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I slide my lips up the smooth column of her throat, marking a path to her lips.

“I’m a virgin!”

I accidentally nip her chin as she all but shouts. Incredulous, I pull back to look her in the eye.

Her chin is raised defiantly, her chin flushed.

“I beg your pardon?” She must be joking. No woman her age could possibly be untouched—it’s unheard of in this day and age.

“You heard me just fine,” she shoots back, squaring her shoulders. “Still want to marry me?”

Heat is a tsunami, washing me over, pulling me in. It’s all I can do not to bend her over the counter, strip those ugly clothes away, and mark her as mine right in that moment.

With more control than I ever thought I possessed, I pull the ring box from my pocket silently. Her eyes blur a bit when I open the velvet case to reveal the ring that once sat on my mother’s finger, the one my father chose for her before money ruined them, when they were still in love.

It’s old fashioned, a flower constructed of small diamonds, on a white gold band. Emilia would never be caught dead with it on her finger.

But Riley... when I silently slide it on her ring finger, I find that it suits her perfectly.

“Are you sure?” Her mouth parted with shock, she holds her hand between us. I admire the way the diamonds set off the creamy skin of her hand. More than that, I admire the flush that still sits on her cheeks from my kiss.

“You’ll be Riley Benenati by tomorrow night.” I smirk a bit at her small, cute squeak. “If you think you can wait that long.”

“Ah. Speaking of waiting.” Her face flushing crimson, she places the hand with the ring on my chest. When her eyes meet mine they are wide and full of nerves. “I don’t want to. Can we... just...”

To demonstrate, she slides off the counter, her body rubbing against mine the entire way down. I stifle a groan as her women’s heat, her belly rub against my cock, which by now is rock hard.

She can’t seem to spit out the remaining words, but I understand. She wants me to relieve her of her virginity before she loses her nerve.

I can feel my face splitting into a wicked grin. No way in hell am I depriving myself of the pleasure of a virgin bride on our wedding night.

And it will be her pleasure too, I’m sure. So I shake my head, kiss the hand that wears the ring—my ring.

“Try not to get in any more brawls with my stepsister.” I stroke a hand over the small cut, still furious that Emilia—that the taint of my family—has already left a mark on her.

But it has begun, and it cannot be stopped. So I step away, even though my cock shouts a protest, and smile at my soon to be bride.

“I will see you at our wedding. And I look forward to seeing you in white.”

Chapter Ten

MATTEO

I WAS FULLY AWARE OF what money could accomplish in a short span of time, but seeing Riley’s face when she stepped into the wonderland that Italy’s most expensive wedding planner had created on the estate overnight was well worth it.

My initial thought had been to have a small civil ceremony. There was no need for frills with a sham of a marriage, after all.

But Riley... tonight she will be giving me something very special. And though the feeling is a new one for me... I want to give her something in return.

And so I gave the wedding planners free reign, with one stipulation only... white. The constant reminder of Riley’s gift to me has me excited beyond measure, and I know that she will be thinking of it all day, as well.

I would gladly skip the entire party, eager to rush on to the evening’s planned activities. But in addition to knowing that Riley would be stunned, I knew that having an actual wedding, complete with paparazzi at hand to document the nuptials of Italy’s most eligible bachelor, might set Emilia back on her heels.

I need her to understand that, even though we both know this marriage is a sham, for the month that it exists I intend for it to be very real.

No one will harm my wife, in any way. That primal need to mark Riley as my own is only strengthened when she walks down the white petal strewn aisle toward me, her sparkling eyes wide and nervous.

Though I didn’t tell the planners my reason for choosing white, they seem to have understood, and have emphasized the theme with the bride herself. Riley’s dress is white, of course, short and sleeveless and sweet. Her hair is a mass of innocent braids, all pulled back in a twist, and my fingers itch, to rip the short lacy veil away, to fist the long chestnut ribbons as I thrust inside of her.

I couldn’t be more pleased with my choice of temporary bride. And that pleasure allows me to tamp away thoughts of marriage as I know it, a loveless, miserable union.

I have no choice in this matter. And no matter that I paid this woman to be here, I intend to make the most of this next month, for us both.

The ceremony passes in a blur of camera flashes and traditional Italian music. In the interest of keeping it on the smaller side of things, I decided that we wouldn’t have a full meal for our guests, but rather wine and antipasti and dancing, followed by a timely exit by the bride and groom.

I am pleased with the dancing aspect as I pull my new wife into my arms for the first dance. She has had the same slightly dazed look on her face all day, and as press my body to hers I can’t resist claiming her lips with my own, a dark promise of what is to come.

“Mmm.” She sighs, the trepidation and nerves disappearing as we both ignore the camera flashes that explode, recording the kiss. “It’s real then, isn’t it? We’re married.”

“So it would seem.” It’s hard to remember, in that moment, that I barely know my bride. “Of course, it’s not entirely legal... not yet.”

“Right.” Riley looks up at me, all big eyes, as she sinks her teeth into her lower lip.

“Keep doing that and we’ll be consummating this before we can make it anywhere private.” I warn her. Her cheeks flush, and I grin. “Careful, Mrs. Benenati. I might forget that you’re a bride for hire and fall for you for real.”

Riley stiffens in my arms, and I curse.

“Dio. Riley, I didn’t mean it like that.” Stupid Matteo. Stupid. I know I’m an arrogant ass, but somehow, I don’t want to be with her. “I just meant... this all feels real. But... it’s not.”

I don’t like the expression on her face. But then again, maybe it’s best that I remind her... remind us both.

That small internal click that I feel when we look at one another... that will fade with time. It’s for the best that this union comes with an expiry date.

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