But her instincts were plainly screwed up. Ellie's short-lived affair with Diogo had proven that. The night Diogo had taken her in his arms in Rio, it had felt so right. When he'd kissed her on the street, amid the explosion of music and bright color, she'd felt truly alive for the first time in her life.
Passion was dangerous. She had to try to learn to make choices with her head, not her heart.
Taking care of her mother over her long years of illness, Ellie had spent many dark nights yearning for adventure in far-off lands. For the hot kisses of scandalous men. But Diogo's hot embrace had seared her to the core. He'd arrogantly changed her whole life—and he didn't even care.
She'd wanted to tell him the truth—but how could she? Even just knowing half of the truth, he'd assumed the worst about her, that she was a calculating gold digger who would use an innocent baby to trap a man into marriage. He'd coldly and cruelly insulted her.
He didn't know her at all—and he never had!
“Ellie.” Timothy's voice was muffled through the door, but she could still hear his affectionate exasperation. “Don't you know we've got three hundred people waiting? What do you want to talk to me about?”
“Timothy.” Her whole body was still shaking from remembering what Diogo had said to her. She forced herself to take a deep breath. To steady her hands. She had to forget Diogo. She had to erase him from her mind completely and try to be glad that she would never see him again. She licked her dry lips. “Will you please come in here?”
“No—it's bad luck!”
“That's just a superstition!”
She heard him laugh. “It's taken so long to convince you to marry me, I'm not taking any chances.”
Was she supposed to shout out her pregnancy confession through a door, to the shock of his ushers and the last guests walking into the church? “Please. I really, really need to talk to you!”
He paused. Then he spoke, and his voice glowed. “Whatever you have to say, I'm longing to hear it. Just wait a few minutes more, and you can tell me every day for the rest of our lives.”
Horrified, she realized he thought she finally meant to tell him she loved him. Her forehead broke out into a cold sweat. This was getting worse and worse. “Timothy, you don't understand—”
“Wait,” he said firmly.
She had no choice.
There was a pause. Then the door flung open.
Timothy's pale, thin face was ghostly white—but he looked like he was breathing fire. He slammed the door closed behind him and grabbed her wrist.
“How is that possible,” he ground out, “when we have never slept together?”
His eyes were so hard through his wire-rimmed glasses, his face so wild and different from his usual placid expression, that she backed up a step.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “It was a mistake. I never meant to hurt you…”
“Who's the man?” he demanded, his slender hand tightening around her wrist.
She shook her head desperately. “It doesn't matter. I'll never see him again.”
“Who is he?”
“You're hurting me!”
He tossed her arm aside. “So that's why you suddenly agreed to marry me? Because you were pregnant and your lover had deserted you?”
“But you made a mistake if you planned to pass this baby off as mine,” he sneered. “Even I'm not stupid enough to believe you're pregnant with my child, when you never let me touch you!”
“It was a mistake!” she cried. “The worst mistake of my life! I just found out I was pregnant this morning. I never intended to deceive you!”
“Right,” he said sarcastically. He ran his hand through his blond, thinning hair. “Sure.”
She watched him miserably. “I understand why you want to call off the wedding. It's probably for the best…”
He looked at her sharply. “What do you mean? I'm not calling anything off.”
“You're not backing out. Pregnant or not,” he said in a hard voice, “you're going to marry me. Today.”
She swallowed. “And the baby—”
His lip curled. “I'll take care of it.”
He threw the door back with a bang and stalked out.
Take care of it?
Timothy was willing to be her baby's father?
He was truly willing to help her raise her child?
Dazed, she stumbled out of the room. She'd thought, really thought, he would call off the wedding. But he hadn't—so that meant…
She was getting married. Right now. In just moments, she would be Timothy's wife—for the rest of her life. She heard the string quartet finish Pachelbel's “Canon in D major.” He'd spent a fortune on this wedding, inviting the whole town to see them wed like some kind of royal coronation. As if to force everyone who'd ever treated them badly to see them crowned king and queen of the town.
Lilibeth came toward Ellie, reaching up to kiss her cheek before pulling the gauzy veil over her face. “I couldn't help but overhear!” she said joyfully, her lips pressing an air kiss of her signature orange lipstick. “Pregnant! Oh, Ellie, I'm so happy for you, my dear!”
Happy that Ellie was marrying a man she didn't love?
Happy that the man she had loved was a selfish, critical, amoral bastard who didn't deserve to be any baby's father?
“But, Gran…” Ellie said softly. “I don't love Timothy.”
Her grandmother's eyes widened, then narrowed. “You will,” she said briskly. “You're going to have his baby.”
The doors to the nave opened, and the wedding march rolled over her like a wave. People turned around in the pews, craning their heads to see her.
Standing alone at the end of the aisle, Ellie's body trembled. Her wedding bouquet shook in her hands as if an earthquake moved beneath her feet.
“Walk,” her grandmother whispered with a smile, taking her arm.
Feeling numb, Ellie walked forward with Lilibeth at her side.
This felt so wrong. But how could she trust her own feelings? Her instincts had only steered her wrong. She'd fallen in love with the worst possible man in New York. Surely, she was marrying the right man now?
And she'd already treated Timothy so badly. She couldn't humiliate him further by running out of the church… Could she?
Flowers and candles were everywhere. She could feel the sharp eyes of the society matrons on her, hear the whispers of people she'd known since childhood. Old Mrs. Abernathy, who'd told her she'd never amount to anything. Candy Gleeson, the former cheerleader, who'd mocked her shabby clothes in high school and called her Stork because she'd had such a thin, ungainly body. They all now watched with envy, believing the fairy tale.
When she reached the end of the aisle, Lilibeth handed Ellie into Timothy's keeping. He held her hand tightly, looking down at her face with a strange, almost demented look in his pale blue eyes.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”
Compared to the broil of emotions inside her, the ceremony was so civilized. So hollow. The minister's beautiful words had nothing to do with how she felt inside.
She—Timothy's wife? To love him? Share his bed? Raise his children?
It had to be. Anything was better than to love someone only to be brutally rejected by them again and again. That must be how Timothy had felt, loving her for so long.
She would learn to enjoy his tepid kisses somehow. She would earn his forgiveness for her mistake, even if it took a lifetime. She would.
But when she closed her eyes, the memory of her night with Diogo still overwhelmed her. The way he'd ruthlessly spread her virgin lips with his own. He'd taken her innocence carelessly, like a conqueror. All the tenderness of her first kiss, the sweetness she'd timidly dreamed of sharing with a man she could love, Diogo had scornfully swept away, leaving in its place something hot and dark that burned her through, melting her to ash.
She desperately pushed the thought away. Struggling to calm the pounding of her heart, Ellie clenched her hands tighter around the green stems of her bridal bouquet. Pink and white petals fluttered slowly to the flagstones.
“Do you, Timothy Alistair Wright, take Ellie Jensen to be your lawfully wedded wife…”
Even in the midst of her wedding, she couldn't stop thinking about Diogo!
The bastard. The lying bastard.
“…for as long as you both shall live?”
Timothy looked at her. Bright light from the soaring church windows shimmered off his wire-rimmed glasses, illuminating his pale, thin face. “I do.”
The minister turned to her. “And do you, Eleanor Ann Jensen, take Timothy Wright—”