It had been painful and tougher than she’d expected. But she’d       left New York with the feeling the city would no longer haunt her. That she       could come back to visit. And maybe it had been the first step in repairing her       relationship with her mother.

They had arrived in Italy early this morning. Even though her       heart had known what it had wanted, her head had been engaged in a final       desperate effort to protect itself. Rocco might hurt her. But was that worth a       lifetime of wondering if she’d let the love of her life slip away?

She’d finally made up her mind and arrived here hours ago, only       to find Rocco and Christian engaged in a wild-goose chase to find her. Guilt had       set in. Then panic as Alessandra and the wedding planner had rushed her off to       the neighbor’s villa to get dressed prior to her arrival at the ceremony by       boat. She hadn’t intended to leave it this late. She needed to talk to Rocco.           And no one was listening to her.

“Please,” she said one more time to the wedding planner ninety       minutes later as the flustered-looking blonde announced the men were back. “I       need five minutes with Rocco.”

“Not doable,” the planner replied. “There are dignitaries who       have to leave as soon as the ceremony is over, the fireworks are scheduled and       we’re already almost half an hour late.” Her mouth compressed. “I told this to       the men’s camp, too. You have the rest of your lives to talk once this is done,       so please, focus.”

Rocco wanted to talk to her, too? Olivia started to argue, but       the planner cut her off with a tersely delivered request to get her shoes on.       She slid them on, pulled in a breath as Alessandra slipped her veil into place       and straightened her shoulders. She was going to marry Rocco. She’d       spent her entire life thinking she couldn’t rely on anyone but herself, refusing       to allow herself to love. But now she was going to take a leap of faith, because       she knew with Rocco by her side she could do anything.

If he didn’t kill her first for doing this.

* * *

The spray of the water split to the left and the right       of the covered speedboat they rode in as Olivia and Alessandra were spirited       toward Villa Mondelli. The sight of hundreds of wedding guests seated in chairs       on the lawn, many of them foreign dignitaries she had never met, had her heart       slamming against her chest as they neared the ornate front steps of the villa       where Rocco’s sea creatures had visited.

Her first priority as they docked was ensuring she had enough       oxygen in her lungs to get through this without passing out. Second was getting       out of the boat without tripping and falling flat on her face in the exquisite       dress with the long flowing train Mario had made her.

Third was the man standing a hundred feet in front of her as       she stepped out of the boat with the help of the waiting attendant. Flanked by       the priest, Christian Markos, Zayed Al Afzal and Stefan Bianco, Rocco was so       ridiculously handsome in his tux it stole what little breath she had left. Her       gaze locked on his but he was too far away for her to read the emotion in his       eyes. Her knees wavered. What if he didn’t love her?

The quartet started playing Pachelbel’s “Canon.” The tears       she’d been holding back threatened. She blinked them away furiously, her hands       clutching her bouquet of lilies. Alessandra started down the aisle, stunning in       Mario’s silk lavender creation, followed by their three flower girls in matching       lavender dresses. Olivia’s heartbeat accelerated in tandem with the further       weakening of her knees. Her decision to give herself away seemed ill-advised now       as her legs shook. She wished desperately she had something to hang on to. The       aisle seemed a mile long and she couldn’t read his eyes.

The cue for her to move came and went. And suddenly she knew       she had to know what he was feeling, see him, before she took another       step.

* * *

The panic that plummeted through Rocco at the sight of       Olivia frozen at the end of the red-carpeted aisle was of the all-consuming       fashion.

A sheen of perspiration broke out on his brow. His feet felt       heavy, weighted down, as he willed her to start moving. His heart didn’t seem to       know how to beat. It hung in suspended animation for a long moment, then thudded       heavily against his chest. Nothing. He kept his gaze on her as the       music played on, ignoring the murmurs that swept the crowd. She looked so       beautiful in the sleek gown Mario had designed for her. It was the one detail he       hadn’t planned. The one surprise from today, other than the fact that she almost       hadn’t shown up.

Done in off white, the sheer gossamer fabric clung to every       curve, setting off Olivia’s honeyed skin to perfection. It fell to the ground in       a tulip-shaped hem, her long beautiful hair left loose, floating around her       shoulders.

She looked like a mermaid come to life. His mermaid emerging       from the steps he’d sat on as a boy, a living, breathing piece of perfection who       had come to save the man.

Stefan’s low curse pierced his haze. She wasn’t           moving.

“Now might be a good time to do something,” Christian murmured.       But Rocco was already moving, striding down the aisle toward Olivia. The murmurs       came to a crashing halt, all eyes on him.

He kept his gaze on Olivia as he stopped in front of her and       took her hands in his. They were ice-cold despite the warmth of the day. Her       gaze fastened onto his, blue eyes wide and brilliant.

“You came,” he murmured.

“I did,” she said softly, her fingers tightening around his       until she had a death grip on him. “I’m sorry to be so late. You look so very       handsome.”

“And you,” he returned huskily, emotion overcoming him, “look       like my very own mermaid come to life. Tell me you’re staying.”

She looked down at her dress with a tentative smile. “I don’t       have any scales, and green wasn’t appropriate, but I do love you, Rocco. I’d       like to help you slay your dragons if you’ll let me.”

He felt the world sway beneath his feet as everything became       right with those few simple words from her. He absorbed them for a moment,       savored them for the precious things they were, then blinked to clear his head       and brought her hand to his mouth. “I didn’t think I was going to get a chance       to tell you how I feel,” he murmured against her knuckles.

Her eyes remained glued to his. “Tell me. I need to hear       it.”

He lowered their hands and brought his mouth to her ear.       “Olivia Fitzgerald, I have been desperately in love with you since the night you       walked off that stage in New York and into my arms. And if you’d walked into       Guillermo Villanueva’s, I would have taken him apart. No one is supposed to have       you but me.”

She melted into him. He kept talking, because he needed to get       it out. “You were right. I have always put work first because I was afraid of       turning into my father. Of being weak. Of getting hurt. But then you came into       my life and I had no choice. You got to me in every way.”

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