“One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family.”- Jonathan Safran Foer.
“I still can’t believe you successfully turned the table on those two.” Mina said a faint astonishment in her voice.
“Better believe it girl, because that is the reality they are faced with and know it not.” Ama said with a smug smile dipping her spoon into her cup of vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirl.
Mina laughed. “Dang, you guys are brilliant.” Silently reciting her ‘no sweets’ mantra as she tried not to salivate at Ama’s yummy-looking ice cream cup. “I didn’t know you had it in you, Ken.”
“Well, my lady here only brings out the best in me.” Ken winked, lazily lying across the wide brown vinyl sofa. “She’s my Jane Bond.” He blew a kiss at Ama. She neatly caught it with one hand and blew it back.
“I feel like we are a secret service team.” Abigail said coming into the living room with her own ice cream cup. “You know like some sub-unit in Men in Black.”
“What I can’t believe is how they fell right into our trap.” Ken mused heaving to his elbow. “Two brilliant business executives and yet so clueless.”
“Desperation makes you clueless.” Mina declared. “It gives you a one-track vision and so you are practically blinded to all else.”
“So what’s the plan here?” Abigail asked, lifting a spoonful of dark chocolate cream into her mouth.
“Keep them busy with their plans as we plan the wedding.” Ama replied. “And as a side benefit, strike off the attraction billowing underneath all that aloofness and rivalry.”
Abigail giggled and rolled her eyes. “My-oh-my, this is all so romantic when you think of it. So Aunty Alex really has a thing for this… Mr. Reginald? What does he really look like? I’ve never met him.”
“He’s Idris Elba and Eddie Murphy all rolled into one – ruggedly handsome with a charming wide smile.” Mina said with a deep sigh. “And the way he looks at her… phew!”
“Hey, that’s my kid sister.” Ken reproved with a mock frown. “And you, you have no business thinking of men at your age – rugged or charming.” He gave his sister a big-brother warning look.
“I wasn’t thinking of men, I was asking what this Mr. Reginald looked like.” Abigail responded with a cheeky grin. “And with a description like that, no wonder Aunty Alex is attracted to him.”
“What do you about being attracted?” He narrowed his eyes.
Abigail rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Nothing that involves me and a man… yet.”
Ama and Mina toppled over in laughter.
“Nothing funny here, ladies.” He frowned darkly at their laughing faces.
“Oh Kenny, you are such a big brother.” Ama twinkled at him.
“I am a big brother.”
“We know.” They all chorused amid laughter.
He glowered at them.
“So, he’s giving her the look?” Ama asked sobering up.
“What look?” Ken wanted to know, eyeing them suspiciously.
“The kind you gave me before you knocked my knees out under me.” Ama told him with a flirtatious wink.
“Oh, that look.” Ken grinned, then frowned. “But why would Regie be giving Alex that look? He’s not falling in love with her, is he?”
“No… at least not yet.” Mina shook her head, a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “Right now he just wants to rumple the sheets with her.”
“What!” Ken exclaimed, then glared at the giggling Abigail. “You see why I’m not so comfortable having that Playboy so close to my girl? He’s just going to play with her.”
“Your girl is a thirty-three year old woman, Ken.” Mina shook her head. “A workaholic, no-time-for-love-and-romance career woman.” She stressed giving him a pointed look. “Looks to me like she might just be in desperate need for a little play.”
“And that attraction is not just one sided as you know.” Ama bustled in before he can deflate that argument. “Regie has got the hots for her too.”
“Mmm hmm.” Mina nodded her head. “You should have seen the look in his eyes when he came to pick her last weekend for their Events Centre trip.” She sighed lustily and leaned back into her seat. “I went hot just looking at it.” She gave Ama a wink and they both laughed.
“Exactly.” Ken tossed mildly irritated with their knowing laughter. “That man is a Pro at making women go all gooey and putty.” His reproofing glare only made them laugh harder, even eliciting chuckles from Abigail. “I don’t want him using those… sneaky moves on Alex and then breaking her heart.”
“Oh, relax baby.” Ama cooed flashing him a cheerful smile. “Alex is a big girl and can take care of herself. And besides what makes you think it won’t be Alex breaking Regie’s heart? Ladies can be mean, you know?”
“I know. I’m sitting with three and can literarily feel the menacing sting oozing from them.” He dunked as Ama and Mina threw their sofa pillows at him. “Well, I suppose that I didn’t consider that possibility.” He said after a thought. “In any case, this might be what Alex really needs… she’s avoided romantic liaisons most of her adult life. Regie might be the shake-up she needs.”
They all went thoughtful for a moment, no one saying anything.
“What exactly is the look?” Abigail broke the silence, a dreamy look on her face.
“Nothing you need to know about, young lady.” Ken glowered at her. “Go get me one of those cups of ice cream and one for Mina.” He waved aside Mina’s protest. “You are a beautiful full-figured woman, and nothing wrong with having sweets every once in a while. Go.” He commanded turning back to his sister. “And you two stop laughing… I’m a big brother here.”
“We know.” They chorused with laughing eyes.
“And she’s a growing woman avid with curiosity.” Ama added with a wink.
“A curiosity that would soon want to taste.” Mina added with a twinkle.
“Oh God.” Ken groaned dropping back into the sofa.
Alex was relaxed against the wood-frame settee outside the front porch, her eyes staring blankly ahead as her thoughts swirled around the very man who had her overworking herself in a bid to get him off her mind. She hadn’t succeeded of course.
Even in the midst of the Heritage Hotel new project and other things, she’d been plagued with annoying thoughts of Reginald, his dark intense eyes and the feel of his lips against hers.
Sex. That’s what it was. Just sex. When a woman hasn’t had her engines oiled for a long time, every walking male becomes an attraction… even undesirable ones like Reginald. Damned man, if only he hadn’t forced himself on her and kissed her so thoroughly.
Restless, she ran her hand through her breeze-blown dark weaves, and if only he would keep those passionate hot eyes off her, she’d be able to concentrate on their mutual goal and not sit here questioning it.
“A penny for your thoughts?”
She shrieked and jerked forward. Ben was smiling down at her by the door. She hadn’t heard the door open. “Dad, you gave me a scare.” She reproved mildly.
Ben chuckled and moved over to join her on the settee. “You looked so far away sitting there. What could be on your mind that had those lines wrinkling your forehead?”
Alex sighed and crossed her legs. “Nothing really. Just work.” She said lightly not wanting to prod her father’s nosy curiosity.
Ben crossed his legs too, leaning back into the comfortable cushions. “Ah work. You seem to have thrown yourself with a vengeance into it this past week.”
“No more than usual.” She responded mildly. “Besides with the Heritage Hotel commercials on the pipeline, it’s only expected.”
Ben inclined his head noting the slight defensive tone. “So how are the wedding plans?”
“What? What wedding plans?” Alex swung her head round to face him, surprised by the quick subject switch.
He gave her an easy smile. “You’ve been helping out Ken and Ama with their wedding plans, yes? That’s what you and Reginald have been up to, right?”
She turned her eyes away from the warm inquisitive gaze, tugging back the strands of hair that flew into her face. “Yes. We’ve been helping them check some things out because of their busy schedules. After all Ken is my best friend and Ama is a very good friend of Reginald’s.” She added defensively immediately wishing she hadn’t when her father only chuckled.
“Of course.” Ben nodded complacently. Then twirled his feet, raising his head to casually regard the green-lawn, tree-lined yard. “An interesting young man… Reginald. Quite good-looking too.” He added with a winsome smile.
Alex shrugged dismissively. “If you care for the broad-shouldered, too-obviously male, flirtatious type.” Her face clouded with irritation.
He observed the look of irritation and smiled to himself, so there was truly something there, hmm. “Ah, so he’s been flirting with you, has he?” He goaded. “And have you been flirting right back?”
“Don’t be mischievous, dad.” Alex admonished with a smack on his arm. “You are my father, you should be righteously enraged when you hear a man has been flirting with me.”
“As I am.” Ben declared robustly. “I will surely brandish my shotgun next time he’s here.”
Alex snorted. “Yeah, right. Admit it, you want me out of your hair and out of you house.”
Ben smiled and linked their fingers, slightly squeezing hers. “I want you finding the right man and falling in love.” He said quietly. “You haven’t been in a relationship for so long. There’s more to life than just work and business, you know.”
She squeezed back his hand. “I know. Which is why I’m working real hard to get my Mr. Right.”
He raised her hand and laid it on his lap, patting it affectionately. “You know girley, sometimes the right one is standing right in front of our eyes but we never see them because our eyes are turned elsewhere.” He put his arm round her shoulders and drew her closer. “Mr. Right is not always the gentle, charming, easygoing Prince Charming. Often he is the rough, gloomy, tempestuous Warrior.”
She knitted her brows together. “Have you been watching Shrek again?” Her tone was mild and teasing but his words played about in her mind, unsettling her.
Reginald was in Rosa and René’s classical decorated living room, relaxed against the salmon-pink wood-framed sofa and frowning darkly at the glowing Rosa. She was pregnant – some six weeks gone. They’d both only discovered and were understandably excited since they’ve been trying for almost two years now. Which was why he’d allowed his mother to talk him into coming with her, so they could celebrate with them. He probably wouldn’t have been so generous, he thought glumly if he’d known she was going to be her usual mischievous, meddlesome self.
“I can’t believe you told Ron all about Alex.” He glared, still hassled about the call he’d gotten earlier from his immediate younger brother.
Rosa only twinkled at him from the opposite sofa, her hand on her still-flat tummy.
“She didn’t – I did.” Oyin said smiling sweetly. She was Ron’s wife, an ophthalmologist and an amazing beauty. “She told me and I told Ron. It would have been wrong not to.” She lifted her lithe shoulders covered by the sleeveless champagne-yellow cotton dress at his accusing glare.
“What is wrong is how you all interfere in my private life and gossip all about it.” Reginald corrected trailing his glaring eyes across the room, stopping at his mother who just sat on the bronze-brown single sofa, a satisfied look of a woman expecting her second grandchild layering her pretty face as she leafed through the baby mag on her laps.
“It’s never wrong for family to interfere.” René objected walking in from the squarish alcove that led into the kitchen. “Non, it is tradition.” He gave Reginald a wink.
He was a leaned-muscled man in black loose cotton slacks and an open-neck jade-green Henley shirt with dark-grey eyes over a pointed nose on a chiselled face covered with gold-brown manicured stubble-beard matching his sun-streaked gold-brown chin-length, wavy hair. He was the image of the proverbial irresistible French man.
“A tradition you find in every family.” He continued laying down the platter of Gougères and the bottle of wine on the centre table and slipping table mats underneath them. “Every good, loving family is both nosy and interfering.”
“Well, I’d like to be spared this loving tradition.” Reginald grunted. “I don’t recall ever interfering in any of your private lives.” This was directed with a scowl at Rosa.
She cackled. “Ooh that’s big. You, dear brother, gave me grief from my teen years to when I met René and introduced him to the family.”
“True word, mon ami.” René confirmed sharing the Gougères into smaller platters. “You gave me dark looks that made me feel like a white man about to capture your sister into slavery.” He grinned. “Even worse than the glowering, dark looks Papi Ray gave me.”
“I am her big brother… it’s expected.” Reginald said defensively accepting the paper platter René passed him.
“And we are your family, and same is expected of us.” Rosa winked at him.
“Try the Gougères Regie, it will surely sweeten your sour, gloomy mood.” René told him passing the others their own platters before picking up the bottle of wine and deftly unscrewed it. At the light pop, he sighed lustily. “Lillet, a most delightful wine for aperitifs and well accompanies the Gougères… you will see.” He nodded filling up the wine-glasses.
He didn’t give any to his wife, but then she already had her glass of peach juice.
“Hmm, you know what I liked best about her.” Rebecca took a tentative sip of her wine and then laid it on the wooden stool beside her. “It was her confident, assertive stance and yet was very polite and respectful at same time.”
“Absolutely.” Rosa agreed lifting her legs as René slid down into the sofa and laying back her legs on his laps. “She’s got this bold, I’m-nobody’s-fool attitude with an intelligent wit and lively humour to blend with it.”
“Just the right kind of woman for our Regie.” Rebecca smiled pacifically at her son.
Reginald merely snorted, refusing to say a word. They wanted more information and he wasn’t going to give it.
“Ooh, I’d so love to meet her.” Oyin enthused wiping her hand with a serviette before lifting her wine-glass.
“Regie, you should bring her with you to Mummy’s birthday dinner next Saturday.” Rosa turned to him with a bright smile.
“Absolutely not!” He disagreed firmly. “It’s a family dinner and besides we are not in that sort of relationship.”
“Ah, so what sort of relationship are you in?” Rosa drawled enjoying the fact that at last they’d gotten something out of him.
“The sort that is none of your damn business… all of you.” He glowered.
“He’s attracted to her.” Rosa told them in a conversational tone. “You can just see through all that cool, aloof…”
“Fine.” Reginald interjected exasperated. “I admit it. I find Alex attractive. I’m attracted to her, why not? She’s a very pretty woman.”
“Indeed.” Rosa gave him a wink before biting into her Gougères.
Reginald glared at her. “But that is all it is… just physical attraction.”
“Wrong, mon frère.” René corrected pointing his glass at him. “That’s where it begins, but not always all there is. Most love affairs begin…”
“Hey slow down, don Juan.” Reginald stopped him with a pointed look. “This is not about love… this is just a red-blooded male reaction to a very attractive female.”
“Just burning passion then?” René queried head angled.
“Exactly. Attraction and Passion. No love… definitely not about love.”
“Regie.” His low-pitched voice rolled over the ‘r’ like it was a French word. “I think you are protesting too much.”
“He is.” Oyin agreed. “I see a clear case of the guy doth protest too much here. And we all know how that usually ends.” She lifted her eyebrows, eyes twinkling.
“With him going for that which he’s vehemently protesting against.” Rosa said then turned to her husband. “It happened to you, didn’t it René?”
“Alas, it did, ma belle.” René inclined his head sagely. “I tell everybody this is just physical attraction – nothing deep. Next thing I know I’m standing at the altar with a Priest and watching this gorgeous lady in white walk up to me.” He took her hand and kissed her palm. “You knocked me to my knees, ma belle.”
“I am so touched by your love story.” Reginald said with a sardonic smile. “But Alex isn’t my kind of woman.”
“Ron said the same thing about me, didn’t he?” Oyin asked flinging her ringed left hand.
“Brave efforts, guys but you are all off target here.” Reginald told them relaxing into his seat to enjoy his wine.
Rebecca decided it was time to throw in the clincher. “I’d really like to see her again.” She said with a wistful look. “It would really make me happy if you would bring her to my birthday dinner. You are allowed to bring a close guest.”
“And we all feel so close to Alex already.” Rosa added with a dazzling smile.
“It would really, really make me happy.” Rebecca repeated for good measure. “I’ll even consider it a birthday present.”
“Stuff the emotional blackmail, mum.” Reginald knew their game and was not going to be entrapped by it. “I already got a birthday present for you.”
“But you forgot my birthday last year.” Rebecca reproved with a mournful look.
“I was in Singapore and couldn’t get through to you.”
“My own first born… the first fruit of my womb… forgot my birthday.” Her voice cracked as she turned to Oyin.
“He forgot you and daddy’s thirty-seventh year anniversary too.” Oyin said sadly patting Rebecca’s hands sympathetically.
“It was the very next day! And I don’t believe you’d join them against me.” He glared at his sister-in-law.
“I want to meet her.” She said simply.
“Good. You all go over to her office and visit her. I’m not bringing her.” He said in a final tone.
There was silence, then a rustle of feet across the full length Oriental rug.
“Hmm, I wonder what Papi Ray would say when he gets to hear that you are blatantly avoiding a very pretty and successful woman.” René said thoughtfully. “At thirty-six and still unmarried.” He feigned a shudder.
“Don’t you dare bring dad into this or I’ll break your crazy French neck.” Reginald threatened.
“He did say he’ll call me when he gets back tonight, didn’t he, ma belle?”
“I’m warning you, René.”
He merely angled his head. “I think the Crab Quiche should be ready now.” He decided gently placing Rosa’s feet on the floor and pushing to his feet. “Come along cher famille, dinner is about to be served.”
“I can’t wait to dig in, I’m starved.” Rosa declared allowing her husband pull her up and linking their hands as they made for the squarish alcove.
“Come on, Mummy let’s go taste René’s ever-delicious Crab Quiche.” Oyin helped her mother-in-law to her feet.
He watched as they all headed for the dining table deliberately ignoring him, the nosy, interfering blackmailers. The thought of his father crawling all over his back bemoaning his disappointing bachelor status, had him swearing under his breath as he heaved to his feet and followed them.
“Fine. Fine, you guys win. I’ll ask her to join us at mum’s birthday dinner.”
“Of course you will, dearie. You are a good son.” His mother said with a sweet smile as they all slid into the natural oak dining chairs.
Reginald only groaned. He wasn’t even sure how he was going to ask her, she’d been completely distant since last Saturday, it was as if their initial rivalry had been resurrected. Even when he’d called her Friday midday, she’d been frostily dismissive.
And now they’d coerced him into agreeing to invite her to his mother’s birthday dinner… damn it.
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