Dominique stood very still, staring up into the shocked face of her new husband. It was all there, everything she had expected: horror, revulsion, disgust. She had known how it must seem to him once the trick was revealed. He pushed his fingers through his auburn hair, disturbing the carefully arranged disorder, while behind them Max’s cruel laugh rang out.
‘Caught you there, Albury!’
‘But I don’t understand. Your cousin—’
‘This my cousin.’
Max chortled and Dominique’s heart went out to the man standing before her. He looked stunned.
As well he might. Instead of the beautiful, voluptuous blonde he had courted for the past two months he was married to a diminutive brunette whom he had never seen before in his life.
‘Is something amiss?’ The vicar looked from one to the other before directing a vaguely worried look towards Max. ‘Lord Martlesham?’
‘No, no, nothing’s wrong,’ declared Max, still chuckling. ‘The groom is struck dumb by the enormity of the occasion, that’s all.’ He began shepherding the guests away from the church. ‘Come along, everyone, the carriages are waiting!’
‘Just a moment!’ The man beside her did not move, except to shake her hand from his arm. ‘Where is Dominique?’
‘Lord, Albury, have you not understood it yet? You have married her!’ Max gave him a push. ‘Come along, man, don’t stand there gawping. Let us return to the Abbey.’
‘Please.’ Dominique forced her vocal chords to work. ‘Come back to the Abbey and all this can be explained.’
Frowning, he grabbed her arm and set off for the gate with Dominique almost running to keep up with him. As was usual with weddings, the path was lined with well-wishers who showered them with rice as they hurried to the carriage. It was decorated with ribbons for the occasion, the Martlesham coat of arms displayed prominently on the door. Without ceremony her escort bundled Dominique into the carriage, climbed in after her and the door was slammed upon them. Max’s grinning face appeared in the window.
‘Now then, Gideon, try to contain your lust until after the wedding breakfast. The journey from here to the Abbey ain’t long enough to tup a woman properly. I know, I’ve tried it!’
Dominique closed her eyes in mortification. The carriage began to move and the raucous laughter was left behind them.
‘So, this was one of Max’s little tricks.’
Dominique looked at Gideon. His voice was calm, but there was a dangerous glitter in his hazel eyes that made her think he might be about to commit murder. She swallowed.
‘And everyone at the Abbey was privy to the joke, except me.’
‘You and…my mother.’
‘Max told me she was too unwell to attend the ceremony.’
Dominique bowed her head.
‘She does not know. would never have agreed to such a scheme.’
‘I take it the female I knew as Dominique was hired for the part?’
‘An actress. Agnes Bennet.’
‘And a damned good one. She fooled me into thinking she was a lady. Whereas you—’ His lip curled. ‘You may be Max’s cousin, but no true lady would lend herself to this, this .’
His contempt flayed her. Given time, she could explain to him why she had agreed to Max’s outrageous scheme, but they had already arrived at the Abbey. She waited in silence for the carriage to stop and a liveried footman to leap forwards and open the door. Her companion jumped out first and with exaggerated courtesy put out his hand to her.
‘Well, madam, shall we go in to the wedding breakfast?’
Miserably, Dominique accompanied him into the house.
Lady Beneath the Veil, pub Harlequin.Mills & Boon, Feb 2014