Chapter Three

Jack stared after Adina, stunned into silence mid-sentence as she ran out the door of the courthouse. He was no stranger to women who clung desperately to any reason for him not to leave. He'd been through enough breakups to know that sometimes, a man just had to grit his teeth and put on a hard front, no matter what the woman did or said. No matter what the sob story. No matter how much she cried.

But this was the first time it had ever been a legally binding situation.. Behind him, the receptionist uttered some amused comment, but he ignored her. What was wrong with this woman? Anger started to well up in him as he left the reception desk and headed for the door. This was no longer a slightly humorous and minorly inconvenient circumstance. It was becoming a full-out nuisance, a threat to his future well-being. He was beginning to feel trapped, and that was not a good thing.

He found her stopped mid-step outside, clenching her fists and looking as though she might cry.

"What in the blazes is going on?" he spat at her, feeling only a little sorry for the way she jumped at his irate voice.

She stared at him, and tears welled up. "I can't," she whispered.

Jack refused to be reeled in by her shining eyes and wobbling lip. "Why not?" He raised a hand and thrust it through his hair with frustration. "We're complete strangers. It's a simple mistake, a quick correction. What in the world is there to stop you?"

He could barely believe it when, she admitted quietly, "... I don't believe in divorce."

It was a completely illogical protest, considering they couldn't even remember the marriage, didn't know anything about each other, didn't have any ties other than the piece of paper claiming they were married. Yet, here she stood claiming she couldn't do it. Putting on a heck of a show to prove that she felt these convictions. The question was, did he believe her? Were there really people like her who felt wrong for negating vows they'd made in a drunken stupor and couldn't even remember?

"You have got to be kidding me," he said, calming just slightly. "We were only married- if you can call it that- for a few hours. It was a mistake. We were drunk. How can you even be thinking about considering it a legally binding agreement if we can't even remember that it happened?" That was a small lie; he remembered it. Vaguely.

"I just... can't. Not right now, anyway." She started to walk to her car.

"Not right now?" He jogged after her, feeling his frustration rise again. "What else do you have that could be more important than fixing this mess?" She was the only woman he had ever met that could infuriate him this way in only a few hours of really knowing her. He was not outraged at her, not in disbelief or pure rage, no. He was curious, attracted, and irritated. Irritated, as one would be at the girlfriend who had some silly little fear that, even though it annoyed, was eventually accepted and soothed over.

It made no sense whatsoever. Nothing about this situation made sense.

"Look," Adina finally stopped and looked at him. "I came here to identify the dead body of my twin brother, who I loved very much. His funeral is in four days, and I have to be there. I have to support my mother, I have to comfort my father, and I have to get used to the fact that I will never speak to my best friend again. I have to pick up all of our lives, because my parents... believe me, they don't know how to cope. But then, to top it off, I made the huge mistake of getting drunk to forget how absolutely heartbroken I was, and I woke up married to you. I don't know how it happened, but I know that I have always believed marriage is serious, no matter what. And right now I can't deal with my brother's death and breaking one of the deepest beliefs I have all in just a few days, okay?" She took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead. "So if it's okay with you, I'd like to go home and sort out my brother's death first, and then maybe we can talk about what we're going to do with this whole marriage-or-annul thing."

She started walking again and had reached her car before he caught up with her. "Fine," he said. "We'll sort it out later. But I'm not letting you out of my sight."

She raised an eyebrow at him and got into the car. "What, you think I'm going to just disappear or something?"

He scowled as he slid into the passenger seat. He'd met plenty of slippery females who had various plans to try to hook him, and they had all failed because of his cunning. This woman, however, had not even tried to "hook" him, and had succeeded with no memory of having done it. "I want to be married just as much as you want your brother dead. And now that I know you think it's some sort of sin to annul a mistake, I'm sticking around until you agree to retract your vows"

Adina merely nodded as she headed the vehicle out of the city. The look on her face was somewhere between stoic and broken, and he found himself at a loss as to what to say. Giving up his protest, he stared out the window, driven away from his roaming grounds by a woman he barely knew, a woman who was delicate and confusing, sincere yet somehow untrustworthy- though the latter may well have been his own misgivings where women were concerned- and currently crying silently and unobtrusively.

He shook himself, displeased that he had allowed his attention to waver back to her. Though he did not want to care at all, the beginnings of regret niggled at his heart- regret that he had so insensitively treated her, that he had taken no time to care where she was from or what she had been doing that night he'd first laid eyes on her. Unbeknownst to her, he remembered quite a bit from those three days of drunkenness. He remembered admiring her lush dark locks, her wide eyes, her slender profile. He remembered buying her several drinks. He remembered relief that she was not an incessant talker.

He remembered telling her his life story. And he hoped she could not recall those details, they were not things he regularly divulged, especially to strange women.

Most of all, though, he remembered kissing her. Just that, she refused to go any further. Perhaps that was what made it so memorable, her resistance even while completely and utterly smashed. He remembered the touch of her cheek against his, and the smell of her hair. A scent that now filled the car, as her damp hair dried in the flow of the warm air blasting from the heater vents.

Clenching his jaw, he turned his face to the window and watched the scenery pass by.

"What about your car?" She asked suddenly.

Jack shrugged. "It'll survive." He had finally remembered it was in a parking garage, thankfully, and even if it got broken into it wouldn't matter. The car was so beat up he didn't mind abandoning it for a short while. He would have abandoned it permanently if he'd had a better way to get around. Then again, he didn't know where his keys had gone, so there was no guarantee that it would still be there when he returned.

Settling further into his seat, he crossed his arms and stared out the window, not trying to make conversation. He would not get involved in this woman's life. His only mission was to protect himself from being tied down to a stranger for the rest of his life. A seemingly religious stranger, full of odd morals and confusing motives. He would not - would not- let himself get interested, feel sorry for her, or ask more about her. Mentally, he forbade himself from knowing.

But when he glanced over at her, he made the mistake of letting her heartbroken face get to him.

"So..." he started, then stopped. How was he supposed to start a conversation with a strange woman who had married him in a drunken stupor because her brother was dead? "Where are we headed?" It was an innocuous question. Hopefully it would not elicit any fresh tears.

Adina wiped her cheek quickly and glanced at him. "Middle of nowhere," she answered. "Ritzville."

He didn't really want to know anything about her- knowing more might put him in danger of wanting more- but he knew how far away their destination was, and a four hour car ride in silence would be torture. "Did you... grow up there? Move there?"

A wry laugh escaped her, and she shook her head. "I don't know why anyone would choose to move to Ritzville. I was born there. I've lived there my whole life, sadly."

"So your family is there," he stated. "Big family?" For some reason, he assumed that the small-town girl would have a huge pack of siblings around her, but a look of pain flashed over her face and she shook her head.

"Just Adam." She sniffed. "And... well, I guess not any more."

Jack nodded and tried to think of something less sensitive to talk about. "And your parents... what do they do?"

"My father is a preacher," she answered.

"Figures..." Jack muttered under his breath. It made sense now, her highly irrational aversion to annulling the marriage. Preacher's daughter, probably the goody-two shoes of the family, with a holier-than-thou attitude that prevented her from seeing that sometimes practicality in decisions was better than sticking to archaic religious laws. "And you've taken to his beliefs, I gather," he stated.

She glanced at him. "I... have faith, yes."

It was an oddly averted answer. As if she did not quite want to associate her beliefs with her father, yet she could not deny that the man who raised her had some say in what sort of faith she had. Jack searched his mind for another topic. He didn't want to talk about faith; he didn't want to talk about her dead brother. Those two subjects were far too sensitive and personal. The only thing left was to ask about her, and he didn't want to do that, either. It was far too dangerous to find out more about the woman beside him who was inexorably linked to him by a ceremony that neither of them could remember. He turned back and stared out the window.

Marriage. It was a status that Jack had never imagined he would be caught living. There had never been any desire in his heart or mind to enter the nuptial state. To him, marriage meant fighting and unhappiness, high restrictions, miserable living. His parents had been a prime example of everything one did not want in married life, and their friends had been no better. It was a cold hard fact in his mind that marriage only destroyed relationships; it tied people down, made them lose the zest for life they'd had before they had entered the binding contract of dual living.

Yet, here was a woman beside him who believed... what? Did she have a lofty view of marriage? Did she imagine that a monogamous state would improve her life? He could speculate that she did not understand fully the detriment of matrimony; perhaps in her small town she had not witnessed the breaking of two lives after twenty miserable years of marriage. She probably did not know the pain it inflicted on the two parties involved, on their children, on the people they met thereafter. He had a very dismal view of the state he was now trapped in, he knew, but he believed it to be a realistic one.

Bitterly, he pushed the memories of his parents and their failed lives out of his mind. He had determined very early in life never to be like them. They were stoic, unsmiling, predictable, boring, never taking spontaneous trips, never reveling in the levity of the world, never stopping to appreciate the small things. Because of them, he lived his life as fully as he could. Some would say he was reckless with his money, his time, his opportunities. But Jack did not want to be tied down and miserable for the rest of his life, and he did everything he could to keep from his parents' fate.

Slowly, the landscape around them turned from forested to mountainous to arid, and as the hours passed Jack made no more attempts at conversation. He was glad that his companion did not speak, either, for his mood became increasingly worse as the miles passed by. Through the working of his thoughts as they went, he decided it would be entirely up to Adina to make up a story for him, and to fix the mess they were in. She was the one who wanted to stall the annulment, to she was the one who would have to fix it when the time came.

But when the exit for Ritzville came and they drove through the cozy streets of the small town, she became increasingly agitated. They pulled up to a simple white house whose yard burst with an impressive flower garden, and she bit her lips. She did not get out of the car immediately.

Jack finally looked at her; she had thrown the car into park, but still gripped the wheel tightly. So tightly, her knuckles were white. The ring on her finger glittered in a ray of sunlight, reminding him further still of the trouble they were in. The trouble she had gotten him in. He had no reservation in laying the blame entirely on her, though the look on her face sent a small spark of guilt through him.

Finally, she let out her breath slowly, and turned off the car. The front door of the house opened, and an elegant older woman came out, brushing graying hair from her forehead and waving frantically.

Adina sighed. "What am I going to tell my mother?"