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Release date: 2022-12-01 08:14:39 Author:CGfJERUm

He was average height, as fighting fit as years of military training could make him, and at seventeen old enough to marry, but not old enough to object to the marriage. He was still trying to get used to how much his world had changed. One moment the Shrecks were a deadly enemy to be fought on every occasion, and now here he was marrying one. But he was old enough to understand politics and know his duty. Especially since William and Gerald kept explaining it to him.

"Gerald," said William, "go get Robert a drink."

"But you said he shouldn't have any."

"Do try and at least look cheerful," said William to young Robert. "This is a wedding, after all, not the dentist's."

"You've been through the rehearsals," said William reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about. Just say the words, kiss the bride, and it'll be all over before you know it. Remember you have to lift the veil first, though. You'd be surprised how many people forget that. Sometimes I think we're getting a little too inbred. Brace up, not long to go now."

"Right," said Gerald. "At the dentist they take something out. Here you get to put something in. Get my drift, eh?"

She stalked off through the crowd, opening up a path for herself through sheer strength of personality. Her intended prey didn't even realize she was coming. The groom, Robert Campbell, was currently being supported and encouraged by his cousin Finlay's brothers, William and Gerald Campbell. Robert's father had been the Campbell's younger brother, who died three months previously in an accident the Family still didn't like to talk about. Mostly because it was so damn embarrassing. In order to keep Robert and his branch of the Family from becoming a laughingstock, a marriage had been hastily arranged that would serve the dual purpose of establishing Robert in society and help close the gap between the Campbells and the Shrecks. And of course, if something should go wrong, Robert was the most expendable member of the Family at present.

"Really," said Finlay. "I wouldn't know."

"Do try and at least look cheerful," said William to young Robert. "This is a wedding, after all, not the dentist's."

"But you said he shouldn't have any."

Adrienne rounded on him, and he fell back a step. "Did you want to say something, William? No? I didn't think so. You rarely do. Come along, Robert."

"That's all right," said Robert quickly. "A lot of people have already talked to me about that. Everyone's been very free with their advice. The only advice I could really use is how to get out of this."

"Damn right you wouldn't," said Adrienne. She looked back at Evangeline, who had to fight to keep from flinching. "It's time you were looking for a husband for yourself, my dear. Your father monopolizes your time far too much. Husbands can be boring, irksome and a general pain in the ass, but you have to have one if you want to get on in society. Personally, I wouldn't be without one, especially when it conies to picking up the tab. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really ought to have a word with our nervous bride and groom. Someone has to tell them the facts of life."

"Keep on encouraging him like that, and we'll have to drive him to the altar with whips," said a loud, carrying voice.

Gerald blinked a few times and then moved away in the general direction of the punchbowl, looking just a little confused. As always. William looked at Robert and shrugged.

And she took him by the hand in a viselike grip and led him off through the crowd. Robert went along with her. It seemed like the safest thing to do, if he ever wanted his hand back. They passed through the outskirts of the crowd, followed all the way by scandalized whispers, and then through a side door that led into a quiet sitting room decorated with antiques of considerable age and complete hideousness. And there, among the antiques like a single flower in a garden of weeds, sat Letitia Shreck, his bride-to-be. She jumped up the moment they entered, then stood quietly with eyes modestly downcast. She was sixteen years old and very pretty, with hints of a more mature beauty to come. The long white wedding gown made her look very fragile, like a delicate porcelain figure standing alone on a shelf. Robert looked at her and then at Adrienne with something like shock.

William smiled and shook his head. "Sorry, but that's not on. Duty calls. The Campbell sets the rules, and we have to follow them. If we didn't, where would we be? In complete bloody chaos, and all the other Families would charge in like sharks scenting blood in the water. Or do they taste it? I've never been sure. Anyway, whatever else we may be, we're Campbells first. Always. If it's any help, I felt much the same before my wedding, and I've been happy enough. I suppose."

"And then you can settle down to getting to know your bride," said Gerald. "Something to look forward to, eh? Eh?

Gerald, on the other hand, was the Family mistake. There's one like him in every Family. Too dumb to be entrusted with the important stuff, but too senior to be just ignored. The Family had been trying to find a place for him all his life, with absolutely no success. Gerald was tall, blond and handsome, and a complete bloody disaster no matter what he did, and everyone knew it but him. The Campbell himself had been heard to say, only partly in jest, that the best thing to do with Gerald would be to make a gift of him to a Family they were really mad at.

Adrienne rounded on him, and he fell back a step. "Did you want to say something, William? No? I didn't think so. You rarely do. Come along, Robert."

"Gerald," said William, "go get Robert a drink."

"That's all right," said Robert quickly. "A lot of people have already talked to me about that. Everyone's been very free with their advice. The only advice I could really use is how to get out of this."

"You've been through the rehearsals," said William reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about. Just say the words, kiss the bride, and it'll be all over before you know it. Remember you have to lift the veil first, though. You'd be surprised how many people forget that. Sometimes I think we're getting a little too inbred. Brace up, not long to go now."

And she took him by the hand in a viselike grip and led him off through the crowd. Robert went along with her. It seemed like the safest thing to do, if he ever wanted his hand back. They passed through the outskirts of the crowd, followed all the way by scandalized whispers, and then through a side door that led into a quiet sitting room decorated with antiques of considerable age and complete hideousness. And there, among the antiques like a single flower in a garden of weeds, sat Letitia Shreck, his bride-to-be. She jumped up the moment they entered, then stood quietly with eyes modestly downcast. She was sixteen years old and very pretty, with hints of a more mature beauty to come. The long white wedding gown made her look very fragile, like a delicate porcelain figure standing alone on a shelf. Robert looked at her and then at Adrienne with something like shock.

Gerald blinked a few times and then moved away in the general direction of the punchbowl, looking just a little confused. As always. William looked at Robert and shrugged.

"Really," said Finlay. "I wouldn't know."

"Right," said Gerald. "At the dentist they take something out. Here you get to put something in. Get my drift, eh?"

She stalked off through the crowd, opening up a path for herself through sheer strength of personality. Her intended prey didn't even realize she was coming. The groom, Robert Campbell, was currently being supported and encouraged by his cousin Finlay's brothers, William and Gerald Campbell. Robert's father had been the Campbell's younger brother, who died three months previously in an accident the Family still didn't like to talk about. Mostly because it was so damn embarrassing. In order to keep Robert and his branch of the Family from becoming a laughingstock, a marriage had been hastily arranged that would serve the dual purpose of establishing Robert in society and help close the gap between the Campbells and the Shrecks. And of course, if something should go wrong, Robert was the most expendable member of the Family at present.

And she took him by the hand in a viselike grip and led him off through the crowd. Robert went along with her. It seemed like the safest thing to do, if he ever wanted his hand back. They passed through the outskirts of the crowd, followed all the way by scandalized whispers, and then through a side door that led into a quiet sitting room decorated with antiques of considerable age and complete hideousness. And there, among the antiques like a single flower in a garden of weeds, sat Letitia Shreck, his bride-to-be. She jumped up the moment they entered, then stood quietly with eyes modestly downcast. She was sixteen years old and very pretty, with hints of a more mature beauty to come. The long white wedding gown made her look very fragile, like a delicate porcelain figure standing alone on a shelf. Robert looked at her and then at Adrienne with something like shock.

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