How to Lose a Bride in One Night(Forgotten Princesses)

By: Sophie Jordan

Dedication

For Shana Galen,

who helped plant the seed for this story.

Who knew a book of folk tales would be so inspiring?

Chapter One

It wasn’t every day a woman lost her virginity.

This was the only justification Annalise could give herself for the way her hands trembled. Ordinary wedding day nerves and nothing more. Any bride would suffer it. Especially a bride like her. Plain. Crippled. Muddied lineage.

A little over a year ago she could barely afford a new pair of winter boots. By all accounts, a day such as this should never have occurred. And yet here she stood in a lavish gown of gold charmeuse trimmed in the finest Brussels lace, her hair swept up in emerald-studded combs. She had certainly never allowed herself the dream of a happily ever after such as this. Not before her father had found her, claimed her, and insisted she deserved only the finest things in life—namely her own knight in shining armor.

She buried her gloved hands into the voluminous skirts of her bridal gown as she crossed the vast expanse of lawn and reminded herself that she deserved happiness as much as the next girl.

It had showered earlier in the day, leaving the grass damp and yielding beneath her feet. Her jewel-studded slippers were soon soaked, the cold wetness seeping into her stockings and numbing her toes. Her husband walked a few feet in front of her, an assortment of young bucks on either side of him, all decked out in a vivid assortment of cravats and jackets, their boots polished to a high gleam. His closest friends, all young men from the finest families, garbed in finery the likes of which she had never touched as a seamstress’s apprentice a mere year ago.

The irony was not lost on her. Peerage such as these had not even seen fit to grace the confines of Madame Brouchard’s humble shop, and yet here she was. Among them.

One of them.

Her gaze fixed on her husband’s back. As though sensing her stare, he looked over his shoulder at her. A slow smile curved his lips, and her heart tripped as it always did when he looked at her.

Husband. The word reverberated through her mind before sinking like a stone in her stomach, where it sat uncomfortably alongside the kippers and champagne from their wedding feast. Her thumb rolled against the band on her ring finger. She glanced down at the giant yellow diamond in disbelief. It was an enormous monstrosity that had been in the Bloodsworth family for generations. And now it was hers. She was a bona fide duchess. Married to a duke. And not just any duke. A young handsome man only seventh in line from the Crown.

He looked over his shoulder at her again and winked, grinning that endearing smile that had charmed her from their very first meeting. And he was besotted with her, too. Unbelievable but true. Her cheeks heated and she was certain she was as red-faced as any schoolgirl ensnared in the gaze of a member of the opposite gender.

Really, she was no callow maid. She had seen much of the world before Jack plucked her from obscurity. She should comport herself better. Especially now. As a duchess ought to.

A glance behind her revealed the massive stone-faced edifice of the new home she would now reign over. Dozens of windows lined the five-storied mausoleum, all dark eyes staring out at her in the fading day. The family seat of the Duke of Bloodsworth. And the Duchess of Bloodsworth—her.

Family and friends surrounded her as they made their way to the dock. Even that structure was bedecked with flowers and ribbons for the happy occasion. She glanced around her at the merry faces. Perhaps not friends, she amended. At least not hers. Lord Bloodsworth was exceedingly popular. The same could not be said for Annalise.

Her year in London had not afforded her many friendships. As the bastard daughter of Jack Hadley, her father’s deep pockets might have won her entry into the finest ballrooms, but it did not win her esteem within the ton.

Once it became clear she had gained the young duke’s favor, the ladies were quick to cast her withering looks. One such lady glared at her now. The beautiful Lady Joanna. A true English rose with her golden hair and sea-blue eyes. The duke had been paying her suit when he met Annalise. Everyone had been convinced he would offer for her. When Annalise had dared to ask him why he chose her over Joanna, his reply only deepened her regard for him.

You, Annalise, are a rare gem. I could not stomach being wed to a female who cannot engage me in discourse. It is my greatest fortune that I can see you better than these other fools.

“Nervous?” Marguerite, one of her half sisters, fell into step beside her. Her skirts swished softly on the night, mingling with the hum of conversation and soft laughter surrounding them.

Annalise tore her gaze from the sour-faced Joanna and offered a smile that belied the tremor in her voice. “Not at all.”

“It’s fine, you know,” Grier added from her other side. “If you are.”

Of her three half sisters, Annalise knew Grier the least. She’d only just arrived from Maldania a fortnight ago in order to meet Annalise and attend her wedding. The shock of marrying a duke was nearly as astonishing as learning that her half sister was a princess.

Until a year ago, Annalise had been an orphan, inhabiting a rented room in Yorkshire with two other shop girls employed by Madame Brouchard. Jack Hadley’s man had found her. Evidently, Annalise’s mother, dead these last six years, had once been Jack’s paramour, and Annalise was in fact the bastard daughter of one the wealthiest men in England. All her life, she knew nothing of her father. Her mother never spoke of him and only scowled when Annalise mentioned him.

It was a fairy tale come true. Her father riding in on his white horse to save her from a life of drudgery. And the fairy tale only continued once she reached London and met the duke. After a whirlwind courtship, he’d proposed. It didn’t matter to him that she was illegitimate. Or a cripple. Or plain as a wool sock.

Oh, she was no fool. She knew her dowry played a significant part in his interest, but he had assured her that he’d come to care for her as well—that they would have a marriage in the truest sense. That they had found love together. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach.

“I am a bit nervous,” she admitted, wobbling when the foot of her lame leg hit a patch of uneven ground. Grier’s arm tightened around her, stopping her from falling. It was a nuisance, but she had grown accustomed to this limitation of her body. She’d lived with the disability long enough. At fourteen she fell from a tree and broke her leg. Unfortunately, her limb never healed properly.

“Very normal,” Marguerite asserted. “But anyone can see your handsome duke is clearly besotted with you. I’m certain he’ll be a most solicitous husband.”

Grier nodded. “For certain. Do you not agree, Cleo? You are the newlywed among us, after all.”

Annalise glanced at her other sister—the first she had met upon moving to London. Cleo walked beside Grier, her lips pressed into a straight line that was unlike her usual smiling self. Especially since she’d married her Scotsman. She was rarely without smiles now. Only today she had been oddly solemn. All throughout the wedding ceremony and during brunch, she sat in pensive silence, even as her husband offered up a congratulatory toast.

“Cleo,” Grier prodded.

Cleo blinked as if her thoughts were somewhere else. “Of course. I’m certain His Grace will be most gentle and understanding with you.”

Grier shook her head and looked back at Annalise. “It will be lovely.”

“Have more champagne,” Marguerite suggested. “that shall relax your nerves.”

Grier nodded in agreement.

Cleo continued to stare ahead. Almost as though she was attending a funeral and not a wedding.

They reached the dock and the chatter grew to a surge all around them. The wedding barge swayed softly on the current. Bloodsworth approached her and claimed her hand. Richard. After he had proposed, he insisted she call him by his Christian name, but it still felt strange. She wondered when it would become natural. When would she think of him as Richard and not Bloodsworth or simply the duke?

Bringing her hand to his lips, he pressed a moist kiss to her knuckles, his smiling gaze brushing over her briefly before addressing the wedding party.

“Thank you all for your delightful company on this most glorious of occasions.” His free hand moved naturally, gracefully, as he spoke.

She’d noticed that about him right away—his inherent grace, the smooth elegance of his hands. Not like her own—thankfully snug within a pair of gloves so he couldn’t feel the rough, chapped palms, testament to her life of toil.

Applause broke out, perhaps none louder than Jack. Her father had finally gotten his wish. His daughter had married a duke—about as close to a British prince as he would ever get. Bloodsworth might not be an actual prince like Grier’s husband, but he was British-born and close enough. Jack could hope for no better. Certainly she had never hoped for as much. It still felt a bit unreal, like something that was happening to someone else.

Annalise blinked, realizing Bloodsworth was still talking and he must have uttered something amusing because everyone laughed. The ladies tittered behind their artful fans and gloved hands. He winked down at Annalise. Her heart pounded as wildly as a snared rabbit as he leaned down to press a swift kiss to her lips. It was only their second kiss, the first having been less than five hours ago in the Bloodsworth family chapel.

Heat crept up her checks at the hoots of approval from the gentlemen. The ladies showed more restraint, giggling softly.

“Come, Your Grace.” He gave her fingers a comforting squeeze. She started. If he wasn’t looking at her she wouldn’t know he was addressing her. Would she ever become accustomed to it? “Ready to begin our new life?”

Our new life. She smiled, reveling in the sound of that. She finally had a future. And someone to share it with. That was all she had ever wanted. Acceptance. Belonging. Love.

“Yes, Your Grace,” she murmured.

Nodding in approval, he led her toward the edge of the dock where a ramp extended from the grassy knoll up to the barge. She was too busy studying his face, caught up in the remarkable fact that he was her husband. That she was his and he was hers. She did not lift her lame leg high enough. It caught on the edge of the ramp and she went tumbling. Her right knee hit the wood before he managed to get his arms around her and halt her descent. Sharp pain shot up her leg.

“I—I am so sorry,” she stammered, brushing away the multitude of hands that were suddenly there. Aside of her own husband, her sisters’ husbands were there to assist her . . . making her feel even a greater fool. Oh, they meant well, but the pity on their faces only reminded her of the feelings of inadequacy she had harbored all her life. Ever since she took that fateful fall.

“I’m fine,” she insisted, face flaming, waving their hands away while still clinging to Bloodsworth. She sent him a small, embarrassed smile.

“Come.” He patted her hand reassuringly where it rested on his arm.

She faced forward and tried to calm the hammering of her pulse. Even worse than the hammering pulse at her neck was the trembling that coursed through her. Wedding night nerves. Perfectly normal, according to her sisters.

Only this trembling was the result of something else. Her stomach tightened and knotted.

In her mind, she saw it again—the look of contempt that had crossed her husband’s face when she stumbled. For a fraction of a moment the scornful expression was there. Just a flash, but she saw it nonetheless. The expression was not new. Others had looked at her with disgust in her life.

Just never him.

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