JONAS stood in his mother’s bedroom and inhaled the faint scent of jasmine. He knew it grew just outside the window, climbing two stories on a trellis he’d put up himself when he was fourteen. He’d opened the window every day for years to allow the scent into the room because his mother had loved it, and now, smelling the fragrance gave him the illusion that she was there with him.
‘Today’s my wedding day, Mom,’ he said softly aloud. ‘I’m marrying the woman I always told you I would someday.’ He was silent a moment, listening to the echo of his voice in the room.
He’d read a thousand books here, even more poetry. He’d slept in a chair and later a small cot. There had been love in this room. Hannah was so right. It had been a tragedy for a young boy, but it hadn’t been all bad, there had been wonderful times. Laughter and whispers of secrets—like marrying Hannah Drake. He told his mother often and she never told a soul, encouraging him to follow his dreams, and assuring him that young Hannah would grow up into a wonderful woman someday.
‘You would love her if you knew her now, all grown up, Mom. We both wanted the wedding here so you could be with us. If you look out the window, you’ll be able to watch the ceremony and reception. The day turned out to be beautiful, although honestly, I don’t know if the Drake sisters are keeping the fog and mist at bay, or whether it’s natural.’ He ran his finger along the windowsill. ‘I wish you were here. You would love this. All these people. The clothes. Hannah made me dress up in this white zoot suit.
We’re doing a black-and-white-themed wedding. Nineteen twenties for you and Dad.’
He stood for a few minutes again in silence. Voices drifted up from outside, where most of Sea Haven had gathered. There was no such thing as a small wedding, even if you were having a private, intimate gathering, not in Sea Haven. The Drake family alone comprised well over a hundred easily. Anyone growing up in Sea Haven had to invite everyone from the town, as they were considered more family than friends. He found himself smiling as laughter reached him from the lawns below.
‘I did exactly what you said. I found a woman who will always be my best friend. She’s so beautiful, Mom, and she overlooks those little flaws you were telling me about. She has a way of looking at me that makes me feel—makes me know—that I’m the luckiest man in the world.’
He stood at the window taking in the semichaotic scene below. He’d always felt part of the Drake family, but now, when he was officially joining his life to Hannah’s, he felt joy and an overwhelming happiness. ‘We’re going to use this room as the nursery. I want our babies to feel your presence from the moment they’re born. We plan on filling the house up with children and laughter, the way you always wanted it to be, and we’re counting on you to help us look after them.’
Jonas walked around the empty room. He’d long ago taken the bed out. He’d hated that bed, knowing his mother had felt a prisoner in it. Her things had been carefully packed, her most favorite possessions sentimentally kept in a glass cabinet in his den. He missed her, especially now, on this day, the one she’d so looked forward to.
A light knock had him turning. Jackson stuck his head in the room. ‘It’s time, Jonas. You don’t want to give Hannah time to rethink this.’
Jonas smiled, saluted his absent mother and followed his best friend down the stairs. ‘I don’t think she’s going to run out on me.’ It amazed him how utterly confident he felt in her. Hannah was his best friend, his confidante and an amazing lover. From the moment he’d first set eyes on her, a part of him had known that this day was inevitable.
‘You’re already thinking about having children, aren’t you?’ Jackson said.
Jonas’s gaze flicked to his friend. For the first time in his memory, he observed that Jackson looked uncomfortable.
‘Hannah and I talked about it. We want a houseful. She’s a homebody, Jackson. We have the money for her to be able to stay home and raise our kids. The house is enormous and the town is the perfect place to raise children.’
‘The thought of having kids doesn’t scare you?’
‘I grew up around the Drakes. For me, a big family seems natural and right. It’s what my mother always wanted and it’s what Hannah had. I can’t imagine her without her sisters, or me without them either.’ He knew his eyes went a little steely. ‘Does the thought of children bother you?’
Jackson frowned. ‘ ‘Bother’ isn’t the right word. I’ve never been around children. I can’t imagine being a father. I know I’ll never be anyone’s idea of an average dad.’
‘You’ve been around the Drakes long enough to know what a family is—what it should be. It’s your choice whether or not you want it. Me? I’m grabbing it with both hands and hanging on tight.’
Jonas walked with Jackson and the other groomsmen, down the long outdoor aisle between rows of chairs on the rolling lawn, surrounded by his family and friends. He looked around him and realized what he had. These people made up his life. And it was a good life. He had everything he needed right here, in this place, to be happy.
The music started and he turned to watch her come toward him. She was so beautiful she robbed him of breath as she stepped out of the authentic 1920s car and looked at him. Her smile lit her face as her gaze met his.
Hannah. I love you. Always. Always I’ll love you. He meant it. Knew it, in his heart and soul.
I love you, Jonas. I want this more than anything, to be your wife and have your children.
I always have.
Her sisters came up the aisle dressed in vintage wear from the era, the dresses clingy with dropped waists. They looked beautiful, happy for him and Hannah. Pride swelled. This was his family and he mattered to them every bit as much as they did to him. Jackson had called it right on the yacht. The moment he’d returned, walking through the door, they had swarmed around him, hands brushing to make certain he was uninjured, lightening his heavy heart for the kill shots he’d taken, and removing the bruise on his jaw.
His throat closed as the music changed and everyone rose. Hannah Drake flowed up the aisle with her famous walk. Her blue eyes were vivid and bright, sparkling like the jewels on her wedding gown. The scars on her face and throat had faded to faint white lines, barely discernable, but it wouldn’t have mattered if they hadn’t. To him, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Her father put her hand in his and Jonas closed his fingers tightly around hers, drawing her close to him. Emotional or not, he was damned if he was going to cry—Jackson would never let him hear the end of it—but he knew that moment would be forever in his mind. Hannah joining her life to his. So fine, his eyes burned and filled up, but really, who gave a damn? Hannah was finally his.
All of his life, Jonas had tried to be careful to keep her from feeling the emotions that often dominated his existence. Not today. Today he wanted to share every feeling—the rich fullness—the overflowing happiness. She had been there through his mother’s illness and death and when he’d been shot. Through some of the darkest moments in his life.
Now he wanted to share the best moment with her. He could never express in words what she meant to him, but Hannah was an empath and she could feel it.
She looked up at him and her eyes were swimming with tears. I love you, too.
Jonas listened to the ceremony, every sacred word, but all he could see was Hannah. The sun shone on her, colors danced around her, even her aura was present, a prism that glowed around her in rainbow colors.
Baby, did you know that you can taste happiness?
She blinked up at him, a slow smile curving her mouth. Can you? What does it taste like?
You. All hot and sweet and exciting. Mysterious. A combination of flavors.
She glanced at the minister and murmured an appropriate response, even as color swept up her neck and into her face. You’re trying to make me hot and bothered.
He grinned at her. I wasn’t, but now that you mention it, just what are you wearing under that dress ? I don’t see a panty line.
She nearly choked, covered it with a cough.
And then he was sliding his ring on her finger. Saying the words to make her his wife.
Meaning them. The ring on his finger, a never-ending circle, felt solid and right. His heart jumped in his chest when the minister pronounced them man and wife.
Jonas turned to her, looked down at her, his hands framing her face so he could look into her eyes. ‘Forever, Hannah. For always.’ He bent his head slowly to hers, forgetting everyone, everything around him. His entire world narrowed to one woman. Hannah Drake Harrington. His lips moved over hers, feather-light. Seduction in its most elegant form. His kiss was gentle, tender, infinitely loving.
They turned toward their family and friends, sharing their happiness. The applause rang out, music blared and the party started.
Jonas greeted a hundred people, accepting congratulations, all the while keeping Hannah close to him. She smiled and murmured softly in response, appearing gracious and relaxed, but he was very aware how difficult it was for her. Often his hand moved up to the nape of her neck, easing the tension out of her with a slow massage. He bent his head to brush a kiss across the top of her head.
‘Congratulations,’ a male voice repeated, drawing his attention back to the waiting line.
Jonas automatically shook hands, but then gripped Ilya Prakenskii’s hand before he could let go. ‘You have a lot of nerve showing up here. There’s law enforcement everywhere.
Are you looking to get arrested?’
Prakenskii’s eyebrow shot up. ‘For what? They’re welcome to take me in, but they have no proof of any wrongdoing.’
Jonas glanced around and lowered his voice. ‘You were on that yacht. You got there before us and somehow managed to kill Karl Tarasov and take his place. You were the one who killed Boris and you did it so I wouldn’t.’
‘Did I? I have no recollection of this event,’ Prakenskii said.
‘I looked into your eyes, Ilya. Straight into them. I’ve heard of your ability to become a chameleon, to be anyone, but you can’t hide your eyes. Color maybe, but not that intensity. And, you son of a bitch, you hit me.’ Jonas rubbed his jaw.
A hint of amusement crossed the Russian’s face. ‘If such a thing had occurred, I’m certain the women in your family would give you adequate sympathy. Congratulations on your marriage. I must go annoy the sister of your bride by forcing her to dance with me once before I leave. I wish you long life and much happiness.’
‘Be careful, Prakenskii. Whatever you’re into, it’s very dangerous. Nikitin acts like a lamb, but I’ve done a little digging and the man is every bit as bloody and violent as Tarasov was, but then you already know that. I’m betting you know more about Nikitin than any other law enforcement officer in the world.’
There was a small silence. Prakenskii didn’t rise to the bait. Jonas sighed. ‘With Tarasov’s territory wide open, Nikitin will be that much more powerful. You and I both know he’ll take over most of Tarasov’s operations.’
‘Since I work for the man, that just gives me job security.’
Jonas shook his head. ‘You have to trust somebody someday. Our family is indebted to you. You need help, you call.’ Because he didn’t believe for one moment that Ilya Prakenskii was what the world believed him to be.
Prakenskii gave him a small salute and disappeared into the crowd.
Jonas found Hannah dancing with her sisters and pulled her into his arms. ‘Dance with me, baby.’
Hannah slid into his arms, up against his body, as if made for him. The Drakes often had magic in their lives, and for Jonas, this entire day was his magical moment. She fit so perfectly. He swept her around the dance floor, the music heating his blood and singing in his veins.
‘Do you remember last Christmas when I wished on the snowglobe, Hannah? You were so upset with me, and I wouldn’t tell you what I wished for.’ He pressed his lips to her temple. ‘I wished for you.’ He spun her out and brought her back into him.
Her heart leapt, flying right along with her body as they moved together in perfect rhythm around the room. Everyone around them faded away until there was only Jonas. She felt his joy and knew he’d never been happier. She realized, in that perfect moment, that she was doing exactly what she wanted—what she was born to do. She was Jonas Harrington’s wife. Complete. Committed. And happy beyond anything she’d ever dreamed.
She would always have the occasional panic attacks. And she would never believe she was as beautiful as so many people seemed to think she was, but she had come out of a terrible storm, emerging stronger and victorious. And happier than she’d ever dreamed she could be.
She stopped. Right there on the dance floor, her fingers linking behind the nape of his neck. All around her, her family danced and laughed, and filled the room with warmth and happiness. But this man in her arms, he filled her every empty place with strength and love. She met his gaze, saw the love shining there, and her heart jumped hard in her chest, her stomach did that funny little flip and deep down, where it mattered, she melted, just as she was supposed to.
‘I love you, Jonas Harrington. With my heart and soul, I love you.’
‘I love you, Hannah Drake Harrington. With everything I am.’
And that would always—always—be enough for both of them.