Marriage wanted, p.8
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       Marriage Wanted, p.8

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  It wasn’t often in her life that Savannah felt beautiful, but she did now. She’d worked hard, wanting to make this evening special for Susan—and knowing it would be her only date with Nash. She suspected there was a bit of Cinderella in every woman, the need to believe in fairy tales and happy endings, in true love conquering against impossible odds. For this one night, Savannah longed to forget she was crippled. For this one night, she wanted to pretend she was beautiful. A princess.

  Nash helped her across the yard and held open the door for her. She was inside the car, seat belt buckled, when he joined her. His hands gripped the steering wheel, but when he didn’t start the car, she turned to him.

  “Is something wrong?”

  He smiled at her, but she saw the strain in his eyes and didn’t understand it. “It’s just that you’re so beautiful, I can hardly keep my hands off you.”

  “Oh, Nash,” she whispered, fighting tears. “Thank you.”

  “For what?”

  She shook her head, knowing she’d never be able to explain.

  The church was lovely. Savannah had rarely seen a sanctuary decorated more beautifully. The altar was surrounded with huge bouquets of pink and white roses, and their scent drifted through the room. The end of each pew was decorated with a small bouquet of white rosebuds and gardenias with pink and silver bows. The effect was charming.

  Seated in the front row, Savannah closed her eyes as the organ music swelled. She stood, and from the rustle of movement behind her, she knew the church was filled to capacity.

  Savannah turned to see Nash escort his sister slowly down the center aisle, their steps in tune to the music. They were followed by the bridesmaids and grooms-men, most of them recruited late, every one of them delighted to share in Susan and Kurt’s happiness.

  Savannah had attended a thousand or more weddings in her years as a coordinator. Yet it was always the same. The moment the music crescendoed, her eyes brimmed with tears at the beauty and emotion of it all.

  This wedding was special because the bride was Nash’s sister. Savannah had felt a part of it from the beginning, when Susan had approached her, desperate for assistance. Now it was all coming together and Susan was about to marry Kurt, the man she truly loved.

  Nash was uncomfortable with love, and a little jealous, too, although she doubted he recognized that. Susan, the little sister he adored, would soon be married and would move to California with her husband.

  When they reached the steps leading to the altar, Susan kissed Nash’s cheek before placing her hand on Kurt’s arm. Nash hesitated as if he wasn’t ready to surrender his sister. Just when Savannah was beginning to get worried, he turned and entered the pew, standing next to her. Either by accident or design, his hand reached for hers. His grip was tight, his face strained with emotion.

  Savannah was astonished to see that his eyes were bright with tears. She could easily be mistaken, though, since her own were blurred. A moment later, she was convinced she was wrong.

  The pastor made a few introductory comments about the sanctity of marriage. Holding his Bible open, he stepped forward. “I’d like each couple who’s come to celebrate the union of Susan and Kurt to join hands,” he instructed.

  Nash took both of Savannah’s hands so that she was forced to turn sideways. His eyes delved into hers, and her heart seemed to stagger to a slow, uneven beat at what she read in them. Nash was an expert at disguising his feelings, yes, but also at holding on to his anger and the pain of his long-dead marriage, at keeping that bitterness alive. As he stared down at her, his eyes became bright and clear and filled with an emotion so strong, it transcended anything she’d ever seen.

  Savannah was barely aware of what was going on around them. Sounds faded; even the soloist who was singing seemed to be floating away. Savannah’s peripheral vision became clouded, as if she’d stepped into a dreamworld. Her sole focus was Nash.

  With her hands joined to Nash’s, their eyes linked, she heard the pastor say, “Those of you wishing to renew your vows, repeat after me.”

  Nash’s fingers squeezed hers as the pastor intoned the words. “I promise before God and all gathered here this day to take you as my wife. I promise to love and cherish you, to leave my heart and my life open to you.”

  To Savannah’s amazement, Nash repeated the vow in a husky whisper. She could hear others around them doing the same. Once again tears filled her eyes. How easy it would be to pretend he was devoting his life to hers.

  “I’ll treasure you as a gift from God, to encourage you to be all He meant you to be,” Savannah found herself repeating a few minutes later. “I promise to share your dreams, to appreciate your talents, to respect you. I pledge myself to you, to learn from and value our differences.” As she spoke, Savannah’s heart beat strong and steady and sure. Excitement rose up in her as she realized that what she’d said was true. These were the very things she yearned to do for Nash. She longed for him to trust her enough to allow her into his life, to help him bury the hurts of the past. They were different, as different as any couple could be. That didn’t make their relationship impossible. It added flavor, texture and challenge to their attraction. Life together would never be dull for them.

  “I promise to give you the very best of myself, to be faithful to you, to be your friend and your partner,” Nash whispered next, his voice gaining strength. Sincerity rang through his words.

  “I offer you my heart and my love,” Savannah repeated, her own heart ready to burst with unrestrained joy.

  “You are my friend,” Nash returned, “my lover, my wife.”

  It was as if they, too, were part of the ceremony, as if they, too, were pledging their love and their lives to each other.

  Through the minister’s words, Savannah offered Nash all that she had to give. It wasn’t until they’d finished and Kurt was told to kiss his bride that Savannah remembered this wasn’t real. She’d stepped into a dreamworld, the fantasy she’d created out of her own futile need for love. Nash had only been following the minister’s lead. Mortified, she lowered her eyes and tugged her trembling fingers free from Nash’s.

  He, too, apparently harbored regrets. His hands clasped the pew in front of them until his knuckles paled. He formed a fist with his right hand. Savannah dared not look up at him, certain he’d recognize her thoughts and fearing she’d know his. She couldn’t have borne the disappointment. For the next several hours they’d be forced to share each other’s company, through the dinner and the dance that followed the ceremony. Savannah wasn’t sure how she was going to manage it now, after she’d humiliated herself.

  Thankfully she was spared having to face Nash immediately after the ceremony was over. He became a part of the reception line that welcomed friends and relatives. Savannah was busy herself, working with the woman she’d hired to help coordinate the wedding and reception. Together they took down the pew bows, which would serve as floral centerpieces for the dinner.

  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful ceremony,” Nancy Mastell told Savannah, working furiously. “You’d think I’d be immune to this after all the weddings we attend.”

  “It…was beautiful,” Savannah agreed. Her stomach was in knots, and her heart told her how foolish she’d been; nevertheless, she couldn’t make herself regret what had happened. She’d learned something about herself, something she’d denied far too long. She needed love in her life. For years she’d cut herself off from opportunity, content to live off the happiness of others. She’d moved from one day to the next, carrying her pain and disappointment, never truly happy, never fulfilled. Pretending.

  This was why Nash threatened her. She couldn’t pretend with him. Instinctively he knew. For reasons she’d probably never understand, he saw straight through her.

  “Let me get those,” Nancy said. “You’re a wedding guest.”

  “I can help.” But Nancy insisted otherwise.

  When Savannah returned to the vestibule, she found Nash waiting for her.
They drove in silence to the high-end hotel, where Nash had rented an elegant banquet room for the evening.

  Savannah prayed he’d say something to cut the terrible tension. She could think of nothing herself. A long list of possible topics presented itself, but she couldn’t come up with a single one that didn’t sound silly or trite.

  Heaven help her, she didn’t know how they’d be able to spend the rest of the evening in each other’s company.

  Dinner proved to be less of a problem than Savannah expected. They were seated at a table with two delightful older gentlemen whom Nash introduced as John Stackhouse and Arnold Serle, the senior partners of the law firm that employed him. John was a widower, she gathered, and Arnold’s wife was in England with her sister.

  “Mighty nice wedding,” Mr. Stackhouse told Nash.

  “Thank you. I wish I could take credit, but it’s the fruit of Savannah’s efforts you’re seeing.”

  “Beautiful wedding,” Mr. Serle added. “I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed one more.”

  Savannah was waiting for a sarcastic remark from Nash, but one never came. She didn’t dare hope that he’d changed his opinion, and guessed it had to do with the men who were seated with them.

  Savannah spread the linen napkin across her lap. When she looked up, she discovered Arnold Serle watching her. She wondered if her mascara had run or if there was something wrong with her makeup. Her doubts must have shown in her eyes, because he grinned and winked at her.

  Savannah blushed. A sixty-five-year-old corporate attorney was actually flirting with her. It took her a surprisingly short time to recover enough to wink back at him.

  Arnold burst into loud chuckles, attracting the attention of Nash and John Stackhouse, who glanced disapprovingly at his partner. “Something troubling you, Arnold?”

  “Just that I wish I were thirty years younger. Savannah here’s prettier than a picture.”

  “You been at the bottle again?” his friend asked. “He becomes quite a flirt when he has,” the other man explained. “Especially when his wife’s out of town.”

  Arnold’s cheeks puffed with outrage. “I most certainly do not.”

  Their salads were delivered and Savannah noted, from the corner of her eye, that Nash was studying her closely. Taking her chances, she turned and met his gaze. To her astonishment, he smiled and reached for her hand under the table.

  “Arnold’s right,” he whispered. “Every other woman here fades compared to you.” He paused. “With the exception of Susan, of course.”

  Savannah smiled.

  The orchestra was tuning their instruments in the distance and she focused her attention on the group of musicians, feeling a surge of regret and frustration. “I need to tell you something,” she said.

  “What?”

  “I’m sorry, I can’t dance. But please don’t let that stop you.”

  “I’m not much of a dancer myself. Don’t worry about it.”

  “Anything wrong?” Arnold asked.

  “No, no,” Nash was quick to answer. “Savannah just had a question.”

  “I see.”

  “That reminds me,” John began. “There’s something we’ve been meaning to discuss with you, Nash. It’s about the position for senior partner opening up at the firm,” he said.

  “Can’t we leave business out of this evening?” Arnold asked, before Nash could respond. Arnold frowned. “It’s difficult enough choosing another partner without worrying about it day and night.”

  Nash didn’t need to say a word for Savannah to know how much he wanted the position. She felt it in him, the way his body tensed, the eager way his head inclined. But after Arnold’s protest, John hadn’t continued the discussion.

  The dinner dishes were cleared from the table by the expert staff. The music started, a wistful number that reminded Savannah of sweet wine and red roses. Susan, in her flowing silk gown, danced with Kurt as their guests looked on, smiling.

  The following number Kurt danced with his mother and Nash with Susan. His assurances that he wasn’t much of a dancer proved to be false. He was skilled and graceful.

  Savannah must have looked more wistful than she realized because when the next number was announced, Arnold Serle reached for her hand. “This dance is mine.”

  Savannah was almost too flabbergasted to speak. “I…can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

  “Nonsense.” With that, the smiling older man all but pulled her from her chair.

  Six

  Savannah was close to tears. She couldn’t dance and now she was being forced onto the ballroom-style floor by a sweet older man who didn’t realize she had a limp. He hadn’t even noticed it. Humiliation burned her cheeks. The wonderful romantic fantasy she was living was about to blow up in her face. Then, when she least expected to be rescued, Nash was at her side, his hand at her elbow.

  “I believe this dance is mine, Mr. Serle,” he said, whisking Savannah away from the table.

  Relief rushed through her, until she saw that he was escorting her onto the dance floor himself. “Nash, I can’t,” she said in a heated whisper. “Please don’t ruin this day for me.”

  “Do you trust me?”

  “Yes, but you don’t seem to understand….”

  Understand or not, he led her confidently onto the crowded floor, turned and gathered her in his arms. “All I want you to do is relax. I’ll do the work.”

  “Nash!”

  “Relax, will you?”

  “No…Please take me back to the table.”

  Instead he grasped her hands and raised them, tucking them around his neck. Savannah turned her face away from him. Their bodies fit snugly against each other and Nash felt warm and substantial. His thigh moved against hers, his chest grazed her breasts and a slow excitement began to build within her. After holding her breath, she released it in a long, trembling sigh.

  “It feels good, doesn’t it?”

  “Yes.” Lying would be pointless.

  “We’re going to make this as simple and easy as possible. All you have to do is hold on to me.” He held her close, his hands clasped at the base of her spine. “This isn’t so bad now, is it?”

  “I’ll never forgive you for this, Nash Davenport.” Savannah was afraid to breathe again for fear she’d stumble, for fear she’d embarrass them both. She’d never been on a dance floor in her life and try as she might, she couldn’t make herself relax the way he wanted. This was foreign territory to her, the girl who’d never been asked to a school dance. The girl who’d watched and envied her friends from afar. The girl who’d only waltzed in her dreams with imaginary partners. And not one of them had been anything like Nash.

  “Maybe this will help,” Nash whispered. He bent his head and kissed the side of her neck with his warm, moist mouth.

  “Nash!” She squirmed against him.

  “I’ve wanted to do that all night,” he whispered. Goose bumps shivered up her arms as his tongue made lazy circles along one ear. Her legs felt as if they’d collapse, and she involuntarily pressed her weight against him.

  “Please stop that!” she said from between clenched teeth.

  “Not on your life. You’re doing great.” He made all the moves and, holding her the way he was, took the weight off her injured leg so she could slide with him.

  “I’ll embarrass us both any minute,” she muttered.

  “Just close your eyes and enjoy the music.”

  Since they were in the middle of the floor, Savannah had no choice but to follow his instructions. Her chance to escape gracefully had long since passed.

  The music was slow and easy, and when she lowered her lashes, she could pretend. This was the night, she’d decided earlier, to play the role of princess. Only she’d never expected her Cinderella fantasy to make it all the way to the ballroom floor.

  “You’re a natural,” he whispered. “Why have you waited so long?”

  She was barely moving, which was all she could manage. This was her first experi
ence, and although she was loath to admit it, Nash was right; she was doing well. This must be a dream, a wonderful romantic dream. If so, she prayed it’d be a very long time before she woke.

  As she relaxed, Nash’s arms moved to a more comfortable position. She lowered her own arm just a little, and her fingers toyed with the short hair at his neck. It was a small but intimate gesture, to run her fingers through his hair, and she wondered at her courage. It might be just another facet of her fantasy, but it seemed the action of a lover or a wife.

  Wife.

  In the church, when they’d repeated the vows, Nash had called her his friend, his lover, his wife. But it wasn’t real. But for now, she was in his arms and they were dancing cheek to cheek, as naturally as if they’d been partners for years. For now, she would make it real, because she so badly wanted to believe it.

  “Who said you couldn’t dance?” he asked her after a while.

  “Shh.” She didn’t want to talk. These moments were much too precious to waste on conversation. This time was meant to be savored and enjoyed.

  The song ended, and when the next one started almost without pause, the beat was fast. Her small bubble of happiness burst. Her disappointment must have been obvious because Nash chuckled. “Come on,” he said. “If we can waltz, we can do this.”

  “Nash…I could do the slow dance because you were holding me, but this is impossible.”

  Nash, however, wasn’t listening. He was dancing. Without her. His arms jerked back and forth, and his feet seemed to be following the same haphazard course. He laughed and threw back his head. “Go for it, Savannah!” He shouted to be heard above the music. “Don’t just stand there. Dance!”

  She was going to need to move—off the dance floor. She was about to turn away when Nash clasped her around the waist, holding her with both hands. “You can’t quit now.”

  “Oh, yes, I can. Just watch me.”

 
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