Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea's Redemption
Page 38

 Ruth Cardello

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Abby teared up and covered her mouth with one hand as she nodded.
Dominic took his place at Abby’s side and said, “You know, we could use someone like Alethea on our payroll. Marc says his bunkers are impenetrable, but there’s only one way to know for sure.”
Jake interjected, “They’ve already been tested—from the inside, anyway.”
Lil asked, “We have a bunker? Like one of those underground bomb shelters? How come I don’t know about this?” When everyone looked away, she said, “I can keep a secret.”
Alethea started laughing, and everyone else followed suit.
All except Lil, who put her hands on her hips and protested, “I can.”
It was wonderful to realize that no matter how much things changed, some things stayed the same. In the face of the continued amusement of those around her, Lil took a page out of Alethea’s book. She shrugged and said, “I’ll work on it.”
Abby shook her head and laughed. “Let’s go get some champagne.”
As the group headed off to the main area of the party, Marc whispered in Alethea’s ear, “This is what I wanted you to see. Yes, you fight with them, but these people are your family and they love you. As I do.”
Alethea tightened her arm around Marc’s waist and whispered back, “I love you so much, Marc Stone. I can’t believe you did this for me.”
“Wait until you see how we get home. Jake bought us a helicopter.”
“A what?”
“You heard me. It’s our engagement present.”
“They are over the top.”
Kissing her neck, Marc said, “I hear it’s better than any backseat ever could be.”
Alethea threw back her head and laughed. “You would think like that.”
He growled against her neck. “Always.”
“Excuse me,” a female voice said from beside them. Alethea turned to find Jeremy standing there with his provocatively dressed Brazilian fiancée, Jeisa. “Do you have a moment?”
It was probably too much to expect the entire evening to be without drama. Here it comes. Stay away from my man. How dare you include him in something dangerous? It doesn’t matter what she says, nothing can ruin tonight.
She has a right to her residual anger.
I didn’t exactly help her engagement go smoothly.
Breathe and smile.
“Jeisa, what a surprise,” Alethea said, hoping she sounded happy. Marc’s hand tightened on her waist in silent warning.
I know, I know. Play nice.
Jeremy said, “I told Jeisa about everything that went down with Sliver. She flew in just to see you.”
Lucky me.
Jeisa stepped forward and took both of Alethea’s hands in hers. “I am so happy for you, Alethea. You are glowing tonight. You and I had a bumpy start, but that is in the past now. I hear people say you were not a good friend to Jeremy, but I wanted you to know I think they are wrong. Look at him today. No, you were not a love match for him, but you gave him something to hope for when he had nothing else. He is an amazing man, and part of the man I love came from his friendship with you. After hearing what you did for Stephan, I knew I had to come and tell you something. I spent a good part of my life trying to avoid unpleasant situations, but it was only by facing them that I was able to move past them. You grab ugly by the horns and ride it out. You inspire me. Jeremy is lucky to have a friend like you. I hope that we can be friends, too, as we move forward, Alethea.”
Looking from Jeisa to Jeremy and back, Alethea pulled Jeisa into a hug. “I would like that. I would really like that.”
She met Jeremy’s eyes over Jeisa’s shoulder and saw her old friend smiling back at her from beneath his buffed businessman exterior.
He looked over at Marc and said, “If you ever hurt her, you’ll have to deal with me.” When Jeisa returned to his side, he added, “And worse—Jeisa. I can empty your bank accounts and send the funds overseas, but you do not want to incur the Brazilian wrath. There isn’t a bunker, not even one you’ve built, that could save you from that.”
Marc accepted the warning with a smile. “Understood.” He took Alethea’s left hand in his and raised it to his lips. “Your friends are as protective of you as you are of them, Alethea.” He sighed as if in pain. “Looks like you’re stuck with me.”
“Looks that way,” Alethea agreed with a huge, giddy smile. She looked across the room to where Lil had taken the microphone and was standing on a small stage beside the live band. “We’d better get our champagne. It looks like Lil is going to make a speech, whether we’re ready or not.”
In her ear, Marc said softly, “I’ve been ready for this since the first moment I saw you across the room.”
Chapter Twenty-Two
“Where did I put my vows? I can’t find my vows.” Lil frantically searched the room, her long wedding dress and veil whipping wildly behind her in the bridal suite of the small Manhattan church. “I put them right there near my makeup bag and they’re gone.”
Dressed in a floor-length silk off-the-shoulder gown, Abby held up a white silk satchel. “They’re in your bag so you won’t forget them. Exactly where you told me to put them.”
Snatching the bag from her sister, Lil let out a relieved breath when she opened it and pulled out a paper. “I should have printed this in bigger font. What if I start crying and can’t read it?”
“As long as you speak from your heart, Lil, it doesn’t matter what you say up there. What matters is you and Jake will finally be married. That’s the most important part of today,” Abby said.
“Is Alethea back yet?” Lil asked in a worried tone.
“She’s talking to King Rachid’s Royal Guardsmen—probably telling them how to do their jobs,” Abby said with some irony. “Zhang said she and Marc offered to coordinate security for today. I’m not sure Zhang thought it was necessary, but I told her to just be grateful Alethea asked. Don’t tell Alethea, but I feel better knowing she’s involved. I still worry whenever I leave Judy, even though I know she’s perfectly safe with Marie.”
“It’s been two months, Abby. Sliver isn’t coming back.”
“I know. Rachid told Dominic he handled it. I don’t know what that means exactly, and I’m not normally one who advocates that kind of justice, but I’ve never been so afraid in my life.”
“You’re freaking me out, Abby. Can I go back to worrying if the boutonnieres have arrived?”
Wise enough to know that her sister was serious, Abby said, “So, what mischief have you planned for today? At my wedding, you dared Zhang to kiss a sheikh. For Zhang’s wedding you had all of us belly dancing the night before. Your own wedding can’t go on without a dare or a surprise.”
Alethea jumped into the conversation. “Don’t worry, I have that covered.”
“Al!” Lil hopped with excitement at the return of her friend. “What did you do?”
Dressed in a similar but edgier version of Abby’s dress, Alethea walked over and joined her friend near the makeup table. “Nothing yet. It’s just an idea. Have you seen Stephan’s cousins? The ones he flew in? I don’t think there is a woman here who won’t appreciate how Stephan’s near-death experience prompted him to reach out to them.”
“That’s awful,” Abby said, but her tone held no bite.
Lil paused and laughed. “Maybe, but they’re gorgeous.”
Chiding gently, Abby said, “Aren’t you getting married in a few minutes?”
Lil smiled shamelessly. “Marriage does not make you blind.”
Giving up, Abby laughed. “Okay, I’ve seen them, too, and they represent the Andrades well. What a gene pool. I’m afraid to ask, but what’s your idea?”
“A friendly competition. We’ll call it, ‘Who’s the best matchmaker?’”
Lil said, “Hands down, Maddy is.”
Alethea looked across at Abby slyly. “You think she’s better than you?”
Abby adjusted her long gown. “Maybe . . . maybe not. I know I’m better than you.”
Alethea’s eyes narrowed at the challenge. There would always be an edge of competition between them, but they had both acknowledged the fact and even laughed about it. The future might still hold a few bumps for them, but the core of their relationship had changed. They’d discovered that when it mattered, they had more in common than they’d thought: loyalty to family. Everything else could be worked out. “A hundred dollars says you’re not.”
“Ooooooh . . .” Abby drew the word out for emphasis. “You are so on.”
Lifting and dropping the large skirt of her custom-made, fairy-tale-style white wedding dress, Lil looked over her shoulder at the two women and said, “I’m in, too. Are we calling the win at an engagement or a wedding?”
“Engagement,” Abby and Alethea said in unison, then both smiled.
Lil clapped with excitement. “I love it, Al. This is going to be so much fun. Are there any rules?”
“They can’t know what we’re doing, and none of you can whine when I win,” Alethea said, with a flip of her long red mane.
Abby added, “Stephan told me he used to be close to these cousins until something happened between his father and their mother. Stephan really does want to bring them back into the fold. Whatever we do can’t jeopardize that.”
Maddy walked into the room with a tray of champagne. “Look what I found out in the hall.” As each woman took a glass, Maddy asked, “What can we not jeopardize?”
Entering the room behind her, Queen Zhang refused a glass. “I see nothing has changed. Who are you daring today, Lil?”
Lil rushed over to hug the friend who lived too far away for her liking. “I didn’t start this one. Alethea did.”
Maddy’s eyes rounded. “We’re not going to do anything illegal, are we?”
Alethea shrugged a shoulder carelessly. “Is it illegal if you don’t get caught?”
If possible, Maddy’s eyes grew even wider.
Abby intervened, “She’s joking, Maddy. She has a funny sense of humor. You’ll get used to it.” She softened her words with a smile and a wink at Alethea. “Eventually, you’ll even like it.”
Zhang looked around, a pleased smile on her face. “It’s nice to see everyone getting along. Now back to what I missed.”
Nicole rushed in. “I’m so sorry. There were a few people Stephan wanted me to meet, but it should have waited until after the ceremony. I forget how many Andrades there are. They flew in from everywhere for today. It’s crazy out there. Lil, thank you for inviting them. I know they aren’t technically your family, but it means a lot to Stephan that they’re welcome here.”
Lil walked over and hugged Nicole. “You’re my family and, through you, so are they. I always used to wonder what it would be like to come from a big family with aunts and uncles and crazy family gatherings. Victor and Katrine opened their home to me the first time I met them. We’re happy to have them here.”