Wife for a Day(4)

By: Kate Walker

‘Time to go!’

‘No second thoughts?’

‘None at all. You were right, Uncle George. Ronan is a very rare sort of man, and that’s exactly why I’m marrying him.’

The interior of the church looked every bit as beautiful as she had imagined when she had planned the designs for the floral arrangements, with creamy old-fashioned roses at the base of the stained glass windows and white freesias, lily of the valley and trailing ivy decorating the end of every pew. On the altar, two tall displays of lilies mirrored the flowers in her bouquet, their elegant height, creamy waxen petals and golden stamens making them look very similar to the traditional church candles one might have expected to see there.

But no real candles burned anywhere inside the old building. Lily had explained her feelings on that matter when she had booked the church, and the priest had understood perfectly. So the only illumination on the altar itself came from the soft light of the early spring sun that poured through the wide, arched windows behind it.

The next moment Lily’s gaze went to the man standing tall and straight before the altar, his tall frame lovingly enhanced by the perfect cut of his formal morning coat, and immediately she forgot everything else. This was Ronan, her fiancé, so soon to be her husband.

Her heart kicked sharply under the tightly boned bodice as her amber-coloured gaze drank in the power and strength of his long body, the straight line of his back and firm, square shoulders. His feet were planted firmly on the stone-flagged floor, his legs strong and steady, with no trace of the nervous tremble that had suddenly affected her own. The sun that slanted through the nearby window fell directly onto his head, making the burnished copper strands gleam amongst the silken darkness.

But that was when she noticed the change in his appearance that had made her do a double take.

His hair! Ronan had cut his beautiful hair! Where only the day before it had been thick and shining, with a strong natural wave, now the chestnut locks were clipped into an uncompromising crop that exposed the back of his tanned neck.

Lily had to bite down hard on her lower lip to hold back the small sound of disappointment that almost escaped her. She had loved to curl her fingers in that dark silk, and had looked forward to doing just that in the intimate privacy of their wedding night. Short-haired, he looked older, harder, the change in his appearance seeming to emphasise the dynamic, forceful side of his nature that had led to his reputation as a ruthless businessman but which she had rarely seen in her own dealings with him.

But she couldn’t say anything about it now. Already the priest had moved forward to begin the ceremony, and at her side Ronan had turned to face her. Every other thought fled from her mind as he took her hand in the warm strength of his and she saw the blaze of appreciation that flared in his eyes as he took in her appearance fully for the first time.

In that moment it was as if the church and the congregation had melted into one multicoloured blur. There was only herself and Ronan and the promises they were making to each other, the vows of love, honour and faithfulness for the rest of their lives.

And all the time, in the depths of that intent grey-blue stare, burned the evidence of a desire so strong, so ardent that it set up sensations and responses in her own body that were entirely inappropriate to their surroundings and the solemnity of the occasion.

But once the service was over, and they were at the reception in a nearby hotel, Lily couldn’t hold back disappointment any longer and she turned on Ronan reproachfully.

‘You cut your hair! Why did you do that?’

‘And happy wedding day to you too, my love,’ was the swiftly sardonic response. Ronan’s straight, dark brows drew together in a faint frown. ‘What happened to, I love you, darling husband. I’m so happy to be your wife?’

Hearing an unexpected and perturbing fervour behind his words, Lily caught herself up on what she had been about to say and substituted instead a careful echoing of his own phrase.

‘I love you, darling h-husband.’

To her consternation her tongue tangled round the word, turning it into a stumbling and gauche hiccup.

Was it real? Could Ronan really be her husband? After all the days of impatiently counting the hours, the nights of dreaming of just this moment, it seemed impossible that at last those dreams had finally come true.

‘I’m so happy to be your wife.’

‘Are you?’

It was there again, that worrying emphasis, a sharpness that edged his words with steel. His eyes were silver fire, seeming to want—to need—to drag the response from her, rooting it out of her very soul.