“You want me to marry a man you chose for me?” Holly Fletcher stared into the faded blue eyes of her father, completely dumbfounded. “People don’t have arranged marriages anymore, so why do you want me to have one?”
Robert Fletcher looked beseechingly back at his only child. “It’s in your best interest. I don’t have long to live. Holly –.” He said in his doting father voice.
“Don’t.” Holly held up her hand. “I won’t agree to this. It’s completely unfair.”
“Holly.” He said in an unusually stern voice. “I set this up so you would be taken care of. I had to do it. You were too stubborn to get married on your own.”
“I don’t care. I won’t do it. I can’t believe you would do this to me.”
Her father coughed into his fist. “Please, Holl. At least think about it.” He begged. “I just want to know you will be taken care of and loved.”
“How can I love a stranger?”
“Lachlan is a good man. You could grow to love him. Please. For me.”
Holly growled in anger. “Fine. I’ll think about it. But I’m not making any promises.” She grumbled.
Holly turned and walked back to her father’s bed. “You get some rest. Doctor’s orders.”
Robert grumbled quietly about annoying doctors and orders, but obliged and settled back into bed. Holly pulled the comforter up to his chin and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, Holly.”
Holly stood uncertainly in front of the sprawling building labeled as Golden Crown, preparing herself to meet the man she was supposed to have an arranged marriage with. Holly knew very little about Lachlan Jacoby.
Except that he was thirty years old. His birthday was on December sixteenth. His middle name was Andrew. He was the CEO of the top film company in the nation. He always had a strong hand in the workings of the movies his company released. He had a younger sister named Kim. And the ladies loved him. He was rumored to have a different woman on his arm every weekend. Most of them with the i.q of a squirrel.
Holly snickered quietly at that last thought. She adjusted the strap of her purse over her shoulder and her blazer over her arm.
It was now or never.
With a deep breath, Holly pushed through one of the large glass doors. She was greeted by an open, spacious lobby. Luxurious tan chairs and couches sat to the right of a large, curved reception desk. The back wall was dominated by a river rock waterfall. On the walls hung publicity posters for the various movies Golden Crown had released. The movies varied from thrillers to romantic comedies. There were even a few posters for animated films.
Holly walked cautiously up to the desk. “Hi,” She glanced at the I.D clipped to the woman’s white collared shirt. “Maria. My name is Holly Fletcher. I’m here to see Mr. Jacoby.”
Maria smiled. “Yes. Mr. Jacoby is expecting you. I’ll let him know you’re here.” She indicated the plush chairs. “Please, have a seat.”
She did an about-face and went to the nearest chair, pulling out her phone. She glanced around the immediate area before looking back at her phone and swiping her thumb across the screen until she found the app she was looking for. The latest version of Clue. The only app she had that relieved stress for her.
She looked up from her game. “Yes.”
A young woman with brunette hair and a peaches and cream complexion stood in front of her. The woman was dressed in a black pinstripe suit, three-inch stiletto heels, and a forest green button-down shirt. The shirt was open two buttons too many. At least in Holly’s opinion. “My name is Patricia Michaels, Mr. Jacoby’s assistant.” She looked at Holly with critical eyes. “Follow me.” She turned and click-clacked across the lobby to a door that led to a hallway.
Holly stuffed her phone into her purse and jumped up, speed walking to catch up to Patricia. She took a series of deep breaths as she walked, clutching the strap of her purse in a death grip and practically crushing her blazer against her side. You can do this. She told herself. The hallway seemed to extend forever, leading to a set of frosted glass doors. On the wall to the right was a gold nameplate that read: Lachlan Jacoby, CEO.
“He’s waiting for you.” Patricia chirped before she turned and walked away. “Nice meeting you.” She said over her shoulder.
If you call that meeting. Holly wondered if Patricia carried an eternal flame for Lachlan. She brushed that thought off her shoulder with a laugh. If his assistant carried a torch for him, he must be drop-dead gorgeous. She knocked on one of the doors, pushing it open at the soft, “come in”. She looked around as she walked into the room. The office was masculine in its entirety. A dark wood sideboard stood against the wall next to the doors of the office. A second look at the bar revealed corked bottles of alcohol in a knee high, glass fronted refrigerator, and several styles of glasses arranged neatly against the wall.
A square, dark oak table stood in the far corner, flanked by two burnt umber armchairs. Oak cabinets wrapped around the corner opposite the table and chairs, no doubt filled with movie scripts and the like. Probably the most masculine object in the office was the sturdy mahogany desk that sat in the middle of the room, facing the door.
A man sat in the black chair behind the desk. “You must be Holly. Please, have a seat.”
Holly walked up to the desk and sat in one of the chairs, “Yes, I’m Holly. I believe you’re aware of why I’m here.”
Lachlan leaned forward in his chair. “I have been made aware of the fact.” He laced his fingers on the desk in front of him. “I am also aware that your father passed away earlier this week.”
“Yes. Daddy passed away on Tuesday.” She looked at the man in front of her. Really looked at him. Her previous thought had been proven correct, with interest. He wasn’t just gorgeous, he was like a Roman god in human form. His eyes were an intriguing shade of bluish green. Like an emerald mixed with a sapphire. They were the type of eyes that a woman could get lost in. And Holly did get lost in them for a few seconds. His jawline was strong, square and chiseled, a tiny dent in the center of his chin. His hair was black as the midnight sky, cut in the classic taper style. And his hands. They were the type of hands that were made for making a woman melt in ecstasy. Large and square with long, blunt fingers. On his right pinky finger was a small signet ring of some kind. He was dressed in a solid black suit with a white dress shirt and dark red tie. The tie was secured to his shirt by a silver tie clip with a crosshatch design etched on the surface. He wore a silver Rolex watch on his left wrist and, sticking out of the pocket of his jacket, was a pair of reading glasses.
His voice broke her out of her visual perusal. “Robert Fletcher was a dear friend of my parent’s. When he came to me suggesting marriage to his daughter, I was skeptical at first, but your father convinced me otherwise. My sister, Kim, can’t wait to meet you.”
“How old is your sister?” Her mouth turned down and her eyes shifted to the floor. She was reminded of the sibling she’d lost.
“Kim is twenty-four. Do you have siblings?”
“I had a little brother for about a year when I was ten. His name was Keagan. But he died in the same car crash that killed my mom. My dad never remarried.” Holly twisted her fingers in her lap. “Daddy used to say that no woman could match Mama. That was eighteen years ago.”
“I know the feeling. My parents said they wouldn’t be able to live without each other. I almost had a younger brother after Kim. But he was still-born. My mother miscarried twice after that.”
Holly inhaled sharply. “That’s horrible.”
Lachlan nodded. “It wasn’t an easy time for any of us.” He smiled at her. “When is the funeral for your father?”
“I don’t know yet. The –”
His desk phone rang. “I’m sorry, one second.”
“Of course. Go right ahead.”
He picked up the receiver. “Jacoby.”
Holly watched as he listened to the person on the other end of the line.
Lachlan looked up at her and said to the other person. “Let me put you on hold.” He pressed the hold button on the cradle. “I’m sorry, Holly, duty calls. How about we continue this conversation tonight over dinner?”
Holly nodded, smiling. “Alright. I’d like that.” She pulled a pale blue pad of sticky notes from her purse and wrote down her address and cell phone number, and then handed the slip of paper to him.
Lachlan took the paper, smiling. “I’ll pick you up at seven.” He tore off a corner of the calendar on his desk and wrote down his own address and cellphone number.
Holly took the paper and stood, sipping the strap of her purse over her shoulder. “Seven sounds good. See you then.” Turning, she walked to the doors, then turned and waved before slipping into the hall.
Holly stared at her reflection, skepticism written all over her face. Would Lachlan like the dress she’d picked out? What if he thought she was trying too hard?
As soon as she’d left Lachlan’s office, Holly had gone straight to Sebastian & Gabriel to look for the perfect little black dress for their dinner date. After being greeted by the clerk, Laura, Holly had described the situation and what she was looking for. She’d decided not to wear one of the dresses she’d designed. Although she wasn’t sure why.
Laura, one of Holly’s many friends in the fashion industry, had taken her to the private dressing rooms then carried in an armload of dresses. They’d vetoed the first three almost immediately. As the pile shrank, Holly had begun to lose faith that she would find the right dress. She’d nearly cried uncle and picked one of her own designs. Until Laura showed her a simple black dress with a high neck and draped back. The dress ended three inches above her knees. The shoes she’d bought with the dress were four-inch black spike heels with pleats, lace, and a velvet ribbon and bow over the vamp.
She’d meticulously straightened her hair, leaving a slight curl at the ends. The locks of bronze hair by her face had been pulled back and were held with two combs her father had given her on her twenty-first birthday. Each comb had a deep red, blown glass rose attached to the body.
She was swiping on a layer of coral lipstick when she heard the doorbell ring.
She glanced at the clock. Seven o’clock on the dot. The man was punctual.
Holly double-checked her makeup and that no lint was on her dress before clicking her way down the stairs to the front door.
Glancing through the peephole before opening the door, Holly saw Lachlan standing on the porch, a smile on his face. Holly couldn’t stop the smile from stretching her lips as she opened the door. “Hi, Lachlan.”
“Hi, Holly.” Lachlan’s eyes trailed down her from head to toe. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you.” Holly returned the surveying look. “You look handsome.”
Lachlan offered his arm. Holly slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, letting him lead her to a shiny red Porsche. “I would think you’d have a driver.” She observed when he opened the passenger door and gently held her hand to help her into the car.
“Nope.” Lachlan slipped on his seat belt, pushed the button to start the engine, and eased the sports car out into the street.
“Why not? A rich, important guy like you? You fit the profile.”
Lachlan chuckled. “I really don’t see the point of having a driver.”
“O-Kay.” That made sense. In a way.
Holly gazed sadly at her father’s serene face against the white silk of the casket. The funeral service was scheduled for ten, but she wanted a few minutes alone with her father’s body just to talk to him before the guests arrived. Soon, Robert Fletcher would lie in the ground next to her mother and Keagan. Now, Holly had no immediate family – only a few cousins, and aunts, and uncles. Lachlan would be attending the funeral, as he’d promised on their date the night before. They’d gone out every night together since their first date the night after they’d met. Three weeks ago.
Lachlan had taken her to dinner at La Belle Gardenia the night before. It was almost midnight before he brought her home, leaving her at her door with a kiss on the cheek and a promise that he would be at the funeral for her father.
Now, as Holly looked at her father holding a red silk rose in lifeless hands and dressed in a black suit, she felt the tears she’d been holding back sting her eyes. She refused to cry before the funeral. She kissed her fingers and then touched his chest, over his heart.
Holly pulled a set of photographs from her purse: A family picture from when Keagan and Holly’s mother were still alive, Holly’s first day of kindergarten, her first fashion show, and cutting the ribbon in front of her Rodeo Drive boutique on opening day. She pulled the little drawer out of the casket’s lid and placed the pictures in it. With a sigh, Holly slid the drawer back into place.
Holly mentally prepared herself for the looks of sympathy from the other mourners. She jumped when she heard footsteps behind her.
“It’s just me, Holly.” Lachlan said in a low voice, stepping up on the altar next to her.
Holly brushed at a stray tear that had reached her chin. She pulled a black, lace, monogrammed handkerchief from her small purse and dabbed at her eyes. She turned her head to look at him. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m just jumpy today.”
Lachlan nodded. “You look beautiful.”
Holly looked down at herself. “I’m wearing mourning clothes. How are these beautiful?” She indicated the tea-length, black dress and black Victorian riding hat.
“Because I know that you designed them, and you do beautiful work.” Lachlan took her hand.
Lachlan’s palm was warm against the chill of her own skin. “Thanks Lachlan.” She looked back at her father’s lifeless face. “I’m really going to miss him.”
“I know you will.” Lachlan said gently.
The service passed in a blur, leaving Holly completely drained. Her tear ducts had gone into hyper-drive until she couldn’t create any more tears. Lachlan held her hand throughout the service. Only letting go when she went to the podium to give her speech. The drive to the cemetery was solemn; Holly rode with Lachlan in a small limo behind the Hurst.
Holly was pleasantly surprised that the other cars in the city stopped and observed the proper etiquette for a funeral procession. The cemetery was quiet as her father’s casket was placed on the riser over the hole in the ground that would be his final resting place.
Pastor McKenzie spoke the committal prayer, his voice clear and strong over the sniffling of the mourners. Lachlan stood next to Holly, his big hand wrapped around her smaller hand, mentally giving her strength.
Pastor McKenzie made a sign of the cross and uttered an Amen, and the green straps were unlocked and slowly began to unroll, lowering Robert Fletcher into the ground. As the ornate mahogany box descended into the ground, Holly turned her head away, unable to watch what was left of her family disappear forever.
The crowd of mourners dispersed, going to their respective cars to go back to the church for the gathering. The one Holly really didn’t want to show up for. But duty said she had to.
Leaving an emotionally drained Holly and a stoic Lachlan standing by the gravesite. Holly walked up to the mound of dirt and took a handful, squeezing it into a lump in her fist as she walked back to the grave. “Goodbye, Daddy.” She said as she let the lump of dirt slip through her fingers to land on top of the wood. The lump broke into a spray of dust and scattered across the smooth surface. “I love you.” She whispered.
Lachlan held out his hand as she turned around. He smiled, and then wrapped his arms around her, engulfing her in his warmth.
Holly didn’t know what to do. This was the first hug he’d ever given her. It was probably just a sympathy hug. But it was still a hug. She forced herself to relax and let her arms to wrap around Lachlan’s waist as she rested her head on his shoulder. He smelled like sandalwood and sunshine. And Holly stood, wrapped in his warmth, breathing in the scent that was entirely Lachlan’s.
He let her go too soon. “We’d better get back to the church.”
Holly grimaced. Of course, the reception. Typical funeral mumbo-jumbo. “I really don’t want to face all that sympathy.”
“Well, it’s kind of part of the whole funeral process.” Lachlan offered his elbow. “I’ll be right by your side. For emotional support.”
She wrapped her hand around his elbow. “Thanks.”