The wedding was a hurried affair, thrown together in two days. For the occasion, Angelina borrowed one of Destiny’s dresses, a high-necked, ivory-satin gown. Tilly had rushed to let out the waist
a couple of inches and add a flounce of lace to the bottom. She’d purposely chosen to go bareheaded because Destiny refused to honor their bet by giving her a veil, saying a marriage of convenience
Angelina smiled, remembering how scandalized Destiny had been when she’d learned her friend was marrying Alejandro to remain in Key West. Though Destiny had understood her dilemma and wanted Angelina to stay, her romantic heart hadn’t accepted the sham wedding.
She stood in front of the magistrate with Alejandro and wondered at her decision. Gazing at the perfect profile of the left side of his face, she was reminded of how handsome a man he’d been. To her mind’s eye, he was still handsome. She worried that living as man and wife, even though their marriage was a ruse, would be her downfall.
How could she resist him? Did she want to resist him?
Shaking her head, she tried not to think about the future. For the time being, she was safe. Her father couldn’t reach her now. Captain McEwen had been kind enough to act as a surrogate father, escorting her down the short aisle and giving her away. And Destiny, despite her romantic disapproval, stood with her, acting as bridesmaid.
Alejandro had asked Captain Rodgers to be his best man. An unusual choice, but not so strange if she remembered how they’d acted together to save her. And she couldn’t thank Nathan enough for her rescue. The Navy captain was a good man, and she liked him. Unfortunately, Destiny had parted from Nathan by declaring her love for James Whitman.
And it was painfully obvious that both Destiny and Nathan were uncomfortable at being thrown together for the wedding.
The magistrate cleared his throat loudly and intoned the opening words of the ceremony. Angelina strained to listen, but his words didn’t register.
She felt strange, as if she were standing outside her body and looking on. She’d acquiesced to their marriage because it was better than returning to Cuba and facing what her father had planned. Alejandro had promised she could live her life as she saw fit, running her factory without his interference. He’d even promised to end the marriage when her father was convinced to leave her alone.
But somehow, all his reassurances rang hollow. She was more than aware of their attraction to each other. How could they possibly withstand temptation, living together as man and wife? And if they succumbed to temptation, there would be no easy annulment. Even if they weren’t married by the Church, if they shared a bed, they were married in the eyes of God. And what if a child came of their union?
The magistrate, attired in a worn frock coat and soiled linen, said something about taking this man and stared at her. Trying to focus, she was like a fish out of water, completely out of her element.
Alejandro squeezed her hand.
She lifted her head and gazed expectantly at the magistrate.
The man met her gaze and frowned. Impatience colored the tone of his voice when he repeated, “Will you, Angelina Ximenes, take this man for your lawfully wedded husband? For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to honor and obey?”
The word “obey” stuck in her mind.
What had she gotten herself into?
There was no going back. The die was cast. She’d gambled and lost…or won, depending upon how her future played out.
Gazing at Alejandro, she knew he was good and kind, forthright and honest. He was young, and a healthy physical specimen. A far better “catch” then the ancient planter whom her father wanted her to marry.
She should be happy to have escaped her fate, to have been rescued. It was why she’d accepted his marriage proposal, wasn’t it? Or was it? She was attracted to Alejandro and wanted nothing more than to shelter in his strong arms and have him teach her the pleasures between a man and woman. But that would be her downfall, binding her for life.
Would it be so terrible?
Old memories rose in her mind, swamping her. When she was small, she’d been her father’s favorite, following him everywhere with unswerving love, trust, and devotion. And he’d reciprocated her love, doting on her, giving her everything her heart desired.
But when she’d grown into a young woman, her father had turned on her, changing before her very eyes. Gone was the easy affection, to be replaced by an aloof distance. Then he’d begun to plot her future and her marriage. No longer was she her father’s beloved hija. Suddenly, she was a thing to be bartered and sold.
Was it any wonder she didn’t trust men? That she cursed their controlling, domineering ways? As much as she respected Alejandro and was grateful to him, could she trust him to be any different?
The magistrate cleared his throat loudly.
Alejandro glanced at her.
It was too late for regrets. She must speak.
She cleared her throat, too, and said, “I do.”
The magistrate nodded and moved on, addressing Alejandro with a similar vow. Except his vow didn’t include the obey part.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” Alejandro intoned solemnly, slipping something cold and hard on the third finger of her left hand.
Lost in her thoughts, his gesture drew her back, and she glanced down to find a gold band on her finger. But it wasn’t a customary wedding ring. Opening her eyes wide, she stared at it. The ring was shaped like a cigar band, wide in the middle and tapering at the sides. Tiny precious stones lined the edges, mimicking the colored lettering of a cigar label.
Realizing the thoughtfulness that had gone into fashioning the special ring, especially in such a short time, her eyes misted. She lifted her head and gazed at Alejandro, silently thanking him for the gesture.
“I now pronounce you man and wife,” the magistrate thundered. “You may kiss the bride.”
Closing her eyes, she felt cherished by Alejandro’s gift of the custom-made ring. He’d thought of what would please her, not what society dictated. The ring was a hopeful start. Perhaps he really was different from other men. Perhaps they could live together as equals, respecting each other. Was it too much to expect?
She lifted her face to be kissed, silently surrendering herself to him, heart, body, and soul.
Expecting a searing kiss, like the night at the ball, she was surprised when his lips barely brushed hers. Her eyes flew open, and she stared at him.
He smiled but averted his gaze.
So that was the way of it. He planned to honor his promises, to make this a marriage in name only. She should be relieved, but instead, his unexpected aloofness drove an icy wedge into her heart.