His for Revenge(3)

By: Caitlin Crews

Stop thinking about Ariella, Zara ordered herself sharply, when Chase slanted a dark look her way, and she realized she was squeezing his hands too tightly.

She loosened her grip. And she absolutely did not allow herself to think about how warm his hands were, how strong and interestingly callused and yet elegant, holding hers in a manner that suggested his gentleness was only a veneer stretched thinly over a great power he didn’t care to broadcast.

She definitely wasn’t thinking about that.

Then it was her turn to speak, in as even a voice as she could manage, expecting Chase to tear off her veil and denounce her in front of the entire church when the priest slipped in her name instead of Ariella’s, so quickly and quietly that she wasn’t sure anyone even heard it. But he was too busy concentrating on something just to the right of her gaze—and again, she got the sense that he was ruthlessly holding himself in check. That doing so took every ounce of the obvious and considerable strength she could feel in him as he slipped the necessary rings onto her finger.

That, or he was as drunk as the faint scent of whiskey suggested he was, and was trying not to topple over.

He recited his own vows in a low, curt tone, that accent of his making each word seem that much more precise and beautiful, and when it was done, when Zara had slid his own ring into place, she felt dizzy with relief and something else she couldn’t quite name. Was it really that simple? Had she really squeezed herself into an ill-fitting dress she couldn’t zip up and a blindingly opaque veil and pretended to be her sister? For the singular purpose of trapping this poor man in one of her father’s awful little plots, because this had seemed like the chance her adored Grams had advised her to give Amos before she wrote him off forever?

“You may kiss the bride,” the priest intoned.

So it appeared that yes, she had.

Chase sighed. Then he paused, and for a moment, Zara thought he was going to decline. Could he decline? In front of all these people? In any possible way that wouldn’t make her look unwanted and unattractive besides?

She didn’t know if she wanted him to kiss her or not, if she was honest. She didn’t know which would be worse: being kissed by someone who didn’t want to kiss her because he felt he had to do it, or not being kissed by him and thereby shamed in front of the entire congregation. But then he dealt with the situation by reaching over and flipping her veil back, exposing her face for the first time.

Zara held her breath, cringing slightly as she braced for an explosion of his temper. She could feel it, like the slap of an open fire much too close to her, and instinctively shut her eyes against it. She heard an echoing sort of gasp from the front of the church, where someone had finally noticed that glamorous Ariella Elliott was looking markedly shorter and rounder than usual today. But Chase Whitaker, her unwitting groom and now her husband, said nothing, despite the roar of all that fire.

So she braced herself, then opened her eyes and looked at him.

And for a moment everything disappeared.

Zara had seen a million pictures of this man. She’d seen him from across the relatively small rooms they’d both been in. But she’d never been this close to him. So nothing could possibly have prepared her for the wallop of those eyes of his. Dark blue, yes. But they were the color of twilight, moments before the stars appeared. The color of the sea, far out from a lonely shore. There was nothing safe or summery blue about them. There was a wildness about that color, a deep, aching thing that she felt in her like a restless wind.

And he was beautiful. Not merely handsome or attractive the way he appeared in photographs. Not ruggedly lovely in some stark, masculine way, like dangerous mountain peaks were pretty, though he was decidedly, inarguably male. He was simply beautiful. His cheekbones were a marvel. His hair was a rough black silk and his brows were a great, arched wickedness unto themselves. His wide mouth made her feel much too warm, even flat and expressionless as it was now. And those stunning, arresting eyes, the blue of lost things, of shattered dreams, tore through her.

It took her a moment to register that he was staring down at her, incredulous.

And—as she’d already figured out from that blast of temper that she could still feel butting up against her like a living, breathing thing—he was very, very angry.

Zara went to pull away, not in the least bit interested in remaining this close to that much temper, but her new husband forestalled any attempt to escape with the hand he curled around her neck. She imagined it looked tender from a distance. But she was much closer, and she could feel it for what it was. Threat. Menace.

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