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My Darling Bride: Chapter 14


We tell David goodbye and get back on the elevator. Several more people get on, mostly workers going home for the day, and Graham and I are pushed to the back. He stands behind me, and I’m acutely aware of him and how sinfully delicious he looks with his face shaven and his hair swept back.

“You okay?” he whispers in my ear, his jawline grazing over my skin.

“Hmm,” I say as I nod. Which is a lie. I’m trying to suss out just exactly who Graham Harlan is. He certainly isn’t the person I imagined when he stalked into Marcelle’s.

The elevator opens, and more people get on. He’s leaning against the back wall, and I shift toward him, the touch of his chest against my back making me warm. I shouldn’t be playing with fire, but I can’t resist.

A low gasp comes from me when he brushes his thumb over my nape in a soft caress. My chest rises as tendrils of desire flicker to life. “What are you doing?” I whisper, but I don’t move away.

“Are you angry with me about the prenup?”

“I don’t understand why you’d be so generous, especially after taking your car.”

“I’ve forgiven you. Your actions were understandable, given how you coped with horrible things as a kid. You ran and hid. Trauma from your childhood triggered your response. You were repeating what you did in the past that always saved you. I get it. My past has taught me to trust no one.”

I notice one of the women in the elevator darting her eyes at us. She glances at Graham, does a double take, then gives me a wink.

His hands encircle my waist to steady me—or to hold me? My breath catches, even though it’s barely even a touch.

“Are we pretending right now, for the elevator people?” I murmur.

“I don’t know anyone here, so . . .”

I lean my head to the side to give him access, and he groans quietly as his teeth nip at my neck.

What am I doing?

Do I care?

Abruptly the elevator stops, and I start to head to the door, but he pulls me back. “Not our floor,” he rumbles in a sexy voice in my ear.

“Graham?” I say as I turn to face him, my chest against his. Nervous butterflies do flips in my stomach. I slide my hands up to his beautiful hair, tugging on the ends. “What is this?”

Because it’s definitely something.

And it’s hot.


The door opens to the first floor, and he blinks as if gathering himself. “We’ve got a dinner reservation,” he says coolly.

My heart flutters at the contrast between what he did and now. His mood has shifted, from teasing to all business. We get back to his car, and he opens the door for me, watching me as I slide my legs in.

I get myself the mini pep talk. Cats, cats, cats. No men. Except for fucking, but okay, so why can’t I fuck Graham? I mean, it would be fine, totally fine. I could keep it light and breezy and not let my heart get entangled—

My thoughts stop when he gets in the car, pausing before he cranks it.

It’s all the time I need. I grab his tie, making him grunt as I pull him to me and kiss him. He makes a sound in the back of his throat, and his mouth parts eagerly to return the touch. His hands cup my face, his lips hungry and hard. Heat washes over me, curling and wrapping me in a fog.

I pull back, leaving him wanting more. “Thank you.”

He settles back in his seat, his chest rising rapidly as he yanks his eyes away from me. He cranks the car. “You’re welcome.”

A photographer snaps a photo of us as we exit Graham’s car and walk to the entrance of Borelli’s. I try to act natural, as if being on the arm of one of the most celebrated players in New York is an everyday thing.

He curls an arm around my waist tenderly, and my body responds by melting against him. “The photographer is a guy from Page Six,” Graham whispers in my ear. “My people gave him a tip that we’d be here.”

Ah, right. I kiss his cheek, then smile for the next photo, being sure my ring is visible.

Borelli’s is an elegant place, filled with tables and booths covered in crisp white linen. Dimly lit chandeliers dot the ceiling, and a pianist plays softly in the corner. There’s a back deck, with double doors that lead to a stone terrace with a long narrow fireplace, currently not burning since it’s nearly June. The place is packed, and it feels as if we’re on display, especially when the room quiets as we follow the maître d’ to a booth.

Graham nods at a few people, ones I don’t know. He lets me sit first, then slides in across from me. I search his face, trying to see if the smile he wears reaches his eyes. It does, and I feel my shoulders relaxing. It feels as if we really are on a date.

“You like this place?” he murmurs as the waiter leaves with our drink order. Sparkling wine for me and a bourbon for him.

I nod. “I’ve never been, but I love Italian.”

“You don’t have to mash your pasta?”

“Andrew was exaggerating. Annoying little brothers tend to do that.”

He laughs, highlighting the crinkles in the corner of his eyes and the dimples in his cheeks. “You just sighed. Why is that?” he asks.

I hadn’t even noticed. “Truthfully?”

“I always want the truth.”

“I was thinking how happy you look. You have cute little dimples when you smile.”

“‘Cute.’” An eyebrow rises.

I nod. “Hmm.”

He leans over the table. “Tell me—why did you kiss me in the car?”

“Does a woman really need to explain that? Should I apologize?”

His eyes lower to half mast. “No.”

Our drinks arrive, and I take a sip, noticing that his brow is furrowed.

“What?” I ask.

He takes a sip of his bourbon, seeming lost in thought as his eyes intently follow someone or something in the restaurant. There’s a vicious look on his face, and just when I’m about to turn around and see who is deserving of such a look, he refocuses, smiling broadly as he glances back at me. “Nothing. We need a crash course in getting to know details about each other.”

“Agreed.” My talk with Jane solidified that I know very little.

He grins boyishly. “Let’s pretend we’re speed dating and just go for it. Ready?”

I prop my chin up with my palm and place my elbow on the table as I gaze at him. “Sure. Me first. I need to know how you take your coffee, your middle name, and your birthday.”

“Black, Bernard, and my birthday was two weeks ago, which is why the earlier we’re married, the better. I turned thirty and can inherit. What about you?”

“I drink caffeine-free tea with honey. My middle name is Grace, and my birthday is January first. I was a New Year’s Day baby. Now, hmm, tell me five things you can’t live without.”

“Fast cars, football, hanging with Brody and Cas, a good whiskey, and travel. You go.”

“Books, my family, Babs, Mason, and Ciara. Where have you traveled to?”

“Everywhere as a kid in the summer with my parents. Europe, Asia, South America. One of my favorite places is Greece: the Acropolis in Athens, the laid-back islands, especially Santorini. That’s the one with the blue-domed buildings.”

“I’ve seen pictures in books. It’s beautiful.”

“The villages have these crazy paths and quaint shops. Cats are everywhere—which you’d like, not me. Time seems to just stop there. Brody and I used to run around on our own, swimming in the ocean, chasing each other around the alleyways. Someday, I’d like to own a house there, right on top of one of the mountains so I can see the ocean.”

“Those were happy times for you.”

“Travel was important to my mom, Hazel. She grew up on a farm in Upstate New York. She didn’t come from money like my dad. Her parents died when she was ten, and she was raised in foster care.”

“That’s her name on your wrist?”

He nods as he shoves up his shirt to show me the flock of birds on his forearm. “Yeah, I got this to remember her. The birds remind me of her because she flew away too soon.”

“How did your parents meet?”

“She was playing piano in a bar in Manhattan. He says he fell in love with her the moment he saw her.”

“What’s your favorite song ever? Not just today but for all time?” I wave my hands around for effect.

He smiles, flashing white teeth. “Oh, that’s easy. ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ by Led Zeppelin.”

“Nice. Why?” I take a sip of champagne.

“First, it’s kick-ass as shit—the guitar riff, the organ, the lyrics. My mom used to play it on the piano, and it sounds fucking amazing on piano . . . it grabs my heart every time I play it. You?”

I cock my head. “Wait a minute. You play it?”

A sheepish expression flits over his face. “Mom taught me. I’d come home from school and sit down next to her on the piano. It’s where I felt the closest to her.”

“Wow. You play piano. See, now that is something I needed to know. I wish I was that talented.”

He looks down, his lashes fluttering on his cheek for a moment, and it’s so entirely sweet and boyish that my heart squeezes. I like this side of him, the unsure look on his face, the slight embarrassment at my praise. “I have a baby grand at my place. I haven’t touched it in years, though.”

“You can play other songs?”

“Yes. What’s your favorite song—of all time?”

I study his face, trying to mesh the image of him as a tough football player with a man who plays the piano. “‘Hey Jude,’ by the Beatles. Do you like art?”

He pops an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t know a Rembrandt from a third grader’s masterpiece. You?”

“I appreciate it but can’t afford it.”

“I like books. Always have. Thrillers especially. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice a few times, mostly because my mom adored it.”

Funny. He’s the embodiment of Darcy for me, arrogant and broody, with hidden depths of compassion. “Good to know, since you’re buying a bookstore. Okay, so, what are you most afraid of?”

He leans back as he ponders my question. “You go first.”

“Oh no, is the wee little football player afraid of telling me his secret?”

“Didn’t know you were Scottish.”

I laugh. “Okay, what am I afraid of? Not being able to take care of my family, and then I guess losing the people I love. My parents are gone, my gran, and someday Jane and Andrew will find partners and leave.” My throat prickles with emotion. “I mean, that’s what they need to do, but . . .” I pause, clarity settling in. “I’m afraid I’ll never have that.”

“Why?” he asks softly. “Kian is just a blip on your radar. There are good men who’ll worship you like the queen you are.”

My face heats. “‘Queen’? Seriously?”

He brushes his fingers down my cheek, and my heart stutters. “I’d treat you like a queen.”

My lashes flutter as my body heats. “Oh.”

“In all the best ways.” His voice deepens. “Darling.”

He’s totally pretending.

I roll my eyes. “Stop messing around. You’re trying to deflect from telling me what you’re most afraid of. You’re a chicken.”

“Noted.” He lifts his glass to me and takes a sip.

“Fine, let’s switch gears. What’s the first thing about me that you noticed the day at the motel?”

“Your tits.”

I sputter. “Figures. Couldn’t you have been a little more original?”

He smirks. “No, I mean, okay, yeah, you’ve got a nice rack, but I could tell one of your nipples was pierced. Your bathing suit was thin, and it poked out.”

I scoff. “I thought you’d be a better conversationalist.”

He huffs, but there’s a teasing look in his eyes. “Don’t give up on me. Tell me. What do you have on your nipple?” His eyes drift down my neck to my chest.

“You’ll never know.”

He chuckles. “Come on, don’t be mad. It’s not like I knew you were a spinster wannabe, did I? I didn’t have time to notice your brain because you hijacked me into your little intrigue, and there I was, pretending to be your prison boyfriend.”

“There was no intrigue. Fake Clint was a mastermind serial killer. I’m convinced.”

He laughs, and I nearly spit out a mouthful of champagne as I laugh with him.

“You’re funny.”

I bow my head. “Thank you, my king. I’ll be your queen, the one with the pierced nipple,” I declare, perhaps a little too loudly, since the older couple next to us send me a withering glance. “Oops.”

I glance down at the ring on my finger. “Tell me more about your mom. You said this was hers.”

His face softens. “She was several years younger than my dad. She taught music at a private academy, the same one where Brody teaches.”

“When did your parents divorce?” His description of them traveling the world sounded idyllic, but something went wrong somewhere.

“Technically, they were separated. My dad walked out when I was fifteen. Six months later, my mom died in a skiing accident. She went the wrong way on a trail and went off the mountain.” The thick muscles in his throat move as he toys with his glass. “Brody and I were with her. She was behind us on the slope and must have gone the wrong way.”

My heart clenches. “I’m sorry. That’s terrible.”

“She was an excellent skier. Sometimes I think maybe it happened because she was . . .” He trails off as the waiter comes by to take our order.

As soon as the waiter disappears, he says, “I’ve never told anyone that, besides Brody.”

“You think it wasn’t an accident?”

His eyes search mine. “It must have been—I mean, she’d never leave us on purpose. It’s just, sometimes my head gets caught up in wondering if she did something on impulse.”

I squeeze his hand. “The what-ifs in the world can drive us crazy.”

“Tell me how you met Kian?” I notice that his eyes darken as he mentions him.

“He came into Marcelle’s and asked me out. I told him no, but he kept coming back. I admired his persistence.”

“Do you still love him?” Gray eyes capture mine.

My forehead wrinkles.

He tips my chin up, searching me, trying to read me. “You don’t, do you? Still love him?”

“I care about him as a person, but he wasn’t good for me. Maybe if I cared enough, I’d try to get him help.”

He exhales.

“You don’t like my answer?”

“He needs to find his own help. You don’t need to be near him,” he says with fierce eyes.

“Tell me about this woman you can’t have. Who is she?”

He stiffens as his eyes scan the part of the room I can’t see, his face hardening for a moment as he seems to settle on something or someone. “Divina. I met her when I was twenty-two and a rookie playing in Seattle. We fell in love and were together for years. We were engaged.” He says the words in his robot voice, as if they mean nothing, but I hear the bitterness in his tone.

“What happened to break you up?”

His eyes go back to that certain corner of the restaurant, then come back to me. “We’d come to New York on holidays and during the off season, mostly to see Brody and sometimes my father and half brother, Holden. She got along well with them, especially Holden.” He exhales. “We came back to Seattle after spending a Christmas in New York. She’d been distant over the holidays, spending time with friends in Manhattan and sightseeing. It didn’t click until we got home, and I saw a text pop up on her phone from someone called H. He was begging her to come back to him. I scrolled through and saw where they’d been sexting for months. She’d sent him photos of herself nude. He sent dick pics. The usual sordid shit.” He takes a sip of his drink, anger tightening his eyes. “I pieced it together. Holden couldn’t take his eyes off her at Christmas. Turns out, she’d been fucking him behind my back for a while.”

“Double betrayal.”

His jaw pops. “Yeah. Exactly. She packed her bags and moved to Manhattan and married him six months later. Holden always wanted everything Brody and I had. He was jealous of us from day one, maybe because we got more of Dad. Holden was only five when our dad left his family and made one with my mom.”

“How long ago did they get married, Divina and Holden?”

“Three years ago.”

I nod. “And then you got traded to New York.” To be close to her?

“Not for the reason you think. Moving here was always the plan, so I could spend more time with Brody.”

I take in the vulnerable glint in his eyes. I’m not sure I believe him.

“And now you have to see her with him?”

He takes a drink of his drink. “Occasionally.”

What would that be like? To see the love of your life married to a sibling?

He leans in over the table. “Holden is a creature of habit. He comes to Borelli’s on Wednesdays.”

I stiffen. Ah, I see what tonight really is.

Graham wants to flaunt me in front of Holden.

The heat from his kisses, the way we’ve been opening up to each other, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s been leading up to him seeing his half brother.

A slow simmer heats in my chest.

This is just a game to him, a charade.

We’re a fake couple. Yet, I let myself get swept up in the date and forgot.

Don’t get close to him, Emmy. Just play the game like you promised.

Fortunately the server brings our food, and I look down at it, not wanting Graham to see the growing frustration on my face.


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