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Robert and William Campbell looked up to see standing before them Adrienne Campbell, large as life and twice as loud. William flinched visibly, and was still trying to find the right words with which to introduce Adrienne when she stepped forward, brushing him aside and smiled at Robert.

"You've been through the rehearsals," said William reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about. Just say the words, kiss the bride, and it'll be all over before you know it. Remember you have to lift the veil first, though. You'd be surprised how many people forget that. Sometimes I think we're getting a little too inbred. Brace up, not long to go now."

And she took him by the hand in a viselike grip and led him off through the crowd. Robert went along with her. It seemed like the safest thing to do, if he ever wanted his hand back. They passed through the outskirts of the crowd, followed all the way by scandalized whispers, and then through a side door that led into a quiet sitting room decorated with antiques of considerable age and complete hideousness. And there, among the antiques like a single flower in a garden of weeds, sat Letitia Shreck, his bride-to-be. She jumped up the moment they entered, then stood quietly with eyes modestly downcast. She was sixteen years old and very pretty, with hints of a more mature beauty to come. The long white wedding gown made her look very fragile, like a delicate porcelain figure standing alone on a shelf. Robert looked at her and then at Adrienne with something like shock.

She stalked off through the crowd, opening up a path for herself through sheer strength of personality. Her intended prey didn't even realize she was coming. The groom, Robert Campbell, was currently being supported and encouraged by his cousin Finlay's brothers, William and Gerald Campbell. Robert's father had been the Campbell's younger brother, who died three months previously in an accident the Family still didn't like to talk about. Mostly because it was so damn embarrassing. In order to keep Robert and his branch of the Family from becoming a laughingstock, a marriage had been hastily arranged that would serve the dual purpose of establishing Robert in society and help close the gap between the Campbells and the Shrecks. And of course, if something should go wrong, Robert was the most expendable member of the Family at present.

William Campbell was tall, thin and intense, and the bookkeeper of the Family. It was a job that couldn't be trusted to an outsider, but which most members usually avoided like the plague, on the grounds it was far too much like hard work, and if they'd wanted to work they wouldn't have been born an aristocrat. Fortunately William found numbers both more interesting and easier to deal with than people, so he was perfectly suited to the job. He didn't get out much, but he meant well, and occasionally surprised people with his firm grasp of politics. He was a Campbell, after all.

Adrienne rounded on him, and he fell back a step. "Did you want to say something, William? No? I didn't think so. You rarely do. Come along, Robert."

"And then you can settle down to getting to know your bride," said Gerald. "Something to look forward to, eh? Eh?

Gerald, on the other hand, was the Family mistake. There's one like him in every Family. Too dumb to be entrusted with the important stuff, but too senior to be just ignored. The Family had been trying to find a place for him all his life, with absolutely no success. Gerald was tall, blond and handsome, and a complete bloody disaster no matter what he did, and everyone knew it but him. The Campbell himself had been heard to say, only partly in jest, that the best thing to do with Gerald would be to make a gift of him to a Family they were really mad at.

William smiled and shook his head. "Sorry, but that's not on. Duty calls. The Campbell sets the rules, and we have to follow them. If we didn't, where would we be? In complete bloody chaos, and all the other Families would charge in like sharks scenting blood in the water. Or do they taste it? I've never been sure. Anyway, whatever else we may be, we're Campbells first. Always. If it's any help, I felt much the same before my wedding, and I've been happy enough. I suppose."

"Then go and get yourself a bloody drink, and don't come back till you've drunk it"

Gerald blinked a few times and then moved away in the general direction of the punchbowl, looking just a little confused. As always. William looked at Robert and shrugged.

"Do try and at least look cheerful," said William to young Robert. "This is a wedding, after all, not the dentist's."

"Really," said Finlay. "I wouldn't know."

William Campbell was tall, thin and intense, and the bookkeeper of the Family. It was a job that couldn't be trusted to an outsider, but which most members usually avoided like the plague, on the grounds it was far too much like hard work, and if they'd wanted to work they wouldn't have been born an aristocrat. Fortunately William found numbers both more interesting and easier to deal with than people, so he was perfectly suited to the job. He didn't get out much, but he meant well, and occasionally surprised people with his firm grasp of politics. He was a Campbell, after all.

"Keep on encouraging him like that, and we'll have to drive him to the altar with whips," said a loud, carrying voice.

William Campbell was tall, thin and intense, and the bookkeeper of the Family. It was a job that couldn't be trusted to an outsider, but which most members usually avoided like the plague, on the grounds it was far too much like hard work, and if they'd wanted to work they wouldn't have been born an aristocrat. Fortunately William found numbers both more interesting and easier to deal with than people, so he was perfectly suited to the job. He didn't get out much, but he meant well, and occasionally surprised people with his firm grasp of politics. He was a Campbell, after all.

Robert smiled politely, and just a little desperately. He had the look of a small animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. He pulled at his frock coat to straighten it and fiddled with his cravat. His dresser had assured him he looked both dignified and fashionable, but he wasn't sure of either. He felt very much he could have used a stiff drink or several, but William wouldn't let him. Valentine had offered to slip him a little something, but he'd declined. He didn't think he was ready to deal with one of Valentine's little somethings. Probably no one but Valentine was.

Robert and William Campbell looked up to see standing before them Adrienne Campbell, large as life and twice as loud. William flinched visibly, and was still trying to find the right words with which to introduce Adrienne when she stepped forward, brushing him aside and smiled at Robert.

Gerald, on the other hand, was the Family mistake. There's one like him in every Family. Too dumb to be entrusted with the important stuff, but too senior to be just ignored. The Family had been trying to find a place for him all his life, with absolutely no success. Gerald was tall, blond and handsome, and a complete bloody disaster no matter what he did, and everyone knew it but him. The Campbell himself had been heard to say, only partly in jest, that the best thing to do with Gerald would be to make a gift of him to a Family they were really mad at.

"Right," said Gerald. "At the dentist they take something out. Here you get to put something in. Get my drift, eh?"

"Do try and at least look cheerful," said William to young Robert. "This is a wedding, after all, not the dentist's."

"Then go and get yourself a bloody drink, and don't come back till you've drunk it"

"And then you can settle down to getting to know your bride," said Gerald. "Something to look forward to, eh? Eh?

"You've been through the rehearsals," said William reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about. Just say the words, kiss the bride, and it'll be all over before you know it. Remember you have to lift the veil first, though. You'd be surprised how many people forget that. Sometimes I think we're getting a little too inbred. Brace up, not long to go now."

Gerald, on the other hand, was the Family mistake. There's one like him in every Family. Too dumb to be entrusted with the important stuff, but too senior to be just ignored. The Family had been trying to find a place for him all his life, with absolutely no success. Gerald was tall, blond and handsome, and a complete bloody disaster no matter what he did, and everyone knew it but him. The Campbell himself had been heard to say, only partly in jest, that the best thing to do with Gerald would be to make a gift of him to a Family they were really mad at.

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