The Billionaire's Convenient BrideBy: CJ Howard
Peter almost choked on his tea, “She and I were at Café du Monde just a while ago.”
Henri looked at his granddaughter’s clothes smudged with powdered sugar. “Yes. I can see that,” he said, stifling a good laugh. “She let you get away with that? She must like you, then.”
Peter smiled and then laughed. “That’s the first time she’s let me get away with anything at all, so I’m counting myself lucky, sir.”
Henri laughed at him. Emmaline moved her seat next to her grandfather’s and took his hand in hers.
“Papa,” she said softly. “I hope you won’t be upset with me, but I want to tell you what it is that’s going on here. You know you’re the most important person in my life and I would never keep anything from you, so I want you to know this, but you can’t tell anyone.”
Henri looked at her with great concern, but he listened quietly to everything she had to say, occasionally shooting dark looks of uncertainty over to Peter, but he let her finish and by the time she was done with her story, he whistled and leaned back in his chair, then began to rock in it quietly for a long while.
Emmaline waited for him to respond, so Peter followed her lead, and he waited as well and sipped his sweet tea.
At long last, Henri spoke. He looked at Peter. “Why did you choose my granddaughter for this deal of yours?”
Peter looked right at him. “I chose her because she is the most upstanding, honest, hardworking, respectable woman I know, and she is genuinely interested in helping her community. Besides that, she is a truly beautiful woman and she will make a believable wife.”
Henri nodded his head and sighed. “Well, I don’t think it’s right, but I understand what you are doing. I’m never going to let my little one down, so I’ll be right there to give you away, Emma, but I hope someday you will let me give you away to a real husband who will love you all of your life like your grandmother loved me. I was a lucky man to get her and I don’t know how I ever talked her into marrying me, but I’m grateful every day that she did, and I want that same kind of love for you, little one.”
She hugged him tight around his neck and then sat back down again and wiped tears from her eyes. He looked once more at Peter. “You better take good care of her,” he said. It was clear that it wasn’t a request.
Peter nodded. “Yes, sir, I will do that. I give you my word.”
Henri nodded back. “Good.”
They stayed and talked with Henri through the early afternoon, and then after Emmaline had washed the sugar off of her clothes, they left him and headed out for their dinner date. Peter hired a carriage to take them through the Quarter for an evening ride and they sat together in the warm air as twilight started to descend and the stars came out one by one.
“You know,” Peter said as they rode along quietly, “I really like your grandfather. No one has ever treated me with such genuine respect before. That was a first. You’re a lucky lady to have him in your life.”
“I know it,” she said, smiling, and held his hand as the carriage rolled on.
They spent every day together having lunch and dinner out in town, making sure they were seen by everyone, and all the looks of disgust and disdain began to quiet and calm over the weeks, and they noticed a subtle change in the way that people looked at Peter, and the way they treated him. Peter made sure that Henri went out to dinner with them on Sunday nights, and he got to love the weekly visits with him. Their conversations ranged over a wide array of topics, and none of them were ever boring.
Emmaline had learned that Peter worked in his office in the mornings, and she left him to it, often doing laps in the pool or making breakfast for herself and Nelson and Peter, when they emerged from the war cave, as Nelson sometimes called it.
She was making French press coffee one morning, three weeks into their deal, when Nelson slipped into the kitchen looking more than a little askew.
“What’s going on in there today? Are you alright?” she asked him, slightly concerned.
He shook his head and looked longingly at the coffee she was pouring into her cup. “No, it’s not going well at all.”
She saw his face and handed him the cup of coffee, which he took gratefully. “We’re really struggling with part of the refurbishment in the plans. There’s a business associate from out of town who is in there right now, and we just can’t seem to reach terms on anything. It’s warm and tense in there, and I just had to break out to come grab some coffee before one of them kills the other one.”
Emmaline nodded and patted him on the shoulder. Then she made a pretty tray, laying out a linen cloth on it, adding a small vase of fresh cut flowers she had chosen from the garden that morning, she placed a plate of cookies and a bowl of wrapped chocolates on the tray and then pulled a pitcher of sweet tea from the refrigerator and nudged Nelson.
“Alright, I’m armed, let’s go,” she said conspiratorially.
They walked into the office together and she set the tray down on Peter’s desk. He looked up at her, in a bad mood and she saw irritation flit across his perfect looking face. She turned her eyes to his business associate who was standing at another table in the office, looking at designs sitting on the surface of it. He was tall and seemingly built of solid muscle. He had jet black hair and light blue eyes. His extraordinary good looks caught her off guard for a moment and she blinked at him and then smiled. He smiled back at her warmly and looked at the tray in gratitude. He walked around the desk, his eyes never leaving her, and he reached for her hand.
“Hello, I’m Tristan.” He kissed the back of her hand slowly and delicately, and then released it, his eyes watching her still as she smiled widely at him. “That looks so good. I think it’s just what we needed,” he said softly, glancing for a moment at the tray. “Thank you for bringing that in.”
She shrugged and smiled, but before she could answer, Peter stood up and slammed his hands down on the desk. “No, that is not just what we needed! What we need is a resolution to your stubborn attitude! We can’t move forward until you agree with me! I don’t think cookies and tea are going to fix that!” He raised his voice and Tristan winked at Emmaline and turned to Peter.
“Sweet tea might sweeten your disposition and your short-sightedness. Can I offer you a glass of it?” His voice was deep and calm, and his tone was polite.
Emmaline wandered over to the table and looked down at the plans. A cursory glance gave her a fair idea of what they were looking at.
“Tea is not going to fix this!” Peter snapped.
Emmaline looked up at them both, and they were both watching her. “What seems to be the hold up?” she asked.
Tristan walked over to the table and stood near her. “I’m sorry I didn’t get your name before,” he said with a smile.
“I’m Emmaline,” she replied and he bowed his head slightly to her.
“Well, Emmaline, we are working on these plans to refurbish a section of the French Quarter and some of the Uptown area and the city here and here as well. Part of our work includes the merger of two businesses, and the challenge seems to be that we are experiencing some legal constraints due to…” he glanced at Peter and then back at Emmaline, “some red tape at the Governor’s office that we can’t seem to get through. Not all of the legal channels we need to use are open to us because some of the people working on the project aren’t, let’s just say, favored. So that’s holding us up, and while we are working through that, our timelines are being delayed which is holding back the progress of combining the companies. The employees are very concerned about their jobs and future of the businesses and the merger and some of them are talking about leaving for more solid employment. We don’t want to lose the talent we have, and legally, we have to keep both companies active until the legal channels are cleared for the merger, so we are stuck about what to do with it with the employees. We’ll get through the red tape eventually, but we can’t lose our staff.”
Emmaline looked at the documents spread across the table and her eyes fell on a map of the Quarter. “Well, actually, it seems like you already have a really simple solution to the whole problem,” she said with a smile at Tristan.
Peter stalked over to the table and flung his hands up in the air at her. “There’s nothing simple about it! Nothing at all! What do you know anyway? You’re just a waitress!”
Emmaline’s heart felt like it stopped in her chest and her eyes stung with tears as she stared at Peter’s angry face. Tristan placed his hand lightly on her shoulder and looked directly at her.
“What is it that you thought might work for this? I’d love to know. Fresh eyes can usually see things that tired eyes can’t.” He gave her an encouraging smile and she took a deep breath to steady herself, then she looked at Tristan alone and placed her hand on one of the squares of property.
“This building right here is already refurbished. It’s been repaired. Everything in it works. I know the man who owns this building. He rents it out on weekends to local artists for them to show their work in, but it’s empty during the week. You could reinforce the confidence in your employees if you move the people from both companies into this one building so that they can work together and move toward combining the businesses. Leave both of the individual businesses operational for the time being so that you meet the legal requirements you have before the merger is done, but just move the staff to this location. They can work together until you get the merger complete, and then you can move them into the building you have for the new company.” She looked pointedly at Peter. “Sort of a temporary marriage until the deal is done and then they can go where they are supposed to be.”