One Night to Wedding Vows (Wedlocked!)(5)

By: Kim Lawrence

A supportive arm across Sergio’s back helped lift him into the nearest chair. Raoul was shocked to feel through the tailored suit, not the solidity and strength that had always been there, but sharp ribs.

This was real. It was happening.

For the first time the reality hit him. His grandfather had been the one constant in his life and now he was dying and nothing Raoul could do would stop it.

The same way he hadn’t been able to stop his mother being just another statistic in a flu epidemic, his father shooting out his brains or his brother’s big heart bursting. It seemed like a lot of death and loss for one person to take. A curling wave of anger and helplessness washed over him.

He really was the last man standing. He could get drunk and feel sorry for himself or he could... He looked at his grandfather and felt an overwhelming wave of love for the tough, proud old man.

He could do something. His grandfather had just told him what he could do, not to stop him dying but to make him die content. He wouldn’t have thought twice if it were bone marrow or a kidney he was being asked for, so why hesitate now?

Because losing his right hand would be easy compared to what his grandfather was asking. Marriage had taught him that he could not trust his own judgement when his heart was engaged. And that you could never really know another person, never trust them. So gambling your future and giving up your freedom was insane.

There had to be an alternative and when he sobered up it would be obvious...

‘I’ll get an ambulance.’

‘No...’ The hand that covered his was shaking but the voice was stronger now and emphatic as he repeated the prohibition. ‘No, no hospitals. It’s passed.’ The hand that still grasped his grandson’s tightened. ‘I can’t make you do of all days... Jamie would have called me a selfish old—’

‘Jamie loved you,’ Raoul cut in roughly.

‘Your brother loved life.’

Raoul nodded and pretended not to see the tears on the old man’s cheeks. ‘And you’re not saying anything I haven’t considered myself.’ The expression on his grandfather’s grey-tinged face made Raoul glad of the lie.

‘You have?’

‘I’m not getting any younger.’

‘And you want a family?’

Raoul tipped his head, recalling a time when that had been true.

‘It is a natural instinct.’

Any instincts he might have possessed had not survived his short marriage to Lucy. Lucy, who’d had a talent and a no-holds-barred policy when it came to inflicting pain in retribution for perceived slights and insults. A year must have passed before, in one of her rages, she had revealed the abortion she had had during the early months of their marriage.

‘You think I’d get fat and ugly just to give you a brat!’ she’d screamed.

He pushed away the echo in his mind and the image of the lovely face twisted in spite and malice. It was an image he could escape temporarily in the beds of warm, willing women. But it was a good thing that it would never really leave his mind—that way he knew he was never going to risk losing his heart. He visualised that organ safely enclosed in steel; there wasn’t a woman alive who could put a dent in his armour.

‘Are you sure I can’t...?’

‘Carlo...’ dabbing a hand to the sweat beading his upper lip, Sergio nodded towards the closed door ‘...knows what to do. You...’ Dark eyes sought those of his grandson. ‘You know,’ he continued huskily, ‘what you can do for me. No matter what, you and your brother have given my life a meaning, a richness that it would otherwise have lacked.’ The dark eyes clouded as he shook his head. ‘I was a bad father.’

Raoul looked into the face of the man who had struggled to show affection, but had always been there for his grandsons. A surge of emotion left an aching occlusion in his throat. A lie was a little thing to pay back the debt he owed this man. He was never going to marry, to fall in love, but what was the harm letting him think...?

‘Then I must learn by your mistakes?’

‘I’m sure you’ll make your own.’ A thoughtful expression crossed his heavily lined face. ‘Is there anyone?’

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