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“How do you feel?”

I smooth my shaky palms down my black dress. “Like I’m going to puke.”

Louise laughs and gives my shoulder a squeeze. “That’s totally normal. But you have nothing to be nervous about. The gallery looks amazing. The art pieces you’ve chosen are perfect. You’ve worked hard these last several months to get everything ready for tonight.”

I have busted my ass to make sure the gallery was ready for tonight’s grand opening. I’ve gone over everything a hundred times, ensuring there isn’t a single thing I’ve left out.

I just can’t believe this is happening.

“Thank you for all your help.” My eyes bounce around the room. “I really enjoyed working with you.”

“I’d love to continue working with you. I think this gallery is going to do great.” Louise smiles as she glances over my shoulder. “It looks like you have it all. The career. The man. The kid.”

I follow her gaze and lock eyes with Alexander, who’s watching me from across the room with Giuliana in his arms.

“I do have it all.” I shake my head in disbelief. “I don’t know how, but I do.”

“Cherish it.” Louise offers me a sad smile. “It doesn’t happen for many of us.”

I didn’t think it would happen for me. If I’d never agreed to fake marry Alexander, I’d still be stuck at Carter’s gallery. A shiver runs through me, shaking me to my core. I often wonder how he’s doing in jail. If he regrets the choices he made. If he feels remorse. If he’ll be any different when he gets out.

I block out the thoughts of my old life and return my attention to Louise. “It could still happen for you. Trust me, I never thought this would be my life. I was not this person you see before I met Alexander.”

“You were.” Alexander’s hands slide around my waist as he steps behind me. “You just didn’t know it.”

Louise places her hand over her heart. “You two give me hope.”

“Do you mind if I steal my wife for a minute?” he asks.

“Of course not, go.” Louise waves us off.

“There’s champagne over there!” I yell as she walks toward the back of the gallery.

Alexander tugs my hand toward the corner near the entrance, and he points up at the painting on the wall. “This is unbelievable.”

My cheeks heat as I blink up at my finished painting. “You think so?”

“I know so.” His brown eyes bounce around the canvas as he shakes his head. “You are so unbelievably talented.”

Pride swells in my chest. I worked on that painting for months, trying to make sure it was just right before letting Alexander see it tonight. When we were in Greece, I snapped a photo of Giuliana standing on the balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea. The colors of the water, mixed with the sunset in the sky, and her bouncy curls blowing in the breeze made for a stunning picture.

Giuliana runs up to us and tugs on my hand. “Hey, that’s me.”

I bend down and lift her into my arms. “It is you. So pretty.”

She squishes my cheeks together, making my lips pucker like a fish. “You’re so pretty.”

“Watch her makeup,” Alexander warns, flashing me an apologetic grimace.

Giuliana lifts her hands up like a thief who’s been caught. “Oops. Sorry.”

“That’s okay.” I smack my lips against her cheek, leaving an outline of red lipstick on her creamy face. “You want to help me cut the ribbon?”

She gasps as her brown eyes widen. “Yes!”

She wriggles out of my grasp and bolts over to McKinley and Trenton. “Uncle Mac! Uncle Trent! I’m going to cut the ribbon!”

I grin as I watch her. “She gets so excited over the smallest things.”

Alexander spins me around and pulls me flush against him. “She really makes you appreciate everything.”

“I appreciate you.” My fingers weave through his hair at the back of his neck. “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“You could’ve. I just helped you a little.”

“A little?” I arch a brow. “I forgot you have hockey player money. Our idea of a little is very different.”

“We have hockey player money. What’s mine is yours. You’re my wife, remember?”

I smirk. “I remember.”

“Look at this.” He waves his arm around the room. “This is all you. Your vision. Your dream. I’m simply an investor. So, tonight, make sure you take the time to pat yourself on the back for what you’ve done here, and celebrate the woman you are. Because I’ll certainly be celebrating you.”

“Oh, yeah?” I slide my hands down along his muscular arms. “I think I like the sound of that.”

He grins as his head dips down, and he runs his lips along the side of my neck. “I bet you do.”

Goosebumps fly along my skin as his teeth graze my earlobe. “You think anyone will miss us if we slip into my office for a few minutes?”

“Considering you’re the woman of the hour, yes, I think they’d miss us.” His laugh is low and raspy. “Plus, I’m going to need more than just a few minutes to worship you tonight.”novelbin

My thighs clench in anticipation.

He lifts his wrist and glances at his watch. “I think it’s time we get started.”

I suck in a deep breath and straighten my dress as we break apart.

I walk over to where Giuliana is standing with our friends, and hold out my hand for her. “You ready, kid?”

“Ready, Mommy.”

Alexander

One year later

“You remember the plan, right, Giuls?”

My girl nods fervently. “After you exchange the rings, I read the letter to Aarya.”

I hold up my palm and she smacks hers against it. “How are you feeling?”

“Excited.” She grins wide, revealing her missing bottom tooth. “And you should be excited too, because I saw her dress and she looks better than a princess.”

“You know who looks like a princess?” I scoop her up into my arms and spin her around. “You.”

She squeals until I set her shoes on the floor again. “Daddy, you can’t pick me up like that anymore. I’m too big.”

My eyebrows shoot up. “You’re too big for your dad to pick you up?”

She nods with wide eyes. “I’m five now. Things are different.”

I swallow down the laughter climbing up my throat, wanting her to know I hear her and I’m taking her seriously. “Am I allowed to hug you, then?”

She thinks on it for a second, and then she hikes a shoulder. “Sure.”

I kneel down in front of her and clasp her hands. “You look absolutely beautiful, baby girl. I am so proud of you, and I’m constantly impressed by your bravery.”

“I’m brave?”

“Absolutely.” I coil one of her curls around my index finger. “You say what’s on your mind, and you ask questions. You’re so smart and so capable. You can do anything.”

A small smile tugs on her glossed lips, and I hope she always remembers my words.

Cassidy knocks on the doorframe. “We need to steal the flower girl.”

“It’s my time to shine!” Giuliana darts across the room, the tulle on her white dress bouncing around her as she runs.

I chuckle. “See you out there.”

She glances at me over her shoulder and waves. “Bye, Daddy!”

Tears prick my eyes as I watch her follow Cassidy down the hall.

“She’s growing up way too fast,” McKinley says with a heavy sigh.

I arch a brow. “Even more so when you keep teaching her all these grown-up phrases.”

He holds up his hands on either side of his head, feigning innocence. “Hey, man. This is a happy day. Let’s not talk about it.”

I grunt.

“Come on.” He claps me on the back. “Let’s go get you married—again.”

Trenton and Jason are waiting for us outside on the veranda with the rest of our friends. It’s a warm July day in Tuscany, and the sun streams across the courtyard of the villa I used to play in as a child. Today, Giuliana gets to create her own memories here.

The warm breeze rustles the leaves on the tall tree beside the garden my mother used to spend her time in, while my father looked on from the bench swing hanging from the branch. I can feel my parents all over this place, and it serves as a reminder that they’re still with me.

I take my spot under the archway, alongside McKinley—who convinced us to let him officiate our ceremony, God help us all—and the music begins to play.

Cassidy, Celeste, and Kourtney each walk down the aisle, taking the spot mirroring their husbands standing behind me.

Even though we’re already married, my stomach clenches in anticipation as I await Aarya’s walk down the aisle, just as it did when I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me—again—last summer. I wanted to do all of this for real, instead of acting under false pretenses. That was what brought us together, but this is a decision to love each other from the bottom of our hearts until death do us part.

Giuliana sprinkles white rose petals down the aisle, her big brown eyes on me as she skips down the aisle. I kneel down to hug her when she reaches me, and then stand and clasp her hand as we wait for Aarya.

Aarya asked Annie to walk her down the aisle. She said she didn’t have parents who were worthy of performing the honor, and that Annie deserves to give her away. Annie cried, of course, and hugged her—and Aarya hugged her back.

I knew we’d break down her no hugging rule eventually.

The music changes, and I suck in a sharp breath as Aarya emerges from the villa, her elbow linked with Annie’s.

Emotion strangles me, constricting my lungs and burning my eyes. I blink to clear my vision as Aarya floats down the aisle in a white floor-length gown, the strapless lace bodice hugging her voluptuous figure and giving way to a flowy tulle skirt that matches Giuliana’s.

My God, she is the most exquisite human I’ve ever laid eyes on.

And she’s walking toward me.

To marry me.

She loves me so much she’s marrying me twice.

I don’t know what I did to deserve her, but I’ll do it every day for the rest of my life to ensure that I keep her.

Annie places Aarya’s hand in mine when they stop before me, and sandwiches our joined hands between her own as she suppresses a sob. “I love you both so much.”

I wrap Annie in a tight hug, whispering, “Thank you for everything,” in her ear before we break apart and she takes her seat.

Aarya reaches up and thumbs away a tear from my cheek. “Hi, Big Man.”

I lean into her touch. “Hey, spitfire.”

She holds out her fist. “Good job on the flowers, kid.”

Giuliana beams as she bumps her fist with hers.

McKinley rubs his palms together and then opens his arms out wide. “We’re gathered here today to bear witness to the union of these two beautiful humans. I was already the witness to their first nuptials, so I think we all know who the favorite friend is here.”

Trenton and Jason roll their eyes while the crowd chuckles.

“But today, we’re witnessing more than just a ceremony. We’re witnessing the creation of a family. We’ve all seen Alexander raise his little girl on his own, and what an amazing person she is growing into.” He reaches down and ruffles Giuliana’s curls. “But Aarya came in and stepped into their family as if she belonged there—as if there was an empty space waiting for her to fill it.”

To my surprise, McKinley wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that my best friend has someone looking out for him and his daughter the way you have.”

Aarya swallows as she blinks back tears, nodding to McKinley.

He gestures to me, letting me know it’s time for my vows. I clear my throat, and clutch Giuliana’s hand in my left hand while clasping Aarya’s in my right.

“I knew I wanted you from the moment I laid eyes on you, but I didn’t think I could have you. You were a skittish black cat, and I was the overeager dog. We came from different worlds, with different beliefs. Yet we fit together so perfectly, finding in each other the very things we were both missing. Love. Trust. Companionship.” I swallow past the thick ball of emotion in my throat. “Watching you with my daughter has brought me more joy than I ever thought imaginable. I always dreamed of being in this very spot with Giuliana, in the place I grew up, with a woman who loves us. You’ve made my dream come true. You settle my soul. And I promise to spend the rest of my days making sure you know how loved you are.”

I lift her hand to my lips and press a kiss to her knuckles.

Aarya’s eyes brim with unshed tears, and her lips part as she releases a breath. “It’s no secret to anyone here that I wasn’t looking for you when I found you. I kept pushing you away, convinced that I didn’t want the things you stood for. But it turns out, I needed every single thing you offered me, and I was just too fu—” her eyes flick to Giuliana for a moment, “messed up to realize it. You’ve given me a life I never knew I could have, and I’ll be eternally grateful for you for being so patient with me while I figured it out.” She squeezes my hand. “You taught me the meaning of love. You and your amazing daughter, and I love our little family so much.”

I nudge Giuliana, and right on cue, she pulls out a folded piece of paper from her now-empty basket. “Daddy told me I could say something, so I’ve been practicing.”

She reaches up and hands Aarya the picture she drew while I was in a coma last year, the same one with the word MOMMY under Aarya’s stick figure that I had tattooed on my ribs.

Aarya smiles as she gazes down at it.

“Daddy asked you to be his wife.” Giuliana looks up at her with those big brown eyes of hers. “So, now I’m going to ask you: Will you be my mommy?”

Aarya’s eyes fly to mine before she drops down to her knees in front of my daughter. “You want me to adopt you?”

Giuliana nods and then throws her arms around Aarya’s neck. The dam breaks and Aarya’s tears overflow. We’ve discussed it several times, long after Giuliana had fallen asleep, while we snuggled together in bed. Aarya wanted to adopt Giuliana, but she wanted to make sure it was something Giuliana wanted to make official. She didn’t want to give her the wrong impression and make her think she needs a mother. Every family is different, and our blended one has been getting along just fine.

But being able to call Aarya her mother is something Giuliana has wanted for quite a while.

I bend down and wrap my arms around my girls, holding them as we all cry.

Until Aarya pulls away and turns around, looking to Cassidy behind her. Cassidy reaches into her bouquet and pulls out a long white stick, and hands it to Aarya.

Aarya sniffles and her eyes return to me. “I guess this is the perfect time to tell you both.” She holds out the white stick in front of Giuliana, with the word PREGNANT in the middle of the digital screen. “You’re going to be a big sister.”

Giuliana looks from me to Aarya with wide eyes, her little lips forming an O shape.

Then she rips the stick out of Aarya’s hand and holds it over her head as she shouts, “Hell yes!”

And I can’t even find it in myself to glare at McKinley for teaching my daughter that phrase, because I’m too overcome with shock and joy.

I clutch Aarya’s face and pull her in for a kiss. “We’re having a baby?”

She nods, more tears streaming down her cheeks. “That’s the only plausible reason for all these damn tears.”

I chuckle, and pull her in for another kiss as my own tears free-fall from my eyes. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe it. We’re having a baby.”

“I know it’s a little sooner than we’d hoped for, and I know it’s inconvenient because the gallery just got off the ground, but⁠—”

“But nothing. Aarya, I’m so fucking happy.”

A baby. We’re having a baby.

Our friends surround us to congratulate us, and Giuliana starts rattling off baby names, and plans of where the baby will sleep, and all the things she wants to show the baby when he or she comes. cᴏᴍᴇnᴏᴠᴇʟ.cᴏᴍ

McKinley cups his mouth with his hands. “All right, settle down everyone. We have one more part left, and then we can party.”

Everyone takes their seats, and Aarya and I clasp hands as we face each other.

“By the power vested in me,” McKinley announces, “I now pronounce you husband and wife—and mommy, and big sister. Alexander, you lucky bastard, you may kiss the bride.”

I grip Aarya’s face and kiss her with all the love and devotion in my soul. And then I lift Giuliana in my arms—because she’s never going to be too big for me to carry her, no matter what she says—and we sandwich her between us while we kiss her cheeks.

The familiar tune of Brown Eyed Girl starts playing through the speaker I set up earlier, and I close my eyes as I hold my own brown-eyed girls in my arms.

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