Claimed for Makarov's BabyBy: Sharon Kendrick
IT DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING. It was just a means to an end. A few words and a signature on a piece of paper and then afterwards...
Erin swallowed as the silky white dress brushed against her bare ankles. Afterwards she would be able to create a better future. A different kind of future. Most of all, she would be secure—and wasn’t that the whole point of this? That she would be safe.
But she could feel her palms growing clammy as she clutched the bouquet of flowers her groom had insisted she buy—‘It will add authenticity...’—and wondered if her bright, forced smile would add the same kind of authenticity. She doubted it. As she walked towards the registrar’s desk her face was reflected back in a mirror—a face almost as white as her dress. Beside her stood a man—a kind man and a dear friend whom she must pretend to love, at least until the ceremony was over. And that was the hardest part of all.
Because she didn’t believe in love. She’d tried it once and it had only reinforced what she’d already known. That love was for fools, and hadn’t she been the biggest one of all? She’d picked the worst kind of man. A man who was not worthy of love.
Of anyone’s love.
The two witnesses were sitting quietly and the registrar was smiling, too, but Erin was certain she could see suspicion in the smart middle-aged woman’s eyes. Did she guess? Did she have any kind of inkling that Erin Turner was about to break the law for the first time in her life?
Beside her, Chico reached out and curled his fingers around her wrist, giving it a comforting squeeze as the registrar began to speak.
‘You are here to witness the joining in matrimony of Chico and Erin...’
There was a pause as Erin heard a door behind her open and the sound of footsteps, but her heart was thumping too loudly to care who had just walked in. Her smile felt as brittle as glass. Her hand was now so slippery that she was afraid of dropping the flowers. And then the question was being asked. The question she had practised not reacting to over and over again.
‘If any person present knows of any lawful impediment to this marriage, he or she should declare it now.’
She watched the registrar give a quick nod—as if this particular query always got the same silent response—when suddenly a voice shattered the quiet of the institutional room.
‘Da. I do.’
For a split second Erin froze and then she whirled round as she heard the Russian accent, her head refusing to believe what her heart and her body were telling her. That it was nothing but a mistake—a mistake with especially bad timing.
And then she was caught and captured—lasered by the brilliance of a pair of icy blue eyes—and Erin’s heart plummeted, for this was no mistake. This was real. As real as the silk flowers which stood on the registrar’s desk. As real as the sudden thunder of blood to her heart. Like a fizzing firework thrown into the blackest night, Dimitri Makarov was dominating the room with his unique blend of sex appeal and power, just as he always did.
Her fingers bit into the fleshy stems of her flowers as she stared at him. He was wearing a silvery-grey suit which emphasised his powerful build, and the artificial light from the cheap chandelier had turned his hair to molten gold. Prestige and privilege pulsated from every pore of his muscular body as he flicked his icy gaze over her.
But something about him was different. Gone was the bloodshot glow which had sometimes marred the beauty of those spectacular eyes. And gone, too, was the faint stubble which had habitually darkened his jaw and made him look slightly disreputable. This man was clean-shaven and his eyes were bright and clear and...penetrating.
‘Dimitri,’ Erin breathed.
‘Da. The very same,’ he said, his voice mocking her, but the look on his face sent a shiver down her spine. ‘Pleased to see me, Erin?’
He knows, thought Erin.
She told herself that he couldn’t possibly know. It was over six years since she’d last seen him, when he’d made it clear how little she had meant to him. His attitude towards her had been insulting and dismissive—reminding her all too clearly that she’d only ever been a minion in his life. Somebody he could just shove aside when she got too close. And that was what had happened, wasn’t it? She’d got way too close.
She thought of Leo and why she was here. Of everything she was fighting for, and she forced a smile onto her lips. Because if she showed the slightest sign of weakness, Dimitri would leap on it.
And devour her.
‘This is rather bad timing,’ she said lightly.
‘I disagree. The timing could not have been better.’
‘I’m just about to get married, Dimitri. To Chico.’