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My Darling Bride: Chapter 6


I walk into Marcelle’s, a martini bar near Central Park. I try to get at least two night shifts a week here.

I didn’t find out who G is because I have nothing to go on. I called the motel and asked if they could tell me who the man was in 306, but it got me nowhere. The clerk told me that it’s illegal to give our personal information about their guests. I knew that but tried anyway.

The sound of low pop music greets me as I push open the door. Dimly lit, Marcelle’s features a curved wooden bar, leather booths, and industrial-style pendant lights that hang from the ceiling.

Ciara is behind the bar, her face scrunched in concentration as she aligns bottles on the mirrored wall. A transplant from Nashville, she moved to New York for ballet but gave it up professionally after hurting her knee.

“Hey! I’m here!”

“You’re early—” Her words stop when her gaze lands on the small head poking out of the backpack I’m wearing. I can see the animal in the mirror behind the bar, big amber eyes and a feline face with overly long whiskers.

She starts, then giggles. “A cat in a backpack? Holy . . . turn around and let me see that crazy carrier.”

I turn and give her the back view, which is a clear, popped-out bubble, perfect for cats to see the world. “The rescue place said he hated his cage, so I grabbed one of these but couldn’t bear to zip it, so I let him stick his head out of the top and see the city. He put his paws on my shoulders and stayed there the entire way here.”

Twisting the backpack around to my shoulder, I ease him out, and his paw curls around my finger. I bend my arm to give him a resting place. He purrs, his back arching as I stroke his black fur. The rescue didn’t know his origins, only that he’d been delivered to them undernourished and bleeding.

“Bless his heart, what happened?” she asks. “He’s missing an ear. Oh no, is his tail . . .”

“Yeah, it’s been cut off midway. People can be so cruel.”

“I see what this is. You wanted a Kian distraction?” She gives me a knowing look.

I wave his paw at her. “Meow. Say hi to my new boyfriend.”

“Hi, new guy, you’re gorgeous. What’s his name?”

I hold him close to my cheek. “No clue.”

“We had a cat when I was a kid. He chewed hair and licked my armpits. Midnight would be a cool name for him, or you could be ironic and call him Snowball. Oh, how about Lucifurrr,” she says, drawing out the name for effect.

“Hmm, maybe. He needs an IG account. Put a bow tie on him, maybe some little glasses, throw some books in, and let him hang out in the bookstore window . . .” I let out a frustrated groan. “Never mind. The store is closing.”

“I got your text. So sorry, Emmy. I know how much you wanted to own that place.”

“Just a dream.” I’m barely keeping a roof over my head.

She pats me on the shoulder. “How about a cat joke?”

I groan.

“I just made it up on the spot.”


She rubs the cat’s back. “You know where you can go to get him a brand-new tail?”


“The retail store. Booyah. I’m so good at this.”

“Somebody, please, save me from Ciara’s jokes,” I call out teasingly.

Mason, the manager, comes out from the kitchen with a towel over his shoulder. Carrying a tray of freshly cut fruit for the drinks, he’s tall, with dark-red hair swept back on top and shaved on the sides. Our friendship goes back to my NYU days.

“Hello, health violation,” he says when he sees the cat.

“Can I leave him in your office?” I say as the kitten scrambles up my arm and perches on my shoulder like a skilled acrobat. His short tail whips as he balances on my shoulder and blinks at Mason with an innocent expression.

Mason grunts. “He looks like he’s about to pounce on me.”

“He adores you,” I say. “He just told me. Telepathically.” I wink at him. “Come on—I brought some litter, and I can find a box in the back for him to go potty. Your office? Please . . .”

“Come on, Mason,” Ciara begs as she bats her lashes at her boyfriend.

He lifts his hands and smirks in defeat. “Like I could ever tell you two no.”

Squealing, I kiss him on the cheek and head to the back.

After getting the kitten settled in the office, I change into my uniform of wide-legged black pants and a white silk shirt. The shirt has ruffles and a long tie that goes around the neck. I let my hair down and brush it until it gleams.

Two hours later, the place has filled up. Mason manages the middle bar, I get one end, and Ciara takes the other. Waitresses in skirts and white shirts with bow ties roam the tables.

I’m mixing a Bellini when a familiar face drops down in an open seat.

“Brody!” I smile. “What’s up? How are things?”

He’s dressed handsomely in a tweed jacket and slacks. Black-framed glasses are on his face. He waves a hand. “Funny you should ask. Fate has been good to me recently.”

“Nice.” I rim a glass in sugar, pour in the shaken mixture, toss in sugared raspberries, slide on a lemon curl, then hand it to the woman next to him.

“Where’s Cas?” He’s usually with his husband.

“He’s on his way.”

“How’s the search for a gym location going?” He’s talked about buying property to expand their business.

“Oh, it’s going, only not in the way I expected.” His eyes sharpen. “How are you?”

“Great. What do you want tonight?”

“I’ll have one of those things you just made. It looked refreshing.” He rakes a hand through his blond hair, and I pause at his diamond-cut jawline, the set of his lips, the bottom one noticeably fuller than the top. Hmm, something about him is familiar—

“I’ve got a question: What are your thoughts on marriage?” he asks after I set his drink in front of him.

“Whoa, deep question. I’ve never been close to tying the knot.” Thinking of my parents’ marriage only brings memories of horrible nights wondering if my parents would kill each other.

“Are you a fan of our football teams in New York? My brother plays for the Pythons.”

“Not really.” I saw some of the media coverage, sure, but I had other issues to worry about in February, namely my heart.

Kian was on the roster for the Hawks, but he hasn’t played since we met.

Cas arrives. He has cropped dark hair and is built like a brick house. Even his muscles have muscles. I grab him a draft beer and put a napkin under it.

Brody gazes up at him adoringly, then gives me a look. “Cas and I are considering a trip out west. How was your trip?”

Tingles of unease make the hair on my arm rise as I wipe down the counter. He must mean my trip to Vegas, because no one knows about me going to Arizona but my siblings. “I don’t recall telling you about Vegas.”

“Vegas?” A puzzled expression flits on his face until he smooths it out. “Yes, um, that’s what I meant.”

“It was fine,” I say as I move to make several chocolate martinis for a group of people.

“Are you dating anyone?” is the next question from him when I come back.

I frown. “What’s with the twenty questions? And I’m sure I never mentioned Vegas to you.”

He gives me a seemingly innocent expression. “Oops.”

Before I can ask what that means, Cas rolls his eyes at him. “Leave Emmy alone. She’s trying to work.”

Brody scoffs. “But she’s so fascinating.”

“I’m really not,” I say warily.

“You’re being nosy,” Cas tells Brody as he tugs him close and lays a sweet kiss on him. Little hearts practically dance around them. I swoon a little. Magic.

“What was that?” Cas asks me, and I realize I must have said it out loud.

“Magic. You two have it. Few get it. Everyone wants it.” I point out Edgar, one of our regulars, an older man with a sad face. He’s sitting in a dark booth, his hand cupping his face as he peers down at his drink. “His last wife left him, but he’s going to find the next one soon. Makes me wonder if he’s never had magic and is still searching.” I nudge my head at Margot, an aging Broadway actress, who’s laughing up at her husband at a table. “She married Tom when she was nineteen. High school sweethearts. They never come in without the other, and they never look at anyone else. They have all these cute little inside jokes. True magic.” My parents didn’t have it, but Gran did.

Brody lights up. “I met Cas online. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.”

“You thought I was a pumped-up steroid user,” Cas drawls affectionately at his husband.

Brody chuckles. “It was the MMA thing.”

Cas tosses an arm around him. “We texted for two weeks before he agreed to meet me. We met in this very bar.”

“Had to make sure you weren’t going to murder me,” Brody says softly as he threads his fingers with Cas’s. He glances at me. “I’d love for you to meet my brother. He might be your kind of magic, Emmy.”

“The football player?”

He nods.

“Sorry. Not interested. I got a cat instead.” I pause and slap the bar. “Magic! That’s his name, guys, Magic!” Something I’ll never have in real life.

Brody and Cas look confused.

Ciara and Mason whoop as Mason rings the bell we keep for big tips and announces to the bar, “Hey, everyone, Emmy has named the ugly cat who’s taken over my office! He’s also her new boyfriend. Magic, it is!”

Everyone claps.

“Purrfect,” Ciara calls, and Mason hip checks her and chuckles.

Brody leans in. “My brother adores cats.”

Cas groans. “Oh my God, you have to stop.”

Brody shushes him. “Are you writing his dating profile? No, I am.” He takes a careful sip of his drink as his eyes hold mine. Something in them causes me to stop mixing the gin and tonic I’m making.

Unease washes over me.

Alert, alert. Something is wrong! a voice inside my head whispers . . .

He smiles. “Besides, you met my brother in Old Town. I heard there were sparks—and cherry-flavored lube.”

Old Town?

Cherry-flavored lube?

I gasp. “What?”

“Yeah, Graham Harlan—or G. That’s my little nickname for him. I couldn’t say Graham when I was little, and it sort of stuck.”

My breath quickens, doom closing in.

It clicks. Brody’s lips, his familiar jawline . . .

“Wait. Your brother is . . .”

A tall, broad shadow enters the bar and appears behind the couple, and my eyes move up to take in the man who’s sucked all the air out of my lungs. He’s wearing a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of navy slacks. His jaw is shaven, calling attention to his razor-sharp jaw and stark cheekbones.

Tension in the bar rises, buzzing around me as he towers over everyone at the bar, his chiseled face set in hard lines, not that the iciness affects how soul-crushingly gorgeous he is. Stormy gray eyes pierce me. A rush of electricity zaps me like a live wire. I’m a frozen deer in the headlights as he rakes over every inch of me, taking me apart.

The bar noise fades, and it’s just me and him in the bar.

My heart jumps in my chest.

What is this awful thing I’m feeling when he looks at me? Fear? Attraction? Both?

Shit, whatever it is, it’s not good.

His gaze drifts to my lips, almost caressing them; then his nose flares as if he’s angry.

I fight the urge to run out the back door of the bar.

“Me,” he says darkly, answering my question earlier to Brody, the one I’d already forgotten about. “Remember?”

A long breath comes from me as I cling to the edge of the bar.

This is impossible, yet there he is.

I swallow thickly. “G is for Graham. I get it now.” Now that he’s shaved and has trimmed his hair, I recall seeing his photos in the media. I must have been blind at the motel, but he’s the kind of person you’d never expect to see at a place like the Golden Iguana.

“It’s getting hot in here,” Brody murmurs as he fans himself, his eyes flicking from my face to Graham’s as he twists to get a view of both of us. Cas chuckles, but I’m barely registering the people around me.

He sits on the stool next to Brody and straightens his collar, then leans in until his muscled forearms are on the bar. I see a peek of tattoos, a flock of birds that disappear up his arm. The name Hazel is written in script around his wrist. I hadn’t noticed it at the motel, but then I wasn’t completely myself then.

The overhead light glints off his raven hair, giving it golden highlights. The loose curls soften his jawline. He twists the Rolex on his wrist. “Give me a Blanton’s, neat.”

I whip around to the whiskey shelf, my hands shaking as I pull the bottle down. Usually I’d make the drink in front of customers, but I don’t, instead grabbing a glass and pouring it with my back to him.

Mason slides in next to me. “What the hell is up with you and Graham Harlan?”

“Nothing.” I wince, darting my eyes at Mason, then away. “Okay. I accidentally stole his car.”

He rears back. “What? How? Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I feel terrible. I’m a thief, ugh. I haven’t told anyone,” I mutter. “But he hasn’t called the police yet. I think. I don’t know. He sent a note by messenger to the bookstore. Why is he in my bar? How is he Brody’s brother and I never knew? What are the chances? Am I losing my mind? Is he still there?” My brain darts in a thousand directions.

He glances back and scrubs his jawline. “Yes. Sorry. Do you want me to toss him out?”

Ugh. I wish. “No.” He sent the note. Obviously, he wants something.

He glances at him again, his voice lowered. “He’s looking at you like he’s going to eat you for dinner. Did you have sex with him?”

I watch in the mirror as a blush sneaks up my face. I might have thought about having sex with him. “No.”

He whistles under his breath. “Emmy, he’s rich as shit, and his dad is a powerful man. Be careful.”

“Who’s his dad?”

“Big-time lawyer, old money.”

A lawyer! Hello, jail cell.

I finish making the whiskey and slide a napkin under Graham’s glass as I set it down in front of him. He barely notices. A pretty young redhead in a tight black dress has taken the stool next to him, and they’re engrossed in conversation.

Brody catches my hand, his face earnest as I glare at him. “Ah, don’t be mad at me, Emmy. He was going to find you one way or another. I thought this would be neutral ground for a second meet-cute.”

I pull away. “Are you kidding me? There’s nothing romantic about me and your brother. There was no first meet-cute.”

His eyes gleam. “Be patient. Magic takes time. Especially with my brother. Go easy on him, yeah? He hasn’t had the easiest road.”

What? Hell no.

“What do you mean?” I ask a few moments later, my curiosity urging me on. “What happened to him?”

Brody leans in. “He needs magic, Emmy. More than anyone I know.”

I shake my head and move on to make more drinks. I’m not buying anything Brody says.

Time crawls by as Graham orders a drink for the redhead, an espresso martini, then goes back to her. She asks for a photo of them, and he poses for a selfie, his face aloof. She flirts, even going so far as to dance her fingers down his arm. He barely even speaks, just nods or shakes his head while she talks. Seething, I turn away. He’s torturing me, biding his time until I’m a nervous wreck.

“You should break them apart,” Brody whispers in a conspiratorial tone.

I point at him with a stir stick. “You. Stop. And not on your life. Maybe she’ll soften him up.”

“She won’t,” he murmurs. “And I did my best to talk him out of this plan. Even today, I told him to let it all go, and I’ll figure out the money side of things on my own, but once he makes up his mind about someone . . .”

I have no idea what he’s rambling about.

“Another whiskey” comes from Graham, and I ignore him and mix a lemon drop.

“You okay down there? Need help?” Mason asks me.

“I’m good,” I say, watching as Graham locks eyes with him, then comes right back to me. He arches one of his straight black eyebrows as if to say, Hello? My drink?

Uh-huh. He used the eyebrow at the motel. It says more than he does. It’s a smart-ass, know-it-all eyebrow.

Huffing, I make the whiskey, then slam it down in front of him.

The redhead gives me a rude look, then sparkles up at him with a winsome smile as I linger to eavesdrop. She tells him she’s headed out to a club and invites him to go with her and her friends.

Go, Graham. Have fun. Forget about me.

I audibly groan when he tells her he can’t, that he has business to handle at the bar. Without a prompting from him, she writes her number on a napkin and gives it to him. With one last adoring look and a kiss to his cheek, she sashays away and out the door. He crumples the napkin in his hands, then drains his whiskey.

“Can we talk?” I ask him, my voice quiet.

“Oh yes,” he says in a dark tone.

“Mason, I’m due a break,” I call out to him. “Fifteen minutes, okay?”

Mason gives Graham a steely once-over. “Sure, Emmy. Want me to go with you?”

“No,” I say.

“She’s fine with me,” Graham says, his tone curt.

Mason holds my eyes. “Yell out if you need me.”

Graham stands to follow me as I walk around the bar and head to the exit outside. Pushing the door open, I look around, half expecting blue lights and sirens.

Brody’s voice calls after us. “Be sweet, guys.”

The wind whips my hair as thunder rumbles in the distance, a late-spring storm brewing in the air. Fitting. Face the storm you’ve made, I tell myself as I duck under the overhead canopy next door to the bar to wait for him.

He stalks to me, and I’m struck again by his massive height, his broad shoulders, the way his shirt stretches over his muscles. He crosses his arms to match mine. We’re two feet apart, and the air wafts with the scent of his cologne.

I chew on my bottom lip, and he notices, his eyes landing there and staying. Two spots of color flare on his cheekbones, and he darts his gaze to a point over my shoulder.

Here goes nothing. A long exhale leaves my chest. “Graham, I’m truly sorry for the mess I made. Taking your car was inexcusable and wrong and impulsive. Extremely stupid. I’m old enough to know better. I’ve regretted it every day since it happened. I’ve had massive guilt over it. I am so sorry. So sorry. I can’t say it enough. You have every right to be angry.”

He grunts, unmoved.

Several moments pass, and I nod nervously, tension escalating when he doesn’t reply.

“If it matters, I wasn’t pretending in Arizona. I didn’t know who you were. I imagine a man in your position, you’re used to being recognized, but I was clueless. I missed it. My head was . . . all over the place at the motel.”

“Your boyfriend is a player.”

“My ex. He didn’t play while we were together, and I don’t follow sports. And how do you know?”

“Kian was waiting for you at the motel.” Steely eyes narrow. “I can’t see you with him. You . . . don’t . . . fit.”

He pauses between those last words, making it somehow more meaningful. I don’t know if it’s the cadence of how he speaks when he’s emotional or if he’s underlining that he knows what happened between me and Kian. My breath hitches. Of course—he saw my neck at the motel. Touching my throat, I drop my gaze to the ground as my insides twist. I’m deeply embarrassed about having been at Kian’s mercy in Vegas. And the truth is that I was at his mercy in Old Town, because I didn’t stay and face him. I ran instead.

“If you hadn’t stolen my car, I might have had time to beat the shit out of him.”

I glance up in surprise.

His eyes blaze with anger, not at me, but at Kian.

“I’m still angry with you, though,” he mutters. “I’d had that car for two weeks. It was a Lamborghini Aventador.”

I cringe. “I don’t know what that means, but it sounds really expensive.”

“Yes,” he says grimly. “It was.”

“How much?”

“Over four hundred.”

“Thousand?” Nausea bubbles, and I put a hand to my stomach.


Oh my God. I can’t even . . .

I might pass out. I lean against the brick of the boutique and cover my face with my hands in horror for a few moments, then drop them. “Why would you spend that kind of money on a car?”

He cocks his head. “Really? That’s what you want to say after stealing it? You drove it. It has 740 horsepower, goes from zero to sixty in less than three seconds, with a speed up to 220 miles per hour. It’s fucking beautiful.”

“Where on earth would you drive that fast?”

“The desert. Until it was taken. By you.”

Right. “I just wanted to borrow it. You weren’t in your room when I knocked, but you’d left your key, and then my mind went off kilter, and I was convinced Kian would talk me into going back to Vegas. I needed to get away from him as fast as possible. In hindsight, I could have run to the diner or hidden in the desert, but then I’m really scared of scorpions and wolves. I should have just faced him.”

“Why did you run away from him?”

I inhale a deep breath, debating my next words. “To give you some background, my parents had a very turbulent relationship. My dad drank, used drugs, couldn’t hold a job. He hurt my mom.” I glance away from him, my head swirling with memories of my mom with black eyes, a broken arm, ribs. She’d eventually forgive him; then they’d have this honeymoon phase, with flowers and candy and vacations. “As a kid, watching the abuse happen in front of you, it changes you and never leaves. When they’d fight, I always ran and hid. And I guess that’s what I did in Vegas.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you.”

I nod as my throat prickles with emotions. Images flash through my head of my father dragging my mother across the floor by her hair that last night. I hear her sobs, begging him to stop. Jane was only three, and Andrew was two. I pulled them into the hall closet and watched through a crack in the door as it unfolded.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“When I was ten years old . . .” My words trail off.


I feel color rising in my cheeks, and I put my hands there to cool them off.

It’s okay.

I’m not there.

I’m here.

I’m fine.

I’m good.

I’m a fighter. A survivor.

“What happened?” he asks, his brows lowering.

A tangled knot builds in my chest, then releases. “My mom shot him.” I say the words woodenly, keeping emotion bottled up inside. “She was beaten down, broken, and afraid for her life.”

His mouth parts. “What?”

I nod. “She was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted.” Gran hired the best lawyers, researchers, and psychologists to help Bryony, my mom. Gran brought in advocates of domestic abuse, organized marches, and did radio shows and podcasts. The truth is many domestic abuse women end up serving long sentences for protecting themselves against their abuser, and Gran didn’t want that to happen for my mom.

“And now? Your mom?”

“She moved to Costa Rica.” She didn’t even come to Gran’s funeral. The only communication I have with her is via text, and that is rare. I haven’t seen her since I was ten years old.

Part of me understands that she left to cope with her own trauma. She felt the sting of his fists, and perhaps she even kept him from hitting us, but the other side of me feels abandoned by the person who was supposed to always protect me.

Pushing those memories away, I raise my face to his. “I told you this deeply private thing because when Kian hurt me, it reminded me of my childhood. I just wanted to run. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.”

He studies me intently, his gaze lingering over each feature as if he is trying to see into my soul. I have to glance away.

“I swear I parked it at the airport and left your keys on the tire—”

“And someone saw you and stole it.”

I gasp. “What? No.”

“It’s on a surveillance camera. A man was in the garage when you pulled in. He grabbed the keys and took the car for a joyride and wrecked it. No clue who he is. Which brings us to you. You’re responsible. You stole my car first.”

I grimace, picturing the scene in my head, me getting out of the car, stashing his keys, then darting for the elevator to get to ticketing in the airport so I could leave Arizona. I wasn’t paying attention if anyone else was around me.

“So you’ve confronted me. Do I need to pay for damages?” The mere idea of more debt makes me want to drop to my knees and weep.

“You have that kind of money?”

“No. Do I need to turn myself in? Be handcuffed? Get fingerprinted?”

“About that. I have”—he looks away, his hands flexing—“a proposal.”

If he says he wants some kind of sex thing, I’m going to freak. “I’m listening.”

“I’m in need of a wife.”


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