After that, I'm going to be focusing on Gabrielle's Discipline, the second book in the Bridal Discipline series. A lot of people have requested to know more about what happens between Felix and Gabrielle during the timeline of Philip's Rules, so the very first part of the book is going to be a prologue with their interactions. =) Since it's February, and I haven't written a blog post in a while, I thought I'd share the very beginning of the prologue, which happens on Philip & Cordelia's wedding day.
Enjoy the tease! -
"I now pronounce you, man and wife."
A sense of utter hopelessness rose in Gabrielle at the words. Her stepmother was now married to a man that Gabrielle barely knew, but was now responsible for her. A cold man, who looked at Gabrielle in a distant, almost disdainful manner that reminded her harshly of her own father before he'd passed. Her fingers clutched the bouquet she was holding tighter as she kept her smile pasted onto her face.
She hadn't liked the Marquess of Dunbury when she'd met him and, truthfully, she liked him even less now. Not only did he seem dismissive of Gabrielle, since meeting him, Cordelia had barely had a moment for Gabrielle. There were times when Gabrielle couldn't stand Cordelia, but she hadn't wanted to give up her stepmother's attention either. Logically, she knew it hadn't been Cordelia's fault that Gabrielle's father had no love for his daughter. He hadn't before he'd married Cordelia either.
But Cordelia was young and beautiful, and she'd taken all the Baron's attention once she'd become his wife. Then he'd died, and Gabrielle had had Cordelia all to herself. She'd chased off several of Cordelia's suitors, but then Cordelia had gone away to a house party on her own and come back engaged. The Marquess didn't care for Gabrielle, but that didn't stop him from marrying Cordelia.
It felt like the worst sort of betrayal by her stepmother.
She told herself she didn't care. She told herself she hated Cordelia anyway. And she certainly hated her new guardian. The only joy she'd had in the past months had been pointing out all the little things that would make Cordelia as miserable as she'd made Gabrielle. Why should Cordelia get everything? It wasn't fair. But then, life as never fair, especially Gabrielle's life.
Following the Marquess and Marchesse down the aisle, Gabrielle didn't even glance at the man escorting her. She was too busy trying to keep from bursting into tears, wondering what was going to become of her now that Cordelia was married to such a cold man.
Felix was not used to being ignored. Especially not by a member of the fairer sex. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time it had happened. Before the wedding, Philip had asked him to keep an eye on Miss Gabrielle Astley, Philip's bride's stepdaughter. Apparently she had a shrewish disposition. Philip had described her as attractive, but he truly hadn't done her justice.
The young woman was resplendent in her cream dress, which matched the lovely's brides. She had masses of light brown hair piled on top of her head and decorated with pearl combs, setting off her creamy complexion, and thickly-lashed green eyes. Slim figured, she was still blessed with delightful feminine curves, even if they weren't overly abundant. There were two high spots of color on her cheeks, and her eyes were shiny and bright, and entirely focused on Cordelia and Philip.
Philip had mentioned that Gabrielle had flirted with him, even after knowing that he was engaged to Cordelia. Could it be that she truly was attracted to her new stepfather? But no, that didn't quite fit with the way she was looking at them.
Before the receiving line, Philip had introduced them so that he could properly carry on a conversation with Miss Astley, but she'd barely given him a second glance.
Between well wishers, Felix leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Congratulations on your new family, Miss Astley. As Philip's best friend, I'm sure we'll be seeing quite a bit of each other."
"How thrilling," Gabrielle said. Her voice was as lovely as she was, but her tone was utterly flat. Felix narrowed his eyes at her. Perhaps Philip had not over exaggerated her shrewishness.
The lack of a true response left him floundering. He cleared his throat, smiling and greeting another well wisher that Philip passed off to him. Turning back to Gabrielle, he kept the smile on his face as he studied her closely. She didn't return his gaze.
"Your stepmother is a lovely woman, you must feel very blessed to have her." He paused, waiting for some kind of response, but none was forthcoming. "The Marquess will take good care of you both."
"I'm sure he'll take very good care of his wife," Gabrielle responded, loudly enough to be heard by the people around him. "After all, he does need his heir."
Bristling, Felix decided his best course of action was to stop attempting to engage the little viper in conversation. No matter how beautiful she was.
Being seated next to the most handsome man she'd ever met was doing absolutely nothing for Gabrielle's temperament. It was like today had been thought up by the Devil as a special kind of hell for her to endure. Not only was Cordelia being married to her second husband, when Gabrielle had never even had a suitor, but the man dancing attendance on Gabrielle was already quite taken with Cordelia and obviously already disliked Gabrielle.
Probably because every time he said something complimentary about Cordelia, she couldn't help herself from interjecting.
It was bad enough she was here, did she have to listen to the endless list of Cordelia's virtues for the rest of the day? She'd heard them plenty from her father as he went over all the reasons he'd married Cordelia and how it would benefit his heir - once Cordelia bore him. But Cordelia had failed, there was no heir... not that it had stopped her father from focusing all his attention on Cordelia in hopes that the happy event might still occur. Right up until the moment of his death - he'd called Cordelia into the room to ask if she might be with child. He'd never called for Gabrielle, and he'd passed from the world without seeing her for one last time.
Despite that failure, Cordelia was still having her second, perfect wedding, with her cold, perfectly handsome husband, while the man's perfect best friend, Mr. Felix Hood, was watching over Gabrielle. And she knew perfectly well that's what he was doing. Why else would he be dancing attendance on her? He was incredibly handsome, with thick black hair and black eyes that made him look dangerous and exciting, broad shoulders and a trim waist, and his legs filled out his breeches quite nicely. More than one lady had come to flirt with him, yet he hadn't left Gabrielle's side and had exchanged more than once glance with the Marquess.
The first time in her life that she had a man dancing attendance on her, and it was all so precious Cordelia wouldn't have to pay any attention to her.
Gabrielle was so bitter, she wished she could spit on the floor to rid her mouth of the taste.
"Dunbury is such a lovely estate," said a lady sitting across from Mr. Hood, smiling encouragingly at Gabrielle. "Have you been to see it yet?"
"No, I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to admire it when Cordelia is with child," Gabrielle said in a bored tone. "I'm sure that's where we'll be shuttled off once the Marquess has done his duty."
The woman gasped quietly and several of the other diners looked at Gabrielle askance, but she didn't care anymore. Why should she? Cordelia shouldn't expect anything less from her new husband, and Gabrielle wasn't going to pretend. Nor was she going to hope.
Fingers grasped her arm in a gentle but unyielding grip as Mr. Hood leaned in, his breath hot on her ear. A strange shimmer of excitement went through her body at his nearness... and then he ruined it.
"Not one more word out of you. I'm warning you now. If you can't keep your mouth shut or be polite, you will find yourself over my knee before the sun goes down and we'll see if I can't spank the nastiness out of you. Philip told me to keep you in line, and I will not fail him in that."
Any retort she might have made choked in her throat, as indignation, fear, and the urge to cry all collided inside her chest.
The Marquess had told Mr. Hood that he could beat her? For a few words? Even Gabrielle's father hadn't tried to completely silence her; she'd always been allowed the verbal outlet to vent her frustrations and unhappiness. But she didn't want to be beaten either. The one time her father had slapped her across her face, it had split her lip and made her cheek swell, making it hard for her to eat for days.
Grimly, Gabrielle clenched her hands in her lap as the laughter and merriment picked up around her. She was more alone and ignored than she'd ever been her life, under threat of violence, and all so Cordelia could be happy.