‘I never thought I’d see us at a wedding for one of our own,’ Zayed mused, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘I still can’t believe Rocco’s got married. I mean...married?’

 ‘Who would have thought he’d fall in love?’ Stefan said with the same incredulous tone.


 Christian grunted and caught the barman’s attention for another round.

 Call him cynical, but he couldn’t help wonder how long it would be before the love they felt for each other turned into something ugly. Because that was what marriage did—turned two people full of hope and love into bitter caricatures of themselves.

 Much safer for everyone’s sake to avoid emotional entanglement. Christian conducted his own affairs by enjoying the moment and then moving on with the minimum of fuss. He had known before he was in double figures that marriage was not for him.

 Zayed swivelled on his stool to cast his eyes over the ballroom. ‘There are some hot women here.’

 Stefan grinned. ‘I noticed that lingerie model giving you the eye.’

 ‘I thought she was an actress?’

 ‘No, that was the other one.’

 ‘I tell you who knocks spots off all these women,’ Zayed said. ‘Alessandra.’

 Christian snapped his head round to stare at him. ‘Don’t even think about it.’

 Zayed raised his hands. ‘I’m just making an observation.’

 ‘Well, don’t.’

 ‘Man, you know I wouldn’t go there. I’d never do that to Rocco— Where are you going?’ he added when Christian got up from his stool and made to leave.

 ‘To get some air.’

 ‘You not feeling well?’ Stefan was looking at him closely.

 ‘It’s been a busy time. I’m probably jet-lagged. Get another round in—I’ll be back in a few minutes.’

 Instead of going outside, Christian went to the restroom and splashed cold water on his face.

 He’d been a paper thickness away from punching Zayed.

 Theos, he needed to get a grip on himself.

 This was his guilt and his problem. No one else’s.

 Back in the ballroom his eyes automatically sought Alessandra out. As he found her, she turned her head in his direction, as if some sixth sense told her he was there. Quickly she turned away.

 He thought he was doing a good job of hiding his guilt-ridden inner turmoil. After that one close call of almost punching one of his oldest and closest friends for an innocuous remark, he joined in with the celebration they were there for, drinking, laughing and horsing about, being the same old Christian he always was when with them.

 Except, every time he looked, he found Alessandra’s gaze upon him. Their eyes would meet for a fraction of a second before jerking away. She certainly seemed to be enjoying herself, though, dancing with anyone who cared to ask, at one point stealing Olivia from Rocco and waltzing her around the floor to screams of delight.

 Only when the bride and groom, their hands clenched tightly together, left to head off to their secret honeymoon destination did Christian determine his duty to have been done.

 Exchanging bear hugs with Zayed and Stefan, who called him every laughably demeaning name under the sun for retiring to bed so early, he strode out of the ballroom, unable to resist one last glance at Alessandra. For once, she wasn’t looking at him.

 He was about to climb the stairs to the sleeping quarters when he heard his name called.

 Stefan approached him and pulled him into another embrace. ‘You are playing with fire, my friend,’ he said into his ear.

 ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

 ‘Sure you do.’ He pulled back a little and brought his hands up to Christian’s face, slapping both his cheeks lightly. ‘You have to end it. Now.’

 Christian’s chest compressed. He couldn’t lie to his friend. ‘It was over before it started.’

 ‘Good. Keep it that way. For all our sakes.’

 * * *

 Alessandra took a deep breath and knocked on the door. The party was still going strong, a DJ having replaced the band, music pounding through the walls. There were revellers all over the villa but thankfully this wing was quiet and devoid of people.

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