Chapter 11

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Gwyn heard Gareth come into the room behind her, but she didn't turn. Instead, she continued staring out the window at the maple tree. She'd come upstairs as soon as she'd walked in the door. Just left Guy and the groceries in the front hall, climbed the stairs, and closed the bedroom door. Ostensibly it had been to give herself time to recover before facing Gareth and Alwen and Steffan, but she'd been standing here for at least five minutes without managing a single thought beyond noticing she'd been right, there was definitely a tinge of crimson in the leaves.

"I'm sorry, Gwyn." Gareth's voice was rough. Quiet.

She flinched at the sound of a paper dropping onto the bed. So Guy had told him. Shown him. She supposed it was just as well, because she wasn't sure she could have done so herself. Couldn't have described the photo, couldn't have relived the mortification of seeing it again. Not that the image would ever leave her memory.

Her toes curled against the floor.

"Why didn't you tell me they'd taken the photo?"

She shrugged, a tiny upward twitch of her shoulders. "I didn't want to worry you."

"I'm marrying you, Gwyn. That makes it my job to worry about you."

"And I'm marrying you," she countered, "which makes it my job to put up with things like paparazzi. I knew that going in, Gareth. I just—"

She broke off and clamped her teeth over her bottom lip.

"You just what?" Gareth's voice invited her to continue. She shook her head, blinking back a shimmer of tears. His footsteps crossed the room. Strong, warm arms encircled her from behind. He rested his chin on her shoulder.

"I hadn't expected it to be quite like this," she whispered.

"You're not just talking about the paparazzi, are you?"

She gripped his forearms, holding tight, not answering.

"Gwyn."

"I'm—"

"Please don't say you're fine again, love, because we both know that's not true." He sighed, his breath stirring her hair. "Tell me what's wrong. Please."

Downstairs, the doorbell rang. Sean and Amy arriving, no doubt. They should go down...

But Gareth didn't react, and she couldn't bring herself to step away from his solidity. Not yet. She thought again about Sandy's suggestion she come clean regarding her reservations about the wedding. Then she sighed. No. She really had left it too late. They could do nothing short of canceling it at this point—a solution that was out of the question...

Wasn't it?

She gave herself a mental shake. Of course it was out of the question. She loved Gareth, and she wanted nothing more than to marry him, and she'd be damned if she'd let the paparazzi change that. Or Celeste, or Angela, or anyone else. She was stronger than that. She could do this. She had to do this.

"It's nothing," she told Gareth. "Pre-wedding jitters, that's all. And the photo didn't help. Do you realize the whole world has seen my dress before you?" She attempted a laugh, but tears welled in her eyes, seriously undermining her illusion of strength and making her sniffle instead.

Gareth's arms tightened. "It doesn't matter. You'll still take away my breath when you walk down that aisle, I promise. How can you not? You already take it away every single day."

The tears rolled down her cheeks.

"It's not just the dress, is it?" he asked. He turned her in his arms. "Something's wrong, and I haven't been paying attention. Now I am. So talk to me."

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