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"Then go and get yourself a bloody drink, and don't come back till you've drunk it"

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

"And who better than you?" murmured Finlay.

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

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

"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."

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."

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

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.

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.

"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."

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

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.

"Then go and get yourself a bloody drink, and don't come back till you've drunk it"

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

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."

"And who better than you?" murmured Finlay.

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

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."

William Campbell was tall, thin and intense, and the bookkeeper of the Family. It was a job that couldn't be trusted to an outsider, but which most members usually avoided like the plague, on the grounds it was far too much like hard work, and if they'd wanted to work they wouldn't have been born an aristocrat. Fortunately William found numbers both more interesting and easier to deal with than people, so he was perfectly suited to the job. He didn't get out much, but he meant well, and occasionally surprised people with his firm grasp of politics. He was a Campbell, after all.

"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."

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."

"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."

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."

"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."

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