“Love is a strange dark magic.”
SUNLIGHT SHONE THROUGH THE HIGH windows of the church’s bridal suite, lighting dust particles in the air like tiny flickers of gold. Nausea swirled in my belly, and I pressed a hand to my stomach and tried to breathe through it.
I swayed as Mamma tugged at my laces. “You’ve got to suck in, Elena. I’ve barely begun tightening it up.”
Che palle. It felt like she was squeezing the life out of me.
“For goodness’ sake, Celia, she can’t suck in her boobs,” Nonna commented from her seat in the corner. She had a Vanity Fair magazine in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.
“It’s her backside I’m having trouble with. The laces are gonna be gaping at the seams if I can’t cinch them in any tighter.”
And they wonder how I could ever be depressed . . .
With another jerk on my laces, I breathed, “Oh, God,” and covered my mouth as nausea traveled up my throat.
“Quick, Adriana! The waste bin!” Nonna exclaimed.
My sister hopped from her chair, and I met her halfway across the room before throwing up my breakfast of coffee and toast in the small trashcan.
“Che schifo.” Mamma grimaced.
Adriana rubbed my back. She wore a pink off-the-shoulder bridesmaid’s dress and her hair and makeup were done. My cousins were still in the room across the hall finishing with theirs.
“Welcome to the club,” she muttered. “I puked three times this morning.”
I already knew because I’d heard her through the bathroom door. I’d stayed at my parents’ last night for formality’s sake. Nico wasn’t happy about it, but I only got one wedding and I wanted to keep the tradition of being separated the night before, regardless that we were already married. I’d kissed him in his car for ten minutes when he dropped me off. It was only one night apart, but something tugged deep in my chest as I walked away from him.
I’d always imagined love as a concept—a genuine smile, a couple holding hands, a life partner. Now, I knew it was more dimensional; a maddening, possessive, and overwhelming presence that bloomed in your chest, with the power to make you feel so alive or shatter you to pieces.
Nonna fanned her face with the magazine. “Another daughter of yours, Celia, who got what was coming to her. You girls think you can go out and fornicate with the world and there won’t be any repercussions.”
Adriana rolled her eyes and sat down, her engagement ring sparkling in the light. She was marrying her gardener; she’d told me last night. Her ring was almost bigger than mine and I knew Ryan couldn’t have afforded it. Most likely my papà bought it and gave Ryan a certain amount of time to propose. Whether Ryan liked it or not, he was now in this world for good.
I grabbed my glass of water from the table and pressed it against my cheek. “I’m not pregnant, Nonna. I’m just nervous.”
“Why?” She frowned. “You’re already married.”
Maybe so, but this was my wedding. The day I’d secretly dreamed about since I was five with wide-eyed wonder.
“I just want everything to be perfect.”
“It will be,” Mamma assured. “But take that glass from your face. You’re ruining your makeup.” She slapped my hand and with a jerk of alarm, the glass fell from my fingers and shattered on the floor.
“Mamma,” I scolded, my heartbeat racing. “You could have soaked my dress!”
She covered her mouth and then laughed. Nonna chuckled from her spot in the corner. Adriana’s eyes widened but amusement poured from her lips.
“Really?” I said. “Am I the only adult in here?”
They laughed harder.
I held in my smile because I wasn’t going to encourage them.
Heading to the sink, I brushed my teeth for the third time and then paced around the room, feeling caged. It was so warm in here. Heat crawled beneath my skin, and with the five-foot train pinned up, my dress felt like it weighed twenty pounds.
“Gosh, it’s hot,” I complained. “Mamma, take this dress off. I gotta go outside and get some air.”
“No!” Mamma shouted.
Nonna’s gaze narrowed at her, and my senses were immediately on alert. I eyed the both of them. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, cara mia.” Nonna waved a hand. “But you can’t go out. Your hair and makeup’s all done. We don’t want your husband to see.”
“He won’t care—”
“You’ve already gone and ruined your engagement by rolling around in the hay with him how many times and then eloping, for goodness’ sake. Now listen to me—you don’t want to jinx your marriage.”
I wasn’t a superstitious person, but I didn’t want to argue with them about it. Besides, the room dimmed as clouds began to overcast the sky. “It’s going to rain, isn’t it?” I sighed. “That would be my luck.”
“Oh no, cara mia, rain is good luck on a wedding day. It symbolizes fertility.” Nonna paused, pursed her lips, and then glanced back at her magazine, muttering, “But I suppose we already know there’s no issue with that.”
I shook my head, amusement rising in me. I wasn’t pregnant and wasn’t planning to be soon. I was only twenty-one—I wanted a couple years to walk around naked, have sex on the couch, and smother myself in my husband. But I couldn’t say the idea of a mini Nico and me didn’t make my heart fill with warmth. I at least had to learn how to cook first, though that endeavor was looking a little grim.
Nerves vibrated beneath my skin and I dropped into a chair. I rested my head on the back but then lifted it when Mamma shouted that I was ruining my hair.
The door burst open. Sophia stepped inside, holding two bottles of champagne, and squealed, “Let’s get this party started!”
A smile pulled on my lips.
A cold whisper brushed my back as my steps grew in sync with the soft piano notes. My clammy hands gripped my bouquet in front of me, and three-hundred pairs of eyes touched my skin, though for a moment there was only one I was aware of.
A few rays of sun shone through the stained glass windows and stopped before his feet.
Whiskey and flame. Sleepless nights. Tattooed skin, white t-shirts, and rough hands. Love and lust and happiness. He was everything.
The violins of Canon in D drifted through the church and a shiver erupted at the base of my spine. I couldn’t breathe as he watched me walk toward him. He could convey so much with one look, with an intensity powerful enough I’d freeze in my spot or warm enough to make my heart beat just for him.
His mamma might not have been a good parent, but without her he wouldn’t exist, and without Nico—and the way he was looking at me—well, that wasn’t a world I wanted to be in.
My heartbeats jumped and dived in my chest, and I broke free of his gaze so I could catch my breath. My eyes landed on Mamma, who was sobbing—in sorrow or happiness, I didn’t know which—to Papà, who gave me a small nod. Maybe things would be all right, after all, because if my father made me choose between him and my husband for good, I wouldn’t have to even think it through.
Pure bliss flowed in my veins. The only thing keeping me from dissolving into happiness was this heavy dress weighing me down.
My eyes burned when Benito caught my gaze, his thumb and forefinger forming the “perfect” sign. Tony shot me a wink, and Jenny, who stood next to him in a flashy red dress, mouthed, “Ohmygod.”
This time I repeated the priest’s words with conviction.
This time I burned under the timbre of Nico’s voice.
This time I kissed my husband on the lips like I meant it.
The guests whooped and hollered, and Nico chuckled at my enthusiasm.
“You’re all mine,” I breathed against his lips.
A rumble of satisfaction traveled up his throat and he pressed another kiss to my mouth. He slipped his hand in mine and walked me down the aisle. As soon as we made it into the entrance hall, I blurted, “It was perfect.”
Nico laughed quietly, turned to face me, and brushed a thumb across my cheek. “You’re perfect.”
I flushed and blinked at him. “You like my dress?”
His hand ran to the back of my neck and he kissed me deeply. “You’re beautiful, baby.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. To keep my blush from setting fire to my cheeks, I yanked his tie from his vest. “I like it. Pink suits you.”
“Yeah?” he drawled. “And where’s your pink?”
A flirty smile pulled on my lips. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
He fixed his tie and looked at me with an inquisitive stare. “I’ll find out sooner or later. More sooner than you’d like if you don’t share.”
I rolled my eyes but lifted the hem of my dress to show him my light pink heels. There might have been more pink, but that was all he was seeing right now.
He smiled, rubbing a thumb across his bottom lip. The commotion from the rest of the wedding party spilled into the room, and Nico grabbed my hand and pulled me to the front door.
“What are you doing, Nico? We can’t leave yet.”
“We’re not going anywhere, just outside.”
I blinked. “Why?”
“Need a cigarette.”
My brows pulled together. “You want to smoke right now?”
“That’s what I said, wife.” He held the door open for me, but I paused before it as a rumble rolled across the dimming sky.
“Nico, it’s going to rain. My dress—”
“I’ll buy you another.”
I hesitated, but as his gaze pinned mine with insistence, my reservations melted away. The man was just too handsome. I told myself not to marry a handsome man, and what did I do? It was all my fault if I got rained on.
I headed outside, lifting my skirts and watching my feet as I carefully made my way down the steps. As my train dragged across the pavement and through all kinds of dirt and grime, I was chastising myself for not knowing how to tell this man no a little better.
My gaze lifted, and my heart stopped.
When my pulse started back up, it drummed in my ears and stole my breath.
Amongst cracked pavement, the fading sound of sirens, and the taste of urban air, the yellow lights of a carousel blinked bright beneath the overcast sky. It sat static, alone and beautiful.
I walked closer, the train of my dress forgotten. My eyes burned, and a tear slipped down my cheek. Nico’s familiar presence brushed my back.
The first drops of rain fell from the sky and they chimed like music off the golden carousel.
His deep voice slipped into my thoughts. “Do you like it?”
Do I like it?
Slowly, I turned to look at him. Confusion passed through his eyes when he saw my expression. “What’s wrong?” He brushed the tear from my cheek.
The rain was warm and light, and I blinked it off my eyelashes.
“I love you,” I breathed.
His gaze burned around the edges, as the mantra of my pulse filled the space between us.
Love me too. Love me forever.
He stepped forward until his tux brushed my dress, slid his hand to my nape, and pressed his words to my ear. “And I love you, Elena Russo.”
Nico might have been a bad man, but where he lacked in morals, he more than made up for as a husband.
He loved me forever.
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