On Wings of Trust [Book 4 Harmony Village Series]
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by Anna Dynowski
Description: Izabella Golec once stalked her art professor. She's since channeled her energy into a thriving venture and into interring the man with the ebony hair and dark eyes into a remote chamber of her dead heart. But when lucrative artist, Roman Ricci, shows up unexpectedly in town, books a room in her inn, and parks his easel and brushes there, her dead heart is revived?and so are the memories, both the shameful and the passionate. Will a beautiful painting of love emerge on his blank canvas, or will the services of Harmony Village's indomitable matchmaker, Cupid Cat, be needed?
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2011 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: July 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [378 KB]
Reading time: 235-330 min.
Three Years Earlier
Tears threatened, but she held them back with sheer force of will.
When as a young girl she'd thought of her wedding, she'd imagined herself wearing a soft, romantic white gown, with a rich lace applique adorning the organza, and with pearls trailing down the length of the a-line skirt and along the train flowing out behind her. She'd imagined herself standing at the altar beside her man--the cliched tall, dark, and handsome man--but her man, nonetheless, a man devoted to her, a man excited about starting off on a romantic adventure with her. She'd imagined the sunlight spilling in through the church's stained glass windows, casting a benevolent glow on their ceremony and a throng of family and friends and well-wishers surrounding them, cheering them, applauding them.
When as a young girl she'd thought of her wedding, she'd imagined her husband-to-be to be in love with her.
A sob tried to escape, but Izabella Golec pushed it back and began to wander the room, her hands vice-gripped in front of her. Not a room, she amended, touring it slowly, her spirit disconsolate. A room would conjure up images of love and joy and warmth. Her stinging eyes roamed the office, the compact, tidy, no-frills office of the art professor of Humber College, the groom's boss and hastily appointed best man for this impromptu ceremony.
No sweet scent of orchids or roses or lilies drifted up to tease her nose, but the stale stench of old cigarette smoke or maybe marijuana. No gathering of loved ones to share in this special occasion, but the pony-tailed, fringe-vested professor and his Pocahontas headband-ed wife, the sole witnesses. No blessing of cheerful sunlight, she grieved, halting her agitated movement at the window and pulling her lower lip between her teeth. Outside, the night sky opened, the rain poured, and lightning flashed in sarcastic bolts. Her eyes dropped from the window to collide with her clothes. No romantic gown she wore, but a serviceable, sensible, straight-off-the-rack suit in the muted shade of light brown.
"Shall we get started?"
A light, cheerful feminine voice intruded on her morbid musings. Holding back a heartbreaking sigh and blinking away the threatening tears, Izabella pivoted around, her gaze slamming against her soon-to-be husband.
Roman Ricci stood a few feet away, hands balled into the pockets of his black pants, his gray silk shirt--the only concession to extravagant spending--suctioned over muscles that stretched around his tall frame. His face, colorless and strained, stood out against ebony hair spiked by restless, angry fingers.
But it was his eyes, dark and expressive and no longer tender and loving, but hard as flint that made her throat dry and her skin hot. He disliked her. Distrusted her. Despised her.
And why not?
Her breath trembled out.
What else could a mature, thirty-year-old artist feel for her, a young, youthful, and naive student at the college where he worked part time as a teaching assistant, a girl who wore short, unruly curls of mousy brown hair and gauche, oversized sweaters and track pants and a silly, sappy smile stretched on her mouth?
What else could he think of her, especially when she did what she did to him?
Yes, he disliked her, distrusted her, despised her.
Her vision blurred, her knees shook. But when, with a brief gesture of his hand, he ordered her to his side, she firmed her spine, raised her chin, straightened her shoulders, and walked toward him, offering a quick, desperate prayer to God He would help Roman forgive and forget and give her strength and hope.
"We are gathered here this evening to witness and celebrate the legal marriage ceremony of Roman Ricci and Izabella Golec." While the genial smile the blond woman in the black robe gave encompassed the four adults, her bland countenance didn't reveal if she sensed any tension swirling in the office. "My name is Susan Manning and I am a certified Wedding Officiant, licensed by the Registrar General of Ontario under the auspices of the Humanist Association of Canada to provide legal marriage ceremonies in Ontario."
A humanist wedding officiant!
Izabella lowered her head, fixed her watery gaze on her locked hands, and bit back a moan.
Not even a minister.
"Marriage is an honorable estate designed to unite two sympathies and hopes into one."
Izabella's fingers tightened their grip. What about a man and a woman joined together in a holy matrimony sanctioned by God? The moan she'd managed to hold back earlier came prancing up her throat again, bringing with it a flood of tears, and she firmed her lips and blinked her eyes.
No. No, she would not cry. She would not let herself cry. No. No. No.
Head still bent, she angled her face a bit and cast Roman a surreptitious glance through her eyelashes. His face breaking into a network of lines, he frowned at the officiant. Then, as if feeling her gaze on him, he turned to pin Izabella with one of his long, intrusive stares. Her fingers fluttered up to her heart, clenching the lapel of her suit while her heart clenched the wall of her chest.
Temper twisted lines around his mouth, hardened his lips. Nerves twisted and tightened her stomach. Her hand stopped its altercation with the blazer and slid down to press hard against her belly. Oh, please God, don't let me throw up. Despite she'd eaten nothing all day, waves of nausea rolled and roiled, poked and pushed against her abdominal walls.
She felt the crushing compulsion to run, to spin around, and run out the office. And keep running. His expression went blank, like she bored him. And bored, he turned, looked straight ahead. But before his face turned away, she caught his smile. It held as much warmth as an iceberg in the arctic.
Using all her self-control, she remained still. She'd wanted this, hadn't she? Now suck it up.
But she hadn't expected--
"We rejoice with Izabella and Roman that they are joining their lives, and seeking the richness of human life by sharing the journey together, both this day, and in all the days to come." The officiant lifted her gaze from the leather-bound book in her hands and faced them, the slow, easy smile of hers sliding into place.
Izabella swallowed a hysterical laugh. Powerless to stop herself, she transferred her gaze to Roman and her breath rattled from her chest.
He stood beside her, his neck held taut, his spine chiseled in stone, his profile unreadable. Blank and impersonal. Until he threw back his head to meet her eyes and there was nothing blank and impersonal swirling in the dark depths. His eyes were full of cold anger and colder frustration. So cold, they could have frozen a raging forest fire. So cold, he couldn't look past her...stalking...and see her love.
What had she done forcing him into this sham of a marriage?
He hated her.
She felt the blood rush to her cheeks and as quickly drain away. A slow, satisfied smile unraveled across his face. Instinctively, she recognized the danger in his expression, and whirled her head back to Susan Manning.
Glancing to the witnesses, Susan said, "Those of us here this evening are witnesses to the happiness this couple has found together, and to the pledges they will make to each other for the mutual service of their common life."
Was the woman blind that she failed to notice Roman's face glowed with disgust, not happiness? And he wasn't about to pledge love to her, either. Hysteria bubbled up her throat. Izabella needed to restrain the mounting panic she felt. But how?
Run! her head shouted.
Her feet froze to the floor.
"We are grateful for your love and support for Izabella and Roman." Susan paused and keeping her voice evenly modulated, she asked the witnesses, "Do you now offer your support for this couple, and wish them the best lives together?"
"We do," the hippy professor and his Pocahontas wife responded.
"Izabella and Roman, please face each other."
Her chest aching with the effort to breathe normally, Izabella turned to face him.
Roman closed his eyes for a few seconds. He sighed. Then he faced her, an expression of great weariness crossing his face.
"Do you, Roman Ricci, now declare your willingness to take Izabella to be your wife, knowing no legal impediment to your being joined in marriage?"
"I do," he answered, a muscle knotting his jaw.
"Do you, Izabella Golec, now declare your willingness to take Roman to be your husband, knowing no legal impediment to your being joined in marriage?"
"I do." She found the words, like her pulse, a bit unsteady.
"Will you please join hands.
When his fingers, long, lean, lifeless, curled around hers, her head jerked up, her breath coming quickly, erratically. Gnawing on her lower lip, she felt a wrenching ache in her chest as he treated her to a long, intense stare that was hard, hot, and hauntingly familiar as of late. Her free hand scratched up her chest, fell beneath the jacket, gripped the cross, and holding onto it, she sent him a pleading look. He followed the movement of her hand with a frown.
He remembered the cross--the gift he gave her for Christmas. Surely...
His expression turned fierce and she felt her heart grow cold.
"Roman and Izabella, you both come to this day with the deep realization of the commitment asked of you as well as the obligations and responsibilities present in the contract of marriage. In the presence of these witnesses, you now will offer your pledges to each other, and place your lives into each other's keeping."
Thunder grumbled in a bad-tempered sky.
Roman's hollow laugh echoed against the walls of the office.
Mistaking his laugh, Susan flashed him a grin. "Do you, Roman, now take Izabella as your wife? Do you pledge your faithful love and support for all the risings and settings of the sun, for all the days of your lives to come?"
"I do." His voice remained quiet, but the anger vibrated beneath.
She closed her eyes, trying to control the burst of raw pain his tone produced, but his two words felt like a slap across her face and she flinched against her will.
"Izabella, do you now take Roman as your husband--"
"Yes." She struggled to keep her voice and expression neutral, but the hurt was so sharp, so constricting, she found it difficult to breathe.
Susan's face broke into a wide grin. "Izabella and Roman, you have spoken your promises of commitment to each other and agreed to accept each other as your legal spouse. It is thus with great pleasure that I declare with these pledges, you have married each other in the presence of these witnesses, and you are now husband and wife." Turning to Roman, she instructed, "You may now kiss your bride," and tucking the book under her arm, she clasped her hands together, and waited, her smile growing with expectancy.
Izabella waited too, not with expectancy, but with dismay.
Roman's expression was haggard for a moment, then he slipped behind his mask of impassivity, and cupping the back of her neck, he leaned in to kiss her, his lips, impassive like his countenance and the palm of his hand. Almost before the kiss began, he ended it, and dropping his hand, he stepped back.
While the hippy best man high-fived him and slapped him on the back and the hairband-ed maid of honor kissed her on both cheeks, the wedding officiant moved to the desk. "Let us sign the marriage license," she invited the newly-pronounced husband and wife.
Roman remained motionless. He did not blink, his face impenetrable as stone.
"Shall we?" Izabella asked, attempting to sound casual while her heart pounded so loud in her ears, she feared she would not hear his reply. Or worse. She feared she would pass out from the sheer strain of it all.
Trust. She had to trust God. Trust Him that everything would turn out all right.
"Roman?" she whispered in the stillness.
He lifted his brows and the eyes under them went cool. "Of course."
When he spoke, she heard it in his voice--the tension, the annoyance. The despair.
He nodded, and with a hint of mockery tugging at the corner of his mouth, he made a sweeping gesture for her to proceed him.
She watched his mouth dip into a deep frown as he signed his name where the officiant indicated and heard him breathe an indistinguishable curse under his breath as he offered the pen to her.
Pain grabbed her heart and gave it a sharp twist. Trust God, Izabella. You have to trust God. Dragging in a quaking breath, she reached for the pen. It was warm to her touch, radiating the heat of the man who stood so strong, so silent, so stoic beside her. She bent over the license, and feeling as though the pen burned her skin, she wrote her name fast and dropped the pen on the desktop.
Susan picked up the document, scanned it, and satisfied, she glanced at the witnesses with a broad smile. "I now present to you the legally married couple, Izabella and Roman."
The professor stuck two fingers in his mouth, delivering a piercing whistle while his wife brought her hands together, over and over, in a gleeful clap, and the officiant looked on with pride gleaming in her gaze.
This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. This was supposed to be the beginning of a beautiful adventure together. This man was supposed to be the happiest groom in the world.
Stifling a defeated sigh, Roman accepted the well-wishes, the smile pasted on his face both weary and resigned, his dark looks giving his expression an ominous cast.
Izabella found herself sucking in a breath to halt the sob wanting to break free from the tightness in her chest.
This was the worst day of her life.
And she'd only herself to blame.
Tucking the license into his shirt pocket, Roman inclined his head, gesturing her from the room. "Let's go." The words were icily polite. The touch of his palm on the small of her back, guiding her to the door, was light and impersonal. She tried not to dwell on how sad she felt, how like an exposed nerve around him she felt, but tried to concentrate all her feelings on how much she loved him.
She tried to believe, to trust God would help Roman forgive and forget. She tried to believe, to trust God would give her strength and hope.
Roman walked down the empty corridor, his movement filled with impatience. His body language mocked her prayer. His stern face mocked her prayer. His set features mocked her prayer.
Tears came from nowhere and blinded her.
Outside, the sky opened up its heart and cried, too. Thunder crashed and rolled. Lightning flashed and scissored.
The weather mocked her prayer.
His fingers digging through the jacket sleeve and into her flesh, Roman elongated his stride across the parking lot, forcing Izabella to run to keep up. Once ensconced in his Jeep, she propped her drenched body into the V between the seat and the door, grateful he remained unaware tears had flowed down her cheeks, mingling with the downpour. After settling in beside her and seemingly oblivious of his wet clothes clinging to his body, he took the five minute journey to their hotel in simmering silence. She sat, stiffened, trying to hide her nervousness and not to think of the wedding night fast approaching.
The wedding night.
Would Roman forget his disappointment once they'd enter their hotel room and remember her inexperience in the art of making love, and with kindness and care, reach for her, slipping a soothing hand into her hair, cupping her jaw with gentle fingers, his thumb stroking her cheek, like he'd always done? Like he'd always done, would he kiss her softly, tenderly, no demands, no pressure, just a charming kiss that would lay claim to her heart and hold it captive to him forever? Would he shed his self-imposed restraint and admit his love for her, his voice a sensual growl that would scrape over her nerve endings and leave her shivering in its wake?
Heat climbed from her chest to her throat, then into her face.
Izabella found her eyes drawn to him, pinned to the expression on his face. It was grim. So grim, lines bracketed his mouth, ringed his eyes, furrowed his forehead. So grim, it made him look older than his thirty years. So grim, it hid from view the man who'd held her in his strong arms, locked her to his firm chest, when she dissolved into heart wrenching sobs at the passing away of Aunt Klara, her only relative.
Her heart tumbled into her stomach and she turned her head away, fixed her gaze on the passing landscape glimmering and shimmering under the rain falling in mighty torrents from the sky.
She had to turn away.
He looked so grim. The grinning, caring, sensitive man who had her heart pounding and moving toward him from the moment she spotted him at campus last fall, had vanished. Without a trace. No forwarding address left behind.
When he spoke into the drumming silence, the sharp impatience in his voice had her snapping her head to him. Her gaze shifted, and biting her lip, she peered through the windshield. Here was a bland, yellow-bricked, multi-windowed, balcony-less building. Nothing fancy. Nothing memorable. Nothing romantic.
The wedding night.
She felt the tears burn in her throat. When she spoke, her voice was thick with them. "I...see."
"Let's go." Roman had his door opened and strode to her side before she unhooked the seat belt.
Izabella jerked when his hand captured hers, pulling her out into the rain. She hoped he hadn't noticed, but he quirked a brow and shot her a brief glance as he shut her door.
For a moment, he held her captive with his stare. For a moment, with rivulets of rain coursing down his face, he watched her with the tolerant amusement she always found so infuriating. And irresistible. For a moment, he circled the back of her neck with a hand. His head leaned in, his mouth lowered to claim hers.
Their lips never met.
She saw the hitch, the hesitation before he spoke. "Let's go." Then they were racing to the lobby door.
Within minutes they faced the door to their room. Key card in hand, he unlocked the door and swung it open. She started to slip across the threshold, when he took her by the arm, holding her motionless and studied her. "It's just a simple room." His words were as cool and casual as his shrug.
The small room was comfortable looking in muted browns and greens, with a queen-sized bed edging one wall, and a sofa, an armchair, a desk the other. It was comfortable and efficient and...unromantic.
The wedding night.
She hung her head and swallowed at the tightness in her throat.
He couldn't rouse himself to offer her a little romance.
She didn't ask for a lot. A few candles, maybe some soft music, an intimate dinner for two. A balcony, perhaps, with the drapes pulled back and the doors opened to let in the night air and moonbeams. A bath, possibly, its warm water scented and foamed with soap bubbles and ready to swirl and soothe two bodies as they reclined and relaxed.
Instead he gave her this practical, functional, utilitarian hotel room for her wedding night.
"I warned you it was a simple room."
Although Izabella couldn't work one word past the knot in her throat, she did manage to spin him a glance, and spin it away. He looked cynical and hard, detached and unemotional, his expression at odds with his body reclining in an indolent slouch in the armchair.
Nodding, she slipped off her pumps and curled her toes into the carpet. Walking to the sofa, she rolled her shoulders in a shrug. "This is fine." She collapsed onto the couch, dangled her arm over the side, and felt the lie burning on her tongue.
Roman's gaze grew sharp, thoughtful. "Bella, under the circumstances--"
One searing stare from her stopped his explanation and he dropped his gaze to his folded hands. She didn't want to hear again how he showed her friendship and she repaid him by stalking him--guilt inched up her spine and she cringed in acute embarrassment and self-contempt--and of them falling into this farce of a marriage, blah, blah-blah, blah-blah. She wanted to hear him say three little words. Giving him a quiet, very stubborn smile, she said with strained patience, "I love--"
"Don't say that." He vice-gripped the armrests. Bringing his eyes back to her, he held them steady. A wistful look stole over him. "You don't know what you're saying."
She heard the pain and remorse in his voice. "I do too know what I am saying. Roman, I'm not some little girl--"
"Aren't you?" He arched his eyebrows at her pleading smile. "You're all of twenty years." Staring down at his hands, he looked helpless, frustrated. "You don't know what you want in life. If you did, we wouldn't be here now."
"Roman, I do--"
"In the morning, we'll discuss where we go from here." It was said quietly, on a sigh of resignation.
He wasn't pleased. She could see it in the shadowy frown that hovered at the corners of his mouth and pleated the full length of his forehead. She could see it in the way he disappeared into the washroom to change out of his clothes and into his pj's. She could see it in the way he avoided catching her eyes as he lifted the comforter aside and slipped beneath the sheets.
She pressed her fingers to her mouth and she blinked back the tears.
She could see it in the way he lay down in bed with his back to her. And fell asleep.
No gentle kiss as a seal of ownership. No arms wrapped around her quivering body. No lovemaking to consummate their vows.
Disconsolate and embarrassed, she stood, pressing the tips of her fingers to her forehead.
The message he sent was loud and clear.
You're too young, too immature, too gauche. I don't need you, want you, love you.
She felt her face flush and swallowed a mouthful of dryness.
Mistake number four.
It took a few weeks and a lot of scenic tours, comprising of mistakes number one, two, and three, before she found herself here at this point. One would think she'd have learned from her mistakes. But, no. Not, Izabella Golec. She never did anything the easy way. She never stopped to consider the ramifications of her actions before launching into them. She never grasped the meaning of learn from your mistakes and not repeat them. Or worse. Not compound them with multiple demonstrations of her immaturity.
But then again, she never met anyone before who could stir her senses, her emotions, her recklessness to such a fever-pitch like Roman Ricci.
She felt shame--a wave of heat pumped through her--and incredibly stupid--nausea pulsed through her, as she stared down at her...husband, asleep on the bed, his mouth still rigid, his face anything but relaxed.
She'd pushed herself onto him. Pushed? No. She'd forced herself onto him. She'd never thrown herself at a man before. Until Roman. The memory of her unconscionable behavior had hot color flaming her cheeks. And he had been none too happy about...the harassment. Not then. Not now.
She knew she should apologize. Manners and conscience dictated it to be so. She knew she would not. Wounded pride demanded it to be so.
Staring down at the plain gold band circling her finger, she had to accept he had no room in his life for her. He never would. Her thumb and forefinger toyed with the ring, twisting it around and around. Her eyelids flickered shut and she bit back a moan. Fresh embarrassment buffeted her in waves as she thought of the numerous times she had thrown herself at him.
And he rejected her. Even now, he rejected her. Always he would reject her.
Shame continued to prick, curling around in her stomach. Her chest heaved and she waited until she had a chance to catch her breath. When she flung open her eyes, her gaze fell on the offensive weight on her finger. Self-defense shot to her rescue, deposing the shame. With a vicious tug, she ripped the wedding band off and clutched it, her fingernails digging into the palm of her hand. Her spine rigid, she strode to the window and looked out. The clouds had stopped their crying, she mused with dispassion.
"I love you, Roman," she said, her voice little more than a tortured whisper. "I always will." Tip-toeing to the bedside table nearest him, she laid the ring down where he would see it upon awakening.
Lifting her chin to a dignified angle, she reached for her purse. She would not stay where she was not wanted. The purse strap slipped off her shoulder and she quickly secured it. Then, clutching her bag, her shoes, and her dignity, she strode to the door, not looking back.
Izabella had to escape before she dissolved into an emotional storm of tears.
Pride decreed that.