's cousin, but no true lady  would lend herself to this, this joke.'

His contempt flayed her. Given time, she could explain to him why she  had agreed to Max's outrageous scheme, but they had already arrived at  the Abbey. She waited in silence for the carriage to stop and a liveried  footman to leap forwards and open the door. Her companion jumped out  first and with exaggerated courtesy put out his hand to her.

'Well, madam, shall we go in to the wedding breakfast?'

Miserably, Dominique accompanied him into the house.

* * *

'Now, perhaps you will explain to me what the hell is going on.'

Gideon looked about him at the company assembled in the dining room.  The servants had been dismissed and it was only the twenty or so guests  who had comprised Lord Martlesham's house party for the past two  months-with the exception of the blonde beauty, of course. The woman he  had believed was Martlesham's cousin. She had been replaced by the poor  little dab of a girl who was now his wife.

Everyone stood around, ignoring the festive elegance of the dining  table, all gleaming silver and sparkling glass, set out in readiness for  the wedding breakfast. His eyes raked the crowd, but no one would meet  his gaze.

'It's a practical joke, old boy,' said Max, who was helping himself to a glass of brandy from the decanter on the sideboard.

'Not one that I appreciate!' Gideon retorted.

Max turned to him, still smiling.

'No? Strange, I thought you would, given what happened at Covent Garden last year.'

'Ah...' Gideon nodded slowly '...so that is it. You are paying me back for stealing the divine Diana from under your nose!'

The scene came back to him. He had been one of a dozen rowdy, drunken  bucks crowding into the dressing rooms after the performance. Max was  paying court to a pretty little opera dancer, but Gideon knew from her  meaningful smiles and the invitation in her kohl-lined eyes that she  would happily give herself to the highest bidder.

'Confound it, Albury, I had been working on that prime article for  weeks, then just when I thought she was going to fall into my lap you  offer her a carte blanche!'

Gideon felt his temper rising. There was a world of difference between  competing for the favours of a lightskirt and trapping him into  marriage!

'And because I bested you on that occasion you concocted this elaborate charade?'

'Why, yes, and I thought it rather neat, actually,' returned Max,  sipping his brandy. 'I hired Agnes Bennet to play my cousin and you fell  for her-quite besotted, in fact. All I had to do then was persuade you  to propose. Of course, it helped that you were still smarting from the  roasting your father gave you at Christmas and ripe for any mischief  that would pay him back.'

Gideon could not deny it. He recalled that last, fraught meeting with  his father. They had rowed royally. If he was honest, Gideon had already  been a little tired of Max and his constant tricks and stratagems, but  he did not like his father criticising his friends. He had lost his  temper, declaring that he would do what he wanted with his life. He  remembered storming out of the house, declaring, 'I will make friends  with whom I like, do what I like, marry whom I like!'                       
       
           



       

How unwise he had been to relay the whole incident to Martlesham.

The earl continued, 'You knew that marrying any cousin of mine would  anger your father. It helped, of course, that she was such a little  beauty. A typical English rose.'

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