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Silent Vows: Chapter 26

Noemi

“This was my mother’s. Your mom and I both wore it when we got married.” Aunt Etta held out a tiny, elegant cameo pin. “This can be your something borrowed. It’s small enough to easily hide under your skirt, and it brought us good luck. Here, turn around.”

“Thank you, Aunt Etta. That’s so sweet of you.” I did as she said, not arguing about the luck. She might have felt that way about her marriage, but I doubted Mom would have said the same about hers.

“With that gorgeous sapphire ring, a stunning new dress, and your mom’s old necklace, you’ve got all your bases covered now.” She finished tucking away the pin under my skirt and nudged me to turn back around. “You look breathtaking, little Emy. I know Leonora is here watching over you. She’d be so proud of the young woman you’ve become.”

Tears burned the back of my throat because I wasn’t so sure. Would she be proud? Or would she hate to see me walk the same treacherous path she walked?

I hugged Aunt Etta and thanked her through a swelling sense of panic. Impending doom clawed at me, making me feel like the walls were pressing in around me. “Do you think you could go get Conner for me?” I asked in a shrill voice.

Her brows knitted tightly together. “Are you sure, sweetie? You know the groom isn’t supposed to see the bride…”

“Please, Aunt Etta. I need to talk to him before I do this.”

She nodded, concern etched in the creases of her eyes as she left the room. I wanted to pace. Nervous energy coiled in my muscles, making it hard to sit still, but the train on my dress made pacing a challenge. Instead, I stood at a window and watched the leaves on a large oak beside the church sway in the breeze until an ominous awareness moved through me, lighting a fever from the nape of my neck to the base of my spine. When I turned, Conner stood in the doorway dressed in an impeccable three-piece suit, his inscrutable stare bearing down on me.

I wanted to thrash my fists against his broad chest and scream at him for being so insufferably handsome yet seemingly unreachable. I hadn’t known him long, but I wasn’t sure an eternity would be enough to fully understand this complicated man. But I wanted to. I wanted him, and I hated myself for it. For being weak enough to want what I could never have.

One measured step at a time, he closed the distance between us. “You have something to say? Because I’m pretty sure this is breaking the rules.”

I swallowed, my throat suddenly parched. “I need to know why you’re doing this. Why did you agree to marry me?” The Irish would survive just fine without the alliance. It was helpful but not imperative. I didn’t know what I was looking for by asking, but I needed to hear his answer.

He let the question marinate for a long minute before answering. “Duty to my family. The acquisition of power. Sultry green eyes and a fiery disposition. You pick a day; I’ll give you a reason. It changes by the minute.”

But at least somewhere inside him, I was a part of his decision. A piece of him wanted me and not just what my family represented. That was enough for now.

I nodded, the wave of panic ebbing to a general sense of anxiety. I wanted to ask where he’d been all week and why he hadn’t reached out, but that felt like too much. This wasn’t a real relationship; he wasn’t courting me. I shouldn’t have expected anything more.

Conner came even closer, wrapping his hand around the back of my neck and angling my face up toward his. “Just keep those eyes straight ahead on me. Don’t think about anyone else, yeah?” He must have sensed the unease scraping my insides raw.

A fluttering warmth filled my chest as I nodded.

“Right. Now let’s get this show over with.” Before he moved, his eyes dropped to my lips. “You look good enough to eat, Noemi.” He brought his lips to my ear. “And I’m famished.” Once he’d sucked all the air from my lungs with his comment, he turned and walked away.

Seconds later, my aunt reappeared with Pippa, both brimming with excited energy.

“This entire church is filled, Em. It’s insane.”

“Not helping, Pip,” I shot at her.

She grimaced. “It’s fine, though. All you have to do is walk down the aisle and stand there. No biggie.”

Then bind myself to an Irish mobster for the rest of my life and maybe have sex for the first time ever. Yeah, just any ordinary Saturday.

Deep breath in, slow exhale out.

“Your hair and makeup are perfect. The dress is exquisite. You’ve got this,” chimed Aunt Etta. “The ceremony will be as short as a Catholic wedding can be, then you can stay at the reception as long or short as you like. At least we aren’t having a full-scale dinner. Those last forever.”

After much debate with the wedding coordinator, we’d decided on a cake and champagne reception at a hotel ballroom near the church. No extra catering to coordinate. No memorized vows. No special readings or performances. Just a short walk, a few repeated words, and I do. I could do this.

No, I hadn’t succeeded in escaping the life I’d been born into, but that didn’t mean I had to be unhappy. I could find joy in other areas of my life. Having a perfect husband wasn’t everything. The only caveat was not to trick myself into hoping for more, into believing in love. That wasn’t in the cards for me. If I let my heart grow attached, it would only lead to devastation.

I might end up Conner’s wife, but he was married to the mob before he ever met me.

“It’s time, sweet girl. You ready?” Aunt Etta looked at me questioningly with a glint of sorrow in her eyes.

I didn’t want her to worry, so I forced a smile. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Pippa handed me my bouquet and brought my veil over my face before her mom led us out to the hall. The gentle strains of a string quartet playing Pachelbel’s Canon grew louder as we neared the entrance to the cathedral. Almost as loud as the pounding of my heart, counting down the seconds until I was a married woman.

It was an enormous church—one of the city’s largest—packed to the brim with hundreds of guests. People were standing along the walls beneath enormous panels of brightly colored stained glass. The wedding had drawn people far and wide like a traveling circus, and I was the main attraction.

The veil I wore had seemed part of an antiquated tradition at the dress shop, but I thanked God I’d let Aunt Etta talk me into it because it provided the illusion of a barrier between me and the world. A tiny amalgamation of privacy.

Hopefully, it hid the snarl that teased at my lip when I took my father’s arm.

On the downside, however, the veil also kept me from seeing Conner very well. While I couldn’t make out his azure eyes, I had no problem identifying his proud form at the altar. I did exactly as he’d said and tuned out everything else—my father, the audience, the expectations—and focused solely on the man in front of me.

When we finally reached Conner at the front of the church, he stepped forward and lifted my veil away from my face—a task that was usually left to the bride’s father. Dad stood awkwardly as if unsure of what to do. Conner’s eyes bore into mine, and I wished I knew what he was thinking. While he was a perpetual mystery, my father was undoubtedly pissed. Conner blatantly disrespected my father by usurping Dad’s role in front of everyone. I could only imagine the fury brewing inside him.

It was an enormous relief to think that I never had to go home again after the wedding if I didn’t want to. Of course, the hours after the reception would be rife with a different form of anxiety. It would be the first time I was alone with my new husband in my new house, and I had no idea what to expect.

Conner stared long and deep into my eyes before finally turning to my father and shaking his hand. My fiancé never even gave my dad a chance to kiss my cheek or say a single word. He kept himself angled between us, then guided me to the altar, preventing my father from getting near me.

With that small hurdle overcome, we moved on to the ceremony. I handed my bouquet to Pippa, who was my only attendant. We’d kept things as simple as possible with one attendant each. She stood at my side while Conner had chosen a friend to act as his best man rather than one of his many cousins.

The priest’s words passed through me as though in another language. I couldn’t hear or see or think. All I could do was focus on breathing and try not to pass out.

Word must have spread like wildfire about my renewed vocal abilities because the church wasn’t engulfed in a sea of whispers when it came time for my vows.

“Noemi, do you take Conner to be your lawfully wedded husband? Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him, for as long as you both shall live?”

I forced air into my lungs.

“I do.”

Three letters. Two words. One life forever forfeited.

As a man, Conner was given freedoms in this world that a woman could only dream of. He was committing himself, but not to the same degree as me because he’d already accepted a life in the criminal underworld. By walking down that aisle, I’d sealed my fate in more ways than one. I swore to myself at that moment that I wouldn’t let it be in vain. I would use whatever power I could acquire from my marriage to take down my father.

That was what I focused on when I said I do.

The silent vow may not have been spoken aloud, but it felt just as monumental as the oath to my new husband.

“You may kiss the bride.” The priest’s jovial proclamation yanked my attention back to the present just as Conner’s lips descended upon mine, one hand pulling me close against him, the other cupping the back of my neck firmly as though he thought I might bolt.

Running was the last thing on my mind. I was too busy trying to comprehend how a chaste kiss in front of an audience could feel so damn erotic. The firmness of his demanding lips. The gentle way he bent me beneath him, keeping me slightly off balance.

But the coup de grâce came at the end of the kiss.

Keeping our lips together, he whispered a single word.

The celebratory quartet launched into a joyful song, filling the church with music. The crowd rose to their feet and clapped while the priest announced us as man and wife. All the while, my head spun with disbelief as that one word echoed in my head.

Mine.


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