The moment he entered the terminal, he felt the crushing truth of his situation. I am home. And I’m getting married. To her.
He sighed and started dragging his suitcase behind him. A frown seemed to have been permanently etched on 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 did not say more, but he knew what the rest of the message was all about. Come home and assume your role as head of this family.
He did not hate his parents, nor did he have any plans of shirking his duties and responsibilities as heir to his father’s powerful and extensive business dynasty. If not for that damning pre-requisite that came with it - marriage! You would think that they were still living in medieval times with the way they arranged that union with the Almendrezes’ only child.
It’s been fifteen years since he’d last seen that headstrong and very exasperating daughter of his father’s best friend and business partner, Ramon Almendrez.
She was eight or nine, he, turning fourteen. He knew their parents organized that summer outing so the two of them could spend time together, get to know each other better. They had already decided to turn them into a couple even then. And at fourteen, that did not sit well with him. He had his own plans. He liked other girls. And he wanted to choose his own life partner.
Besides, she was just 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. Plus, she kept on challenging him in every activity that they were thrown in together. He couldn’t understand why she was so determined in beating him at everything! She even audaciously questioned everything he said.
But what really unnerved him was her ability to deceive the unwary. For Louisa Almendrez had the face of an angel and the temperament of an imp. She could get away with anything with a fluttering of her thick lashes and a double dose of her sweet, dimpled smile.
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 from within 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. 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. But what had really set his mind against her was that she was 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. He did not choose her. And so from then on, Louisa Almendrez, in spite of all her redeeming qualities, was placed on the ‘other’ side, the enemy’s side and he tried as best as he could to avoid being with her.
When the Almendrezes became too involved and busy with their import-export business in Cebu the instances of their meeting 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 as he thought, Am I such a die-hard romantic? Or is this my pride speaking?
And so, as Gabriel Fernando Montoya y Gomez stepped out of the airport to wave to Juarez, their elderly driver whom, he was sure, his mother had instructed to bring him straight home, he promised himself that the Montoya-Almendrez wedding would remain 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 won’t be silent. Never a meek lamb being led to slaughter! He never approved of this betrothal and he would make damn sure that everyone knew it.