This isn’t the end of my life. I will figure out a way to get my husband to leave me alone. I will always be a virgin. Miss Emilia Stewart spent the entire carriage ride to Lord Valentine’s townhouse telling herself this. She continued repeating it as the carriage came to a stop. She even thought of it as the footman opened the carriage door. “Go on, my dear,” her very happy father said. “You don’t want to be late for your wedding.” “You most certainly don’t,” her equally excited mother chimed in. “This is a wonderful day. It’s the beginning of the rest of your life.” She glanced at Emilia’s father. “The day I married your father was the best day of my life.” Her father reached out and clasped her mother’s hand. “It was the best day of my life, too.
” His gaze went to Emilia. “Years from now, you and Benjamin will be saying the same thing about this day.” Emilia resisted the urge to gag. That would never happen. “Go on,” her mother encouraged, letting go of her husband’s hand and gently nudging Emilia in the arm. “Don’t be shy. The bridegroom is expecting you.” Emilia turned from her parents so they wouldn’t see the grim expression on her face. It was a shame they couldn’t marry him in her place. She stepped down from the carriage and pulled her coat closer around her body as if it would make her invisible.
She scanned the other carriages in front of the townhouse and was glad to see her friends had come. With Mrs. Lilly Morris and Miss Kitty Farrow in attendance, she just might survive the wedding and the breakfast that followed. Her father and mother stepped out of the carriage, and her father shivered. “There’s no denying a chill is in the air.” “Well, it is January,” her mother replied. “What do you expect?” She turned to Emilia and put her arm around hers. “It’s good that it’s chilly. It puts a hint of pink on your cheeks. A little pink makes ladies more attractive.
” Why would Emilia want to make herself attractive for Benjamin? She had no desire to be appealing to him. But she kept the thought to herself. Her mother wouldn’t understand. Her father wouldn’t, either. They adored Benjamin. They were thrilled he was going to be their son-in-law. They didn’t see him the same way marriageable ladies did. Her mother practically dragged her up the stairs in her excitement over the wedding. Emilia had to hold her hat down so her blonde hair wouldn’t go flying all over the place. While she’d had her lady’s maid brush it, she hadn’t had time to let the lady pin her hair up.
She’d spent most of the night tossing and turning in the bed, and she’d ended up oversleeping because of it. The lady’s maid had barely had time to help her into her wedding gown, which her parents had spent considerable money on. “We should have a nice rose color,” her mother had instructed the seamstress. “Rose is a nice pink color. Pink is such a joyful color. It’s also romantic, and what could be more romantic than a wedding?” And so Emilia was wearing a rose dress and rose slippers and a rose hat to match. She felt more like a lady about to pose for a portrait than one who was about to get married. The footman opened the door and gave her a wide smile as if she should be happy to be here. “May I take your coats?” he offered her and her parents. Her parents looked expectantly at her.
She resisted the urge to sigh. She supposed she should go into the home first since she was the one getting married. She let him help her out of the coat. While he turned to help her parents, she glanced down the hall. She could hear people talking from the drawing room, but she couldn’t see them. She wondered how many people were here. She turned and glanced out the nearest window. There were several carriages lining the street, but she couldn’t assume they were all for the guests of this wedding. It was possible another person living on this street had guests, too. Her mother came over to her and adjusted the long sleeves of her gown so they reached her wrists.
Then, to her horror, her mother whispered, “Move your breasts up a little more.” “Mother, that is not appropriate speech,” she hissed. She glanced at the footman and her father, relieved they were busy telling her parents’ footman and carriage driver where to put one of her trunks. “You’ll cause a scandal if anyone hears you.” “Showing a little more of your best asset would please your husband,” her mother whispered, not even having the decency to look embarrassed. “He’s not my husband yet.” “He will be within the hour. Besides, quite a few ladies reveal a bit on top when they’re in public. I see nothing upsetting about it.” “Those ladies have large breasts.
They can’t help but show more because of the low neckline on some of the gowns.” “Gentlemen happen to like those necklines. Benjamin is a gentleman. You shouldn’t be ashamed to show him what God has blessed you with. After all, your body is a gift for him.” This time, Emilia didn’t resist the urge to gag. “I will hear no more of this.” She stepped around her mother and shook her head. With a glance back at the lady, she added, “You need to keep respectable thoughts in your head, Mother.” Her mother rolled her eyes.
“You are about to be a married lady. I see no reason to talk to you as if you were a child.” Her mother had made that abundantly clear yesterday when she sat her down for the talk on what to expect tonight. Emilia inwardly shuddered. Just the thought of Benjamin touching her in private places and then sticking his…his…thing…into her was enough to make her want to rush out of the townhouse in a panic. It was taking all of her willpower to go through with the wedding ceremony. One way or another, she must get out of this wedding night. She lifted the hem of her gown so she wouldn’t trip on it as she hurried for the drawing room. When she made it there, she was surprised to see that all of the guests were people her family knew. All of her aunts, uncles, and their families had come for the ceremony, and her father’s and mother’s friends had brought their families as well.
She barely knew half the people in the room. In fact, she hadn’t even spoken to several of them for longer than a few minutes at a ball the previous year. She did a quick count and estimated that forty people had come for this catastrophe. Kitty ran over to her with a relieved expression on her face. “I had no idea there would be so many people here,” she said. “I didn’t, either,” Emilia said. “I’m glad you and Lilly are here,” Kitty replied. “I’d be terribly lonely if you weren’t.” “Where is Lilly?” Emilia scanned the room for their other friend but didn’t see her. “She and her husband are with Benjamin in another room.
Benjamin said something about wanting their opinion about something.” “He didn’t want your opinion?” “He did, but I was afraid to leave this room without a chaperone.” “Roger could have acted as your chaperone. Come to think of it, Lilly could have, too, since she’s married.” “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” Emilia sighed. “It doesn’t matter. What did Benjamin want their opinion on?” “I think it has to do with a gift he plans to give you.” Emilia groaned. “Why is he giving me a gift?” “He’s probably doing it because this is your wedding day.
I think it’s rather sweet.” “Then why don’t you marry him?” She clasped her hands together as if praying. “You could do that, Kitty. When he comes in, tell him you’d rather he marry you instead of me. Please?” Kitty winced. “I can’t. He’s not the least bit appealing.” Her hands fell to her sides. “It’s just my luck that Lilly said my name instead of yours that evening at the ball. No one wants to marry him.
” “Maybe he’ll give you something to cover your eyes so you don’t have to look at him.” “That wouldn’t do any good. I’d still have to listen to him. His voice isn’t so bad, but that laugh he has…” Shoulders slumped, she added, “What is there to say? No one wants to marry him, and it’s obvious why.” One of Emilia’s aunts came over to her. “Emilia, my dear!” She gave her a hug. “You shouldn’t be hiding in a corner. You’re the bride. This is your special day. You should be in the center of the room where everyone can see you.
” She glanced at the gown, and her grin grew wider. “You are beautiful. Your mother said she had the seamstress make you a gown that would make every other bride jealous, and she wasn’t exaggerating. This is exquisite.” “Yes, Mother and Father spared no expense,” Emilia said since she couldn’t think of anything else to say. “I’ll say they didn’t.” She waved another aunt over. “You have to see Emilia. She’s absolutely beautiful.” Just as her other aunt came over, Emilia caught sight of Benjamin entering the room with Lilly and Lilly’s husband, Roger.
Benjamin had chosen to wear a rose-colored frock coat and breeches. His shirt and cravat were white, as were the boots. Goodness. What was he trying to do? Make their outfits match? The ensemble might have worked if it hadn’t been for his blond hair that, in some strange way, was so light it almost seemed to be the same color as his shirt. If his hair had been any other color, he might have seemed a tad bit normal. Who was she fooling? His wiry hair would have ruined the look no matter what color it was. He had evidently combed it, but there were strands that refused to stay down. He looked like he’d just gotten out of bed. Then there was the gigantic nose and the fact that he was so thin his clothes were hanging on him as if they were still in an armoire. She wasn’t fully convinced he had an actual body.
Sure, he had a face and hands, but was there really anything else to him? Lilly found Emilia and Kitty and headed over to them. “I never realized you had so many relatives and friends,” Lilly said. “These are the friends of my parents, aunts, and uncles,” Emilia replied. “It feels like half of London is in here.” Lilly laughed and shook her head. “Lady Cadwalader would probably die of envy if she realized your family was this influential.” Emilia shrugged. She didn’t care what Lady Cadwalader thought or didn’t think. “I just saw the gift your husband is giving you later today,” Lilly confided in a lower voice, “and it is expensive. He must really like you.
” “How expensive is it?” Kitty asked. “I think someone could buy a townhouse with it,” Lilly replied. Kitty’s eyes grew wide. “That much?” Then she shook her head. “I don’t believe it.” “You should have joined me and Roger when he showed it to us,” Lilly said. “Emilia can show it to me after she gets it,” Kitty replied. “I don’t think she’d dare leave the home in it,” Lilly said. “Why? Is it that awful?” Emilia asked in dread. “On the contrary,” Lilly began.
“It’s gorgeous. But it’s so expensive. It’s not something a lady flaunts around town.” “Then I’ll come over to see it in the future,” Kitty said. Lilly thought over her friend’s comment and nodded. “I’ll come with you. I want to try it on. I’ll never get another opportunity to wear something that expensive.” The room grew quiet. Emilia turned her attention to the doorway and saw that the vicar had arrived.
So much for Emilia’s hope that the vicar would be unable to come here today. There was no delaying the wedding now. Not when the vicar was here. The vicar spoke to Benjamin, and he scanned the room. She inwardly groaned. They were looking for her. She edged closer to one of her aunts, but her mother swooped in and hurled her toward doom. There was no getting out of the marriage. No matter how much she wished it, finding a method of escape wasn’t going to happen. Benjamin hadn’t gotten ill.
She hadn’t suffered an unexpected calamity. The vicar hadn’t been detained. But even in light of how everything was going along perfectly, she couldn’t help but wish that something—like a thunderbolt—might rip the room apart and whisk her away. Unfortunately, it was a nice day out. A thunderbolt wasn’t going to come and save her. Her mother practically shoved her at Benjamin. “There she is!” Benjamin told the vicar. To her, he said, “You are the most beautiful lady I’ve ever seen. I’m a very fortunate gentleman.” “She considers herself to be fortunate, too,” her mother replied for her.
Emilia touched her forehead. Was it her imagination, or was she getting dizzy? Benjamin reached out and steadied her. At once, her skin recoiled in protest without her intending it to. It couldn’t be helped. She had the hardest time being still whenever he touched her, which, thankfully, hadn’t been much up to now. So as not to seem rude, she forced a smile and said, “I’m fine. It’s just warm in here.” “There are a lot of people in this room,” Benjamin replied then laughed. She glanced away as he snorted. Just how was she supposed to get through the wedding? Never mind the wedding.
How was she supposed to get through the rest of her life? Once she managed to steady her footing, she muttered a quick thanks to Benjamin and moved her arm so that he was no longer touching it. She shifted her head so that she didn’t have to see him. Instead, her focus went to the vicar. She would have glanced at her mother who insisted on being close to her, but her mother would only give her an excited smile. She supposed she could search for her friends, but with the room so crowded, who knew if she’d find them? It was best to focus on the vicar, even if he was going to seal her fate. You can’t think of it that way, Emilia. You need to think of the ways you’ll dissuade Benjamin from wanting to be with you. Your goal is to have your own townhouse. As long as you can live apart from him, this marriage will be bearable. The thought calmed her nerves, and she was able to concentrate on what the vicar was saying.
The actual ceremony was beautiful, she supposed. If this was a wedding she wanted, she would have enjoyed every word of it. Surely, everyone else in the room enjoyed it. If she didn’t care about her parents, she would have said no when it was time for her to vow to be faithful to Benjamin for the rest of her life. She would have said no and then ran out of the townhouse, ignoring everyone as they cried out for her to come back. As the vicar talked, the fantasy of running off played out in her mind. The more it played out, the more it was tempting to give in to it. But, in the end, she did what was expected and made her vows. She didn’t have it in her to disappoint everyone, especially not her parents. They’d been good to her.
Unlike some parents who didn’t want to be involved in their children’s lives, they had doted on her. They had taken her with them when they traveled, and they were more inclined to spend an evening eating dinner and playing games with her instead of entertaining guests or going to dinner parties. They had never refused her anything. So when her father announced the marriage he had arranged for her, she hadn’t had the heart to protest. It didn’t seem fair to say no when they had done so much for her. She’d seen daughters who had caused grief to their parents over the years, and she was determined she wouldn’t do the same to them. The only recourse she had was for Benjamin to make the suggestion that the two of them have a marriage where they didn’t have to be together. Because, if she couldn’t do that, she didn’t know what she was going to do.