The moment he entered the terminal, the truth of his situation came crushing down on him.
I am home. And I’m getting married. To her.
He sighed and dragged his suitcase behind him. A frown had been permanently etched onto his handsome face since the day he received that phone call from his mother. “Your father is very ill and he wants you to come home as soon as possible,” his mother had said. She didn’t say more, but he knew what the message really meant - “Come home and assume your role as head of this family.”
He didn’t hate his parents, nor did he have any plans on shirking his duties and responsibilities as heir to his father’s powerful business dynasty. If not for that damning prerequisite that came with it - marriage! One would think that they were still living in medieval times with the way they arranged this union between him and the Almendrezes’ only child. He was twelve when his father told him about the betrothal, but he didn't take it seriously. He thought it was a joke. How wrong he was!
It’s been fifteen years since he’d last seen that headstrong and very exasperating daughter of his father’s best friend, yet her memory seemed to have been imprinted in his brain. She was eight or nine, and he, was turning fourteen at the time. He knew their parents had organized that whole summer to get the two of them to spend time together, help them get to know each other better. And at fourteen, that did not sit well with him. He had his own plans. He liked other girls. And if he were to marry, he wanted to be the one to choose his bride.
Besides, she was too boyish for his taste. He never saw her playing with dolls or doing ‘girly’ things. She was always running around with his younger brothers, playing soccer, climbing up trees, swimming in the river, riding ponies and even playing with trading cards. She also kept on challenging him every time they were thrown together. He couldn’t understand why she was so determined to beat him at everything! She even questioned everything he said. The one thing he really hated about her, though, was her But what her ability to deceive the unsuspecting. Louisa Almendrez had the face of an angel and the temperament of an imp. She could get away with just about anything. A little fluttering of her thick lashes plus a double dose of her sweet, dimpled smile and even the hardest heart would be melting.
Though, if he were to be honest, he’d actually liked her the first time he saw her. Or the way she looked, at least. He adored the way her hair curled to frame her fair, oval face, how her cute, little nose twitched just a little when she was planning on mischief. And her eyes! He loved looking at her eyes. They seemed to glow every time she smiled, making her hazel eyes appear so light they’re the color of molten gold. He liked the way she carried herself, too. Even at such a young age, she already exuded confidence and strength. He’d also seen proof of her quick, sharp mind. All in all, she was not really that bad.
He could’ve tried to overlook her minor faults and focused more on her good points. If only she wasn’t chosen for him. The fact that he was not even consulted on this major aspect of his life grated against his pride. She was their choice, not his. And so from then on, Louisa Almendrez, in spite of all her redeeming qualities, was placed on the ‘other’ side of the fence. In his young mind, she the enemy and he tried as best as he could to avoid being with her.
When the Almendrezes became busy with their import-export business in Cebu, the instances of their meetings were greatly minimized, which was just fine with him. Things got even better when his father agreed to send him to England to finish his studies. It gave him the freedom and distance that he needed.
Still, the arranged marriage between them remained in force, a virtual Damocles’ sword hanging threateningly above him. This was the twenty-first century, after all, where men and women were free to follow their hearts, where marriages were no longer dictated by their elders, but decided upon by two people in love.
He winced at that. Am I really such a die-hard romantic or is this my pride speaking?
Stepping out of the airport, he waved to Juarez, their elderly driver who was waiting for him at the curb. He was sure that the loyal driver had been instructed by his mother to take him straight home.
Sorry, Mama. I have no intention of falling blindly into Papa’s plans. Especially the one that involves an irritating hellion!
And so, as Gabriel Fernando Montoya y Gomez slid into the car, he promised himself that the Montoya-Almendrez wedding would remain nothing but an old man’s dream.
He refused to be a pawn in this game of hearts. And he would do everything to put a stop to this madness. Or at least he wouldn’t be silent.
Never a meek lamb being led to slaughter!
He never approved of this betrothal, he never would, and he’d make damn sure that everyone knew it.