Think of Rocco, he ordered himself, staring at his loved-up friend who was locked in the arms of his equally loved-up wife. Rocco caught his eye and nodded briefly before leaning down to kiss his bride.

 That one action felt like a knife in Christian’s guts.


 What would his friend say if he knew his best man had taken his sister’s virginity?

 The all-consuming desire he’d felt that night still dwelled in his blood. One night was all he usually needed, all he wanted. Once a woman had been enjoyed, there were no more mysteries to discover, no need for a repeat.

 His skin felt as if it were dancing its own tune, his body out of kilter with what his head demanded.

 He followed the words of the song they were dancing to, counting down the time to when the obligatory dance would be over. From the stiffness in Alessandra’s stance, she was counting down the time too.

 When the song finally came to an end and he made to pull away, she tilted her head to look at him, her doe-like eyes staring at him. Theos, she was so beautiful, those striking eyes set above a snub nose framed by slanting cheekbones. Her delicious plump lips parted. ‘Christian, I...’

 Whatever she was going to say was cut short when Zayed tapped her on the shoulder and threw Christian a conspiratorial wink. ‘I do believe it’s my turn to dance with the beautiful lady,’ he said in a voice loud enough for Rocco to hear.

 The groom turned his head towards the raised voice, his eyes narrowing before he broke into a wide grin.

 It clearly didn’t cross his mind that any of his friends would dream of doing anything with the sister he was so protective of.

 Sickened with himself, Christian stepped back and forced a smile, mock-bowing. ‘She’s all yours.’

 He waited for Alessandra to make a good-natured but cutting retort about not being anyone’s property, but her eyes were stark on his face, a fleeting look of panic flashing over her which she quickly covered. But not quickly enough.

 The ballroom of Villa Mondelli had enough waiting staff not to let any guest go thirsty for longer than thirty seconds but Christian wanted to get away from the hubbub of the mingling guests and headed to the bar.

 After a shot of bourbon, he turned his head to see her now dancing with Stefan. She looked happy to be dancing with him, he thought, taken aback at the strength of his bitterness.

 It was only natural she’d been stiff and awkward in Christian’s arms. A one-night stand hadn’t been on either of their minds when they’d set out that evening.

 He’d been her first lover.

 That, more than anything, was the thing that refused to dislodge from his mind.

 The woman who’d been vilified by the press for an affair with a married man when she’d been a teenager had been a virgin. He’d always suspected there had been more to the story than had been written but the truth had come as a cataclysmic shock.

 Whatever the truth, it was none of his business. Alessandra was none of his business. She couldn’t be.

 He took another shot to clear the bile crawling up his throat and watched Stefan place a hand to her waist. The bile almost choked him to see her laugh at something his friend said in her ear.

 Zayed appeared at his side. ‘Hiding yourself away, buddy?’

 ‘Just taking a few moments.’

 Stefan finished his dance and came over to join them. ‘What are we all drinking?’

 ‘Christian’s already on the hard stuff,’ Zayed said, indicating the empty shot glasses before them on the bar.

 Christian hardly listened. Alessandra had left the dance floor. A quick scan of the ballroom found her sitting at a table with a group of people he didn’t recognise. She was staring at him.

 Their gazes held before he pulled away and fixed a smile on his face for his friends’ benefit.

 ‘Who’s ready for a shot?’ Before either could answer, he waved at the barman to pour them a bourbon each.

 The three friends, sitting in a row at the bar, raised their glasses and chanted, ‘Memento vivere!’ ‘Remember to live,’ the motto the four friends did live by, and downed their shots.

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