Wife for a Day(3)

By: Kate Walker

Because it had to have been a mask, she now saw. He could never have felt for her the way she had believed he did and then turn round and do this. And yet he had never seemed to be pretending. Certainly, she had never suspected for a moment that his feelings were anything but totally sincere.

So when had it all fallen apart?

No, it couldn’t be true! She had to be dreaming. She was trapped in a nightmare from which she desperately wished she could wake.

Frantically she pinched at her hand, her arm, praying that the small, self-inflicted pain would break through the trance that held her and force her into consciousness. But nothing happened. There was nothing to happen. She was wide awake, this private hell only too real.

And yesterday she had thought she had it all. That she’d found the true love she had looked for all her life.

Yesterday had been quite perfect. In fact the one tiny flaw she could remember had been the silly upset over Ronan’s hair…

‘Well, are you ready to take the longest walk of your life?’

George Halliday grinned down at Lily as he spoke, one hand adjusting the fall of his elaborate cravat. Above the silky material, his lined face was already beginning to redden in the unexpected warmth of early April sunlight.

‘The longest walk, Uncle George?’

Lily smiled enquiringly up at the man who wasn’t really her uncle but had acquired the name as an honorary title after years of friendship. George had held the market stall next to hers when she had first started out in her florist’s business. He had been there to help when she had moved her business into a small, rented shop, and he was the closest thing to a genuine relation she had had for years. So he had been the obvious choice to turn to when, with her wedding so very close, she had been unable to track down her missing brother and had been forced to look elsewhere for someone to escort her down the aisle.

‘I thought that was supposed to be the walk to the scaffold.’

‘Tradition might have it that way, my dear, but I can’t see it. I reckon that particular stroll must just fly by! But this one! Well, that’s a different kettle of fish altogether. Too much time to think. With every step you take you’re wondering whether you’ve done the right thing. He loves me…he loves me not…’

He mimed slow, stately steps forward with each phrase.

‘Oh, Uncle George! I don’t have to think, I know! I love Ronan more than life itself, and he loves me.’

‘Well, just so long as you’re sure. If you ask me, this was all a bit of a rushed job.’

His worried frown told her exactly what he was thinking, and she hurried to put his mind at rest on that score.

‘No, I’m not pregnant, if that’s what you’re hinting at. We haven’t even slept together yet. Ronan knew I preferred to wait. He understood…’

‘Then he’s a rare sort of man if he did,’ George declared with typical Yorkshire bluntness. ‘But that explains his haste to get you down the aisle, I suppose. If I was thirty years younger, and had a beauty like you wearing my ring, then I know I’d want to rush through the wedding pretty damn quick too. Every day I had to wait would seem like an eternity.’

‘Uncle George!’

Warm colour flooded Lily’s face from her slender neck right up under the coils of blonde hair that were topped by a delicate crystal tiara, and she lifted her bouquet of white lilies to try to conceal her blushes.

‘Now don’t you go coy on me, young madam! I know you’re twenty-six, and that’s quite old enough to know what I mean. Your Ronan would have to be dead from the neck down if he didn’t know what a treasure he’s getting in you.’

‘I think you can rest easy on that score,’ Lily assured him, some very personal memories starting up her blushes again just as they were beginning to ebb.

Ronan might have acceded to her desire to wait until their wedding night before they slept together, but that didn’t mean he had acquiesced easily, or waited with patience or restraint. They had come very close to breaking their resolution more than once in recent days, and she for one was more than thankful that theirs had been only a very short engagement. As it was, it would be barely two months from the moment they had met until their wedding day, and for Lily that was more than enough.

The sound of the organ beginning the familiar notes of the traditional ‘Wedding March’ brought her attention back to the present, making her turn towards the door into the church. With slightly shaky fingers she adjusted the sleek, elegant lines of her ivory silk dress, smoothing the long skirt down carefully. Then, lifting her head high, she turned a wide, confident smile in her companion’s direction.