Kiss an Angel : Chapter 1
KISS AN ANGEL
Daisy Devreaux had forgotten her bridegroom’s name.
“I, Theodosia, take thee . . .”
She caught her bottom lip between her teeth. Her father had introduced them several days ago, that terrible morning the three of them had gone to get the marriage license, and she’d heard the name then. Right afterward the man had disappeared, and she hadn’t seen him again until a few minutes ago when she’d walked down the staircase of her father’s Central Park West duplex into the living room where this makeshift midmorning wedding ceremony was taking place.
Her father stood behind her, and Daisy could almost feel him vibrating with disapproval, but his disapproval was nothing new. He’d been disappointed with her even before she was born, and no matter how hard she’d tried, she’d never been able to get him to change his mind.
She risked a sideways peek at this bridegroom her father’s money had bought for her. A studmuffin. A very scary studmuffin with his towering height, lean, whipcord build, and those eerie amber eyes. Her mother would have loved him.
When Lani Devreaux had died in a yacht fire last year, she’d been in the arms of a twenty-four-year-old rock star. Daisy had finally reached the point where she could think about her mother without pain, and she smiled to herself as she realized that the man standing at her side would have been too old for her mother. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, and Lani had usually drawn the line at twenty-nine.
His hair was so dark it was nearly black, and those chiseled features might have made his face too pretty if it weren’t for his strong jaw, not to mention that intimidating scowl. Men with such brutal good looks had appealed to Lani, but Daisy preferred older, more conservative types. Not for the first time since the ceremony had begun did she wish her father had picked someone less intimidating.
She tried to steady her nerves by reminding herself that she wasn’t going to have to spend more than a few hours in her new husband’s company. As soon as she had a chance to tell him her plan, this would all be over. Unfortunately, her plan also meant breaking the sacred marriage vows she was getting ready to take, and since she wasn’t the sort of person who could take a vow lightly—especially a marriage vow—she suspected her guilty conscience had induced the memory block.
She started over again, hoping the name would poke through her mental barrier. “I, Theodosia, take thee . . .” Once again her voice trailed off.
Her bridegroom didn’t even spare her a glance, let alone try to help her. He stared straight ahead, and the uncompromising lines of that hard profile made her skin prickle. He’d just spoken his own vows, so he must have mentioned his name, but the lack of inflection in his voice had escalated her emotional tailspin, and she hadn’t taken it in.
“Alexander,” her father spit out from behind her, and Daisy could tell by the sound of his voice that he was clenching his teeth again. For a man who had been one of the United States’ foremost diplomats, he certainly didn’t have much patience with her.
She dug her nails into her palms and told herself she had no choice. “I, Theodosia . . .” She gulped for air. “. . . take thee Alexander . . .” She gulped again. “. . . to be my awful wedded husband . . .”
It wasn’t until she heard her stepmother, Amelia, gasp that she realized what she’d said.
The studmuffin turned his head and looked down at her. He co**cked one dark brow in a vaguely inquisitive fashion, as if he wasn’t certain he’d heard her correctly. My awful wedded husband. Her sense of humor kicked in, and she felt the corners of her mouth quiver.
His brows slammed together and those deep-set eyes regarded her without a speck of amusement. Obviously the studmuffin didn’t share her problem with inappropriate levity.
Swallowing the small bubble of hysteria that was rising inside her, she plunged on without correcting herself. At least that one part of her vows would be honest because he was certainly an awful husband for her. At that moment her mental block finally evaporated and his last name leaped into her mind. Markov. Alexander Markov. He was another of her father’s Russians.
As a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, her father, Max Petroff, had close ties with the Russian community, both here and abroad. His passion for his ancestral homeland was even reflected in the decor of the room where they stood, with its bold blue walls, so common in that country’s residential architecture; yellow-tiled stove; and multicolored kilim rug. To her left, a walnut cabinet held vases
of Russian cobalt as well as crystal and porcelain pieces from the Imperial Works in St. Petersburg. The furniture was a mixture of art deco and eighteenth century that somehow worked.
Her bridegroom’s large hand lifted her own much smaller one, and she felt its strength as he shoved a plain gold band on her finger.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” he said in a stern, uncompromising voice.
She gazed at the simple band with momentary confusion. For as long as she could remember, she’d indulged in what her mother Lani had called a “bourgeois fantasy of love and marriage,” and she’d never imagined anything like this.
“. . . the power vested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce that you are husband and wife.”
She tensed as she waited for Judge Rhinsetler to invite the bridegroom to kiss the bride. When he didn’t, she knew her father had asked him not to, sparing her the embarrassment of being forced to kiss that hard, unsmiling mouth. It was exactly like her father to have remembered a detail that no one else had thought to consider. Although she wouldn’t admit it for the world, she wished she were more like him, but she wasn’t even able to manage the major events of her life, let alone the details.
It wasn’t in her nature to wallow in self-pity, so she shook it off as her father came forward to brush his cool cheek against hers in ceremonial fashion. She found herself hoping for a word of affection, but she wasn’t surprised when she didn’t get it. She even managed to look unaffected as he moved away.
He drew her mysterious bridegroom toward the windows that looked down over Central Park, where they were joined by Judge Rhinsetler. The other witnesses to the ceremony were the chauffeur, who tactfully disappeared to attend to his duties, and her father’s wife Amelia, with her frosted blond hair and lockjaw drawl.
“Congratulations, dear. What a beautiful couple you and Alexander make. Don’t they look wonderful together, Max?” Without waiting for an answer, Amelia swept Daisy into her arms, enveloping both of them in a cloud of musky perfume.
Amelia acted as if she felt a genuine fondness for her husband’s bastard daughter, and even though Daisy knew her real feelings, she gave Amelia credit for trying. It couldn’t be easy to confront the living evidence of the only irresponsible thing her husband had ever done, even if he’d done it twenty-six odd years ago.
“I don’t know why you insisted on wearing that dress, dear. It might be appropriate for club-hopping, but hardly for a wedding.” Amelia’s critical gaze passed stern judgment on Daisy’s expensive metallic lace tank dress that ended in a scalloped hem a good eight inches above her knee.
“It’s almost white.”
“Gold isn’t white, dear. And it’s much too short.”
“The jacket is conservative,” Daisy pointed out, smoothing her hands along the sides of the boxy gold satin jacket that fell to the top of her thighs.
“That hardly makes up for the rest. Why couldn’t you have gone along with tradition and worn white? Or at least chosen something more sedate.”
Because this wasn’t going to be a real marriage, Daisy thought, and the more she bowed to tradition, the more she remembered that she was violating something that should be sacred. She’d even removed the gardenia Amelia had fastened in her hair only to have her stepmother stick it back in just before the ceremony.
She knew Amelia didn’t approve of her gold shoes either, which looked like a pair of Roman gladiator sandals with four-inch heels. They were brutally uncomfortable, but at least they couldn’t be confused with the traditional white satin pumps.
“Your bridegroom doesn’t look happy,” Amelia whispered. “Not that I’m surprised. Try not to say anything silly to him for at least the first hour or so, will you? You really must do something about that annoying habit of talking before you think.”
Daisy barely repressed a sigh. Amelia never said what she really thought, while Daisy almost always did, and her honesty antagonized her stepmother to no end. But Daisy wasn’t good at dissembling. Maybe because she had seen so much of it from both her parents.
She sneaked a look at her new husband and wondered how much her father had paid him to marry her. And some irreverent part of her wanted to know how the actual transaction had taken place. Cash? Check? Excuse me, Alexander Markov, but do you take American Express? As she observed her bridegroom declining a mimosa from the tray being passed by Min Soon, she tried to imagine what he was thinking.
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