A Daring Contract
I haven’t written an arranged marriage before because it’s hard to write them so they make sense…unless they are historical or maybe scifi. And these characters were in it for maximum emotional impact! Here’s a little taste:
Christmas was only a few weeks off. Doug loved Christmas. Her eyes brimmed again and she brushed aside the tears. Last ones, at least until we get back in the truck. Pushing her curls back from her face, she fastened them with a silver barrette and sailed back out into the hallway. Tony waited there, and held out his arm for her to take. This time she shook her head. “I have to do this myself. Stand on my own two feet. Doug would want me to.”
“He always told me, if anything happened to him, to take care of you, you know.” But he let his arm drop to his side and settled for walking at her side to the doors marked Stearns, Stearns, Holliday and Steele. “This is us. I am not sure why we have to be here. We did our wills together, left everything to each other. Except for a few bequests to charity. But nothing that should require a formal reading.”
Tony held the door open and shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out. Maybe he decided to give me his tools.” Instrumental holiday music streamed out and she longed for the bad eighties tunes from the elevator. Directing her gaze away from the tasteful, silver and blue decorated Christmas tree in the corner, she tried to ignore it all. This Christmas was not happening at her house. Why would it?
“Like you need that ‘handyman set’ he kept around the house. If you want it, it’s yours, no matter what. Do you want it? To remember him by?”
He chuckled. “Nah. I don’t want anything of his. I have a lot of good memories of him and he and I , and of the three of us together. The Three Musketeers.”
An older woman sat behind a big glass desk. She stood when they entered. “Hello, Mrs. Steel. I am so sorry for your loss. Mr. Steele was well-liked by everyone in the office. Is this Mr. Chavez?”
“Yes,” Kim said. “This is Mr. Chavez.” The strain of keeping her voice steady about killed her, but the woman’s kind expression soothed her enough to go on. “I think we are expected.”
The woman spoke into her desk then stood. “Follow me, please. The rest of your party has already arrived.” Opening a door behind her desk, she waved them through then joined them in the hallway behind. “I will take you to Conference Room 3, and Mr. Stearns will be in shortly. He has been quite distraught as you can imagine.”
The conference room held a long, glossy wooden table capable of seating at least twenty people but only two seats were occupied. A half dozen folders were distributed in front of the occupied chairs and several others.
“About time you got here.” Her mother-in-law rested her folded hands on the folder at her place. “Is that what you wear to show respect to your dead husband?”
Kim’s wobbly knees tightened. “Good morning to you, too, Mother Steele.” She cleared her throat. “Edna.” She’d used the term of respect during her marriage, but the woman was the least motherly person she’d ever met and enough was enough. Edna Steele wore a dark tailored suit and low heels. Her dark-blonde hair, so similar in color to her late son’s, was in a neat twist at her nape. Everything expensive and in very good taste. At nearly sixty, she looked barely fifty. Kim as sure she herself looked older at the moment. But she’d kept the peace for all these years and didn’t have the strength to care any longer.
“Good morning, my dear.” Her father-in-law rose and came around the table to kiss her cheek. “Although not very good.”
Her heart broke for the man. At least twenty years older than his wife, he’d always been kind to her, despite his disappointment that his only son chose to make his way in the world so far from home.
She rested a hand on his arm. “No, not very good.” Before she could say more, the elder Mr. Stearns, senior partner, entered and moved to the head of the table.
“If you don’t mind, I will dispense with the pleasantries and get right to the reading of the will. I know Mr. and Mrs. Steele have a flight to catch and a copy of the document has been provided to each of you. As in most cases where a couple has been married for a number of years, Doug left the bulk of his estate to his wife, to Kim. There are a few bequests go over, but nothing out of the ordinary.”