Wife by Wednesday (Chapter Eight)
He booked a night at a hotel near the airport, with intentions of joining his family at Albany the following day.
His family had other ideas.
The jet landed in the early morning hours, although for Samantha and Blake, it was very late in the evening. Blake could tell by Sam wrestling her hands that her nerves were on high alert.
He kept his arm around Sam's shoulders as they stepped out of the jet. At his suggestion, she'd slipped into a comfortable pair of worn jeans and a long sleeve shirt. "No need to dress for the driver of the car," he'd told her, assuring her they would have time to sleep, shower, and dress properly before facing anyone of importance.
Yet when the car he'd ordered pulled up alongside the plane, and the back door opened, his mother's high-heeled foot stopped both Blake and Samantha cold.
"You said we weren't expecting anyone at the airport," she hissed between thin lips.
There was no denying his mother's frame as she slid from the back seat of the limousine. The driver held an umbrella over her head to keep the droplets of rain from ruining what a hairdresser had probably spent hours creating.
Despite her previous, horrible marriage, Linda Harrison could have passed for a woman ten years her junior. Dark umber hair was pulled gracefully back under a stylish hat. The long grey coat covered what Blake knew would be a slim-fitting skirt and blouse. His mother always dressed to perfection. Even though the sun was hidden under a thick layer of clouds, his mother wore a pair of large rimmed sunglasses to hide her eyes and the feelings she might reveal under them.
"Then who's that?"
Blake swallowed. If there was one thing he'd learned about his wife, it was her insecurity. Despite all her 'shake her fist at you' attitude, Samantha had an underlying desire to be accepted.
He knew, without a doubt, that his suggestion for her to change out of her silk pantsuit and into comfortable clothes was going to snap him in the ass later.
"That's my mother."
Sam's steps faltered, but Blake kept her moving by the steady pressure of his hand on her back.
"Mum?" Blake removed his hand from Samantha's back long enough to kiss both his mother's cheeks. "We weren't expecting you." His tone was light, but he hoped he relayed his discontent.
"I couldn't let you and your bride arrive without a welcome."
Blake returned to Samantha's side and pushed her forward. "Samantha, my mother, Linda. Mum, I'd like you to meet my wife, Samantha."
His mother let a smile lift her lips. "A pleasure," she said, raising her hand to Samantha's.
"I've heard a lot about you."
"Is that so? I've heard nearly nothing about you."
Samantha stiffened beside him and Blake quickly stepped between the two women. "We're here to fix that," he told his mother. "You didn't have to meet us here. You know how long the flight is from the States."
Linda patted Blake's shoulder. "I'm sure you've had plenty of time to rest in flight."
"We've been very busy up until our trip, as I'm sure you can imagine. We're looking forward to a few hours sleep."
His mother glanced at the driver holding the umbrella over her head and then to the car. "Then we should get you home to do so."
Blake felt his control starting to snap. The worse part was that Samantha said absolutely nothing. She simply stared between the two of them, lips sealed. "I've arranged a room at The Plaza."
"That's silly – "
"Mother!" He'd had enough.
"Linda? You don't mind if I call you Linda, do you?" Samantha had found her voice.
"Of course not, dear."
"Good. As you can see, I'm in desperate need of a shower, and some sleep. I hope you'll be so kind as to wait our departure to Albany once Blake and I have had the opportunity to put some of that nasty jet-lag behind us." Samantha's tone and words were more formal than Blake had ever heard uttered previously from her lips.
"I suppose you're right."
Samantha grasped onto Blake's arm and leaned into him. "It really is nice of you to greet me here. You've no idea what that means to me."
Again, Blake was at a loss for words. He led his wife and mother into the back of the car and joined them.
The second the car door closed, Samantha snuggled closer to Blake's side. "That is a lovely coat," Sam told his mother.
"I hope you'll tell me where you got it. I'm afraid I've nothing like it and from the looks of the sky, I'll need something like it for my trip."
"Of course. We'll have plenty of time to shop."
Blake's worry over his mother's untimely arrival started to fade. "My wife and my mother shopping. Should I be worried?" he teased.
"That depends," Samantha said.
"If your sister joins us. Three women with an open credit card are positively dangerous."
They laughed. And despite the obvious differences between his mother and his wife, he wasn't worried about them getting along. Samantha had listened to his description about his mother's spending habits, about her love of fashion, and used it to gain her affection. By the time they reached The Plaza, Blake was certain that his mother didn't even notice Samantha's department store jeans and non-designer shoes. Blake was equally sure that Samantha would burn the clothes on her back the minute she had a chance.
Thankfully, his mother waved them off at the door and didn't join them inside the hotel. The early dawn hours graced them with a deserted lobby. The bellhop quickly shuffled them to their suite. Blake tipped the young man and closed the door behind him.
Alone, Sam toed off her shoes and flung herself in the sofa. "I might actually like your mom after I get over the fact she ambushed us at the airport."
"I asked her to wait for us in Albany."
"She's a mom. She's curious."
"Still, she should have waited." And he'd have a private word with her at the first opportunity.
"She needed to see that I wasn't five months pregnant with her own eyes."
Blake had started to place his suitcase on the bed when Samantha's words registered. "Pregnant?"
"Oh, please, you didn't see her eyes drifting to my waist?"
No, the thought had never entered his mind. "You're not serious."
"Very. She was on a recon mission. First to see if an heir is on the way, second to make sure I wasn't a complete wash in the class department."
Blake leaned against the frame of the bed, his mind buzzing with the possibility that Samantha was right. "How can you be sure?"
"Women are emotional creatures. Everything is in their eyes. Once your mom took off her sunglasses, I could read every glance, every twitch."
He shrugged. "I think I need to have you come into my next management meeting. You seem to have the spy thing down."
"When I was in college, I minored in psychology."
"You could have had a career in criminal justice."
"Not likely. Sins of the father and all that."
Samantha pushed off the couch, ending their conversation. There was hurt there, in her stance as she unpacked a few things and headed for the bathroom. Her father had done a number on her. Sadly, Blake wasn't sure how deep her wounds were. He made a mental note to find out.
Samantha's head no sooner met the pillow than Blake was waking her. After a long hot shower and a small meal, because face it, eating simply made her nauseous at this point, the honeymooners were on their way to Albany. The thought of Blake's family watching her every move spread shivers up her spine. Samantha knew she'd dodged Blake's mother's initial inquisition. There was no telling if Linda would be as easily put off once Sam was on the woman's home turf.
Dressed in a rust colored skirt and dress jacket, she prepared herself to meet the family.
Blake didn't even question why she'd shoved her jeans and shirt into the garbage can at the hotel. He simply noticed the outfit there and offered a laugh.
Whatever! She shouldn't have brought it to begin with… then she wouldn't have been wearing it when Linda made her appearance. Not willing to be caught in anything but her best again, Samantha made certain the only clothes with her were on par with the former Duchess of Albany, maybe a few decades younger in style, but worthy of what the woman on Blake's arm should be wearing.
The rain let up during their afternoon drive to the country. As London faded away, and the rolling hills spread before them, Samantha tried to relax in the seat beside Blake.
He spoke of his sister, who was about Samantha's age. "Gwen's always wanted me to settle down."
Sam felt her stomach twist with Blake's words. "Doesn't it worry you…" Sam let her words trail off, her gaze shifting to the driver in the front seat. She wanted to ask if he worried about his sister becoming attached to her new sister in the short span of their marriage.
Blake flinched, uncertainly skirted over his face. "You and Gwen will get along fine. She's very kind. Perhaps a little spoiled, but never mean spirited."
Samantha dropped her discussion about Gwen's attachment to a temporary sister-in-law for a time when the two of them could talk alone. The thought of deceiving all the people she was about to meet started to weight on her. The memories of her father, of the time right before he was placed in handcuffs, surfaced in her mind.
As a business major, Samantha spent many hours outside class discussing her father's success with her professors. Even her boyfriend at the time, Dan, seemed to want to know everything about Harris Elliot and his small empire of wealth and property.
Dan was charming, charismatic, and more sly than a fox at a hole waiting for the rabbit to peek it's soft, fuzzy head out.
Sam was the rabbit who didn't know she was being played.
To think she'd slept with the man who eventually put her father behind bars. How stupid she'd been. They'd dated, studied, or so she thought, and rumpled a fair number of sheets. All the while Dan recorded their conversations, asked seemingly innocent questions, and helped the prosecution make their case against her father.
Even now, years later sitting beside her temporary husband, Samantha felt ill. Not that she'd knowingly given the prosecution evidence against her father, but the sins of her father snowballed into the death of her mother and Jordan's wasted life.
Samantha remembered the day Dan confronted her with the truth about who he was. He stood beside a Federal Agent who threatened Samantha with her mother's incarceration if she didn't cooperate with their investigation.
The agent and Dan revealed some of the holes in her father's business practices and informed her about the bugs throughout her house. "We have reason to believe your mother knows more about your father's crimes. We need you to find proof otherwise or we'll be forced to put them both behind bars."
Samantha knew her mother was clueless, and was too shocked at the time to question why a Federal Agent would make a daughter prove a mother's innocence. In the end, Dan and his friends simply used Sam to nail her father. They knew Martha had nothing to do with Harris's schemes.
Samantha had questioned many things her father did over the years. He had silent partners, or so he said, but Samantha never met one. It really wasn't until her business professor in her first year in college asked about her father's profession that Sam became suspicious. She couldn't give a concrete answer as to what her father did to make money… only that he did.
As for her mother, Martha, she was a housewife of a rich man. She lunched with her elite neighbors, never washed her own dishes, and looked the other way when her father had an affair. Her clothes were always perfect, and she didn't allow Samantha or Jordan to leave the house in anything worn or cheap.
Samantha's first year in collage opened her eyes to how the world really ran. Her sorority sisters, who disappeared like roaches to light when her father ended up in jail, showed Sam an awful lot about how to budget money. Two of the girls were from broken marriages and revealed their talents for skimming daddy's money off their living expenses so they could take their spring breaks wherever the sisters wanted to go. They introduced Sam to big box stores where everyday essentials didn't have to cost a small fortune. Samantha had been proud when she'd told her mom about how she'd budgeted her money so that her father's bill would be nearly half what they'd originally thought. Martha took one look at the blue jeans Sam wore and refused to listen. "No daughter of mine is going to dress like that."
Offended, but not willing to let her mother's narrow mind stop her from learning financial reality, Samantha continued to put away nearly half of her father's allowance every month into a separate account. That account saved her ass when the Fed's seized the Elliot money.
Now Samantha was shuffling right back into a lifestyle she'd left behind. She couldn't help but worry how her deception to Linda, Gwen, and whoever else Blake introduced her to, would turn out when Samantha and Blake split.
Blake's hand covered hers, bringing to Sam's attention that she twisted them in her lap. When she glanced into his beautiful grey eyes, she saw sympathy. He probably thinks I'm nervous about meeting the family.
Little could he know her worry was much deeper.
For the first time since she'd slid on his ring, she questioned her decision.
What if she said or did something to mess this up for Blake, and his sister and mother were left without funds? Would Linda cope?
What if Linda took the path of Sam's mother?
Sam shook her head and forced the memories of her mother's funeral away.
"Everything is going to be fine."
Suddenly, Samantha wasn't so sure.
Albany Hall unfolded in front of Samantha's eyes as the car drove up the secluded path to a circular drive.
"Oh, my word," she hissed under her breath. Blake's childhood home was the size of a small castle. Two distinct wings jutted out from a central structure. Samantha counted three stories, but wouldn't doubt if there was a massive basement below ground. According to Blake, there were thirty-five rooms, not including servant's quarters. Blake spoke of a ballroom and conservatory, a library with more volumes than anyone could ever possibly read, and sitting rooms aptly named by the color of the decor. "The blue room is off the main hall, the red room beside it."
Stepping out of the limousine and into Blake's world felt a bit like Cinderella at the ball. Only the clock ticking would run for a year. Samantha should have felt comfort with those thoughts, but she pictured the pumpkin and mice running at her feet and her left holding a glass slipper and regrets.
"Ready?" Blake asked before leading her inside.
If Gwen Harrison had any doubts as to Samantha's presence beside Blake, she did a fine job of hiding it. She latched onto Sam's arm the minute Blake escorted her into the massive estate and didn't let go. She was young, beautiful, bubbly and no doubt very spoiled. Linda greeted her with an easy smile and introduced Samantha to Blake's uncle, two cousins, who both eyed her with speculation, and an aunt on Linda's side.
The servants stood ready to take her bags, bring her tea, and fade into the background.
"You can't know how pleased I am to have another woman close to my age around here," Gwen told Samantha. Where Blake hid his English accent, Gwen reveled in it.
"You've never lacked for company," Linda told her daughter.
"Company, yes, but with family it's different. Wouldn't you agree, Samantha? I've never had a sister to confide in." Gwen flashed a beautiful white smile. For a brief moment, Sam felt guilty. Although she had a sister, Jordan wasn't healthy enough to have a relationship with her like the one Gwen suggested.
It was as if Sam was being given a second chance at a sister through Blake. But again, that year time bomb on their relationship loomed. "I suppose," Samantha said.
"I have tea prepared in the red room, Blake. Why don't we sit in there so we can hear all about your whirlwind courtship and marriage?"
Blake managed to slide beside Samantha and take her arm. The heat of him by her side added some comfort to her wandering thoughts. He leaned next to her ear and whispered, "How are you doing?"
Samantha noticed Blake's cousin Howard watching them, his eyes narrow, his lips pulled down. She lifted Blake's hand and kissed his knuckles. The light in her husband's face forced some of the foreboding of their future away. "Fine," she mouthed the word and Blake squeezed her hand.
Linda ushered them into the red room. Vaulted ceilings sat atop red, grey, and white wallpapered walls. The print was actually subtle despite the color. Floral paintings and silk drapes gave the room a feminine feel. A large bouquet of fresh flowers sat on a mantel above a stone fireplace.
On the coffee table sat a spread of sweet cakes and finger sandwiches, which the men reached for before taking the tea.
"Have you been to Europe before?" Linda asked as she poured dark tea into tiny cups.
"When I was in high school."
"Then you know about tea time," Gwen said.
"It's just an excuse to snack midday," Blake told her.
Gwen waved her brother off. "Don't listen to him. He's allergic to anything remotely English. I don't think any of us were surprised to hear he'd taken an American wife."
"Gwen!" Linda scolded.
"It isn't my fault the women in Europe didn't hold my interest," Blake defended himself.
Howard stopped eating to ask, "So you and Samantha have known each other for a long time?"
Samantha and Blake had agreed that he would be the one to field the questions about their relationship. That way neither of them could stumble over the other.
"I wouldn't say that."
"What would you say?" Mary, Blake's aunt asked.
"We met last month."
"Last month?" Gwen sounded shocked. "How can you marry someone you hardly know?"
Blake put his tea down and reached for Samantha's hand. "I would have married Samantha on the first day had she said yes. There are some things in life you just know are the right thing to do."
Paul, Blake's uncle, sat forward in his chair. "The right thing, you say. Is there something you're not telling us?"
Blake's jaw tightened. "What are you asking?"
The women fell silent, their eyes on Samantha.
"Is she pregnant?"
Blake stiffened. "She, has a name, and I insist you use it instead of acting like Samantha isn't in the room." The deadly delivery of Blake's words chilled her. This was a side of him she didn't see often, and would rather not be on the receiving end of.
A smug smile crossed Paul's face, but before he could say anything else, Samantha said, "I'm not pregnant."
Even though the women in the room had said nothing, there was a collective sigh between them with the announcement.
"Then you married because of the will," this came from the youngest cousin, Adam, who sat beside Howard, who said nothing.
Blake was on his feet, fists clenched.
Samantha scrambled to set her tea aside and grasped onto Blake's hand. "Darling, we knew they'd question our motives." Then, as if she was born to lying, she said, "How could they possibly know the energy that passed between us the first day we met, or the desire to be together and married without a long courtship?"
Linda finally spoke up, putting some ease in the room. "You make it sound so romantic, Samantha."
Sam pulled Blake back into his chair and latched onto his hand to keep him from wringing the necks of the men in the room. "I'm sure you don't want all the details, but your son is very romantic."
"I want the details," Gwen bit her lip as she spoke.
Blake's eyes narrowed at his sister.
Samantha's gaze skirted toward Howard. The man watched the entire scene without saying a word. His silence told her he didn't approve. His cold stare reached toward Blake and Samantha couldn't help but wonder how far Howard would go to get his hands on Blake's inheritance.
The older Parker, of Parker and Parker sat opposite Blake in his office to discuss a few particulars of his father's last will and testament. Blake remembered hearing his father insist, from the grave, that he marry in order to inherit the bulk of his wealth, but he had missed some of the details. Actually, Blake had cut the lawyer off at the time. Blake had just turned thirty when his father died; thirty-six seemed a long way off.
Wearing a suit, tie, and a stoic expression, Mark Parker opened his briefcase and removed a stack of papers two inches thick. "I see you wasted little time securing a wife," the man said.
The last meeting between the two of them had been only two months ago. Mark reminded Blake of the deadline Edmund mapped out, but did so only because he was obligated to. Had Blake missed the deadline, Parker and Parker would stand to gain twenty-five percent of the estate, his sister and mother would be given a small stipend, but not enough for their lifestyle, and the rest would go to Howard and a few charities.
"Samantha and I are very happy," Blake told the man, offering no apologies.
"Is that so?"
"I'm sure you'll see for yourself this weekend. I haven't looked forward to going home at the end of my day in some time." Funny, the words didn't feel like a lie as they left his tongue. He did in fact look forward to seeing Samantha every night and every morning since they started to share a bed.
Mark's lips pinched together, the crows' feet along his eyes became more defined. "Convincing the firm that your marriage isn't one of convenience will fall on you… and your wife."
"I'm well aware of the stipulations Edmund put in his will. We're here today to outline exactly what your firm needs from me over the next twelve months."
Mark scraped his fingers over his jaw. "Your father was determined to see to it that you do more than manipulate your way through his demands."
His father was an ass. But there was no need to tell Mark his thoughts on the dead man now. "We already know that."
"He spent a considerable amount of time in our offices writing up legal contingencies."
Something in the way Mark was sitting up, how the man's eyes had a certain spark, brought the hair on Blake's arms to stand on end. "We've gone over those contingencies."
Mark's mouth opened into a silent "o" before he cocked his head to the side and said, "Most of them. We've discussed most of them."
The floor under Blake started to drop. Instead of showing the sly lawyer his unease, Blake sat back in his chair and waited for the other man to elaborate.
"I'm sure at the time of the reading of Edmund's will, you were too upset to listen to a few incidentals. Like the one where once you were married a codicil he had added was to be read and followed." Mark was smiling now, like a fox staring down at a mouse.
"I'm intrigued," Blake uttered. "What else could my father possible ask for?"
"Here is a sealed addendum that was to be opened after you married." After removing a set of papers from the pile, he started to read. "Good show, Blake my boy, seems I didn't raise a complete fool after all. By now, I'm sure to have made your list of the worst humans who've ever roamed this earth. I assure you, my intentions are only to prove to you once and for all how important your family should be to you. You mocked me most of your adult life, did everything in your power to put stress in mine. I suppose a better man would have died comfortable that he'd left his children and wife well provided for instead of forcing his heir to his will. We both know I wasn't that man. So, my son, I leave you with one final demand before your inheritance is turned over to you. I trust that you've married just prior to your thirty-fifth birthday, which gives you one year to accomplish your next task."
The blood in Blake's veins started to boil, knowing damn well where his father was going yet not being able to stop the words from leaving Mark Parker's mouth.
"If you're truly settled down and ready to continue my family line, then the proof will come by way of an heir."
Mark paused to assess Blake's reaction.
Blake forced his jaw to remain loose, his hands folded in his lap. The image of Samantha swam in his head.
What was he going to do now?
"These things take time, but within a year you should be well on your way to becoming a father."
Like before, Blake stopped listening when Mark went on about the sex of the child not making a difference, and the child need not be born before Blake's thirty-sixth birthday. Mark finished speaking and cleared his throat. "Seems your father thought of everything."
"And if my wife and I wanted to wait to start a family?"
Mark huffed. "Your father is giving you millions of reasons to push your plans forward. Of course, if you weren't planning on a family, or planning on staying married to – "
Blake put his hand in the air, interrupting the lawyer's words. "We're newlyweds, Mark. Or perhaps that's escaped your attention."
"Nothing you're doing escapes my attention. Bigger men than you have married to get their hands on large amounts of money with no intentions of staying married after their funds are in the bank." Mark was angry now, his words short with his crisp accent.
"This addendum was sealed, but you knew about it all along, didn't you?"
Mark sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. The slight lift of his lips gave Blake his answer.
Blake had an uncharacteristic desire to make Mark, and all his callousness, squirm in his chair. "I rather like the thought of being a father," Blake said, letting a little of his childhood accent dip into his words.
Mark's smile fell.
"Samantha will make a lovely mother." Which Blake really did believe. He kept his poker face fully engaged.
"It's going to take more than words to convince us."
"Of that, I have no doubt."
Mark gathered his papers and stood to leave. "I'll be in touch."
Blake stood and extended his hand. "We'll see you this weekend at the reception."
As the lawyer turned to leave, Blake stopped him. "Oh, Mark… be sure and have your secretary make me a copy of my father's will."
Mark nodded and left Blake's office.
Turning on his heel, Blake walked to the office window to stare across the rain soaked streets.
Damn his father and everything the man stood for. Part of Blake wanted to walk away. Tell Samantha their bluff was called. He knew damn well Samantha wouldn't be willing to bring a child into this world for the sake of millions. Her family, and their deception, caused her too much trauma. She wouldn't deceive a child. Hell, Blake could practically feel the twisting in Samantha's gut when Gwen started talking about plans of the future.
Blake anticipated the lawyers at Parker and Parker to force him and Samantha together over the course of the next year. He'd thought Mark was in his office today to say something to the effect of, "Blake, old boy, you and your wife cannot be apart any more than two weeks at a time for the firm to believe you are happily married."
No, the law firm did something much more difficult to produce.
What if… what if Samantha did end up pregnant? Would that be so bad? A warm swell started low in his belly and lifted though his chest. The thought of her curves filling out, the swell of her breasts filling his palm even more than they did, her holding out a son for him to claim…
Blake shook the images, which weren't that hard to picture, from his mind.
Maybe his own legal team could find something illegal about his father's will. He'd put the best on the case to see what could be done.
In the meantime, he'd keep the latest twist in his life to himself.