I’ve been waking up on a cold concrete floor for too long, so regaining consciousness in a warm, soft bed makes me wonder what the hell is going on. There’s a warm weight on my left shoulder and bicep, and when I open my eyes I see why.
Mia is sitting in a chair next to my bed and she’s fallen asleep against me, her cheek pillowed on my shoulder. A sweet ache fills my chest as I look at her beautiful face.
My girl needed to be here when I woke up, and I’m so happy that she is because I’ve been so lonely locked up in that cage. It felt as if the world had forgotten about me. Like I was already dead.
The hospital room is dark and empty apart from the two of us. It must be the middle of the night.
Moving carefully because my ribs on the right side are aching, I shake her awake and ease back in the bed, making space for her.
“Bambi. Come up here. You’re not sleeping in that chair.”
Mia lifts her head, the wrinkles of my hospital gown printed on her cheek. “Hm? No, I can’t. You’re hurt.”
“You’re pregnant. Get up here, now, or I’ll get out of bed and make you.”
That persuades her to do as she’s told. Mia clambers sleepily into the narrow bed and beneath the covers with me. I wrap them around her and pull her against my chest, gritting my teeth and swallowing a groan of pain as I squeeze her too tightly.
My girl mumbles sleepily, and then falls asleep again. I stroke my fingers through her hair, her warmth and softness seeping into my hard, aching bones. I don’t know what I did to deserve her and our baby. Probably nothing. I’ll just have to make sure I deserve them from now on.
I wake hours later to sunlight filtering around the closed blinds, and Mia still asleep in my arms. She rouses slowly, rubbing her face and stretching her toes. When she finally looks up at me, I’m smiling at her.
She doesn’t return my smile. “I see you’re feeling better.”
“So much better. Give your man a kiss.”
When I lean down to press my lips against her, she turns her face away. “I’m still mad at you.”
But she’s cuddled close against my chest, her fingers clenched on my hospital gown and her foot rubbing against my calf.
“Kiss me, Bambi, and say you’ll be mine. Forever.”
“After what you’ve done you deserve a slap, not a kiss.”
I capture her hand in mine and press it over my heart. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t mean forever.”
I’ve never thought I’d say those words to a girl. I didn’t believe I was built that way, or that I’d live long enough for anyone to fall in love with me. Mia’s expression softens as she gazes up at me. I must look a sight with my bruised and beaten face, but she gazes at me like I’m what she’s been craving most in the whole world.
“Will you be my forever?” I ask.
“You didn’t leave me much choice. That was a dirty trick with the birth control.”
A smile spreads over my face. “It was, wasn’t it? Worked like a charm.”
“Stop grinning like that.”
Her mouth twitches and she struggles to keep a straight face. “Because it’s really hard to stay mad at you when you smile at me like that.”
“Will you marry me?”
Her mouth opens and closes in outrage. “You can’t . . . I’m not . . . this is . . . you are unbelievable, Lazzaro Rosetti.”
“I hope you always say my name just like that whenever you’re mad at me.”
“Do you plan on making me mad a habit?”
I grin unapologetically. “Probably. It’s just the way I’m wired.”
She shakes her head. “I’m having your baby. There are going to be more of you running around, raising hell.” She touches my lips. “With your wicked smile.” Her finger strokes along my jaw. “Your good looks.” She brushes down my chest. “This scoundrel heart.”
“Don’t forget they will have their mother’s stubborn streak. And her temper. And her big brown eyes that will make anyone fall to their knees and promise them the world.”
“My temper?” she exclaims. “What about your—”
I wrap my arms around her and haul her onto my chest, cradling the back of her head and kissing her hard. I’m vaguely aware of my ribs screaming in protest, but I ignore them, and kiss my girl like I’ve been wandering in the desert, lost and alone, and she’s my rescue team.
“You were made for me, Bambi,” I murmur in a husky whisper, squeezing her tight. “If I had to live a hundred lives, I’d choose you every time.”
Mia takes my face in her hands and presses another kiss to my mouth. “I’d choose you too, Laz Rosetti. No matter what people think, I’ll always choose you.”
I want to go on kissing her, but the pain in my chest turns into agony, and I can’t stop the moan that escapes my lips.
Mia gasps and pulls back. “I’m so sorry. I’m leaning right on your broken ribs. I should get out of this bed before the nurses see me.”
But I don’t want her to go just yet. There are still some things I have to say.
I pull her back and wrap my pinkie around the ring finger on her left hand. “What do you think about this? The moment I get out of here, we put a ring on your finger? For real this time.”
It should have been Mia wearing my ring from the beginning. I can only hope that the rocky start we’ve had means there’s happiness waiting for us just around the corner. Right now, with my girl in my arms, I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Mia smiles and melts against me, bestowing on me a look so angelic that I think I really have gone to heaven. “I think that sounds wonderful.”
Mia steps out of the bedroom dressed in a short, white satin dress with spaghetti straps, clutching a bouquet of pink roses. Her four-month baby bump is showing.
My heart is in my mouth.
“Mia,” I breathe. “You . . .” I reach for her and trail off. I have no words for how radiant my bride is. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
She smiles and goes up on her toes and kisses me. “And you’re the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.”
I straighten the cuffs of my gray suit and adjust my black tie. “Better than my usual outfit of ripped jeans and engine grease, right?”
Lately, that’s the only way my bride has seen me. I’m working on engines morning until night, buying, restoring, and selling cars. Mia graduated last month, and she’s been learning how to do the accounts, handle the day-to-day running of the business, and scout for new cars and customers. She’s been incredible. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in crime.
We’ve rented a small auto shop in a cheap part of town, and we’re living above it in an apartment. It’s not much, especially considering what Mia’s used to, but she hasn’t complained once.
We decided on a simple wedding, just us, some of our close friends and Rieta. We had no choice about that, seeing as most of our families aren’t speaking to us and every cent we have is tied up in the car business.
As I squeeze her hand, our fingers intertwine, and I notice the plain band she’s wearing on her third finger. “I’m sorry it’s not a better ring. Or a bigger wedding.”
She puts her fingers over my lips. “Stop that. You know a big wedding doesn’t matter to me. Being married to you is what I want.”
I take her face between my hands and whisper, “No one has ever believed in me the way you do. Want to marry me?”
She pretends to think about it. “Yes, Lazzaro Rosetti. I will marry you. Come on, let’s go.”
Rieta is waiting for us on the steps of the Town Hall, practically bouncing with excitement. When she sees us, tears fill her eyes. “Look at you, Mia. My baby sister is getting married.”
A handful of people are waiting for us in the registry office. My friends and some of hers from school. She’s made up with the girls she pushed away because she was afraid of her family hurting them. It’s wonderful to watch her hugging them and laughing.
The ceremony is short and sweet. Just like the first time I got married, I’m looking only at Mia.
She’s looking only at me, and the smile that lights her face as she says, “I do,” takes my breath away.
As we walk out of Town Hall, I spot a familiar figure standing at the bottom of the steps.
The smile vanishes from my lips. What’s my brother doing here? I give Mia a kiss and leave her with her sister, and I walk down the steps to where Faber is standing by his car.
“It’s bad manners, crashing a wedding,” I tell him, not bothering to smile.
“I’m not here to interfere with your wedding. Congratulations to you and—”
“What do you want?”
He presses his lips together in annoyance. Screw his well wishes. He couldn’t have made it any clearer what he thinks.
“To give you your wedding present.” Faber passes me an envelope that’s thick with sheets of paper.
I open it warily, wondering if I’m being sued by the Bianchis for breach of promise or some other nonsense. When I unfold the papers, I see that it is a legal document.
Not suing me.
Faber is signing over the inheritance that’s owed to me.
I stare at them, my teeth grinding together. I thought I’d be deliriously happy the day Faber finally gave me what was rightfully mine.
“I’ve seen how you’ve pulled your life together in the past few months, and I’ve been impressed. Well done, Lazzaro.”
I’m being patted on the head for being a good boy.
“You’re such a pompous dickhead, Faber.” I hold the envelope up, glaring at him. “Just so we’re clear, this was never your gift to bestow, and I’m not saying thank you. You held what was rightfully mine hostage and made me jump through your hoops. I didn’t marry Mia in order to get this money. I married her because she’s my reason to go on living and being a better man.”
“The fact that you—”
“I’ll be able to hold my head up around my son or daughter knowing I’ve never compromised my own code or been a flaming hemorrhoid to my family.”
“You’ve been a flaming hemorrhoid plenty of times,” Faber reminds me.
“For fun? Sure. But the difference between you and me is that I don’t destroy anyone’s dreams.”
I turn around and walk back to Mia, shoving the envelope inside my jacket and greeting my bride with a kiss. For a moment, I think I’ve had the last word with my brother.
I should have known better.
For fuck’s sake. Can’t I have any peace on my own damn wedding day? When I turn around, Faber is looking supremely uncomfortable, shifting on his feet with an expression of both irritation and regret on his face.
“About withholding your inheritance. I . . . may have been wrong to do that.”
I wait, brows lifted.
Faber takes a deep breath. “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
I watch him with narrowed eyes. “What do you know, my big brother knows what an apology is, after all. I’ll think about forgiving you when that money is in my account.”
“I would like us to be brothers once more.”
“We are brothers. There’s not much we can do about that. Can I enjoy my wedding day now?”
He turns to my bride. “Congratulations, Mia. I’ll leave you and Lazzaro to your celebrations, but I came for a reason other than to give my brother those papers. I have a message from your mother.”
Mia immediately stiffens.
“No,” I say sharply. “You’re going too far. Get lost before I throw you off these goddamn steps.”
Mia puts a soothing hand on my chest. “It’s all right, Laz. What does my mother want, Fabrizio?”
Faber casts a wary look at me and then back at Mia. “She’d like to see you. That’s all.”
Mia hasn’t spoken one word to her mother since I busted out of the prison that her uncles made for me.
“Thank you for passing the message on, Fabrizio.”
“Will you see her? Ms. Bianchi will ask me for your reply.”
“Quite the lap dog, aren’t you, Faber?” I growl. Can’t he take the hint that this is none of his damn business?
Mia firmly shakes her head. “Not right now. I want my life with Laz to have a chance to blossom before I even think about inviting anyone in who doesn’t want the best for me.”
“Your mom does want the best for you.”
“Then she can show me that herself when I’m ready. Thank you for passing the message on. I’ve got nothing else to say about it.”
When he opens his mouth again, I hold a finger in his face. “Not one more word. I’m not above a fistfight on my wedding day.”
He closes his mouth and nods. “Goodbye, and congratulations again.”
I turn to Mia when he’s gone. “Are you all right? I’m sorry about that. Faber doesn’t know when to shut his goddamn mouth.”
Mia gives me a smile. “Nothing could shatter my good mood today. Come on, let’s go celebrate.”
We have our wedding dinner in a restaurant, then our friends see us off as we drive into the mountains. Our wedding present is a weekend in a remote cabin with a big bed and a Jacuzzi.
Mia drinks a glass of non-alcoholic champagne, and we lie in the tub together. Both of us are covered in bubbles. I scoop water over Mia’s belly and watch the suds slide down her bump as I cup her from behind with both hands.
There’s a mirror off to one side, and as she puts her champagne down, our eyes meet in the glass.
“We’re starting a new life together, you and me,” I murmur, gazing at our reflections.
I remember that time all those months ago when I crept into her bed and woke her up in the middle of the night. I was behind Mia, and she saw me in the mirror by her bed. She asked me what I was doing in her room, and I told some stupid lie. That I was bored. That I was angry.
The truth is, deep down, I’ve only ever wanted to be with Mia.
Ever since I first laid eyes on her, it’s always been her.
I plant a kiss on her neck, smiling into her beautiful Bambi eyes. “You and me. And our baby.”