The next morning the entire wedding party boarded a plane to Paris. It was going to be a fun and exciting trip for all except Owen. He had some work to do. He was to meet his father and brother there to interview someone for a position he didn’t even want. Since he knew nothing about the wine business, and everything about music he thought this was going to be hard. Owen just had to figure out that people were people no matter what industry.
Nadia had done a fantastic job planning the honeymoon. She booked eight terrace suites at the Hotel Le Bristol. One of the most prestigious hotels in the world. Three thousand dollars a night per suite is what it was costing her, but she wanted Owen to be comfortable and happy. She scheduled tours, shopping, site seeing. No one was obligated to go and do the things she’d planned, but it was there, and paid for.
The eleven-hour flight was plenty for everyone to catch up on the sleep they missed from the night before. They hadn’t planned to be horribly jet lagged when they got there. So every one of them slept on the plane. When they arrived, they relaxed and got more sleep.
The day after they arrived, Owen was determined to get business out of the way so he could enjoy his trip. He hadn’t been to Red Rouge headquarters in Paris a day in his life, so he was curious. What did his brother and father do when they were here? He was about to find out how savvy his father and older sibling were.
James and Owen never saw eye to eye on anything a day in their lives. James thought Owen was a lazy dreamer, and Owen thought James was a money hungry, womanizing, back stabber. This trip was going to allow the two of them to get to know each other better after a lifetime of disregarding what the other was doing.
James was taller than Owen, but just as good looking. The both of them blessed with dark hair and the same striking eyes, which made them almost irresistible to women. Both raised with the same politeness that came with their wealth, though neither one of them practiced it except when necessary.
Richard hadn’t had both of his sons in the same room for longer than twenty minutes in three years. As it turned out, this was going to be a challenge.
The following morning, Owen woke up showered and dressed in a suit. Desiree was still asleep. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. It was then she woke up.
“Where you going baby?” She asked, barely awake.
“I’m going to headquarters to get this business out of the way so we can have some fun.”
“Okay. Try not to be all day. As Mrs. Owen Thomas, I demand more lovin.”
“As you wish my dear. I’ll be sure to oblige you as soon as I return.”
“I’ll be here naked and waiting.”
Owen smiled at the thought of his new bride waiting for him. He went downstairs, got into the limo, and rode to Red Rouge headquarters. When he arrived, the limo driver got out and opened the door for him. Owen went inside the building, and stopped at the reception desk.
Fluent in French, he spoke to the receptionist. “Good morning. Owen Thomas here to see his father.”
The receptionist smiled. “Welcome to Paris Mr. Thomas. Your father and brother are expecting you. I will let them know you have arrived.”
The receptionist hung up the phone. It was then that Owen found out she spoke perfect English.
“I am to show you to your office. Please come with me.”
“Yes sir. As an officer of this company you are entitled to your own office.”
They took the elevator to the top floor. They walked down the hall through some double glass doors. Owen followed her to a large mahogany door.
The receptionist turned to him and said, “This is your office sir. Your father and brother are inside waiting for you. Welcome to the company.”
Owen nodded. “Thank you.”
She turned and went back the way she came. Owen took a deep breath and opened the door. James was sitting on the couch not looking at anything in particular, and Richard was sitting in Owen’s chair looking out of the window. He barely noticed his youngest son coming in. Engrossed in the view of the beautiful vineyard.
Richard turned to Owen. “What do you think of the view?”
“The view Owen. What do you think?”
Looking at the same thing as his father, Owen thought the view of the countryside was beautiful, but chose to ignore his father’s words.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does. You have to be comfortable. I think it’s very nice.”
Owen smirked. “Okay then it’s nice.”
James watched his younger brother enter the room, and was instantly jealous. How was it that Owen was more famous than he was?
“How you been weed?” James asked with a half smile.
Owen looked sharply at his older brother. “I thought I told you a long time ago to stop calling me that.”
James shrugged. “Well what else would you call something wild that seems to be growing everywhere, and just blows in the wind?”
Knowing what his older brother thought of him, Owen asked the question anyway. “Still think I’m lazy?”
Again, James shrugged. “Why else would one choose passion over the family business? I mean I come to work everyday, what do you do?”
“I just graduated from school dip stick remember?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. How’d that go anyway? What degree did father buy for you?”
“Physics. And I earned it.”
“Ah, yes. That Physical Science thing. And that’s going to be useful around here how?”
Richard sat and watched his children interact with each other until he couldn’t stand it. His oldest, the true antagonist.
“Father, I’m just wondering what use is a physics degree in the wine business? What we could really use around here is someone who knows how to make things grow better. Our pinot noir for instance. An agricultural degree would do nicely to help those grapes grow better.”
Owen stared at his brother, almost hating him. His father said what he could not. “Don’t worry about it, James. He is only here because of what the both of you now share. We’ve already talked about this.”
Owen not caring what his father said. “But, he hates the idea. James just wants to inherit this fermented grape juice mine. Sorry big brother. Father’s business, he makes the decisions.”
James rolled his eyes. “Lucky for you.”
Looking back and forth between his children, Richard replied, “So if the two of you are finished, we can get on with business. Owen is here on his honeymoon, and I’m sure he’d like to get back to his wife.”
With all intention to antagonize his younger brother some more, James said, “Oh yes. The extremely hot Puerto Rican babe. What’s her name again?”
“Desiree. And if you had bothered to show up for the wedding, you would have known that.”
James shrugged. “But I was needed here. Sorry.”
Owen shrugged himself. “It was probably good that you weren’t there anyway. Both of your ex-wives were.”
Curious, James asked, “Did mother invite them?”
“Nope I did. I hoped you would show up. I love to see you act like an ass in front of Jennifer, and cower like a low life dog when you’re around Sarah.”
“Those two were mistakes,” James said looking away from his younger brother.
“If you two are finished, we can-” Richard started, but his words meant nothing to his sons.
“So who is it now?” Owen asked. “Another gold digging, power hungry whore?”
Offended. “Actually no. But an extremely hot Puerto Rican babe like yours would be nice.”
Richard had about enough of his sons arguing. “James Allen Thomas, you have stepped over the line! You will not disrespect your brother’s wife in front of me! She is a wonderful girl and my daughter in law!”
“Sorry father,” James said, cowering in his chair.
“Now as I was saying, if you two dumb asses are finished, let’s get on with business.”
Owen nodded. “Yes please.”
“James?” Richard said turning to his oldest.
James also nodded. “Yes father.”
Richard had his hands full with his sons. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear James was jealous of Owen, and he didn’t know why. He decided he would talk to James about it later. Richard continued to educate his younger son. He told him of the vineyards that they had all over the world, but was most proud of the wine that they produced in America. He told him of the pinot’s success in both France and in Oregon.
Owen nodded. “Okay I got it. We are one of the superior grape growers in the world.”
Richard nodded back. “Correct. Although that isn’t always the case. Depending on the weather, the grape, and the aging, we could have either a good or bad year.”
“So we are not totally in control of what our wine tastes like?” Owen asked.
“No. Most is left up to mother nature.”
“The pinot. How is that doing?” Owen asked.
“Over the past two years it has yielded the most profit.”
Owen glared at his brother. “Your idea to try the pinot James?”
James nodded. “And very proud of it.”
Owen absorbed his brother’s arrogance and didn’t let it bother him. At this point, he was quite interested in the family business. Not because it was a part of his heritage, but the scientist in him took the lead. “How long ago did you plant?”
“Three years ago.”
“No one was eating fish and chicken. Everyone was eating red meat.”
“I take it the Pinot is light.”
Proud of his second son, Richard replied. “Very good. You are right. Now that everyone in the world has gotten on a health kick the Pinot is selling better than ever.”
Owen smirked. “Good job James.”
The three of them discussed the business for two hours. With Owen being as bright as he was, he caught on very quickly to the nuance of wine making. That is all he needed to know to hire someone in his seat. They took a tour of one of the vineyards, and by the time they got back to the office, Owen was just about ready to start interviewing.
“So, tell me about the kind person you want sitting in my place,” Owen said.
Richard told him about the type of person he was looking for. He basically wanted someone to be able to do as they were told, and still have real knowledge of the company.
Owen couldn’t help it. The conversation had gotten too serious. He picked on his brother. “Okay, are we looking for a laid-back attitude like me? Or a stuffed shirts like the both of you.”
Richard ignored his second son. James couldn’t resist just as Owen thought.
“Stuffed shirt?” James asked.
Owen nodded. “You heard me.”
“Are you calling me stuffy?”
Richard sighed. “Boys please can we get on with this?”
“Sorry father,” James said.
Owen then backed off as well. “So which is it?”
“I would prefer someone who is real. I prefer honest answers when I ask a question. Someone who has the guts to tell me if they see something wrong. I don’t want a yes man. We have plenty of them around here already. I believe that’s why the Pinot failed the first year. We lost a quarter of a million on Pinot production that year.”
“Yikes,” Owen grimaced. “What about professional skills?”
“We have a list of ten resumes. All of them are just about equal on paper,” Richard replied.
“Okay, then. They just need to be a good fit in general. Tell me about our pay and benefits.”
“Why is that important?” James asked.
“Let’s just say it’s an analytical tool I will use. So please tell me.”
Richard told his younger son about the benefits package. It was very impressive.
“Damn. I might just take this seat myself. What about the pay?”
James shrugged. “Depending on experience and knowledge, we can go as high as two hundred fifty thousand a year.”
Owen nodded. “Not bad. Is this candidate American, or are you looking globally?”
“American,” Richard replied.
“So it is up to me to pick the perfect person for the job.”
“Man,” Richard said sharply.
Owen tilted his head sideways and raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me? Did you just say man?”
“The top ten are men,” James chimed.
“So you mean to tell me you excluded all women applicants just because they were women?”
Richard nodded. “Yeah. Grace wouldn’t like it.”
“Father, you aren’t even married to her yet, and you are letting her pull you around by your dick. She will not control how we run our business. If there is a woman out there capable of doing the job as well as a man, then they deserve to be here. If a woman is professional enough to handle the two of you, and not get involved personally then why not? To hell with Grace. Mother knows and always has known the importance of this business to our family. Gender has never mattered to her.”
James didn’t realize it, but his thoughts escaped his lips. “You are only saying that because the two of you are so alike.”
Turning sharply to his brother, “Meaning what?”
Richard had enough of the two of them bickering. “Damn it James! Can you please leave your personal feelings out of the meeting! You and Owen can argue later!”
Richard sighed, rolled his eyes, and turned his attention back to Owen. “Go on Owen.”
“Father, let me look at the resumes. Let me pick the top ten. I promise you, you won’t be sorry.”
“We picked the ten for you so you could get on with your honeymoon.”
“It won’t take me long. How many applicants did you have that were even worth looking at?”
“Fifteen. Five of them being women.”
“Get the resumes for me, and give me half an hour. I will have a new top ten for you, we can go from there.”
“You sure about this?”
“Worried about the woman who is about to take my mother’s place? To hell with that. We are here to make more money than any grower out there, not please the ones we love. Tell me I’m wrong, and I’ll pick who you like.”
Proud of his son, Richard nodded. “You’re absolutely right.”
Smiling, Richard stood and went to his office. He was gone only for a moment. Owen expected James to get some cheap shots in while his father was gone, but surprisingly, James sat quietly and waited for Richard to get back.
Richard went to his desk, pulled out the stack of resumes, and handed them to Owen.
Paging through the stack of paper, Owen smiled cunningly. “I’ll choose the top ten worthy to sit in my chair. I hope you have an office for them, because they can’t have mine.”
Richard smiled at Owen and then looked at James. “James, I want to discuss the Sangiovese. If you don’t mind, will you come with me to my office?”
When the two of them got there, Richard planned to find the underlying cause of James’s behavior.
Richard sat in his high-backed leather chair, leaned in, laced his fingers together, gazed at James, and said, “Production in Italy is down. Why?”
“You’ve seen the weather reports as well as I have. You know why.”
“So because of this, you failed to plant more in California? The weather is perfect out there.”
“I just haven’t gotten to it yet.”
“Well get to it. All wine producers know the same thing we do. I want my Sangiovese to be the first one to market. Do we understand each other?”
“So, without your personal opinion, tell me how you think Owen did his first day?”
“Very good considering he knew nothing about what we did until today.”
Richard nodded. “I would agree,” he said and suddenly went quiet for a moment. Still angry, he asked, “So now tell me what in the fuck is really bothering you?”
“What do you mean?” James asked.
“Yeah. Owen is your younger brother. He is the one that was supposed to look up to you. But you’ve always been jealous of how smart he was.”
“The truth. Otherwise why would you badmouth him every chance you got? James, listen. You are the true heir to my legacy. Simply by you being my oldest son and taking a real interest in what I do, Red Rouge is yours.”
Almost admitting his guilt, James asked, “So why did you insist on us sharing this business?”
“I don’t want Red Rouge to die. If something were to happen to either one of us, Owen gets it by default. Hell, he has to know something about what we do. I want you to stop messing with him on purpose. If he fucks something up, then by all means get in his ass. We’ve already talked about this. Keep your personal feelings to a minimum. I know he’s your brother, and you don’t think you have to do that, but please do this for the sake of the business.”
James clicked his teeth. “He’s a musician. A pianist who is the front man for an unknown jazz band. He’s nothing.”
“It is disappointing that you think about him like that. He’s your brother before anything else, and whatever he does in life, it is his life. He is important to us whether you like it or not. I want him to have some interest in this business so he will keep it going. No matter what you say or feel, he is here by his own choosing, and this is what I wanted.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll ease up.”
Forty-five minutes later, Owen knocked on his father’s office door.
“Come in,” Richard said putting his pen down.
Owen told his father and his brother of his choices for the interview. He someone in mind, and hoped that his father and brother agreed.
“When do you want to begin interviewing?” Richard asked.
“Three days. Have HR call everyone. Those who made the cut as well as those who didn’t. I after all want to have a professional attitude towards everyone. The ten who made the cut need to be ready for their interview three days from now.”
Very proud of his younger son, Richard smiled. “I’m glad you signed on temporarily, Owen.”
Realizing what his father and brother did was stimulating his brain, Owen said, “I’m glad to help. I’m having fun.”
Finally satisfied, Richard asked, “Don’t you think you ought to get started on your honeymoon? After all, you brought your entire wedding party here with you. I assume you want to spend time with them, as well as your wife.”
Owen gasped. “Oh, I nearly forgot. Desiree is going to kill me. See you in three days,” he said getting up from the chair.
“Nine o’clock,” Richard chuckled, and Owen was gone.
Owen rushed back to the hotel almost seven hours later. When he arrived back to his suite, Desiree was not there. He discovered a half burned candle and an empty bottle of champagne with a note attached. The note simply said. The wild child has left the building. We should have gone to Jamaica.
Owen’s first thought was his wife was running around Paris intoxicated. Hopefully someone was with her. He decided to make it up to her. He changed clothes, decided to go shopping for her. Before he left, he called room service. He had them bring up two more bottles of Dom Perignon, and Owen headed to the first fine jewelry store he could find. He wanted something simple. A diamond pendant and a pair of earrings is what he chose.
After his purchase, he went back to the hotel to wait for Desiree. Watching television, he heard her coming before she’d even got to the room.
Whitney, Monique, Katrina, and Camille were with her, and the five of them were laughing uncontrollably. When Desiree opened up the door, she saw her husband sitting on the couch. He just looked up at her and smiled.
“Hey,” she said. “I thought you might still be working.” She put her purse down on a nearby table.
“I finished a couple of hours ago. I thought I would spend some quality time with a woman by the name of Desiree Thomas. Have you seen her?”
Her friends stood behind her and watched the exchange between Desiree and Owen. Desiree shrugged. “I saw her earlier today. She got bored, so she left to go hang out with her friends.”
“Ah, I see. You know, I heard Isaias is also looking for his wife. Have you seen her?”
Keeping with the current theme, Whitney replied, “And her name would be?”
Whitney nodded. “Yep. Met her in the hallway. She’s angry with him.”
Owen clicked his teeth and sighed. “Again?”
“Yep. Come on girls. Let’s let Desiree spend some time with Owen.”
The four ladies left the room and Owen walked over to Desiree and kissed her.
“I’m sorry honey. It took longer than I expected.”
“To make it up to you, I got you something. First, I want you to sit down and talk with me a bit. We’ll have a little champagne, and then I’ll give it to you.”
“Aw baby, come on.”
Owen shook his head. “Spoiled rotten wives don’t get their presents until they behave. Now come on baby. I wanna tell you about my day.”
Owen poured two glasses of champagne for them, and he sat down and told her about his day with his father and his brother.
When it was said and done, Desiree giggled. “You enjoyed every minute of it didn’t you?”
“Not at first. It’s pretty interesting though. I had the most fun arguing with my brother and watching my father rip him apart every time he insulted me.”
“Oh, you are so bad.”
“You know we haven’t been in the same room for more than twenty minutes in three years. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Do you remember the two ladies I introduced you to at the reception? Jennifer and Sarah Thomas?”
“The blond with the huge boobs and the redhead with way to much make up?”
“Those are the ones.”
“Who were they? I thought they were your cousins or something.”
“Not a chance. Both of those women were married to my brother.”
Desiree was suddenly upset, though she didn’t show it. “He’s been married twice? How old is he?”
“He happened. Jennifer was his girl from high school. He swore she was the one. They married right after he graduated college. It didn’t last long though. With him traveling so much, he met Sarah.”
“Yep. Then he married Sarah. Sarah was a good wife at first, then after about six months, she changed on him. He didn’t have the guts to stand up to her so guess what?”
“He cheated again.”
Owen nodded. “Again. So now, I suppose he won’t get married anymore. He can’t keep his dick in his pants long enough to enjoy the woman he’s with.”
Desiree looked at Owen with a straight face. “That concerns me honey.”
“Your father cheated on your mother, your brother cheated on both of his wives, and now-”
“Don’t even entertain the thought. I’m nothing like them, and you know that.”
“They ganged up on you. They are trying to change you.”
“Never. In three days I go back to the office, I do one last thing for the both of them, and that’s the end of it. We can enjoy the rest of our honeymoon, and our friends. We’ll go home, and get our lives started. Okay?”
“You are the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Smiling. “Why thank you.”
“I got you something that is going to accent your beauty, and make everyone extremely jealous.”
Desiree jumped up and down and clapped her hands. “Oh baby, show me!”
Owen smiled. “Close your eyes.”
Desiree closed her eyes and held out her hands. When she didn’t get anything put in her hands after a few moments, she wondered what it could be.
Owen simply opened the large jewelry box in front of her. “Open your eyes.”
Desiree gasped. “Oh, my God Owen, they’re so pretty. Thank you, baby.”
“You’re welcome,” Owen said, giving her a chaste kiss. “Now when I left this morning, you had mentioned something about being naked and waiting for me to return?”
Desiree shrugged. “I’m sorry I left.”
Owen stood up. He pulled her up from her chair, and kissed her passionately.
“Congratulations Mrs. Owen Thomas. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Owen kissed her again, and it was that kiss that led up to the true consummation of their marriage. Owen put every bit of love he had for Desiree, in that single session. He kissed and caressed every inch of her body, and told her how much he loved her by his touch.
When they were finished, they finished off the champagne, Owen’s stomach growled.
Desiree giggled. “Hungry?”
Owen chuckled in return. “After all the work I just put in, I don’t see how I shouldn’t be. Want something?”
“Honey, it’s late. We won’t get room service at this hour.”
“It’s not that late, and besides that, we’re rich. We can get anything we want when we want it.”
Desiree nuzzled up to Owen’s chest and opened the menu. “Okay, I think I want a burger. A huge cheeseburger.”
“A cheeseburger it is.”
After Whitney and the girls left Desiree, they went back to Monique and Camille’s suite to continue their party. Monique poured herself a drink, sat down on the end of the bed, and said, “Oh my God you should have seen Desiree when she was a teenager. She had to be the ugliest thing you’d ever seen. On top of it she was so damn smart, she was nerdy.”
Whitney sipped her drink and her mouth fell open. “No way, you’re kidding.”
“Not even. It wasn’t until she was around sixteen that she started to blossom. Boys started liking her, and she thought they were just teasing. So she pushed them away from her and kept on studying.”
“As pretty as your sister is, there is no way Owen is her first man,” Katrina said.
Monique nodded. “Don’t you even whisper a word of this to her, but yes, he is. If she finds out you know she’ll kill me.”
Camille smiled. “That’s so sweet. She’s the first person I’ve ever known to marry their first love.”
“Owen doesn’t know either,” Monique added.
Katrina was confused. “There is no way that Owen doesn’t know. He had to know she was a virgin when he slept with her the first time,” she said taking a sip of her drink.
Monique shrugged. “Well, she’s never really talked to me about that, so I’m not sure. But how would he know if she didn’t say anything to him?”
Whitney clicked her teeth and giggled. “You remember your first time right? Hell, I’m sure your man knew even if you didn’t tell him just by the way you acted.”
Monique sat and thought about her first time. She shrugged and drank the rest of her drink. “Perhaps.”
All the women laughed aloud. Katrina changed the subject.
“So Whitney, what are your plans?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh come on, you have to know. You’ve married into one of the wealthiest families in the nation. So, what are you gonna do with all that loot?” Katrina asked.
Offended that Katrina even suggested that she was as common as the gold digging women Isaias grew up with, she got serious. “I love Isaias because he’s Isaias. It has nothing to do with his money.”
Camille smirked. “Come on girl, give me a break.”
“No really. I didn’t even know he was rich until well after we were serious.”
“So what now?” Monique asked. “You just gonna be one of these socialites that throws parties all the time?”
Enjoying hearing it out loud, Whitney responded, “Well, yeah. That and have a whole lot of babies.”
Suddenly Camille was offended. “A career. What about that? You went to Eastern-Clark to be able to work at a good company. That is why you left my brother, isn’t it?”
“I won’t lie to you. That is why I left Philly, and up until the morning of graduation, that was still my plan.”
“So what happened?”
“Isaias asked me to marry him, and I accepted. I think for now, I will just be his wife.”
“No way. You really gonna be just a wife? How boring is that?”
Katrina smiled. “Not boring at all. She’s gonna be a rich wife.”
Whitney nodded. “Isaias said I didn’t have to work so maybe I’ll try it.”
Camille rolled her eyes. “What a waste of an expensive education.”
Just then, there was a knock at the door. They all stopped talking, as Monique looked at the closed door.
“Who is it?”
Isaias opened the door and peeked in. “I’m sorry to bother you Monique, but is Whitney here?”
“Come on in, Isaias.”
Isaias opened the door and there were four sets of eyes on him. He felt like he was walking into a nest of harpies.
“Excuse me ladies. I was wondering if I could have my wife back.”
There was silence in the room as Whitney waited for one of her friends to speak up. None of them did. Whitney stood up and put her glass down.
“Well goodnight girls.”
“Katrina, Bishop is looking for you as well,” Isaias added.
Looking at her watch, “Oh, damn. I’d better go too. See you all at breakfast.”
Katrina walked past Isaias, and quickly walked back to the suite she shared with Bishop. Isaias stood patiently in the room and said nothing. He waited on his wife to walk out of the door before him, and he closed the door.
Whitney walked in front of Isaias the whole way back to their suite, and didn’t say one word to him. She opened the door, and went in. She sighed and began to remove her clothes. She was still miffed at her husband, and planned to go to bed right next to him and not acknowledge he even existed.
Isaias watched her as she moved and his heart was breaking just watching her. He couldn’t hold his silence any longer. “Whitney what’s the matter? What did I do? You haven’t said hardly anything to me since we got here.”
“We had this conversation back home,” Whitney said sitting on the edge of the bed to remove her socks.
“Yes, Victoria. She is trying to get you back or she is trying to manipulate you into doing something. I don’t trust her. But, if you think for one minute that she is innocent, you’re blind. That is the reason I’m pissed at you.”
Isaias only thought of his son. Right now, Victoria held that card above his head. He wasn’t about to mess up a chance to get to know Jason.
“But if I believe that, what’s the big deal?”
Whitney clicked her teeth. “Isaias, I am your wife. I love you and I have your best interests at heart always. I am trying to get you to open your eyes so you will not be hurt by her again.”
Still not grabbing it, Isaias asked, “So why would she lie to my mother about Jason? My mother believes it in her heart that Jason is her flesh and blood. Look at what she has tried to do to break us up. If she didn’t believe it, she wouldn’t have gone this far.”
“I don’t doubt that, but your mother tried to break us up for another reason as well.”
It was Isaias’ turn to roll his eyes. “Oh don’t start that because you’re black thing again.”
“It’s the truth, and you know it.”
“Okay, I will give you that much. I’m just tired of hearing about it. What is it going to take to get you to forget about what everyone else thinks? If you want to protect me Whitney, you should already know. I’m the only one that should ever matter when it comes down to you and me. To hell with the rest of the world.” Isaias walked around to Whitney’s side of the bed and stood in front of her. “Baby, please. I don’t want to fight with you. I just want to hold you, kiss you, and make love to you all day and night. We can do that now. We don’t have to worry about studying anymore right? So why don’t you allow yourself to forget about everyone else in the world for a couple of days and focus all of your attention on the one in your life that matters. Not my mother, Victoria or Jason. I’m talking about me.
“We got married, and I haven’t had any of that hot, butt naked, nasty sex that I’ve heard married people have. I love you and will do anything for you. So don’t you think I deserve at least that?”
Whitney averted her eyes for a moment, and thought about the many love making sessions she’s had with Isaias. “We always have that kind of sex.”
Knowing she was trying to make him laugh, Isaias wasn’t giving in. “Now it’s official. Baby, please don’t be mad at me anymore. What if I promise to take care of this whole Victoria thing when we get back? Will you please make love to me then?”
Whitney still didn’t look at him, and didn’t for a long time. Isaias was hurting. He only wanted to love her, and she was denying him that just to prove a point. She loved him, and didn’t want to hurt him anymore. “Promise?” She asked, gazing into his eyes.
“Promise on my father’s grave. I will start with my mother and not stop until I find out the truth. Right now, all I want is for you not to be mad at me anymore. I love you, and I will chase you until the end of time. Please just let me hold you.”
Realizing she missed his touch, she stood and threw him on the bed.
“I love you, Isaias.”
He didn’t have a chance to reply. Whitney kept him pinned to the bed and passionately kissed him, which is what he wanted. From that moment forward, they didn’t leave the room for three days.
On the morning of the third day, Owen prepared himself for the interviews. He arrived at headquarters thirty minutes early.
“How do you two want to do this?” Owen asked. “I can ask all of the questions as you listen, or the both of you can ask the questions and I can listen. Which do you prefer?”
Confident in his abilities, James replied, “I can lead the interviews. You sit and listen. What do you think father?”
“Sounds good to me. Who’s up first Owen?”
“Let’s start with Gerald Munson.”
“Which one is he again?” James asked.
Owen rolled his eyes. “You want to lead, and you haven’t studied the resumes? Damn what is it that you do around here again?”
Richard stopped the argument before it was stared. “Focus boys. No arguing today.”
“Sorry,” Owen apologized and turned his attention back to James. “Gerald has been the VP of Finance of the in touch Winery for five years remember?”
“Got it,” James replied.
When it was time for the interviews to begin, they called in the first candidate. Gerald Munson. When it was over, they asked Owen’s opinion.
Owen shook his head. “Nope. He’s greedy. Who’s next?”
This went on nine more times and each time Owen said things like, “Micromanager”, “Dumb ass”, “Doesn’t know shit”, “Hero worshiper”, “Yes man”. The last and final candidate was, Stephanie Banks. Stephanie was in her late forties, well-dressed, and knew her stuff but didn’t let on she did.
Owen took one look at her and wasn’t impressed with her designer gray suit, but James introduced his father and brother, anyway.
“Good afternoon Miss Banks I’m James Thomas, President of Finance. How are you today?”
“I’m doing fine Mr. Thomas, and how are you?”
“I’m well. Please have a seat, and let me introduce you to my father, Richard Thomas, and my brother,-”
Stephanie learned of Owen from the internet. “President of Operations Owen Thomas.”
James nodded and smiled. “Yes.”
Owen wasn’t impressed. It had only been three days since he got his title and he was certain she learned of this from the internet. However, he was cordial. “Pleased to meet you Miss Banks.”
If there was anything Stephanie hated, was being referred to as someone who was single. “Likewise. I don’t mean to be forward gentlemen, but it’s Mrs. Banks.”
Not knowing what he was in store for, James quickly replied, “Let me be the first to apologize.”
Stephanie knew at that point, she was in the top three, simply by James’ actions, but she remained cool. “It’s all right you had no way of knowing.”
By the time the interview was over, Owen had made his choice.
“We appreciate you coming all of this way to talk to us today, Mrs. Banks. Now if you will please join the other candidates.”
“Thank you for your time, Misters, Thomas.”
Stephanie got up and left the room. The three Thomas men were speechless as she did. Richard immediately turned to Owen.
“What ugly thing do you have to say about her?”
Extremely surprised, Owen shook his head. “Nothing. Her background fits what we’re looking for. She’s professional and real. She knows what we do and exactly how we do it. When you mentioned benefits, she didn’t even flinch. I like her.”
Richard looked at his oldest. “James?”
“As much as I hate to admit it, Owen is right. I like her too.”
Richard sighed. “Grace is going to kill me.”
Smiling, Owen said, “You like her too.”
“Yeah, I do. So now what?”
“Who would have been your next choice?”
“Charles, the hero worshiper?”
“Besides the fact that he would kiss our boots, he was the closest fit. But Stephanie by far led the pack.”
Owen was happy that he could help. “Okay then, have that pretty little assistant of yours get those two back in here. I will give them one final question. We already know that Stephanie is going to give us the correct answer. After that we dismiss Charles, get Stephanie to orientation, and I get to enjoy the rest of my honeymoon.”
“Welcome to Red Rouge Wine Mrs. Banks. Your official title will be Vice President of Operations. In my absence you will act in my stead, and report directly to my father. When I am here, you report to me. You will perform your duties as if you were me. You were right in saying that I have no interest in the family business. I’m a musician at heart, and I love what I do.”
“Be ready to start in a month,” Richard said. “Is your family coming to Paris with you?”
“Very good. We will pay for your move. I would also like to say welcome aboard Mrs. Banks.”
Stephanie smiled widely. “Please, call me Stephanie.”
After Stephanie got a tour of the office, she went back to her hotel. Owen was happy it was over. James was very impressed with his brother’s skill and knowledge of people.
He tilted his head to the side, and nodded. “I’m impressed.”
“About what?” Owen asked.
“Hey, I am who I am. You however have never taken the time get to know me.”
“Well since you’re here, and our business is complete, why don’t we do that? Go out, have a beer or something, and start to get to know each other again. It’s been a long time.”
Owen shook his head. “Yeah it has, but no thanks. I’ve already done enough. I altered my honeymoon plans to be here to help father. Desiree wanted to go to Jamaica. Maybe some other time. You and I live in the same town. If by chance you’re not so busy, you can stop by my house, meet Desiree, hang out with Isaias, and myself, have a beer.”
“Yes, James,” Richard said. “Let the man get back to some fun. See him when you get back home.”
“Well I would still like to meet my sister in law, and see Isaias again. How about I take you out to dinner? Father, you, and Grace are welcome to join us if you like.”
“Where are we eating?” His father asked.
Knowing it was his father’s favorite restaurant, James smiled. “La Tour d’Argent.”
“Certainly. I will join you.”
“What do you say Owen?” He asked turning to his brother.
“All right. Tomorrow night. We don’t have anything planned for then.”
“Wonderful. Is six o’clock okay?”
“That’s fine. Formal?”
“Of course. Where are you staying?”
“Hotel Le Bristol.”
“I’ll send the limo for you at five thirty.”
Owen was curious if his brother was still the cheating womanizing pig he’d been most of his life. “You are bringing a date, right?”
“Of course. Why?”
“I just wanted to know. Desiree and Whitney are not a part of the menu.”
James looked at Richard. “Are they really that beautiful?”
Richard nodded. “Yes, they are.”
James smiled widely. “I can’t wait to meet them.”
At ten minutes to six, everyone was in the waiting area of the restaurant, except James. He did this purposely so he could make an entrance. Three minutes later, the limousine pulled up and James emerged. He helped his date out of the car, and went into the restaurant.
Richard was a little perturbed. “Well it’s about time. We’re going to miss our reservation.”
“Sorry father. Odile was running a bit late.”
Knowing his oldest very well, he knew the real reason why he was late and chose not to say anything. He only smirked at James. James smiled and raised his eyebrows. He moved to the hostess stand and spoke to her in French.
“Reservation for James Thomas.”
The host smiled and said, “Good evening Mr. Thomas. Has all of your party arrived?”
“Then Brigette will seat you now. Have a wonderful dinner.”
As the eight of them were seated in the private dining room, James was impressed. Both Desiree and Whitney were indeed beautiful women, but his date was no slouch herself. James smiled widely as he introduced her.
“Everyone this is Odile Petit. She is a model and fashion designer. Father, Grace, you remember Odile.”
Richard smiled. “So nice to see you again, Odile.”
Grace said, “You look beautiful as always, Odile.”
Odile smiled and replied in a thick French accent. “It’s nice to see the both of you again.”
Owen couldn’t help himself. The woman his brother brought with him was exquisite. “Well, now James. I’m impressed. Nice improvement.”
Richard knew Owen as well as he did James. He knew Owen was trying to pick a fight. “Watch your manners, son.”
Owen smiled wickedly and moved on with the introductions. “James, Odile, This is my wife Desiree.”
“I’ve heard so much about you James,” Desiree said. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“And I you. Welcome to the family, Desiree.”
Owen continued. “Odile, this is my oldest friend Isaias Reynolds and his wife Whitney.”
The introductions continued until everyone said pleasurable greetings to each other. James moved on with the reason he’d asked them out to dinner.
“Welcome everyone. Congratulations all of you for your college graduation and your wedding. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to either event, but someone had to mind the shop while father was attending.”
“Thank you, James. I would have liked to have you there.”
“Well Owen, as you now know, our business stops for no man.”
Feeling the tension rising in the room, Odile quickly changed the subject. “Mr. Reynolds, I hear that you are a drummer in a band.”
Isaias smiled. “Call me Isaias please, and yes I am. Owen is our pianist and front man.”
“How exciting. What’s the name of your band?”
“They’re actually very good,” Grace chimed in.
Odile turned to Owen. “What type of music do you play, Owen?”
“I love jazz. James you like jazz don’t you?”
“Yes I do.”
“Well we must keep in touch. I’m often in California myself on business. Maybe James will bring me to listen.”
James would give Odile anything she asked for. “Of course dear. I haven’t heard them play myself.”
“Fantastic! We will listen to you play on our next trip to the states.”
“Wonderful. Mother had a small entertainment hall and recording studio built in the house by the lake.”
“Really?” James asked, surprised.
“Yes. It holds one hundred people, so we can do it there.”
“Living there are you?”
“Yes. I thought you knew. Father gave me the house for a graduation and wedding gift.”
“Ah, I see,” James said, glancing sharply at his father, still jealous of Owen. He abruptly changed the subject. “So Isaias how is your mother? I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
“She’s doing a lot better now. She’s still running the business.”
“Well that’s good Atomic Steel didn’t die with your father.”
“I agree. In fact, when we get home, Isaias is going to take over the company for his mother,” Owen chimed in.
The topics varied back and forth to different things as they enjoyed a very good meal. Finally, the subject Whitney waited for came up. Children. She wanted to see what Isaias was going to do if someone brought up Jason.
Grace took a bite of her food and asked, “So Owen, do you and Desiree have any plans for children?”
“Not right away. In a couple years perhaps.”
“What about you Isaias?” Odile asked.
“Actually, we aren’t sure either. I would like us to get back home and get settled first.”
Whitney looked at her husband. “As soon as we can. Isaias loves children.”
James cut into his steak and said, “Father tells me that you already have a son, Isaias. Is he not Whitney’s child?”
Isaias didn’t look up from his plate. “I’m sorry James but it’s a private matter and I would prefer not to discuss him.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you Isaias.”
Whitney smiled, proud of Isaias. For the first time since someone mentioned Jason, he didn’t go on and start talking about him non-stop. Isaias knew better than to make Whitney angry again. He’d made her a promise, and was going to keep it. Two hours later, everyone was finished with the meal and the polite conversation. It was time to call it a night.
Richard stood, and helped Grace from her chair. “Well, we had a wonderful time. Grace and I aren’t as young as we used to be, so we’re going back to the house. James will you and Odile be joining us?”
“We will be along shortly.”
Richard kissed all of the ladies on the cheek, and left. Owen was glad. He couldn’t stand anymore polite conversation, and James felt the same way.
“Owen, can I see you outside for a minute?” James asked.
Owen kissed Desiree on the cheek, and left Isaias alone with the women.
James pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it as soon as he was outside.
Owen had no idea that his brother smoked, but he didn’t say anything.
“Thank God!” Owen exclaimed. “Now I can relax. Two hours of polite conversation all at once is more than I can take.”
“I’m with you. For a couple of hours I have been dying to say, fuck you! How dare you compare my past relationships with Odile?”
“What? All I said was nice improvement. And I didn’t lie. At first, all I saw was the beauty. By god, she is hotter than both of your ex-wives. Then you told us what she did for a living. Shit, neither one of your wives ever held a job in their lives. Then she opened her mouth. She has twice the intelligence of Jennifer and none of the brashness of Sarah. Well done. If you can keep your dick in your pants, you just may be able to hold on to this one.”
James chuckled softly. “You know you’re right.”
“I know I am.”
James stood back and studied his younger brother without saying a word. A slow smile crept up on his face.
“What?” Owen asked, confused.
“Congratulations little brother. I can honestly say I’m proud of the man you’ve become.”
“I’m glad. But you know I can’t say I believe you are suddenly interested in what I’m doing. Is there some other motive? What’s driving you?”
“Nothing. You’re my brother. I’ve always cared about you. After you went off to your scientist school, I’ve just been too afraid to admit it.”
“Because I’m the older brother. I was supposed to be the one everyone talked about. Not you. You were the one written about in the social pages. Son of Vigneron Richard Thomas to Attend Eastern-Clark University. They didn’t write about me when I left for school.”
Owen smirked. “You went to Yale. Everyone goes to Yale. I wanted to do something different. So I went to Eastern-Clark. A little school an hour away from home. I could still get what I needed to succeed, and not be a magnet to every blond bimbo that ran in our circle just because I had money and went to an Ivy League school. After mother introduced me to Yvonne, I understood one thing.”
“We have to step outside of our circle to find something real. I’m not saying that Odile isn’t the one for you, but if it doesn’t pan out, maybe you should seek an average girl. One from the middle class with absolutely no table manners. Desiree is just that.
“Come on James, a model and fashion designer? That woman is loaded. She cares nothing about what you do, because she has her own life. If you break up with her, there are a hundred other guys waiting to take your place. So what; I had to teach Desiree table manners, but you know when I fell in love with her?”
“I was at her place studying. We decided that we would take a break. We ended up eating vanilla ice cream with strawberry topping. She was going on about why the problem we were trying to solve shouldn’t work, and she got some topping on her bottom lip. She licked it off, and kept on talking without missing a beat. That is when I realized she was different. Any babe that mother introduced me to, would have had to excuse herself to get the topping off her lip. Therefore ruining the nuance of the conversation. Understand?”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
There was silence between them once again. Owen continued to watch his brother smoke his cigarette. He tried to remember if he’d ever seen him smoke.
“So,” Owen began, “you really gonna come see us perform?”
“Well just let me know, and we can make it a party. We’ll invite everyone we know up to one hundred people.”
“That kind of limits things a bit don’t you think?”
“Okay then, we’ll invite one hundred of our closest friends. Hell, you can invite one hundred of your associates. I don’t care. As long as I get to play.”
“You really that good?”
“I’ve already made an album. It hasn’t made it outside of California, but I’ve done it. If things go the way I’d like them too, the next time you talk to me, I may have a major contract. If that happens, then I will be more famous than you. Can you handle that? I mean you are the big brother,” Owen said sarcastically.
“I’d be happy to stick my chest out, say you’re my little brother, and have no problems with it.”
“I can be happy with that. But if you ever call me weed again, we may have some problems.”
“I couldn’t possibly do that. My baby brother is a man now. I have to think of some other derogatory name for you.”
“Fuck you man.”
That night it seemed as if the years of fighting were finally over, and Owen was happy to get that behind him.
At the end of the vacation, everyone was happy. The day before they went back to the states, Owen called all of his friends to his suite.
“Well this is it. I hope you all enjoyed yourselves. Again, we have to thank my mother who is not here with us. We haven’t seen much of each other since we’ve been here. Tell me, what’s been going on? I’m going to have to tell my mother when we get back. What about you Smoke?”
“We had such an awesome time man, thanks. Paris is amazing. Brenda and I have been in love for a long time, and we decided to get married.”
“Are you still going to play with us?”
“Oh yeah. Brenda told me it was because of the band that she’s still with me. So there is no way in hell that I’m leaving the band.”
“Good. I’m glad. Is anyone else getting married?” Owen asked.
Bishop looked into Katrina’s eyes, and quietly raised his hand.
“Really?” Owen asked. “I was only kidding.”
“Yeah. I’ve been married before, and I thought I’d never do it again, but I love her, and I’m gonna give it another try.”
“Fantastic.” Isaias said.
Whitney hugged her brother. “I’m so happy for you.”
“Thank you sis for showing me that I could be me again.”
Whitney smiled. “You’re welcome.”
Owen looked around the room and asked, “Anyone else getting married?”
Kenny stood. “On behalf of everyone else, we would just like to say thank you for such a fantastic experience. Without you and Isaias, we may have never left the country. Know that we always have, and will continue to work hard for you. We share your dream, and one day soon we will get there.”
“That was quite a speech for you Kenny, you really mean that?” Owen asked.
“Kenny, do you remember when I had to perform with that black eye?”
“Yup. One of the best shows you ever did. Why?”
“I just wanted to say that I thought it was you that hit me.”
“Why me?” Kenny asked in surprise.
“You have always given me so much shit I figured that it had to be you.”
“I give you a lot of shit, but I would never do that. I love you man.”
“Well if you had, I was ready to fire your ass for messing up my pretty face.”
“Oh well in that case, maybe I should have hit you. Then I would be the pretty face in the band right?”
Everyone let out a loud groan and then laughed.