And from all Piers had told her, his brothers were disgustingly in love.
She closed her eyes in recognition that she was green with envy, and she dreaded having to meet these disgustingly happy people.
They’d know it wasn’t all hearts and roses between her and Piers. For that matter, she was sure Piers had told them the entire truth and that they were marrying because of a one-night stand and a faulty condom.
She stared back at her reflection in the mirror and tried to erase the glum look from her face. The dress she’d chosen for the occasion was a simple white sheath with spaghetti straps. The material gathered gently at her breasts, molding to her shape then falling over her belly where it strained and then hung loose down her legs.
She’d debated on whether to put her hair up or leave it down, but Piers had seemed to delight in her hair the night they met and so in a moment of sheer vanity, she brushed it until it shone and let it hang over her shoulders.
And now she procrastinated like the coward she was, knowing everyone was downstairs waiting for her.
Still bereft of the courage needed to walk down those stairs, she walked to her window to look down over the gardens. The sky was overcast and light fog had descended over the grounds. A perfect fit to her melancholy mood.
For how long she stood, she wasn’t sure. A warm hand slid over her bare shoulder, but she didn’t turn. She knew it was Piers.
Then something cool slithered around her neck, and she did turn her head.
“Be still a moment,” he said as he reached under her hair to fasten a necklace at her nape. “My wedding gift to you. There are earrings to match, but I honestly couldn’t remember if your ears were pierced or not.”
She put a hand to the necklace and then hastened to the mirror so she could see. A gasp of surprise escaped when she saw the exquisite diamond arrangement.
“Piers, it’s too much.”
He smiled over her shoulder. “My sisters-in-law inform me that a husband can never do too much for his wife.”
She smiled back. “They sound like smart women.”
“There, that wasn’t so bad was it?”
Her brow crinkled. “What?”
Her eyes flashed in guilty awareness. He held out the box with the earrings, and she gazed in wonder at the large stones twinkling back at her.
“Are your ears pierced?”
She nodded. “I seldom wear earrings, but they are pierced.”
“Then I hope you’ll wear these today.”
She took them and quickly fastened them in her ears. When her gaze returned to his, she found him watching her intently.
“Speaking of my sisters-in-law, they’re anxious to meet you.”
“And not your brothers?” she asked.
“They are a bit more reserved in their welcome. They worry for me. I’m afraid it’s a family tradition to try and ruin the nuptials of the others,” he said dryly.
She didn’t know whether to laugh or feel dismay. Finally laughter won out. “Well at least you’re honest. For that I’m grateful. It will keep me from making a fool of myself in their presence.”
He shrugged. “You have nothing to be reserved about. You are to be my wife and that fact affords you the respect you are due. Theron is the soft touch in the family anyway. You’ll have him eating out of your hand in no time.”
She couldn’t imagine anyone related to Piers being a soft touch.
“Are you ready?” he asked as he slipped his hands over her shoulders. He squeezed reassuringly as if sensing her deep unease. “We have just enough time for you to be introduced to my family before the minister is due to arrive for the ceremony.”
Inhaling deeply, she nodded. He took her hand firmly in his and led her out of the bedroom and down the stairs. As they neared the bottom, she heard the murmur of voices in the living room.
Butterflies scuttled around her stomach, and the baby kicked, perhaps in protest of her mother’s unease.
When they rounded the corner, Jewel took in the people assembled in the living room with a bit of awe. The two men were obviously Piers’s brothers. There was remarkable resemblance. Both were tall and dark-haired, but their eyes were lighter than Piers’s, a golden hue while Piers’s were nearly black.
The two women standing next to his brothers were as different as night and day. Before she could continue her silent perusal, they looked up and saw her.
The brothers gave her guarded looks while the two women smiled welcomingly. She was grateful for that at least.
“Come, I’ll introduce you,” Piers murmured.
They closed the distance, stopping a few feet from the two couples.
“Jewel, this is my oldest brother Chrysander and his wife Marley. Their son, Dimitri is with his nanny for the day.”
Jewel offered a tremulous smile. “I’m happy to meet you.”
Marley smiled, her blue eyes twinkling with friendliness. “We’re happy to meet you too, Jewel. Welcome to the family. I hope you’ll be happy. When are you due?”
Jewel blinked and then returned her smile. “I’m a little over five months along.”
“Hello, Jewel,” Chrysander said in his deep voice.
She swallowed and nodded her greeting to Piers’s oldest brother. Intimidating. How could anyone stand to be around the three of the Anetakis brothers at the same time?
Piers turned to the other couple. “This is my brother Theron and his wife, Bella.” Piers’s entire expression softened into a fond smile when he touched Bella’s arm. She smiled mischievously back at Piers and then looked up at Jewel.
“We’re both happy to meet you, Jewel,” Bella said. She nudged Theron with her elbow. “Aren’t we, Theron?”
“Of course, Bella mou,” he said in a teasing tone. It was as if all attempt to maintain a serious air went out the window when he looked at his wife. Then he turned his attention to Jewel. “Welcome to our family. I’m not sure whether to offer my congratulations or my condolences on marrying my brother.”
Jewel smiled at his attempt at humor, and Piers snorted.
“If you’re quite through insulting me, I’ll offer everyone a drink to celebrate the occasion. The minister should be here at any moment to perform the ceremony.”
The others watched her curiously as Piers left her side to collect a chilled bottle of champagne. He passed glasses to everyone and then popped the cork.
When he came to her, he handed her a glass of mineral water instead. She was touched by his thoughtfulness and smiled her thanks.
Chrysander cleared his throat, and Marley slipped her arm into his. “Our best wishes for a long and…happy marriage,” he added after a slight pause.
They raised their glasses in a toast, and for a moment, Jewel wished, oh how she wished that it was all real, and that this was her family and that she and Piers were in love and expecting their first child with all the joy of a happily married couple.
She dreamed of Christmas celebrations, birthdays and get-togethers just for the heck of it and a loud rambunctious family, loyal to a fault.
Tears pricked her eyelids as she bade goodbye to that dream and embraced her reality. She hastily gulped her water in an effort to regain control of her emotions.
Piers stood at her side and bent his head low to her ear. “What is it, yineka mou? What has upset you?”
“I’m fine,” she said, pasting on a bright smile.
The doorbell rang, and she jumped.
His fingers cupped her elbow, and he rubbed a thumb across her skin in a soothing manner. “It’s just the minister here to marry us. I’ll go let him in.”
She almost asked him not to go, but how silly was she to be worried about being left alone with his relatives? She chanced a glance at the two couples, standing so close, so lovingly together, and her heart ached all over again.
“Between you and Marley, Theron is going to get all the wrong ideas,” Bella said to Jewel.
“And how is this?” Theron demanded.
“All these babies and pregnant women,” she said mischievously. “I fully expect Theron to start hinting about knocking me up just any day now.”
Jewel laughed, charmed by Bella’s easy humor and how relaxed she was around everyone. Clearly she wasn’t worried about her place in this family. No one seemed to mind her outrageous statement in the least.
Marley tried to stifle her laughter while Chrysander just groaned. Theron’s eyes took on a sensual light that almost made Jewel feel like a voyeur.
“Oh no, Bella mou. We have much practicing to do before we get you pregnant.”
“See, Jewel, it’s not so hard to train the Anetakis men,” she said cheekily. “Marley has whipped Chrysander into admirable shape, while I have turned Theron to my way of thinking. I can’t imagine you being any less successful with Piers.”
“Theron, keep your woman quiet,” Chrysander said mildly. “She’s inciting discontent among the female ranks.”
Marley elbowed him sharply, but her eyes were alight with amusement and love.
Piers walked back in with an elderly man, their heads turned in conversation. When the minister saw Jewel, he smiled and went forward, his hands outstretched.
“You must be the bride to be. You look lovely, my dear. Are you ready for the ceremony to begin?”
She swallowed and nodded, though her legs were trembling.
The minister introduced himself to the others, and after a few moments of polite conversation, Piers motioned that he was ready to begin.
It was all quite awkward, at least for Jewel. The rest acted as if this was the sort of ceremony they attended every day. Piers and Jewel stood in front of the minister while each couple flanked them.
Her throat tightened as she listened to Piers promise to love, honor and cherish her all the days of his life and until death do they part. And then it struck her square in the face that she wanted him to love her. Why? Did that mean she loved him? No, she didn’t. She couldn’t. She didn’t know how to love any more than she knew how to be loved. But it didn’t stop the yearning inside.
When the ceremony concluded, Piers brushed a perfunctory kiss across her lips and then stepped back to receive his brothers’ somewhat muted congratulations.
Chrysander insisted on taking them all out to eat afterward, and a limousine took all three couples into the heart of the city to an upscale restaurant that boasted delicious seafood.
She was hungry, but the idea that she was now married effectively put a damper on her appetite. She picked and pushed at her food until finally Piers took notice.
He picked up her hand, and the band he’d placed on her finger just hours before gleamed behind the diamond engagement ring in the low light.
“Are you ready to return home?” he whispered so the others wouldn’t hear. “I can send them on at any time.”
“They’re your family,” she protested. “I’ve no wish to cut short your visit.”
He laughed. “You’re very thoughtful, yineka mou, but I see them often, and if there is ever a time I can send them away, surely my wedding day is one of them? They would understand—having had their wedding nights not too long ago.”
She froze as his meaning became clear. Surely he wasn’t thinking that…no, he couldn’t, could he? He’d been present when her doctor said there was no reason she couldn’t indulge in lovemaking, but she’d assumed that Piers had taken it as the doctor thinking they were in a normal relationship. Did this mean he wanted to make love to her? To actually consummate the marriage?
His hand covered hers, idly stroking the tops of her fingers as he turned to the others and told them that he and Jewel were ready to go.
There were hugs, polite kisses and teasing good-byes. Piers hugged each of his sisters-in-law, and she could tell that he regarded them with great affection. It was quite a change to the way he looked at her with so much distrust in those dark eyes.
And then they were on their way. Piers had left the limousine to the others and called for a car to pick them up. The ride home was quiet, and finally, unable to stand the tension, she turned her head in the darkness of the backseat only to see him staring at her, those dark eyes nearly invisible.
“What is bothering you, yineka mou?”
“Are you expecting a wedding night?” she blurted.
White teeth flashed as he smiled. It was a decidedly predatory smile, and it sent shivers down her spine.
“But of course. You’re my wife now. A wedding night usually does follow a wedding, does it not?”
“I…I just wasn’t sure, I mean this isn’t a real marriage, and I didn’t think you wanted much to do with me.”
“Oh, I intend for it to be very real,” he said softly. “Just as I intend for you to spend tonight and every night in my bed.”
A ll she had to do was say no. It wasn’t as if Piers would force her. Jewel stepped from the car, her hand in Piers’s as he pulled her to his side. A shiver overtook her when the night chill brushed her skin, and she unconsciously moved closer to his warmth.
The question was, did she want to tell him no? And what purpose would it serve except to make him further distrust her and her motives?
As soon as the thought materialized, she clenched her teeth in anger. If the only reason she could muster to go to bed with him was so that he’d trust her more then she needed a serious reality check, not to mention she needed a few more brain cells.
Admit it, you want him.
And there it was. She did. The one night they’d shared burned brightly in her memory. She was married to him, and she wanted him to love her. She wanted him to trust her, and neither could happen if she maintained the distance between them.
Determined to embrace her marriage without being a martyr, she slipped her fingers tighter through Piers’s and hurried alongside him into the house.
“I know today was hard for you, yineka mou. I hope it wasn’t too taxing for you and the baby.”
Had he changed his mind about making love to her? It sounded like he was offering an out. Or was he simply giving her the choice?
“I’m perfectly all right,” she said softly as they stepped into the foyer.
He turned, putting his hands gently on her upper arms. “Are you?”
She stared back, knowing what he was really asking. Slowly she nodded, her senses firing in rapid succession.
“Be sure, Jewel. Be very sure.”
Again she nodded, and before she could say or do anything else, he pulled her to him and covered her mouth hotly with his.
He swallowed her breath, took every bit of air and left her gasping for more. How was it he made her so weak? She sagged against him, clutching desperately at his shirt.