To Paul Newrick - who is not only completely
charming, but positively ENCYCLOPAEDIC
when it comes to the subject of planes and
who has helped me with air transport for
many of my billionaire heroes!
And also to Michela Sanges whose knowledge
of all things Russian is inspirational.
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.’