Two months later
“What are you doing here?”
My mother’s panicked voice made me smile. I was in the bridal room of the church near Tralestelle. Unlike the first time we got married, the renewal of our vows was a smaller affair. More intimate. Before the ceremony, I escaped into this room because I heard the rumble of thunder. I wanted to look out the window and watch the storm clouds roll in.
I glanced over my shoulder.
“Relax,” I told her. “My makeup is on point.”
And appearances were all Elena Conte cared about. The relief on her face was predictable to the point it almost made me laugh. Luca and I had moved back to Tralestelle soon after his fight in Chicago while we left Mamma and Papà in the city. They visited us on the weekends, and vice versa. Whatever Luca told Elena two months ago seemed to stick, but even without my husband’s help, I could’ve handled Mamma on my own. The two years I’d spent away from everyone had given me tremendous confidence I didn’t think I had, and Luca, despite his overprotectiveness, his belief and pride in me, helped me thrive.
“You look beautiful, Nattie.” The smile on her face was genuine. It was genuine because it was unfamiliar and it made my heart squeeze for the young girl who would have appreciated that smile. I quickly dispelled those feelings because today was not a day for regrets. There was too much joy in my heart.
“Thank you, Mamma.” She stood behind me and we looked at the full-length mirror. Unlike my wedding, I wasn’t wearing a voluminous gown. I was wearing a modern ecru maxidress cut from light crepe fabric. I loved the one shoulder neckline with feather trim along the cuff of one-sleeve and its asymmetrical hem, which hit just above the ankles. Apparently, I had a thing for asymmetrical hems. I thought back to the tango festival, and I looked forward to dancing at the party.
Mamma brushed at my sleeve, and her eyes dropped to it. “I know you and I haven’t had a good mother-daughter relationship.” I braced myself for her next words, but when she lifted her eyes, there was an apology. “You are smart and beautiful. I was only admired for my looks, and because of my jealousy, because I wanted to feel better about myself, I became a terrible mother.”
I didn’t say anything. Now that I had Elias and knew how a mother should feel, I was done making excuses for her behavior.
She dabbed at her eyes. “Look at me. I’m going to ruin my makeup.” She exhaled raggedly. “But know, daughter.” She touched her chest. “That after so many years, I can truly say from the bottom of my heart, that I am so proud of you.”
Her words were said with all sincerity, and I had no reason to doubt her.
I turned to her. We smiled at each other and hugged.
We emerged from the bridal room to see Luca stalking toward us. His brows were furrowed and his jaw clenched. My mother froze. She even stuttered a step and a distressed gasp escaped her lips.
I felt sorry for her. My husband seemed to terrify her with just a look.
But when Luca saw my face, the lines between his brows smoothed and a sexy smile tugged on his lips.
“There’s my beautiful wife.” He dragged me into his arms. “Are you ready?”
“I am,” I breathed.
“Good, because our ring bearer is getting impatient.”
I laughed. Sure enough, Elias was getting pouty. Nessa seemed to calm him. Our son was in a sleek little suit, and I could just see him wear them like nobody’s business when he grew older. Just like his dad. I looked forward to those years.
“Mamma. Mamma! Hurry!”
We invited only close family. And I seriously felt close to them after what we’d been through in the past few months.
Sera, Matteo, Dom, Carlotta, and most of the De Luccis were there.
Ange was in the front row with his daughter and wife, a wife I’d never met. Apparently, they’d been estranged for a while, but had now reconnected.
Dario was with a date.
I was glad Martha made it because she was also overseeing the catering at the house where everyone would celebrate. Of course Tony and Rocco. Among Luca’s soldiers, they were the ones who I trusted with my family’s lives.
Luca led me to the top of the aisle with our son in front of us.
Instead of a sea of white roses, variegated colors of peonies filled the aisles. From scarlet, to coral, to hot pink and white. It symbolized the colorful life I expected to have with Luca.
Without waiting for the piano to signal the start of our march, Elias started walking down the aisle.
Luca and I exchanged a fond shake of our heads and a smile. There was no question our son was born a leader like his papà.
So we followed his lead.
In front of the priest, with Elias between us, Luca said, “God has given me this second chance. I’m not wasting it. The past two years only proved how miserable I was without you. You left me Elias, the only light that made me hold on through those dark years. I couldn’t imagine another day without you in my life. Never leave me again, tesoro. I will not survive it. In front of family and friends, I pledge to put you, Elias, and our future children first. And from the bottom of my heart that only beats for you, I vow to cherish, love, and protect you for the rest of my life.”
It wasn’t the words, but the fierceness with how he said them that left me speechless. They wrapped around my heart with so much love for my husband.
The church was quiet except for sniffling. I wasn’t the only one affected by my husband’s vows.
My eyes burned with so many emotions, and my husband’s stormy gaze packed so much intensity behind his words.
“Luca.” I inhaled raggedly. “I didn’t prepare beautiful vows like yours.”
He caught my hands in his and dragged me closer. “Tell me simply. That’s all I want to hear.”
“I love you so, so much.” I suppressed a sob. My heart was just brimming with happiness. “To you and Elias, I promise to be the best wife and mother.”
“You already are.” And then he kissed me deeply and sweetly.
The priest cleared his throat.
Laughter went around the church again.
“Papà. Papà.” Elias lifted the rings to us.
Luca chuckled and took the new rings from our son, and then he slipped them on my finger.
Five months later, Paris
We delayed our second honeymoon. Why? Because my wife loved rain and December was the rainiest month in Paris.
After standing in line to get ice cream at Berthillon, we were walking across Pont de la Tournelle, the arched bridge that spanned the width of the river Seine, when the first raindrop hit my face.
“Oh my goodness,” Natalya breathed. Her expressive brown eyes danced with excitement. “Not even a full day in Paris and it’s happening.” We stopped at the center of the bridge and watched the gathering nimbus cumulus clouds cloak the city in an enchanting gray filter. I was seeing Paris through the filter of my love for Natalya and couldn’t believe how love could be so fulfilling once I surrendered to its power.
I’d been an idiot, but I was an idiot no more.
“Rain already.” Natalya’s impatience made me laugh. She gathered her coat around her. It was nuts to eat a cold treat in forty-five-degree temperatures, but I couldn’t deny my wife. I went behind her to shield her from the frosty breeze and keep her warm.
“Baby, eat your ice cream.” It had melted all over her hand. “We’re staying here for two weeks. Odds are we’ll do it many times.”
“Are we talking about walking in the rain or something else?” She leaned sideways so she could shoot me that saucy look I’d grown familiar with, and my own eyes hooded. We were such a combustible pair, and I liked the games we played in the bedroom. My cock hardened at just the thought of having her to myself. I loved my son, but it surprised me how obsessed I was with my wife, and there were times I was jealous of the attention she gave him.
I grabbed her hand with the cone and licked her ice cream. “That and something else.”
“Hey, eat your own ice cream.” She glanced at the sky again and a big drop of rain fell on her face. “Ugh, it’s such a tease.”
“Like you?” I murmured. I turned her around to face me and planted a kiss on her sweetened lips. She tasted like decadent chocolate and temptation. I finished my own before the impending rain.
“Well…” Natalya took a sultry swipe of her cone with her tongue.
“Oh, here it comes.” She finished the rest of her ice cream so fast, I worried for a second that she was going to get brain freeze or choke.
“Careful, baby, that’s the wrong thing to choke on.”
She rolled her eyes but laughed. Innuendos between us were nothing new, but it only escalated the sexual tension when we got on the plane to Paris.
And as the sky finally opened—thank God it wasn’t a washout—the steady rain slowly fulfilled my wife’s wish of walking in Parisian rain with her husband.
She lifted on tiptoes and kissed me. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, baby.” I slipped our hands together, and we walked over the bridge.
“Brrr…it’s getting really cold.”
I put my arm around her. “It is December.”
“What are we going to do when we get back to the duplex?”
“I thought it was obvious.” Depending on what came first, it was either the hot tub or fucking.
She rolled her eyes again. “Obviously. But after.”
“Whatever you want.”
She snuggled closer to me. “You’re very warm. I can feel your heat through your trench coat.”
“I aim to please.”
“How about we watch Casablanca?” she suggested.
“It depends. Are you going to ask me a tough question again?”
She laughed into my chest before raising her eyes to mine. “I don’t care if you’re my hero or villain. I love you just the way you are.”
“That’s good. Because I’m never letting you go.” I leaned over and kissed her lips. “I love you so much, tesoro.”