It's everything Thea has ever dreamed of. A Tuscan wedding, the perfect dress, a handsome groom and her wedding will unite two families in more than business. So why is it only when her groom's brother Zeke Ashton arrives that things start feeling right?
Watching the woman he once loved sacrifice her happiness for duty is impossible. Zeke has to remind her of the carefree, happy girl she once was before she says "I do" if Theaor heis ever to have a chance at happiness .
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'What do you mean, he's coming here?' Thea Morrison clasped her arms around her body, as if the action could somehow hide the fact that she was wearing a ridiculously expensive, pearlencrusted, embroidered ivory wedding dress, complete with six-foot train. 'He can't!'
Her sister rolled her big blue eyes. 'Oh, calm down. He just told me to tell you that you're late to meet with the wedding planner and if you aren't there in five minutes he'll come and get you,' Helena said.
'Well, stop him!'
No, that wouldn't work. Nothing stopped Flynn Ashton when he really wanted something. He was always polite, but utterly tenacious. That was why his father had appointed him his right-hand man at Morrison-Ashton media. And why she was marrying him in the first place.
'Get me out of this dress before he gets here!'
'I don't know why you care so much,' Helena said, fumbling with the zip at the back of the dress. 'It's not like this is a real wedding anyway.'
'In two days there'll be a priest, a cake, some flowers, and a legally binding pre-nup saying otherwise.' Thea wriggled to try and get the strapless dress down over her hips. 'And everyone knows it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride in the wedding dress before the big day.'
It was more than a superstition, it was a rule. Standard Operating Procedure for weddings. Flynn was not seeing this dress a single moment before she walked down the aisle of the tiny Tuscan church at the bottom of the hill from the villa. Not one second.
'Which is why he sent me instead.'
Thea froze, her blood suddenly solid in her veins. She knew that voice. It might have been eight years since she'd heard it, but she hadn't forgotten. Any of it.
The owner of that voice really shouldn't be seeing her in nothing but her wedding lingerie. Especially since she was marrying his brother in two days.
Yanking the dress back up over her ivory corset, Thea held it tight against her chest and stared at him. 'I thought you weren't coming.' But there he was. Large as life and twice as Hell, she couldn't even lie in her brain and finish that with ugly. He looked grown up. Not twenty-one and angry at everything any more. More relaxed, more in control.
And every inch as gorgeous as he'd always been. Curse him.
Helena laughed. 'Eight years and that's all you have to say to him?' Skipping across the room, blonde hair bouncing, she wrapped her arms around him and pressed a kiss against his cheek. 'It's good to see you, Zeke.'
'Little Helena, all grown up.' Zeke returned the hug, but his gaze never left Thea's. 'It's good to see you too. And rather more of your sister than I'd bargained on.'
There was a mocking edge in his voice. As if she'd planned for him to walk in on her in her underwear. He wasn't even supposed to be in the country! Flynn had told her he wouldn't come and she'd been flooded with reliefeven if she could never explain why to her husband-to-be. But now here Zeke was, staring at her, and Thea had never felt so exposed.
She clutched the dress tightera barrier between them. 'Well, I was expecting your brother.'
'Your fiancé,' Zeke said. 'Of course. Sorry. Seems he thought I should get started with my best man duties a few days early.'
Thea blinked. 'You're Flynn's best man?'
'Who else would he choose?' He said it as if he hadn't been gone for eight years. As if he'd never taunted Flynn about not being a real Ashton, only an adopted one, a fall-back plan. As if he hadn't sworn that he was never coming back.
'Anyone in the world.' Quite literally. Flynn could have appointed the Russian Prime Minister as his best man and Thea would have been less surprised.
'He chose his brother,' Helena said, giving Thea her usual are you crazy? look. She'd perfected it at fifteen and had been employing it with alarming regularity ever since. 'What's so weird about that?'
Helena hadn't been there. She'd beenwhat? Sixteen? Too young or too self-absorbed to get involved in the situation, or to realise what was going on. Thea had wanted to keep it from herfrom everybodyeven then. Of course with hindsight even at sixteen Helena had probably had a better idea about men than Thea had at eighteen. Or now, at twenty-six. But Helena had been dealing with her own issues then.
'So, you're here for the wedding?' Thea said.
Zeke raised his eyebrows. 'What else could I possibly be here for?'
She knew what he wanted her to say, or at least to think. That he'd come back for her. To tell her she'd made the wrong decision eight years ago and she was making a worse one now. To stop her making the biggest mistake of her life.
Except Thea knew full well she'd already made that. And it had nothing to do with Zeke Ashton.
No, she had her suspicions about Zeke's return, but she didn't think he was there for her. If he'd come back to the family fold there had to be something much bigger at stake than a teenage rebellion of a relationship that had been dead for almost a decade.
'I need to get changed.'
Keeping the dress clasped tight to her body, Thea stepped off the platform and slipped behind the screen to change back into her sundress from earlier. She could hear Helena and Zeke chatting lightly outside, making out his amused tone more than the words he spoke. That was one thing that hadn't changed. The world was still a joke to himher family most of all.
Hanging the beautiful wedding dress up carefully on its padded hanger, Thea stepped back and stared at it. Her fairytale dress, all sparkle and shine. The moment she put it on she became a different person. A wife, perhaps. That dress, whatever it had cost, was worth every penny if it made her into that person, made her fit.
This time, this dress, this wedding it had to be the one that stuck. That bought her the place in the world she needed. Nothing else she'd tried had worked.
Shaking her head, Thea tugged the straps of her sundress up over her shoulders, thankful for a moment or two to regroup. To remind herself that this didn't change anything. So Zeke was there, lurking around their Tuscan villa. So what? He wasn't there for her. She was still marrying Flynn. She belonged with Flynn. She had the dress; she had the plan. She had Helena at her side to make sure she said, wore and did the right thing at the right time. This was it. This villa, this wedding. This was where she was supposed to be. Everything was in its right placeapart from Zeke Ashton.
Well, he could just stay out of her perfect picture, thank you very much. Besides, the villa was big enough she probably wouldn't even notice he was in residence most of the time. Not a problem.
Sandals on, Thea smoothed down her hair and stepped back out. 'Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting with the wedding planner to attend.'
'Of course,' Zeke said, with that infuriating mocking smile still in place. 'We wouldn't dream of delaying the blushing bride.'
Thea nodded sharply. She was not blushing.
She'd made a promise to herself eight years ago. A decision. And part of that decision meant that Zeke Ashton would never be able to make her blush again.
That part of her life was dead and buried.
Just two days until the wedding. Two more daysthat was all. Two days until Thea Morrison got her happily-ever-after.
'In fact,' Zeke said, 'why don't I walk you there? We can catch up.'
Thea's jaw clenched. 'That would be lovely,' she lied.
Two days and this miserable week would be over. Thea couldn't wait.
She barely looked like Thea. With her dark hair straightened and pinned back, her slender arms and legs bronzed to the perfect shade of tan she looked like someone else. Zeke studied her as she walked ahead of him, long strides clearly designed to get her away from his company as soon as physically possible.
Did she even remember the time when that had been the last thing she'd wanted? When she'd smile and perform her hostess duties at her father's dinner parties and company barbecues, then sneak off to hide out somewhere private, often dark and cosy, with him ? Whoever she'd pretended to be for their parentsthe good girl, the dutiful daughterwhen they were alone Zeke had seen the real Thea. Seen glimpses of the woman he'd always believed she'd become.
Zeke shook his head. Apparently he'd been wrong. Those times were gone. And as he watched Theaall high-heeled sandals, sundress and God only knew what underneath, rather than jeans, sneakers and hot pink knickershe knew the girl he'd loved was gone, too. The Thea he'd fallen in love with would never have agreed to marry his brother, whatever their respective fathers' arguments for why it was a good idea. She'd wanted lovetrue love. And for a few brief months he'd thought she'd found it.
He'd been wrong again, though.
Lengthening his own stride, he caught up to her easily. She might have long legs, but his were longer. 'So,' he asked casually, 'how many people are coming to this shindig, anyway?'
'Shindig?' Thea stopped walking. 'Did you just call my wedding a shindig?'
Zeke shrugged. Nice to know he could still get under her skin so easily. It might make the next couple of days a little more fun. Something had to. 'Sorry. I meant to say your fairytale-worthy perfect day, when thou shalt join your body in heavenly communion with the deepest love of your heart and soul. How many people are coming to that?'
Colour rose in her cheeks, filling him with a strange sense of satisfaction. It was childish, maybe. But he wasn't going to let her get away with pretending that this was a real, true lovematch. It was business, just like everything else the Morrisons and the Ashtons held dear.
Including him, these days. Even if his business wasn't the family one any more.
'Two hundred and sixty-eight,' Thea said, her tone crisp. 'At the last count.'
'Small and intimate, then?' Zeke said. 'Just how my father likes things. Where are you putting them all up? I mean, I get that this place is enormous, but still I can't imagine your guests doubling up on camp beds on the veranda.'
'We've booked out the hotel down the road. There'll be executive coaches and cabs running back and forth on the day.'
A small line had formed between her eyebrows, highlighting her irritation. That was new, too.
'Why do you care, anyway?'
'I'm the best man,' he reminded her. 'It's my job to know these things.'
That, apparently, was the line that did it. Spinning round to face him straight on, Thea planted her hands on her hips and scowled at him. 'Why are you here, Zeke? And don't give me some line about brotherly duties. I know full well what you think about Flynn.'
Did she? Maybe she could enlighten him, then. Zeke had long since given up trying to make sense of his relationship with his adopted brother. After he'd left home he'd spent months lying awake thinking about it. Wondering if he could have changed things if he'd realised sooner, before that last conversation with his father that had driven him away for good. But in the end the past was the past. He'd had to move on. Besides, this wasn't about him and Flynn. It was about Flynn and Thea.
'Well, if you're not going to buy brotherly affection, I doubt you'll go for family loyalty either.' He shrugged. 'I'm far more interested in what our fathers said to get you to agree to marry the Great Pretender.'
'Don't call him that,' Thea snapped. 'It wasn't funny when we were kids, and it's not funny now. And is it so hard to believe that I might actually want to marry Flynn?'
'Yes,' Zeke said automatically. And not just because she wasn't marrying him, whatever his business partner, Deb, said.
'Well, I do.' Thea stared at him mulishly, as if she were barely resisting the urge to add, So there!
Zeke leant back against the sunny yellow stone of the hallway, staring down through the arches towards the terrace beyond and the green vines snaking up the trellis. Clearly they were no longer in a hurry to get to the meeting, which gave him a chance to find out what had been going on around here lately.
'Really?' he said, folding his arms across his chest. 'So you're saying that the fact that your marriage will merge both sides of the business for all time, and give your heirs total control, hasn't even crossed your mind?'
Thea pulled a face. 'Of course it has.'
'And if it hadn't I'm sure your father would have made it very clear.' Thomas Morrison was always very good about making his daughter understand the implications of her actions, as Zeke remembered it. Especially when they could benefit himor threatened to inconvenience him.
'But that doesn't mean it wasn't my decision,' Thea said.
And suddenly all Zeke could think about was the last decision Thea had made, right before he'd skipped out on the family, the business and the rest of his life.
'Of course not,' he said, with a sharp, bitter taste in his mouth at the words. 'I know you like to weigh your decisions very carefully. Make sure you're choosing the most beneficial option.'
Thea's jaw dropped slightly. What? Had she expected him not to notice exactly how mercenary her behaviour was? Maybe eight years ago she might have fooled him, but he knew better now. He knew exactly what mattered to herand it wasn't him.
'What, exactly, are you trying to say?' She bit the words out, as if she were barely holding back a tirade of insulted pride. 'And I'd think very carefully before answering.'
Zeke gave her his most blinding smile. 'Exactly what you think I'm trying to say. That suddenly it makes an awful lot of sense why you chose to stay here instead of coming away with me eight years ago. What was the point once you knew I wasn't the heir any more?' He shrugged, nonchalantly, knowing it would irritate her even more. 'Gotta say, though I'm surprised it took you this long to bag Flynn.'
She was going to explode. Literally just pop with rage and frustration, spilling bitterness and anger all over the expensively rustic scrubbed walls of this beautiful villa.
Except that would probably make Zeke Ashton smirk even more. So, instead, Thea took a deep breath and prepared to lie.
'As hard as it may be for you to believe, I am in love with your brother.' Her voice came out calm and cool, and Thea felt a small bubble of pride swelling up amongst all the fury. There'd been a time when any words Zeke had spoken to her had provoked an extreme reaction. When they were kids it had usually been annoyance, or anger. Then, when they were teenagers, that annoyance had suddenly become attraction, and then anger, arousal By the time he'd left all sorts of other complicated reactions had come into play.
But not any more. Now she was an adult, in control of her own life and making her own decisions. Zeke Ashton's barbs and comments had no power over her any longer. It felt incredibly freeing.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
More book reviews: 500daysofbooks.co.vu Right off the bat, I'm going to say that the book cover was what caught my attention. I usually tend to read books just based solely on their covers, however I've learned my lesson and I read the description as well. My initial thoughts after reading it was that I just HAD to read this book. Just the idea of someone committing to sacrifice their happiness for an arrange marriage intrigues me. I honestly wouldn't be able to go through with it. However, as you continue to read, you quickly begin to realize the reason/s as to why Thea Morrison would even consider such an idea. I truly found myself relating to her in the sense that she just wants to find a place where she can finally belong. Isn't that what most people want in their lives? To belong. Thea Morrison has accepted and embraced the idea of marrying Flynn Ashton purely for convenience, safety and acceptance. But what happens when an ex lover/old boyfriend comes back in the picture two days before her wedding. Plus, add in the fact that he's the groom's brother, Zeke Ashton. Well, as you begin reading, you're quickly submerged into the drama. Zeke surprises everyone when he decides to come back after being gone for eight long years. It's clear that something happened between Zeke and Thea eight years ago, but was it just young love? Is Thea really ready to settle into the safety of Flynn or will the passion she had with Zeke make her run away with him? Hmm... If I had to describe Thea Morrison in one word, I'd chose frustrating. I understand why she agreed to marry Flynn in the first place, but how can anyone sacrifice their happiness for safety and contentment? *sigh* However, I have to give her major praise in the fact that she never gave up trying to find her place in her 'family'. By that I mean, that even though her dad was quick enough to push her away and replace her, she never gave up. I just have to say that her dad was horrible to never give her any praise, he was too quick to blame her for things that were beyond her control. Bad dad. I couldn't help but swoon over Zeke Ashton. He's charming, confident yet vulnerable when it comes to Thea. Even with their past, he is set on finding out the truth and making her admit what they both already know. Although, he is uncertain as to why he is even there to begin with, he is definitely a man on a mission. I honestly think this is a book worth checking out. Can an old flame rekindle again? You'll have to read and find out.