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.”He went straight to her, embracing her.“You do not need to apologize.Montgomery was not a gentleman, and I should have chased him away from the start.I will always take care of you, Elysse,” Devlin said.“You will always be my little girl, and you are not reckless or silly.”She trembled.“You cannot blame yourself.”“I am your father.It is my duty to look after you.”“This is my fault, Father, and I am intelligent enough to realize it.You must be so terribly disappointed in me.”“I could never be disappointed in you.”Feeling even more guilt, she finally asked, “Is Alexi all right?”He studied her.“He is upset.Very much so.I think you know as well as we all do that he would never tolerate any ill will toward you.I think he remains in some shock.But he will get through this.He is a strong young man, and a de Warenne.”“Is he at home?”“I assume so.That is where Jack and I left him this morning at dawn.”She hesitated.“Does he blame me for what happened?”“I believe he blames himself,” Devlin answered.“Father, it was my fault.”“It was not your fault,” Devlin said calmly.“And at this point, what is done is done.It is useless to lay blame.The two of you need to move on.”Elysse was silent, certain she would blame herself until the day she died.But she couldn’t bear Alexi blaming himself.“We have one last obstacle to overcome,” Devlin said carefully.“And that is the matter of your marriage.”She started.“What are you talking about?”“I know Mrs.Carrie and Lady O’Dell saw you in your disheveled state last night.I wish to quell the gossip immediately.Marriage is the perfect way to do so.”Alarm began.“I can’t discuss marriage—today of all days!” Did her father mean to buy her a husband?“Alexi will marry you, Elysse, if you will have him.”She went still.Had she just heard Devlin correctly? “Alexi will marry me?”“Mrs.Carrie and Lady O’Dell saw you in the hallway with Alexi, did they not?” Her eyes widened, as she began to realize the tangent her father was on.Her heart raced.“They probably assumed he is your lover.If you will marry him, no one will ever care that you were in his arms last night, or that the moment got out of hand.”She sank into the closest chair.“Alexi said he will marry me? But…are you certain? He doesn’t want to marry at all.”“That isn’t true.He wants to end any gossip as much as I do.He has said he will marry you,” Devlin stated firmly.The room seemed to be whirling about her.She clung to the pale, bone-colored arms of the chair.Alexi had protected her from William Montgomery earlier, and now he had stepped forward to do so again.But hadn’t he promised her when they were children, so long ago, that he would always protect her?He was the most heroic man she had ever met.“He wants to marry me?” she heard herself ask, her tone high and uncertain.“Since when does Alexi de Warenne do anything he does not wish to do?” Virginia murmured.“I cannot say I am surprised,” Devlin said.“Although I did not expect this match for another five years or so.You are certainly ready for marriage, but twenty-one-year-old males are terribly immature—and he is a seafaring man, as well.”She barely heard.She had to pinch her thighs to make certain she wasn’t dreaming.A slow thrill unfurled, like a topsail in a gentle breeze.Alexi wanted to marry her.The nightmare began to recede.Together, they would manage to forget.Together, they would heal.She was certain.“Elysse?” Virginia cut into her shock.“Your father and I have always wanted a love match for you.We have wondered if that match might not be Alexi—the two of you have flirted for years.He is a good man.He is your friend.He is fond of you and you are fond of him.And now, in a crisis, he has stepped forward.If you will accept him—happily—we both approve.”“And if you have doubts, I will do my best to eradicate the gossip,” Devlin added.On the heels of horror, there was the beginning of joy.It was delicate and fragile, like a spring bloom in winter.Elysse somehow stood up, the room still tilting, but slowly, like a carousel.And finally, a smile began.“Of course I will marry Alexi.”“ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” Devlin asked, tucking her arm even more firmly in his.Elysse barely heard him.She could scarcely breathe.The bones of her white lace corset were digging into her ribs.She looked up at her father, who was handsome and elegant in his tailcoat.She clutched her bridal bouquet even more tightly.“Every bride has nerves,” he told her, patting her white-gloved hand.She inhaled, somehow nodding.This was her wedding day.She felt as if she had been waiting for this moment her entire life.Finally, the tragedy that had brought her to this moment no longer mattered—finally, for the first time in two weeks, it was forgotten.Instead, she stared into the church, past the pews filled with her family and Alexi’s.Her heart beat wildly.Alexi stood at the end of the nave with his best man, Stephen Mowbray, the Duke of Clarewood.The Earl of Adare’s minister was beside them, as was her brother, Jack, and Ned de Warenne, the earl’s heir and oldest son.Facing the men were her mother and Ariella.Virginia was beaming and Ariella was gazing expectantly up the aisle.The music began, and every head in the church turned toward the doorway where she stood with her father.Alexi stared at her.He was devastatingly gorgeous in his tailcoat [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]