My Darling Bride: Chapter 16

EMMY

Graham parks on the street outside my building, and before he can turn the car off, I’m out of the vehicle.

“Emmy. Wait,” he calls as I hear him following me. He catches up with me as I reach the lobby doors.

“There’s no need to follow me inside. There’s no photographer. Go home, Graham.”

“You’re mad at me. You barely said two words the entire way here.”

“I didn’t have to say anything because we aren’t a real thing. I don’t have to pretend in the car. Acting is over,” I say sharply.

I stab at the elevator button, and it opens. I walk inside, and he follows me.

“Did Holden do something? Touch you or make you feel uncomfortable?”

“He was a giant anus, and he was definitely waiting for me outside the restroom, but that’s not the point. The point is you didn’t tell me what was going on. I didn’t realize that our entire evening was a performance for Holden and his coworker.”

He exhales. “She’s his mistress.”

I lift my hands. “I don’t care. If I’d known it was a spy mission to see if he’s cheating on Divina, I would have liked to have been told. I knew you kept looking over at someone in the restaurant, but then we . . .” Were having a good time.

I was beguiled by him. That’s the damn issue.

The elevator door opens to my floor, and I march to it, then whip around. “This date is over.”

“Let me explain at least.”

Jiggling my key, I open my door and walk into the foyer. “Fine.”

He rubs his jawline, a perplexed expression on his face. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you he was there. I didn’t know for sure that he’d show, but he and Dad usually go there on Wednesdays. Brody and I have been invited several times, and we go sometimes, mostly when it’s just Dad. I didn’t know he’d show up with her, although I’m not surprised.”

“And there’s a party apparently? After we’re married? I had no clue what was going on.”

He groans. “I didn’t have time to bring it up.”

I shake my head. “I thought you were in the moment. I thought we were having a great time—”

Jane’s hushed voice interrupts me as she appears in the hallway. “You both sound like a herd of elephants. Londyn just got to sleep and she’s teething, and if you wake her up, you’ll have to deal with it.”

“Sorry.” A long exhale comes from me as I toss my purse on the narrow table in the foyer and walk to the den.

“Hey, Andrew is still out, and I scheduled drinks with a girlfriend. Are you in for the night?” she asks me, her eyes darting to Graham.

He’s right there in the den, of course, clearly not leaving.

I smile, noticing that she’s wearing a miniskirt and a lacy blouse. “Sure. Go on. Have fun. I’m not going anywhere.”

Graham plops down on the couch. “Neither am I,” he says quietly, then narrows his eyes at me. “Not until we start communicating and figure out what this attitude is about.”

My eyes flash. “‘Attitude.’ Oh. Just you wait.”

“Is your temper always this hot?”

“Only when someone hurts my feelings.”

“How?” he mutters, crossing his arms.

“Oh, one more thing. Mason and Ciara were in the neighborhood and dropped by,” Jane says, interrupting us as she slips on a cardigan.

I wince. I left a voice mail on Mason’s phone that I was going to be putting all my work into the store and would have to let the bar go, but if he needed me to come in this coming week, I would, but I didn’t explain why.

“What did they say?” I ask.

Jane glances at Graham, who currently looks very comfortable on my couch. “They heard about your engagement and wanted to congratulate you. Mason, in particular, had lots of questions about it.”

I rub my forehead, recalling that Mason knew about me taking the Lambo. He’s probably worried.

“Why did you just put an emphasis on ‘engagement’?” Graham asks her.

“I didn’t,” Jane says, then glances at me with an I’m sorry look, which only makes it worse.

“Yes, you did,” he insists. “You said, ‘They heard about your engagement.’”

“Didn’t. Oops, look at the time. I’ve got to dash, or I’ll miss the train. Bye, guys.” With a little wave and a last look at me, she grabs her keys and wallet and heads out the door.

The silence builds in the apartment as Graham stands with his hands on his hips. “Dammit, Emmy. You told her.”

Tension swirls, almost a tangible thing, as our eyes clash together.

He rubs his face. “I specifically asked you not to tell anyone, even your siblings, and you signed an NDA.”

“I signed it tonight and I told her yesterday,” I snip, brushing past him to head down the hall. “Plus, she already knew something was up when Babs told her you’d bought the store. For me, apparently.”

“I did buy it for you. You should be happy.”

“You bought it to manipulate me.”

He follows me. “What if she tells someone, then they tell someone? Holden already knows that Brody wants to open a gym, and he didn’t hear that from me or Brody, which means he’s always spying on us. You can’t tell anyone my secrets.”

I open my bedroom door and walk in. “‘The best way to keep a secret between two people is if one of them is dead.’ Mark Twain. Or someone. I can’t remember because I’m pissed at you.”

He shuts my door behind him and faces me, his cheekbones flushed with twin spots of color. “And for no fucking reason.”

I take down the pins in my hair and toss them on the dresser. Threading my fingers through my hair, I release the chignon, and the strands fall to my shoulders.

Do I have a reason?

Not to him.

He’s just playing a role.

I’m the moth who flew a little too close to his flame.

A small huff comes from me as I try to clear my thoughts.

He never said anything different tonight, but I got caught up in the moment, especially after his generosity with the prenup.

I deflate, my shoulders slumping. “I forgot, okay. It felt real, and I was getting to know you. I forgot that there was an ulterior motive for our evening out.”

His expression turns quizzical, as if he’s trying to decipher my words.

I huff. “I’m angry at myself, and then Holden surprised me, and then Pia shows up and you don’t seem fazed at all. I don’t like being kept in the dark. It was all too much at once.”

He picks up a candid photo of Jane and Andrew and Londyn and me. “Who else have you told? Your brother?”

I shake my head. “No.”

He’s walking the perimeter of my room, taking it all in, from the Victorian doll collection I inherited from Gran to the mess of clothes on the floor to my stuffed animals. Magic abruptly darts out from under my bed, arches his spine, hisses at Graham, then runs from the room.

“He was just saying hello,” I say.

“Your cat is temperamental,” Graham says dryly as he gives me a look. “Like you.”

I sigh, changing directions. “I used to read Charlotte’s Web to my siblings. Are you familiar with it, Graham?”

“I wasn’t born under a rock. Yes.”

I grab the stuffed Wilbur off my nightstand and hold him out. About twelve inches tall with pink fur and gentle eyes, he’s a little ragged from all the years. “Whenever one of us is going through a tough time, we take the pig and sleep with him. Sometimes Jane gets him. Sometimes Andrew. We still do it to this day, not nearly as seriously, of course, but Wilbur is meaningful. Jane has noticed that I’ve had him for a week. You see, we’ve been through so much together, and she knows when something isn’t right. Wilbur is here to make it better. He’s a hopeful, dreamy, soulful little creature.”

He gives the pig a look.

“Don’t doubt the pig. He is magic.”

He rolls his eyes.

“I mean it. He knows you’re angry with me for telling Jane. Do you want to hold him?”

He cocks his head. “So you’re saying that she saw you giving extra love to Wilbur and deducted that you were faking an engagement?”

“Mostly. It’s hard to explain, but sisters have a weird connection. Andrew? Clueless. Here, catch.” I toss him Wilbur, and he catches him and stares down at the animal with a perplexed expression.

“How does he feel?” I ask.

“Like an old stuffed animal. Am I supposed to be getting some magic vibes from him?”

“Fine. I’m going to make you watch the movie. Maybe you’ll get it.”

“Now? No. I want to talk about you telling your sister. I’m angry.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Yes, I told her. Why? Because she was crying in my office and asking me questions, like how you take your coffee and what your middle name was. I was clueless. She has been sworn to silence. She knows the stakes here. And I couldn’t keep lying to her. I can’t hide things from a sister who’s so much like me already. There. Are you still mad?”

He lets out a big exhale. “A little. If you trust her, then I will.”

I smile. “See. The pig worked.”

“Here’s an idea. We never go to Borelli’s again,” he says as he tosses the pig at me, and I catch him, then set him on my nightstand.

I run a brush through my hair. “Agreed. It wasn’t even that good.”

I put my back to him and place my hands behind my back. My fingers catch the midshoulder zipper of my dress, but from the angle, I can’t get it to go down.

“What are you doing?” he asks, his voice husky.

I toss him a look over my shoulder. “Jane and Andrew aren’t here, and I don’t want to sleep in this all night.”

I point to where the zipper is on the outfit. “Please?”

His fingers brush over my skin as he tugs down the zipper, and my dress falls to the floor. His breath catches, and I look in the mirror and see us, me in my white lingerie and him with his head bent, his eyes drinking in my skin.

I don’t cover myself but stand with my spine straight. Gray eyes meet mine in the mirror, and when he speaks, his voice is rough. “We said we’d keep this professional.”

“That’s cool. I’m just breaking the tension between us.”

“‘Tension’?”

“Hmm, sexual. Very taut. Needs a release. That’s it.”

He rubs his jaw. “Sounds plausible.”

“And you asked about my piercing. It’s hard to describe, and I took you for a visual learner, so I thought it best to just show you.” I ease down the straps of my bra and undo the clasp in the front. My breasts swing free. I look at the piercing in the mirror. “It’s a curved titanium barbell design, with a half-moon shape on the ends. There’s tiny diamonds inside the moon.”

“Why did you get it? When?” I watch a pulse beating rapidly in his neck.

“First, hand me a T-shirt to sleep in, will you? They should be in the top drawer, on the right.”

He swallows. Seems to think. Starts to the dresser, then comes back. “No. Let me see it. Your mirror sucks. Turn around.”

“That wouldn’t be professional.”

“God damn it, Emmy, nothing about you being nearly naked is professional.” He scrubs his jawline.

“Hmm, I guess a little more wouldn’t cross too many lines, then?”

“Turn. The. Fuck. Around.” His hands clench in frustration.

Delicious shivers dance over my skin like tiny bolts of lightning. Yes. That’s the real Graham. Big. Tough. Demanding. A man telling me what to do sends shivers over me—as long as I know he won’t hurt me.

I turn slowly, our eyes holding. “Look.”

He does, his gaze tracing a path of fire from my lips to my breasts. He lingers there for several seconds, then skates down to the curve of my hips and the wisp of white lace covering my pelvis. Awe and longing flicker over his face, and he rubs his lips with his hand, as if imagining it’s my skin.

“Is anything else pierced?”

“Sorry, not brave enough for a genital one. This one hurt.”

“Was it worth it? Does it make you . . .” He blinks, his words trailing off.

“Oh yes. One lick or tug and everything is sensitized. It goes straight to my clit.”

He groans, the tent in his pants bulging out.

“I was twenty-five when I got it. Gran was sick, and I was taking care of Jane and Andrew. I needed something that was mine, like reclaiming myself. It’s a symbol of sorts. I wasn’t seeing anyone romantically because of everything I had to do, but I had this, and it made me feel feminine and sexy. It felt empowering, like I was saying, ‘Hey, I don’t need anyone to make me feel bold or beautiful—I just need myself.’”

I glance out the window and up to the sky, where the moon sends light shimmering into the room. “I got the half moons because they mean the changing of life, the coming and going like the tides. And I feel like the moon is a she. For me anyway. She might mean something altogether different to someone else. She changes every night, evolving and becoming something new. How fucking awesome to be her.” I laugh softly as he comes closer, so close that I can feel the heat of him. “I’m not sure you’re listening.”

“Trust me, I’m soaking it all in, Emmy. Answer me this: Have you had too much champagne?”

“No, and I love that your voice sounds like it’s been dragged over concrete.”

“May I touch you?” he asks with his hand raised halfway.

I nod, but instead of his hand touching me, he bends over, and his tongue darts out and strokes my pierced nipple. He flicks the metal, exploring the hard titanium, his mouth searching my peak to taste every ridge and contour.

Tremors take my legs, and I gasp as he sucks it into his mouth, the metal clinking against his teeth. He tugs. Gently but precisely. Skilled yet careful.

He is hot. And he’s built so broad and big, and I can’t resist, and maybe getting undressed in front of him wasn’t my smartest idea, but Jesus, his lips and tongue are maddening. My hands go to his scalp and bring him closer.

His other hand twirls my other nipple between his fingers, as if he knows the desperation I feel for his touch. His fingers roughen, and I groan as wonderful, sweet heat blooms in my pussy, and I bite my lip to keep from gyrating on his leg.

He pulls back, leaving me gasping, as his big hands cup my face, and he stares at me with the intensity of a laser as if reaching inside me to draw out all my secrets. His silky shirt rubs against my skin, and I swivel to get more friction. He licks his lips. “Emmy . . .”

“What?” I tug him up to look at me in the eyes. If I’m being honest, this here, this man lusting for me, is what I’ve wanted ever since the moment he got down on his knees for me. Maybe before then.

“I can’t get serious.”

“Why?”

He traces my eyebrow with his finger, his voice strained. “Because I need to focus on football. And a million other reasons.”

It’s what I expected to hear. “Are you going to kiss me or what?”

“Or what,” he growls as he lowers his head to mine and takes my lips hard, his hand going to my ass to press my entire body against his.

He says my name on a groan as he kisses my neck, down to my clavicle and to my piercing. Deft fingers tease the waistband of my panties until finally he slides underneath and cups my ass.

“Darling,” he murmurs as he eases down the wisps of lace.

I feel exposed and vulnerable in the best way. The air feels heavy and thick with desire as he gazes at my body with reverence. He kneels in front of me, then locks his eyes with mine. I’m gasping, waiting for his touch. Chills dance over my skin, anticipation rising.

His lips land on my navel, tasting the gold ring I have there, then slides to my hipbone. “You smell so fucking good.”

I’m reeling in sensation when one finger enters me slowly, teasingly, barely there.

“Good?”

I nod, my body shivering as he goes deeper. I’m wet and hear him groan against my skin as he hears the sound his finger makes inside me.

I’m bracing myself against the bedpost, crying out with need, when he lifts my leg and puts it over his shoulder.

He spends a few moments staring at me, his gaze devouring the shape of my pussy, the contours, and the way I’m already clenching for him to touch me again.

He does. With his tongue. He eats at me with ferocious intent, his tongue flicking against my clit with an assault of emotion. Passion ignites even higher when his finger joins in, and he works in tandem with his tongue. I can’t really move how I want because of the angle and the way I’m holding myself up, and I mewl out, wanting and needing more.

His fingers find the secret spot inside me, and he rubs, faster and faster. My head falls back, my breasts aching, as I surrender to his masterful touch, to the carnal moment, whether it means something or not.

I give in to everything that is him. My body tenses, my pussy clenching around his fingers as my orgasm races to the top of the mountain and explodes. I cry out, spasming around him with my hands in his hair, digging my nails into his scalp. His tongue continues to suck at me, his fingers still delving inside, and my heart jumps as I wonder if I can come again so soon.

“You can,” he growls on my skin, and I shudder with the intensity of heat in his voice. He eases my leg off his shoulder, still finger-fucking me as he pushes me back onto the end of the bed.

“Keep your legs spread,” he says, his eyes like liquid metal.

I whimper as he devotes himself to pleasuring my body, as if it is the only thing in the world he’s ever wanted.

He moves to kiss my nipples, lingering on my piercing. He plays with my breasts, squeezing and molding them, drawing maddening circles with his fingertips, at first gentle and soft, then increasingly harder. The friction escalates as he adds two fingers to my pussy, fucking me like a cock, then grinding against my clit when he exits.

I’m a live wire. A pulse of sensation. I am on fire.

I ache. I need. I desire.

His teeth nip at my nipple as he taps my clit, then stops, then taps again in an uneven rhythm, making me squirm under the madness.

“Please,” I call out.

He makes a noise in his throat and rubs his slacks against my thigh. His cock strains to escape the confines of his clothes, and my mouth waters at the thought of taking him down my throat.

Sensuous abandon takes me over as I eagerly try to undo his pants, but the angle is all wrong.

“Just you,” he groans as he sucks my nipple, then bites.

It’s as if I’m being uncoiled from a tense spring as I come with a sharpness that sneaks up and detonates like a firecracker. I shudder, my body arching up toward him, my hips pumping to wrangle out the last throes of passion.

Gasping, I fall back, sinking into the covers on my bed as I moan. He collapses next to me, his face slicked with sweat, his eyes heavy and burning with tempered desire. My chest heaves as if I’ve been running.

I huff out a laugh. “You still have your clothes on.”

He smiles. “That’s what happens when you strip in front of me. Wasn’t time to really think.” He pauses, his eyes lingering on my face, searching my features. “You are extraordinary.”

Most men might have said I was “beautiful” or that I was “sexy,” but somehow “extraordinary” feels more eloquent. “You aren’t too bad yourself.”

His fingers graze down my throat softly, tracing the outline of my breasts before dancing over my nipples. “I don’t have a condom.”

I feel heat flooding my cheeks. “I do. In my nightstand.” They’re there for “just in case,” since Kian and I mostly had sex at his place.

A wailing reaches my ears, and I sit up, my head spinning from the movement. “That’s Londyn.” I wince. “I must have woken her up.”

He gets off the bed and holds his hand out for me as I put my feet on the floor. Moving swiftly, I scramble around and find my underwear, then grab a tank top and sleep shorts.

“What’s wrong with her? Doesn’t she just go back to sleep?”

“Nothing probably, but she is teething, and once she’s awake, she likes to let everyone know.”

“Can I help?” he asks, following me as I open my bedroom door.

“Can you grab a washcloth from the bathroom, get it wet with cold water, then stick it in the freezer for a bit? It will cool down her gums and give her something to chew.”

“I’ve never been around babies.”

“You want kids?”

“I used to.”

With Divina, I suppose.

“Do you?” he asks.

“Londyn is perfect for me, but maybe someday . . .”

“Even though you don’t plan on marriage?”

I shrug. “Single ladies can have children.”

“Oh.”

She cries harder, and I leave him there and go to her room. She’s standing, hanging on to the crib rail as she whimpers. Her little face is red, and the top of her sleeper is wet with drool.

“Poor darling,” I murmur as I pick her up and cuddle, patting her bottom. I change her into a fresh diaper and sleeping outfit. So she doesn’t get more drool on it, I put a bib on as I murmur soothing words. When I turn, Graham is at the door, watching me with an odd expression.

He blinks, seeming to come out from wherever he was. “I put the washcloth in the freezer.”

Londyn quiets as she looks at him with big eyes. She sniffles and babbles something that I think is probably Why are you here?

I head to the den.

“What now?” he asks as if he’s taking notes.

“You can bring me the washcloth,” I say as I sit in a blue swivel rocking chair next to a window that overlooks the city. I prop her on my lap, and Graham hands me the washcloth.

“I, um, washed my hands first, you know, after . . .”

I giggle. “Okay. She appreciates it.”

Londyn reaches for the cloth and promptly sticks it in her mouth and chews. Her back rests against my chest as I rock with her. Slowly, she stops her whimpering.

“Wow, that was easy. She really is adorable.”

I laugh under my breath at his surprised tone. He saw her in the kitchen at the bookstore, but there was so much else going on that he probably barely noticed her. “Now we have to get her back to sleep.”

“We?”

“You’re here, and we just had relations, and you can’t run off. It would be ungentlemanly.”

He rolls his eyes.

“What?”

“‘Relations’ and ‘ungentlemanly.’ Your words crack me up.”

I shrug delicately so as not to disturb Londyn, who seems wide awake as she darts her eyes between me and Graham.

“I don’t want to say ‘s-e-x’ in front of you-know-who.”

“Hmm. I saw the scars on your rib cage. What’s that from? Did Kian . . .”

“No, no. I have A-fib. It’s a heart condition where I have irregular heartbeats. Too fast. I took meds for a while, but they quit working. I had an incident at the store where I passed out, and my doctors decided I needed a cardiac ablation.” I go into detail, explaining how I assumed it was panic attacks at first but realized later that it was a medical condition.

He’s suddenly sitting at attention and walks over to me. “Let me see it again?”

Londyn pulls out her washcloth and watches Graham as he lifts my tank top and peers at the scar on my rib cage. He frowns as his fingers lightly trace over it. “Did surgery fix it forever?”

“Are you worried for me?” I ask, surprise in my voice.

“You’re going to be my wife.”

I shift the focus from me to him. “My heart issue is minor compared to what happened to you on the football field. Want to hear something crazy?”

He nods.

“I had my surgery the night of the Super Bowl. You and I were in the same hospital on the same night, Mount Sinai.”

He studies my face searchingly, his gaze lingering on my mouth. “And then we met in the desert. Life is weird.” His hands trail over the line of my cheek, tenderly, making my breath quicken.

“Yes.”

“I think I’m going to stretch out,” he says as he pulls away from me and settles back on the couch, adjusting the pillows as he lies back. It’s not quite long enough to fit his frame, so he removes his shoes and props his feet up on the end of the sofa.

He taps his fingers against his chest, the only indication that he isn’t completely relaxed. “Are you free Friday?”

“I can be. Jane and Andrew are helping out at the store.”

He shuts his eyes, almost as if he doesn’t want me to read his expression. “Good. Can you meet me in the afternoon. I can text you the exact time when I know for sure.”

“Where?”

He’s so quiet that for a moment I think he’s gone to sleep. “Clerk’s office at the courthouse, if that works for you? I can send a car to pick you up.”

I continue to rock a now-sleeping Londyn. “Should I wear white?”

“If you wish. Just us. Me and you. They’ll provide witnesses for us.”

I nod, even though he isn’t looking. No siblings at our marriage ceremony. And I get it. This isn’t real. There’s no reason to create a memory with our loved ones.

His breaths deepen as his chest rises and falls.

“What are you wearing? So we can match,” I murmur.

“The mayo suit.”

I kiss Londyn’s head. “Mr. Cream,” I say under my breath, and Graham doesn’t seem to hear me. A soft snore comes from him.

I pick Londyn up, remove her bib, and cradle her on my shoulder as I go back to her room and put her in her bed. She rolls over with a sigh, and all feels right in the world.

I ease back into the den and cover Graham up with a blanket, then leave a note out on the door telling Andrew and Jane to be quiet when they come in and not be startled by the giant man on our couch.

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