Those lips were going to meet mine in a few moments for the first time.
A dream come true for eighteen-year-old Persy.
A travesty for twenty-six-year-old me.
Minister Smith finished his part, then paused, clearing his throat.
“Before we proceed, the groom has a few words he wants to say.”
Never had I wanted to throw up more than the moment Kill Fitzpatrick gazed down at me with an easy smile, producing a dove-white ribbon from his breast pocket.
“Love is a fickle emotion, Persephone my dear. Fortuitous, unreliable, and prone to changes. People fall in and out of love at the drop of a hat. They get divorced. They cheat. They get cheated on.”
My eyes bugged out of their sockets. Was my soon-to-be husband aware he was standing in a church? I half-expected him to burst into flames in front of my eyes, swirling into dark smoke, descending straight to hell where he belonged.
Kill began fastening the ribbon over both our right hands with confident expertise.
“The thing is, you can’t rely on love. Which is why I intend to offer you something far more consistent. Commitment, friendship, and loyalty. I promise to give you my protection, no matter the price.” He proceeded to tie our left hands together with the same ribbon, locking us to one another tightly. His words sounded genuine yet reticent. Dry, but somehow real. “I will never turn my back on us. We will fall in and out of love many times, but I promise to find my way back to you. To put us back together even when the temptation to break things off is too much. And when love feels far away…” He pressed his forehead to mine, his lips moving over mine. “I will bring it right back to our doorstep.”
Our hands were firmly tied together. We stared at each other.
Our guests stared, wide-eyed, in shock and awe. My mouth hung open, a mixture of fascination, surprise, and most dangerous of all—sheer bliss swirled in my chest.
“This is…beautiful.” The reverend let out a breath. We said our vows. I didn’t puke, despite wanting to, bad. “I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride. God knows you want to.” He chuckled, making everyone in the church erupt in wild laugher.
Cillian tugged me using our bandaged hands, jerking me into his firm body. He dived down with eyes that turned from calm, rich gold to smoldering, molten lava. My breath caught in the back of my throat as he crushed his lips over mine with devastating warmth, bringing our hands to his chest and lacing our fingers together. His lips were possessive, demanding; his almost-familiar fragrance of dry cedar and shaved wood made my knees weak.
“Kiss me back,” he growled.
He pulled our tied wrists, righting me back up to my feet. I slid limply over his body, too dazed to function. Kill deepened our kiss, devouring me, opening his mouth and connecting his tongue with mine. It was deliberately rough, and heated, and sexy, and new. I’d never been kissed this way before. The claps, whistles, and cheers drowned under the white-hot desire washing over me. I forgot where we were and what we were doing. All I cared about was the demanding pressure from his delicious mouth, and the way our hearts rioted in unison, beating wildly against one another.
I felt his smile on my lips as he withdrew slowly. Calculatingly. I blinked, still drugged from the unexpected kiss that screamed things I didn’t dare whisper. But when I looked up, he was the same cold and detached monster.
Icy, poker-faced, and completely out of reach.
I glanced unsurely at the pews.
The entire back row was full of photographers, journalists, and cameramen, recording the tender moment we shared.
They weren’t for me. They were for them. Lies, carefully designed to fit Kill Fitzpatrick’s new narrative: a loving husband. A changed man. A reformed villain.
I stumbled backward, twisting my wrists around the tight knot, trying to escape him.
“Now now,” he whispered under his breath. “You’re not going to get the fairy tale, Flower Girl, so you might as well sell it to other people. Smile big.”
“You’re not my Prince Charming,” I blurted out, my thoughts going back to the conversation I’d had with my sister in her car the night I told her about my engagement. “You’re the villain.”
“Fear is my greatest asset.” He tipped his head down, pretending to nuzzle my throat, his hoarse, low baritone reverberating deep inside me. “But what are villains, my dear wife, if not misunderstood heroes?”
Even though I decided against throwing a party, there was a grand dinner hosted at Avebury Court Manor in honor of my sham marriage.
I’d met Jane and Gerald Fitzpatrick countless of times before. I’d been to their mansion practically every week for my takeout night with the girls. But save for the dinner in which we broke the news, this was the first time I was there as their eldest son’s bride and not the timid, polite friend of their daughter’s.
I could tell by the courteous smiles and awkwardness that they knew this wasn’t a love match. Jane glanced at me almost apologetically while Gerald kept checking on me as though he was sure I would bolt out of their house the minute they looked away.
My own parents were dazzled by the luxury the Fitzpatricks lived in. Dad drooled over the fifteen-car garage, and I was pretty sure Mom was on the verge of making sweet love to the kitchen tiles. Both were awestruck by the butterfly garden Gerald had created for his wife, probably to remind her she was trapped in this marriage forever.
Conversation between the families was stilted. Gerald, my dad, and Cillian did most of the talking, filling the uncomfortable silence with safe topics such as the Boston Celtics, street food, and past legendary athletes. I shoved my food around on my plate, occasionally answering a question aimed my way.
Being ignored by Cillian while he wasn’t mine was devastating.
But being ignored by him when I was his wife was going to be soul-crushing.
In the past few weeks, I’d been pampered beyond belief. Had a stylist arrive at my apartment with three sets of wardrobes. I’d received an obnoxious number of engagement rings, was moving into a brand-new apartment, and had my Paxton and debt problems taken care of. But nothing—other than having Byrne and Kaminski off my back—was worth the sacrifice of my freedom to someone who didn’t truly want me. Only wanted my womb and my ability to raise his children.