Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 3

Republisher’s Note: A reader of the blog just sent me this missing chapter for Marriage of Convenience. According to her father’s will Michelle must marry Danny or his ranch will be sold out beneath him.

Marriage of Convenience By ‘J’ Chapter 3

It seemed to Michelle that she was a teenager again as she drifted back.

Michelle looked at the clouds floating past the airplane window, listening to the pilot announcing the descent to Europe. Her stomach was knotted with excitement. This was her first time away from home without her brother (thank-god), her first time on a flight and her first visit to her father’s new house. She had just graduated from high school in Springfield the week before, and she was on her way to her father’s wedding.

She’d never met her future stepmother, a widow with a grown son, Michelle’s father knew his fiancee from the local ranchers association. She’d sold her own place when she decided to leave her so called “business”. She decided to remarry, the couple planned to run the ranch together. Michelle had seen a picture of her, a tall dark woman standing next to her father, who looked very happy.

The ground was rising up to the plane. Michelle could make out houses and cars below, miniaturized like monopoly pieces. She sat back in her seat and closed her eyes, thinking about ten weeks of freedom that awaited her. Her father was dictatorial about long range plans and given to scatted outbursts of parental concern, but on a day to day basis he was much less exacting than her brother who practically required an hourly check in from his sister. Michelle planned to make the most from her parole.

The jets engines reversed and Michelle felt their backward thrust, then the jolt as the landing gear touched the ground. She lifted her overnight case onto her lap and shouldered purse, intending to be the first person into the aisle when the seat belt light went off. She had brought three suitcases, every stitch of summer clothing she owned and she felt outfitted for anything.

Her father was waiting for her in the deplaning lounge alone. He enveloped her in a bear hug. Michelle closed her eyes and let him hold her as he’d done when she was little. She’d missed him. “Honey, it’s great to have you here,” her father finally said, misty eyed as he released her.

“Where’s Carmen?” Michelle asked after they looked each other over in smiling silence.

“Oh, she thought it would be better if she just waited at home. She wanted to give us a chance to get reacquainted on the drive out to the ranch. You look great honey. I can’t wait for you to see the ranch. I was telling Carmen this morning, I just know you’re going to love it,” her father said.

“I still don’t believe that Rick agreed to let me come out here,” Michelle said to him. Noticing his linen shorts and loose print shirt. He had never dressed that way in Springfield even in high summer. They made small talk as they waited for her luggage to come up on the carousel, and when it did, Michelle’s father stared in disbelief.

“Honey, you didn’t tell me you were packing for the whole city of Springfield,” he said dryly, staggering as he lifted one of the overloaded suitcases to the floor.

“Did I bring too much?” Michelle asked nervously.

“Nah, whatever gave you that idea?”

“I didn’t want to have to buy anything, since I won’t have a job.”

“Don’t worry about it, if you want anything you just let me know.”

As they left the airport, and took the exit to the ranch, her father cleared his throat and said, “Honey, there’s something I want to discuss with you before we get there. I didn’t mention it in my letters. We just found out yesterday that Carmen’s son will be coming in for the wedding tomorrow, and might be staying for awhile.”

“Oh?” Michelle said trying to remember what she knew about Carmen’s son. She had a vague impression that he was older than she was, in his twenties. She knew he’d been involved in the so called “Business” with his mother before they tried to legitimize it.

“Yeah, he was helping his uncle out in California, but he couldn’t live that sort of life anymore. I think he had plans to leave when the wedding was over, but Carmen talked him into working on the ranch for a bit. I could use the help.” Ed glanced over at her. “Truthfully I think his mother would like to keep an eye on him.”

“Why?”

Her father sighed. “He’s had a little trouble readjusting after the mob,” he said shortly in a tone that indicated the subject was now closed.

Michelle filed that away for future reference, turning her attention to the scenery as they drove through the town and upward into the foothills. The stables and guest houses were at the back, against the mountain rim and behind a one story house that was shaped like and L. with long shuttered windows and redwood siding. They left the luggage in the car and went up a brick walk that bordered on either side with flower beds. ”

“Carmen we’re here,” her father called as they entered.

A woman with streaked dark hair entered the cool, air conditioned front hall. “Welcome, dear You’re just as pretty as all of your photos. We’re so happy to have you with us. Come inside,” Carmen said. “You must be hot and tired from your trip.”

Michelle followed her father from the hall, past the living room, which was furnished with low sofas and chairs in beige linen and raw cotton, into a kitchen/den combination. They sat in the breakfast nook and sipped iced tea flavored with lemon and lime slices.

“Your room is all ready for you,” Carmen said brightly. “Rosa just changed the linens this morning.”

“Rosa?” Michelle asked, looking at her father.

“Our housekeeper. She lives in town with her little girl. She just went home for the day, you’ll meet her tomorrow,” Carmen replied.

“I think you better go to bed miss,” Ed said to Michelle. “Your eyelids are slipping to half mast.”

“I’m wide awake,” Michelle replied, stifling a yawn.

Her father was about to reply when the kitchen door opened abruptly. A suitcase was tossed through the doorway, and then its owner appeared. His hair unruly and his skin as brown as a nut. He was wearing two days growth of stubble and a Peck’s bad boy expression. “Hi, Mother,” the new arrival said, smiling the crooked smile that Michelle would come to know. “Am I still in time for the ceremony?”

“Daniel!” Carmen jumped up with a glad cry, embraced him and shot Michelle’s father a worried look over her son’s shoulder. Michelle observing the scene, got the message this was expected to be a problem. She studied Danny, wondering why. Her father’s vague reference to adjustment difficulties after being in the mob didn’t tell her much.

He was about eight or ten years older than she was, in his middle to late twenties, with the slow, graceful carriage of a roaming panther. When he walked over to shake her father’s hand, his step was controlled and quiet, even though he stood a head taller than the older man and must have weighed nearly as much. Michelle knew the type from her observation of athletes at school. She suspected that he could explode into motion that would dazzle the eye in an instant. His dark gaze moved across the room to her and remained there. He examined her until she became uncomfortable and his mother intervened to say, “Daniel, this is Ed’s daughter Michelle. She’s staying with us this summer.”

Michelle stood as if called upon in class to give an answer, and Danny walked over to her, looking down into her face. His eyelashes were very long, almost girlish.” Hi,” he said briefly and offered his hand as he had to her father. Michelle took it, feeling foolish. She had never shaken hands with a man before, and he seemed almost to be mocking her with the gesture, as it only served to emphasize her youth. He held her fingers trapped in his while he studied her for a moment, then he let her go, turning away as if she were of no consequence.

“We expected you earlier,” his mother said to him.

“Well, Mother, I got a late start,” Danny replied, sitting as his mother gestured to a chair and stretching his legs before him.

Carmen was getting up, when the door opened and on of the ranch hands burst into the room. “Fair Season is about to foal. You folks told me to let you know.”

Ed and Carmen both bolted for the door. “That’s our prince mare!” Ed called as he ran into the night.

“We’ve been waiting a week for this,” Carmen added hot on his heels. “Help yourself to anything you like, the fridge is full,” she advised her son before disappearing after her fiance. Danny and Michelle were left to share uncomfortable silence.

“Did you ever see so much fuss about a horse?” Danny finally said, shooting her a sidelong glance. “You’d think that mare was giving birth to the Prince of Wales.”

Michelle watched as he sauntered over to the refrigerator and yanked the door open. His shirt was stuck to his back with perspiration, and she could make out the column of his spine through the thin cotton. He fitted his hair off his nape with a casual hand. He withdrew and apple and turned to face her, leaning against the kitchen counter and crossing his legs at the ankle.

“So,” he said taking a bite, “How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” she replied.”…In two weeks.”

“As much as that?” He said raising his brows. “I would never have guessed.”

She knew that he was baiting her but wasn’t sure how to reply.

“I suppose they warned you about me,” he added.

Michelle looked down, nonplussed.

He nodded, pursing his lips. “I thought so. Well, don’t worry. I haven’t taken into hurting little teenyboppers yet, so you’re safe.”

“I’m not a teenybopper,” she said annoyed.

“Oh No? What are you?” He asked as if genuinely interested, turning the apple and taking another bite of it.

“I guess I’m a….young adult,” she replied, using a term from her high school, uncomfortably aware that she sounded juvenile.

He grinned. “What does that make me? And old adult?” He took another bite of apple. “SO tomorrow’s the big day, huh?” he said. “Your dad and my mother are going to get married.”

Michelle nodded. “How do you feel about that? I’m happy for my father. My mother and father never got along, and he seems like a changed man now.”

“My parents got along great,” Danny offered, eyeing her steadily. “When my father died, Mother was devastated. I didn’t think she’d ever marry again.”

“Oh,” Michelle said quietly as Danny bit into a cookie. “If you’d stop inhaling that junk for a minute, I’ll make you something to eat,” she added shyly, attempting to gain control of the conversation once more.

“She cooks”, Danny said wonderingly, dusting cookies crumbs from his fingers. “What does she cook?”

“Anything you like. Are there eggs in the refrigerator?” she asked walking past him to look inside. “I think so. How about an omelet?” Michelle asked, pushing items aside to find what she wanted.

“Sounds great,” Danny replied, watching as she assembled ingredients and went looking for a skillet. It took her a little longer than usual, since she was unfamiliar with the kitchen, but she soon has an omelet simmering in the pan, filling the air with an appetizing aroma.

“I’m impressed,” Danny said kicking a chair loose from the table legs with his foot and dropping into it.

“Don’t be,” she said. “Rick works full time. And goes in on weekends sometimes and stays late a lot. It was either learn to cook or starve.”

Carmen entered the house, “She’s a beauty,” she said.

“Where is my father?” Michelle asked.

“He’s helping the men clean up. I just came in to call the vet.” Carmen walked into the living room, patting her son’s cheek as she past. “Sleep tight sweetheart. See you in the morning.”

“I would be happy to Mother, if you would show me where the bed is,” Danny replied.

“You’re sleeping in the guest house. The young lady gets the extra room.”

“Fine with me,” Danny said equably, picking up his suitcase. Danny turned and looked at Michelle when his mother left. “Thanks for fixing me something to eat,” he said.

“You’re welcome.”

He doubled his fist and tapped her lightly on the chin. “Good night, kid,” he said softly.

“Goodnight,” Michelle replied. Watching him walk out of the room. She heard the back door close behind him.

Well, so that was Carmen’s son, the object of so much concern, Michelle could understand it better now. Although he hadn’t been doing anything particularly unusual that evening there was an aura of power about him, of danger. It was subtle, but unmistakable. She wasn’t sure what to think of him.

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