My Darling Bride: Chapter 20

EMMY

We approach a four-story brownstone with ornate columns on each side of the door as Brody explains that this is the home they grew up in.

The door swings open to reveal a butler, who then ushers us in to the foyer of the house. I swallow at the grandeur of the hallway. Intricate carvings line each wall and corner, a telltale sign of the home’s original features. A chevron hardwood floor stretches down the hall, dotted with plush Turkish rugs that cushion our feet. Exquisite high-end furniture fills the rooms: leather couches, sleek coffee tables, and glossy sideboards. Beautifully arched windows are everywhere. The afternoon sun streams through them, illuminating the place in a soft glow.

I mean, I’ve been inside ritzy homes before. Kian has a great apartment, and Mason, who’s a trust fund baby, has invited me to his parents’ beach house several times, but this—well, I have no words. It’s the most opulent home I’ve ever been in. Suddenly, I feel like a pauper and very much out of place.

Brody and Cas tell us they’re going to find the bar, leaving us alone. My nerves tighten.

Graham stops at a large, framed painting of a beautiful woman. The photographer captured her midlaugh, head tilted back as she plays a black baby grand piano. She’s wearing a red dress, with sandy-blonde hair spilling around her shoulders, and her blue eyes have a knowing gleam as they look lovingly into the camera. This must be . . .

“My mother,” he says gruffly. He hands me a champagne flute from a passing waiter. “My father is coming over.”

A man approaches us, tall with broad shoulders, his dark hair peppered with silver at the temples. His eyes are a calm, introspective gray, and his brows are straight, like Graham’s.

He hesitantly nods to Graham as he takes him in. “My son . . .” He stops, a weight in his voice. “It’s good to see you. I’m happy you came to celebrate your marriage with us.”

Graham shakes his hand. “Hello, Dad. This is my wife, Emmy.”

His father turns to me. “It’s a shame we haven’t met before now, but my son doesn’t return my phone calls. I’m Vale.”

“Hi,” I say, smiling. For some reason, I like him on the spot.

“And I hear you have a bookstore?”

“I’m the manager.”

“Ah. How did you meet Graham?”

“A charity ball.” I cling to my glass of champagne, needing something to anchor me as I lie boldly. “We recently reconnected, and things just fell into place.”

Vale smiles. “Young love is the sweetest. Any plans on children? I know it’s presumptuous to ask, but well, I’m sixty and don’t have grandchildren yet.”

Children?

I glance at Graham for guidance, but he’s wandered off to the waiter to pick up another drink. Without looking back at me, he walks into a room on the right, where I hear the din of other guests and low music.

Vale crooks my arm in his, a disappointed look on his face as he watches him disappear. “He left you to fend for yourself. Trial by fire, I suppose. He’s not subtle about his disdain for me, is he?”

“Hmm.”

His eyes linger on the framed portrait, his voice softening.

“My wife,” he says, “lit up a room. She was, is, the love of my life.” He pauses, seemingly lost in the memory of her, and I remain silent, not wanting to interrupt him.

He turns and looks at me. “We separated when Graham was a teen, and she died a few months later. I blame myself for her death, and, well, Graham and Brody can’t forget that I was the one who walked away.” He exhales deeply and gives me a pained, searching look. “I’m sure you already know this.”

I nod slowly. “I’m sorry. Families are complex. I could talk for hours about my own.”

He guides me down the hall. “I’ll hold you to that, but first let’s give you a quick tour of the place. Everything you see, she decorated. Hazel had a flair for decor. She had many talents, really. Music was her first love, but she adored books, so I thought I might show you this room.”

He opens a door, and we enter a library, the wall-to-wall shelves filled with books, several of the spines encased in leather. There’s even a sliding ladder. In the corner is an oak desk, and a red chaise lounge is off to the side. An overhead chandelier lights the entire room with a glow.

“Wow.” I ease out a first edition of The Catcher in the Rye and lightly stroke the cover before placing it back on the shelf.

“You’re welcome to come to the house whenever you want. Graham and Brody only come during the holidays, but I’d love to have the house full of laughter again on any occasion. He deserves to be happy after everything he’s gone through.” A solemn expression flashes across his countenance. “The truth is, I made mistakes with them. I didn’t handle things well after Hazel. I’m afraid there’s not much to do to fix that. I’m glad he’s found love.”

I shift uncomfortably. Although I appreciate his candor with me, I feel guilty that our marriage isn’t quite what Vale thinks.

He gives me a wan smile. “He needs family, something he refuses from me. I actually never believed he’d find someone after . . .” He clears his throat. “Well, none of that matters. I’m disappointed your brother and sister couldn’t come.”

“We’ll have our own celebration soon. It’s a busy time at the store, and it’s a family business. Maybe we can all get together soon at Graham’s place.”

He gives me a quick look, seeming startled. “I’d love that. I don’t see Graham nearly enough.”

My throat tightens with apprehension. Did I just invite Graham’s estranged father to hang out?

“I don’t want to monopolize you. Let’s find everyone else,” he murmurs as he offers me his arm.

“I need a restroom first.”

He points me down a hallway and up the stairs, and I go that way, grabbing another glass of champagne on the way and taking a deep drink.

From behind a cracked door, low voices reach my ears, and I stop, recognizing Graham’s deep tone.

I peek inside the room, which appears to be some kind of office. What I see makes my breath catch. Graham stands with his back to me, arms crossed and feet planted firmly. In the corner of the room, a woman with beautiful auburn hair and a classical face sits in a chair in front of the fireplace. She stands and moves toward Graham, tilting her face up as if to search his gaze, longing in her expression.

“I thought the world might lose you, that you might die on that football field . . .” A lone tear spills down her face.

“Divina . . .”

“No, don’t tell me to stop,” she says. “Holden’s already having another affair, this time with Pia. Am I just supposed to ignore it? Why can’t I have you?”

“You get nothing if you divorce him, so your idea is for us to have an affair?” His tone sharpens. “I’m not here to be the revenge you get on Holden.”

“It’s not revenge. It’s love. We spent years together, longer than I’ve been married to Holden, and it took you nearly dying for me to realize what a mistake I made. I want you back.”

So this is Divina, the reason Graham has his heart locked away.

There’s silence from the room as I stand with my heart hammering. I touch my chest, checking to make sure the fast beats are normal.

“Remember the night you proposed in Paris?” Divina says. “You promised to love me forever. You held me in your arms and swore. Just say the word, just tell me you still care, and I’ll do anything.” Another tear slips down her face, and Graham hands her a tissue from a box on the desk.

“I’m married,” Graham says tonelessly as she moves closer to him and presses her body against his, her eyes searching his face. She runs her fingers through his hair, a gesture intimate and familiar to her.

“Which can be fixed, G,” she begs. “Get an annulment. Be with me. We can go to Paris again.”

Why isn’t he moving away from her?

He bends his head toward hers—

I yank myself away so I can’t see them kissing.

Should I really expect fidelity when we aren’t even real?

My hands fist. I don’t know. I really don’t.

Brody appears next to me and guides me away from the room. I barely notice. My brain is grappling with visions of them, young and in love, in Paris. I imagine Graham promising to love her forever.

“Best to leave them alone,” Brody says quietly as we go down the stairs. He stops at the bottom of the steps, searching my face. “Are you all right?”

I nod.

“Are you really?”

I blink away tears.

No.

And I can’t even put my finger on the why of it.

“Oh, Emmy.”

I stuff down my emotions, locking them away. I’ll unpack them later and figure out what it means that I’m hurt and jealous. I take a deep breath, centering myself. “I’m fine.”

He leads me into a giant open room, the walls hung with art, with a glittering chandelier in the center. About twenty or so people are here, all of them staring at me over their drinks. On one side of the room is a formal dining area with a wooden table surrounded by ornate chairs. On the other side is a formal parlor with cozy sitting areas and side tables. A harp player fills the air with gentle notes. I head to the bar in the back, where a server is making drinks. I grab another glass of champagne as Brody follows me.

“Please tell me there isn’t a wedding cake anywhere?” I ask.

“No. Graham was very specific about this being low-key.”

How can anything be low-key in this gorgeous setting?

Brody asks for a martini, and as the bartender is mixing it, he leans down to my ear. “I’m going to introduce you to a gaggle of cousins and the like, so just nod and smile.”

“Of course.”

He sweeps me around the room, and after a few minutes, I’m feeling the buzz of the alcohol, dampening the emotion from earlier. I smile and chat in all the right places, and when I see Mina, the only familiar face, I hug her. She asks me where Graham is, but before I can reply, he enters the room with Divina. There’s a hush in the air as everyone seems to hold a collective breath.

I couldn’t get a good look at her in the office, but there’s no doubt she’s an incredibly beautiful woman, almost fragile, with wide brown eyes and thick lashes. Her dress is red and tight, accentuating her petite figure. Her auburn hair is up in a high ponytail, with the ends curled delicately as it hangs over one shoulder. She gives the room a tremulous smile, then gazes up at Graham.

I feel as if I’m going to be sick.

Brody squeezes my shoulder. “Don’t make assumptions about his feelings for her, Emmy.”

“He told me he still loved her,” I say as Graham nods to Divina and leaves her to talk to his father.

“Forget that. The bad guy approaches,” Brody says conspiratorially as he nudges his head at Holden, headed in our direction from across the room. “It’s not just that Holden slept with Divina behind my brother’s back. He’s always been jealous of our father’s attention. Ten bucks says he’ll mention how Graham isn’t next to you right now or throw in the fact that our mother came from nothing.”

“Is his mother here?” My eyes search the room.

Brody chuckles. “She won’t step in this house because it’s the one Dad lived in with us. It’s always been my theory that my mother stole Father away from Holden’s mom.”

“Your mom was the other woman?” It would explain some of the animosity Holden feels.

Brody nods. “My mother was much younger.” He waves his hand. “And you, my dear, are perfection. Tell me, when you yanked him into your room at the motel, did you have sex?”

I send him a pointed look, and he pouts.

“He won’t tell me either. That aside, he does care about you.”

“How do you know?”

“A cat litter box. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but he bought one. It’s waiting for your little pet.”

We watch Holden get closer, and I feel the eyes of people watching him, watching us.

Brody smothers a breath. “It’s like we’re in some kind of court intrigue as he walks to us. You’re the queen, and I’m your adviser, trying to protect you from the lord who’s plotting to steal your throne.”

I giggle. “He’s greedy and wants to steal your inheritance. All he needs is some white hose, a sword, and a hat with a feather in it. Maybe a wig and some powder on his face. Oh, is this the French court or the English? Should we speak French, mon ami?”

Brody snorts. “Ma chérie, I adore you. And here his is, le méchant . . .”

The villain.

“Congratulations on your wedding,” Holden says as he reaches us, wearing a smirk as he runs his eyes over me. “It seems your groom has left you alone.”

“Bingo, ten bucks,” Brody whispers to me, then says louder, “I’m here, dear brother. She’s not alone at all.” He tips his martini at him.

Holden dismisses him with a veiled look, then turns to me. “And where’s your family, Emmy? Are you an orphan like Brody’s mother?”

“Bingo again,” Brody says as he lifts his glass.

I smile tightly at Holden. One thing I’ve learned is sometimes it’s best to confront a prickly issue before someone else does; that way, they’ll have no power over you. “I assumed you knew all about my family since you’ve kept a photographer outside my apartment. Yes, I grew up in the turmoil of domestic abuse, and in the end, my mother shot my father, then left us. That’s it. You won’t find much else about me.”

“You’ve got a backbone. Some women don’t.” His eyes dart to his wife as his lip curls in distaste.

“How vicious you are,” I say.

Holden smiles, although it doesn’t reach his eyes. “You’ll fit in well. Although I am concerned about how long you’ll last.”

A knot forms in my stomach.

He leans in too close, his lemony cologne wafting around me. “Be honest—what’s he giving you to marry him?”

“Sweet, sweet love,” I say as I put a hand over my heart.

His teeth flash. “There’s going to be a big story coming out—your lovers’ quarrel with Kian in Vegas, your mad dash to Arizona, then you stealing Graham’s car. We’ll add an eyewitness, of course, the clerk at the motel. Your past will be splashed around. In the end, it will convince everyone that Graham coerced you into marrying him.”

Brody stiffens next to me.

I laugh. “And when you say all that, all I hear is a Cinderella story about a girl who falls for the guy she meets after a horrible ex-boyfriend experience.”

“A random person stole my car and wrecked it,” Graham says tightly as he joins our group. He brings my hand to his lips and kisses my fingers as his eyes search my face. “Hello, darling. Is Holden bothering you?”

I can’t quite meet his gaze. “Hardly. Family is the same everywhere. Complicated.”

We’re saved from further conversation as Graham’s father quiets the room by clinking a spoon against his glass.

He smiles at everyone. “Thank you for coming tonight as we celebrate Emmy and Graham.” His eyes brush over me before landing on Graham. “Congratulations. I wish you both the very best in life and love.” He pauses, his throat moving as he seems to gather himself. “I wish with all my heart that your mother were here tonight. Cheers.”

“My turn,” Brody says as he clears his throat and raises his martini. “For my brother and Emmy, may their love be as big and wonderful as mine for Cas.”

Cas, who’s across the room with Mina, smiles brilliantly at him.

“I’m next,” Holden says dryly as he looks around the room before stopping on Divina. He raises his glass. “To Divina, for giving up Graham so he could find Emmy.”

Graham tenses next to me as a rumble of uncomfortable laughter spreads around the room.

Graham clears his throat and gazes down at me. “And finally, to my beautiful wife. Life gives you what you want when you least expect it. Darling, to you.”

And as everyone lifts their glasses to us, my eyes find Divina’s across the room, taking in her sour face. Yes, he was alone with her in that room, but I’ll think about that later.

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