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Married To A Stranger


  The house was in sore need of a fresh coat of paint. That was the first thing Isabella noticed as Brand helped her out of the ancient Volkswagen Beetle he had driven from the airport. Shabby house, shabby green car with a case of incurable rust... She glanced doubtfully at her husband, who was busy swinging luggage onto the sidewalk. He didn't look battered and run-down. Just sad. So why were the car and the house in such startling contrast to his appearance? This virile, darkly compelling man she had married ought to be driving something fast and expensive, like the planes he flew for a living, and she had expected his home to be either large and imposing or a penthouse. Brand returned her look with one that practically dared her to complain, so she gave him a brave smile and went back to studying the house. How tall and narrow and grey it was compared to the welcoming, white-walled haciendas she was accustomed to in her South American homeland. Here, even the weather was grey—as damp and cold and depressing as she had read that the west coast of Canada was not supposed to be. Isabella shivered, and pulled up the collar of the navy-blue raincoat Brand had bought for her before they boarded the plane. She had wanted red, but he had said red was too flashy for the wife of a man who was in mourning. She had stifled and immediate impulse to argue. His mourning was too obviously real. "Cold?" Brand asked, shouldering two suitcases and striding ahead of her up the cracked flagstone path. "Yes, a little," she admitted, skipping to keep up with him. "Is Vancouver always this gloomy?" "There's a saying here on the coast that we don't tan—we rust. But, no, it's not entirely true. See, there's a crocus blooming over there" He pointed at a solitary purple flower poking through a patch of neglected lawn. Spring will be here before long." Isabella heard the way he said spring—as if it were a season of despair—and she guessed springtime meant nothing to him this year. Would it ever? What had she done, marrying this stranger with the dark, tormented eyes? The stranger about whom all she really knew was that he was out of his mind with grief over the loss of his bride of six days. Her name had been Mary, and she had been killed in a landslide on their honeymoon. Yet Brand had been kind to the frightened girl he had picked up on the teeming city streets, and even in his drunken, anguished stupor he had made love to her with tenderness and passion. She had experienced no doubts that morning three days ago when she had awoken in his bed above the bar and seen him leaning over her as if he didn't want to believe what his eyes were showing him. She had known at once he was destined to be hers.

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