Important author’s note!Before reading this book, please be aware that it will NOT be completed on this reading platform. This is simply a SAMPLE piece and can be read in FULL on the Dreame platform. Please keep that in mind when commenting, reviewing and/or expecting more updates. Some of my books are on Wait For Free on the app, so you may luck out with this one. If not, coins will be needed to purchase the entire book.
24 years ago, November 1994, Arbois France
“Mathilde, your father wishes to speak with you,” called a voice in French from outside her bedroom. It sounded like the maid but the voice was so muffled by the heavy oak door leading to her boudoir, she was unsure.
“Coming in a moment,” called Mathilde in kind, placing her university books aside. She had been trying to get ahead in her English class. She had taken four years of it before heading off to University and was already quite proficient in the language.
After placing all her books aside and making sure she didn’t lose her place in the heavy tomes, she headed towards her father’s office. It was where he worked most days on his many vineyards accounting books and other business ventures. He had taken to making some investments as of late and whether it was because he was overworked or they were doing well, her father had been looking distressed as of late.
After a bad season for grape crops about a half dozen years ago or so, Valentin Poulin and his family- which included his daughter Mathilde- had been able to finally flourish in the wine business. Many of the other surrounding vineyards had gone bankrupt after a freak storm battered the vines of the grape bushes rendering them unable to bear fruit. After being abandoned to the elements, Valentin was able to buy the acreage of the surrounding competing wineries for pennies on the dollar- or franc as it was at the time. Ever since, they had had bumper crop after bumper crop and the Poulins became wealthy in their own right after years of struggling to make ends meet.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Valentin decided to invest in other business and for the past year had been dabbling in real estate as well. Mathilde didn’t know it, but her father’s lack of business acumen outside of the wine business was about to change her life.
“Papa?” she asked, sticking her head into the dark wooded study her father spent hours in. Like the rest of their home, it smelled heavily of cigars and bourbon, not a wholly unpleasant fragrance. It was one she was used to and related with the safety of her father’s arms. “You wished to speak with me?”
“Yes, Mathilde,” he told her, sitting up from his desk where he was still writing. “Come- sit down. We have something to discuss.”
Mathilde did as she was bade and sat across from her father at his cherry wood desk, feeling a bit like a child about to be scolded for something she didn’t know she had done. She was usually only called into the study when something serious had happened or they needed to discuss something of utmost importance.
Mathilde’s stomach tied and untied itself in several knots as she waited for her father to stop writing long enough to speak to her.
Placing his pen down on the desk quietly, he looked over at his eldest daughter.
“Mathilda, do you remember meeting a Mr. Harrison Charles about a month ago at The Promenade at Sorbonne?” he asked her as if trying to jog her memory of years ago instead of a mere 4 weeks. The Promenade was a yearly fall dance that was held in the ball room at Sorbonne. It was much like the American version of a prom, though held at the beginning of the year instead of the end. It was a tradition amongst Sorbonne’s students and that year, Mathilde had been designated ‘Queen’ of the dance.
“Yes, Papa. I remember him,” she affirmed with a quizzical look on her face. This was not at all what she had been expecting.
“As he does you, my dear,” he father said wistfully.
“Papa?” she asked when the silence between them lengthened considerably.
“Mathilde, I have made some... unfortunate choices in business and we are now in deep debt I’m afraid,” he told her. “I have been given- well, you have been given an opportunity to rectify my grievous mistakes.”
“What do I have to do with your business transactions?” Mathilde was puzzled. As much as she was upset to hear about his failed business dealings, she had no idea how she would be able to set them right in any way. She was only a student after all, wishing to double major in art and history. She had no business acumen and took no business courses in her tenure at the university.
“I- I have been given the chance to get out of debt and you my dear are key to that,” her father stood as he spoke. After pausing a moment, he ran his fingers through his black hair and looked down at his desk as if it would speak the next words for him.
“Harrison Charles is the son of a wealthy businessman from London, England,” he said finally. “He came to me last week and asked about you. He seemed interested in courting you, but I told him about your boyfriend Luc. He didn’t seem put off by the fact you were taken and instead mentioned how he had heard of my monetary problems.”
Mathilde still did not know where this was going, but her heart had sunk deep in her chest cavity for some reason and was now resting upon the knots in her stomach. “I still do not understand. Please explain.”
“Mathilde,” he told her softly in French. “The boy asked for your hand in marriage.”
Mathilde was flabbergasted. She had barely said hello to the man who was a year her senior. How could he possibly want to date her, much less marry her after one meeting at a dance she had attended with her long time boyfriend of two years?
“He said that if you and he were to marry, he would be obligated to help with my... financial woes,” he stated and Mathilde’s heart jumped from her stomach into her throat. She was part of some exchange for money. She was a bargaining chip. In order for her father’s business to not fall under, she would have to marry a gentleman whom she had exchanged only minimal pleasantries with. Someone she hadn’t thought of in the weeks following her triumphant crowning as Queen of The Promenade. This was beyond the pale.
“And if I say no? What happens then?” Mathilde asked, almost divining the answer from the look on her father’s face.
“We- we would lose the business, our home and well- everything.” Valentin looked down at his bank books and wondered just how the hell he had been able to royally screw up not only his business, but his eldest daughter’s life perhaps.
“How- how long do I have to make up my mind?” Mathilde asked.
“Not long, I am afraid,” her father told her. “It is only a few weeks until the bills are due. After that, we are faced with bankruptcy and foreclosure of the vineyards- all the vineyards.”
Mathilde thought of her siblings being put out onto the streets. She was the oldest at twenty and the next oldest was her brother Alexandre. He was 18 years old and looking forward to heading off to university the next year. That wouldn’t happen if they had no money for books and board.
Her other siblings Gabrielle and Valerie were 17 and 14 respectively and she couldn’t see them on the street if her father were to lose everything. They were bright and lovely young girls. They took to sports and books like a fish to water. She couldn’t bear to see their spirits broken.
“I will not force you to say yes, Mathilde,” her father told her. “I only want the best for my family. I am so very sorry, my little dove.”
Mathilde felt her heart break a little at the look in her father’s eyes. He looked broken and careworn making him seem a dozen years older than his 44 years of age. He had tried for so many years to become the provider he felt his family deserved. When it finally happened and their land flourished, he looked as happy as if he were the richest man in the world and not just a man of some means.
Valentin felt he had gotten greedy when he tried his hand at other business ventures and now his family- mostly his daughter- was paying the price for it.
“Tell Mr. Charles we accept his offer,” Mathilde said in a low, firm tone of voice. Her father blanched at her and cocked his head.
“A- are you sure, Mathilde?” he asked. “Perhaps I could try to get another loan from the bank or sell some acreage.”
Mathilde knew better. If he hadn’t already tried every legal means of getting the money, she wouldn’t be here in this room discussing a marriage she had no want of. He would have sold some of his land, his kidneys or blood if he could in order to get the cash. This was the 11th hour and she was his last hope of not being homeless and broke within the next few weeks.
“Yes, Papa- tell him I accept and will sign any papers in order for you to get the... help you need,” she told him with a withering smile. She would have to break it off with Luc and it was almost enough for her to cry right this moment. She had never been one to weep in front of her parents and she was as close as she had ever been to breaking out into heart wrenching sobs in front of the man.
“Okay my dear girl,” he told her and his voice was a mix of sadness and gratitude. He would never be able to forgive himself for this, but he was proud all the same of the strong woman his daughter was becoming.
Mathilde got up from her chair, ready to face a call to her boyfriend Luc to call off their courtship. She wasn’t looking forward to it and her lower lip wobbled at the thought. She had thought he may be the one she was meant to be with but it seems that fate had decided on another path for her.
“Oh and Mathilde?” she stopped when she heard her father call her. She didn’t look back at him. If she did, she knew she would cry and she didn’t want her father to see that.
“Thank you,” he said in a watery voice.
Mathild only nodded and walked to the door of her father’s study. Little did she know that she would never get to finish her degrees at Sorbonne and that within a few months she would become Mrs. Harrison Charles of Menlo Park, California.
And that within a few years she would be mother his two children, Nathaniel and Violet Charles, the latter who would become the spitting image of her mother by the age of 20. The same age that she had found herself wed to a man she knew little to nothing about at the time of their vows.