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Jogging up the stairs, Chantal entered her room to find Liza sitting on her bed reading a magazine.
"I was beginning to send out a search party," Liza joked, dropping the magazine onto the nightstand. "Chantal, what's wrong? You look as if you've seen a ghost." Liza got up from the bed and walked over to her.
Dropping the folder onto her desk, Chantal turned and faced Liza. "I wish it were a ghost. Then I'd know it wasn't real."
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Liza questioned.
Leaning her behind on the edge of the desk, Chantal looked at her friend and announced, "I'm getting married."
"You're what!" The look of shock was evident on Liza's face.
"What do you mean you're getting married? You're not even engaged, let alone dating anyone."
"As of now I am." Chantal sat in a swivel chair beside her desk and slipped off her shoes.
"Could you start from the beginning please, Chantal, because I am finding it hard following you."
Unable to sit still, Chantal got up from the chair and started pacing as she went through all of the details with Liza.
"Oh, my goodness. I can't believe you're getting married in a month. Well, who is Mr. Lexington's son?"
"Do you remember Stephan?" When Liza looked confused Chantal said, "The guy from the prom."
Liza frowned for a moment. "The cute college guy you were dancing with?"
"The one and only," she proclaimed.
Crossing the room to her vanity on the other side of her bed, Chantal sat down and began removing the pins from her hair. Her guests would be arriving soon and she needed to get ready. She considered that if she focused on her preparations for thedinner party, then maybe she could ignore the tears that had been burning the back of her eyes since she found out. But as she loosened her hair, one tear fell, then another and soon twin salty streams were pouring down her face.
She didn't know how long she'd been crying when she felt Liza's comforting hand on her back.
"Chantal, it'll be okay. Forgive me for saying this, but you seem more upset it's Stephan, than you've sounded about the whole situation. What's the deal? I would've thought you'd love to have a chance to see if he could kiss as good as you believed. You talked about him for months afterwards."
"Kissing him, Liza, not marrying him. Big difference." Chantal wanted to scream at how preposterous it all sounded.
"Chantal, correct me if I'm wrong. You're more upset about marrying the man of your dreams than having an arranged marriage. Why?"
Chantal should have known Liza would read her like a book.
"We've been friends for entirely too long." She grabbed a Kleenex from the box on her vanity table. Lifting her glasses Chantal dabbed at her eyes. Her makeup was running, but she didn't care. She'd get herself together in the shower.
"Then what's up?" Liza sat down on the edge of the bed facing her.
"You know, Liza, just like most women I have dreams of marriage and family." She gave a dry chuckle. "I never could figure out where they'd fit in with the business ... but if my dad did it, so could I." Chantal tossed the crumpled tissue into the wastebasket beside the vanity. "I thought I'd meet someone and fall in love, not that my aunt would be the one to propose to me. 'Chantal, here's the guy being forced to marry you.'"
"So, the groom is pissed?"
"Would you be?" Standing Chantal crossed the room and entered the bathroom to turn the faucet on to fill the tub. She had about an hour before her guests arrived, and she needed to relax in a bath.
"Maybe..." Liza raised her voice. "Stephan was hot all those years ago at prom ... hmm, I can only imagine what your future husband looks like now. Grown, male, broad shoulders, firm ass and--"
"Enough!" Chantal threw a towel at her friend to hush Liza's flow of words. The last thing she needed was her friend painting a picture of Stephan. His image was embedded deep in her memory. Even the thought of him now was causing her pulse to race and a throbbing between her legs, a response her body had experienced many times over the years with thoughts of him. "Look, this situation is anything but romantic or ... even sexy. It's pitiful." Grabbing the shopping bag from the center of her bed, she pulled out the accessories she'd purchased to go with her dress for the evening. Undergarments and hosiery she laid on the bed, her jewelry she placed on her vanity top.
"I'm sure it will all work out eventually. Your class does this stuff all the time. Hell, every time I hear about some businessman's son, he's marrying the daughter of another old money family. I think to myself ... what is really going on?" Her friend gave her a cheeky smile. "Now, I know."
"Yeah, you know that two people were forced to marry for the sake of a stupid marriage clause." Chantal could feel her anger bubbling up again. "Hell, Liza, am I some ugly cow that my father assumed would never have a chance finding her own man? I will admit that at almost twenty-six I may be a late bloomer in the romance department. But if I want to keep our company running I had to make sacrifices. Sacrifices my father should have understood."
"I'm sure your father understood what type of pressure you would be under and that's probably his reasoning behind doing this. Don't worry, regardless of how those high society couples get together they usually stay together until one of them dies off."
"Yeah, and just like those marriages, my husband will be traveling the world on 'business' having affairs."
Liza stood up. "Whoa, Madam President. Where did that come from?"
"I'm no fool. Love breeds the expectation of fidelity, not a cold contract. I'm a realist."
Shrugging, Liza said, "Well, maybe you're right."
"I know I am," she declared.
"If you're going to be so miserable, why don't you fight it?" Gesturing to the folder on her desk, Liza said, "I'm sure there's some loophole in it."
She followed Liza's direction and glanced at the folder. "I plan to read it and see. But, as it stands now if I don't marry Stephan Lexington, then I can't run the hotels until I turn thirty."
There was a knock at the bedroom door.
"Come in," Chantal called out.
"Chantal, I'm sorry to disturb you."
Chantal expected her aunt, but instead watched as Stephan's mother opened the door.
"It's okay. I was on my way out. Chantal, I'll meet you downstairs. I'm sure my mother could use some help in the kitchen even if she would never admit it. Besides the party will be starting soon, and the guest of honor should be fashionably late not her friend." Liza exited the room, closing the door behind her.
Both of them started talking at once.
"Please continue," Chantal encouraged the older woman.
"I can understand how you feel, Chantal. I was in your shoes before, and I know there's a lot of uncertainty, but I want you to know everything will work itself out. If two people agree to work together, they can do anything. I'm not going to lie to you by saying these things always end in a love match, but it can end in a beautiful friendship with someone you don't mind growing old and having children with."
"Thanks, Mrs. Lexington. I feel a little better about things." A little better, but she still didn't have any high expectations where she and Stephan were concerned.
"Please call me Julia. I'll be your mother-in-law within a month. We also have a lot of planning to do." Her lips curled into a sweet smile that lit her eyes.
"Oh, my goodness, I don't know the first thing about planning a wedding. I've never even been in one." Chantal's thoughts started buzzing again like bees in a hive.
"Don't worry, Chantal. I'll take care of everything. Planning and arranging are my specialty, but first let's get through this evening. So get dressed because the party won't start without you."
Julia's arms embraced her and for a moment, Chantal experienced a peace surrounding her. It had been years since anyone hugged her. Aunt Marilyn wasn't the affectionate type. Stephan's mother was quickly warming a place in her heart. In some way, she could feel the gap in her heart created by the loss of her parents beginning to close. She prayed she and Julia Lexington would become good friends.
Pulling away from her, Julia said, "If you ever need anything, Chantal, anything at all. Please do not hesitate to ask."
With an encouraging smile on her face, Julia Lexington left the room.
Finally, alone Chantal began undressing as she headed to her bathroom. She needed a good soak to put her mind at ease. Liza was right, everyone expected her to be fashionably late, and after the last couple of hours, she was going to take full advantage of it.