Kassius stared at her, then shook his head.
“I feel differently,” he said slowly. He looked at the bare plot of land. “Destroying this house was very satisfying. Looking at it now, I’m almost tempted to spit on the ashes.”
“It won’t bring you joy,” she said in a small voice. “And it won’t bring her back.”
He looked at her sharply. For a moment, his heart was troubled. Then he steadied himself. Whatever Laney thought, he knew his plan for revenge against his father would make him happy. Very happy.
Crushing Boris Kuznetsov, taking his bankrupt business and the villa on the Cap Ferrat, would be the glory of Kassius’s life.
“I’m sorry,” Laney suddenly blurted out. Tears spilled over her lashes, and she wiped her eyes, trying to smile. “I was so angry with you. I ruined the most magical day of our lives.”
With a low laugh, he took her in his arms.
“You didn’t ruin it,” he said softly. He gently wiped a tear off her cheek. “And a wedding is just one day. We’ll have many magical days. A lifetime of them.”
She gave him a grateful, watery smile, then a weak laugh escaped her. “This explains why you love Southern food. And why I felt like home to you.” Her forehead furrowed. “So what was your name before? And how did you choose Kassius Black?”
He loved having her in his arms. He loved the way she was looking at him now. As if he were her hero again.
“When I was a child,” he said slowly, “I liked hearing stories of ancient Rome. Kassius was the name of a Roman senator who raised an army to fight tyranny.” He was also one of the conspirators who’d assassinated Julius Caesar, but he didn’t elaborate. “And Black was how I vowed my heart would be.”
Her eyes were shining. “Thank you for telling me.”
“And now I need something from you.” He looked down at her in his arms. “You know more about me now than anyone in the world. Promise you won’t ask for more.”
His gaze held her. “Promise.”
She sighed, looking sad. “All right. I promise.”
He exhaled. He hadn’t realized until then how tense he was. He felt horribly vulnerable. Exposed. But he also hadn’t felt so close to anyone in a long time.
Laney was the one person he could trust. He suddenly knew she was the one person who would never betray him.
And he would always protect her, just as he would protect his child now growing inside her.
His child. The thought filled him with awe. He rested his hand against her gently curved belly. He would never make the mistakes of his father. He would be a good husband, a good father. Once his revenge was finished, he would leave the pain of his past in the rearview mirror. He’d spend the rest of his life focused on the future, on the present, always making sure that his wife and children were comfortable and warm and safe. They’d never have a single worry or fear. Those would be his jobs alone.
He looked down at Laney, pushing back a dark tendril of her hair. “You’re my wife now. The mother of my coming child. The past is past. It’s as your grandmother said. We are family. The future is what matters now.”
“You’re right,” she whispered, and as he held her in the cooling night, she in her white dress, he in his tuxedo, their eyes met, and the air between them electrified.
“Mrs. Black,” he said huskily. Lowering his head, he kissed her, tenderly at first, then with building need. In response, she wrapped her arms around him, drawing him down tighter against her.
Suddenly, all he could think about was ripping off her wedding dress. He wanted to forget. To be reborn in her. Inside her.
“Honeymoon,” he growled, and pulled her toward the gleaming black Cadillac.
* * *
Laney felt the heat and weight of her husband’s hard muscular body, barely restrained by the civilized tuxedo, as he pushed her into the car’s backseat. The skirts of her white wedding dress plumped out like pillows as he savagely kissed her, pushing her against the smooth leather.
His fingers stroked through her chignon, causing long dark tendrils of hair to fall beneath her veil. His lips pressed against hers, causing her body to sizzle and ache from her fingertips to her toes and everywhere in between.
This was their true wedding, she thought as she kissed him. This. Where body met soul...
They barely made it to their luxury hotel, deep in the French Quarter, on famous Bourbon Street. It was lucky it wasn’t far, and traffic had abated, or they might not have made it. They might have had their wedding night in the back of the vintage car with their driver in the front seat, fiddling with the radio and pretending not to notice.
When the car stopped, Kassius pulled her through the elegant lobby of the hotel, barely responding to the cheerful greetings of the employees and manager.
She breathed, “Don’t we need to check in—”
“Everything is done.”
Not everything, she thought hungrily.
As soon as they were in the elevator, he pressed the button for the third floor then pushed her back against the mirror and kissed her hard and hot. She barely heard the ding of the elevator door. He pulled her down the elegant, dimly lit hallway, then stopped in front of the door at the end. Pulling the key from his pocket, he opened the door and turned to her. Laney gasped as he lifted her up into his arms, her full white skirts and long white veil trailing behind them.
“You’re mine now,” he whispered. “Legally mine.”
“Then you’re mine,” she murmured, twining her hands in his hair. “And I intend to use you exactly as I choose...”
Never taking his eyes from her, he carried her over the threshold. Kicking the door closed behind them, he set her down. She had only a brief glimpse of the large, elegant hotel suite and the gleaming neon lights of Bourbon Street visible through the French doors, which led to a covered wrought-iron balcony. He walked around her, staring at her wedding gown.
She blushed under his scrutiny. “Do you like it?” she said shyly. “It took forty-five minutes to get dressed, with all the buttons in back.”
“If you think I’m going to wait forty-five minutes...” Reaching out, he ripped the back of her gown apart in a single violent movement, popping all the delicate buttons that held together the lace at the back.
She whirled around. “What are you—”
He spread the lace neckline wide, causing the seams to part, and pulled the dress straight down her body, leaving her standing in front of him wearing only a strapless white bra, a tiny lace G-string, a white garter belt holding up white fishnet stockings—and her long white veil.
“It was my grandmother’s dress!” Laney cried indignantly.
“It was hers. Now it’s yours. And what’s yours—” Kassius’s eyes were dark and smoldering as he roughly pulled her closer “—is mine.”
A deep shiver went through her. Staring at his lips, she breathed, “You shouldn’t have done it...”
“Like you said. The past is past. She had a long, happy marriage. And, starting tonight, so will we.” He ran his fingers along the edge of her long white lace veil. “But you can keep this on,” he said huskily. “I like it.”
Picking her up, he tossed her onto the enormous bed, as if she were some kind of harem girl created exclusively for his pleasure. Two could play that game, she thought. Propping herself up on one arm, she reached out and grabbed the sleeve of his jacket.
“Take it off,” she ordered.
He looked down at her in the shadowy bedroom of the hotel suite. Then he did as she bade.
“Now the tie,” she said.
He undid the tie, dropping it the floor.
He slowly unbuttoned his white shirt, then undid the cuffs. She had a vision of his hard-muscled chest, laced with dark hair, and the taut six-pack beneath. Her gaze lowered, her heart beating fast. She licked her lips.
A sensual smile traced his lips as he looked at her with heavy-lidded eyes, then pulled off his black trousers and his boxers and socks in the bargain.
Her husband stood naked before her.
A deep shiver went through her as she saw his hard, naked body. His chest and shoulders were huge and muscular, tracing down to his trim, taut waist, and below that...
Holding her breath, mesmerized, she started to reach for him, wanting to wrap her hand around his huge, hard length, to cup and stroke and maybe even, if she dared, taste...
“Oh, no, you don’t.” His voice was low. “I followed your orders. Now you will follow mine.” Leaning forward on the bed, he ran his fingertips up her leg, from the pale fishnet stocking to the garter on her bare thigh. “Take this off,” he said huskily. “Take it all off.”
Laney gave him a sensual smile. “As you wish.”
Pulling the pins out of her chignon, she leaned back on her elbows and shook out her long, dark hair beneath the white bridal veil. She propped up one knee, exposing her bare inner thigh and the white garter, above the stocking.
His dark eyes widened as he looked her over. Her head was tilted back, her dark hair curling over her shoulders, her breasts—swollen from pregnancy—thrust forward, barely contained beneath the sliver of strapless white silk bra.
He licked his lips. His gaze slowly traveled down her body, to the soft curve of her belly, to the spread of her hips. Her leg was propped up, revealing an expanse of bare thigh. His eyes traced down the white garters and tiny lace G-string to the see-through fishnets that started halfway down her thigh, all the way to her scarlet-painted toenails.