Bedding the Billionaire
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Abby sniffed and straightened. “I did.”
How had she never seen that Abby needed her as much as she needed Abby? “Then just be yourself, because that’s who Dominic fell for and who he wants to grow old with. If you stay true to yourself and true to him, everything else will work out.”
Abby smiled. “When did you become so wise?”
“It’s a natural byproduct of being raised by two incredible women. You and Mom taught me everything I know about love.”
“Don’t you dare make me cry and ruin my mascara!”
“So I can’t say it?”
“I’m warning you, Lil!” Abby said with a half-laugh, half-cry.
“We’ll stop by and have your makeup retouched on our way to meet up with the girls. Don’t worry.” She picked up the short train of her sister’s gown and said, “Lead the way, Soon-to-be-Mrs. Corisi.”
Abby took a fortifying deep breath and started walking.
From behind her, Lil said softly, “Always better together, Abby.”
Abby turned, wiping a tear from her cheek, but smiling. “You’re awful.”
“No,” Lil answered simply, “just finally grateful.”
With growing amusement, Jake watched his friend impatiently pace the room. “Are you sure you don’t want a drink?”
“Is everyone here now?” Dominic asked.
“Yes, they are all just down the hallway.”
“Why the hell aren’t they in here? I thought you said we had to run through some last minute change Abby had made to the ceremony.”
“Amazingly enough, I’m the only one, outside of your lovely bride to be, who can stand you when you’re like this.”
Dominic boomed, “Like what?”
Jake just looked at him until Dominic ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I don’t like the waiting part.”
“Really? I never would have guessed.”
There was a knock on the door.
Mrs. Duhamel poked her head in. “Everyone dressed?”
Jake said, “Yes, Marie.”
She walked up to Dominic, straightened the front of his tuxedo and reached up to put a wayward lock of hair back into place. “How are you boys holding up?”
Jake laughed, “He’s a wreck.”
Dominic growled but didn’t deny it.
Marie made a tsk sound at Jake and said, “It’s not nice to tease him, Jake. Wait until it’s your turn with Lil. You’ll be just as bad.”
“Is everything set for us to fly out tonight?”
“Yes, the jet is packed and all you have to do is get on and go.”
“And on the other side?”
“I’ve lined up two realtors who know South America well. You should have some viable sites chosen by the end of the week.”
“And Abby still thinks we’re going to Spain?” Dominic asked.
Marie nodded. “You’ll have to call me and tell me what she says when she hears that instead of staying in a castle on her honeymoon, she’s going to spend a week in a variety of South American countries buying land for the schools you’re going to build there.”
“I hope she loves it.”
“She will,” Marie said and then snapped her fingers as a thought came to her. “Before I forget, Rosella and Thomas are in the room across from the groomsmen. Nicole and Stephan went in to see them for a short visit. You should go see them, too, before you go down the aisle. Rosella won’t come here because she doesn’t want to intrude, but she’s your mother and she should be part of this.”
Dominic took the older woman into what looked like a bone crushing hug. “Then I am an incredibly lucky man because I have two mothers now.”
Jake mocked his friend’s display of emotion. “Marie, can you believe what Abby has done to my friend?”
Marie turned back to Jake and said, “True love makes people stronger not weaker, Jake. Remember that. I still miss my husband every day, but I can go on because something as strong as we had makes me believe in an afterlife. Treasure these times, boys. Love your women with all you have because the day will come when you must part from them – however temporarily. Arguments will happen but always apologize – even when you’re not sure that you’re the one who was wrong. Pride is a cold bed partner.”
Jake looked across at Dominic. “I hope she’s not about to explain the birds and bees to us.”
Marie folded her arms in disapproval. “You boys know a bit too much about that already if you asked me.”
Jake put an arm around the woman he’d grown to think of like family. “How else are we going to make those little babies you love so much?”
That got a smile from Marie. “You’d better marry Lil soon if that is your intention.”
“Oh, I intend to, Marie. I intend to.” He pocketed Dominic and Abby’s wedding rings and said, “Come on, Dom. Let’s go see Rosella while we still have time. Your afterlife will come sooner than you think if we’re late to the altar.”
Just outside a large white tent where everyone was seated facing a small altar and the ocean, Lil stood beside Zhang. “So, did you meet the Sheikh yet?”
Zhang’s mask of composure was firmly in place. “Not yet, but I’m sure everything will go smoothly.”
“I asked Jake to look into something for me. Do you know that Prince Rachid is completely unattached at the moment? I guess his father had chosen someone for him, but he refused. He didn’t want to marry a pampered princess. Maybe he likes his woman with a bit more backbone.” Lil wiggled her eyebrows at her friend.
Zhang picked up her bouquet and rolled her eyes. “I can assure you that I’m not interested.”
Lil reached out and lightly touched the forearm of the beautifully proud woman before her. “There is no press here today. No one to record an impulsive action if you decide to take one.”
Zhang didn’t soften, but nor did she pull away.
“For just one day, don’t be Zhang the billionaire. Don’t be the woman you think you have to be. You are stunning in that dress. Make that Sheikh squirm.”
Zhang sighed. “I wouldn’t even know how.”
Lil smiled. “Yes, you do. You just have to let go and nature will take its course.” Lil made a quick grab for Zhang’s clutch and opened it, removing her phone. “Step one, no texting. No phone calls. You are not a business woman today. You’re simply a gorgeous woman in a beautiful dress.”
Amazingly enough, Zhang didn’t protest–reaffirming Lil’s belief that this was something her friend yearned to do.
“Step two,” Lil continued, “you pinkie swear to me that you will kiss that Sheikh before midnight tonight.”
Lil curled her pinkie finger around Zhang’s. “It’s the most solemn vow.”
Zhang smiled. “Americans are so strange.”
“Don’t try to get off the hook. Swear it. I dare you to.”
Zhang’s smile widened. “I’m not afraid of your little game.”
“Really? Prove it.”
Zhang curled her pinkie around Lil’s. “I pinkie swear it.”
Lil laughed and released her.
Zhang shook her head, but laughed with her. “You are trouble, Lil Dartley.”
Shamelessly, Lil shrugged. “It’s who I am.”
“And the world is better for it, my friend.”
The roving wedding planner intruded into their conversation. “Are we ready to line up?”
The two women nodded and moved into their places behind Abby.
The music started and Abby turned around before starting her walk. “I’m so glad you’re here, Lil.”
Holding her bouquet in one hand, Lil gave her sister a little nudge with her other and said, “Get going unless you want me to make you cry again.”
Abby gave her a teary smile.
Dominic stood tall and proud at his spot before the altar, waiting for his soon-to-be-bride to join him. The four men who flanked one side of him were an equally impressive sight and one that not many women in the audience, married or not, would soon forget. The female minister they had chosen as their officiant looked on with quiet grace.
When Abby reached Dominic, he took both of her hands in his and they turned to face each other in front of the altar. Lil and the bridesmaids took their places on the bride’s side of the altar and the minister began to speak. As Lil listened to the officiant, she couldn’t help but look across at Jake and think that they would be making vows to each other one day soon. He winked at her as if he had heard her thoughts and had been thinking something quite similar.
“Dearest friends and family, we are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the union of Dominic Corisi and Abigail Dartley in marriage. When they approached me about performing their ceremony, I wasn’t sure if I was qualified since my experience has been limited to small weddings in my local chapel. However, after two minutes with them, I saw that they were no different than any other couple I have married. They are deeply devoted to each other, passionately in love, and committed to making the world a better place through the strength of their love. They have written their own vows for today. Do you have the rings?”
Jake handed the rings to Dominic and said something that made the couple smile.
Dominic cleared his throat and said, “Abigail Dartley, today I take you as my wife. From this day on, I promise to be faithful and honest, loving and supportive. I promise to listen to your wise counsel and confess when I decide to disregard it.”
Lil bit her lip to stop the laugh that his comment inspired. Her family was never going to be the same. Yes, it was going to be much, much better.
Dominic continued, “I promise to forgive more, destroy less, and to savor every day with you. I give you this ring as a symbol that everything I am and everything I have will be yours now and forever.” He placed a wedding band on Abby’s finger.
Abby held out his wedding band, took his hand in hers and said, “Dominic Corisi, today I take you as my husband. I promise to be faithful and honest, loving and supportive. I promise to adore you as you are and gracefully accept your apologies each time you discover that I was right. I promise to risk more, judge less and to savor every day with you. I give you this ring as a symbol that everything I am and everything I have will be yours now and forever.” She placed the gold band on Dominic’s finger.
The officiant said, “By exchanging rings and vows today, Dominic and Abby you have sworn your life and your allegiance to each other. Time and tragedy will test this bond. When it does, remember the love you felt this day and stay true to your commitment. Dominic and Abigail, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may the kiss the bride.”
The crowd held their breath as a man who had once been known only for what he had accumulated and threatened gently kissed the lips of his new wife and hugged her to him with such love that it was impossible to look away.
Everyone stood and the officiant said, “It is a great honor for me to introduce, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Dominic Corisi.”