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Authors: Celeste Bradley

I Thee Wed

BOOK: I Thee Wed
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PRAISE FOR THE WICKED WORTHINGTONS SERIES

“A charming and very romantic story with lots of laughs along the way. The ending puts a perfect cap on the story. I look forward to reading more books in this series to see what happens to some of my favorite supporting characters.”

—Fresh Fiction

“Ah, l'amour. I adored this story and the wonderful hero and heroine, who shed all their inhibitions and fears in order to go on the most powerful journey they ever embarked on . . . falling in love.”

—Smexy Books

“An exciting and sweet historical love story. It has everything that I look for in a good fairy-tale retelling while also tying back to Bradley's earlier books. I am really excited to see more of this series, particularly because of the out-of-control but still entertaining Worthington family.”

—Feminist Fairy Tale Reviews

“A laugh-out-loud funny novel from Celeste Bradley, the third in the Wicked Worthingtons series. Lighthearted but with a few profound moments, it is filled with deception, misunderstanding, exaggeration, cross-dressing, and mistaken identity.”

—Harlequin Junkie

The Wicked Worthingtons Series

WITH THIS RING

AND THEN COMES MARRIAGE

WHEN SHE SAID I DO

SIGNET SELECT

Published by New American Library,

an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of New American Library.

Copyright © Celeste Bradley, 2016

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

Signet Select and the Signet Select colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about Penguin Random House, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN 9780698197824

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

This book is dedicated to my dear friend and partner in crime, Susan Donovan. Welcome
home!

Acknowledgments

I could not have completed this book without the help of Darbi Gill and Susan Donovan.

Thanks must also go to the Geek God, who is not only smart and funny but cooks like a five-star chef! I would live on scrambled eggs it if weren't for him.

Without the love and support (and food!) of my friends and family, I would be a useless pile of goo on the floor. I love you
all.

Prologue

I
N a large, previously luxurious but now-shabby house in London lived the spirited Worthington clan. More concerned with creativity and self-expression (and yes, the occasional victimless crime!) than with the opinions of Society, the Worthingtons lived in complete disregard of the rules of the land and the expectations of their fellow members of the aristocracy.

While their mysteriously high connections made them difficult to shun entirely, their irreverent opinions and outlandish actions alarmed and fascinated the upper crust of London Society. The dashing Worthington brothers and their stunning sisters were not the sort of company one hoped to keep—yet how could one bear to exclude them entirely from one's social agenda when they were just so bloody intriguing?

The eldest sister, Calliope Worthington, found herself compromised into marriage by a man so deeply in the shadows that Callie never saw him coming—which might be why she was caught pawing through his jewels.

The notorious Worthington twin brothers, Castor and
Pollux, also known as the Double Devils, kept Society's jaded wives and wicked widows sighing with satisfaction until the day the two brothers met shy widow Miranda Talbot. They both fell hard, and for the first time in their partners-in-crime existence, they had a falling-out.

With the Worthington name becoming more and more synonymous with scandal, and with the family coffers becoming ever emptier, family beauty Elektra formed a plan to save them all. Is it still kidnapping if one plans to marry the man in the end? Of course, if the Worthingtons hadn't had bad luck, they would have had no luck at all. When Elektra finally got her hands on a duke's heir, she discovered that she'd captured his sarcastic manservant in his place!

Which brings us to the present. Three Worthingtons married off, five to go—brilliant Orion, heartbroken Pollux, war-torn Lysander, steadfast Daedalus, and frighteningly precocious Atalanta. If we were to consider their long-lost cousin, Bliss, the total would rise to six.

It is bound to happen, isn't it, when untamed hearts fly free?

Another day, another Wicked Worthington in love . . .

Chapter 1

LONDON, ENGLAND
1818

“A
RE ye sure that's all o' your luggage, sir?”

Orion Worthington, the future preeminent biologist in all of England, had never concerned himself much with material possessions. However, as he looked down at the sum total of his belongings resting in the entry hall of Worthington House, it occurred to him that perhaps he had rather little to show for his nearly thirty years of existence.

Of course, he hadn't packed many books, because his destination held a fully stocked library. And he hadn't packed any specimens, or his scientific equipment, or really anything from his study-laboratory-bedchamber except for several volumes of his notes, for Blayne House contained one of the finest laboratories in London. If he had brought all the notes from all his studies, perhaps then his pile of luggage would have filled the foyer. As it was, his few items of good clothing, a small selection of his collections he'd wished to have with him, and perhaps three or four tools from the laboratory fit into a large trunk, a medium-sized box, and a small valise.

What he left behind was far larger and far weightier. The
past fairly bowed his shoulders with the burden of Worthington House itself, and every Worthington still within it.

His family was disorganized, chaotic, and unpredictable. Worthington House shook with noise and theatrics all hours of the day and night. If Orion had not forced himself to be highly disciplined, to disassociate himself from the emotion-steeped chaos, to barricade himself behind the comfortingly solid walls of logic and reason, he doubted he would have finished a single experiment the past few years.

That would end now. His mind fairly itched to play freely in the well-stocked, well-ordered, expensively equipped facility of Sir Geoffrey Blayne, a renowned chemist, biologist, and widely published innovator who had been knighted for his discovery of manufacturing applications for rubber. Of course, as Sir Geoffrey's new assistant, he would be expected to pursue Sir Geoffrey's scientific goals as well as his own. No matter. Orion was interested in many things, and the search for a method to isolate rare compounds found in plants would do for now.

Orion didn't see any point in hiding his own ambitions. If he helped Sir Geoffrey, Sir Geoffrey would help him. While Orion's past work had earned him some grudging interest and admiration from scientific circles, he could never hope to be included in the highest and most exclusive order in the land, the Royal Fraternity of Life Sciences. That seat was reserved for those who not only served brilliantly in their fields of work, but maintained a most respectable and serious existence outside the lab. There was no room in the Fraternity for nonsense and notoriety.

Which meant that Orion was automatically excluded on the basis of being “one of those Worthingtons”—unless he could prove his merit to Sir Geoffrey, gain the man's sponsorship, and move out of the shadow of his outrageous family.

As much as Orion loved his family, for some time now he
had longed for the peace in which to truly work, to study, and to discover the secrets of the scientific world.

Peace in Worthington House was rather hard to come by.

Even as that thought crossed his mind, a crash came from somewhere within the upper story of the house. It was a thumping, tumbling sort of crash, not a shattering, incendiary sort of crash, so Orion saw no need to rush to the source to discover what had fallen.

Gravity was not a friend to the Worthington clan. Worthingtons tended to pile things up. Gravity tended to pull them back down. Looking up the staircase from his position in the entry hall, Orion saw his father, Archimedes Worthington, wild haired and disheveled, rush past at the top of the stairs, followed by his mother, Iris, her trailing lace sleeves fluttering like wings behind her.

It was good to see that his aging parents were still so spry. Furthermore, the house itself wasn't nearly as dangerous as it had once been. Castor's new bride, Miranda, had worked diligently to bring order to the chaos, until her advancing pregnancy had recently begun to sap her energy.

Orion had been mildly interested in monitoring Miranda's pregnancy. She'd been willing, but his brother Castor had threatened to take an ax to Orion's Cabinet of Curiosities the next time he came at Miranda with a measuring tape and a list of questions regarding her current state of nausea.

Cas had always been quite illogical on the topic of his lovely bride. The turmoil of their romance had already driven one brother from Worthington House. Castor's twin, Pollux, had packed up and carried his broken heart away when Miranda had made her choice.

Now, however, even Miranda could not keep the infamous Worthington power of deterioration at bay. Inertia, a close mate of gravity, had waited diligently in the wings for Miranda to falter in her efforts. A neat pile of things left unattended would eventually slither into a heap and remain there
to gather dust. A doorjamb would stick in damp winter weather, and rather than repairing it, the family would simply leave items that belonged in that room outside the door until the entire opening was quite blocked off.

Orion couldn't remember matters ever being otherwise.

Now that Orion's eldest sister, Calliope, and his middle sister, Elektra, had left the house to marry and have homes of their own, poor weary Miranda had been tasked with the job of bringing cultivation and refinement to the pagan masses that sat around the dinner table at Worthington House.

Other than Orion's parents, Iris and Archie, there were his eldest brother, Daedalus; then his next-younger brother, Lysander; Castor and his bride, Miranda; his cousin, Bliss; and, of course, not to be excluded—–

“Attie!”

Orion tilted his head to listen to his mother's call. It sounded as though thirteen-year-old Atalanta Worthington was merely missing rather than dangling dangerously from something high, or holding a flame rather too close to something explosive, or in some way endangering herself, others, or the structural integrity of the house.

Not an emergency, then.

Orion heard the pounding of heavy feet above him and made out the muffled voice of Castor, the answering monosyllabic grunt that was Lysander, and the concerned but not panicked voice lilting above them all that was most definitely gentle Miranda.

Well, then. Orion turned to the three extremely well-dressed footmen who stood awaiting his orders. In their red and black Blayne House livery, they stood out in the shabby hall of Worthington House like bright new tin soldiers would stand out in a dustbin. He nodded at them shortly and gestured to his pile of things. “If you please.”

With swift efficiency that Orion found incredibly refreshing, his things were gathered and toted out to the fine carriage
his new mentor had sent for him from the fine stables at Blayne House.

Orion paused just one moment longer. It was merely to straighten his waistcoat, to tug at his sleeves, and to snug his new hat down over his freshly trimmed hair. It was certainly in no way meant to delay his departure long enough for his family members to realize that they were about to miss it.

“Attie!” from upstairs.

“Attie, darling, are you under the pile of books? Knock twice for yes and once for no.”

“Iris!” That was Dade. They all called their parents by their given names, and often with just the exasperated tone Dade now used. “The only answer that matters is ‘yes'!”

Indeed.

Without expending another precious moment of his new life on his past one, Orion Worthington opened the door of Worthington House and left.

*   *   *

T
HE BURLY MAN
raised the gleaming knife high in the air. Francesca Penrose narrowed her eyes, refusing to back away. He was a bully and an incompetent, and she was damned if she would flinch now!

Whack!
The sound echoed through the kitchens of Blayne House.

The cleaver parted the pheasant's feathered head from its body easily, but because of the cook's fury, his cleaver bit far too deeply into the wooden carving block. He had to use both hands to pull it free, like a novice butcher. Francesca smirked.

She pointed at the carcass on the block. “Do you know how long that disgusting thing has been hanging in the cellar? You could have beheaded it with two fingers, it is so rotted!”

The cook sneered. “You know nothing of good English food! A bird must hang for days to get full flavor!”

She rolled her eyes. “All you need is a handful of spices and a cupful of good wine to bring out full flavor.”

“Bah!” The already florid cook reddened further. “You and your outlandish spices! You and your wine!” He snatched up the neck of the pheasant and shook its limp, stinking head in her face. “Sir likes good plain English cookery, he does!”

Francesca drew back from the revolting thing with a poorly concealed snarl of defeat. Cook had brought out his largest weapon. Fuming, she stepped back from the carving block.

His employer, Sir Geoffrey Blayne, did indeed prefer his food plain—plain and bland and tasteless! Francesca could barely stomach the unseasoned meats and unsweetened puddings that her uncle favored. In the six months she had resided in this English household, she had yet to actually taste anything!

At least she could salvage her sauce. She'd been cooking it for hours, reducing the precious first
pomodori
of late spring down to a rich tomato paste, redolent of oregano and basil grown from the seeds she'd brought tied into small silk pouches, pungent with the garlic she'd packed in her trunk instead of extra shoes. The aroma sang to her of summer in Italy.

A heavy splash sounded from the scullery. With a gasp, Francesca realized that the large copper stewpot she'd been using was missing from the stove. She picked up her skirts and ran like a hoyden, but of course she was too late.

The scullery smelled divine, due to the pool of thick, red, perfect Bolognese sauce now draining from the cold stone sink.

“Oh!”

In a fury, she turned on the cook, who was wiping out the copper pot. He sneered. “Using up me good cookery pot with your foreign nonsense!”

It wasn't ladylike. It wasn't appropriate. It wasn't even particularly effective at making her point.

But sticking her hand into the steaming remnants of her
beautiful sauce and then wiping it off in a great smear across the front of Cook's proudly pristine white coat was entirely satisfying.

Of course, it was a good thing she was fast on her feet.

She hitched up her skirts again with her clean hand and bolted from the kitchens. Even the furious cook couldn't catch her when she ran!

BOOK: I Thee Wed
13.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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