An elaborate appliqué of sequins and crystals flowed down the right side of the cream silk, pooling at my feet. I had asked Danya, my too-chic dress designer, to keep the train of the dress short.
For one, we didn't have time for anything more than adding the distinctive decoration to a basic, round-necked slip dress. From the proposal to our between-Christmas-and-New Year's, Italian wedding was less than two months. A complicated design and lots of fittings weren't in the cards.
Second, Jamie and I wouldn't have a church wedding. In the interest of time and simplicity, we rented a large Tuscan villa and invited our guests to stay with us. My room was the largest and the quietest on the top floor of the sprawling house. I had a balcony overlooking the garden and a spacious sitting area perfect for the planned ladies-only breakfast and getting ready afterward. I needed every ounce of help to get down the aisle.
I couldn't believe I was getting married.
I stared at my nervous smile in the mirror and hoisted the dress higher, so I could once again imagine wearing it. On the hanger, you couldn't make out the decorative shape that swept across the bodice and swirled down to the hem. But once I slipped the column of silk on my body, the flowers emerged. Bejeweled clusters draped like the Italian wisteria that bloomed here every spring.
No one else would know what that meant--except Jamie.
He'd remember our trip in April. Right after he closed the sale of Wylde Engineering and Construction, I took vacation, and we toured Italy for two weeks. One day into the trip, my obsessive checking of my work email prompted a fight. Considering how we started, Jamie and I had surprisingly few of those in the prior six months.
He closed his hands over mine and plucked the device away, gathering looks from passersby on the streets of Florence. "Stop."
"I need to send one more email. I forgot to tell Carl--"
"No offense to him, but fuck Carl."
My sparkled aubergine fingernail, freshly done for vacation, flexed into Jamie's sternum. "Hey, he's my boss."
"You should quit. You don't even like that job. Being bored just makes you feel responsible," he replied, cocking his brow in challenge.
His disquieting perceptiveness stoked my rebellion. "I'm a grown woman. Grown women work. This isn't a conversation I'm having again."
"I'm not going to let you ruin our trip by micromanaging spreadsheets from another continent." He held the phone behind his head, elbow thrust at the sky. "You'll get it back when you let me know what fifteen-minute time span I should reserve for you to check in with the office each day."
"This is absurd," I snapped and folded my arms.
"Then, I'm keeping the phone," he declared, then tapped his chin with the index finger of his free hand. "I wonder what I might get for it over here. Maybe I'll ask some pickpocketing ragamuffin eyeing marks in front of Santa Croce. Didn't you put that on the agenda for tomorrow?"
"Talking to pickpockets? No. Santa Croce. Yes."
I wanted to see where Michelangelo was entombed. And Galileo and Machiavelli and a host of other famous dead Italians. I had fantasies of sensing their presence and getting a message from one of history's great minds. Maybe Machiavelli had some tips on dealing with imperious boyfriends.
I agreed to check my email once a day at 4 p.m. when it would be morning back home. Jamie downloaded an app that would lock me out of my email until that time every day.
"We're not on Wi-Fi. That's going to cost an arm and a leg on my data plan," I pouted.
"Send me the bill," he grumbled.
I took my phone back, sent my email, and dropped the offending technology back in my purse. He whooped in victory.
"Perfect. Now look up," he commanded.
I did. Swathed on each of a dozen balconies overhead were ropes of purple flowers, fragrant and swinging in the breeze. The building was covered in them.
"Stunning," I gasped.
Jamie wrapped an arm around my shoulder and leaned into my ear. "I didn't want you to miss it," he whispered.
For the rest of the trip, he stopped in front of beautiful scenes and demanded that I not miss them. His hazel eyes would widen and sparkle with green. Then, he'd kiss me until we heard whistles and appreciative bursts of Italian.
He took it as his mission for me to appreciate every moment we had together.
I knew I would love him forever the minute he showed up at my house back in November bearing nothing but his apologies and a desire to understand. He gave me sweet Christmas presents on our first trip to Italy with his mother and sister in Positano. But the gift of being still and quiet with me under the wisteria was what finally let me be sure that he loved in return just as much.
Even though he barked at me.
And I chirped back. We bickered and gave each other side-eye, but we made up the next instant and kept our clichéd promise to never go to bed angry.
Jamie proposed to me in October at the Halloween carnival Kali hosted this year solo as Lady Dracula. He swallowed a thousand urges to comment and interfere in her planning but let her take charge of the event. Wylde House was now hers.
I was proud of how he did what he was told. He showed up, smiled at the kids, and I dropped him ten times in a row in the dunking booth. No merciful wild pitches this time. He and Griffin each committed fifty grand for the community center. Then, as a thank you for the privilege of being cold and wet, he dug a box out of his gym bag and dropped to one knee while Kali gave play-by-play in the microphone.
"You better hurry up and say yes before he gets hypothermia, Ms. Carver."
I hadn't said yes. I knelt down with him and hugged his neck, drenching my witch's costume.
He clutched the ring, waiting to put it on my finger. "I asked if you would prove that I'm the luckiest man in the world and be my wife, and you--of all people--have nothing to say?"
Tears poured from my eyes, turning the night into a murky, swirl with a soundtrack of cheers and applause. His heart sped up.
Please say yes.
His thoughts pleaded, but I was too choked up to respond, so I kissed us both breathless, long and hard and inappropriately in front of the children.
When our mouths finally separated, I found my words again. "What a perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss."
"I'll take that as a yes, but let me put the ring on your finger, so everyone knows we're getting hitched."
He did. And we bandied about possible wedding dates for next year but decided not to wait.
Now, we were back in Italy at Christmas the night before the most hastily planned international wedding on record. His mother was convinced I was pregnant no matter how many times I told her I wasn't.
Even tonight at the rehearsal dinner, she questioned, "Are you sure you should have champagne, dear?"
Meagan rolled her eyes. "Jesus, Mother, she's not knocked up. Jamie's desperately in love and has the impatience of a demon. This is all his doing."
Rather than seeming relieved, Sherilyn Wylde harrumphed a sigh. "An old lady can hope."
"We'll do our best to get you grandchildren. I promise," I laughed and felt the heat creeping over my cheeks.
She smoothed my hair and didn't comment on the innuendo. "Thank you. You're the best thing that ever happened to my son, and if you get me a grandchild, I, too, am yours forever."
A bittersweet weight formed and dispersed in my chest. She had been amazing to me--maternal and kind. It reminded me of what I'd lost but also what I had to look forward to. I had family.
The Wyldes. Kali and Maya. The teenager's parents let Kali bring her to Italy for the wedding. She was almost eighteen, and I think they recognized that keeping the girl from her biological parents was impossible. She was a head taller than Kali but equally headstrong and adventurous.
The wedding party was small. Only those four, plus Meagan's date, my college friend, Rochelle, and her date, and Jamie's two best friends, Griffin and Jonah, with their plus ones. I loved the intimacy of it all, but I was exhausted.
Turning away from the mirror with the heavy dress, I ambled carefully to the wardrobe and arranged the material back inside, leaving the door open, so I could still look at it. It would probably wrinkle a little, but Kali assured me she was prepared with steamers and pins for my dress, my hair, and all the wedding details.
A tingle started in my spine and then aroused the hairs on the nape of my neck. Anticipation of the next day's events for sure, but also...Jamie was at the door. His fatigue and sleeplessness flowed toward me.
My sympathy was fleeting. He'd come to harass me--even though I told him after dinner that we were officially on a "don't see the bride before the wedding" embargo starting at ten thirty.
I chastised him through the door. "Go back to your room."
"You know, you could pretend and wait for me to knock," he mused. "I want to talk."
"It's bad luck."
"You know." I infused as much exasperation as I could in the words, almost opening the door to display the irritation on my face.
"Let me in."
"Say what you have to through the door."
"I'm not talking to my fiancée through a door."
"You do realize, you're doing exactly that, right?" An irrepressible giggle escaped me.
"Lilith," he grumbled my name, and my insides sprang to attention. I loved how the syllables sounded in his mouth.
He wasn't going away, and I didn't want him to.
I opened the door. Jamie leaned against the jamb, grinning. He stuck his tongue out at me, so I slammed the door in his silly face.
He tapped softly and sang, "Lil-ith."
I cracked the barrier a few inches. "What? We agreed we were saying adieu until the ceremony. It's bad luck."
"I decided that was bullshit. I make my own luck. The whole point of this wedding is that I can't wait to be with you. I can't wait. I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you, and I want to start now."
He reached through the gap to run his thumb over my cheek. His size blocked the low, golden light of the dim fixtures in the hallway. He smelled of the lavender soap found in all the bathrooms, and he had changed from his slacks and sweater into a T-shirt and silk pajama bottoms.
I pulled the door wider and gave him a closed mouth kiss. The sensation of his lips begged me to open my mouth and taste, but I didn't. I leaned back into my room.
"We can't spend the night together. Our wedding night is tomorrow. We can show some restraint, right? It's tradition."
He pressed his palm against the antique wood between us, easing it wider. "Screw tradition."
His voice reminded me of the big, bad wolf, but I wasn't feeling like a scared granny.
"Fine. Come in," I said.
"I've had enough of these stupid traditions. We practiced everything for the wedding except the kiss. I thought that guy was going to tackle me when I leaned in after our fake vows."
I swatted his cheek. "You're not supposed to kiss until the wedding."
"We've kissed plenty."
Jamie swept me into his hot embrace and backed me deeper into the room, closing the door behind us with a soft kick. I tipped my face up and nipped him on the neck, then retreated.
"You and I are not supposed to have touched. We're not married." I dropped my chin and batted my eyelashes as coquettishly as I could muster at a man who'd seen me naked hundreds of times in the last year.
After all, I moved in with him in March, and my house sold in June, leaving me no choice but to be beholden to him. In the past, the idea might have given me hives. Instead, I reveled in the compensation of having sex with him whenever I wanted in that giant, four-poster bed. The memory seared my body from the arches of my feet to the tips of my ears.
Jamie would always be there for me. He was fierce like that. He even let me get a top rail and drape the bed in silk organza. While he complained, he also liked playing Arabian nights. The man had a spectacular imagination--one of many satisfying surprises.
I leaned into him again, inhaling his skin and taking tiny bites more decadent than the amuses bouches we'd tasted that morning for our wedding menu. His arms tightened low around my waist. I pressed my cheek to his shoulder and caught sight of the wardrobe.
"Wait. I draw the line at your seeing my dress. Don't turn around." I pecked his cheek and slipped out of his arms to shut the cabinet behind him with a heavy snap.
"Is it safe?" he asked.
"Yes. You're like a kid on Christmas Eve. You want your presents now. I can give you your present."
He turned. I untied the short robe I put on after my own lavender-scented bath. I shimmied, letting my boobs jiggle. He liked it and took off his T-shirt, eliminating the space between us in one stride.
Jamie grabbed my head in his strong hands, bringing his face down to mine until we were nose to nose. "Thank you for that," he laughed. "Let's put a pin in that for later. I need something else."
"Now, I'm disappointed. I thought you came here to--oh." I understood.
"There's that keen intuition of yours again."
"I like the joke, Jamie. It's ours."
The past two months had been a tornado of wedding planning, and it was a running joke that I hadn't technically said, "Yes." But then, he hadn't asked me again either. We both kept moving forward, knowing our being together was simply kismet.
"I like it, too, but seeing as tomorrow is the big day, I feel like we should nail that down."
"You want to nail down my 'yes'?" I lifted the open robe from my shoulders and let it fall to my feet. "You could be nailing something else."
"I know." He stripped off his pajama bottoms and dragged my naked body to his.
Sexy talk with Jamie didn't come easily to me, but he loved double entendres and saying the wicked things we think out loud. He got off on it. I had to maneuver my belly around the stiff evidence of how much appreciated my bawdy comment.
With my ass in his hands, he scattered kisses my face while he explained himself.
"You see, I was lying in my room trying to sleep. It was useless. You've got me trained already. I sleep like shit when you're not next to me."
"Let's see what we can do about that." I palmed his cock, running my thumb over its head.
He responded to my firm tug with a gasp and panted. "Thank you. You can't have me standing at the end of the aisle in my tuxedo falling asleep."
"Don't you want your yes?" I squeezed the tip of him between my fingers.
"I got distracted."
"If I sucked your dick first, you wouldn't be mad?"
His throaty chuckle vibrated his Adam's apple. I darted my tongue out to lick it and suckle his neck.
"I want you to be well rested," I whispered along his collarbone. I drew my other hand over his back. The steady strength and power stored in his hard body made my gut tense.
Jamie's head fell back, and he let the sensations build inside his body. "Your going down on me isn't going to get me what I came for."
I pressed my fingers on the base of his skull, righting his head, so we could look eye-to-eye. "I'm standing here naked in Italy wearing nothing but your engagement ring and fantasizing about how much you'll love me in my wedding dress. There's no doubt."
We both knew that. Nothing would keep me from marrying him.
"I know, but I'm not leaving here until you say it."
I started to kneel, but he grabbed my shoulders to stop me and put his knee between my legs, opening a flood of desire there. He ground his leg against me and pulled me backward to the bed and spun me around.
I liked him bossy, so I did what I was told.
"Spread your legs."
He pulled my hips to the edge of the low mattress and knelt between them. I felt his breath on my thighs.
"I'll get you to say yes."
He parted my body with his thumbs and slid his tongue slowly up and down my slit. Then, he licked again and played at my entrance with his fingers. I knew what he wanted, but not giving it to him seemed the easiest way to get him to keep going.
And he did over and over. The pressure ratcheted up quickly. The muscles in my legs contracted. My body grew taut. My soul leaned into his waiting for the satisfaction I knew he'd give me.
I gripped his hair with my hips lifting off the bed of their own accord.
"Jamie," I panted.
His head jerked back. Mine jerked down to see the twisted glee on his face and the wildness in his eyes. I was right on the edge of falling into the blessed nothingness of an orgasm.
My belly quivered and heaved. "You're the worst."
"I'm the best. Say it."
"No." I grinned.
"On the eve of our wedding? I need to be able to walk angelically tomorrow in my white dress."
"Not that," he snickered. "Just roll over."
I twisted up to my knees as he climbed on the bed behind me. The gentle scrape of his chest hair on my shoulder blades sent a shiver to my tailbone.
"Now, bend over. And be still."
I bent over but waggled my behind at him. "I'm trying to love, honor, and obey, Mr. Wylde, but I'm getting very frustrated."
He slapped my butt hard and laughed. The tingles from his hand only turning up my annoyance. "Nice. I like the rear view. I have since the day we met."
He circled his palm over my stinging lower cheek and slapped again, lighter this time, before rubbing the tip of his dick where his tongue had been. Back and forth. I shoved my hips back, and he, thankfully, obliged me, plunging full force into me.
With one hand on my hip and the other toying with my eager breasts. He circled his hips and gave me what I wanted. He plucked up the threads of my incomplete orgasm and stitched them back together with the dipping of his body.
The rise began again, knitting the sensations together tighter and tighter until I knew I was going to come apart.
He reached around, rubbing me my clit hard like a nightclub DJ spinning a record. Only I was the one who spun as we joined together in every way. I could feel him, and he knew it. Now, he yearned for it.
I clenched him tighter, gripping in tune with his rhythm.
"Fuuuck. I love that you can hear me," he shouted, taking advantage of the remoteness of my room.
Can you hear me?
The thought thrust into my mind as his cock pushed and pulsed deeper inside me.
"Uh huh." I gripped the bedspread in my fists and arched my back.
You still haven't said yes.
"Don't stop," I begged.
He plowed into me faster. The slick slap of our coupling mingled with our moans.
"Yes." My affirmation burst forward in a frantic, hedonistic yelp.
Yes to me. Forever. Say it.
No please this time. Only a dominating command that I had no will or desire to deny him.
"Yes," I rasped.
Say my name.
My mind and body snapped at the seams. He thrust again, losing himself in his own pleasure. We collapsed in a gratified heap.
"Are you happy now?" I laughed, comforted by the weight of him.
"Hmm," he nuzzled his face in the back of my neck. "I'll take it."