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Seduced, Page 26

Melody Anne

  Rafe placed a sparkling diamond on her finger, the candlelight reflecting bursts of color in every direction. Yes, the ring was gorgeous, but only one thing, one thing alone, could keep her attention for long. Only the look in Rafe’s eyes.

  With a laugh filled with joy, Rafe stood and swept Ari into his arms, spinning her in a circle as she registered the sound of applause.

  When he set her back down, she looked around, seeing their friends and family approaching them with large congratulatory grins and nodding in approval.

  “Now, what would you have done if I had turned you down in front of all these people?” she asked with a laugh.

  “I would have deserved the humiliation,” he answered.

  Rafe kissed her with so much love, she felt she would burst. Then they were surrounded, and Ari accepted congratulations from those she had loved her whole life, and from those who had recently become a part of her life.

  How he’d managed to keep this all from her, she had no idea, but knowing that she’d get to fall asleep every night in his arms and wake every morning in the same place filled her with so much joy, she couldn’t keep the wide smile from her face.

  When there was a pause in the hugs, her head lifted and Rafe’s gaze captured hers. He simply smiled back at her and Ari lost her breath. For the rest of their lives, he was hers.

  Chapter Forty-Two

  “This has got to be the world’s shortest engagement,” Ari said as Lia and Rachel danced in circles around her.

  “What can we say? When Rafe decides on something, he goes forward at the speed of light,” Rachel said with a forced laugh.

  “Well, I expected it to last longer than two weeks, but I am excited to marry him. I really am,” Ari told them as she tried on another gown.

  Rafe had wanted one made, but Ari insisted that part of the fun of picking a wedding dress was to try on a hundred until she found the one that she couldn’t live without, so she was at the bridal shop with her mother, Lia and Rachel.

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  The girls had already found their bridesmaids’ gowns, and her mother picked out the perfect mother-of-the-bride gown. Now, Ari just had to find her own.

  “Oh, Ari, that’s the one!” Lia gasped as she gazed at her in awe.

  As Ari turned around, she was reluctant to look in the mirror, sure she would hate what she was trying on now. None of them had been what she wanted, but she couldn’t say what she wanted exactly, because she just didn’t know. When she found the dress, she figured there would be no hesitation.

  As she slowly spun around and looked up, her breath caught. Yes, this was the one. It had a flattering cut to the top that made it modest, yet showed off her shoulders and neck, allowing her to wear jewelry. The entire gown had intricate beading that formed small flowers from the neckline all the way through the flowing skirt. Hugging her tightly on top, the gown then flared at her hips, flowing down her legs, and easily fluttering as she turned in circles on the big stage she was standing on.

  She swished her hips, making the silky fabric swish and the beads sparkle in the bright lights of the bridal shop. There was a lot of fabric, but it was so light that she didn’t feel weighed down.

  “Try this, darling,” Sandra said as she came up behind Ari and placed a simple tiara on her head with a delicate veil that hung down her back.

  “Yes, I agree, baby. This is the dress,” Sandra said, her eyes filling with tears.

  “Are you sure, Mom?”

  “Very sure, Ari. You look like a royal princess. ”

  “I feel like one, Mom. This is all so unreal. Do you think we are moving too fast?” That was Ari’s biggest concern.

  “If I thought you were making a mistake, I would tell you, Ari. You know that. I would never want you to be unhappy, not for any reason. You deserve the moon and stars, and I think Rafe will give them to you. ”

  Sandra stood beside her daughter, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. Ari wrapped her arms around her mother, thankful still to have her in her life. If the car wreck or the cancer had taken her mom from her, Ari had no idea what she’d be doing now. How did anyone survive the loss of one so dear?

  She was strong enough now to make it through anything, but she hadn’t been ready to let her mother go two years ago. She still wasn’t ready, but few children ever were, no matter how young or old their parents were.

  Lia and Rachel had stepped from the room to let the mother and daughter talk, but as the tailor walked in, they followed him, and they oohed and aahed some more while he put in the proper marks and promised to have the alterations ready in one week, just a few days before the wedding.

  “OK. Now we have the dress and shoes. It’s time to get the lingerie!” Lia said with a wicked smile.

  Ari blushed as she looked toward her mother.

  “I think I will leave you young women to do this part,” Sandra said. She kissed Ari’s cheek again, then gathered up her purse.

  “You don’t have to leave, Mom. We can shop for other things,” Ari said, not wanting to make her mother feel unwelcome.

  “I have a date with Marco tonight. I need to go and get ready,” Sandra said with a smile.

  “I’m so happy that he treats you well, Mom. Since you have been dating, you have a glow to your cheeks. When do you think I’ll be attending your wedding?”

  Sandra blushed and looked down. But then lifting her chin with a shy confidence, she smiled. “I think he may ask me very soon. He’s been hinting a lot lately. ”

  “We could always have a double wedding,” Ari teased.

  “Not on your life, Ari. Besides, I’m too old to have a big to-do if we do get married. It will probably just be the two of us in front of the justice of the peace,” she said.

  “That won’t happen, Mama. You never got your dream wedding, and you deserve it just as much as I do,” Ari said.

  “Well, you just quit worrying about it, Ari. Your special day is in only ten days. We will focus on me later. I had to hire some help to complete all the flowers. Your future husband has insisted on a lot of arrangements. ”

  “I should never have let him be in charge of flowers. I thought it was so romantic when he asked me if he could,” Ari said with a sigh. She was thrilled he’d asked her mom to do all the arrangements, though. It would be good for Sandra’s business, since a lot of Rafe’s contacts would be at their wedding.

  The event was going to be far larger than Ari had ever envisioned, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that at the end of the night he would be her husband, and she his wife.

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  “You girls have a good time. I’m going to go and see my sweetie now,” Sandra said, and she left.

  “I love your mom, Ari. She’s a beautiful woman, inside and out,” Lia said while helping Ari get out of her dress.

  “Yes, she is pretty spectacular,” Ari remarked. She knew that some people didn’t have such a great relationship with their mom. It was just one more thing she was thankful for.

  She began fiddling with the buttons on her dress, but she didn’t really want to take it off. Maybe she’d wear it for a week straight after the wedding. The thought made her giggle. But soon, it was being pulled off her, and she sighed as she began dressing in her street clothes.

  “I feel kind of sad without the dress now,” she moaned as the tailor took it away.

  “You will get to wear it all day long in just over a week,” Rachel told her.

  “What’s the matter, Rachel? You have seemed upset for most of the day,” Ari asked, surprised when her friend blushed and looked down at her feet.

  “There’s nothing the matter. Besides, this isn’t about me. The whole week is all about you, Ari,” she said, a false smile on her face.

  “We aren’t leaving here until you tell us what’s wrong,” Ari insisted. Throwing on the rest of her clothes very q
uickly, she moved to the couch Rachel was sitting on.

  “What is it, Sis?” Lia asked. “Ari’s right. You’ve seemed depressed all day. I didn’t want to say anything, but since Ari’s brought it up…”

  “I shouldn’t talk about this right now,” Rachel said slowly, but they could see that she really wanted to.

  “Please, Rachel. I can’t enjoy my day if I know something is upsetting you. You’ve become one of my best friends — and soon you’ll be my sister-in-law,” Ari said, leaning over and gave her a hug.

  Tears filled Rachel’s eyes and spilled over, shocking both Ari and Lia. She wasn’t one to cry so easily.

  “These flipping hormones are driving me nuts. Fine. I can’t hold it in any longer, but please don’t say anything to Rafe or our parents until after the wedding,” Rachel said earnestly.

  “You know that you can trust us,” Lia said. Ari nodded her agreement.

  “I’m pregnant. ” Rachel didn’t work into it, give them time to absorb it, she just spit it out and waited for their reaction.

  Ari was the first to say something, since Lia was sitting there with her mouth gaping open.

  “I…uh…didn’t know you were seeing anyone. ”

  “I’m not,” Rachel wailed, and Lia and Ari looked at each other with surprise and confusion.

  “Well, it pretty much takes two people, Sis,” Lia said with a gentle smile.

  “Sheesh. I know that, Lia. I had a weeklong affair with a man in Florida. It was perfect. He was perfect. Oh, my gosh, was he ever perfect! We didn’t even give each other last names, just spent the week in bed, making smoking-hot love,” Rachel said, her eyes dilating as she spoke about it.

  “And you weren’t careful?” Lia gasped.

  “Of course I was careful, Lia. We used protection every single time. One of them just must have failed. Either that, or he has some freaking smart sperm that managed to make a break for it and swam upstream. ”

  “So you don’t know how to get ahold of him?” Ari asked, fighting a grin that wanted to break forth at Rachel’s choice of words.

  “Well, that’s the other thing…” Rachel said, with obvious reluctance.

  “What’s the other thing?” Lia demanded.

  “Well, apparently, he figured out who I was and he had some of his men keeping an eye out just in case a pregnancy did happen. He showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago. ”

  “There is so much wrong with that statement that I can’t even figure out where to begin,” Lia gasped in outrage. “He had men watching you?”

  “Yeah, I wasn’t happy about that, either. They must be really sneaky because I had no clue whatsoever,” Rachel told them, irritation in her voice. “One of them, it turned out, was a co-worker at the embassy, hired by the guy with the wonder sperm. ”

  “Does he want to be a dad?” Ari asked.

  “Well, not exactly. He didn’t want an unplanned pregnancy, but he insists on being a dad,” Rachel told them.

  “So, what are you going to do?”

  “Well, I’m not going to marry him like he demanded I do!” Rachel said, with the color that had washed from her face now suffusing her cheeks in her temper.

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  “He insisted you marry him?” Lia asked.

  “You sound like a parrot, Lia. Quit repeating everything back to me. Yes. He showed up at my door, told me I was carrying the royal heir and that I had to marry him. ”

  At those words, both Lia and Ari just stared at her. Since Lia didn’t want to repeat herself, it was time for Ari to step in after a short pause.

  “Did you just say royal heir?”

  “Yeah, apparently my one-week stand ended up being King Adriano of Corythia, and I’m carrying the royal heir,” she said, her words thick with sarcasm.

  “What if it’s not a boy?” Ari asked.

  Lia and Rachel both turned to her in surprise. Of all the questions, that one wasn’t at the top of their list.

  “I don’t know. There’s the queen of England, and the law of succession in England was just changed to designate the first child, male or female, as heir to the throne. Maybe girls can be queen there, too, or maybe she’d only be a princess, not Corythia’s head of state. I don’t know. He said future heir. The guy is arrogant and demanding. Maybe he’s so pompous, he thinks he will only produce boys,” Rachel said as she shrugged. “No blanks from King Smart Sperm the First. ”

  Several moments passed in which none of them said a word. Finally, Ari broke the silence.

  “And I thought I had problems. ”

  Her words made both Lia and Rachel turn toward her. Suddenly the entire situation just seemed so absurd that the women burst out laughing. Five minutes later, when a clerk came to check on them, they were still guffawing noisily. The woman sneaked back out, assuming it was normal pre-wedding jitters.

  “Well, Rachel, I will say this much. You know how to take away the nerves. I’m not even worried about the wedding anymore. I’m too busy trying to figure out what you are going to do next,” Ari said.

  “I have no idea, Ari. I really don’t. I know I’m not getting married to that stuffy, self-important, arrogant, lying sack of sh—”

  “Careful, Sis. You are speaking about a king,” Lia interrupted with a laugh.

  “Yeah, yeah. Get the jokes out of the way. And get ready to curtsy, because in about six and a half months, I’ll be making you babysit,” Rachel said.

  “Oh, no. I know nothing about babies,” Lia said with horror as she gazed down at Rachel’s stomach.

  “Well, I don’t know anything either. I’m the baby of the family, remember?” Rachel said.

  “Well, we’ll all just have to figure it out together,” Ari said.

  “Please don’t say anything to Rafe. Not yet. ”

  “I promised I wouldn’t. Besides, I want to be far away when you tell him,” Ari said. Rafe was probably going to explode.

  “Me, too. I think I’ll call him while you’re on your honeymoon, hopefully halfway around the planet. ”

  “You wouldn’t dare!” Ari gasped.

  “You’re right. I wouldn’t do that to you. I may just chicken out and let my parents tell him, though. He scares me a lot more than Dad. I’m afraid he’ll hunt the guy down and kick his ass or worse for daring to touch his baby sister. ”

  “Yeah, I think he wanted us to be nuns,” Lia said. “The thought of us ha**ng s*x is just too much for him to handle. He even wanted to kill Shane. ”

  “You’re forgetting about the bigger picture, Rachel,” Ari said, looking at her fondly.

  “What’s that?” Rachel waited for enlightenment.

  “You’re going to have this amazing little bundle in about seven months. This perfect child that you created. You’re going to be a mother,” Ari told her as she reached out and placed her hand on Rachel’s stomach.

  “I’m going to be an auntie,” Lia gasped — the full knowledge was just hitting her.

  “Yeah. I guess I’ve been so scared and dealing with this all on my own and haven’t had time to really think about it. It’s weird to think I’ll be a mother. When I think of moms, I think of ours, not of myself,” she said in awe as she placed her hand on her stomach, next to Ari’s.

  The women were silent as they thought about the near future, when a new baby would join the family.

  “All right, we have to get moving,” Rachel said. “I appreciate that you both listened to me, and you’ve both made me feel much better, but enough talk about all of this. Today is Ari’s day. ” She reached out and hugged them both, another tear falling. “Seriously, I hate these hormones,” she grumbled, and she released the girls.

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  “They’re only going to get worse,” Lia warned her sister.

  The three women walked from the bridal shop, arm in arm. Together they would get through this. T
hey would welcome the new baby and they would be there for each other. This was a new beginning.

  Chapter Forty-Three


  “I can’t believe my brother is getting married in just two days,” Lia said as she lay in Shane’s arms.

  “I know. It’s strange how things are changing,” Shane replied, his fingertips gently trailing over her back. He had to tell her what was happening. He was leaving the day after the wedding. He had to let her know. With this mission, he wasn’t sure when — or if — he would be back again.

  It wasn’t fair to keep her in the dark.

  “I’d be happy to just lie here with you all day and night. I am looking forward to going back to the project. It’s been nice to be home, but I’ve gotten used to it over there. I won’t mind going back to our island for a while,” she said.

  Guilt was now eating him alive.

  “There’s something I have to talk to you about, Lia,” he began.

  “What is it? You sound worried,” she murmured, her voice sleepy as she rubbed her hand along his chest. The touch of her fingers was mesmerizing him. He wanted nothing more than to just drift off to sleep with Lia by his side, but he had to say something.

  Tomorrow was Rafe’s bachelor party and then the wedding. He couldn’t put this off any longer.

  “I won’t be going back to the island for a few weeks. I have another task I have to do. ”

  She paused in rubbing his chest, and he was sorely tempted to end the conversation, have her stay relaxed in his arms while they held each other.

  “Why?” she asked. She tilted her head, looking at him in the pale bedroom light.

  “I can’t explain, but I’m going to be gone on a task,” he said, suspecting his answer wouldn’t be good enough.

  As she stiffened in his arms, he knew he was right. This would just feel to her as if he were dumping her. That wasn’t it. For the first time since he’d been recruited for a special-operations agency, he hated his job — hated that he couldn’t tell her the truth.

  “I don’t understand. ”

  How could she understand?

  “Do you remember when I was younger? I did my tour with the army,” he began.

  “Yes, but that was a long time ago. You served your time and quit,” she said, her voice confused.

  “Not exactly. I’m part of a team — I’m still in the military, but I can’t talk about it,” he said, almost loathing himself in this moment.