He looked for a sign of apprehension but none was there. Her beautiful honey-brown eyes, artfully made-up, were clear. Remarkably clear.

 He reached out a hand, and as she took it he caught Rocco’s eye. The look he gave said: she’s all yours now. Hurt her and you will spend the rest of your life paying for it.

 He’d never understood the full weight of what ‘giving the bride away’ meant until that moment.

 From here on in, the role of her protector passed to him, an antiquated sentiment, but one he felt keenly.

 Alessandra would never be his possession but for good or for ill they would be bound together.

 The service was anticipated to last around an hour. For the congregation, it no doubt dragged. For Christian, time accelerated, the moment to exchanging their vows speeding up until it was time for them to make their promises to each other—not a requirement of the church but something they had agreed upon between themselves for the benefit of their guests.

 He said his first, then Alessandra recited hers, her husky voice true and strong, her Greek practised and flawless. The look in her eyes, fixed on his, was full of meaning. It was a sight that made his chest feel as if a weight had been placed inside him, squeezing down.

 There was no time to consider it as now was the time for what was, to many Greeks, the most important part of the ceremony: the crowning. The priest blessed the two floral-wreath crowns, then Zayed took the lead, passing the crowns back and forth over them three times before carefully placing them on their heads.

 Finally they were done.

 It was time to kiss the bride.

 He searched again for her apprehension. It was still missing, a smile playing in the corner of her delicious lips. Lips he hadn’t felt upon his since the night they had conceived the child that grew in her belly. Lips he’d spent the past couple of months dreaming of.

 Swallowing away the lump in his throat, he placed a hand to her still-slender hip and leaned down. Her small hand reached up to rest on his lapel.

 He closed his eyes and pressed his lips to hers, just the breath of a kiss, but enough for the softest mouth he’d ever known to reawaken more memories of their night together and make his pulses race.

 When the kiss ended, the congregation, no doubt led by Mikolaj, burst into applause. Alessandra grinned, her whole face smiling, her happiness transparent. She placed a hand on his shoulder and straightened to whisper into his ear, ‘Thank you.’

 He knew without her having to explain that she was talking about Rocco.

 ‘Thank you,’ he whispered back.

 She’d brought Mikolaj to their wedding. Christian hadn’t thought he wanted him there, thought he hadn’t wanted any associations with his past. He hadn’t appreciated how much it would mean. He’d thought having Stefan and Zayed there would be enough but, no matter how close they all were, Mikolaj had been there his entire life. He was family. Knowing he and Tanya were there to witness it all warmed him right down to his toes.

 A sharp pang of regret rent him that his mother wasn’t there to witness this day too. But, unlike Mikolaj, his mother would have taken no joy from it. The opposite, in fact.

 One look at Mikolaj’s beaming, proud face showed how much being there meant to him.

 Alessandra had done that for him. Before he could consider what that actually meant, she kissed him, a kiss containing more than a hint of promise. That promise was reflected in her sparkling eyes.

 The coldness that had remained within him since their visit to his mother suddenly lifted, pushed out by the desire this beautiful woman—his bride—elicited in him.

 For a moment he was tempted to say, to hell with the reception, and whisk her straight off to his suite.

 A knowing look played on her beautiful features, a look that said just a few more hours and I will be yours.

 And she would be—his. Every inch of her.

 * * *

 A short time later they left the chapel, officially husband and wife.

 Most of the non-Greek guests had brought confetti to throw over them, but Mikolaj and Tanya had come prepared, handing out paper cups full of rice to throw, as was the proper tradition in Greece.

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