Ok, so here's my latest version of this chapter. If you compare it to what I have on my blog from a few months ago, you can see it's changed a lot! I hope this new version is better, and I hope you enjoy it!
Emma pulled up in front of her stately childhood home and suppressed a sigh. Her parents had promised a small get-together, but obviously had been unable to restrain themselves.
She didn’t want a party. She was tired, having worked at her father’s office across town all day, and all she wanted was a quiet meal and an early bedtime. But, Schooner being Schooner, he had pulled out all the stops, and it was only for show. After all, it wasn’t every day that the daughter of an illustrious Pennsylvania Senator had her twenty-first birthday, and appearances must be kept.
Emma smoothed her skirt, adjusted her jacket, and knocked on the heavy wrought iron doorknocker. A white-gloved servant ushered her inside, and she hid her reflexive groan in a yawn when she heard the murmur of classy voices in the adjoining ballroom and parlor. She hated the opulence of this house as much as she hated the demands her father’s career placed on her lifestyle. She sniffed the air and sighed again. Of course there would be no pizza and soda for Senator Tremaine’s offspring. It had to be caviar, pâté, and filet mignon. It couldn’t be a small party; it had to be an event. After all, his constituents expected it. And Schooner loved it all.
No sooner had she handed her purse and coat to a passing maid was she was immediately summoned to Schooner’s study. She maneuvered through the crowded house until she reached her father’s sanctuary.
Schooner was ensconced in the study with two men she didn’t recognize. The lighting was dim in the wood-paneled room and the air was fragrant with tobacco smoke that hung about in hazy layers. All three men held brandy snifters and cigars and appeared to be in the middle of a serious conversation. Schooner glanced up and smiled at his daughter.
“Emma, darling, come here. This is Mr. Robert Taylor, of PennTex Drilling. And this is Gray, his son.”
“Yes, of course. I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Taylor, Gray,” Emma said dutifully. She was used to meeting people. Her father held many meetings and social gatherings at the house all the time. She had hoped that tonight would be different, but she knew better.
She smiled at the men and surreptitiously studied the younger Taylor. She had never met Gray before, but since he and his father had moved to Pennsylvania, she’d heard stories about his business acumen and killer looks. Gray was twenty-four, fresh out of Harvard Business School. He was being groomed to take over his father’s natural gas company.
He instantly appealed to her with his blond carelessly-styled hair and stormy 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.
“Gray, why don’t you take Emma outside for some fresh air,” Schooner suggested with a scheming twinkle in his eye. Emma noticed it and was immediately suspicious. What was her father up to? Normally he paid one of his goons to guard her closely around strangers, not encouraged her to go run off with one.
Gray rose from his chair, took her arm, and escorted her out of the room.
“Would you care to dance, Emma?” Gray asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Emma returned, smiling up at him.
They walked to the already crowded dance floor. Slow orchestra music from the band tucked into the music alcove in the front of the room filled the air.
Gray gathered her up and held her close. Emma snuggled in shyly, enjoying the feel of him pressed up against her. He was an excellent dancer, and she relaxed in his arms. She smiled up at him beguilingly and he smiled down at her. Was she imagining the mocking behind his gaze?
“Happy birthday, Emma.”
“So, is there anything special you want for your birthday?”
“Yes, to be able to go to bed early and get out of these shoes. It looks like I didn’t get my wish.”
“Hmm. You don’t like parties?”
“No, they’re really more of my father’s thing. I hate crowds. He seems to thrive in them. He doesn’t understand why I don’t like them.”
“So, why don’t you like them?”
“I’ve been thrust in the spotlight for as long as I can remember. Dad always dragged me and my mom out like we were display pieces whenever it was convenient for his campaign. I hate being examined, I guess, like a fish in an aquarium. I just want to lead a normal life, that’s all.”
“Alright, then. Let’s go out on the balcony. Your father wanted me to talk to you, anyway, and I’d rather do it away from your guests.”
He took her hand and led her to the second-story balcony of Schooner’ stately home, 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.”
“Yes, well, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Indeed. Do you know why they wanted us to meet?”
“Is your father a supporter of my father? He’s always courting the businessmen he thinks can help him get reelected,” Emma said bitterly.
“Well, partly, but there are other reasons.” He smiled down at her again with that same mocking expression as before on his face.
“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 months back. My father’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 tapped. Pennsylvania is right smack in the middle of the Marcellus Shale Formation.”
“So I’ve heard. Does my father want to get in on the rush?” 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 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.”
“Is my father selling you some property, then?”
“You could say that.” Gray smiled at Emma. “Our parents have arranged for us to marry.”