He was watching her.
Elinor felt the blush creeping up her cheeks. Thomas stood at the altar, his eyes fixed on her face. She glanced down at the bouquet clutched in her hands. Winter flowers. Pale christmas roses were bound to the vibrant holly with a fine silk ribbon in deepest crimson.
A smile crept across Elinor’s face as she felt the holly thorns biting her palms. As with all the recent changes in her life this too came with the prick of a thorn. She fought back a giggle. The bubble of giddiness under her breast was ready to burst.
As she took Thomas’ outstretched hand she smiled at him. What a life they would have together, he was so different from the man she’d expected to marry. No amount of imaginings could have prepared her. She looked into his eyes, she could see herself reflected in their depths and felt a tremor run through her. This was it.
“Do you Miss Elinor Hartley take this man, Sir Thomas Tethras to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do you part?”
Her heart thumped madly.
The church door slammed open and a burst of cold snow flew down the aisle. Elinor stared in horror at the figure there. A messenger. She looked at Thomas. No. Not again. She would marry him this time! She spun to the priest.
“My lady? The king’s messenger.”
She cast a dark look at the messenger half-way down the aisle, a packet in hand. He stutter stepped and halted. Thomas squeezed her hand.
“Please proceed. I’d like to be wed before I’m called to war again.”
The priest frowned but nodded his assent. Elinor closed her eyes. Only a low hum sounded in her ears. Thomas was leaving again.
“You may kiss the bride.”
She opened her eyes. Thomas was lifting her veil. Elinor trembled. He’d kissed her before, but this was different, it was public and official. They would be wed now. Tied to each other through it all.
His lips were warm. Elinor’s eyes fluttered shut. It was over too quickly. His warmth was gone and a cheer went up. As they turned from the altar the messenger scurried up and stuffed the packet into Thomas’ hand.
“His majesty demands your presence at court, sir.”
With a bow the man turned and left. Thomas’ knuckles were white around the packet. Elinor laid her hand over his and he looked at her. She smiled and watched as his jaw slackened.
“We’ll deal with it later. For now, I would like to speak with you. Alone. Before you leave me again.”
His eyebrows lifted and she blushed.
“Your wish is my command Lady Tethras.”
He whispered in her ear as he swept her off her feet. Elinor let out a startled yelp then laughed as he carried her through the cheering crowd toward the manor house and their rooms.
He was leaving soon. But for now, for now, she, not some King, would have her husband, her barefoot Stranger.