Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight

“Dear God this church is stifling, and I’m not even the one getting married,” James muttered to Nick.

“Shut up, James.”

James chuckled. Beads of sweat glistened on the young Captain’s brow, whether from wedding jitters or the insufferable humidity James couldn’t be sure. Resisting the urge to stick a finger or two beneath his own stiff collar, James clasped his hands behind his back sweeping a gaze over the wedding goers packed into the pews. Several women waved fans in futile attempt to move the stifling air. James stood on the first step beneath the altar, just below Nick, he couldn’t imagine how miserable the seats in the pews must be.

Restless murmurs rose up from the crowd of would be well-wishers. “I wish they’d get on with it. What is taking so long?”

James couldn’t agree more with the disgruntled sentiments. Perhaps the bride had gotten nervous and fled the church. If such were the case, he certainly couldn’t blame her. Not that he’d voice the thought aloud. Nick hardly seemed in the mood for a good joke. Pity. James had a string of witticisms—

The door behind the altar slammed. Reverend Alistair rushed into the assembly hall in a flurry of oversized, ill-fitted robes. He approached the gray haired woman seated patiently at the pianoforte and whispered into her ear. The pianist nodded, straightened her spine, and placed her fingers over the keys.

Finally.

A collective sigh of relief suffused the church as the frazzled reverend—spectacles askew and hair mussed—stepped up to the altar, and nodded. A moment later the pianist rolled into a respectable rendition of Pachelbel’s Cannon.

James snapped to attention as the wide double doors at the back of the church swung open. Two adorable girls—perhaps five years old—dressed in white gowns with blue flowers weaved through their chocolate hair stepped into the aisle followed by… Phoebe.

James’s heart stuttered and all but arrested.

The devil help him, she was a vision. Swathed all in lavender silk, she commanded every aspect of his attention from the serene expression she wore to the set of her hands holding the bouquet of spring forget-me-night. He could do naught but stare as she glided down the aisle, carving the path for the bride, her every movement graceful and fluid like a song. The pale length of her hair swept up in a gentle chignon while a few soft tendrils floated down in slender spirals, kissing her neck. Oh, how he envied those strands their proximity to her willowy throat. He’d give his left thumb to graze that wickedly smooth flesh again, and be surrounded in the soothing scent of lavender. Her beautiful eyes lifted to him, glittering and tender, and he could almost believe she walked for him. His feeble heart stumbled back to life. Beat anew. Beat for her. Lost, James all but forgot his purpose. He had eyes only for Phoebe.

“I envy you, Collins,” James murmured.

“Have eyes for my Sarah do you?”

“I envy that tonight you shall take the woman you want to bed.”

*          *          *

A fat rain drop splattered square across Phoebe’s forehead the moment she stepped out of the church after the ceremony. She glared up at the soupy black clouds roiling above them, silently commanding the storm to hold off long enough to get to Sarah’s home for the wedding dinner.

Well-wishers milled merrily about the churchyard, oblivious to the impending storm, laughing and surrounding Sarah.

“Lady Phoebe.”

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