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Thanks for reading! This is the fourth installment of this story so please go back and check out Chapters 1-3. Ratings and constructive comments are very appreciated 🙂
The next month was an exciting one at the Bennett house. Margaret was overjoyed at having two daughters who she considered to be on the brink of engagement. Laurel had decided to keep Carlos away from her family. They kept their rendezvous to his bachelor-pad apartment and even once in the backseat of Laurel’s car, but both of those were better than sisters and mothers walking in on them. And she didn’t miss seeing Carlos flirt with her younger sisters around the house either.
She was growing more and more unsettled by the excessive amount of time that Sebastien wanted to spend with her. She didn’t feel that she could say no because a good impression on the man could lead to some help for their family’s financial situation. They took walks together and spent time discussing business and wine in the study. Sebastien was quite a talker and Laurel, although a Master of Business still got lost often when he was talking both because of the boring content of his talks and his thick French accent that often clouded things over.
Laurel was completely spacing one afternoon as Sebastien was discussing the nodes of a good burgundy wine with himself as Laurel pretended to agree by nodding every once in a while. Laurel was reallly contemplating what she would wear to the Miller Christmas party when she heard Sebastien say her name.
Laurel snapped back to the conversation.
“Sebastien! I’m sorry. I was considering your last point,” Laurel fibbed.
“Ah, I understand completely. It’s an amazing concept,” Sebastien seemed to be on the edge of diving back into the wine discussion, but Laurel cut him off.
“What were you asking?”
“As you know, I’m sure, I have been invited along with your family to the Christmas gathering at Mr. Miller’s home. I’m looking forward to it very much.”
“I wasn’t sure if you were much of a dancer.”
“Oh, I assure you, I am,” Sebastien said with finality. “I was actually hoping that you would stay near me throughout the evening.”
Laurel tried not to gawk. “I-well-I’m sure there will be plenty of women for you to dance with. I wouldn’t want you to limit yourself to just me.”
Sebastien reached for Laurel’s hand. “I was intending-“
Laurel leapt up and laughed nervously backing away. “Sebastien, I will save you some dances, but I couldn’t possibly hog you from the rest of the ladies.” She thrust open the study door. “Now I have to go…brush my hair.”
Laurel nearly ran from the room. Now she understood why Sebastien was always clinging to her and she meant to put a stop to it.
Laurel secretly loved getting dressed up for big parties but she tried to keep her excitement under wraps as her sisters raced around the house looking for shoes, headbands and other sparkly trinkets they’d bought specifically for the evening.
Laurel sat at the vanity in Jennifer’s room applying blush when Katarina came flying into the room. “Have you guys seen my left pump?”
Laurel didn’t even look up, “do you mean the silver Steve Madden heel that you bought yesterday?”
Jennifer turned to her little sister, “How did you manage to lose that already?”
Kat started to account her entire life since purchasing the shoes but Laurel cut her off. “I think it’s in mom’s room, Kat.” Laurel moved on to doing her eyeliner. Not three minutes later Cydalia stormed in.
“Jen, can I borrow your Swarovski earrings with the little roses?”
“I was planning on wearing them, Cyd.” Jennifer replied.
“Please, please, please!” Cyd whined and pouted her lips.
“Well…” Laurel could tell Jen would give in soon.
“They go perfectly with my dress and it’s not like you’re trying to impress all the boys tonight since you’ve already snagged one!” Cyd reminded.
Jennifer sighed, “Fine.” She grabbed the earrings from her dresser and handed them to Cyd who twirled, kissed her sister on the cheek then skipped from the room.
Laurel rolled her eyes, “You really are too nice, you know.”
“Well, she was right. They will go perfectly with her dress.”
“Yeah, I suppose she had a point; you won’t have to worry about catching anyone’s eye tonight. David will be staring at you the entire time.”
Jennifer replied with a smile.
Laurel and Jennifer zipped each other into their dresses which Laurel had updated with some handy sewing work so they wouldn’t all be running out to buy new fancy dresses. Jennifer wore purple and Laurel blue. With five girls in the house who had all gone to prom the house was full of formal dresses. Laurel had tried to convince all the girls of the economy of reusing dresses but Cydalia and Katarina had bought new ones anyway. Jennifer and Laurel still looked very stylish due to Laurel’s skill, but Heidi refused to let Laurel fix a dress up for her. She stood in topkapı escort the entry in her black dress looking exactly the same as she had seven years ago when she was a junior in high school. Laurel hoped Heidi wouldn’t be gossiped about too much for her dress that was so obviously from the beginning of the previous decade. Laurel drove her car with Jennifer and Heidi followed by her mother driving the younger two and Sebastien.
As they approached the Miller Mansion Laurel’s breath was taken away but how incredibly gorgeous the house was. It was hard to even remember how the house had looked so old and sad just six months before. Now under an inch of fresh snow from the morning the house glowed with Christmas lights outlining every window and circling up the pillars at the front door. Glowing luminaries laced up the driveway and a majestic nativity sat on the North lawn in shades of white and gold.
Laurel pulled up at the front entrance where MaryAnn had hired four men to do a valet service so guests didn’t have to walk up the snowy hill from the stables where there was room for parking. Laurel handed her keys to the valet and her light blue cape to another hired help inside. Everyone who came in was offered a champagne flute then ushered down the hall to the ballroom. If Laurel thought it was regal outside then the ballroom was straight out of a fairytale. Every chandelier was lit and gleaming. The walls were decked with garlands of holly and ivy. Life size nutcrackers flanked all the doors. A stringed orchestra was tucked into a back corner playing softly. A buffet table was set up against the west wall and was heaped with turkey, ham, potatoes, and Christmas foods from various cultures. Guests could fill their plates and head to a table covered in blue and gold velvet or grab a drink at the fully stocked open bar in another corner.
Laurel and Jennifer looked for Brittney while the younger girls and Sebastien headed towards the bar. They knew Brittney would look extremely classy in her new black dress with beading on the chest that she had described to them.
Brittney was found quickly and the girls searched the rooms for a sign of Carlos, but he could not be found. Soon the dancing started and Jennifer was whisked away to the dance floor by David. Laurel saw Sebastien coming and managed to hide three times before he finally caught her and she had to dance with him. When she finally escaped Sebastien, Jennifer was also taking a break while David danced with his sister.
“Laurel, I have some bad news.”
“Carlos isn’t here…and he’s not coming.”
“Oh,” Laurel said dejectedly.
“David said he turned down the invitation saying he had some urgent business in the city.”
“Hmmm, he never mentioned it. He didn’t even text me to tell me he wouldn’t be here.”
“Probably because he made it up!” added Brittney joining the conversation. “The talk by the refreshment table is that Carlos was too scared to come up here knowing that Urs would be here.”
“I’m sure he wasn’t scared!” Laurel disagreed. “He probably just didn’t want to risk getting in an argument in public.”
“I don’t know Laurel; why else would he turn down such an amazing party?” Jennifer asked.
“Well, obviously something really important came up and that is why he is not here.”
The girls continued discussing the situation as they wandered back towards the food table, Jennifer and Brittney getting more and more skeptical of Carlos while Laurel defended him.
“Laurel would you save me the next dance?” Laurel looked up into the face of Urs who had just appeared in front of her.
“Yes. Yes I will.” Laurel said abruptly. Urs nodded and walked away.
Jen and Brittney looked as shocked as Laurel felt herself.
“What the hell, Laurel!”
“Did I just tell Urs Buhler that I would dance with him?”
“You did,” nodded Brittney.
“You really did,” agreed Jennifer.
“Well…at least that gets me out of the next one with Sebastien.”
When the string band got back from their break and started up again, Urs indeed came to claim Laurel for a dance. She held his hand loosely as they took to the floor and felt his hand grip her waist.
“This is quite an impressive party,” Laurel said.
“I had nothing to do with the set up, it was all MaryAnn’s doing.” he said curtly.
Laurel had no response; they danced in silence for a moment.
“Do you have anything else to say?” she asked.
“No,” he responded. “Is that a problem?”
“No…Just being polite.” Then Laurel also slipped into silent twirls. She noticed his new hair cut. The black curls now ended at the nape of the neck and his sideburns were sculpted along his stoney jaw. His suit had a metallic sheen and was a steely blue-grey that matched his eyes. He wore a light blue tie with specks of silver that nearly matched her own dress. She looked up at his face again and realized he was gazing down intently at her. Her eyes locked tuzla escort on his for the remainder of the song and they didn’t realize for a moment that the players had ended their song until she heard MaryAnn calling Urs’ name.
“Thank you,” he murmured, giving a slight bow.
“Thank you,” she whispered as he walked away. She went back to find her sister and friend but they were both still dancing: Jennifer with David and Brittney with Sebastien. Laurel had to remember to thank Brittney for being such a wonderful distraction for her. Laurel took mental inventory of her family. Jennifer was looking incredibly happy in the arms of the man she loved. Heidi was attempting to convince a master violinist that her posture was wrong. Cydalia and Katarina were flirting with multiple men at once with drinks in their hands. Laurel finally found her mother chatting in a corner with other women of Willow Springs. She entered the conversation too late, however, to stop her mother from saying some incredibly inappropriate things.
“If he doesn’t propose before the end of the year, I’d be shocked! I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already happened here tonight and they’ll announce it soon before the party’s over!! And of course they’ll be married this summer and she’ll be settled by fall. She probably will give up her job at the vet clinic because Lord knows he makes more than enough money for the both of them!”
Laurel quickly laid her hand on her mother’s arm to quiet her but she saw MaryAnn off to their right who had obviously heard the entire thing. She did not look pleased.
Near the end of the evening Laurel stood to the side of the dance floor watching her sister and David when MaryAnn came up next to her.
“I’m sorry your friend the soccer trainer couldn’t be here tonight.”
“Forgive my impoliteness, but I really doubt you mean that,” Laurel responded.
MaryAnn scoffed, “Well, take this however you want, but you should get as far away from Carlos Marin as you can.”
Laurel leveled with MaryAnn. “I think I can take care of myself, thanks.”
“Have it your way then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” MaryAnn turned on her heels and marched away.
The party went well into the night and when the cars were finally brought back up to the house all the women were exhausted. Sebastien drove Margaret and the younger girls home while Laurel waited for Jennifer to say goodbye to David. They were the last to leave and David still walked them out to their car. Laurel eyed MaryAnn watching from the entrance and gave a little wave. She did not wave back. David gave Jen a lingering kiss goodbye and they were finally off for home. They were too tired to talk much and they knew they could exchange details in the morning.
It was nearly four in the morning when MaryAnn Miller was finally getting ready for bed and David came into her room.
“Mary, I’m going to go in to the city tomorrow afternoon. Would you come with me?”
“Why are you going to the city, David?”
“I’d like to buy an engagement ring for Jennifer and you have better style than anyone I know.”
MaryAnn stopped brushing her hair and turned to fully face her brother.
“David this isn’t funny. Stop joking around.”
“I’m not joking Mary, I love Jennifer.”
MaryAnn walked to her brother. “David, you’re my only brother and I want you to be happy more than anyone, but you can’t be serious about this.”
“I am serious. You like Jennifer; I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Ha!” MaryAnn laughed coldly. “Do you really want to be attached to that family for the rest of your life?”
“Let’s ask Urs. I’m sure he will agree with me.”
MaryAnn smiled. “Yes, let’s ask Urs. I’m sure he will be helpful.” She kept smiling as they walked to Urs’ room knowing she had won.
The women in the Bennett house woke late and slowly made their way into the kitchen. They were all too tired or too hungover to talk much. Laurel and Jennifer brought their plates to the TV room to talk.
“Laurel he asked me if I would spend Christmas Eve with him,” Jennifer confided. “He almost seemed nervous when he asked and he said he was really looking forward to talking to me that night.”
Laurel smiled knowing she was thinking the same thing Jennifer was thinking.
“Don’t say anything. I don’t want to jinx it!” Jennifer pleaded.
“I’m not saying anything!”
The girls suddenly looked up as Sebastien walked in.
“Good morning,” Jennifer said.
“Good morning,” he replied. “I was hoping I could talk to Laurel…alone.”
“Oh, I’m sure whatever you want to talk about Jennifer can hear. She’s knowledgeable about the business.”
“I was hoping to talk about something more…personal.”
Jennifer stood, “I’ll just go to the kitchen then.”
“No, Jen, stay-“
“No Laurel I’ll go.”
Laurel pled with her eyes to Jennifer to stay but she left closing the door behind her. Sebastien came around the couch and sat next to Laurel.
“Sebastien, pendik escort I-“
“Laurel please let me explain. I know that you and your family were not excited about letting me into your home when I arrived and rightly so. The unfortunate things that happened between my father and yours are no secret, but I came to America with the sole purpose of reconciling our two families. I know that the transaction between our fathers left your family in a very tight financial situation and though you are a skilled business woman, you do not have the connections your father had.
“My father and I want to mend the broken situation. We would like to reinstate the partnership between our two businesses permanently and would like to do that by joining our two families.”
Laurel was confused, “Joining our two families?”
“Yes, Laurel I would like you to become my wife. My family can provide wine to keep your business alive for decades and you are a savvy business woman who would be a great asset to me and my family.”
“You want me to marry you?!”
“My father sent me to America with the very idea.”
“Sebastien, I appreciate your attempt to make up for the awful things that happened to my father, but I don’t’ think that marrying you is the best solution.”
“Of course, you are worried about leaving America. I assure you we will have homes in France and New York that you may travel between at any time.”
“No, it’s not that. I-it’s that…I don’t love you.”
“Ah, I see. I understand that is generally a requirement in modern marriage but I am certain that you see the advantages of marrying me. I am a successful, attractive man. I can give you a certain future and I assure you I will do my duty to give you as many children as you desire.”
Sebastien leaned forward suddenly and pressed his lips to Laurel’s.
“Sebastien stop!” Laurel stood. “Please stop talking like this. I cannot and will not marry you!”
Laurel nearly ran from the room knocking the door into her mother as she ran out.
“Laurel! Get back here!” Margaret yelled after her, but Laurel was already out the door and through the yard. She yanked her cell phone from her pocket and dialed Carlos and asked him to come pick her up. A few minutes later he picked her up and went back to his place where she told him everything that had happened and he comforted her.
When Laurel got home all the lights were still on in the house and she walked in to see Brittney on the couch with Jennifer.
Laurel started over to her, “Brittney, I’m so glad you’re here! I’m sure Jen told you what-“
“Laurel I came to tell you something,” Brittney stood and looked very serious.
“Brittney, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. Actually something very good has happened.” Brittney looked back to Jennifer who nodded and looked at Laurel as well.
“Sebastien came to see me this afternoon and has asked me to move with him to France…where we’ll be married. And I’ve accepted.”
Laurel swore she misheard her friend and couldn’t say anything. She just stared at Brittney.
“Don’t look at me like that Laurel.”
Brittney stopped her. “Laurel, I’m twenty eight years old. I have no prospects. I’ve never been out of the country and Sebastien can give me an amazing life and a stable home. He may not be good enough for you, but I’m taking it.”
“Brittney I- I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything.” Brittney passed Laurel and walked out the door. Laurel looked to Jennifer who looked away.
Three days later Sebastien left to return to Paris with the promise that Brittney would join him right after the New Year. Laurel wanted to see Brittney but couldn’t figure out what she would say to her. Laurel knew Brittney wasn’t going to change her mind yet Laurel wished she could offer an alternative. She felt guilty for getting her friend into this engagement.
Instead Laurel spent more time with Carlos. She didn’t tell anyone, but she felt very good about him. He’d never mentioned anything serious, but Laurel hoped that he felt as strongly as she did.
On Christmas Eve Jennifer put on her new Christmas dress and went out with David and Laurel felt certain that she would come home with a ring on her finger so when Jennifer ran through the door with tears streaming down her face and went right to her room Laurel knew something was very wrong. Cyd and Kat knocked on her door and Jennifer yelled at them to go away. The same answer came when Margaret knocked. Laurel gave it an hour or so then quietly snuck into her sister’s room. Jen was lying on the bed still in her dress and tears and mascara stained her pillow.
Laurel sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her sister’s back.
“Jen, what happened?” she murmured.
Jennifer let out a sob then choked out, “He broke up with me!”
Laurel was shocked. She wanted to scream and yell, but she didn’t say anything. She waited for Jennifer to take a few deep breaths and sit up wiping makeup in dark circles around her cheeks.
“He said he cares for me deeply, but doesn’t see a future together so he just broke up with me. He and MaryAnn are moving back to New York City because she hates it here. She hates everything about this town and she hates me.”
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