The square-shaped diamond on my finger winked with dazzling brilliance. Soon it would be married to a gold band that would bind Cesar to me forever. I sat in the limousine, my stomach tied in knots, waiting for the signal that it was time for me to enter the church.
I exhaled a breath, flustering the veil covering my face.
A large hand covered my own and squeezed.
I glanced over at my father and effused a small laugh. “Don’t let Cesar hear that.”
The driver of the limousine snickered. So did the U.S. Marshal sitting beside him.
“Just trying to break the ice,” Cillian grinned. “I was thankful that regardless of how your mam felt for me, she had been sending me news clippings of you ever since news of the engagement broke. I know a real thing when I see it.”
He gazed at me meaningfully, reminding me of our conversation before heading to church. Cillian had great respect for Cesar’s dad. One of the reasons he admired the man was his faithfulness to his wife despite the permissiveness of mafia laws when it came to mistresses.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I whispered.
Dad’s mouth trembled, and his eyes glistened. “Now don’t make a grown man cry, sweetheart.”
“We missed you at the rehearsal dinner yesterday.”
He glared at the back of the U.S. Marshal’s head. “I didn’t want to waste my twenty-four hours of freedom by sleeping.”
“Judge’s mandate, Mr. McGrath,” the marshal muttered.
Dad transferred his attention back to me. “If they gave me only one hour, walking you down the aisle would be how I’d spend it. It’s symbolic, you see, making sure I hand off my daughter to a good man who will take care of her.” He sighed. “God knows I messed up.”
“Hey,” I chided. “None of that now. And don’t make me cry and ruin my makeup or Mads is going to murder both of us.”
As if on cue, my sister-in-law and matron of honor rapped on our window. I powered it down.
“The wedding planner is arguing with security, but she sent me to get you. Talk about a charged atmosphere in church.”
“That’s what happens when you’ve got the Five Families on the guest list,” my dad said. “One paper called it the explosive wedding of the year.”
“Don’t remind me,” I mumbled. Cesar and I were tempted to put ‘R.S.V.P. at your own risk’ on the invitations. We sent out five hundred, and more than four hundred responded that they were coming.
“Well, come on then,” she said, opening my door as two bridesmaids swooped forward to assist me from the limo in my bridal gown, exquisite in its swirling layers of ivory tulle and organza. I was glad I picked a sweetheart neckline, because with the veil covering my head, it was less stuffy. As I squared my shoulders, my gaze roamed the cathedral steps peppered with guests in teal and gold, the motif of our wedding.
“Oh God, this is really happening.” I pressed a forearm over my stomach feeling it go queasy.
“I sure hope so,” one of the bridesmaid’s piped in. There were fifteen of them—three from my side and twelve from Cesar’s. Apparently, for Italians, every cousin’s single daughter had to be a bridesmaid.
“You look lovely,” I told the young woman.
“I can’t wait to walk down the aisle,” she told me. “Salvatore is my groomsman.”
I rolled my eyes towards Mads who hitched her shoulders.
My dad murmured in my ear. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s a Rossi.”
Cameras flashed and questions were shouted as the NYPD officers and the additional hired security held back a throng of reporters and curious onlookers. The dramatic bronzed doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral loomed before us.
“Ready, sweetheart?” my dad asked.
I glanced up at him. “I’m ready.”
I could hardly breathe as Ava glided down the aisle. Resplendent in her ivory gown, the veil added a mystery spurring my hunger to see her beloved face. I hadn’t seen her since the day before. Damned tradition dictated I shouldn’t. Paulie was making side comments beside me. I think he was teasing me about my unwavering focus on my bride.
But did I give a fuck? No.
Because all I could see was her.
Not the crowd of black, white, blue, and gold that filled the pews.
All I could hear was the song in my heart that beat for her.
Not the wedding march blaring from the organ’s nine thousand pipes.
Cillian needed to walk faster.
I must have moved anyway. There was murmuring and hushed laughter while Paulie chuckled behind me.
“Impatient,” he told the padre.
I could see traces of Ava’s beautiful face behind the shimmering veil which I wanted to rip from her head.
“You’re supposed to wait up there,” Cillian told me with amusement. “Give me a second longer with my daughter.”
Our eyes met in silent understanding. “I got it from here. I promise to take good care of her.”
Cillian nodded. And the second he transferred her hand to mine, that was it.
Our future was sealed.
“You’re beautiful,” I murmured.
“You look dashing yourself,” she answered.
“Hope you’re ready for a lifetime with me, Miss McGrath.” Soon to be Mrs. De Lucci. I helped her up the steps to the altar.
“Is that a promise?” Even through her veil, her voice sounded like the twinkle in her eyes.
“It’s my vow.”
“You’re a beautiful bride,” Nonna told my wife. “You did good, Cesar.”
“I think so too.” We started making the rounds of relatives, friends, and associates after the dinner and toasts. I couldn’t wait to show off my wife. The word ‘wife’ proudly rolled off my tongue.
“You’ll make beautiful babies. Look at that one.” Nonna nodded to where Ava’s niece was being inspected by the Rossi boss. “I’m glad Giovanni got his head out of his ass and acknowledged his granddaughter.”
“Kelly doesn’t need him,” Ava told Nonna. “The McGraths have enough love for that girl. And now she has the De Luccis too.”
Nonna nodded in approval. “Of course she does, dear. You should come over to my house with little Kelly. I’ll teach you a few of my secret recipes. Cesar’s favorites.”
“I would love that,” Ava said. “I—”
“Cara,” I interrupted. “I think your mother needs a word.” This was partly true. I had spied Branna glancing worriedly at us. “Nonna, we’ll come by again later.” Maybe next Christmas. I hurried Ava away.
“Your grandmother is delightful,” Ava told me. “I can’t wait to learn some of her recipes. Maybe we can open an Irish-Italian restaurant.”
“Unfortunately, Nonna isn’t the best cook. Why do you think we always had an excuse not to go to her house when she’s the one cooking dinner?”
“And I thought you were just holding out until marriage before you had her unlock the recipe vault.”
I grinned. “Can’t have you disillusioned before you marry me.”
“And better not bring Kelly with you,” I added gravely.
“You’ll have the little one promised to one of the Five Families by the end of the day.”
I was saved from answering when we were intercepted by Ava’s family. “Are you doing fine?” Branna demanded.
“I’m fine, Mom,” Ava said. “But, oh God, my feet are killing me. I want my Keds.”
Brushing the hair from her brow, I chuckled. “I’m thinking we should have eloped.”
“Man, I’ve been to huge weddings, but this one is something else.” Robert’s gaze scanned the ballroom. “The feds would love this crowd.”
“I doubt if anyone would talk business here,” I said. “Your employer probably has the place bugged.”
“Soon to be ex-employer.” Robert grinned. “Can’t wait to start my new venture.”
Ava’s brother had resigned from the SDNY to open a private investigation firm. With the rise of white-collar crime and with the mob getting into Wall Street, he could make more money doing it. He wasn’t bitter that my marriage to his sister had sparked a conflict of interest because in order to maintain my level of partnership with the SDNY, Robert could never work on the organized crime cases and that would limit his career. In fact, his resignation worked to my advantage in gaining the trust of the mafiosi.
“I can give you all the dirt.” Sean winked at his brother.
“Hey, you guys having your own party here?” Paulie came over and draped an arm around me. “Congratulations again, bro,” he said. He bent forward to look at Ava. “If this fucker doesn’t treat you right, and I think I speak for all the men here—” He glanced at her brothers. “We’re going to have a family meeting and straighten him out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ava quipped.
I wrapped my arms around her. “No, you won’t. You have a problem with me, you talk to me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Paulie and I were just teasing you.”
“Are you causing trouble here, amore mio?” Carlotta came over with Pop and Ava’s dad. I was glad Cillian had someone to talk to, seeing that there was still tension between him and his sons and Branna. He and Pop had been catching up all evening.
“Me? Trouble?” Paulie said. “I’m surprised a fight hasn’t broken out yet. Someone should throw the first punch.”
“Irish and Italians, all hotheads and both love their alcohol,” Robert agreed. “Something’s definitely wrong.”
“Right?” Paulie said. “What’s wrong with everyone?”
“Everyone’s on their best behavior, that’s what.” Branna glared at Paulie. “What’s wrong with you?”
My brother laughed with glee. I had the urge to punch him.
“Mom’s coming out of her skin,” Ava laughed. “She’s not used to so many Italians.”
Her mother turned her glare on my wife. I didn’t know why I hadn’t seen this before. But there was a reason why Ava and Paulie were best friends. When they were together, they had no filter. It was as if they fed on each other’s penchant for trouble.
Carlotta clapped her hands. “We need a family pic.” She glanced at Ava and frowned. “Someone is missing.”
“Charles,” Ava said.
“He’s off showing Kelly to Giovanni Rossi,” Ava’s mom said with displeasure.
I turned to Robert. “And where’s your wife?”
It was Branna who answered again. “Doing her matron-of-honor duties. I’ll go grab her and round up the kids.”
The wedding planner came over. “It’s time to do the couple’s dance.”
“Oh my God,” Ava moaned. “We probably should have done that before dinner. I don’t think I can take another step.”
“I got you,” I murmured in her ear. I grinned when she shuddered against me. I had plans for my wife tonight and didn’t want her exhausted. I was ready to strip her out of that damned virginal wedding dress. My eyes grew heavy. Maybe I should fuck her wearing it instead.
“Hey, save that for later.” Paulie nudged me and laughed.
“Fuck off,” I told my brother.
“Did I hear pictures?” Mads rushed toward our group with her two boys in tow.
“Mom went to look for you,” Ava said.
“She went to fetch Charles.”
All eyes went to where Mrs. McGrath was stalking toward the Rossi table. The noise in the ballroom might have dropped a notch.
“Oh, boy,” Cillian murmured. “I can just imagine her spearing Giovanni with the blue-eyed freeze.”
Paulie clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Looks like Mrs. McGrath will be drawing first blood of the evening.”
Christ. Not something I wanted to deal with on my wedding day. The headline “Groom’s mother-in-law stabs Rossi Family boss with a steak knife” flashed through my head.
Ava squeezed my hand. “Don’t worry. She’ll keep a lid on it.”
There were varied sighs of disappointment and relief in our group when Ava’s mother returned with Charles and Kelly without any incident.
“Ava, Cesar.” The wedding planner tapped her watch. “First dance.”
“Pictures!” Mads shouted.
I could feel a headache coming on. I think I’d had enough of this wedding.
There was clapping and hoots from our guests when the De Luccis and McGraths posed for impromptu pictures in the middle of the Plaza Hotel ballroom.
I gritted my teeth, getting more irritated by the second and wanting to escape with my Ava.
But when the photographer was rearranging our group, I glanced at my bride, and all my aggravation faded. Ava was chatting animatedly with Pop, and for the first time in a long time, he looked happy, so genuinely happy that his smile lit his eyes.
I couldn’t even describe the emotion that rolled under my chest, but it reminded me of what this crazy day was all about.
Family. Mine had just gotten bigger. That made me smile.
The first strains of a familiar ballad surrounded us.
As the soloist sang the words to our love story, I led my wife to the dance floor.
And I slow danced her into our new life together.
“Found another one!” I yelled from the bathroom.
It was wishful thinking to believe Paulie, of all people, wouldn’t pull a prank on my wedding night. Adding in my brothers, Cesar and I were still looking for alarm clocks at two in the morning. After our repeated attempts to leave the party to sneak up to our suite, Robert and Sean kept finding ways to keep us in the ballroom.
Paulie and Charles had suspiciously disappeared.
I didn’t see them when we danced the Tarantella and Mads was seriously the best sister-in-law and matron of honor. She shoved my Keds at me before we began the traditional Italian wedding dance. By that time the guests were well into the blessings of the open bar and the champagne had gone to my head, coalescing my whole sentiment into “who gives a fuck if the bride wore sneakers.” Afterward the whole wedding entourage seemed to have invited themselves to our suite. For a few horrific minutes, I had visions of them expecting Cesar to wave a bloodied sheet as proof of my virginity. However, tabloid photographs of Cesar and me leaving our Gold Coast row house early in the morning, frequently in blatant displays of affection, didn’t leave any doubt about the state of my hymen.
Cesar quickly dispatched the people in our suite under threat of dismemberment and declared this with his serious scary face.
And just when we were about to dive into lusty times, the first alarm clock went off. I was glad Paulie wasn’t within reach then because I’d never seen Cesar so psychotically pissed. I mean he could give Vesuvio a run for its money with the way he erupted over the phone at Paulie.
My husband appeared at the entrance to our luxurious white and gold bathroom, holding the wireless to his ear. “Six. Ava just found the sixth one. You swore on your first born there were only five.” A vein bulged on Cesar’s temple. His teal blue tie was loosened, and the top buttons of his vest and dress shirt were partially undone, exposing that provocative tanned throat I fixated over. I bit my lower lip. Did he know how sexy he looked? I loved my hot-blooded Italian husband. His eyes darkened when he saw my expression. “Oh, you’re going to blame Charles for sneaking one over you. How about I pull the plug on the European deal?”
I could hear Paulie panicking on the other end of the line. “Alright, alright!” was mumbled together with an intelligible string of sentences.
Cesar straightened from his lean and walked back to the living area. I followed my husband, curious to see where my friend had stashed the last of the alarms.
He extracted one from behind a figurine in the entertainment cabinet. “This better be the last fucking one, Paulie.”
Cesar was listening to his brother, but his eyes were riveted on me. And the way he was looking at me sent a shivery sensation down my spine, because I knew that look. That was the look when all self-restraint had left him, and I was about to be the recipient of his sexual frustration.
“Good,” he growled into the receiver, “because I’m about to fuck Ava in her wedding dress.” He ended the call, tossed both phone and the last clock on the couch before prowling toward me.
I gulped. “Maybe you should calm down first. Have a drink.”
His hands hit my hips, his head lowering. “There’s only one way to calm me down, wife.”
I felt the “wife” right between my legs. He backed me into the bedroom, the back of my knees hit the bed, and I was falling, bouncing on the mattress once, it knocked the oxygen out of my lungs. I barely recovered when layers of tulle were flipped over me and my legs were shoved apart. The cool air wafted over my thighs before my husband’s hot hungry mouth latched onto my pussy.
“Ahhh!” I yelled. He was as ravenous for me as I was for him. The night of separation fueled our need. Everything that followed after built to this second. Our vows joined us in front of God and family. The reception was a haze, but this moment was when everything became real, stripped down to an instinct that made us live and breathe and love. And nothing was more real than the orgasm that ripped through me. He held my pelvis down and continued to eat me while I writhed and became a blubbering mess, a slave to his touch. I didn’t know how tightly wound I was until he freed me with some serious tongue fucking.
His huge body surged up, and he loomed above me. There was no mistaking the feralness of his gaze. “Tell me you’re ready, cara.”
I hooked my legs around his impressive ass.
Cesar didn’t wait and drove into me hard. He thrust and grunted, swallowing my cries in a brief forceful kiss, but the pace of his pounding made it impossible to keep our mouths connected. I stretched around him and yielded to his powerful strokes in complete surrender.
At one point, he adjusted his body so his mouth was beside my ear. “All mine,” he said harshly. “All fucking mine.”
“Yours,” I whispered back.
He grabbed my hips and fucked me at a frantic pace with an edge of desperation. Fire scorched me everywhere, and I exploded again with my second orgasm.
“Never let you go,” he continued to pound. There was an unspoken threat in his eyes, not for me, but I suspected it was directed at anyone who would attempt to take me from him. That was how expressive his eyes were at that moment.
I’d never seen Cesar’s face so naked and raw.
Burying his fingers in my hair, he bucked into me in staggered thrusts before he squeezed his eyes shut and grunted. Warmth spread into my core. Finally, he planted deep, and the convulsions of his body sent similar quakes through mine.
When his eyes opened, serenity reflected in them. Meanwhile, I arched against him, not quite dislodging his cock inside me. I wasn’t quite ready to let him go, but his girth reached places deep inside me … oh boy. Ripples of pleasure had my inner muscles contracting around him.
“Fuck, that feels so good,” he groaned, shuddering against me.
I welcomed his weight even when I knew he was holding back a little. Finally, he rolled off me and onto his back. I turned my head in his direction.
He had propped up on an elbow, staring at me in a way that made my toes curl, my heart race, and my breath catch. Gone was the serenity in his eyes, and in its place burned love and absolute devotion.
His handsome face came closer, and against my lips he whispered, “I love you, Ava De Lucci.”
“And I love you, husband.”