The Wedding Bargain

By: Yvonne Lindsay

One

“We are gathered here today...”

The priest’s perfectly modulated voice filled the cathedral as sunlight filtered through the stained-glass windows, bathing the hallowed space with jeweled tones. The heady scent of the gardenias in Shanal’s bridal bouquet, imported specifically at Burton’s request, wafted up to fill her senses—and left her feeling slightly suffocated.

“...to join together Burton and Shanal in matrimony...”

Was this what she really wanted above all things? She looked across to her groom. Burton Rogers, so handsome, so intelligent, so successful. So rich. He was a good guy, no, a great guy. And she liked him, she really did.

Like. Such an insipid expression, really.

“...which is an honorable and solemn estate and therefore is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently and soberly.”

Words she’d spoken to her best friend, Ethan Masters, only a year ago, echoed in her mind. You have the chance to have the kind of forever love that many people can only dream of. I envy you that because that’s the kind of love I want from the man I marry, if I ever marry. And you can be certain I’m not prepared to settle for less than that, ever.

They’d been brave words, spoken before her world had begun to crumble around her. Before she’d chosen to sacrifice the chance to find true love. Before she’d latched onto the opportunity to give her parents a secure retirement after their lives had been torn apart.

Was Burton her forever love? No. Was she settling for less? Most definitely.

Everyone in the lab at the viticulture research center had said it had been a lucky day for her when she’d caught Burton’s attention. They’d teased her about finding love in their clinical environment and she guessed, on the face of things, they had a point. As her boss, Burton had a reputation for expecting excellence in everything around him. Clearly, she had fallen within that category. And on the face of it, she’d agreed about how fortunate she was—faking joy amongst her colleagues when he’d proposed marriage and offered to solve her problems. She’d convinced everyone around her until she’d nearly believed herself that her engagement had made her the luckiest woman in the world.

Everyone gathered here in the cathedral believed this to be the happiest day of her life. Everyone except the one person who’d tried to talk her out of it. She flicked a glance sideways, but she couldn’t spot Raif Masters, Ethan’s cousin, in the crowd of two hundred guests jammed into the pews. She knew he was here, though. From the moment she’d walked down the aisle, accompanied by both her parents—her father in his wheelchair, on a rare appearance in public—she’d felt the simmering awareness that she felt only in Raif’s presence.

“Into this estate these two persons present come now to be joined.”

A buzzing sound began to build in Shanal’s ears and her chest grew tight. A tremor in her hands made the heavy bouquet quiver—releasing another burst of cloying scent.

“If anyone here has just cause why Burton and Shanal may not be lawfully joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

Silence stretched out in the cathedral—silence filled with the ever increasing buzz in her ears and the erratic pounding of her heart.

Forever.

It was a very long time.

She thought for a brief second of her parents. Of how her father had always loved and provided for her mother. Of how her mother had always stood rock solid by her man, even now with all the uncertainty their future promised. Would Burton ever be that rock for her? Could he be? The priest’s words echoed through her mind. ...just cause...not be lawfully joined together...speak now...

“I do,” Shanal said, her voice shaking, unsure.

Burton inclined his perfectly coiffed head, a puzzled twist to his lips. “Darling? That’s not your line, not yet, anyway.”

She dropped her bouquet, unheeding now of the scent of the flowers as they fell heavily on the carpeted altar, and worked her three-carat, princess-cut diamond engagement ring from her finger. A princess for his princess, Burton had said when he’d slid it on her hand—its fit perfect, of course.

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