Marriage of Convenience

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Romance

Chapter 5 (v.1) - Chapter Five

Submitted: July 15, 2019

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Submitted: July 15, 2019



Freya left her car on the sweep of gravel at the front of Dexter House and carried her overnight grip towards the impressive Edwardian building. She rarely visited now, but she needed to see her uncle and aunt, to reassure herself that she was doing the right thing in not allowing herself to follow her instincts and tell Leo Isaac to go ahead and do his worst because she wouldn't give him one of her nail parings!

She hadn't phoned to let them know to expect her; her mind had been edgy, jumpily occupied with trying to work out how Theo's 'considerations' would take him, which way he would jump. She had learned to anticipate the way his mind worked when it came to complicated dealings in his capacity of chief executive of one of the most successful merchant banks in the city. But this was different, very different. And the more she had tried to extend her mind, to tune it into his, the more confused and uncertain she had become. She couldn't get him out of her mind.

When the butler opened the door she wiped the frown from her brow, her voice level and cool, 'Good afternoon, Simmons. Is my aunt in?' then walked past him into the huge hall. 'They're not expecting me, I'm afraid.' She surrendered her camel trench coat, her cream kid gloves, the overnight grip, and the butler's expressionless mask gave nothing away; not ' surprise, certainly not pleasant. No one, not even the servants in this huge luxurious house, was spendthrift when it came to displaying emotions, or in having emotions, quite probably.

'Mrs. Dexter is in the drawing-room, miss. I'll see your things are taken to your room.'

'Thank you, Simmons.' She turned away, her graceful stride taking her over the polished parquet to find her aunt.

Ten years ago she had been fourteen years old, and she had come to this house because her parents had been drowned when their yacht had capsized in a freak storm. She had looked, then, for affection, warmth—for mere interest, even—but had found nothing save a cool concern for her material well-being. She had been luxuriously housed, fed the right food, sent to the right schools, but that was as far as the caring had gone. She had never found the warmth of affection she had so desperately craved in those first terrible years of bereavement. And as she had grown older she had learned to do without it.

Only her uncle had ever taken any interest in her. He had seen her as a person, with needs of her own, fears and hopes of her own, rather than just another responsibility. He was fond of her, she knew, in his abstracted way. But he had been more often in his office than at home and she had seen little of him. And when he had gone into semi-retirement, due to illness, she, of course, had been living and studying in London, visiting rarely.

Sophia Dexter was in the drawing-room, a tea-tray on a low table beside her. She was a spare, formidably handsome woman and it was a beautiful room, perfect. But then the Dexter's demanded perfection in everything, even in people. It was hard to live up to such standards.

'This is a surprise.' Her aunt's voice was colored with asperity, and Freya sighed. She should have phoned, would have done, but her mind had been in a tangle.

She sank on a sofa and said, I'd like to stay overnight, drive back tomorrow after lunch.' She was stating her right to be here, using cool dignity. This house was her home, her aunt one of her guardians, for another year.

'Shall I ring for fresh tea?' Sophia wanted to know, her eyes dispassionate. 'You look tired after your drive.'

As well she might, Freya thought, but it had nothing to do with the drive. Two sleepless nights in a row, the image of Theo Dylan tormenting her mind, would hardly make her look sparkling. But she said, 'No tea for me, thank you, Aunt. How is Uncle?'

'As well as can be expected. He frets about the business, which doesn't help. As I've repeatedly told him, it's in Sam's hands now.'

They talked for a while, their conversation polite but wary until Freya excused herself and went to find her uncle. He was in the library, the most comfortable room in the house in Freya's opinion, sitting on the leather chesterfield, a photograph album open on his knees.

'The older I get the more I tend to peer into the past,' was his greeting. Freya wasn't surprised; Uncle Charles often came out with such statements.

'No one told me you were coming.' His mild eyes questioned her and she sat down beside him, sinking into the squashy leather.

'No one knew. I just arrived—it was a spur of the moment decision.'

'Ah.' He looked vaguely puzzled as if he couldn't comprehend a decision being taken, just like that.

'Is Sam expected home this weekend?' She hoped not. Her cousin was pompous and stiff, he always had been, even when he'd been seventeen to her fourteen and she'd tried to make friends with the only young person in a household that had seemed to consist of elderly, rigid machines. But he had been pompous even then, standoffish, making it clear he didn't like her, considered her addition to the household an invasion of privacy. Sam's attitude had been primarily responsible for her decision to seek work elsewhere, rather than join the family firm of Dexter Securities.

'No, he's tied up with some meetings. Look--' a finger stabbed at the open album on his knee, as if he found the subject of Sam too difficult to talk about, and Freya wondered if she'd touched a sore spot, reminding Charles Dexter of the spiteful piece in that gossip column that had pointed out the other side of his son's character—the reckless, belligerent, hidden side. 'That's your father and me. A village cricket matches well over fifty years ago. I was sixteen, your father almost eighteen.'

Freya looked at the faded print; two youths in white flannels, holding bats, looking impossibly solemn. She grinned, recognizing the jut of her father's jaw, an early indication of the stubborn, determined character he would develop in later life. And Charles Dexter, mistaking the reason for her amusement, shook his head, 'It's probably impossible for you to imagine us as ever being young men or children. But we were, my goodness we were! We were both high-spirited, a little arrogant, and we knew where we were going—or thought we did.' His shoulders slumped a little, his eyes looking into the distant past. 'I'm afraid we both left it late to marry, to get a family, your father even later than I—so you young things must think we were born old! But I can assure you, that wasn't the case!'

And then, at that moment, sitting beside the man whose years were all behind him, she knew she couldn't bring the bitterness of family shame to darken his declining years or, maybe and quite possibly, deprive him of those few remaining years.

Her decision to pay Isaac what he demanded had been the right one. And the only way she could gain access to her inheritance straight away was through marriage. So her proposal to Theo had been the only way out.

She had been jittery all day, Theo on her mind making her unable to concentrate. She kept thinking of the enormity of what she had done in asking him to marry her, and she wanted to buy a plane ticket to the other side of the world.

However, what had seemed such a neatly feasible idea began to look like a crass, idiotic blunder. Crasser and more idiotic as the minutes ticked away, their growing total an insupportable weight as Monday morning turned into Monday afternoon... Unable to bear the suddenly stifling confines of her office a moment longer, she left early.

Her home was her sanctuary, inviolate, the furnishings, the decor, echoing her own cool yet gentle character. It had provided a haven during her years of study and, later, a place to unwind in, to potter around wearing old jeans and shirts after the concentrated mind-stretching that being at Theo Dylan's beck and call all day often entailed.

But this afternoon tranquility had been forced through the walls as her thoughts, despite all her best efforts, centered on the outcome of her dinner engagement with him later this evening.

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