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datatime: 2022-09-29 22:11:48 Author:AyhgYJQY

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.

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 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.

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."

"Hello, Robert. I'm Adrienne, Finlay's wife. I'm the one you've probably been warned about, and you should believe every word. Mostly they try and keep me away from public functions on the grounds I embarrass them. Personally, I've never been embarrassed in my life. Fortunately for you, they couldn't keep me out of a wedding this important. You come with me, dear. There's someone I want you to meet."

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

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.

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

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

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

"Then go and get me a drink."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert smiled politely, and just a little desperately. He had the look of a small animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. He pulled at his frock coat to straighten it and fiddled with his cravat. His dresser had assured him he looked both dignified and fashionable, but he wasn't sure of either. He felt very much he could have used a stiff drink or several, but William wouldn't let him. Valentine had offered to slip him a little something, but he'd declined. He didn't think he was ready to deal with one of Valentine's little somethings. Probably no one but Valentine was.

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

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.

"Don't mind your Uncle Gerald, boy. He means well, but he should have been dropped on his head as a baby. It's not entirely his fault that he's about as much use as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Is there... anything you want to ask me before the ceremony? I mean, I am a married man..."

"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."

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.

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

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