His for Revenge

By: Caitlin Crews

CHAPTER ONE

ZARA ELLIOTT WAS halfway down the aisle of the white-steepled First Congregational Church she’d always thought was a touch too smug for its own good—taking up a whole block on the town green in the center of the sweetly manicured, white clapboard village that her family had lived in since the days of the first Connecticut Colony way back in the 1630s—before the sheer insanity of what she was doing really hit her.

She felt her knees wobble alarmingly beneath her, somewhere underneath all that billowing white fabric that was draped around her and made her look like a lumbering wedding cake, and she almost stopped right there. In front of the hundreds of witnesses her father had decided it was necessary to invite to this circus show.

“Don’t you dare stop now,” her father hissed at her, the genial smile he used in public never dimming in the slightest as his wiry body tensed beside her. “I’ll drag you up this aisle if I have to, Zara, but I won’t be pleased.”

This constituted about as much paternal love and support as she could expect from Amos Elliott, who collected money and power the way other fathers collected stamps, and Zara had never been any good at standing up to him anyway.

That had always been her sister Ariella’s department.

Which was how this was happening in the first place, Zara reminded herself as she dutifully kept moving. Then she had to order herself not to think about her older sister, because the dress might be a preposterous monstrosity of filmy white material, but it was also much—much—too tight. Ariella was at least three inches taller than Zara and had the breasts of a preteen boy, all the better to swan about in bikinis and gravity-defying garments as she pleased. And if Zara let herself get furious, as she would if she thought about any of this too hard, she would pop right out of this secondhand dress that didn’t fit her at all, right here in the middle of the church her ancestors had helped build centuries ago.

It would serve her father right, she thought grimly, but it wouldn’t be worth the price she’d have to pay. And anyway, she was doing this for her late grandmother, who had earnestly believed that Zara should give her father another chance and had made Zara promise to her on her deathbed last summer that Zara would—but had left Zara her cottage on Long Island Sound just in case that chance didn’t go well.

She concentrated on the infamous Chase Whitaker—her groom—instead, as he stood there at the front of the church with his back to her approach. He looked as if he was drawing out the romantic suspense when Zara knew he was much more likely to be concealing his own fury at this wedding he’d made perfectly clear he didn’t want. This wedding that her conniving father had pushed him into in the months since Chase’s own larger-than-life father had died unexpectedly, leaving Amos a distinct weakness in the power structure of Whitaker Industries that he, as chairman of its board of directors, could exploit.

This wedding that Chase would have been opposed to even if Zara had been who she was supposed to be: Ariella, who, in typical Ariella fashion, hadn’t bothered to turn up this morning.

Zara had always prided herself on her practicality, a vastly underused virtue in the Elliott family, but she had to admit that there was a part of her that took in the sight of her waiting groom’s broad, finely carved shoulders and that delicious height he wore so easily and wondered what it would be like if this was real. If she wasn’t a last-minute substitute for the beauty of the family, who had once been breathlessly described in Zara’s hearing as the jewel in the Elliott crown. If a man like Chase Whitaker—worshipped the world over for his dark blue eyes, that thick dark hair and that devastatingly athletic body of his that made women into red-faced, swooning idiots at the very sight of it, to say nothing of that crisp, delicious British accent he wielded with such charm—really was waiting for her at the end of a church aisle.

If, if, if, she scolded herself derisively. You’re an idiot yourself.

No one, it went without saying, had ever described Zara as a gemstone of any kind. Though her much-beloved grandmother had called her a brick once or twice before she’d died last summer, in that tone women of Grams’s exalted social status had only ever used to refer to the girls they considered handsome enough and even dependable instead of anything like pretty.

“You’re so dependable,” Ariella had said two days ago, the way she always did, with that little smile and that arch tone that Zara had been choosing to overlook for the better part of her twenty-six years. Ariella had been putting on her makeup for one of her prewedding events, an exercise which took her a rather remarkable amount of time in Zara’s opinion. Not that she’d shared it. “I don’t know how you can bear to do it all the time.”

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