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“If anyone knows of any reason, lawful or otherwise, that this couple should not be legally wed, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
This was the part of the ceremony that was supposed to breeze past quickly. Claire didn’t expect to hear anything and neither did her groom, Calvin, because he smiled at her and took a breath as if he was ready to move onto the vows.
The booming voice echoed through the church and the murmurs in the room grew as she and Calvin turned to look at the figure at the other end of the aisle. The guy had to be six four, he was muscular and rugged with dark hair and stubble. As imposing as his stance was, he was a stranger. She didn’t recognize him at all, and he wasn’t the type of man she’d think she could forget.
Two other men rushed up behind him, forcing the imposing man to take a step forward. “What do you think you’re doing?” Calvin asked, edging her backward as he moved a few inches down the aisle. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m her husband.”
The room gasped and Claire took a reflexive step backward.
The next few minutes were a blur, someone took her hand and she was put in the large room she’d used to dress. The screen in the far left corner covered the spot she’d changed in. The large windows in the corner beside that screen had couches beneath facing into the room. The full length mirrors stood in a semicircle opposite the door she’d just been put through, and she fixated on the sight of herself in this flowing white dress. Her wedding dress.
This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, but as others piled into the room behind her, she didn’t feel particularly happy.
“Just what the hell is this?” Calvin demanded. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her toward the couches and urged her deep into the corner of the room with his mother, Diane, and his best man, Boyd on either side of her.
The imposing man and the two men who’d entered the church with him, came in and closed the door, then stayed close to the mirrors, ten feet away from where she was.
“Shane Warren,” the imposing man said and offered Calvin a hand, but he refused it with a snort.
“I don’t think this is the time for introductions, you just ruined our wedding day.”
“I know,” Shane said.
The man to his left spoke up, “That couldn’t be helped. What alternative did we have?”
Claire kept her head down, she didn’t cope well in large groups and this was all overwhelming. But when she glanced up, she caught Shane looking straight past Calvin at her and the other two men were just as fixated. “It’s good to see you, Gin.”
That shook something loose in her. “You know my real name,” she said and tried to move closer, but Calvin put out an arm to prevent her from passing him.
“How do we know these people are who they say they are?” Calvin demanded.
“That’s true,” Diane said, going to her son’s side. “You’re not the first people to claim to know our Claire.”
“Her name isn’t Claire,” the man on the left said. “Her name is Ginger.”
Ginger. That didn’t sound familiar, but nothing did. “She went missing sixteen months ago, after a boating accident.”
“Boating?” Calvin sniggered and took her hand again. “Claire hates the water.”
The man on the left spoke up again. “Actually she doesn’t. She’s a strong swimmer. She’s always loved the beach.”
Calvin was shaking his head. Shane frowned and turned to talk to the man who seemed most vocal. They exchanged some words that she couldn’t make out and the third man turned to talk to the group.
“We should call the cops,” Boyd said.
But she didn’t want anyone to call the cops. As distressing as this was, she wanted to know where she’d come from. She wanted to know who she was during the big blank space that was her life before Calvin.
Except as she watched the three men opposite her group talk to each other, she wanted to know more about who they were too. “How did you find me?”
Everyone in the room stopped talking to look at her, finding her voice had taken time and it sounded meek in comparison to the other strong male voices in the room. “We never stopped looking,” Shane said, leaving his group, but Calvin wouldn’t him get too close. “I’ve been looking for you for sixteen months.”
“What happened? I mean, I…”
“What do you remember?” the guy to the left said and she took a breath, at a loss again. “It was this, your wedding that brought us here. We have a program that’s been running, searching the internet for mentions of you.”
Calvin blustered. “Mentions of her, we don’t know her real name, she knows nothing about her past, how could—”
“Everyone thought she was dead,” the man on the left said, getting emotional. “Four bodies were pulled out the water, hers was never found and this guy.” He hit Shane’s back. “He wouldn’t give up. He wouldn’t give up on my sister until—”
“Your sister?” Diane said.
Claire’s jaw fell. “You’re my brother?”
Nodding, he smiled, though his eyes were wet. “Yes, I’m Owen, your big brother.”
“And he’s a lawyer,” the third man said.
“This is Murphy,” Shane said, introducing him. “He’s my brother.”
This was turning into a momentous day. It had always been supposed to be memorable, but not like this. “And we’re here to tell you all to back off,” Murphy said, looking meaner than his brother, when she hadn’t thought that was possible. “You don’t know the first thing about Ginger, and she’s not marrying anyone today.”
“That’s not for you to say,” Diane said.
“Actually it is,” Owen said, putting his briefcase on a side table to open it up. Inside were a bunch of files and folders, but he only took one out. “This is a copy of their original marriage certificate.”
He opened the folder and handed it over to Calvin. Claire, or as she’d now been told she was, Ginger, peeked at it past Diane and Boyd. There it was, with their names on it. Ginger Leyland was her maiden name and it had been witnessed by Owen Leyland and Murphy Warren.
“Do I have a mother?” she asked, looking to Owen for an answer.
Losing some of his professional edge, he glanced back at Shane. “You do. She’s been sick. She’s in the hospital. I told her… I told her you’d visit, when we found you, when you were up for it. I said we’d let you know where she was.”
“And a father?”
“Your dad died when you were fourteen, Bit,” Shane said, edging nearer, but that just made Calvin tense.
“This is all lovely but complete bullshit,” Calvin said.
“We have no way to prove if any of this is real,” Boyd backed up his friend, which was to be expected.
Ginger’s head was spinning and she didn’t know what to think. For sixteen months she’d been an amnesia sufferer. Calvin and his family had gotten her through, they’d supported her even through the toughest of times. But she couldn’t dismiss these men until she knew for sure if they were lying or telling the truth.
Except there was another pressing matter that made her mutter, “We have two hundred guests out there.”
“Want me to talk to them?”
Instead of the groom asking the question, it was Shane. She inhaled and opened her mouth, but didn’t know how to respond, especially when Calvin exclaimed. “Our wedding has nothing to do with you. You don’t know a single person out there. Why the hell would we let you talk to them?”
“I think it’s wrong for you to let Ginny worry about them,” Shane said. “Someone should already be out there telling those folks it’s not gonna happen.”
“Shane,” Owen said, taking his turn to calm the man. “I’m sure he wasn’t going to send his bride out there to talk to them.”
“Ginger hates talking to large groups,” Murphy said and she made eye contact with him.
That was true and something she hated about herself, so something had carried forward from who she was then to who she was now. “I can excuse them,” she said, though she didn’t have a clue what she’d say. The people out there were Calvin’s friends and family, most of them knew about her history, or lack of one, but she didn’t like to talk about it.
“I’ll excuse them,” Calvin said.
“You’re getting married today,” Diane asserted. “You have to get married today.”
“You can’t get married if she’s already married,” Boyd said and glanced at everyone. “It’s illegal for her to be married twice. Your marriage would be void.”
“Boyd is Calvin’s lawyer,” Ginger said and got glared at, except she didn’t know why that would be a secret.
Everyone went back to talking amongst themselves until voices were raised and it became a din. When she’d woken up in the hospital, doctors had told her that her amnesia may be temporary. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been. Calvin had been the one to find her, at the side of the road, and he’d stood by her through everything. He’d encouraged her to make a new life for herself instead of chasing the old one.
But here was not just one man from her old life, but three of them, and they had paperwork that could prove she’d made choices different to those she was making today.
“I want to talk to Mr. Warren alone,” Ginger said, her voice loud enough to silence the others although she hadn’t shouted.
Every face was again focused on her and she knew it was important to be confident. Although she was too anxious to look at Shane, so she focused on Calvin, but that didn’t really help, ‘cause he got tense. “No!” he said. “I cannot allow—”
“You have to tell the guests to leave anyway,” Owen said.
Murphy closed in behind Owen. “And this is just beginning,” he said. “You’re not going to get rid of us easily… you can’t come between a man and his wife.”
Calvin leaned closer to them, turning his back on her, blocking her from the room. “They’re not married, not really, she’s my bride, not his. I won’t leave him alone with her. If he feels entitled… if he touches her—”
“She said she wanted to talk, not fuck,” Shane said, his voice deep and husky. “I swear I’ll keep my dick in my pants.”
Again, her mouth fell open and she was glad that Calvin was giving her cover from the room because her cheeks must have reddened. Calvin and his family didn’t talk that way. They were a nice family, a rich family, who made their money in chemicals. They were traditional and conservative. In comparison, Shane wore a crumpled shirt over a dark tee-shirt and worn jeans that hadn’t seen a washer for a while, maybe he was used to trash talk, but she’d barely heard a curse word in sixteen months.
“Unless she begs,” Murphy muttered and she had to cover her mouth with her hand to conceal her shock. “He never could say no to her… on anything.”
When she peeked around Calvin, she watched Murphy nudge his brother and Shane threw a smile at him, but was serious when he turned back. “I’ll say no this time,” Shane said.
“If you even think about touching her…” Calvin said and began to walk, but she ran around him to prevent the men from coming to blows.
Spinning around, she faced Calvin. “Just a few minutes, please.”
Calvin wasn’t happy, she could tell from how his jaw popped to the side, but he inhaled. “I’ll tell everyone there’s been a change of plan… Boyd will stay right outside the door, anything happens, scream.”
It took a minute of whispering and shifting expressions for everyone to leave in an orderly fashion. Diane took some convincing, but eventually left.
Murphy was the last one still here. Hanging in the door with one hand on the handle and the other on the frame, he made eye contact with his brother. “We’ll be right out here too, bro.”
He glanced at her before he went out and then Ginger was alone with Shane. Her palms began to sweat and her mouth dried. “I won’t bite,” Shane said, and she took her time to lift her chin. “You were never into that.”
When his hand rose as though he intended to touch her face, she backed away on another surge of worry. “I… I don’t like to be touched.”
Not only did he stop his advance, but he bobbed his head and put his hands in his pockets. “Ok,” he said. “Whatever you need, Bit.” His smile slid upward. “I’m just amazed to see you again… You look beautiful.”
Well it was her wedding day, people were supposed to say that to her, but as she peered into him, she sensed he was looking at something other than the dress or her figure. “Tell me more about how you found me.”
He swallowed, getting more business-like. “As Owen said, we had a program running continuously, it picked up stories about women who had unusual pasts, who’d been in accidents or been found in unusual circumstances. Amnesia was an idea floated by one of the doctors we had on the case, so the program flagged those stories too. As you can imagine, we would get several hits a day, but not too many that we couldn’t eyeball them… Then we got the story of your wedding, it was run in a local paper. A big business tycoon like Calvin, his wedding was big news around here.”
She remembered the local media interviewing Calvin, she’d been around, but hadn’t said much. It was hard to answer questions when your life’s narrative was filled with blanks. Instead of being agreeable, she kept her guard up, remembering what Boyd had said. “How do we know you are who you say you are?” There was one obvious way she could find that out, but she wasn’t ready to go that route yet.
“Damn,” he said, but was smiling like he enjoyed this. “You never did take people at face value… For one thing, Owen will submit to a sibling DNA test. Believe me or not, he is your brother.” That would be helpful to find out if Owen was indeed her brother, but didn’t prove Shane was her husband. “Why would I lie?” He must have sensed she didn’t buy it yet.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I… this is just so… unusual.”
He gestured to the couch. “Why don’t we sit down and I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
“Everything?” she asked, but when she turned toward the couch, she remembered she was wearing her gown. A pointless garment now that she wasn’t going to get married, but one she couldn’t sit in. He was on his way to sit when she pressed her hands to her abdomen. “Do you mind if I get changed?”
He shook his head after sitting on the couch and stretching his arms along the back of it. “Go right ahead.”
She had the clothes she’d worn here this morning behind the screen to her left, so she could change and be concealed from his view. Except she couldn’t get out of the dress alone. Awkward as it was to ask a stranger to undress her, she didn’t have much choice, she couldn’t breathe in this dress and if she called someone else in, she’d never get the chance to vet this man.
Going to him, she turned her back and pointed to the lace at her lower back. “Can you unlace me?”
Looking over her shoulder, she expected him to be shocked, but one corner of his mouth curled upward. “Sure,” he said and sat up to pull the lace at the bottom. “I’ll even do it without touching you… I expect points for that.”
But he was touching her, even if there was no skin-to-skin contact, she was still asking him to do something intimate and although her heart was pumping, her head was too overwhelmed to read too much into it. “There’s a hook under the satin and the lace is—”
“I know,” he said. “I took the first one off you. I remember how this shit works.”
Oh, right, that made sense if he was her husband. Course, he could be married to any woman, it didn’t have to mean he’d married her and taken her out of her dress. His gentleness surprised her, she’d have expected such a big guy to be more ham-fisted, but he was delicate about freeing her.
“Thank you,” she said when the bodice loosened.
“No worries,” he said and sat back again when she went to behind the screen to slip out of it.
After tucking it back into the dress bag, she bent to pull her clothes from the bag put there for her essentials. “You cut it a bit fine, didn’t you, Mr. Warren?” she asked. “When did you see the article?”
“It was published two days ago, but hit our system yesterday and I’ll be honest, Bit, this is further out than we’d expected you to be. You’re quite a way from home.”
Home, wherever that was. “Have you never heard of a phone?”
“The picture in the article was small, although we were sure it was you, we weren’t a hundred percent. And I know how pissed I’d have been if someone stopped my wedding day on a whim. Anyway, Calvin isn’t an easy guy to get on the phone and you’re not listed.”
“I live at the house with him and his mother, Diane,” she called out, zipping her strapless dress beneath her arm. “You’re right, it’s not listed. I don’t have a cell phone… who would call it?”
Coming around the screen, she tucked a ringlet behind her ear and when he saw her, he sat up, sat forward with a look on his face that suggested he’d forgotten how to breathe. “Damn, baby…”
So this simple short dress did more for him than the wedding dress and when she glanced down to try to see what he saw, she noticed the top of her garter belts peeking from beneath it. Here she was trying to be more conservative and normal to have a conversation with him and she’d just asked him to undress her then given him a glimpse of her lingerie.
Instead of being embarrassed, she laughed and it made her relax when he joined in. “I didn’t mean to—”
“You’re making it hard for me to keep my promise.”
“Your promise?” she asked, wondering if he’d made some promise to her while they were together.
“About keeping my dick in my pants.”
“Oh,” she said and suddenly wasn’t so amused anymore. “I’m not… I’m not comfortable talking about sex.”
He got serious as he sat back. “But I figured you didn’t ask to talk to me alone so we could discuss your phone number.”
Shaking her head, she went over to join him on the couch, luckily it was long enough that she could sit quite far from him. “This is awkward,” she whispered.
“Not awkward,” he said and moved a bit closer, but when she tensed, he stopped and held up his hands in apology. “Bit, there’s nothing you can ask me that I won’t answer. I’ll tell you anything it’s in my power to tell you. We don’t have to talk about sex, but if you want me to prove I am your husband… I can tell you that you have a freckle on your pussy, right at the edge of—”
Now she held up a finger, and her chin was down again. “That’s too much.”
“Ok, you tell me what you want to know… Anything personal, you won’t remember. Physically, I can tell you everything about your body… I can tell you that you make a little squeaking noise when you orgasm, is that easier?”
Much as she was mortified, a smile slipped to her lips and she let herself peek up at him though she couldn’t raise her chin. “Do you enjoy making me uncomfortable?”
Leaning in, he lowered his voice. “I love to see you blush.”
“I’m not blushing,” she argued, though knew it was true.
He held up his thumb and forefinger. “A little… just a tiny bit.”
Now she hitched up her chin and smiled to tease him. “You could’ve started with the freckles on my feet.”
“You don’t have freckles on your feet… and that only proves I’ve seen you in sandals.”
“What about my breasts?”
His eyes dropped and the interest in them made her bite her lip. “Sure, we can talk about those,” he said. “They’re perfect… what else is there to say?”
Ok, talking about them wasn’t any easier, but she was more relaxed now that they were pushing boundaries. Although he was interested in her figure, he wasn’t sitting close enough to make her feel intimidated or threatened and he wasn’t leering.
But they couldn’t make jokes all day. “My doctors told me my memories might come back one day,” she said. “They said I could talk about what I know, but… if anyone from my past came into my life, they said I shouldn’t… that I shouldn’t ask too many questions, or hear too many stories, because there was a risk of false memories.”
He didn’t argue her gear change, just listened. “So you can’t ask questions and I can’t offer information… doesn’t that make it hard for you to learn about where you came from?”
It was frustrating and confusing and exhausting. Her impulse was to run her hand through her hair so she could find a tendril to curl around her finger, but her wedding do was up and hair sprayed so much it was almost hard. So she brushed her hairline with her fingertips.
“I don’t know the rules here,” she said.
He came an inch closer. “Bit, you and me were never very good at playing by the rules.”
Reaching over, he took a ringlet from behind her ear and laid it over her finger like he knew she’d needed hair to play with. “Thank you,” she whispered, lost in his gaze.
“Giving you what you need,” he said. “It’s what I’m here for.”
The door opened and Calvin came back in with his mother and the others who’d been outside the room, but they all paused when they saw her and Shane on the couch. Although they were sitting close and his hand was suspended near hers, there was nothing untoward going on.
“What’s wrong with all your faces?” Shane asked, maybe pissed off, his tone was certainly abrupt.
Murphy grinned and Owen leaned in to say something, but it was Calvin who marched forward. “You took off your dress?”
Oh, that was why everyone was surprised, she smiled and stood up, trying to pull her dress down to cover her garter belts. “I changed behind the screen,” she said, pointing at it.
Diane approached behind her son, displeasure all over her expression. “You can’t get out of that dress alone.”
Murphy laughed. “I think you’re safe. Sex between them has never taken just the five minutes we were out of the room.”
“I don’t know,” Owen said, folding his arms. “It’s been sixteen months for him, at least, he probably went off like a rocket.”
The two men laughed and her cheeks were aflame now, this was embarrassing and terrifying. “I didn’t have sex,” she said to Calvin, appealing to him as Diane and Boyd glared. “I promise you, I’m sorry I—”
“She’s not on trial here,” Shane said and although he was still tense and probably meant well, his coming to her defense didn’t help her now. “You trust your woman or you don’t.”
“And not to be blunt, but they’re married… he has seen her naked before. They have been intimate, were intimate for years,” Owen said. “Shane’s clocked more miles on my sister than you have.”
Wasn’t that a lovely analogy? Ginger cringed, but no one was looking at her anymore. “Yes, but she doesn’t remember it,” Diane said. “So it never happened.”
“Is that the rule around here?” Murphy asked. “You don’t remember, it didn’t happen? Is that why you never encouraged her to find out the truth about who she was?”
Everyone started to talk again. There were too many strong opinions in this room and it was overwhelming. She didn’t know what to do or how to handle this and there were still more complications she hadn’t even thought about yet.
Going to Calvin, she took his hand, which calmed him enough to stop arguing with the others. “We can’t stay in the church all day. Did you tell everyone to leave?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And the reception? What should we do about that?”
For once, no one had anything to say. “You paid for dinner for two hundred folk,” Owen eventually said. “I don’t think the staff would mind reducing that to a seven cover, right? We’re not going away. We sit down and have dinner like civilized folks, we can make a plan… We don’t want to turn this into a legal battle.”
“Custody over a grown woman,” Diane sneered. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Squeezing Calvin’s hand, Ginger wished she had him alone now too, he was always more pliable without his mother around. She just had to hope he was focused on her now. “Please,” Ginger said. “We can’t just forget this happened. Let’s have dinner with them. Dinner can’t hurt.”
(c) Scarlett Finn 2017
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AMAZON US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B071YNGJX4
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