Chapter 24

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"Then I now pronunce you ... husband and wife!" says Lily excitedly. "You may kiss the bride!"

Nick's smile widens and my heart pounds and all of the girls are screaming and cheering and everything is so rushed, I don't have time to prepare myself. Nick's hands move to gently cup my face and I wonder if he can see past how nervous I am and how much I want to kiss him. His eyes are full of a glowing light that tells me that despite who I am and despite who he is, we can't ignore our feelings for each other.

His lips meet mine.

The girls laughing and giggling around us don't distract me from our magically cliché first kiss. Nick claims my lips in a way no man ever has. He doesn't hold me like a prized possession or an accessory. He doesn't kiss me for his own pleasure so he can tell his mates he 'scored'. Nick kisses me with a gentle hesitancy and a soft passion that ignites a flame inside me. He brushes the tips of his fingers under my ear and down my neck and I pull away, opening my eyes and feeling woozy.

"Umm," I mutter, wishing words would form in my mind, any words. Instead all I can think of is how precious I feel in that moment.

Nick seems to be having the same speech issue, and with perfect timing, Maria comes out of the house looking positively delighted. I know without having to ask that she saw the ceremony.

"Girls, it's time for the piñata!" she calls, dragging a giant pink unicorn dangling on a rope. "Nick, could you help me here?"

Nick releases my hand as the girls run to the patio deck where Maria is waiting. I pull up one of the little chairs from the tea party table and sit down. Once Nick has hung the piñata he joins me at the table and we watch the girls take turns blindfolding each other and beating the paper unicorn to a pulp until Kayla is the one to break it. Candy scatters the patio and Nick and I clap and laugh as they fight for their prizes.

Nick glances at me and I see that he has questions to ask.


His eyes fall upon the sleeve of my shirt. "You're bleeding."

I look down and wince. Blood from my cut must've seeped through the bandage into my shirt. There is a small red patch amidst the cream cotton.

"It's nothing," I assure him again. "I just cut myself this morning."

Nick shakes his head. "Why don't I believe you?"

"Why do I have to explain myself?"

"Because I care."

"What do you want me to say? That I got shot? That some guy attacked me? That I got mixed in with a drug deal and things got messy?"

"Well those are believable," he replies.

I turn away from him, my eyes following the girls as they stuff their dresses and swap treats. Why is he ruining this? Is it because he wants to know what I get up to so he can put it on my permanent file? Is it so he can –

"I care about you Jess. I just want to know if you're okay."

"I am." My answer harsh but I'm too stubborn to take it back. "Thank you," I add for good measure.

"You're welcome."

I feel as if I've outstayed my visit so I excuse myself from the party. Kayla wraps her tiny arms around my waist as I leave and Maria makes sure I have a piece of cake and some treats in my bag. I walk to the door with Nick.

"Do you need a ride home?" he asks.

"No, I'm getting picked up," I lie.

He nods and leans against the doorframe without saying anything. I wonder if I should kiss him goodbye or promise to meet up with him again. There's no reason why I can't just kiss him, but do I really need to make this harder on the both of us? After everything that has happened with Belle and the Mafia, I shouldn't be getting attached. I shouldn't even be here.

"Hey listen," he says gently, "I know we both live different lives and ... it's not right for us to be together. But I just want you to know that I believe there are very few things in this world that are stronger than love and ... I feel like this is the start of something ... strong. And judging from your response to our kiss back there, I know you feel the same."

My heart flutters. I can't look at him without wanting to kiss him again. This is such dangerous territory, and inside my head I see flashes of Nick or Kayla with a bullet in their head on the cathedral floor.

I don't get happy endings. I should really just follow the instruction manual of my life and walk away.

"You're a great guy Nick," I say and it's harder than I thought to speak. "But ... I'm not good for you. At all. I'm so sorry but you deserve better."


"We really can't be together. I'm sorry."

I leave him standing in the doorway and jog down the driveway before he can see the tears fall from my eyes. 

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