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Book #1 - The Billionaire's Bargain
Book #2 - The Billionaire's Wish
Book #3 - The Billionaire's Gift
Book #4 - The Billionaire's Romance
The Billionaire's Bargain
CHAPTER 2. New York, New York
Chapter 4: The Garden of Eden
Chapter 6: A Family Brought To Order
The Billionaire's Gift
"Tallulah! Less dreaming, more working!" my beloved Grammie Marigold cries out from the kitchen.
It was time to help with lunch.
"Coming Grammie!" I call back, reluctantly closing my Vogue magazine.
"There you are child, bless your heart you look a sort" Grammie chuckles, looking me up and down.
Ok so I look a little messy right now. Faded old skinny jeans, tank top and my hair up in a messy bun. No make up. Grammie likes to think a Southern Lady should always be well turned out.
I grin at Grammie, "Oh Grammie, I am just at home! It is only the two of us here. Why would I need to dress up?"
Grammie frowns at me, "Child, you should always look your best, you never know when someone special might pop by. And a lady is always well groomed."
I groan with faux desperation, "Grammie no one ever comes to visit us. We haven't had a visitor since I left college to care for you. Unless you count the nurse and the one time Doctor Peters came by. And Doctor Peters is about forty years too old to be a potential beau."
Grammie smiles at me sadly and draws me in for a hug, depositing a special Grammie kiss on my forehead,
"Tallulah I know it has been hard for you, I feel a heart load of guilt over you having to put your dreams aside to care for me. I don't want to see you let go of yourself or your dreams, things are just on hold, not over. Taking care of your outside shows you haven't given up on the inside," Grammie says sadly.
I lean into the hug, enjoying that special Grammie scent that reminds me of knitting and cookies.
"Thank you Grammie. I haven't given up. I still have my dreams and I know I will return to college. One day I will run my own non-profit and save the world," I smile to show I understand this career goal is a little naïve…although secretly I do believe I can make a difference, some day some how.
Grammie grabs me by the shoulders and looks at my firmly, "Now young lady, believe in yourself. I KNOW you will make a difference. Your Daddy felt the same way, he would be so proud of you."
I fall silent at the mention of Daddy. My father died when I was eight. He was a Delta Force soldier killed in action. The military had been his way of making a difference. With my mom passing away from an illness not long after I was born it had just been Grammie Marigold and me for a long time.
I shake my head to clear old thoughts of Daddy.
"Grammie, one day I will change the world and I will make Hunter, South Carolina famous for having produced me!" I laugh and give Grammie a little twirl around the kitchen.
"I don't doubt it," I think I hear Grammie murmur as I set out making our soup and sandwiches.
"And then your Grandfather said, 'Marigold, I need a wife and you'll do!'" Grammie chuckles, as we eat our lunch.
I laugh in return. I love hearing stories of my grandparents romance. I pretend to be fine waiting for the right man, but secretly I long to meet the man of my dreams.
At my age Grammie was married with two babies. Many of my friends from high school are married, and those who are not are at college.
The doorbell interrupts these depressing thoughts.
"Now there you go Tully," exclaims Grammie, "visitors!"
I get up from my chair and head to the front door, "probably just Mormon's Grammie, they are very dedicated and just won't give up on this die hard Baptist neighborhood!"
Yanking open the door with a distinct lack of grace I discover two men standing on the doorstep in suits. One youngish, maybe thirty, and an older man in his fifties.
Sigh. Mormons. Well I am a good Southern Lady and even though I am Southern Christian to the core I am polite.
"Hello, thank you for visiting, however, we are happy in our religion and not looking to convert," I politely state with a firm 'thank-you-but-go-away' smile.
The two men look at each other puzzled. The younger one grins at me. I notice he has adorable ears that stick out. He also looks vaguely familiar.
"Ah well Miss Tallulah, I too am a God fearing man, or try to be, however, my business here today is not conversion," the young man looks at me amused.
I feel rather foolish. Who else wears a suit in Hunter? Even the Mayor wears tan slacks, not a suit.
"Well then Gentlemen, what can I do for you today?" I say, recovering my poise slightly.
I suddenly wish I had followed Grammie's advice and dressed properly. She is always right!
"I'm here on some rather delicate business. We have mutual friends, through your father's military service. I too was in the army. A friend quietly mentioned you might be in need of some income. I have a business proposal for you," the young man watches closely for my reaction.
Income…? How did this man know our business? Grammie's illness has drained our resources, and our insurance has rejected our claim. Things have been a little difficult. If this man knew of my father though, perhaps this was legitimate?
"Well…perhaps, Gentleman you would like to formally introduce yourself and come in for some tea," I respond, realizing I didn't even know their names.
The young man smiles broadly. "My apologies Miss Tallulah, where are my manners, please do forgive me. This is my colleague, attorney Thompson Thompson. My name is Alexander Carlyle, a pleasure to meet you."
I stare back at him. Alexander Carlyle? Suddenly the vague familiarity becomes very clear. The Alexander Carlyle. He is the reluctant heir to America's first family, the dynastic Carlyle's. The 'family behind the families'. Tabloid heartthrob.
Alexander is the grandson of Alexander Senior, legendary businessman. Alexander's father was the heir apparent in the family but was sadly killed in a tragic Embassy bombing when working in the Middle East. It is well known no one else in the family but Alexander the younger is up to the task of succeeding Alexander Senior.
Which leaves America's future most powerful man standing on my doorstep.
Gathered around the dining table in the 'formal' room, Grammie, Alexander, Thompson and I sit in awkward silence as Thompson ever so slowly unpacks documents from his briefcase.
"Now then," announces Thompson, "I represent Mr. Carlyle and his business proposition for you."
I tilted my head to the side anxiously. Grammie folds and refolds her hands in her lap.
"Now then…" Thompson starts again.
Alexander interrupts, "I should handle this Thompson, thank you," he states firmly.
I see the steely glint in his eye that hints at why he is the new heir apparent to the mantle of head of the Carlyle family.
"Tallulah, may I call you that?" Alexander asks me, looking directly into my eyes. His eyes are slate blue and highly intelligent.
I manage to gasp out a response, "my friends call me Tully."
Alexander smiles with the charm that reputedly draws supermodels. "Tully. Lovely. Tully I have a unique proposal for you. I hope it doesn't offend you, or your Grandmother. I think it could be a good solution for both of us. Your problem is financing your Grandmother's treatment. My problem is, well…" Alexander looks embarrassed and not in control for the first time since we met. "Well I need a fiancé," he finally finishes.
A pause. Grammie Marigold speaks first, "a fiancé! Explain yourself young man."
Alexander shifts his attention to Grammie. "Well Mrs. Marigold, you see I am the heir to running our family business. My Grandfather is eighty soon and as he gets on in his life he would like to be assured the family line is secured. He has set a deadline for me to produce a fiancé by his eightieth birthday, in three month's time. If I don't there will be consequences for me. My plan is to buy myself some time with a stand in fiancé while I work on an alternative plan."
My jaw drops. This is crazy! And not exactly the romantic moment I had in mind when I imagined meeting my first beau.
I am about to speak and ask the two gentlemen to leave when Grammie beats me to it.
"Well now that is indeed an interesting proposal. Tully you should accept," Grammie orders.
Furious, I turn to Grammie, "Grammie! This is a crazy idea! I am not going to go off with some man I don't know, even if he is famous and rich. We are not that hard up."
Grammie looked at me sagely. "Sweetheart, back in my day men and women courted a little differently to today. In times of war and hardship marriages were often practical decisions. Like Grandfather and I. And look how that turned out, a great love affair."
"We are not courting, it's business" Alexander and I announce at the same time. I looked at Alex witheringly as he attempts a conspiratorial smile at me.
Grammie smiles innocently. "Of course. Forgive an old lady, I get confused as to what is going on."
Grammie appears lost in thought then speaks firmly, "Tully I want you do to this. If not for my health then for yourself, you can top up your college fund."
"But who will look after you!" I cry out.
"Grammie will be taken care of during the engagement by the best nurses and doctors," adds in Thompson.
What could I say to that? And indeed Alexander and Thompson did have it all worked out.
In what seemed liked no time at all I found myself boarding a private jet for New York. I had barely even flown before.
I look over my seat on the jet to where Alexander and Thompson appear to be going over some very serious and heavy work. I debate whether to say something. Alexander and I have barely spoken since we left my house for the private airstrip. I feel awkward surrounded by such luxury on the jet.
I take a deep breath. Grammie would want me to be polite. "Alexander?" I say tentatively.
Alexander looks up, "Please, call me Alex. Alexander is my Grandfather"
I find my voice again, "I just wanted to thank you for this opportunity, and it is very kind."
Alexander, Alex, looks at me emotionless. "This is not kindness Tallulah. It is a business deal. I don't consider kindness when I am doing business. But you are welcome."
We continue the rest of the flight in silence.
Alex and I are travelling into the New York in a sleek black limousine with a chauffeur. This is a whole level above a Town Car, I think to myself, recalling reading of glamorous magazine editors travelling around New York in such cars.
Alex laughs next to me, God does that man have to have a perfect laugh too!
I take my nose of the glass window and turn to him questioningly.
"Are you enjoying the view of the city?" Alex says with a chuckle.
I blush furiously, feeling the sting of being a hick from out of town. I draw myself up haughtily, in my best Grammie Marigold Southern Lady way.
"Actually, Mr. Carlyle, I am, thank you." I turn back to my window, making a point of pressing my nose right up against the tinted glass. Is that the Empire State Building in the distance…?
Alex shifts from his seat to the middle one, next to me. I turn back to him, startled.
Alex takes my hand in his. It's like a shot of electricity through my body. His touch does something to me I cannot explain. I feel heat in private places. His hand is large and manly. I feel small and girlish, my hand in his.
"Tallulah," Alex says gently. I have noticed he has taken to calling me Tallulah when he something serious to say.
"I am sorry if I upset you. I find your enthusiasm for the city very beautiful. Having grown up here I forget how amazing New York can appear. I will never make you feel unsophisticated."
I look down at our hands. My nails are slightly chipped. The nail color is from Wal Mart. I was pleased with it when I put it on. Now it just looks cheap.
I look up at Alex, "But you did," I say softly.
Alex gazes at me thoughtfully. The silence and my hurt hang in the air.
"I apologize, it won't happen again," Alex replies stiffly, dropping my hand and moving back over to the other window seat. He looks out his window.
I watch him for a moment, puzzled. I cannot get a read on this man. Sometimes he shows kindness and understanding, other times I am firmly a business proposition.
I sigh and try to spot more landmarks out my window. If this is how it is going to be it may be a long three months.
Despite my hurt I can't help but think that Alex did not mean to hurt my feelings. Perhaps Alex is finding business is a little trickier when you apply it to your personal life.
The limousine pulls up in front of stunning Art Deco apartment building. Two uniformed doormen dressed in smart red spring forward and begin opening doors and trunks. Luggage is stacked efficiently on trolleys.
I am barely out of the car and a little overwhelmed already. This whole scene feels like everyone in it knows his or her role except for me.
Alex seems re-energized at arriving home, after we finished our car trip in another awkward silence.
He takes my arm and walks me into the large airy lobby. I gaze up in awe at a stunning chandelier that appears to take up the entire roof space.
"Welcome to The Deco Tully, "Alex says cheerfully.
This is the The Deco. The famous 1920's Art Deco building, the last one designed by celebrated Art Deco architect Pierre Guiliand.
In the 1930's depression the famous actress Dolores Lovelake drowned in the bath in her apartment.
She had become addicted to pills after her lover, legendary newspaper magnate Cabot Archer, took his own life after losing his fortune in the 1929 stock market crash. Legend held that Dolores still haunted the halls
I stare around the lobby, gawking unashamedly as details come into focus. Overstuffed sofa's take up on corner of the room, with an assortment of newspapers and magazines laid out neatly. I note the newspapers are arranged in alphabetical order.
Bronze sculptures are dotted around the room. Looking closer I see they are animals. One particularly engaging piece is of an owl whose expression manages to appear genuinely wise.
Alex notes my interest and draws me over to the Owl. "I call him Owlie. I consider him a friend. That's foolish isn't it?"
I smile with warmth at Alex. This is the first human moment I've seen from him. He looks a little embarrassed, like he shared something he hadn't meant to.
"When I was child my friend was a teddy bear. I called him Mr. Bear. Very original!" I laugh.
Alex and I share a laugh. As laughter dies away we find our eyes locked. After a moment just too long we break away awkwardly.
"Well then," says Alex, "let's see you settled in. Given you are meant to be my fiancé we will be living together, although as explained you will have your own room."
Alex and I head up to his apartment. I am not surprised it is the penthouse. I would expect nothing less of a Carlyle.
"How long have you lived here," I ask, as we travel up in the gorgeous heritage elevator, trying to make conversation to cover how nervous I feel.
Alex shifts from foot to foot. "Well, actually this apartment was a gift for my fifth birthday. Have you heard of Cabot Archer?" I nod.
"Cabot Archer owned the penthouse as well as a few other apartments in the building where he housed his mistresses. When he went bankrupt the debt was ultimately to my family's bank. The apartment passed into our hands and we have had ever since. My Aunt Prinny lived here with one of her husband's for a while and eventually it become mine." Alex's finishes.
I try to think of what to say. Inheriting famous apartments at five is a little outside of my experience.
"That's nice," I say lamely.
The doors ping open and we enter into another lobby, even more amazing than the ground floor one. Three perfect chandeliers line the roof. Art lines the walls. Some of it looks familiar, perhaps from high school art studies.
Heavy doors swing open to reveal an enormous apartment and a sweeping view of Central Park. I gasp. Alex appears perfectly comfortable and strides into the room, casually throwing his suit jacket over an elegant couch.
I tip toe into the room. I am worried my shoes might have something on them that will damage the dazzling rug that covers the polished wood floors.
Alex is pulling his tie off and heading over to a drinks shelf. "Relax Tully," he calls out to me. "This is home, it is a private place here."
I follow his lead and take me shoes off and wonder what next. Normally one would take in belongings and get settled, but that is being done for me. I carefully put my handbag down and head to check out the view that is drawing me.
Central Park is spread out in front of me like a green carpet beneath the sky. Wow, I whisper quietly to myself.
Alex coughs for my attention. "So Tully, before you go rest perhaps we should get the kiss practice out of the way?"
Oh yes. The Kiss. Well, in love couples engaged to marry do kiss. It was in the contract that on occasion Alex and I would be required to kiss. The problem was that I had actually never kissed anyone.
It wasn't that I was some do-gooder virgin. More that Grammie had raised me not to do that sort of thing until I was in love, and I haven't found love yet.
A contract kiss is not exactly the grand moment of my dreams, but Grammie was supportive and it is getting to the point I just want kissing to be over. I'm twenty-one after all.
"Right then," says Alex, suddenly all business and putting down his scotch. "Let's get this out of the way."
"Oh great, kissing is a chore! How romantic," I say sarcastically.
Alex has me in his arms before I even knew it. He grasps me firmly in his arms and presses his mouth on me insistently. Even with his lips closed I can feel the warmth of the scotch he just drank.
Despite myself I relax in his arms and my mouth parts open a little. Private parts stir.
Alex's breaks away and my eyes open, questioningly. "This is a business deal, Tallulah," he says softly and intently. "There is no romance."
I regain my poise. Holding my head high I lock eyes with him. "Well then, let us do that again so we get the business right."
Alex smiles a half smile and holds out his hand, inviting me to pull myself into him. With a confidence I don't really have I initiate a kiss with America's most sought after bachelor.
"Not bad, Miss South," Alex grins as we break apart.
"I've been practicing on Mr. Bear," I respond, deadpan.
Alex laughs. I enjoy making him laugh, given he often seems oh so serious.
"When two people in love kiss, Tully, they kiss in a variety of ways," Alex's pulls me gently into his arms.
"This is the 'hi honey' kiss" Alex kisses me gently on the check and whispers in my ear "Hi honey". I flush at the light touch of his lips on my cheek.
"And this is the brush kiss," Alex gently brushed his lips across mine.
My head is spinning.
"And this," he continues, "Is a passionate kiss," Alex kisses me full on the mouth, easing my mouth open with his. His tongue moves smoothly into mine. My tongue naturally begins to move with his. The kiss seems to go forever.
Finally breaking the kiss we look into each other's eyes. I am speechless. So this was what everyone keeps going on about when they talk about kissing.
I think I see something in Alex's eyes before he becomes all business.
"I have to go out Tallulah," Alex says briskly. "Don't wait up for me I have a lot to attend to having been out of town."
I nodded dumbly. Of course. He is Alex Carlyle, Very Important Man.
"I have arranged for my assistant Bee to come by and take you shopping," I perk up at that news.
"Now Tully," Alex says seriously, holding my attention, "I don't have any problem with how you dress, but you do need to dress the part of my fiancé."
Alex's sensitivity in that comment shows he hasn't forgotten the limousine incident.
"Of course Alex," I reply, professional myself. "This is a business deal after all."
Alex and I looked at each other in silence for a moment.
"Good," is all he says as he turns on his heel and leaves.
Bee turns out to be a lovely and efficient woman. Aged in her fifties she has extensive knowledge of New York and where to shop.
Shopping with Bee is nothing like being Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. There are no snooty looks when we enter Dior, Chanel, Elie Saab and Bloomingdales. Indeed, we seem to be expected.
"A society lady needs to have a number of little black dresses," opines Bee as sales women fuss around me at Chanel.
"Chanel is perfect for classic black dresses for charity lunches and low level functions," Bee continues.
"If a Chanel dress is what I wear to lunch what on earth do I wear to a ball?" I ask in confusion.
Bee simply sighs at my fashion ignorance and doesn't respond.
"And we also need some Chanel suits," Bee addresses to the sales ladies.
Bee looks me up and down; "The suits will look good on you with a lovely hat."
"I don't think I've ever worn a hat," I reply, unsure.