Four months later
THAT SUMMER, ALESSANDRA AND I MOVED IN TOGETHER. She broke her lease early and I sold the penthouse in favor of a brownstone nestled in the heart of the West Village. It was massive, boasting four stories, a rooftop deck, and a medium-sized backyard (which was a luxury and a half in Manhattan), but it still had a cozier vibe than our old home.
We brought Camila and the rest of our household staff with us. Camila had been skeptical of the move, but once she saw the kitchen, which was even bigger than the one in the penthouse, she was all in. Despite her initial grumblings, I suspected she was so happy we were back together that she would’ve moved with us to a shack in the woods if we’d asked her to. She treated Alessandra like a surrogate daughter, and her patience with my divorce-induced mood swings had run thin.
After we closed on the house, Alessandra and I hired an interior design consultant but decorated most of it ourselves. For once, I worried less about buying the most expensive items and more about what fit with our lives.
Our foyer boasted fresh flowers and graceful trinkets instead of the priceless but somewhat terrifying marble bust I’d successfully bid on in a Sotheby’s auction, and Alessandra talked me out of building a miniature golf course in the backyard simply because I could. Neither of us even liked mini golf.
Fortunately, she’d acquiesced to a rooftop hot tub and the construction of a private elevator. There was only so much I was willing to give up when it came to luxuries.
I did, however, also donate a vast sum of money for the establishment and maintenance of the Ehrlich Scholarship Fund at Thayer University. The need-based scholarships would offer full rides to a dozen incoming students every year starting this fall. Professor Ehrlich had been an avid fan of mini golf, but I suspected that if he were alive, he would’ve liked the scholarships even more.
Sometimes, I missed the penthouse and what it represented—the first big sign that I’d made it, whatever it was—but that house had been for me. This house was for us, and it was time I made it official.
“Dom?” Alessandra’s voice floated from deep within the entrance. “Are you home?”
“In the garden!” I called out. Sweat slicked my palm, which was ridiculous. I’d done this before, but when it came to Alessandra, every time felt like the first time for everything.
I would never look at her and not marvel at the fact she was mine. I would never think about how close I’d come to losing her and not thank God she came back to me. I would never kiss her and take the opportunity for granted again.
She appeared at the back door, her hair shining beneath a dapple of sunlight. She’d had brunch with her friends that morning, and her cheeks glowed with a wash of pink.
“No offense, babe, but I hope you’re not trying to garden again.” Alessandra slid the glass door closed behind her and eyed her beloved flowers with suspicion. “Remember when you almost killed my New England aster?”
Floria Designs was thriving both online and in its physical store, which meant it needed more inventory. She sourced most of the blooms for her business from suppliers, but she’d also started growing her own in the garden we’d installed in lieu of the mini golf course.
The café and gallery/flower shop concept was a huge hit, and though I hated Aiden’s continued presence in her life—no New York landlord checked on their tenants that often without hidden motives—I loved seeing her happy. It was the only reason I hadn’t bought his company out from under him. For some reason, Alessandra considered him a friend, and she would not be happy if I pulled that stunt.
“New England aster…was that the purple or pink one? I’m kidding.” I laughed at her glare. “I know better than to touch your asters again. In my defense, the shears slipped. It was an accident.”
“Sure. Ask the poor flowers if they care,” she said with a playful huff.
My grin softened into something easier, simpler. Smiles came more readily to me these days, born out of a warmth that had been missing for the majority of my life. It was the type of feeling that soothed the edges of my frustration when something went wrong at work, that lightened my steps on my way home and painted the world in vivid shades.
I’d been lying in bed one lazy Saturday morning, watching Alessandra yawn and snuggle into my chest, when I finally put a name on the feeling.
No matter how much money I lost or made in a single day, I was, at my core, happy because I had everything I needed in front of me.
Thoughts of Aiden, Floria Designs, and the rest of the world faded away as the moment hit me like a freight train.
This was it. She was it. Some part of me had known that since the minute I laid eyes on her all those years ago, but that didn’t make what I was about to do any easier.
It didn’t matter that I’d spent months planning for this or that we’d gone through hell and made it to the other side. I wanted this to be perfect. It was what she deserved.
“Speaking of flowers, I have something for you.” My nerves felt like barbs in my stomach as I handed her the golden rose. A tiny white note was tied to the stem.
Alessandra’s face lit up even though I gifted her the bloom daily. “I was wondering when I’d get my daily countdown,” she teased. “What happens when we reach one thousand?”
I didn’t have to think; the answer had been there all along.
“Then I’ll start the countdown again, and again, for the rest of our lives. Because that’s how long I want to spend with you.”
Her expression gradually morphed into stunned belief as I dropped to my knee and retrieved a small velvet box from my pocket.
My heart was a pounding mess as my fingers shook around the box. I would lay myself bare to her a million times for one more chance with the girl who never gave up on me. It didn’t matter if I was trying to pass a college class or build an empire in her honor, she would always be my driving force.
“Alessandra, you are the most important thing to me. Being your husband will always be my greatest honor and accomplishment. No victory will ever taste as sweet as the press of your lips against mine. I lost you, and I don’t deserve you.” I swallowed hard against the memories of what we’d overcome.
“But I vow to always hear you over the sound of my ambition. I will always be curious about you. You’ve shown me the value of always learning, growing, and caring, and I’ve never loved you more than in this moment. Watching you choose yourself when I didn’t will always prove as a reminder to me of your incredible strength and what a privilege it is to call you mine. I want to spend the rest of my nights with you. I want to spend the next decade working to be the man you always deserved. I want my greed to be for your love, your laughter, and our life together. I can’t bear to be parted from you. Please, Ále, will you be my wife?”
A soft cry broke free from her throat. Alessandra’s eyes shimmered as she uttered the one word worth more than any of the billions in my bank account.
“Yes,” she sobbed. “Yes, I’ll be your wife.”
Slipping the ring on her finger felt like sliding a lock into place, but this lock wasn’t a prison; it was a promise.
Her mouth met mine with the taste of salt. We were both crying, and I knew with rock-solid certainty that no meeting or dinner would ever matter as much as the way her joy felt surrounding me. Every sacrifice would exist as a balance of love with my ambition.
I would spend forever becoming the man she always believed me to be.
Our second wedding took place on a rooftop overlooking the city. We’d visited dozens of venues before we settled on this one. It was the perfect blend of whimsy and luxury, and it felt indescribably more us than the traditional church wedding that’d kicked off our original marriage.
The first time, we did what we were supposed to. This time, we did what was right for us.
Almost all of our friends and family were in attendance, including my mother, who shockingly showed up with the same husband as the last time I saw her. Bernard must’ve been doing something right; maybe the fourth time was the charm.
Even Aiden was in attendance with the beautiful paralegal he’d started dating two months ago. Our relationship was strictly platonic, and despite Dominic’s suspicions over the other man’s friendliness—apparently, he found it hard to believe landlords could be, well, helpful—Aiden was clearly besotted with his new girlfriend. He’d barely taken his eyes off her all night.
The only person missing was Roman. Dominic hadn’t heard from him since his abrupt disappearance after the contract leak that took down Sunfolk’s old CEO. He could either be dead, dying, or sunning himself on a remote island in the Pacific. No one knew, and even Dominic’s money and connections couldn’t track down his brother’s whereabouts.
I could tell Roman’s uncertain fate worried him, but whenever I asked him about it, he simply said Roman could take care of himself.
I didn’t press Dominic about the issue further. Maybe one day, Roman would make a reappearance. Until then, life went on.
“You’ve had quite the year, haven’t you, darling?” My mother clucked her tongue, pulling me out of my wayward thoughts. “Marriage, divorce, marriage again. Why, you’re giving me a run for my money!”
Marcelo snorted out a laugh, which he quickly turned into a cough when she glared at him. Bernard was busy taking advantage of the buffet, so it was only the three of us.
“I don’t think anyone can give you a run for your money in that department, Mom,” I said dryly.
“Shhh.” She blanched. “What did I tell you about calling me that in public? Mom sounds so old. Address me as Fabiana. That way, we sound like best friends, which we are.” She patted my arm. “Mothers and daughters are always best—oh! I see Ayana. I wonder if she booked the Vogue cover?” She flitted off, our conversation forgotten.
I suppose me marrying a billionaire wasn’t quite as exciting when said billionaire had already been her son-in-law. Otherwise, my mother would be screaming from the rooftop—literally—about how her daughter landed Dominic Davenport.
“Hey, at least she showed up,” Marcelo said after she left. “That’s a win.” He stepped closer and kissed me on the cheek. “I know I said this already, but congratulations. It’s nice to have a brother-in-law again. The same one. Again.” He laughed when I swatted him lightly in the stomach. “Seriously, I’m happy for you and Dom. You guys were always meant for each other. You just had to…take a detour first.”
My brother could be an idiot, but occasionally, he dropped a pearl of truth.
Dominic and I spent the first half of the reception greeting and mingling with guests. I’d forgotten how much time brides and grooms spent with other people during their own weddings.
Half the Valhalla Club was in attendance, including the ever terrifying but oddly intriguing Vuk Markovic, whom I had yet to hear speak a single world. He shook our hands in the receiving line and promptly disappeared. Xavier Castillo was also here, looking devastating in a black suit. He was currently lounging in a chair with a drink in hand and his other arm draped over the shoulders of a pretty brunette. No tie, jacket off, collar open, and gaze amused as Sloane stalked past him without sparing him a glance. He was woefully against dress code, but he was so charming no one called him out on it.
Meanwhile, Dante and Vivian came with their adorable newborn daughter, Josephine, or Josie for short, who was the subject of many guests’ oohs and aahs. Vivian was my bridesmaid alongside Isabella and Sloane, so Dante took care of the baby most of the night. Seeing the big, gruff CEO melt over his daughter made me melt because I couldn’t stop picturing Dominic in his place.
Speaking of which…
“Tell me why we invited so many people again,” he said when we finally caught a moment alone. “I don’t even know who half of them are.”
“Dom, you vetted the entire list.”
“I must’ve blacked out during that part because”—he narrowed his eyes at a distinguished silver-haired gentleman by the bar—“who the hell is that?”
I camouflaged an irrepressible laugh. “He’s the vice president of Sunfolk Bank.”
Dominic stared. Hard. “Christ. I need a drink.” He shook his head, his exasperation melting into a rueful smile. “I’m sorry, amor, but if I have to make small talk with one more person instead of dancing with you…”
“It’s okay. I feel the same way.” My stomach fluttered when he whisked two glasses of champagne off a passing server’s tray and handed one to me. This was it. “No, thanks.”
His eyebrows popped up. “Are you sure? You haven’t had a drink all night.”
“I’m sure.” The flutters turned into full-on kicks. “In fact, I won’t be drinking alcohol for the next eight months.”
Dominic’s glass froze halfway to his lips. He slowly lowered it, his expression gradually shifting from confusion to stunned belief. “Are you…”
I nodded, unable to contain my smile or nerves. “I’m pregnant.”
I’d totally stolen Vivian’s method of breaking the news but screw it. If it worked, it worked.
The sound of glass shattering drew startled glances from the guests, but we didn’t care.
A half laugh, half sob bled out as Dominic stepped around the champagne glasses and swept me up in his arms. Then he was kissing me, and we were laughing and crying together.
I hadn’t planned on telling him about my pregnancy during our wedding. It was already a big enough day, but it felt right.
Happiness had found me again. I’d found myself, and Dominic had found joy in things outside his relentless ambition. Never in our life together did I think I would see him without the lines of worry that everything would disappear but rather with lines around his eyes from laughter.
When his gaze met mine on that rooftop, I knew I would always be his. Most importantly, I knew he would always be mine. He would miss a dinner here and there, but he would always come home with a desire for our marriage. He would never again be the man who didn’t show ˙ care and curiosity. I would never again be the wife who pretended.
We were honest and open, and we truly loved each other more today than the day we’d married for the first time.
Our hearts had scars that would never go away, but they also glowed and grew with every new day that came to us.