“Mamma?” she asked nervously. “What does my groom look like?”
“Don’t worry about that, baby,” her mother whispered. “He’s only going to be a paper groom.”
“But Mamma, I have to sleep with him!” she hissed back.
“Think of it like a one night stand,” he mother whispered back as she dragged Amanda into place at the center of the nave. The organ started playing Pachelbel’s Cannon in G Major and everyone turned to look at her. This was it, she thought. Time to go meet my future groom/fuck buddy or whatever he was. Time to go thwart her grandfather’s will.
Amanda wished she could say her wedding had flown by in a blur but it hadn't. For a woman who had been raised to be strong and independent, these last few weeks since learning of her grandfather's change to her father’s will had been hell. She had almost come to terms with being forced to marry, and only because she loved Pablo like a brother, when Dearest Grandfather found out that Pablo was gay. All she could think of was that while Pablo had been fine with the idea of hood winking “the man”, he was not alright with the stipulation that he had to actually sleep with her. Publically. As in medieval bedding rituals.
This wedding looking more gothic than medieval, though. Medieval people considered weddings to be little more than business transactions that resulted in babies. The bride and groom usually knew each other, and certainly would have met each other, before the wedding. No, marrying a cousin’s cousin sight unseen was straight out of an Elizabethan Goth novel, complete with the evil bastard of a grandfather. Amanda sighed, wishing she had not spent quite so many hours devouring Ann Radcliff’s gothic novels as a teen. It had clearly put a few crazy ideas into her head. Next thing she knew, she’d be looking at her mysterious groom, trying to figure out what deep, dark secrets he was hiding from her!
She looked up at his very large form, blurred by the heavy lace of her veil, and squinted. Nope, nothing out of the ordinary so far as she could tell. Uncle Charles cleared his throat meaningfully. Amanda jumped, realizing she had missed her cue.
“Do you promise to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part?” he repeated.
“I do,” he choked out, ignoring the odd thrill that ran up her spine at “’til death do you part.” That was silly. This was still only a temporary marriage, even if it was to her cousin’s cousin rather than to her gay best friend. It was really more of a one night stand that would linger a bit.
“Do you have the ring?” Uncle Charles asked. Her groom fumbled a bit, finally pulling something small out of his pant pocket. At Uncle Charles’ urging, he slipped it onto her ring finger. Another thrill of something other ran down her spine as the thin gold ring, warm from his body heat, slid past her knuckle. She felt a little giddy when he lifted her hand and kissed it softly. She shivered when he folded her small hand into both of his much larger ones, a feeling of destiny settling heavy on her shoulders. She tried to ignore it, thinking it was a product of her earlier musing about gothic romance novels, but she couldn’t quite convince herself.
Finally, he lifted her veil and she got to see her groom for the first time. If she had to come up with one word to describe Jock Hancock, it would be “chiseled.” He hand a square rugged jaw, high sharp cheek bones, and piercing blue eyes. His brown hair was over-long and curling around his ear just a bit, clean but not overly well kempt, the type of man who didn’t care much for what was fashionable. His tall frame looked heavy with muscle from his huge shoulders to his trim, narrow waist, to his mile long legs. Then he bent down to give her the traditional kiss and any thoughts of what he looked like fled.
Jock looked down at his bride and gulped. Oh, Luna above, she was lovely! He reminded himself sternly that this was a quickie wedding of convenience. He didn’t get to keep her. Oh but her scent! It whispered to him of hearth and home and crisp, clean winter snows laying heavy on a pine forest. She was dainty, coming not quite to his shoulder, with a waist so narrow he could probably span it with his hands. When he lifted her veil and saw think black hair, a deep olive complexion and velvety chocolate almond-shaped eyes, he knew he was lost. This may only be a temporary thing for her, but his inner beast was howling for her. His one and only, his mate. ‘Til death would they part, indeed!
He smiled at her and dropped down for the traditional kiss to seal their vows, reminding himself that there was a whole church filled with people who were related to her and knew full well that he was a stranger who’d never set eyes on her before five minutes ago. He kept the kiss chaste and quick, though he did allow himself to breathe deeply of her enticing fragrance. He lifted his head back up and noticed how tense she seemed to be. Aw, no. He couldn’t let his precious if very new mate be uncomfortable around him! So he grinned, stepped back and theatrically bowed over her hand, which he was still holding on to for dear life.
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Hancock. My name is Jock and I will be your husband for the duration of this marriage. If there is anything I can do for you, do not hesitate to let me know.” The sound of bawdy laughter filled the small church, but he didn’t care. He saw her sweet, bow-shaped crimson lips quiver with repressed mirth. That was all that mattered to him, that Amanda was put at ease by his tomfoolery.
“Pleased to meet you, too, Jock,” she murmured shyly. He nodded his head back toward the crowded pews and winked.
“Shall we?” he asked. She nodded and blushed. Jock gave her his most encouraging good ol’ boy grin and turned, tucking her hand into the crook of his arm. He was pleased to see that his new wife was as susceptible to good ol’ boy charm as most women. He spent most of his time working the back country on the Pack’s ranch so that was about the only kind of charm he could claim to have. That and wolfish charm, but that usually only worked on female wolves. As good as she smelled, he could tell that Amanda was plain vanilla human. That was just fine by him.
He was startled into laughing when he was what was waiting for them outside the church. He looked over at Amanda to find her chuckling, as well. Honestly, it was the only response most people would have come up with at the sight of a turkey-drawn buggy. Or rather, a horse drawn buggy with the horses decked out like turkeys.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “It was supposed to have been a joke for my friend Pablo, the guy I was actually supposed to have married.”
“No problem,” Jock said gamely. “You drivin’ or am I?”
“You could say that,” he replied. “I was born and raised on cattle ranches. The teams I usually drive pull hay wagons but I’m sure I can manage a little two-wheel buggy just fine.” He handed her up just as a pack of younger people his and Amanda’s age spilled out of the church at a dead run. Jock noticed that Amelia was in the group and that each person was holding a bag with one hand buried in them. He met Amelia’s eye and shook his head. “Catch us if you can!” he hollered back at them and jumped into the buggy.
“Shouldn’t you be going faster than this to outrun them?” Amanda asked, laughing and shaking flower petals out of her eyes.
“Where’s the fun in that?” he asked. “Besides, the horses were cooling their heels for a good long while. I don’t want to push them too hard.”
“Good point,” she replied.