His for Revenge(10)By: Caitlin Crews
Shockingly, she told herself derisively, the papers lie, as your entire life watching Ariella manipulate them to her benefit should have made you well aware.
But it was Mattie Whitaker’s bathroom she cared about then, not the marriage Chase had claimed he’d sold his sister into. Or what the tabloids might have made up about it.
“That,” she said out loud as she headed for the far door across the bedroom, “will be something Mattie and I can bond over across the table at Christmas. Our delightful forced marriages, whether secret or not.”
She lost her train of thought and let out a sigh of delight instead when she walked inside and found the bathtub of her dreams waiting for her, vast and deep enough for a group of people, placed before high windows that looked out into the silken night.
Zara turned on the tap greedily and dumped a capful of the foaming bath salts that sat on the tub’s lip into the warm stream. Then she ripped that veil straight off her head, not caring that it tugged at her hair. That it hurt. It came off with a clatter of hairpins against the floor, and Zara moaned out loud in stark relief as she massaged her way over her abused scalp, pulling out the remaining pins and letting her hair fall free at last.
Now it was time to deal with that torturous dress. The water poured into the bath behind her as she tugged and pulled, twisting herself this way and that as she tried to free herself. It was far more difficult than it should have been—but Zara was desperate. She yanked even harder—
And then at last she heard a glorious tearing sound, the fabric finally gave—and she yanked it all off, kicking the tattered remains away as the dress fell to her feet in a voluminous cloud. At first, she hurt more than she had before. Her breasts ached, and she could see the angry lines the built-in corset had left all over them and her belly, red and pronounced because she had the kind of skin that showed every last mark like a neon billboard.
And because the dress had been made for her sister, who better resembled a starving gazelle and had needed that corset to create the illusion of the cleavage she didn’t have rather than tamp down any existing breasts.
It was such a relief to be free of that hideous torture device that Zara’s eyes filled with tears. But she refused to indulge them, not here in this too-Gothic mansion with the whiskey-pounding, possibly dangerous husband she’d never met before the ceremony. Not when she didn’t know that she’d stop. Not when the wedding was only the latest in a long stream of things she could probably cry about, if she let herself.
Not here. Not tonight. Grams had maintained her stiff upper lip to the very last of her days. Zara could do the same with far less provocation.
She toed off the white ballet flats she’d worn all day—thank goodness she and Ariella wore the same size shoes and she hadn’t had to make like one of Cinderella’s unfortunate stepsisters and hack off a toe to fit into them—and shimmied out of the very bright, screaming red thong panties she’d worn beneath it all. The only thing in the whole, long, strange day that was hers.
Zara couldn’t control the deep, atavistic sigh she let out when she slipped into the bath at last. The water was hot and the bubbles were high enough to feel decadent without being so high they became a problem. She piled her hair—wild and thick and incredibly unruly from a day in pins and scraped into submission beneath that veil—up on top of her head in a messy knot as she tried to picture glamorous, couture-draped Mattie Whitaker lounging in this bathtub the way she was now. Mattie Whitaker, who was a good deal like Ariella in Zara’s mind—one of those effortless girls, all long, slender limbs; hot-and-cold-running boyfriends; and the ability to float through life without a single care.
Zara’s life had been charmed in its own way yet was significantly less gleaming, despite the fact she, too, was an Elliott. She’d failed to look the part from birth and hadn’t ever managed to act the part, either, despite the thousands of lectures Amos had delivered on the topic. Even when doing so would have been in her best interests.
Well. She’d acted the part today, hadn’t she? She’d done it. I did what you asked, Grams, she thought then. I gave him one last chance to treat me differently.
She shut her eyes and leaned back against the smooth porcelain, breathing in the jasmine-scented steam as she tried to expel all the tension of the day from her body. As she tried not to think about what had happened earlier in that church. Or what might happen later, because who knew what the expectations were in a situation this twisted? Or what she’d got herself into, marrying a man who was not only a total stranger, but who’d turned up to his own wedding half-drunk and entirely furious, and that had been before he’d seen the switch.