Interlude in the parlor...
Justin walked over to Carrie and lightly kissed her. -Aren't you going to welcome me home after a hard day at work?
She sighed. -Must you persist in keeping this marriage going?
His eyes widened. -You're the one who's going to change this room. I took that as an indicator that you planned to stay.
-Only for the month I'm required to be here.
-You'll spend the rest of your life here, he replied.
The fact that he seemed so sure of himself made her that much more determined to prove him wrong. She crossed her arms and glared at him.
He ignored her open rebellion. He gently took her by the elbow to lead her to the couch. -Will you have a seat?
-No. She didn't budge.
To her surprise, he picked her up in his arms and sat down. He held her close to him and sat her on his lap. She was too shocked to react in time to stop him from kissing her neck.
She pushed aside the delightful sensations his kissing produced and quickly stood back up.
He had amazing reflexes for he grabbed her hand and said,
-If you don't sit by me, I'll pull you back onto my lap. Or we could go upstairs and make sure you don't leave at the end of the month.
She loudly sighed so he would understand how much this pained her and plopped next to him on the couch.
He chuckled. -Now that wasn't so hard, was it?
She refused to look at him. She wouldn't let him get to her. She wouldn't fall in love with someone she was forced into marrying.
Carrie Allen took a deep breath and sat down on the couch in the parlor next to Brad, her twin brother. She knew their father was about to give them bad news. She glanced at Brad who shook his head. He appeared just as shocked as she was that their father had called them into the room. Their father sat in the chair across from them with a serious look on his face. She didn't want to hear what he would say next but knew she didn't have a choice. She was aware of the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner of the room as she waited for him to speak.
-Brad, Carrie, this isn't easy to say. Their father paused.
-What? She couldn't believe her ears.
-My business crumbled, he explained. -I have no more money, and my investments weren't enough to cover my losses.
She had a hard time understanding how his tax consulting business went bankrupt when he had just experienced a huge profit earlier that year.
He looked at Brad. -At least you still have your job at the college, and your investments are continuing to do well.
Carrie knew that Brad found little consolation in that fact. Brad didn't want to see their father's business fail anymore than she did.
-I can help you get back on your feet, Brad said. -We can find a way to get your business up and running again.
He shook his head. -I appreciate the offer, son, but my reputation has been destroyed in this town. I don't know why or how, but it has. No one will want to do business with me. He turned to her. -Carrie, I have to make sure your future is going to be secure so I have arranged a marriage between you and Justin Monroe. He is wealthy and will provide a good future for you.
She panicked. -Why would you do that? I just accepted an offer to let Harrison court me.
-I'm sorry, Carrie. I know you were looking forward to getting to know Harrison but his father doesn't want him to marry you unless I provide his son with a sizable dowry on your behalf, and I can't do that. I had to find you someone as soon as possible. I'll be losing the house next week, so I don't have time to wait. I discussed the matter with Justin Monroe's uncle and it's been arranged. You will marry Justin on Saturday.
-But...but that's three days from now. She struggled to make sense of everything her father was telling her.
-I know it's a shock. He sighed. -I wish there was something else I could do, but I have to make sure that you will be able to enjoy the same standard of living you are accustomed to.
-No, you don't have to do that. Her mind desperately sought out another solution. -I can manage without the wealth we have had. I can find a job. There are women in our town who work.
-Even if we did that, there is no way Harrison will court you. His father is determined that he will marry a wealthy young
lady. Besides, if you worked, then word would get out that you have no money, and there aren't many men who will be willing to marry a twenty-four-year-old woman without money.
-Let me work, she insisted. -I'll pull my own weight. I've had sufficient schooling to do a decent job. Surely, just because I'm a woman, it shouldn't mean I can't find suitable employment. I don't care if people find out what happened. It certainly beat marriage to a man she hardly knew.
-You will not be happy as a spinster.
-I should be the one to decide that.
He sighed. -I hadn't considered you would be opposed to this marriage. I've already made arrangements with Justin's uncle. Justin is looking for a wife who has a good reputation. The news of my bankruptcy will be well hidden so no one knows the truth. Neither Mr. Monroe nor I wish for anyone to know the reason for the sudden marriage. The official word is that his uncle and I agreed to this arrangement because in order for Justin to receive his trust fund when he turns twenty-five, he must marry. Justin is aware of the arrangement and will stick to the story.
She glanced at Brad who looked as overwhelmed as she felt, but at least he wasn't being forced into a marriage with someone she thought was more boring than watching grass grow.
Brad finally spoke. -You know that Justin and I are friends. I think a marriage between you two will be a good thing.
-Justin's a good man, their father added. -He will make you happy.
-Why would he agree to marry me? she wondered. -We don't even know each other.
-Apparently, he's quite taken with you.
-I find that hard to believe.
She could barely recall the times when she did see him. She knew he attended many dinner parties. She had occasionally said hello to him but that was the extent of her conversations with him. She had overheard him talking with her brother and his