A Study in Scandal (Scandalous)

By: Caroline Linden

“Not a bit. You look beautiful,” Benedict told her. “But not because of the dress.”

Samantha could only beam at him in helpless happiness. Gray had gone to see her brother as soon as he’d got the license, correctly guessing that Stratford would prevent her mother from attending. Lady Stratford had defied her husband enough to order Samantha’s belongings packed and sent to her, but Stratford had made her accompany him back to Richmond. Elizabeth was too far away, and if not for Benedict, Samantha would have arrived at her wedding alone.

Some day, somehow, Samantha hoped to rescue her mother. This moment would be utterly perfect if only Mama were here to share her happiness. She strongly suspected, though, that her mother had gone quietly to Stratford Court to keep the earl from disrupting the wedding. As always, Lady Stratford put her children above herself.

“Are you pleased, Ben?” she asked, taking his proffered arm and starting up the steps at his side. “Do you approve?”

“I approve of him. I can’t say it was the best idea to run away, but I am very pleased it’s worked out so happily for you.” He smiled ruefully. “May we all be so fortunate.”

She squeezed his arm in silent agreement. They had reached the vestibule, where Rowland waited.

“I thought I was to escort the bride,” he said jovially.

“I’ll take my sister down the aisle,” Benedict replied.

“Very good. I’ll inform the impatient bridegroom that you have arrived.” He glanced at the stunning pearl necklace Samantha wore, which he had bestowed on her the previous day. “They become you, my dear.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He opened his arms. “From today on, you may call me Papa—or any other nickname that takes your fancy.”

Samantha caught her brother’s shocked expression, but she stepped into the duke’s light embrace and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Papa.” She’d never called anyone that.

He opened the sanctuary doors, and Samantha saw Gray—her George—waiting at the end. His three brothers stood with him, and the duchess sat near the front. It was real. Her throat felt tight and her heart was full to bursting. In an hour she would no longer be a Lennox, Lord Stratford’s daughter, but Lady Samantha Churchill-Gray, wife of a painter with long hair and a ready laugh and the kindest heart she could imagine a man possessing. And he loved her, enough to take her with nothing. Stratford had revoked her dowry and was probably writing her out of his will at this moment.

Gray looked back and saw her. His head came up, and even from a distance she could see the wide grin on his face.

“Shall we go?” murmured Benedict. “Before he charges back here to fetch you himself?”

“Yes,” she said, smiling broadly, and walked forward to meet her love.

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