Published: December 1998
You’re invited to four unforgettable weddings-each with a scandal that would make a bride blush!
In this delightfully wicked collection, four bestselling authors depict weddings at their most scandalous-and tying the knot has never been so outrageous. Steamy, sensuous, and more delicious than a piece of wedding cake, Scandalous Weddings is the romantic event of the season!
Brenda Joyce brings us “In The Light of Day,” the tale of a young woman from a wealthy family who prefers to run away with the jewel thief plundering her family’s safe than to marry the immanently suitable man her parents have arranged for her. Pierce St. Clare finds the jewel of his heart in Annabelle Boothe, and she discovers that he’s the man for her.
“Scandalous Weddings entices the reader to join in the whirlwind courtships with a cup of hot tea and a few undisturbed hours!”
–Alison Trinkle, Amazon.com
“Delightful, funny, poignant and oh yes, scandalous…. Savor these wonderful tales of love found in the most unlikely places.”
New York City, 1903
“A lovely day fer a weddin’.”
The gleaming brand-new Packard purred as it idled in the circular, cobblestoned drive. Pierce St. Clare did not reply immediately, his gaze not on the small man beside him, who was driving the motorcar, but on the mansion facing them. Vast lawns and elm trees surrounded the four-story limestone house on this particularly glorious Sunday afternoon, and high wrought-iron gates barred the public from any access to it or the Fifth Avenue property it was on. Those iron gates were now wide open, as a few of the very last wedding guests continued to arrive in their handsome coaches and carriages, and were no cause for concern. But the trees disturbed him. They were very tall and level with the second story—they might interfere with his signal. “Keep your eyes open,” he finally said.
He stepped from the motorcar, a tall, lean, inherently elegant man, clad now like the two hundred other gentlemen present, in a black dinner jacket and matching trousers, a dress shirt and white bow tie, a white carnation pinned to one lapel. Dark hair swept across his brow, carelessly combed into place. His eyes were a brilliant blue. “I should be no more than twenty minutes. Look for my signal, Louie.” There was a warning in his tone.
The thin, middle-aged Louie, clad in tweeds, smiled at him from beneath his felt hat, revealing a silver front tooth. “Guvnor, a true piece o’ cake,” he said with a cocky wink.
Pierce eyed him then turned his attention upon the Boothe mansion. He strode briskly across the drive as Louie drove the Packard out of the way of the last few oncoming carriages. The invitation had suggested that one be prompt; the ceremony would start at precisely four P.M. Several couples were just entering the house as he fell into step behind them. The women were walking behind their escorts and had their heads together as they spoke in hushed tones, but he overheard their conversation anyway.
There was a queue, and it had stalled. Pierce stood very still, in spite of the fact that he was filled with restlessness and impatience.
“So fortunate,” the lady in low-cut pale blue silk was saying. “I cannot believe that poor, poor Annabel’s good fortune. I do mean, what an amazing turn of events! Who would have ever thought!”
The blond lady in silver chiffon agreed. “One would have never thought she’d land a husband. Good Lord, I mean, after all, she is twenty-three, is she not? Twenty-three with her two younger sisters already married for several years now—with little Elizabeth expecting! This is so fortunate for the so very unfortunate Annabel Boothe. I mean, Jane, I must admit, I truly thought she would remain a spinster for the rest of her days in spite of the Boothe fortune.”
“I thought so, too,” the brunette said. “After all, when one’s father cannot buy one a husband, why, there is truly no hope.”
“He must be smitten. Can you imagine? Why else would Harold Talbot marry her? He has his own fortune, you know.”
Pierce sighed, his gaze straying past the two women, hardly interested in the bride and her good—or bad—fortune. However, the Boothe fortune did interest him. George Boothe owned one of the most popular dry-goods emporiums in the northeast—if not in the entire country. G. T. Boothe’s was the most fashionable destination for those women venturing out upon the Ladies’ Mile. Recently, his net worth had surpassed that of John Wanamaker, his closest rival.
Pierce had already been a guest at the Boothes’ Thirty-third Street mansion, but he scanned the interior yet again. The foyer was huge and circular, the floor and pillars marble. Directly ahead, he could see most of the four hundred wedding guests finding their seats in the vast, domed ballroom where the ceremony was to take place. Overhead, a dozen huge crystal chandeliers hung. An altar had been set up at the very opposite end of the ballroom, framed with arches of pink and white roses and brilliantly lit up with hundreds of high, wide ivory tapers. Rows and rows of benches had been assembled to accommodate the guests, on either side of the long aisle upon which the bride would walk down. Perhaps fifty tall, wide ivory tapers on high pedestals graced either side of the aisle, interspersed with more floral arrangements. It was visually breathtaking, but Pierce remained oblivious. The ballroom interested him as much as the bride. But just outside of the ballroom, to his right, were the stairs.
It was a sweeping staircase of brass and cast iron.
The brunette, who was very attractive, was looking at him over her shoulder with a smile. Pierce realized she had caught him studying the house and he smiled back at her. She demurely lowered her eyes, but now the other woman turned to stare. Her cheeks became pink and she instantly faced forward, ducking her head toward her friend.
“Who is that?” she whispered, but he heard her anyway.
“Ssh. Not now. I do not know.” The brunette glanced quickly at him again.
This time, he bowed.
She flushed. Her wedding ring, the diamond at least eight full carats, glinted on her left hand. Purchased at Tiffany’s, it had cost an astonishing seventy-five thousand dollars.
And then the line moved forward, and George Boothe was greeting the two couples. Pierce remained relaxed.
Boothe saw him and smiled widely. “My dear Braxton,” he said, clasping his hand. “I am so pleased you could attend my daughter’s wedding after all.” He was in his late fifties, heavyset and jovial, with huge muttonchop whiskers.
Pierce smiled, a flash of dazzling white teeth, by now quite accustomed to the name that was not his. “George, how could I miss the happy event?” His British accent was pronounced and unmistakable.
Boothe stepped closer and lowered his voice. “I am extremely excited about the merger we discussed. I have scheduled a trip to Philly to look at your emporium next week and my bank has assured me, pending my inspection of the premises and your books, that there will be no problems at all. It looks as if we shall be moving forward far sooner than anticipated, my boy.” He beamed.
“I am very pleased, also,” Pierce said emphatically, the irony of the situation not lost upon him—poor Boothe expected to make another million or two when all was said and done, and he, Pierce St. Clare, knew not a whit about retail merchandising and hardly owned the emporium Boothe would soon be visiting. However, Pierce had no intention of being anywhere in the northeast by the time Boothe put two and two together and realized he had been taken, and royally. Pierce did smile at the irony of that.
He moved on, handing his hat and gloves to a waiting servant and pausing just inside the ballroom without taking a seat—so he could slip out as soon as possible.
He lingered until everyone was in the ballroom then stepped just past the threshold. When the foyer was empty, not a servant or guest in sight, he took the stairs two at a time to the second floor. No one saw him. He made sure of it.
He was sweating. One quick glance out of the window showed him that Louie might not see his signal, but there was a backup plan. He checked several doors until he came to the master bedroom, which was unlocked—not a good sign—and he quickly let himself in. The suite was an onslaught upon the senses—reds and golds competed with silks and damask and marble and wood. He knew where the safe was—and even if he hadn’t he would have been able to find it immediately, as the location was hardly original. The vault was behind the huge Tiepolo that was hanging on the crimson-flocked wall facing the draped, canopied bed.
He extracted a hearing trumpet from an interior pocket, slipped a ball of wax in his other ear, and got to work. Within sixty seconds he had opened the safe, feeling a surge of satisfaction as he did so. And then he stared.
It was empty.
Which explained why the bedroom had not been locked.
Pierce thought of Lucinda Boothe’s good friend Dariella, an extremely loquacious woman in bed, and he cursed. She claimed that Lucinda kept all of her jewels in the safe in her bedroom, and by damn, she had been wrong. For one moment, he felt like throttling the beautiful redhead for her misinformation—as guileless as it was.
But he had no time to lose. He checked his pocket watch. Eleven minutes had elapsed since he had left Louie outside. He slammed the safe closed, replaced the painting, and tucked his hearing trumpet in one of the many secret pockets that lined the interior of his dinner jacket. He stepped to the door, cracked it, and was reassured that no one was about. He hurried downstairs.
There was another possibility. In the foyer, he paused briefly to compose himself, glancing at the guests in the ballroom, all of whom were now attentively and restlessly awaiting the start of the wedding ceremony. A male servant suddenly entered the rotunda. But the man paid no attention to Pierce, disappearing down another hall with very brisk strides. Pierce turned and strode in the opposite direction. As he did so, he heard the organ in the ballroom begin to play. He was relieved, and he smiled.
Four hundred guests and the Boothe family would be very preoccupied for the next half an hour or so.
The very solid teakwood door to the library was closed. Only four nights ago he had been drinking a very fine and very old port wine within its confines, with George Boothe himself. The notes of the bridal march washing over him, Pierce tried the knob and found it locked. Instead of being dismayed, a thrill washed over him. He extracted a ring of skeleton keys from one of his pockets, trying several. The third let him in.
Pierce quickly closed the door behind him, his gaze slamming on the verdant John Constable landscape hanging over the fireplace. He smiled. And when he removed it from the wall, the dark metal vault stared back at him. Again, Boothe’s placement of his safes was hardly original.
In less than sixty seconds he had the vault open. His pulse surged when he saw the velvet boxes and pouches inside the dark interior. Quickly, he began dumping all of the contents out. There were rings and necklaces and earrings, a lifetime’s worth of jewelry. He sorted through quickly, looking for one piece in particular. And at last he found it. The pearl necklace. Pierce quickly inserted it into the specially sewn pocket that lined his dinner jacket.
He closed the safe, lifted the painting, which he did not pause to admire, and set it back upon its hooks. As he turned, he heard a noise, and realized that he had company.
And stared at the rotating brass knob on the library door. Someone was about to enter the room. Less than a second passed and Pierce moved, diving to the floor and scrambling over to the claw-footed green sofa, just as the door creaked open.
“Damn it,” a woman muttered very unhappily.
He relaxed very slightly—a woman would be easier to deal with than a man. His mind raced. His hiding place was a sham. He could not get under the sofa, the bottom was far too low, and while right now it served its purpose, because the couch was between him and the woman, it would become useless if the intruder did not stay on the other side of the room.
“Damn, damn, damn,” the woman moaned.