After the Wedding (The Worth Saga #2)

After the Wedding (The Worth Saga #2)

Courtney MIlan

Chapter One

Surrey County, England, 1867

Lady Camilla Worth had dreamed of marriage ever since she was twelve years of age and had been shunted off to the first family who reluctantly took her in.

Marriage? She had quickly learned not to be persnickety in her choice of fantasies. It didn’t have to be marriage.

When she was younger, she had used to imagine that one of the girls whose acquaintance she made—however briefly—would become her devoted friend, and they would swear a lifelong loyalty to one another. When she lived in Gloucester, she daydreamed about becoming a companion—no, an almost-granddaughter—to an elderly woman who lived three houses down.

“What would I ever do without you, Camilla?” old Mrs. Marsdell would say after Camilla learned to crochet properly and thereby wormed her way into her heart.

But old Mrs. Marsdell had never stopped frowning at Camilla suspiciously, no matter how well she crocheted, and Camilla had been packed up and sent off to another family before she had a chance to charm anyone.

One person was all she had ever wanted. One person, just one, who promised not to leave her. She didn’t need love. She didn’t need wealth. After packing her bags nine times and boarding trains, braving swaying carts—or even once, walking seven miles with her aging valise in tow—after nine separate residences, she would have settled for tolerance and a promise that she would at least have a place to stay.

Of course she also hoped for marriage as she grew older. Hope had always whispered sweet and promising words to her, and she always gave in.

She stopped think of marriage the way children did, dreaming of white knights and declarations of undying adoration and houses to look over and china and linen to purchase. She hoped for it in the most basic possible terms.

She wanted someone to choose her. She wanted not to be sent away again. Her husband didn’t need to love her; he just needed to say, “We should stay together for the rest of our lives.”

Hope was forever beckoning, and having allowed herself to hope for so little, she had believed that surely she could not be disappointed.

It just went to show: Fate had a sense of humor, and she was a capricious bitch.

For here Camilla stood on her wedding day—wedding night, really. Her gown was not white, as Victoria’s had been, and really shouldn’t be called a gown, as tiny down feathers still clung to it from when she’d aired the bedding. Her hands were so dry they caught on the rough fabric of her apron; her throat was parched. She had no trousseau packed in trunks, no idea what sort of home—if any—awaited her.

She was getting married and still her dream eluded her.

Her groom’s face was hidden in the shadows.

Late as this wedding was on this particular night, a few candles lit in the nave did more to cast shadows than shed illumination. He adjusted his cuffs. The linen fabric gleamed white against the brown of his skin, and seemed whiter still when he folded his arms in disapproval. She couldn’t see his full expression in the darkness, but his eyebrows made grim slashes of unhappy resignation.

It might have been romantic—for versions of romantic that conflated foolhardy with fun—to marry a man she had known for scarcely three days.

What Camilla knew of her groom was not terrible. He’d been kind to her. He had made her laugh. He had even—once—touched her arm and made her heart flutter.

It might have been romantic, but for one not-so-little thing.

“Adrian Hunter,” Bishop Lassiter was saying. “Do you take Camilla Winters to be your wife? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and protect her, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?”

She would have overlooked the lack of a gown, a trousseau, almost anything. God knew she had given up hope of such luxury. She would have forgiven anything except…

“No,” said her groom.

Anything except this: Just like everyone else in the world, her intended didn’t want her.

The moment felt like a distant dream. It was happening to someone else, someone very, very far away, someone standing in Camilla’s body and feeling Camilla’s feelings.

Behind Mr. Hunter, Rector Miles lifted the pistol. He didn’t quite aim it at her reluctant groom; he held it askew, angled in the vague direction of the man in a way that managed to be a threat without quite amounting to a promise. His hands gleamed white on the barrel; the flickering light made his fingers look like maggots writhing on the tarnished steel.

“That’s not the way this is done,” the rector said calmly. “You will agree and you will sign the book, damn your eyes.”

“I do this under duress.” His words sounded clipped and harsh. “I do not consent.”

Camilla couldn’t even call him her intended. Intent on both their parts was woefully lacking.

“I’m sorry,” Camilla whispered.

He didn’t hear her. Or maybe he heard and didn’t care to respond.

She wouldn’t have minded so much if he didn’t love her. She didn’t want white lace and wedding cake. But this wasn’t marriage, not really. She’d stayed with her uncle, then his cousins, then…well, she could recite the chain of people who had not wanted her around until her eyes stung and their faces blurred together.

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