Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 1 preview, Decisions



So, here's chapter one from Decisions. This one is brand-new, so go easy on me! Still writing it, but I'm two days and 10,000 words in. This one may actually be fairly quick to write. Of course, after writing comes editing. Sigh.

Decisions-Chapter 1

Emma Tremaine kicked at the sand beneath her manicured toes furiously and scowled. Damn her parents, anyway, for making this necessary. So bunking at a beach house in an absolutely beautiful ocean-side community for the summer wasn’t exactly a hardship, but the reason for this vacation grated on her nerves.

She didn’t want to marry Gray Taylor. And they couldn’t make her.

Yes, he was gorgeous, young, athletic, and wealthy, but those weren’t the only qualities Emma looked for in a man. The man of her choosing also had to be nice. And Gray wasn’t.

In fact, he was ruthless and cold. Emma still remembered the last run-in she’d had with him. And her ego still smarted.

Emma was nineteen the first time she’d met him, young, idealistic, and impressionable. Gray had been twenty-four, fresh out of Harvard Business School. He was being groomed to take over his father’s natural gas company. They met at a party that Emma’s dad, Senator Schooner Tremaine, had thrown for the wealthy businessmen of Harrisburg. Emma had never met Gray before, but she’d heard stories about his business acumen and killer looks. He instantly appealed to her with his blond carelessly-styled hair and stormy gray eyes. The cut of his suit fit his form impeccably, and there was an air of artless sophistication about him that gave her youthful heart stutters. She smiled when her father introduced them and accepted his invitation to dance.

He gathered her up and held her against his warm, firm frame. Her virgin body responded to him naturally. He was an excellent dancer, and she felt herself relaxing into his arms. She smiled up at him beguilingly and he squeezed her once.
The hours seemed to fly by as they glided around the dance floor.

Later, they stood on the balcony of Schooner Tremaine’s stately house, taking in the cool evening air, when Gray spoke to her about the real reason behind the party.

“Our parents wanted us to meet, Emma.”

“Oh. Well, it’s nice to meet you,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes up at him.

“Indeed. Do you know why they wanted us to meet?”

“No, but Daddy always introduces me to his friends’ children. I assume that’s why.”

“Well, partly, but there are other reasons.” He smiled down at her mockingly.

“Other reasons? Like what?” Emma was confused.

“Your father is a senator, right? And he owns quite a bit of land and a real estate business besides?”

“Well, yes, but what does that have to do with anything?”

“We moved here from Texas a few years back. My dad’s company has been buying up land all over Pennsylvania. There’s a wealth of natural gas under the ground. If he can’t buy the land, he’s offering leases to all of the landowners, paying them to gain access to their land for drilling. It’s big business, you know. Our company started with oil in Texas, and we’re hoping to branch out to natural gas. This area is a treasure trove of gas just waiting to be drilled.”

“I still don’t understand what that has to do with us.” Emma frowned.

“My father has faced some opposition with the state. He’s not from around here, and the locals don’t like the idea of a non-resident flatlander coming here and scooping up all the land. Then there’s the tree huggers who like to confuse facts and accuse natural gas drillers of polluting water supplies and causing explosions.”

“So? I still don’t see your point.”

“The point is that my father has convinced your father that we mean business. And one way of blocking the opposition from the state is to put down some permanent roots. In that, I mean that they have arranged for us to marry. If we intertwine ourselves with a local family, the lines blur between yours and ours. Your family is accepted. And so will we be.”

“But that’s ridiculous! I don’t even know you! Besides, arranged marriages don’t even exist anymore.”

“They happen more than you think, and for reasons exactly such as this.”

“But I don’t want to get married. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Not really. And it’s not like you have a choice.” He glanced down at her and stepped toward her, taking her chin in his hand. She grabbed his wrist and removed his hand from her face.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she sputtered indignantly.

“Checking out the merchandise, so to speak.”

“Excuse me? I’m not for sale.”

“Well, in a way, you are. My father gave your father a nice financial incentive to arrange this deal.”

“I don’t care who you think you are, I’m not a deal, and I’m not going to be bartered for like one of your damn Texas Longhorns. This is absolutely insane. I’m going to find my father right now and demand that he break up this—deal—right now.”
She spun to leave, but Gray grabbed her arm and yanked her to him. She slammed against his broad chest, the wind knocked out of her. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her recklessly, deeply, violently. She tried to push against him, but he only held her more firmly.

When he released her, she slapped him in the face. “How dare you!”

“You’ll be my wife, Emma. Our fathers have agreed.”

“Well, I’m un-agreeing, you arrogant bastard. I don’t want you.”

“Do you think I want you any more than you want me? Look at you--nineteen, a spoiled brat, and completely unwise to the ways of the world. I have a girlfriend, you know. And she’s not happy about this either. But, I’ve made arrangements to ensure that she’s taken care of, even after our wedding.”

“Oh, really? So, I’m just supposed to marry you and allow you to visit your mistress any time you like while your father plots to take over the state of Pennsylvania and drill for natural gas?”

“Yes.”

“That’s absurd.”

“That’s business.”

“But what about love?”

“It’s irrelevant. You’re nothing more to me than a way to help my dad get what he wants.”

She ran from him, tears streaming down her cheeks. She entered the house and found her father in his study with Robert Taylor. Both men had brandy snifters in hand, cigars lit and casting fragrant smoke around the room.

“Daddy, what is the meaning of this? Gray just told me that you and Mr. Taylor have agreed on an arranged marriage?” She tripped over the words, furious beyond belief.

“Princess, calm down. It’s a done deal. We’ll discuss this in the morning, after you’ve had a chance to settle down and think this through.”

“Like hell! You can’t do this. I won’t let you.”

“Emma, your dad has already signed a contract. The merging of our businesses, and our lives, will take place. I’m sure you’ll find Gray to be an excellent husband and provider.”

She screamed in fury and fled the room.

The next morning, Schooner sat her down and explained that there was no rush. She and Gray would be free to do as they wished for now, but they would have to marry after Emma turned twenty-one.

Emma cried and protested, but Schooner held firm. Even Natalie, Emma’s mother, was supportive of the idea and did nothing to help her daughter. The incentive that the Taylor family had provided for this occasion must have been huge. Emma didn’t want to think about it. She holed herself up in her room for a solid week, moping, protesting, and thinking. Eventually, her parents forced her to come out and start living her life again.

Gray didn’t come back after the party. Instead, he sent a terse note letting her know he wouldn’t bother her until their wedding. After all, he had other things to see to. Emma read between the lines and wondered if the other thing was a blonde or a brunette.

Eventually, things settled down. Gray stayed away and Emma pretended that he didn’t exist. After a year, Gray left Pennsylvania, and Emma heard rumors that he was engaged to a woman back in Texas. She breathed a sigh of relief and considered the deal broken. Before long, she had forgotten all about the arrangement and concentrated on life instead.

On the night of Emma’s twenty-first birthday, however, she realized she had been wrong to think that the deal was broken. Dead wrong. Schooner arranged for a black-tie dinner at her favorite restaurant in downtown Harrisburg, and Emma was delighted to see many of her friends and family there. But when she saw one of her guests, her heart flew up to her throat.

What was he doing here?

Gray looked just as delicious as he did two years before. But he had the same cold, ruthless look in his eyes. And he was headed straight for her.

“Emma,” he acknowledged. He took her slender hand in his and slid an enormous engagement ring on her finger.

“What are you doing here? And what is this? That deal is over. You’re engaged to someone else, aren’t you?”

“Who said the deal was over?”

“I—I just assumed. I heard you were engaged. And no one said anything about anything recently. I thought that it was just another one of my dad’s stupid deals that fell through. This isn’t happening. It can’t be happening,” she protested weakly. The room started to spin and her eyes began to blur.

Gray grabbed her by the elbow and ushered her into a chair. “Can’t have my future wife fainting on me, can I?” he mocked her.

“I’m not your future wife.”

“The bargain still stands, Emma. Face it. You’ll soon be Emma Taylor. Mrs. Gray Taylor.”

“Oh, god.”

“Sorry. He can’t help you.”

“I see that. Not when my dad struck a deal with the devil.”

“Quick-witted, are we?”

“Better than nit-witted, like some people I know. And what about that woman you’re engaged to in Texas?”

“She’ll keep.”

“Oh, you arrogant bastard.”

“You’ve called me that before.”

“Well, if the shoe fits.”

“Sorry, Cinderella, the ball’s over.”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” She stomped off and found her father, holed up once again with Robert Taylor.

“Dad? Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Oh, Princess! Happy birthday. Having fun?” He slung an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. He had a little more scotch in him than was prudent, Emma thought.

“Dad, why did you invite Gray here? And why did you let him think the deal was still on?”

“Because it is, Pumpkin. What made you think it wasn’t?”

Oh, lord. She was in trouble now.

“Well, I refuse.”

“You can’t,” Robert Taylor said quietly. “Emma, Gray will see that you’re very well taken care of. I know that perhaps this is not the way you envisioned marriage, but it will work out.”

“Isn’t there anything I can do to talk you out of this? Please?”

“I’m afraid not. This merger is going to mean wonderful things for our families, my company, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Gray approached her and said, “Do you want to dance?”

“No, I don’t. But I suppose I have to until I figure out how to get out of this mess. No sense making a scene.”

She followed him to the dance floor and allowed herself to be led by him. His arms were warm and strong around her, and she thought it was quite a shame that he was such a jerk, and quite a shame that she’d have to let down both her parents and Pennsylvania. She was not going to marry this man.

“I hate you, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Get used to me now, Emma. I’ll make sure you never want for anything, and we’ll play the loving couple in public. No one has to know about Diane.”

“That’s the name of your mistress?”

“She’s more than my mistress. I love her.”

“So why are you agreeing to marry me? And why is she ok with this?”

“Because she knows I’m worth waiting for. After five years, you and I will file for divorce and I’ll marry her.”

“Excuse me?”

“Five years will give us enough time to sire an heir to my father’s business. You’ll be provided for generously, of course.”

“This is surreal. There’s no way that I’d sleep with you, you louse. And why go through the charade in the first place when we’re just going to get divorced? Why drag us into this deal?”

“Believe me; I don’t want to sleep with you either. You aren’t my type, and you’re flattering yourself if you think I actually want to have anything to do with you. But, business is business, and I’m doing this for my dad. Diane can’t have children. We need an heir. And you know the other reasons. We need an in with this place if we want to grow the business. You’re the in.”

Emma shrieked. Natalie came running and put her arm around her daughter’s waist. She led her from the banquet hall into a private anteroom.

“Listen, honey. I know how awful this seems now, but really, it’s a great deal. You’ll end up quite wealthy, I promise. The contract provides for a million dollar allowance per year for twenty years. That’s a great deal of money for someone your age. You can do whatever you want.”

“No, I can’t. You and Dad have made that quite clear. Mom, why would you let him do this to me?”

“Oh, sweetie, I just wanted to make sure you were provided for. I just want what’s best for you.”

“And how is this best for me? Marrying me off to a man I don’t love, who doesn’t love me?”

“He’ll come to in time, I’m sure of it. Listen, I know how strange this must be for you, so we’ve arranged for you to take a little trip, anywhere you want to go. Spend the summer by yourself, sow your oats if you’re so inclined, and then you’ll come back in the fall to get married.”

“This is insane. I cannot believe you’d sell your own daughter. I’ll take the trip, but I will not marry that man. You’ll be lucky if I come back.”

That was a week ago. She had packed her luggage, boarded a plane, and landed in the magnificent Outer Banks of North Carolina, a jewel of geography nestled between the Atlantic and Currituck Sound.

She rented a house in Duck, North Carolina and settled in, trying to forget that she was engaged to be married to a man she didn’t love, a man who didn’t love her, who drove her nuts every time he got within a hundred yards of her.

It was June 21, and she was expected back in Harrisburg on September 21. Until then, she was to play in the sand, lie in the sun, shop, and convince herself that she had to do her duty. Emma had other ideas. She had some decisions to make.

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