‘I know I might be too late.’ He spoke over her, his voice roughening. ‘I know you might have changed your mind, or perhaps you didn’t love me in the first place. I wouldn’t blame you, considering how I’ve acted. How afraid I’ve been. But I’ll still say it, because I want you to know. Because you deserve to know, after everything we’ve had together. After everything I put you through. I was so afraid, Laurel, of what love was. What it meant. How it could make you hurt. I was afraid, and I let that fear control me, but I won’t any longer. I refuse to. I love you, Laurel Forrester, and that won’t ever change.’

Tears sparkled in her eyes and she let out a trembling laugh. ‘Good,’ she said, and stepped into his arms. ‘Because I love you too, and that won’t change either.’

‘Thank heaven.’ He wrapped his arms around her, breathing her in, savouring the feel of her. ‘Because we are done with all this drama, do you hear me? We love each other, we’re getting married and we’re not spending a single night apart ever again.’

‘Back to giving orders, are you?’ Laurel asked, tilting her face up to him as her mouth met his in a quick and breath-stealing kiss. ‘Good thing I don’t mind.’

Cristiano laughed and pulled her closer. ‘Good thing,’ he agreed in a murmur, and kissed her again.

EPILOGUE

Three Months Later

‘YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL.’

Laurel twitched at her veil as her mother sniffed and dabbed her eyes. ‘The most beautiful bride that ever was.’

Laurel managed a tremulous smile. ‘As long as Cristiano thinks so,’ she said.

‘Of course he will,’ Elizabeth said. ‘The man is mad about you.’

‘As Lorenzo is about you.’ Laurel met her mother’s gaze in the mirror as they shared a sorrowful smile. The last three months had been filled with joy, as well as sadness. Lorenzo was holding his own, and he and Elizabeth were inseparable. But their days together were numbered, and they both knew it, making them all the more determined to seize love and happiness while they could.

While Elizabeth had remained with Lorenzo in Capri, Laurel had stayed for several weeks in Canton Heights to work out her notice, before moving to Rome to be with Cristiano. She’d informed him that she wasn’t going to be a good trophy wife any more than she’d been a good mistress—she wanted to work and be active—and Cristiano wholeheartedly agreed. Already she’d joined several committees, including one led by Michel Durand, to help determine public policy on end-of-life care. After ten-and twelve-hour shifts in a hospital, this kind of work was different and invigorating.

But best of all was her life with Cristiano, the easy love they shared. The doubts and fears had fallen away for both of them, leaving nothing but love and joy, shining and pure.

A knock sounded on the door of Laurel’s bedroom in Lorenzo’s villa, where the wedding was to take place.

‘Are you ready?’ Ana, the wedding planner, called. ‘Everyone is waiting.’

It was going to be a small wedding with a handful of friends from Rome and Capri in the villa’s garden, overlooking the sparkling sea. Lorenzo wasn’t able to travel and Laurel had never wanted a big ceremony of pomp and circumstance. She took a deep breath, gave her reflection one last, considering glance and turned to the door.

Elizabeth slipped her hand in hers for a quick squeeze before walking out. Laurel had chosen a simple dress as befit the occasion—summery and light, with broderie anglaise on the bodice and a gently swinging skirt. A circlet of flowers kept her veil in place and she held a small posy of violets.

Giving her mother a small, nervous smile, she headed downstairs.

The garden was bathed in sunshine, a trio of violins playing soft music as Laurel approached. Guests turned in their seats but she barely noticed, so conscious was she of Cristiano standing under an arbour twined with white roses. He looked magnificent in a navy blue suit, but it was the look on his face that stole Laurel’s breath and reminded her that he already had her heart. Pure, shining love, the same as she felt.

The music swelled and, with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, and all the love she felt shining in her eyes, Laurel started down the aisle to meet her groom.


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