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Who Loves Them? (Who--? Series)

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Who Loves Them? (Who--? Series)

  Who Loves Them?

  The Pre-Arranged Wedding

  By Taylor Storm

  Who--? Series

  Book 2

  Taylor Storm

  [email protected]

  Copyright: © 2013 by Reality Today Forum. All rights reserved

  No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of author.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 1

  New Orleans, Louisiana, 1991

  The house was still and silent, the heat thick and damp, thickening the air indoors. Christian Fontenot brushed the sweat from his forehead with a golden frayed-edge silk handkerchief from his pocket, an anachronistic reminder of his wealth and privilege. In a time when men of means dressed down casually in cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirts on the weekends, trading Italian loafers for flip-flops, Christian maintained the same manner of dress that he always had—slacks, a crisp button-down shirt ironed fresh by the maid that very morning, expensive shoes, and a handkerchief folded neatly in his pocket. Age had added a mahogany walking cane and gold-rimmed glasses, and his carefully combed hair was gray now instead of deep auburn. Age had not dimmed his bearing, however, if anything, it had only increased it. His stance remained ramrod straight, his chin lifted with the confidence of a man born to money and power. His mouth was always in a line, never betraying emotion.

  The only gauge of his feeling was his eyes. Sharp and green, they missed nothing, hard or soft by turns. Today they were liquid with worry, the crow’s feet at the corners creased further. Emotion, even worry, did not sit well with him, and he was impatient to get to the bottom of this issue. His old friend had asked to see him, and Daniel Olivier, despite their years of friendship, was not one to seek him out. Christian was apprehensive about seeing Daniel, and not just because he hadn’t laid eyes on him for quite some time.

  Christian needed no guide to find his way through the house. He had grown up there, spending his early days playing hide and seek beneath the cavernous staircases and begging the cook for sweets. He and Daniel had spent their teenage afternoons down at the swimming hole on the massive property, cajoling and daring the girls into jumping from the high tree above the water, where the impact of the splash more often than not resulted in a swimsuit top drifting down the river, which one of the boys would then gallantly retrieve. Then the war had come, he and Daniel had both enlisted at eighteen, and both had miraculously returned home alive, uninjured, but not unchanged. They had said goodbye to their lovers, who had given them tokens to remember them by: silk gloves, a pearl earring, or a crumpled love letter. They had been rich and carefree boys when they left, and they came back as hardened, seasoned men. Even then, they were able to slip back into their privileged lives. It was yet another reminder of how charmed both of their lives had been—for the most part.

  Daniel had married his childhood sweetheart when he returned home. Their first child had been a daughter, a beautiful black-haired girl who had grown up to be the most desired--and most aloof--debutante of New Orleans high society. The second had been another girl, with the same dark hair, but with her mother’s startling blue eyes. The third child had been another girl, stillborn, and Mrs. Olivier had succumbed to illness and death soon after. In a time when men did not involve themselves overly much with the children, Daniel was even less inclined to spend time with his daughters. So, Daniel was left with two small children to raise, a job that he left mostly to the nannies and servant girls that he employed, sinking himself into the business that his father had left to him. It was not that he didn’t care for his children; he loved them more than anything, but without preoccupation he knew he would sink into depression. Not spending so much time with his children was, in a way, a blessing to him. Oh, he would tell them stories, and tales of times gone by, but he had little time to oversee their upbringing. He kept himself busy for his own sake.

  Christian had returned from the war colder than when he had left. He had never been quite as jovial as Daniel, who had charmed girls with his easy laugh and ready jokes. Why women had always been more attracted to him was a sort of mystery, and Frances LeBlanc would have been no other. Charmed by his handsome face, mysterious aura and piles of old money, she had been the perfect mixture of voluptuous temptation and innocent virginity. Knowing that no woman in their circle could get a husband without being chaste, she learned every trick of seduction from her older sisters, and she used them all on Christian. To get what she wanted, she needed to drive him to distraction, and then leave him there. She was the perfect contrast to him, an icy, blue-eyed blonde to his fiery, green-eyed auburn. She was thin in all the right places and curvy in all of the others, and she drove him mad with desire every night of the season until he found himself kneeling before her in her father’s library on the last night, with an enormous diamond nestled in a velvet-lined box proffered to her. Even he didn’t quite know how it happened, but he knew he had to have her, and there was only one way that was going to happen. Frances accepted, of course, and their wedding was the biggest social event of the year.

  Frances’ father had been governor of Louisiana, and his influence catapulted Christian onto a political career that took off with the speed of a bullet. Frances played the dutiful wife in public, but in private, her true personality showed once she was safely married. She was spoiled beyond belief, demanding that Christian cater to her every whim. That was what she was accustomed to in her father’s home, so she assumed she would be pampered by Christian as well. He was far from the kind of man to be manipulated by a woman, so he simply began to ignore her, leaving early in the morning and returning home late at night. He was careful never to be photographed in a compromising circumstance, but there was no shortage of beautiful women who wanted to sleep with him, and he took free advantage. Frances knew, and she hardly cared. She had free rein with his money, and she had managed to give her husband a son to inherit the family money. After all, it was not as though they had married for love; rather, they both knew it was a social and financial arrangement. She had miscarried three times after that, and once it became evident that she would be unable to carry a spare son to term, Christian ceased visiting their bed altogether. That suited her just fine as well.

  Difficulty bearing children seemed to be a curse in family lines that he and Daniel had helped propagate, Christian mused, or perhaps it was their choices in women. Christian’s son had married a few years ago, and his wife Elise, a woman from outside of their social circle whom Christian had cautioned him about marrying, had miscarried twice already. She had managed to carry their third child nearly to term now, but it was a girl. And although she was very beautiful, she was not the blessing that Christian wanted.

  Daniel’s younger daughter, Annette, had also married against her father’s advice. Her husband, Rene Buck, was what the elite liked to call “new money,” a man who enjoyed displaying his wealth ostentatiously, and who expected to be accepted by the Olivier family and all within their circle, despite his flamboyant tendencies and slight Cajun accent, which he went to great lengths to conceal, often coming off affected as a result. She had managed to have one son four years ago, an adorable child that she had named Gordon, after her grandf
ather. Rene insisted on calling him Gordy, an insufferable nickname that nonetheless stuck. Annette had not managed to have another child. Whether the issue was biological or marital, Christian had no firm knowledge, but he had his suspicions. If he was a woman married to Rene Buck, he thought grimly, he would be sure to take precautions.

  His musings were interrupted by his arrival at the study. He rapped firmly on the door, a bit disturbed by the utter lack of human presence in the house, which was usually bustling with activity, even in the sluggish heat of the day. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the house at all. He hadn’t even seen the usual servants bustling about as he made his way to the study to see his old friend. His knock was answered with a gruff “come in,” and he pushed the door open and walked in.

  The study was dimly lit, the curtains mostly drawn against the heat of the day. Christian felt stifled as soon as the door opened, and he wondered how Daniel could handle the closed-in feeling. Daniel sat in a leather armchair in the far corner of the room, apparently unperturbed. He was leaning forward, his shoulders slumped, and he looked up as Christian walked in. He rose politely, and strode forward to shake Christian’s hand in greeting. He might have affectionately hugged another man, but Christian was not one for affectionate greetings. He turned to the sideboard and poured two whiskeys without asking. He added a splash of water to his, Christian’s he left straight. Christian pulled at his collar, so Daniel cracked open a window. He had not noticed how little the air circulated in the room. He didn’t seem to notice these things anyway. He handed the glass wordlessly to Christian and returned to his armchair. Christian followed suit, sitting across from his old friend. Christian looked at him expectantly, but when Daniel just sat down and looked at his glass, Christian took the lead.

  “I know you asked me to visit for a reason, Daniel,” Christian said, his mouth furrowed. “I haven’t received a request from you to visit casually in years. You’re far too busy for such things. I can’t remember the last time we’ve spoken without referring to each other as ‘Mr.’”

  “You’re no slacker yourself, old friend,” Daniel remarked, swirling the whiskey in his glass before swallowing it in one long gulp. “You might not be governor any longer, but you have a fine group of fresh future politicians to mentor. And I know you still have a finger in every pie. Your father might not have been one for politics, but you’ve taken after your father-in-law more than him. You’ve made quite a name for yourself.”

  Christian grunted, unappreciative of the reminder. His detractors liked to say that his wife’s father had “made” him, putting, in his opinion, an unwarranted amount of credit on the fact that he had married well. “We’re not here to talk about me,” he reminded. “You don’t look as though you’ve had good news. Why have you requested this meeting?”

  Daniel shook his head, standing to refill his glass. “It’s that worthless piece of Cajun trash my daughter married. I warned her about him from the beginning. I should have disinherited her for going against my wishes, but she’s my little girl, and unlike her sister, never asked me for anything until she begged me to let her marry him. I think she’s long since regretted it, but not ‘til now has she given me cause, besides my concern for her well-being.” He sank back into the armchair opposite Christian. “Rene has a gambling problem. Annette never knew until after they married, when she discovered that he had, in fact, lost most of his fortune before they ever started seeing each other. It was quite a shock to her system, discovering that her husband married her because her father was rich. I’m sure she feels a little foolish since she seemed to really be in love with him, and even begged for my permission. In fact, she blames it on her first miscarriage. She never told me, though, or anyone else.”

  “Do you think it was because of the miscarriage?” Christian asked warily.

  Daniel shook his head. “I don’t know.” He passed a hand restlessly over his eyes. “She inherited a huge amount of money on her twenty-fifth birthday, on top of the money that I gave to her when she married, and the deeds to the various properties that I had signed over to her. It would be hard for one man to ruin me altogether as I’ve made myself quite well off over the years, but Rene took a week-long trip to Vegas with some of his friends, and he lost every penny. Annette confessed to me that he convinced her to put all of the accounts and deeds in his name as well as hers early on, telling her that it was a matter of love and trust and all of that hogwash. That makes her feel even worse. He lost all of the property, all of the money. They haven’t a cent to their name.”

  Daniel’s shoulders slumped forward again. “I’ve had some health problems of late, and to be honest, I’m no longer certain of how much time I’ll have. I intended to leave a large majority of the estate to Annette, since she has a son to inherit, and God knows if Jacqueline will ever marry. But now, how can I? I can’t even bear the thought of giving her money to get her out of this hole, knowing that her weasel of a husband will get his paws on it. If it were just him, I of course, would let him rot, but I cannot do that to my sweet, naïve daughter. I have thought of incriminating him in some way, but then I would be just as bad as him. So, old friend, as you can see, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

  Christian tried to keep the shock and disgust off of his face. This was not something those in their social circle would understand. The damage to Daniel and his family’s reputation would be terrible. “Who else knows about this?”

  Daniel shook his head. “No one. We’ve managed to keep it out of the papers thus far. If it happens again…” He couldn’t even finish the thought. He had worked so hard to uphold his family name and build an empire that would continue to sustain his family, and now it was all in jeopardy because of a low-life Cajun. He buried his head in his hands. He wished he could have persuaded his daughter to marry for money.

  Christian leaned back in the armchair, trying to think of a solution. He had something of a problem with inheritance in his family too, so he wondered if there was not a way they could kill two birds with one stone. His eyes widened almost at once. “What if I said that I think I know of a way to solve all of your problems?”

  Daniel looked up at him questioningly. “I cannot imagine that you can. But by all means, let’s hear it. My options are very limited right now. Old friend, if you can help me out of this quandary, I will be forever in your debt. I am at a loss of what to do….”

  Christian set his glass down, as he thought carefully about how to explain the situation. “My daughter-in-law is about to have a girl. She’s miscarried three times already, and the doctors have warned her not to attempt another pregnancy. There will be no grandson to inherit the money and my name, and my granddaughter will have less than a stellar chance of making a good marriage, considering the blight her mother has made on our family’s reputation. You have a daughter who cannot possibly inherit on account of her husband, and a four-year-old grandson.”

  “This is what I propose. We draw up a contract promising that the two children will marry when my granddaughter is twenty-one. I will give her a substantial dowry, half of which will be paid to you now for your daughter’s benefit, on the condition that it is in her name only and that her husband have no access to it. The other half will be paid to her on the completion of the contract, which will be considered fulfilled when the couple produces a son. If it can be verified that there is a legitimate reason they cannot produce a son, then the money will be payable on their fifth wedding anniversary. You will skip your daughter in favor of your grandson in the inheritance. When my granddaughter and your grandson produce a son, I will settle a hefty inheritance on him. My granddaughter will hyphenate her name to Fontenot-Buck upon the marriage, and their children will carry the hyphenated name. Their first son will also have the middle name Olivier. This will solve both of our problems.”

  Daniel frowned. “Isn’t it a bit old-fashioned? To arrange a marriage like this? What if they don’t want to get married, or one of them turns out to be
” He trails off and looks slightly embarrassed. “You know, not interested in the opposite sex?”

  Christian snorted. “I know you’re a romantic, friend. But marriage isn’t fundamentally about love, at least not among our type of society, regardless of how yours might have been. When there is money and property in the balance, marriages are about the passing on of names and family ties. My name will end with my son’s passing, and you have only daughters and a son-in-law who will squander all that you’ve worked for before it can be passed to your grandson. In this way, we can help your daughter and secure the future for my granddaughter, who will carry on my name with hers, and will help carry on yours with her progeny. It is the best solution, Daniel. So, even if one of them is fond of the same sex, the marriage can still work. It is just a matter of priorities. Family is a priority. Money is a priority. Love is not a priority. They can both take a lover if they wish. It is not my concern.” Christian looked at Daniel expectantly. Even though he had not expected this topic of discussion with his visit to Daniel, he had been giving his own dilemma at least a great deal of thought and consideration.

  Daniel sighed, running both hands through his thick shock of white hair. “You’re right, as always, Christian. Do you think their parents will agree?”

  Christian snorted. “Your daughter has no choice. It’s that or poverty, and I doubt she’ll last long in line at a soup kitchen. My son may object at first, but he has a reasonable head on his shoulders, and he will see sense. He will not want to lose his inheritance, at any rate. He was lucky to keep it when he married that woman. If she hadn’t been pregnant at the time, I’m sure he would have moved on to another young debutant.” He shook his head at the folly of their children. “He will see sense, and his wife will keep her silence, as she always has. She knows her place in our family. Our children have, with their naïve insistence on marrying whomever, created this quagmire, and we, my friend, are the ones who have to solve it. They have made their decisions, and now we are making ours. We are charged with looking out for the best interests of our family, and that is what we do.”

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