Family Feudalism

Chapter 2

The next morning, Tristan was sitting in his office, reading the paper before he started his day, when a dark haired man stopped at the door and glanced around the office. He took a step toward the desk, but didn’t sit in one of the two empty chairs.

Taking notice, Tristan put the paper down and sat up straighter in his large swivel chair. “Morning, sir.”

“Tristan,” the man said with a nod.

“I met with Edward Morgan yesterday afternoon. I got the account.”

“Good. How did last night go?”

Tristan paused for half a beat. “Oh, uh, fine. Did you know Straub and Francine’s granddaughter is Rory Gilmore?”

“Gilmore,” the man said in thought. “The Gilmore’s I know are Richard and Emily. Richard was an insurance man. They do have a daughter.”

“Lorelai?”

“Possibly.”

Tristan nodded. “Rory is her daughter. Actually, her name is Lorelai, too.”

Apparently not interested in the anecdotal information, the man asked, “Have you called her yet?”

“No, was I supposed to?”

“Yes. If Francine’s busy fussing over you and her granddaughter, maybe she’ll finally leave Abram alone,” the man said, glancing out the window behind Tristan’s desk. “You don’t actually have to marry the girl.”

As though leading her on was an option, Tristan thought. Without getting his hopes up, he tentatively asked, “Do you have time for coffee?”

The older man shook his head. “I have to get to my office.”

Tristan barely nodded and looked away. “Another time.” He quickly thought some more, knowing he only had a minute. “What do you know about the Huntzberger’s?”

The question was rewarded with the man’s full attention. “Why? Mitchum has a couple newspapers overseas, so you’d be an asset to him. Did he contact you?”

Tristan blinked. He took an extra second before he shook his head. “No, the name just came up last night. Rory—she’s a journalist.”

“Oh, she works for Mitchum?”

“I’m not sure.”

“That’ll be something you can ask her when you take her to dinner.”

Tristan shook his head. “She won’t want to.” And he had yet to think of a scenario where she would.

“Why not?”

“We met before last night. She went to Chilton.”

The man sighed in disappointment. “Burned that bridge already? You always did lose interest too easily. Now it’s coming back to haunt us.”

“I never dated Rory.”

“For lack of trying, I assume,” he said dryly. At Tristan’s silence, the man raised a brow. “No? Interesting.”

“That’s not the word I’d use,” Tristan muttered.

“I need to go,” Mason Dugray said as he turned to leave his son’s office. “Call your mother.”

When his father had gone, Tristan picked up his phone. While calling his mother was on his to-do list anyway, he wondered if she’d be at home this morning. If she was, there was a good chance she was busy entertaining a group of women to talk about fund raisers for the Hartford Performing Arts Society. They raised money for the organization like it was going out of style.

After a few rings, Tristan was surprised to hear a voice that didn’t belong to the maid.

“Hello,” Cecilia Dugray answered.

“Mom, hi,” he said. He continued with the obligatory pleasantries, “How are you?”

“I’m good. How was last night? Did you like Lorelai’s daughter?”

He incredulously asked, “You knew it was Rory?”

“Is that her name? I thought she was named after her mother.”

“She is. You knew who I was meeting and never told me?”

“I’m sure you already knew.”

“I did not.” He shook his head in exasperation. “Do you know if she’s seeing some Huntzberger guy?”

“I wouldn’t call Logan Huntzberger some guy,” Cecilia said, affronted. Tristan rolled his eyes. “That was years ago. But she had the opportunity to marry him.”

Bingo.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Later in the evening, Emily Gilmore sat in her living room, nodding and smiling in the right places as she listened to her daughter tell an endless story about a silly meeting she’d attended the prior weekend. Emily didn’t know how the little town had enough to talk about to hold regular meetings. Surely the citizens had better things to do with their time. Lorelai was—thankfully—interrupted when the doorbell rang. A minute later, Rory walked in.

“Hi Grandma,” she said in greeting, taking a seat next to her mother.

“Hello Rory,” Emily said with a bigger smile.

Rory looked perfect in a slate grey skirt and dark purple silk blouse. Emily wished she would do something with those bangs though—grow them out or cut them—just choose one. But Rory insisted on letting them hang at the side of her face, anchored behind her ear.

“The maid just informed us dinner is ready,” Emily said. “Shall we?”

The three Gilmore women went to the dining room and took their seats at the table. When the maid brought out their salads, Lorelai commented to Rory, “Last night was an exception to the rule. You have to stay for more than just salad tonight.”

“What happened last night?” Emily asked.

“I had dinner at Francine’s,” Rory answered. “With, uh, Dad.”

“Oh, well that’s nice.”

“Yeah,” Rory answered before turning to her salad.

“And?” Lorelai prodded. “Was there anyone else?”

“I would assume Gigi,” Emily said, barely looking up from her salad—why were there artichoke hearts in it? That was not what she specified when she wrote this evening’s menu. She’d have to look into this later.

“Actually,” Rory said, looking back up, “she wasn’t. Tristan Dugray was there.”

“They knew each other from Chilton,” Lorelai added.

Emily thought about the name. “Is he related to Cecilia Dugray?”

Rory shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“She’s on the board for the symphony orchestra, of course. She’s quite passionate about it. Richard used to do business with Janlen.” She was careful not to let her mind linger at the thought of her late husband. “That’s Cecilia’s father-in-law. The Dugray’s are a very fine family.”

With an unpleasant glimmer in her eye, Lorelai pointedly asked, “Wasn’t it nice of Francine to set him up with Rory? Tristan, not that Janlen guy. He sounds old—but perfectly nice.”

Emily looked at her daughter sharply. “What are you talking about?”

Lorelai continued with a nod. “Francine wanted to set them up.”

“Mom,” Rory said patiently. “It was just dinner.”

Lorelai faced Emily. “Isn’t this great? Now you don’t have to go to all that trouble finding suitable men for Rory. Francine can help in that department.”

Emily’s stomach clenched suddenly.

“It can be a contest! Whoever makes the match that sticks can win a prize,” Lorelai went on with a smile.

Rory didn’t look thrilled. “Believe me, Francine already lost. She doesn’t know anything about me. How would she be able to find someone compatible for me?” She quickly shook her head with a screwed up face. “And I don’t need a man—or for anyone to find me one.”

Of course she did, Emily thought. The girl never slowed down and stayed in town long enough to meet someone on her own. Which was just as well, this way Emily could supervise the process. Quality control was something Rory certainly never learned from her own mother.

“Really Grandma,” Rory went on after she finished her salad. “You have nothing to worry about. Francine found the last guy I ever wanted to see again. She got it really wrong.”

“You’re sure?” Emily asked, relieved.

Rory nodded. “Tristan was awful in high school.”

“How do you mean?”

“He always asked me out, for one thing. I kept telling him no, but he was so stubborn about it.”

“You weren’t interested?”

“Never. I had a boyfriend, and Tristan didn’t even like me.”

“Don’t be silly, of course he liked you.”

Rory frowned as she sat back to allow the maid to put her dinner plate in front of her. “Why?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Emily asked, offended Rory even suggested something about herself.

But she shook her head. “He really didn’t. He walked around like he was God’s gift to women, but he was just a jerk.”

That didn’t bode well with Emily. This foolish young man had clearly wanted what he couldn’t have. And now Francine was offering him a second chance. “What does Tristan do?”

Rory blushed. “I don’t actually know. I wouldn’t let him say. I wanted to hear it from Francine, since she wanted us to meet—that’s what you always do.”

“Good, you did exactly right,” Emily said. She was lucky to have such an astute granddaughter. Nothing got by her.

“Oh, and he always called me Mary,” Rory said, remembering another offense. “He was so obnoxious.”

“Why would he call you that?”

Lorelai looked up from her salmon and answered, “Because she was a goody two shoes. I blame the books.”

“You’d have called me Mary if we went to high school together, wouldn’t you?” Rory asked her mother dryly.

“Absolutely.”

They continued to eat their meal for a few minutes, though Emily continued to think. Francine didn’t have the connections Emily did, and she definitely didn’t have the authority to make any matches involving Rory. She didn’t know who Emily’s granddaughter would like. She was sticking her nose where it didn’t belong. Without realizing it, Emily’s eyebrows furrowed together until her head hurt. “Something isn’t right,” she announced. She could feel it, things were off with this story. “I want to know what Francine is up to.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Rory insisted. “Last night didn’t work. No harm, no foul.”

Rory was too unsuspecting, she didn’t know the schemes people were capable of. It wasn’t her fault, she saw so many terrible things in the world for her job, she didn’t expect anything bad from her own relatives—especially ones she hardly knew. Emily was much shrewder with these matters. “I’m going to go make a few calls,” she said as she stood and left the dining room.

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Did you have to bring up last night?” Rory asked her mother fifteen minutes later. The maid came in to take their plates away and trade them for chocolate soufflé. The rest of Emily’s food remained on her plate, getting colder by the minute.

“What else were we supposed to talk about?” Lorelai said innocently.

“Anything—the last movie you saw, Kirk’s new colony of bees, the weather.”

“It has been warm out, hasn’t it? And I already told her the story about Kirk, but she didn’t appreciate it. Maybe I didn’t tell it right.”

“It’s not like there’s a conspiracy theory involving me and Tristan. Do you really think Francine is some sort of evil mastermind?”

“You can never tell who’s going to end up being a mastermind. Sometimes it’s the person you least expect,” Lorelai said.

“I hope Grandma doesn’t hear about what Dad said last night.”

“Why? What did he say?”

Rory shook her head, her eyes cast upward. “He implied that I’m with Logan.”

Lorelai looked at her daughter with a slightly disgruntled expression.

“He just said it to deflect from the set up. I wish he’d made up a name though.”

“No kidding,” Lorelai said. “Maybe it’s time you get a man so Chris has a more current name to reference.”

“I don’t need a man,” Rory said again, more impatient this time. “I don’t even have time for one.”

“Yeah, we wouldn’t want to cut into your blog time.”

“I have to clear my head after big stories,” she said.

“Mm-hmm,” Lorelai muttered.

“It could have been a misunderstanding,” Rory said musingly. “It could be Tristan just thought it was a set up. It wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind when I saw him.”

“I guess we’ll find out for sure after Emily’s phone tree gives her the run down.”

Or—”

“Or what?” Lorelai said excitedly. “I love an ‘or’. It’s always the better option.”

Rory finished chewing the last warm bite before saying, “I could just go directly to the source to find out myself.”

“What source?”

“I was behind Tristan after we left Francine’s, so I saw where he lives.”

Lorelai gasped with a smile. “Can I come?”

“No,” Rory answered. “You will go home. Luke will be waiting for you.”

“Fine,” Lorelai said with a pout.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Not long thereafter, Rory parked in the driveway she’d seen Tristan pull into the night before. She was in front of a mid-sized brick house outside the city limits. She got out and walked up to the porch. She pressed the doorbell and waited, but no one came to the door. She pressed the button again and tried to look through the front window. She couldn’t see anyone inside, but somebody had to be there for the lights to be on. After another minute, she knocked instead.

A porch light came on and the door opened. Tristan poked his head out. When he saw who his visitor was, he opened the door enough to lean against the frame. He was much more casually dressed than the night before, in a pair of well-worn jeans and a white A-shirt.

“Your doorbell is broken.” She pressed the button to demonstrate.

“I’ll add it to my list.” He looked her up and down and suspiciously asked, “Did my dad call you?”

“No. Why?”

He waved a hand dismissively and shook his head. “Never mind. Do we have a date I didn’t know about?”

“No, I was at my grand—uh Emily Gilmore’s—house for dinner.”

“Ah, your real grandmother?”

“Yes. Since I was in the area, I thought I’d stop by.”

“What for?”

“To talk about last night. Dinner was weird—”

“Partly because of you.”

“—and I want to know what was going on.”

“I actually have some questions myself,” he said, opening the door wider. She followed him to the kitchen, passing a small dining room to their left, sans table, then a staircase that descended perpendicular to the front door. Hidden behind the stairs was the kitchen.

There were two rooms adjoining the kitchen. Rory deduced the larger room with a fireplace was the living room. Judging by the windows in the other, she took it to be a sun room. Other than the four barstools sitting around an island in the kitchen, Rory didn’t see any furniture in the house. The walls were in need of new paint, and one had water stains. There were light bulbs in sockets, but no fixtures. The floors were all wood, and if she had to guess, she’d say they were brand new.

She pulled a stool out so she could sit down at the island, which was obviously newly installed as well. What was Tristan Dugray doing in this house? She wasn’t one to talk, having lived in a potting shed at one point of her life. But that was different, this was Tristan. Why wouldn’t he live in a Hartford mansion? Being inquisitive was a job hazard, but she had to be cautious. He’d probably misinterpret questions as interest in him. Maybe he was in real estate and planned to flip this place for a profit. That made sense, she decided.

Tristan took a spot across from her, leaning back against the counter. When Rory’s gaze fell to him, he explained, “It’s what they call a fixer upper. It’ll look better after it’s—”

“Fixed,” she said with a nod. But was he going to do the fixing himself? Surely not, he probably worked in an office. He’d get someone else to do the manual work. And that still didn’t explain what he was going to do with it when it was fixed. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to buy one that wasn’t falling apart?”

“Where’s the fun in that? It already looks better than it did a few weeks ago. Some rooms had old carpet. And under that—mold.” He looked around the house slowly and then back to Rory. “I thought it had potential. Sometimes you have to look close to find it.”

Rory remembered her mother saying something similar—about him. She shook off the thought. “It has character. But it’s small, considering what you’re probably used to.”

“It’s bigger than anywhere I’ve lived in the past fourteen years.” So that was that, he was going to live here. “Luckily, I don’t feel the need to compensate for anything.”

“I see.”

“So, last night. What’s the deal with you and Francine? Why aren’t you simpatico?”

Rory sighed. “It’s a long story. Well, it’s not too long, but it’s old.”

Tristan silently waited for explanation anyway.

“I’m going to need coffee if you expect me to tell you my family’s deep dark secrets.”

“Sure,” he complied.

She watched him as he turned to reach for a cabinet. She caught a glimpse of ink on his upper arm and read USN. She never got a look at his arms under his school uniform, but she could see now how muscular they were.

He transferred a cup of water to a small coffee maker and sat the cup in its place. He pressed a button and turned back. Noticing Rory’s unhappy expression, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

“What the hell is that?”

“A coffee maker,” he answered. “Does your halo get tarnished when you use words like that?”

She continued, “That’s only going to make one cup.”

“How many do you need?”

“More than one.”

“Won’t it keep you up all night?”

She shook her head. “I have an extremely high tolerance, second only to my mother.”

“Fine, so when you finish this cup, I’ll make you another—easy fix,” he said as he put the full cup in front of her. He shook his head. “You’re going to be up until dawn.” But he still took down another cup to get her refill ready.

She held her coffee up to blow on the hot liquid and took a sip before she started. “All right, so my mom had me when she was sixteen and she didn’t marry my dad, like my grandparents wanted.”

“Hence Francine’s defending your dad for not raising you.”

“Mm-hmm.” Rory was silent for a few seconds. Then, “I didn’t even meet her and Straub until I was sixteen. At least, it was the first time since I was in diapers.”

“How did that go?”

“I definitely underwhelmed Straub. He and Grandpa almost got into a fight,” she said. “And at one point, my parents just disappeared.”

“I heard Richard passed away a couple years ago, sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks. Grandma really misses him.”

“What about you?”

“Yeah, me too.” As she sipped her coffee, she thought back to the horrible day she’d gotten the call from her mother, she’d been out of the country to cover a story. It’d been another heart attack, Lorelai told her, this this time, his heart couldn’t take it.

A few seconds ticked by in silence before Tristan asked, “So what do you know about Straub? I mean, other than that he was an ass.”

“Hey!”

“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I got the impression you never liked the guy.”

Rory shook her head. “I didn’t. You just gave away half my answer.”

“Oh,” he said with a grin, trading her empty cup for a full one.

She shrugged. “Grandma—sorry, Emily—said he was brilliant. But an ass.”

“That sounds about right.”

“If he’d gotten his way, I wouldn’t be here,” she said meaningfully, staring out a window above the sink. “Lucky for me, my mother doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do.” She looked back at him. “Straub said she seduced my dad. It was all her fault.”

“As someone who’s been a sixteen year old boy, trust me, the seduction probably didn’t take much.”

Rory smiled a little and nodded. “It’s ridiculous. But he always blamed my mom for my dad not going to Princeton and working for him.”

“Ah-ha,” Tristan said with a slow nod. “But if they didn’t get married and he didn’t raise you, what stopped him from doing those things?”

She pointed a finger at him. “Exactly. It wasn’t her fault. Anyway, all my grandparents used to be good friends, but when my mom decided to have me, it became a huge point of contention—to put things mildly.” She shrugged. “So I’ve never really known the Hayden’s.”

“Then you’re right, it doesn’t make sense for Francine to set you up.”

“Are you sure that’s what she was doing?”

“Positive.”

“Maybe you misunderstood the invitation.”

“I didn’t. She kept telling me I needed to meet her granddaughter. But she never mentioned who her granddaughter was.”

“Why would she do that?” Rory asked, then she frowned. “Wait, how do you know them?”

Tristan stared at her for a couple seconds before glancing at her cup. “Are you ready for your next refill?”

She checked the cup, which she’d drained, and handed it over. “Sure.”

He traded cups and turned to the counter again. “Family friends,” he said in answer to her question. “You know how these old families are. They don’t want any inferior blood mucking things up,” he said as he pressed the start button and turned back.

“Heaven forbid I embarrass any estranged family members over who I consort with,” Rory said dryly. She watched the fresh coffee fall in a stream into the cup. “If Francine knew about that,” she said, gesturing at his coffee maker, “nothing else would have mattered. She’d have known we could never be together.”

“Because my coffee maker doesn’t enable your addiction problem? I thought it was because of the media baron,” he said, and a slow smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “The reporting must be easy for you with him in such high places.”

Rory sat her cup down and crossly said, “I wanted to be a foreign correspondent my whole life.” She felt confident sharing that information, having attained it. “You know I wrote for the Franklin.”

“The what?”

She looked at him exasperatedly. “The school paper at Chilton.”

Halfhearted, he lifted his palms and lifted his broad shoulders.

“My career has never had anything to do with Logan or his family.”

Tristan was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Your dad was using outdated information last night, wasn’t he?”

She sighed and nodded. With her elbows propped on the counter, she eyed him over the top of her coffee cup. “You don’t turn a deaf ear to the gossip mill, do you?”

“Nope, and it’s only ten minutes away.” He jerked his head in the general direction of Hartford.

“Great,” she said flatly.

“The way some people talk, you’d think the Hamburglar got down on one knee yesterday.”

She wished she was more surprised. “Is that the only thing that comes up when my name is mentioned?” she asked, frustrated. “It was such a long time ago and I’ve done a lot since then.”

“I’m sure you have, but does it make good gossip?” he asked. “Did you really tell him no in front of hundreds of people?”

“No,” she said, adding an eye roll for effect.

“So why didn’t you marry him?”

“How is it your business?” Rory asked with narrowed eyes.

“It isn’t,” he said quickly. “But after so many years, the rumors get distorted. I’ll have to draw my own conclusions.”

She didn’t say anything, she just glared.

“Impotence?”

“No.” When he waited patiently, she exhaled heavily. “Fine, I was too young. He was ready for our relationship to move forward, but I was ready to start my career.” Not wanting him to pry any more, she took charge of the interview. “So if everyone is friends, I’m sure your family tried to talk you out of going last night.”

“Nope.”

She couldn’t help but ask, “Why not?”

Tristan’s brow arched inquisitively. “Why would they?”

“Because it doesn’t matter who I’m related to or where I went to school. Here’s a little secret,” she said, leaning in as though she was going to whisper it, “since I have a career of my own, your parents won’t even be impressed with my full court bow—”

He held out a hand, like he was directing traffic. “Stop. When would you ever need to do a full court bow?” he deadpanned. “Wait no, let me guess. King Mitchum?”

“No, it was for a debutante ball,” she said, then smiled a little. “Actually, Mitchum’s sycophants stop just short of bowing before him.”

Tristan tilted his head. “There’re us aristocrats and then there’s the monarch. We can only hope to serve his majesty,” he said. “What’s wrong with your career?”

“I travel.”

He shrugged. “So? I do too.”

“But it isn’t practical for the woman,” she told him. “No one taught me how to plan parties and croon over a man’s accomplishments.”

“Because you’re busy with your own.”

“Yes.”

“You’re very knowledgeable about these matters.”

She smiled grimly. “I’ve been well-informed by a reliable source. I’m just not a good fit for a guy like you.”

He crossed his arms and leaned back against the cabinet again. “And what kind of guy is that?”

She laced her fingers together and put her hands on the counter top. “Privileged. The future of the family business is probably on your shoulders—whether you like it or not,” she said. “But you can save the pity party, Richie Rich. It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone who’s been handed a free ride in life.”

Her last sentence didn’t appear to sit well with him. After a few seconds he said, “I don’t work for my dad. And I didn’t run away to avoid any screw ups either.”

She frowned. “What?”

“Huntzberger sounds fun,” he said flatly. “But don’t pigeon hole me with him, it won’t work.”

“I wasn’t—”

He stepped forward to take her cup away.

“Hey, I’m not finished with that.”

He dumped the last of her coffee. “Yes you are. It’s late.”

“Is it your bedtime?” she tried to joke.

“Why, were you hoping to join me?” he asked humorlessly. He rounded the island and took her by the arm, pulling her to her feet.

“No,” she said, stumbling a bit as he steered her in the direction of the front door.

“Good, I’d kick you out of bed anyway.”

She scoffed. “Yeah right.”

He shot her an odd look and tightened his grip. For a split second, she wondered where the bedroom was and if he was going to drag her there. But the moment passed as he opened the door and pushed her out to the porch. “Feel free to go pass judgment on someone else.”

“But I wasn’t—”

“Have a nice night,” he interrupted before closing the door. A second later she was in the dark.

Rory looked at the door, her mouth gaping open.

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