The following excerpt takes place at the wedding (almost) of Regin to Jarl Hansen, younger brother of Brander Hansen, my deaf "Discreet Gentleman of Discovery." This particular I love you still makes me cry:
The young pastor in the white robes returned the bread and wine to the altar and Jarl helped Regin to her feet. As the priest began asking Jarl questions regarding his intentions and vows, a disturbing rumble began at the back of the church. Regin pulled a shuddering breath, certain of the source of the disturbance and aching with empathy for the gray-eyed woman—Jarl's mistress and mother of his two children.
"If he was ever going to marry you, he would have done so years ago," she whispered.
Jarl's head spun toward her. "What?"
Regin faced the floor. "Nothing."
Jarl's arm bumped her shoulder as he turned around and blew a long hiss.
Regin lifted her gaze to his angry profile. "Don't be hard on her, Jarl," she pleaded.
He looked down at her as if she had grown a second nose and planted flowers in it. "What on earth are you babbling about?"
She pointed toward the aisle and turned to face the angry woman. "I'm talking ab--"
There was no gray-eyed woman standing there.
Where Regin expected to see the woman stood a six-foot-five-inch, coppery blond gentleman with eyes that shifted from gray to green to blue. He wore a turquoise velvet doublet pleated to the waist over pale gray trousers. His polished black boots reflected the altar's candlelight.
Regin's mouth opened in shock. The rumble became shouts. Men stood in the pews.
Brander's steely eyes stabbed hers and waited.
"You shouldn't look better than the groom," she croaked.
He blinked slowly and drew a long breath that made him appear to double in size. He couldn't hear the uproar around them and his hands spoke only to her.
Do not marry him.
She answered in kind: Why not?
His eyes rolled then met hers again: Because you do not love him.
"What's he doing here?" Lord Balder Hansen bellowed and lumbered to his feet. "I thought he was gone!"
Olvir pulled his father back onto the bench. "Quiet, Pappa."
Regin narrowed her eyes. This wasn't how this day was supposed to go. She held up her hands and tried with minimal success to calm the assemblage. She spoke to Brander again, using his language.
How do you know I don't love him? she challenged.
I know you love me, he answered.
"What is he saying?" Jarl demanded. "Regin, what are you saying?"
She turned to face him, aghast. "I cannot believe that you don't understand your own brother!" she barked.
Jarl's face twisted in disgust. "Tell him to leave."
Regin gave an incredulous laugh. When she faced Brander again, she caught Olvir's stare. He winked at her and nodded; he understood everything.
Jarl wants you to leave, she gestured.
Not until you marry me, he answered.
Regin stiffened. Here was the crucial point. For a moment she wavered, unsure if she could give him up again, and survive the loss. Tears pricked her eyes and her decision was made. She would live or die by his response.
He lowered himself to one knee and motioned: Will you marry me?
The assembled crowd quieted as realization rippled from the front pew to the back. Row by row they sank onto the benches and stared, nudging each other and whispering behind their hands.
"Is he asking for your hand?" Jarl blurted.
Regin nodded. She thought she might puke her breakfast remains onto the church floor. There was, however, only one acceptable answer.
I didn't hear you.
Brander's brow lowered in waves and his already intense stare darkened: Please don't.
Regin shook her head. Her challenge was immutable and his response was clearly lacking. There was no other answer to give except: I'm sorry, Brand.
She turned her back on the beautiful man who held her world in his gaze and her life in his touch. Determined, she faced the clergyman. "I've lost my place, Father. Where were we?"
Jarl looked from her to Brander and back, his disbelief clear. "That's all you have to say? Where were we?"
"What would you have me say?" she snapped. Her nerves were taught as bowstrings and if he said one more thing to her in that tone she would let loose the arrows of her frustration in his precise direction.
"Is she marrying Jarl?" Lord Balder boomed. "She's not marrying Brander is she?"
"Pappa, hush!" Olvir reprimanded.
"Don't tell me what to do!"
Brander grabbed her arm. The contact burned through her like lightning through a stormy sky.
She whirled and yanked from his grip. "What?" she shouted.
I love you, Regin.
Her hands jabbed at him: How much?
His soulful expression was the definition of sincerity: With my whole heart.
"Prove it," she demanded.
Brander swung one arm over the entranced crowd, now silent and attentive: Do not ask this.
"I have to. I must be able to trust you," she pleaded. "You lied to me, Brander."
I know. But I have not spoken...
"Then I cannot marry you." She turned -- again -- to the wide-eyed priest and groom. "Go on, Father."
"You cannot be serious," Jarl growled. "This is a travesty!"
Regin pinned him with the most severe look she could manage. "I'm prepared to fulfill the contract. Are you?"
Before he could respond, an odd sound rent the tense atmosphere and silenced everyone in the building. Regin's heart pounded in her throat, threatening to choke her. Pinpoints of black crowded her vision. She spun slowly, wondering if she was imagining the sound. It was like nothing she ever heard.
Brander stood but a few feet from her. His eyes had gone dark gray under a thunderous brow. His lips parted and halting words emerged, reluctant to leave their safe cocoon of silence. They were deep and rough in tone, with their hard edges sanded away making them indistinct.
Regin understood every one.
"I... love... you... Regin." He pulled a deep inhalation through his nose and blew out through rounded lips. "Will... you... marry... me?"
It was music. More beautiful than anything she could hear or ever imagine. Heaven's own angels must be jealous.
A sob of disbelief collapsed her chest and stole her voice.
Yes, she signaled. Yes yes yes yes!
(Available on Amazon and through Desert Breeze Publishing.)