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“Another husband?” The mocking voice came from behind her, but she didn’t need to turn to know who spoke. If the sudden nausea and light-headedness weren’t clue enough, his was a voice she’d heard every day from the time it first cracked and deepened until just over a year ago.
When it had promised to love her forever and return from his business out West as soon as possible.
Instead it had married another.
So she wouldn’t turn. She refused to acknowledge the voice or the man behind her. She stared straight ahead, studying the faded and chipped paint on the wall. There were patches of cheery yellow here and there, but the majority was a dingy, faded white. If she counted the chips of yellow on the section of wall directly in front of her, she’d be able to avoid looking at him with the added bonus of forgetting why she was in a room that smelled of day old chili left a little too long on the burner.
“How many times has it been?” His voice burned down her spine, the disdain easy to hear. “Seven or is this number eight?”
Her breath caught. So unfair. She hadn’t broken her promise. She hadn’t left him with no protection and no recourse but to become a professional wife. She didn’t make the rules, she didn’t require men to be married before they died.
“You specialize in the death bonds, do you not? How do you meet them? Trolling the wellness center?”
She gave up trying to count the chips in the paint and looked down at the wilting plastic buttercup in her hand. The magistrate had thrust it at her before leaving the room. She supposed it was to make the experience more festive.
Its bedraggled state showed more clearly than the lack of witnesses the mockery this ceremony would be. If her latest groom couldn’t breathe well enough to say “I do”, would they toss this in the incinerator with him? Or would they retain this flower for the next ProWife? She sincerely hoped it wouldn’t be her holding it. Once in this particularly depressing office was more than enough.
She hadn’t wanted to become ProWife. It was, well, not exactly respectable – young girls didn’t aspire to be a ProWife – but it was better than other choices and it paid extremely well in chocolate. And she needed all the chocolate she could get. Getting away from Scion had been expensive. She had two more payments until their bond would be completely dissolved.
Another indignity to lay at the voice’s doorstep.
The magistrate darted out of a side room. Thin and wirey, he acted as if enforcers were beating on the door. He constantly looked over his shoulder and the fingers of his left hand twitched without pause.
“ProWife? You’re needed in the chamber, he’s not going to make it.” He hurried away without a glance. No escort or courtesy for her. No matter, she wasn’t here for the décor or the great service. The only thing that mattered was its proximity to the restaurant they’d been in and the lack of questions asked.
She took a deep breath. The scorched air burned her lungs and made the nausea rise once more. She tamped it down as she trailed behind the magistrate. She hoped against hope she could leave him behind, but knew her luck wasn’t that good.
“The ceremony will take place here.” The marriage man waved a hand at her. “Stand here.” He indicated the bedside of the man she was to marry today.