Kiss an Angel(8)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips



A wave of panic gripped her, and she fought against succumbing to it. “I don’t like being threatened. Maybe you should just come right out and tell me what these consequences are that you’re holding over my head.”

He settled back into the seat, and the small upward tilt of that hard mouth sent a shiver of dread down her spine.

“Aw, angel face, I’m not gonna have to. By tonight you’ll have figured it out all by yourself.”





2




Daisy hovered in the far corner of the smoking section at the USAir gate, taking such quick drags on her cigarette that she was getting light-headed. The plane, she had discovered, was heading for Charleston, South Carolina, one of her favorite cities, and she tried to take that as a positive sign in a chain of events that had been growing more disastrous by the minute.

First, Mr. High-and-Mighty Markov had refused to go along with her plan. Then he’d sabotaged her luggage. When the chauffeur had unloaded only one overstuffed carry-on bag from the trunk instead of the full array of suitcases she’d packed, she’d assumed there’d been a mistake, but Alex had quickly set her straight.

“We’re traveling light. I had the housekeeper repack for you during the wedding ceremony.”

“You had no right to do that!”

“We’ll carry them on instead of checking them.” He’d picked up his own much smaller bag and she’d watched with astonishment as he’d set off, leaving her to follow. She’d barely been able to hoist her cumbersome piece of luggage, and her ankles had wobbled on her too-high heels as she’d dragged it after him. Feeling miserable and self-conscious, she’d struggled toward the gate, certain everyone she passed was noting her holey nylons, scorched gold lace, and bruised gardenia.

When he’d disappeared into the rest room, she’d hurried to buy a fresh pack of cigarettes, only to discover that she had nothing but a ten-dollar bill in her purse. With a sense of shock, she’d realized it was all the money she had left in the world. Her bank accounts were closed, her credit cards canceled. She’d returned the bill to her wallet and bummed a cigarette from an attractive businessman instead.

Just as she stubbed it out, Alex emerged from the rest room, and as she saw the way he was dressed, her stomach sank. The well-tailored dark suit had been replaced by a denim shirt that looked soft from many washings and a pair of jeans so faded they were nearly white. Frayed cuffs fell over scuffed brown leather cowboy boots. His shirt sleeves were rolled up to reveal strong, suntanned forearms lightly dusted with dark hair and a gold watch with a leather band. She sank her teeth into her bottom lip. Of all the things her father had done to her, she’d never imagined he’d marry her off to the Marlboro Man.

He came up to her, his own carry-on bag dangling easily from his loose grip. The fit of his jeans showed narrow hips and legs that went on forever. Lani would have been in ecstasy. “That was the final boarding call. Let’s go.”

“Mr. Markov—please—you don’t really want to go through with this. If you’ll just lend me a third of the money that’s rightfully mine, we can put this behind us.”

“I made a promise to your father, and I never go back on my word. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it’s a matter of honor with me.”

“Honor! You sold yourself to him! You let my father buy you! What kind of honor is that?”

“Max and I made a deal, and I’m not going to welsh. Of course, if you insist on walking away, I won’t stop you.”

“You know I can’t do that! I don’t have any money.”

“Then let’s get to it.” He pulled their boarding passes from his shirt pocket and turned away.

She had no checking account, no charge cards, and her father had ordered her not to contact him. With a sinking stomach, she realized she had run out of options, and she picked up her bag.

Ahead of her, Alex reached the last row of chairs, where a teenage boy sat smoking. As her new husband passed by, the boy’s cigarette went up in flames.



A little over two hours later she stood in the blazing afternoon sun in the parking lot at the Charleston airport and gazed at Alex’s black pickup truck, taking in the thick layer of dust on the hood and the Florida license plates nearly obscured by dried mud.

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