Two stories of unexpected love in the aristocracy: One marriage of convenience, turned horribly inconvenient, and one pair of childhood friends doomed to pine without end. Will this foursome of friends be able to untangle their tangled webs, and find a pair of happy endings?
Contains the stories:
The Arrangement: Duke Vincent, determined not to marry for love, weds Matsui Eiji, a beautiful widower, in a strictly-business marriage of convenience. But will they be able to keep their hands, and their hearts, to themselves?
The Wedding: Roger Millbourne has to face his feelings for his dearest friend, the marquess Edward Chesburn, when their mutual friend Vincent Pennsbury begs him to tell Edward he loves him. Vincent insists Edward loves Roger back, but Roger can’t be sure. Will he be brave enough to speak up, and will Edward be brave enough to accept Roger’s love?
EXCERPT FROM "The Arrangement"
Mother Abigail looked to Vincent. He fought off the sudden wave of nerves that hit him, and nodded. “Then follow me,” she said.
Roger and their mothers settled into the front row of seating, and Mother Abigail arranged Vincent and Eiji in front of her; Edward and Katsuo took their places at their sides. Eiji met Vincent’s gaze steadily; the cool press of his eyes was wonderfully soothing to Vincent’s swirling stomach.
“Dearly beloved,” Mother Abigail began, “we are gathered here today to witness the union of Matsui Eiji and Vincent Pennsbury, and to join them as they take the first steps of their wedded life ...”
The wedding vows, thanks be to God, were short and to the point. Eiji had clearly apprised Mother Abigail of the particular nature of their union, and Vincent’s vow against love, and so she had stripped the service down to its bones. Vincent wondered idly if she was judging him for refusing to love her friend, but if she was, there was no hint of it in her voice or her smile.
Eiji’s mother had adopted her children without marrying, and so when it came time to present the rings, both came from Vincent’s family: specifically, his maternal grandparents, who by all accounts had had a lovely and supportive relationship to the ends of their days. Edward had them, and passed one each to Vincent and Eiji.
“Eiji, as you place the ring on Vincent’s finger, do so in the full knowledge that you are taking on his struggles, his joys, and his duties, for all the rest of your days.” Eiji’s eyes flicked up to Vincent’s for a single, breathless moment, and then lowered to their joined hands as he seated the ring onto Vincent’s finger.
“Vincent, as you place the ring on Eiji’s finger, do so in the full knowledge that you are taking on his struggles, his joys, and his duties, for all the rest of your days,” Mother Abigail repeated. Without allowing himself to hesitate for a moment, Vincent slid the ring onto Eiji’s finger.
“With the exchanging of the rings, I now pronounce you solemnly married,” Mother Abigail intoned. “Please seal your union with a kiss.”
Vincent’s expression must have been more revealing than he’d intended; Eiji’s eyes glowed with amusement as he visibly realized Vincent had forgotten about this part of the ceremony. It had been too much to hope that Mother Abigail would have skipped this too; the kiss was the most important part of a wedding, the joining of the two spouses’ bodies as they joined their lives.
Eiji lifted his chin, raising one eyebrow almost daringly. Vincent took a deep breath, then leaned in and pressed their lips together for a brief moment.
Vincent had known, of course, that he was attracted to Eiji, but the spark that burst forth between their mouths startled him all the same, a sharp flare of sexual compatibility that almost wrong-footed him. When he pulled back, Eiji looked equally startled, dark eyes blinking a little heavier than was his usual.
“Congratulations,” Mother Abigail said, breaking Vincent out of his trance. Around them, their assembled family and friends burst into polite applause.