The Stolen Bride

The Stolen Bride by Jo Beverley Read Free Book Online

Book: The Stolen Bride by Jo Beverley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jo Beverley
of what he did, it was that unpredictability and people’s knowledge of it, which gave him his reputation.
    He immediately illustrated her revelation. She had been staring again and he took her chin and turned her head sharply away, not particularly gently. Silence spread around the table and Beth wanted to crawl under the tablecloth. His action had been intolerably rude but so had hers. And all because of drink .
    “I do beg your pardon, Mr. Verderan,” she said quickly. “I know how distressing it is to be stared at.”
    People looked away and conversation resumed.
    “Behave yourself, Verderan,” said Sir Marius quietly and it wasn’t a joke.
    “I always do what I damned well please, Fletcher,” said Verderan without heat. “Short of shooting me, there’s no way to stop me.”
    “That can be arranged,” said the baronet laconically.
    Beth dared to raise her eyes from her plate and saw a light flicker in the younger man’s eyes like a flame. “That couldn’t possibly be a challenge, could it, my dear man? I’ve been suffering from the most terrible ennui.”
    Beth’s rare temper flared and burned free in alcoholic liberation. “No, it could not!” she said fierce and low before Sir Marius could respond. “I don’t care how wicked you are, you stupid boy. If you ever dare to embroil me in any kind of imbroglio, I will shoot you myself!”
    She had spoken louder than she intended. Silence fell again but Beth didn’t care. She meant it.
    Verderan’s lips twitched, then he laughed out loud. He picked up his glass and turned to the end of the table where Jane sat watching in horror. “My dear Lady Wraybourne, my congratulations. I thought you’d brought the lady here to act as Sophie’s chaperone, but I see now she’s supposed to keep me in order. I concede. My behavior will be pattern-card perfect from now on.”

    When the ladies finally retired to the Crimson Chamber, Sophie came straight over to Beth. “Well, Mrs. Hawley, aren’t you the dark horse! Fancy bearding Verderan.”
    “Lady Sophie, please don’t tease me,” said Beth. “I don’t know what came over me.” But she did, and she could still feel the effects of the claret. A certain lightness in the head and a numbness around her mouth. She prayed earnestly that it wasn’t obvious.
    “Aren’t you the slightest bit attracted to him?” asked Sophie, curiously. “He’s wonderfully handsome, and there’s something about a truly wicked man ...”
    Beth looked at the young woman with concern. Surely she couldn’t be casting eyes at Lord Randal’s close friend. “He’s a trifle young for me,” she said, adding pointedly, “and I am not a foolish believer in the power of a good woman to reform a rake.”
    “Well, I’ve managed to reform Randal,” said Sophie so morosely that Beth was hard put not to chuckle.
    Beth decided it would be wise to bend the rules of propriety a little. “I think you’ll find in two weeks, Lady Sophie, that he’s not reformed beyond redemption.”
    Sophie colored but looked pathetically grateful for this crumb. “Do you think ... ? But then it will all be settled, won’t it? There’ll be no going back.”
    Beth considered the troubled girl. There was no sense to any of this. “Lady Sophie, I know this can be a nerve-wracking time for anyone. If you truly have doubts, however, do not commit yourself yet. I thought he was your choice, but Lord Randal will not be the easiest husband ...”
    “Of course I want Randal,” said Sophie, flushing with color. “But he ...” She made a gallant attempt to smile. “As you suppose. It is all just bridal nerves. What do you think of our mysterious guest, then? Perhaps she’s a skillful thief, come to murder us all in our beds.”
    Beth let the girl turn the conversation but something was wrong here. She remembered the happy lovers who had danced at Jane’s wedding. Their love and closeness had been a tangible thing, spreading warmth to all around. Now

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