Ashton felt like an overstuffed penguin standing next to his brother under the ostentatious gazebo on the fringes of their parents' lush garden. No way would Kiara have had anything to do with these over-the-top flowers. She hated all this frippery.
He should know. After she’d left the rehearsal dinner he'd tried to apologise by organising a late-night delivery of long-stemmed roses with a gift basket laden with champagne, chocolates and body lotion, and…nada. According to Greg, who'd heard it from Alice this morning, Kiara thought he was a selfish, egotistical jerk. Ouch.
Not that he'd give up. If he couldn't convince her romance was real on the mushiest day of the year, Valentine's Day, at a wedding, he'd happily hand in his Y chromosome and admit defeat.
As the string quartet struck up a muted bridal march, Ashton craned his neck in anticipation. His first glimpse of Kiara wearing a bright blue silky halter dress literally snatched his breath away. With her hair piled high on her head like loosely coiled copper, her eyes smoky and her lips slicked vivid pink, she looked amazing. Stunning. Memorable.
That was the kicker. He couldn't forget her no matter how hard he tried so he'd finally given in and admitted the truth, albeit to himself: he didn't want to forget her, ever.
He willed her to look at him during the ceremony, during the bride strolling up the aisle amid reverent sighs, during the vows, the exchanging of the rings, the kiss. But she didn't glance at him once.
So he bided his time, up for the challenge, nabbing her after the interminable photos where she'd gritted her teeth so hard her jaw jutted at having to pose with him.
"You're standing too close,” she said, elbowing him when he tightened his grip around her waist.
"Smile for the camera." He planted a soft kiss shy of her mouth as the photographer snapped a picture.
She sighed. "You're not going to give up, are you?"
"It's not my nature." He bent his head to murmur in her ear. "Give me five minutes to convince you I'm crazy about you."
"You're plain crazy," she muttered, but allowed him to take her hand and lead her away from the wedding party.
If this didn't work, nothing would.
As they rounded the towering hedge near the pool house, she baulked.
"You think you can sway me with sex?" She yanked her hand away but his grasp on hers tightened.
"Trust me," he said, pushing open the door to the nook where they'd had their first memorable encounter.
"Why would I trust you… Oh."
For the first time since they'd met, she was speechless, staring at him in open-mouthed shock.
"I hope this proves my intentions are honourable and that I'm completely, utterly falling for you."
When she tore her eyes from the five-by-five-metre banner that read “Binding and legal document for the co-habitation of Kiara Cassie Hastings and Ashton George Cromwell, on the grounds of irrefutable evidence of mutual compatibility signalling a commitment to their ongoing relationship,” he glimpsed tears.
"Absolutely." He pulled her into his arms, his throat tightening with emotion as she hugged him tight. “You have a cynical, analytical legal brain so I thought the only way to get through to you was using legalese.”
When they eased apart, her grin made his heart soar. "Where do I sign?"
"On the dotted line, of course." He rolled his eyes. "And you call yourself a kick-ass lawyer."
She laughed, a purely joyous sound that made him believe in a lifetime of happiness, together.
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