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Juliana St. John’s fiancé was an hour late to his own wedding. While Juliana sat waiting, resplendent in satin and yellow roses, various friends and family members were dispatched through rainy Edinburgh to find out what was the matter.
The matron of honor, Ainsley Mackenzie, tried to keep up Juliana’s spirits, as did Juliana’s stepmother, Gemma, in her own way. But Juliana knew in her heart that something was terribly wrong.
When Grant’s friends returned, embarrassed and empty-handed, and Ainsley asked her husband, a tall brute of a Scotsman, to go, the result was different.
Lord Cameron Mackenzie opened the vestry door wide enough to stick his head around it. “Ainsley,” he said, then shut the door again.
Ainsley pressed Juliana’s hands, which by now were like ice. “Never you mind, Juliana. I’ll discover what has happened.”
Juliana’s stepmother, only ten years older than Juliana herself, was angry. Gemma said nothing, but Juliana saw rage in every movement she made. Gemma had never liked Grant Barclay and liked Grant’s mother still less.
Ainsley returned in a short time. “Juliana,” she said, her voice gentle. She held out her hand. “Come with me.”
When a person spoke in that tone, terrible news was certain to follow. Juliana rose in a rustle of satin. Gemma tried to follow, but Ainsley held up her hand. “Juliana alone, I think.”
Gemma, of the volatile temper, started to protest, but Gemma was also intelligent. She gave Juliana a nod and squeezed her hand. “I will be here for you, dear.”
Juliana had a temper of her own, but as she stepped out into the gusty rain of the church’s courtyard, she felt nothing but a curious numbness. She’d been engaged to Grant for several years now. The wedding had always been so comfortably far away that it had come as something of a shock to finally reach the day. And now…
Was Grant ill? Dead?
Mist and light rain cloaked the city, obscuring the sky. Ainsley led Juliana in her finery out and through a tiny yard, mud soaking Juliana’s new white high-heeled boots.
They reached an arched breezeway, and Ainsley started down this, away from the main church. Thank heavens, because all the guests were in the church, waiting and watching, speculating about what had gone wrong.
Under an arcade, but still in the chill, Lord Cameron waited alone, a broad-shouldered giant of a man in a Mackenzie plaid kilt. When Ainsley and Juliana reached him, Cameron looked down at Juliana with flint-hard eyes. “I found him.”
Still Juliana felt nothing but numbness. None of this seemed real, not Cameron, not the lowering skies outside the church, not her wedding finery.
“Where is he?” Juliana asked.
Cameron gestured with the silver flask in his hand. “In a carriage behind the church. Do you want to speak to him?”
“Of course I want to speak to him. I am going to marry him…”
She noticed the look Ainsley and Cameron exchanged, caught the glimpse of anger in Ainsley’s eyes, the reflected anger in Cameron’s.
“What is it?” Juliana squeezed Ainsley’s hand. “Tell me before I go mad.”
Cameron answered before Ainsley could. “Barclay eloped,” he said, syllables blunt. “He’s married.”
The arches and the courtyard, solid Edinburgh stone, spun around and around her, but no, Juliana was standing upright, staring at Cameron Mackenzie, Ainsley’s warmth at her side.
“Married.” Juliana’s lips were stiff. “But he’s marrying me.”
She knew that the last thing in the world Lord Cameron Mackenzie had wanted to do this day was hunt down Juliana’s groom and then tell Juliana that the man had run off with another woman. But she kept staring at Cameron, as though if she looked at him hard enough, he’d change the story and tell her a different one.
“He married yesterday afternoon,” Cameron said. “To a woman who was teaching him the piano.”
This was mad. It had to be a joke. “Mrs. Mackinnon,” Juliana said without inflection. She remembered the woman with dark hair and plain dresses who had sometimes been at Grant’s mother’s when Juliana arrived. “She’s a widow.” A choked laugh escaped her lips. “Not anymore, I suppose.”
“I told him he needed to have the decency to tell you himself,” Cameron said in his voice like rough gravel. “So I brought him. Do you want to talk with him?”
“No,” Juliana said quickly. “No.” The world started spinning again.
Cameron shoved his flask into Juliana’s hand. “Get that inside you, lass. It will lessen the blow.”
A proper lady did not drink spirits, and Juliana had been raised to be so very proper. But the turn of events made this a highly un-proper occasion.
Juliana tipped back the flask and trickled a bit of burning Scots whiskey into her mouth. She coughed, swallowed, coughed again, and dabbed at her lips as Cameron rescued the flask.
Perhaps she should not have drunk it. What Cameron had told her was starting to seem real.
Two hundred people waited in the church for Juliana St. John and Grant Barclay to wed, two hundred people who would have to be told to go home. Two hundred gifts to be returned, two hundred apologies to be penned. And the newspapers would certainly enjoy themselves.
Juliana pressed her hands to her face. She’d never been in love with Grant, but she’d thought they’d at least formed a friendship, a mutual respect for each other. But even that…Grant hadn’t given her even that.
“What am I going to do?”
Cameron tucked the flask into his greatcoat. “We’ll take you home. I’ll have my carriage pull up in the passage at the end of this walk. None need to see you.”
They were kind, Ainsley and Cameron—they were being kind. Juliana didn’t want kindness. She wanted to kick and rage, not only at Grant, but at herself. She’d been so secure in her engagement, rather smug that she was in no danger of being left on the shelf. Not only that, she’d wanted the stability of a normal life, something she’d fought for all her life.
Her future had just crumbled to dust, her safe choice ripped from beneath her feet. Shock still rendered her numb, but she sensed regret coming hard on its heels.
Juliana rubbed her arms, suddenly chilled. “Not yet. Please, give me a moment. I need to be alone for just a moment.”