Seven months later…
IWALK INTO the backyard of my parents’ compound. It’s beautifully decorated with earthy tones, tulle, lights and a wooden wedding arch right in the middle of the butterfly garden. When my brother told me about wanting to get married in my parents’ backyard, the pessimistic side of me never thought it would work. But now, after seeing everything put together, it’s absolutely perfect. This is the place where he and Selina met and fell in love, after all.
A familiar cry has me turning my head and looking in that direction. Mateo is holding our daughter, bouncing her and cooing, trying to get her to settle. She’ll be three months tomorrow, and she’s brought nothing but love and light into our lives.
After Mateo was legally declared dead, for all intents and purposes, we moved to the suburbs in Eastern Pennsylvania where life has been calm and quiet — the complete opposite of what we’d both been accustomed to.
And while I don’t see Mateo buying a minivan anytime soon, he’s taken to the suburban life better than I thought he would. We regularly visit my family, and Mateo even works remotely for my father as part of his team that helps women and children escape human trafficking. I know he’s not used to being on the other side of the law, but he doesn’t complain. In fact, I would even venture to say he actually loves his work and enjoys the slower pace of things most days. I know he definitely likes not having to look over his shoulder all the time.
“I think Little Lucy misses her mommy,” Mateo says as I approach. He’s dressed in a black suit with a black shirt and matching tie. I swear he’ll never own any other color, but I definitely don’t mind and never want him to change. The tall, dark and handsome look suits him so damn well.
I happily open my arms and take our daughter. I hold her close to me and stare down at her adorable face. She has my eyes and her daddy’s smile — a perfect mixture of the both of us. We named her Lucita after Mateo’s youngest sister, and I think the name suits her perfectly. And considering her name means little light in Spanish, it’s even more fitting.
I calm our baby down, having learned a few tricks over the past month or so thanks to some parenting forums I’ve become obsessed with; and soon she’s back to smiling and being the little angel she normally is.
“I thought I heard Lucy crying,” my brother says as he approaches us with Selina following close behind.
Selina looks absolutely radiant in her ivory, full-length vintage gown. And my brother looks as handsome as ever in his dark brown tux.
“Lucy is so adorable in her little purple dress,” Selina says with a huge smile before putting her hands out to hold her.
“What if she spits up on your wedding dress?” I worry.
“So what’s a little vomit from my niece? Hey, maybe it will be good luck,” she quips.
“We don’t need luck,” Nico reminds his bride to be. He looks upon Selina so adoringly that I would be jealous if I didn’t, in fact, get that same look from Mateo every time I see him glancing in my direction. It’s a look of pure, undiluted love. The kind of love I only ever read about in romance novels or saw in the movies before I met Mateo.
I hand Lucy over to Selina, and she’s a natural. I don’t know if the two of them are planning on having children or not, but they would make great parents. And even if they don’t have any of their own, they’re going to be an amazing aunt and uncle to their niece. I’m so lucky to have them in our daughter’s life.
Just then, a flash of navy blue catches my eye, and I see Renato walking into the backyard with a blonde on his arm. She’s tall and insanely gorgeous. And I can see the diamond on her ring finger glistening in the sunlight from here.
Renato looks in my direction, and I give him a smile. He nods over to the corner of the property, wanting me to join him. So, I tell everyone I’ll be right back before heading over to a secluded part of the party where people are going to be taking pictures under a giant weeping Willow tree.
“Hey,” Renato says in greeting.
I haven’t spoken to Renato much over the past several months. After our talk when I got home, he decided to take another job for my father, no longer wanting to be my bodyguard. I didn’t blame him for not wanting to be around me, but I must admit that I missed him.
I’d still consider us friends, but we’re definitely not as close as we once were. I think the time apart did us both good; however, because he ended up finding a girlfriend, whom he adores and proposed to a few weeks ago. She said yes, of course, because she’d be crazy not to. Renato is quite the catch. He just wasn’t meant for me.
“I heard you and Leona got engaged. Congratulations,” I say with a smile.
“Thanks.” He stares at the ground with a shy grin on his face before he looks up and meets my gaze.
“I’m glad you’re happy,” I tell him. And I mean that wholeheartedly. Renato and I were on the same path for a long time before fate intervened and we went down very different paths. And now that we’ve both found our way out on the other side, I’m thrilled, for the both of us.
“I feel the same way,” he admits. “And you are, right? Happy?” he asks.
I glance back at Mateo, who is currently staring invisible daggers into Renato. I can’t help but grin at my boyfriend’s jealousy. I’m sure he’ll take it out on me in the bedroom later…and I can hardly wait. Blushing, I turn back to Renato and bite my lip to contain a laugh. And then I tell him, “Yes, very happy.”
“Good. That’s all I ever wanted for you, Aria.”
And maybe I’m throwing fuel on the fire, but I don’t care. I lean into Renato and hug him tightly. He hesitates, but eventually puts his arms around me. “Thank you for being there for me every time I needed you,” I whisper into his ear.
“Of course. That’s what friends are for,” he tells me with a grin when we part.
And that’s exactly what we are. What we’ve always been. At the end of the day, we were always friends before anything else.
“Go back to your girl,” I say. “I’m sure she’s wondering where you ran off to.”
“Yeah.” He gives me a nod, and it feels like something settled between us. I can’t explain it, but I think we needed to have this little talk to clear the air. “See you around, Aria,” he throws over his shoulder as he walks away.
I return to a deceptively calm Mateo. As soon as I’m within arm’s length, he wraps his hand around my elbow and pulls me in close. “Friend of yours?” he asks.
“That was Renato,” I explain.
Mateo’s eyes narrow in understanding. He knows everything about my past. “Ah, I see.” And then he leans down and whispers into my ear, “If we weren’t surrounded by all these people and if this wasn’t your brother’s wedding, I would bend you over my knee, spank your ass red, and then show you who you belong to.”
I gasp, my heart stuttering in my chest. “Can you show me later?” I question breathlessly.
A growl rumbles low in his chest as he stares down at me with a look that screams I’m a delicious meal and he’s a ravenous man. “Oh yes, mi pequeña cautiva. Definitely later,” he promises.
He hasn’t called me his little captive in a while, and I can’t help the shiver that runs through my body and straight to my core. Mateo smirks and then winks. The bastard knows exactly what his words do to me.
The string quartet begins to play, and someone announces that the ceremony is about to begin. Selina rushes Lucy back into my arms before instructing us to take our seats in the front row.
Watching my brother and Selina get married has me crying more than Lucy ever has in the time since she’s been born. Just seeing them up there, exchanging their beautiful vows and staring into each other’s eyes has my heart pitter-pattering. It took them so long to get to this point.
Who knew that when they met as teenagers, they would someday reunite, fall in love and get married. Their love is the kind of love that people write about or only dream of. They have endured so much to get here. But it was all worth it in the end, because now they will finally have the happily ever after that they both deeply deserve.
When the preacher announces them as husband and wife, everyone cheers and claps. After the ceremony is over, all of us, including the newlyweds, move to the giant tent that’s decorated with lights. We eat, drink and enjoy each other’s company as the party goes on in the background.
All too soon it’s time for Selina to throw the bouquet, and the DJ calls out on the microphone for all the single ladies. Mateo eagerly takes Lucy from me and tells me to join them.
Technically, I’m not single, but I guess not being married yet qualifies me. I feel like an idiot standing there with several cousins that look like they’re half my age. One young girl beside me, who can’t be more than twelve, scoffs at me and says, “I’m catching that bouquet.”
“Game on,” I challenge her, suddenly feeling very competitive.
And when Selina turns her back on us and whips that bouquet in the air, I go for that thing like my life depends on it. I almost take a nosedive but save myself at the last second and hoist the bouquet up in the air as people around me applaud my valiant effort. The twelve-year-old beside me huffs in disappointment, and that makes it all worth it.
The DJ announces, “Looks like the sister of the groom will be the next one getting married!”
Suddenly feeling embarrassed, I stare down at the bouquet. I just wanted to catch the damn thing. I didn’t even think about the meaning behind it all.
Mateo hasn’t even proposed yet, and I don’t know if he ever will. Not that I even expect him to or want him to. Everything has been perfect the past several months. And if nothing changes, I would still be as happy as I am right now.
“That was amazing,” Mateo says with a grin when I approach him. “I thought you were going to tackle that little girl and make her cry.”
“I would have if she would’ve gotten in my way,” I declare.
That earns me a dark chuckle. “Savage,” he says.
When I set the flowers down, I notice that Lucy has a small box in her hands she’s fumbling with. “What is that?” I ask.
“Open it and see,” Mateo says cryptically.
Taking the small box, I open it and stare at the diamond ring inside. It’s beautiful with a huge diamond in the middle surrounded by tiny little diamonds on the gold band. My eyes shift from the ring up to Mateo’s gaze. “Are you doing this because I caught the bouquet?” I question.
A smile twitches on his lips. “No, it’s not because you caught the bouquet, mi corazón. I’ve had that ring for months. I was going to wait until the perfect moment…but the timing just hasn’t been right.”
“Now is perfect,” I inform him.
“Yeah?” he asks with a cocked brow.
I nod my head.
He slips the ring out of the box with his free hand and holds it out. “Will you marry me, Aria? Will you be mine forever?”
I watch as he slips the ring onto my finger. Tears fill my eyes as I blink up at him. “Yes and yes.”
He leans down, and we hold Lucy between us as our lips meet in a heated kiss. She begins to squirm, and we laugh, breaking our embrace. I look up at him and then down to our daughter. Our little family.
“I love you,” I tell him, meeting his dark eyes once again.
“I love you, too.” He cradles Lucy in his arms and stares down at her with such adoration that it almost takes my breath away.
“I wouldn’t change a thing, just so you know,” I confess.
His eyes meet mine. “Me either,” he agrees.
We exchange a knowing look with one another. Even though our relationship started off tumultuous and unconventional, it all led us to this very moment. Who knew that being kidnapped and sold at an auction to the highest bidder would turn into this? Just when I thought my entire world was coming to an end, it was actually just beginning. Mateo turned my life upside down for the better. And I can’t imagine going on this crazy journey called life without him by my side.