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The Billionaire's Bargain
The Billionaire Boss
The Billionaire's Secret
The Billionaire's Addiction
15 Bonus Books
The Billionaire's Game
The Billionaire Boss
The Billionaire's Bargain
CHAPTER 2. New York, New York
Chapter 4: The Garden of Eden
Chapter 6: A Family Brought To Order
**Thank you so much for reading my books, and as promised, here are your bonus books. I hope you enjoy them!**
The Billionaire's Wish
The Billionaire's Addiction
The Billionaire's Wish
(A Steamy BBW Romance Series)
Book #1 The Billionaire's Bargain
Book #2 The Billionaire Boss
Book #3 The Billionaire's Secret
Book #4 The Billionaire's Addiction
The Billionaire's Bargain
Chapter 1:Alexander Sweeps Into My Life
"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, 50 extra pounds, tank top, and my hair up in a messy bun. No makeup. 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 that 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, someday, somehow.
Grammie grabs me by the shoulders and looks at me 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 in 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 the 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.
CHAPTER 2. New York, New York
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.
"Well dear, you will need to start as you simply cannot attend the Hartford Hamptons Polo Classic without a darling hat," Bee says with firmness.
"Yes Mam," I respond. Mam seems appropriate for Bee.
Shopping as a Carlyle is a very new experience. We don't carry our bags to the next store; our driver appears and discreetly whisks them away.
Arriving at Elie Saab I discovered what I am to wear to balls. Glittering sequined dresses hung on the racks like works of art. Ribbons decorate some pieces. After seeing so much black in other stores Elie Saab is a revelation of a rainbow of colors, from the softest lavender to buttercup yellow.
An army of sales people put dress after dress on me. I wish I could lose weight. Nothing really fits, and I’m self conscious about my curves. I leave the store in a sequin daze with a number of stunning gowns.
"Now that red gown is a show stopper for the Winter Ball, a very good winter color," comments Bee.
Everyone knows what the Winter Ball is. Every winter the Carlyle family holds their annual ball at their main estate, Carrington, in Connecticut. Legend holds that the ball is held in Winter as a power move, as most guests have left the city for the winter.
Guests are forced to fly back to the states from places like St. Barts for just a few days to attend the ball. Not to go is unheard of. The Carlyle's demonstrate their power by the lengths people will go to to attend.
"Oh look, it's Duckie," whispers Bee as we stepped out onto the sidewalk. "Look sharp."
"Alexander's great aunt?" I whisper back.
I have been provided with a chart of Alex's family tree. It is populated with women with nicknames like 'Duckie', 'Muffy' and 'Bunny.'
"Beatrice, Alex's little secretary, nice to see you," announces the well-dressed older woman grandly.
Duckie is a legend in New York society. She heads her own family dynasty from her marriage to Calvert Caldwell, head of a pesticides business. An unglamorous business, but the money in the billions certainly is not. Her grandson Duke is Alex's best friend.
Duckie turns her attention to me and looks me up and down. I wilt under her laser light beam and generations of society breeding.
"You must be the fiancé," Duckie drawls.
I square my shoulders and dig deep. "Yes, I am. How do you do Mrs. Caldwell," I say politely.
Duckie doesn't respond. "Hurrumph" she says.
Duckie then turns on her heel and simply walks off down the street, presumably towards her favorite lunch spot Le Sandwich. A place that of course doesn't 'do' bread.
"Don’t mind her, some of the Carlyle's can be a bit…difficult," says Bee sympathetically.
What kind of family have I gotten tangled up in? Thankfully it is only for three months.
CHAPTER 3: All Happy Families Are Alike
The big family dinner introduction is tonight. Standing in front of the elegant mirror in my spacious room I try to calm my nerves.
"Looking good brings confidence," I say to myself. Tonight, I am relying on Grammie's mantra.
I head out to the living room where Alex is waiting. I catch my breath as I walk in. He looks so handsome in a blue and white striped open necked shirt and pressed slacks. The blue in the shirt picks out his eyes.
Alex stares at me. I feel worried. Do I look bad?
"Tallulah, you look incredible," Alex says breaking into a grin. He seems to like my plus size body, and that makes me happy.
Relieved, I smile back. "Thank you. Bee said a classic Chanel little black dress never fails."
I am wearing a simple chic dress from our shopping trip. I have accessorized simply with shining pearl earrings, necklace and bracelet. I readily admit I take my New York style inspiration from Audrey Hepburn.
My feet are getting used to their first pair of Christian Louboutin heels.
"Well then, Sir," I say in my best Southern Belle voice, "shall we?"
We drive out to Connecticut to the family's main estate, the legendary 'Carrington.' It is nice to drive with Alex behind the wheel of his own Mercedes, not a chauffeur. We chat easily and I entertain Alex with the story of my encounter with Duckie.
"Duckie isn't so bad," says Alex with a laugh. "She plays the Imperial Queen but she can be warm if she decides she likes you. If she approves of you, you can be her acolyte."
"Lucky me!" I cry, "Does being Duckie's follower involve bread-less lunches at Le Sandwich and doing the heavy lifting for charity events?"
Alex slaps his thigh in laughter. "Oh Tully, you sure catch on fast!"
I grow quiet as we pull into the drive of Carrington. Huge shady trees line the drive along with discreet lighting. The drive seems endless.
The estate appears to stretch to endless ends. I wonder if Carrington is bigger than all of downtown Hunter. The car purrs to a stop in front of the house.
Alex throws me a glance. "Are you ready for this?"
I meet his eyes. "I am ready. This is business, right?"
Alex says nothing for a moment. "Perhaps we should practice that kiss again?"
But before I can respond he is out of the car and striding to the door where a butler has appeared.
What is he playing at, I think furiously as I follow.
Entering into the cocktails room, I ignore the butterflies in my stomach and remained determined to hold my own.
A small group of adults are milling around. I quickly glance at the women and feel relieved I am dressed well. Thank you, Bee, I say in a silent prayer.
"Alexander!" A smiling woman dressed in pink Herve Leger notices our arrival.
"Hello Aunt Daisy," Alex says with genuine enthusiasm.
"And this must be your lovely bride!" Daisy cries.
Kisses are planted on my cheeks, my hands grasped and a beaming smile bestowed upon me. Automatically I feel I like this woman.
"Tallulah, this is my Aunt Daisy, my Uncle's Jock's wife." I nod and smile and try to keep my family tree straight.
Daisy is the wife of Jock, the charming yet defensive 'family relationships' manager. Whatever that job is.
"Alexander, how very naughty you are hiding your girlfriend away until engagement," chastises a very, very thin and very uptight seeming woman.
"Miranda, how lovely to see you this evening," Alex says with a distinctly cooler tone than Daisy receives.
Ah, Miranda 'Miri' Carlyle. Wife of Senator Hartford Carlyle, Presidential contender and tetchy family member whose family wishes he had stayed behind the scenes, but whose ego wouldn't let him. Hartford is the third son of Alex's Grandfather and Alex's uncle.
"Miranda, this is my fiancé Tallulah," Alex introduces me.
Miranda compresses her lips together into something resembling a smile. "Well Tallulah, Carrington must be quite a change from the trailer park!"
I choke my champagne. "Excuse me," I splutter ungracefully. Alex looks stunned.
"Well Alex found you in a trailer park didn't he?" Miranda looks innocently at us. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
"No, Miri," Alex says grimly, "We met when I was visiting South Carolina on business and Tully was my waitress." Ah yes, our rather dull how-we-met story.
"Oh yes, silly me. You've dated so many women Alex I can't keep up," trills Miri as she moves away to greet another family member.
Thinking of Duckie, I wonder if they teach Carlyle women the insult drop and heel turn.
Alex leans in and kisses me softly on the cheek. My spine tingles. "Don't mind her," he murmurs, "she's just jealous you look so beautiful tonight."
I grab his hand and squeeze it gratefully. I've only met three family members so far, if you can count Duckie as an introduction, and I am beginning to see why the price tag for this job was sky high.
Male family members descend on en masse. The familiar faces of billionaires take me aback. Hearty greetings are exchanged between Jock, Hartford and Alex. Looking at Hartford I can see what is meant by 'Presidential'.
Pembrey, Alex's cousin and Hartford and Miri's son, thrusts forward a hand,
"Pembrey Carlyle, a pleasure to meet the woman who has captured my cousin's heart," he says with a seemingly forced grin.
Pembrey. The failed businessman and failed heir. Given Alex's reluctance to take up the mantle Pembrey had a shot at running the family business. That experiment ended badly when Pembrey sent an important subsidiary of the family bank into bankruptcy, costing thousands of jobs, a big drop in the share price and acres of bad press.
Pembrey is now relegated to 'special projects', which seems to involve investing in vague tech start-ups.
"Thank you, it is a pleasure to be here," I respond.
Pembrey keeps holding my hand, "Well don't overstay your welcome, we do have hounds!" Pembrey laughs as if his joke is tremendously funny.
I withdraw my hand, confused.
"Oh Pembrey," fake laughs another very thin woman. "Alinda, wife darling, please my sense of humor is legendary in this family," protests Pembrey.
The smile on my face is beginning to hurt.
"Tallulah, we are so happy to have you join the family," says Alinda, with all the sincerity of a used car salesman.
"Hopefully the pitter patter of tiny feet soon?" Alinda asks enquiringly. "The more heirs the better," jokes Pembrey, taking a big slug of his drink.
I suddenly click. They are considering that the trust structure of the Carlyle family changes when a child is born into the family. It is a case of the fewer children in each generation the bigger the pool for each child.
My having heirs to Alex, which is not going to happen of course, would reduce the pool for their own children, three children Alex described simply as 'truly awful kids.'
""Ah not yet," I respond distractedly as a stylish woman in Victoria Beckham swoops in to kiss me on the cheek.
"Darling! SO lovely to meet you, I've heard all about you," beams the woman.
"No, you haven't," I hear Pembrey mutter.
Alex, who has remained quiet during the exchange with Pembrey and Alinda, brightens. "Hello Prinny," he says dropping a kiss on her cheek.
"Tully this is my darling Aunt Prinny, Princess of the Carlyle's and endless husband haver," Alex says with a naughty grin.
"Oh you," laughs Prinny, "so bad."
This must be Victoria Carlyle, only daughter of Alexander Senior. Four husbands to date, multiple rehabs' and one amazing wardrobe and sense of style that sees her regularly photographed for Vogue. Only while doing her charity work, of course.
We make chat about our outfits and I begin to relax a little. Prinny tells me she is called Prinny as short for "Princess, because that is what I am." I nod understandingly.
And then Alexander Senior walks into the room and I suddenly realize where Alex inherits his sense of presence. It is like the room suddenly stands still and looks a little sharper and at the ready.
"Well now, enough chat, let us have dinner. Tallulah, you will sit next to me." With that Alexander Senior is gone; perhaps that is where the women inherited their ability to drop a comment and walk away without waiting for a response.
I try not to down my drink from nerves, take a deep breath and prepare for the worst. Cocktails with these people have been enough to convince me this is not where I belong.
"So, tell us about your family, Tully," asks Daisy encouragingly.
So far, I have been sitting quietly next to Alexander Senior who holds, of course, the head of the table. Alex is across from me on Alexander's other side.
"Well," I begin, "My father was in the military. He was killed in conflict. My mother passed away when I was born. Grandmother, who was a dressmaker, raised me. My Grandfather worked on the railroads and was a Justice of The Peace." I am proud of my loving, hard-working family.
Miri speaks up, "Oh railroads, how interesting. The Carlyle family funded the Vanderbilt's foray into railroads. We do have quite an interest in it."
This is why the Carlyle's are called the 'family behind the families,' through their investment bank the Carlyle family backed Carnegie's investments in steel; Rockefeller and Standard Oil and the Astor's and their fur trade. The Carlyle's even owned at one time a large shareholding in JP Morgan through their own investment bank.
Alinda chimed in, "Wouldn't it be amazing if Tully's family had worked on a Vanderbilt railroad, back in the day? That's like working for us. From working for us to sitting with us, how amazing."
I look over at Alex trying not to roll my eyes. Alex seems so down to earth how could he have this family? Maybe his time in the army helped keep him on the level.
Alex grimaces and shakes his head slightly.
"That is an interesting idea, Alinda," comments Alexander Senior drily. Everyone sits a little straighter at the patriarch speaking.
"That would be much like how the Carlyle's owned most of the mid-west at one point. From your ancestors living on our land to you sitting here, how amazing," Alexander finishes drily.
Alinda looks furious but keeps her mouth shut. I smile my best smile at her. I think I like Alexander Senior; he seems to have a handle on the people at this table.
"Alex, you must be excited to be getting married. This has come as quite a surprise to us, but we are all looking forward to the wedding," Jock, the good-natured man of the family, steers the conversation to safer ground.
I try to look in love as Alex chats with easy confidence about our upcoming marriage. I manage a contribution on planning to go to Paris for a couture dress. Like I just naturally go to Paris for couture.
The conversation moves easily back to business.
Pembrey is discussing some improbably vague tech venture he is investing in. "And then the app will tell you what you want to eat," Pembrey drones on.
"Barclay will be furious when he sees what I've made in tech this year," Pembrey boasts.
Barclay? My ears pick up at the name Barclay Carlyle. While Alexander Senior is a famous name the rest of the Carlyle's are a little less high profile - except for Barclay. Barclay is not much older Alex however he is Alexander Senior's nephew and cousin to Hartford and Jock.
There is famous bad blood between Barclay and the rest of the Carlyle's. Barclay's father was Alexander Senior's twin. The two ran the business together as would be heirs, until their father, the legendarily brutal businessman William, declared them too soft.
He declared only one of them could be head of the family - and they must fight it out.
The story goes that Alexander Senior promised his twin they would walk away from the family together rather than accept the deal, but then double crossed him and grabbed the mantle.
Barclay's father was furious and spent the rest of his life as a dissolute playboy. Barclay got his revenge on Alexander Senior's branch of the family by becoming a renegade and eccentric billionaire in his own right, creating cyber security software. He is always in and out of the news.
"You need to focus more on your own successes and less on what Barclay is doing. That man is out to get us," Hartford reprimanded his son.
I see the Presidential mask slip a little in Hartford's frustrated expression. Interesting.
I glance over at Alexander and Alex. They are just watching, cool as anything. I give up on trying to work out the family under currents at this table.
Pembrey catches my eye and delivers a beaming smile, "Now Tallulah, do you think you will be in shape in time for the wedding?"
The comment cuts all the deeper for it's normal easy delivery.
I push my chair back. "That's it!" I announce to the room. "I have had enough of this family's insults. I apologize for not being good enough for you all."
With that I take off my massive sparkling engagement ring and stalk out of the room, to go and find a corner of the garden to cry in.
Chapter 4: The Garden of Eden
"Tully! Tully! Where are you?" I hear Alex calling as I sit in a small private rose garden trying to recover my dignity.
"There you are!" Alex cries as he comes across me.
Alex sits down on the garden seat and wraps his arms around me. Despite my anger at his lack of support at diner I can't help but lean into his reassuring embrace.
"Oh Tully, I'm so sorry. They can be dreadful people when they feel their positions are threatened," he hushes my crying.
I pull away from him angrily. "They're dreadful? You are dreadful! Why didn't you stand up for me? I am supposed to be your fiancé! Is this how you would treat your real fiancé?' I demand.
Alex sighs and runs his hand through his thick hair. "No, Tallulah, it's not. It seems I am always seeking your forgiveness," he says ruefully.
I cross my arms and glare at him.
Alex explains, "I had always wondered how my family would treat a fiancé of mine. So I let them run on with it and didn't cut them off by standing up for you. I'm sorry."
I consider this information. "Well Alex, this is a business deal after all. I'm glad you are getting out of this what you need. For myself however no amount of money is worth this level of humiliation. I'm done."
I stand to leave. Alex jumps up and pulls me into a fierce embrace. "No, Tallulah, you are not done."
And then he begins to kiss me, deeply, passionately and almost aggressively. I try to push him away but he holds me tight to him. His mouth hungrily seeks mine. I weaken under his desire and begin to kiss him back.
My stiff body relaxes into his and we become one. Our mouths are seeking each other over and over. Our tongues say a thousand silent things to each other.
Finally, exhausted we break apart. We stare into each other eyes as the twinkly fairy lights of the rose garden cast a glow over us.
"What are we doing, Tallulah," Alex whispers softly.
"I wish I knew, Alex," I whisper back.
Back at The Deco apartment things have shifted between Alex and I since the garden kiss. Alex has convinced me to keep on with our arrangement.
There is a veneer of politeness in our interactions that is appropriate for our business relationship, but also an underlying sexual tension that confuses and excites me.
Living together is torture. I catch Alex in the kitchen in a towel. His muscular body and hairy chest and wet hair do things to me I have pushed away.
He walks in on me changing for one of the endless events we are attending as a 'couple'. I shriek as he catches me in my La Perla lacy white underwear, about to slip into a chic little Celine outfit.
"Oh gosh Tully, I'm so sorry, I thought you heard me knock," Alex apologizes.
Yet his gaze lingers on my body a little longer than necessary.
And then there is the kissing…
Without even discussing what has happened to our relationship Alex and I have taken to kissing silently and suddenly. He will grab me in the kitchen and suddenly brush his lips across mine, before walking away without a word.
I sneak up on Alex at his downtown office at Carlyle Center while he is on a business call and begin kissing him lightly all over his face.
"I have to go, urgent call on the other line from Tokyo," Alex snaps into the receiver.
He takes my chin in his hand and holds my face and returns the kisses in all the same places I had kissed him. His memory amazes me.
He picks me up and parks me on his wide oak desk. Either he is incredibly fit, or Pembrey was wrong to criticize my weight, because Alex makes me feel as light as a ballerina.
I wrap my arms around his neck and we kiss hungrily. Alex begins to undo the gold buttons of my white and navy Chanel suit.
"Alex, stop," I say, tearing my mouth away from his.
"I…I'm not ready for this," I manage.
Kissing is one thing, but other things? I don't know if this man is my boyfriend or my boss.
Alex looks at me with restrained desire. He straightens up and brushes imaginary lint of his suit pants.
"Of course. This is business not pleasure," Alex says coolly.
I tilt my head and look at him.
"Yes," I reply slowly, hopping off the desk with surprising grace. "All business. It's why I am in my suit."
With that remark I saunter off towards the door.
As I close the door I hear Alex laughing. I grin to myself. I still am taking a childish pride in making the very serious and very important Heir to the Carlyle Throne laugh.
And focusing on jokes helps me avoid the big question - do I want Alex to be my boss…or my boyfriend?
The trouble is I don't know.
Everything I see of Alex's world convinces me that boyfriend is a bad, bad idea. I keep having a fantasy where Alex comes back to Hunter and gets a job on the railroad, but the problem is Alex wouldn't be who he is outside of living his Carlyle life.
And I love who is.
Oh God. Did I just say I love him?
"Now ladies let's all put our best caring faces on and welcome the chair of the committee, New York's most charitable woman, Mrs. Duckie Carlyle Caldwell!
Rapturous applause rings out around the Plaza ballroom from a group of women who all aspire to rule New York instead of Duckie.
"Thank you, thank you," Duckie quiets the crowd with her dulcet tones and the wave of a bejeweled hand.
Duckie wears a simple neat navy Dior day dress. Her only accessories are her enormous wedding rings and a sparkling Tiffany Schlumberger brooch of the iconic Bird on a Rock. In simplicity Duckie outshines the overdressed women in the room.
I tune out as Duckie launches into a speech that you could be forgiven came from a committed street work for the poor, not one of America's richest heiresses.
The speech over, I start working the room.
"Tully! So great to see you!" Choruses a gaggle of blonde and gorgeous young women, friends of mine.
"Hi girls," I say with happiness at the sight of the famous Carlyle Quads.
The quadruplet daughters of Jock and Daisy, the four girls have been the only friends I've made in this cutthroat social world. Genuinely nice, albeit very spoiled.
Prinny's nose is rather out of joint at the rise and rise of the girls, who are forever in Page Six. Unfortunately, Prinny's social Princess star is a little tarnished these days given all the husbands and rehab trips.
"We must get a selfie with you for Instagram!" shrieks Camile.
Celine chimes in, "Oh yes! Everyone is so keen for pictures of the mysterious future Mrs. Alex."
Claudia and Candy nod in unison.
I grimace at the reminder of my role of fiancé. I feel guilty about lying to the quads, which have been so kind.
Celine hands her phone to one of the two assistants who trail after them, who snap away as we strike a variety of poses. The second assistant takes notes on our outfits to add to the copy.
"They are calling you America's Duchess Kate Middleton, but with shorter hems," giggles Camile.
I give a startled laugh. A Duchess I am not.
"It is very fitting given we are descended from an English Duke," says Candy.
Our conversation is cut off as Duckie swans in. "Girls, really that social media is so tacky," she reprimands the quads, but I can see her affection for them.
"And how are you holding up dear?" Duckie says, turning to me.
"How very clever of you to keep the wedding details secret to build interest, we all await the details with unseemly eagerness," Duckie looks at me as if she knows all my secrets.
Here's the thing about our 'secret' wedding details. There are none. That is because this is a business deal that ends very soon.
I exchange pleasantries with Duckie and I think I manage quite well. In these situations, I've taken to pretending I am Brooke Astor reincarnated. It helps.
Duckie floats away to greet more of her subjects and I find myself face to face with the over Botox faced of one CeCe Bartrand. CeCe is one of the aspiring queens to Duckie's social throne.
CeCe attempts to smile but her face won't move.
"Well Tallulah how nice to see you. I was just saying to Alex the other night when he was over that we really should be introduced," CeCe looks at me triumphantly.
The other women around us shift awkwardly.
"Oh…Alex…. the other night?" I say bewildered.
"Oh yes, didn’t you know Alex stops by? We are very close. We went out for some time. It is hard to let go of a connection that strong, even if his family commitments pull him in another more…. conventional direction," CeCe finishes with a knowing look to the women around us.
CeCe clearly means to humiliate me in front of all New York society. But I've learnt a thing or two in my months moving through this pool of sharks. Unlike that disastrous first Carlyle dinner I am not about to run off crying.
"Well CeCe," I begin, summoning my best Duchess Kate meets Brooke Astor attitude, "Alex must have been comforting you over your latest plastic surgery procedure gone wrong."
The bug eyed social X-rays cannot contain their gleeful laughter. While they may profess to be friends with CeCe one ladies fall is another lady’s gain in this world.
With that excellent snarky comment, I make like a Carlyle and turn on my heel and stalk away.
I make myself stay the whole event and up the ante, my socializing would have put Jackie O to shame. I think even Duckie is impressed.
And I then I head home to confront my man. Because that is what I had decided he is. As Grammie had said, when I called for advice, if a man kisses a lady then she is his lady.
"How dare you!" I yell at Alex, throwing a crystal tumbler from his drinks tray at the wall above his head.
I have stormed into his office and am causing something of a scene. This is sure to end up on Page Six, reported by his employees who saw me at it.
"Hey, what's all this Tull-Tull," Alex said, throwing his hands up in the air.
"Don't you Tull-Tull me," I yell furiously, even angrier now at Alex using a nickname he has given me.
Some 'boss', having a pet name for the employee he is kissing.
"I know you have been seeing that CeCe while coming home and kissing me everywhere from the butler's pantry to the maid's room," I glare at him.
Alex throws back his head and laughs, "Oh CeCe up to her old tricks is she!"
I grab another tumbler and get ready to throw it. If there is one thing I hate it is not being taken seriously when mad.
"Come here," Alex commands. Reluctantly I go and sit on his lap.
"CeCe is an old girlfriend, and a troubled one. I know she can seem awful but she's actually sweet and vulnerable. I stopped by her place to see her because her dog had died and she was pretty down. Nothing happened and it was just the once," Alex explains.
"Oh Alex, now I feel awful! I didn't say nice things," I bury my head in his shoulder.
"Don't worry about it, she probably did deserve it," Alex playfully tousles my hair and draws me in for a kiss.
"Tonight, when I get home from work let's have a good talk about us. I'm falling in love you," Alex says simply.
I beam at him. He loves me!
"Me too," I say shyly.
We gaze at each other and I want this moment to go forever and ever.
Chapter 5: Precious things, easily lost
Leaving Alex's office, I skip out to the car. Even the paparazzi don't bother me today. I feel less like the once hounded Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and more Kim Kardashian, happy to have my picture taken.
I am a woman in love.
Sliding into the back of the limousine I park my Hermes Kelly on the seat beside me and notice the driver has changed since I pulled up.
The man, who introduces himself as Peter, says the other driver has gone on a break. We chat easily. I don't even notice we don't appear to be going home.
Suddenly we pull into a nondescript underground parking lot and it occurs to me things are very, very wrong.
"Please, please," I say tearfully into the camera. "Please help me." I begin crying.
It has been three days since I was kidnapped. Three days of a concrete room, mattress on the floor and a shameful lack of privacy.
The kidnappers haven't hurt me badly, but I am a little battered and bruised from resisting them in the parking garage. My right arm really hurts.
Why hasn't Alex come for me, I think desperately. He loves me. He said so. He wouldn't leave me like. I try to stay positive.
As the days wear on with no sign of rescue I can't stop thinking of who would do this to me. Was it Barclay? The renegade billionaire is well known for his hated of Alex's branch of the family, and his questionable morals. Maybe I haven't been rescued because this isn't about money, but revenge.
I give up thinking about why and who and curl into a ball and cry myself to sleep, imagining Alex's strong arms around me making everything better.
"Nobody move or we'll shoot!" I wake up suddenly to the sound of shouting and gunfire. Rescue! Alex!
The door to my prison room flung open and Alex, dressed in dark combat gear like the solider he once was, storms in. I throw myself into his arms and start sobbing.
"Oh Alex!" I cry.
"Baby, we have to get out of here," Alex put his arm around me and helps me move to the door and the nightmare is over.
When the endless interviews with the police are over, Alex takes me to the family's country estate, Mardelina, in rural Virginia.
A visit was made to South Carolina to visit Grammie and reassure her. I pretended Alex and I were still all business but I think she knew otherwise.
At the Virginia estate under Alex's tender care I begin to recover my strength and my bruises are healing.
"How are you feeling tonight," Alex says to me as we rest in front of the fire.
"Good," I respond, "My arm doesn't hurt anymore."
"And emotionally," Alex enquires, scrutinizing me. "Still a little shaky," I reply.
The police and the Carlyle family have determined a distant English Carlyle cousin, Lord Richard, had orchestrated my kidnapping.
"It makes me so angry," Alex says, gripping his glass tighter.
"A title and estate is not worth kidnapping someone over. The English laws may be unfair that when someone dies without an heir the title goes to a distant male cousin, but just because grandfather was ahead of Lord Richard in the distant line that doesn't justify what Richard did," Alex looks furious.
I nod and stare off into space. In the space of nearly three months I had gone from living a quiet life in Hunter and planning to go back to college to being kidnapped by an insane English Lord.
Romances with billionaires are far from dull.
"I'll never let anyone hurt you again," Alex says softly, kissing me.
We begin to kiss gently, then urgently. After all this time, we haven't even made love. Right when we were about to sort out our relationship I had been kidnapped. This was our first chance with me well and time alone.
"I love you," he whispers into my ear as he drops kisses all over my face in the way I love.
"I love you too," I respond.
Alex scoops me up and carries me to our bedroom. The four-poster bed looks inviting with deep pillows and soft white linen. Glowing lamps cast a gentle light and keep the shadows away.
Alex sets me down on the bed carefully, like I am a China Doll that will break. Since the kidnapping I am less funny tough girlfriend and more of a precious jewel.
He sits down beside me and we kiss, we kiss for a long, long time. Unlike the playful kisses in the apartment these kisses feel less like a flirtation and more like the kisses between a loving couple.
Alex moves to tug off my The Row sweater. Unlike when we were in his office, I don't stop him. This feels right, I feel ready.
We make love all night. It is everything I had hoped it would be. Alex makes me feel safe and loved. We talk quietly as the sunlight filters in through the window as dawn approaches.
"When did you know you were falling in love with me?" I ask Alex, as I prop myself up on an elbow to study his face.
"Before I even met you," Alex grins.
"Really?" I say, sitting up.
"Yes. I thought the whole idea was harebrained but Thompson insisted it would buy me time to develop an alternative plan to Grandfather's ruling. When he showed me your picture and I read your college admissions essay on wanting to make a difference I knew I had to meet you," Alex confesses.
"I told myself it was strictly business, but maybe it never was," he continues.
I am startled by this revelation. And embarrassed Alex had read my very earnest college admissions essay.
"I fell in love with you told me Owlie was your friend, when we were in the lobby," I confess back.
It was Alex's turn to look surprised. "Owlie? Why did that capture your heart?"
I smile and blush. "Well it was so sweet, and it made me wonder if maybe you needed a friend if you friend was a sculpture in the lobby. I sensed that despite your wealth you might be a little lonely."
Alex looks moody. "It can be difficult to be in such a serious position, and to be so wealthy. People treat me differently. Even my own family as I am the heir of the family."
Alex pulls me down under the covers for a cuddle. "But now I have you."
I snuggle in close, "And I have you."
Chapter 6: A Family Brought To Order
We arrive back in New York as the first chill hit that air, signaling the approaching winter. I was quite glad to leave the upheaval of autumn behind.
Grammie moves to New York to live with us.
"I thought only Satan could prize you from the South, Grammie," I tease as she settled into her suite.
Grammie is all better now after first rate treatment funded by Alex as part of our deal.
"Oh child, you should know by now the lord has many plans for us," Grammie replies.
"Why did you encourage me to be with Alex anyway," I ask her curiously.
It has always struck me as a little un-Grammie like to sell me off to a strange billionaire.
"God spoke to me," Grammie says mysteriously.
"You will be hosting the Winter Ball next year," comments Alex as we snuggle in bed together.
"The Aunts have this year's one firmly in their grasp but next year it will be your time to shine, you will be able to raise huge funds for veterans," Alex continues.
One of the upsides of marrying a billionaire was not spending their money on shoes and designer outfits but on causes I really care about. The Carlyle Foundation is a behemoth on par with the Gates Foundation.
Duchess Kate eat your heart out I was determined to bring a great deal to my charity work. Charity to me is not about having an excuse to get dressed up, but to really make a difference.
"Coming to grips with the Carlyle Foundation is going to take some time," I say to Alex. "I'm just going to focus on my work with veterans for now."
Alex pulled me in for a kiss. "I'm sure your Daddy would be so proud of you."
I lay my hand on his. "I hope so," I reply.
Alex pulls away and sighs. "But before we can consider balls and weddings I need to sort out my family."
I sigh with him. Alex's family had been a source of tension between us.
"I love how loyal you are Alex, but if I am to have to spend time around those people then the more difficult members need to drop it and the rest, while nice, need to show me more respect. I may not be American royalty but I matter," I state with conviction.
Alex's supportive smile melts my firm stance.
"Of course, Tull-Tull," Alex agrees. "That is what I love about you. You won't compromise or apologize for being an everyday girl. You have self -respect and confidence in spades."
"Maybe I will give Duckie a challenge to the Queen of New York role," I laugh.
"Oh I have no doubt you will, no doubt at all," mused Alex.
Alex's Grandfather has remained a remote figure throughout our courtship. Aside from that awful dinner I have not seen him.
"He's moved into his Howard Hughes reclusive phase," Alex explains to me when I ask.
Alex however is in constant contact with his Grandfather as they prepared for his succession to head of the family bank and investment portfolio.
Finally, after what seems like endless meetings, Alexander is officially anointed head of Carlyle Holdings, including the bank and all diversified investments.
"It won't take much," Alex comments as he straightens his tie ahead of a family meeting of aunts, uncles and cousins. "I'm in charge now and they will play ball."
Striding into the oak paneled boardroom of Carlyle Holdings at the family headquarters, Carlyle Center, one could almost be forgiven for thinking the meeting was about to be chaired by a young Alexander Senior.
There was that presence I had fallen for. That is what separate outs dating a billionaire from a regular guy. Having control and responsibility for a wealth portfolio that can change the economy of an entire country gives a man a devastating presence.
"Thank you everyone for coming," Alex says briskly. "This quarterly family meeting is to discuss a range of financial account issues, trusts and personal family business."
"Forgive me Alex," starts Jock with easy charm, "I do like your fiancé but family meetings are for family. You are not yet married to Tallulah. It says so in the family charter, family meetings are for family only as declared by marriage"
Hartford nods furiously and Pembrey is about to open his mouth when Alex silences everyone.
"Enough," Alex declares.
"I am in charge now and if I want to change the charter I will. Tully is to be my wife very soon and I want her by my side," Alex cast a glare around the room, daring anyone to challenge.
Miri looks like she wants to say something but thinks better of it. Prinny strokes her little dog and doesn't dare request fiancé number five be invited to the meeting.
"We are going to pull together as a team, drop the catty comments and infighting and work towards some common goals. Namely streamlining the business which has become a little unwieldy, and building on our contributions to the community. In this time of inequality as a prime topic we need to be seen to be doing our bit," Alex finishes.
The room breaks out in applause. Seated to Alex's side I put my hand over his. We had gone over and over preparing for this meeting and I know how important it was to him his family come on board with his direction.
"We are with you Alex," declares Jock firmly. The charming Jock always knows where his best interests lie.
Hartford nods. He may be thinking only of funding for his Presidential campaign but whatever his motives his support for Alex is welcome.
"Thank you," said Alex, showing no signs of the relief he must be feeling. He appears unruffled and in control.
"I am glad you are all on board with me. Sometimes family's need new blood. Tallulah is not the only person joining the family," Alex says.
Looks of surprise cross everyone's faces. Alinda looks calculating. Probably wondering if the new person has children who will reduce her children's inheritance pool.
"Barclay Carlyle is a man of extraordinary vision, talent and commitment. I am pleased to welcome him back into the fold of his family. I'm excited for his contributions. Barclay is not the villain of our family. All he ever wanted was recognition for the role his father played in building our fortune," as Alex speaks Barclay quietly enters the room.
The handsome renegade tech billionaire slips into a seat and listens to Alex continue.
"I also owe Barclay a debt of gratitude. It was Barclay's cyber software that helped us track Lord Richard. When we were blackmailed by the kidnapping into sending paperwork refusing the Dukedom, Barclay installed a tracker that helped us discover where Tully was," Alex looks at Barclay with gratitude as he speaks with heart.
"You owe me nothing," said Barclay. "Tully is family."
A pause settles over the room. This is a new Carlyle era, one where Barclay and I are now part of the family.
"Three days until the wedding!" I cry joyfully jumping onto of Alex as we settle into bed for the night.
Alex kisses me deeply. I never tire of his kisses.
"I cannot wait to see your dress," Alex says, sprinkling me with kisses on my nose.
I scrunch my face up. "That tickles!" I giggle like an Elmo doll.
We make love tenderly and drift off to sleep in each other's arms. Around two am the phone rudely awakens.
"Alexander speaking," Alex growls into the phone. I sit up in my lacy negligee and watch him worriedly.
Alex listens for what seems like an eternity.
"I see," Alex says finally. "This can be fixed. I'll be in the office in twenty minutes. Assemble the team."
"What is going on Alex," I enquire.
Alex gives a deep groan like I have never heard.
"Pembrey has crashed the Euro. We have extensive currency holdings. While we make a profit on these we also have a community inspired motive and we use our holdings to keep the main currencies, like the Euro, the US dollar and pound, stable. Solid economies benefit us in the long run," Alex explains.
I listen intently as Alex continues; "Pembrey has sold off our holdings in the Euro to the Chinese. Such massive currency moves are rare. This move of Pembrey makes George Soros's shorting of the pound in 1992 look like a kids’ game. This could ruin an already fragile European economy."
"What will you do?" I ask, trying to find some kind of term of reference for helping your fiancé deal with an international financial crisis.
"You and I are going into the office and we are going to fix this," Alex speaks with grim determination as he begins to dress.
"We?" I reply meekly. "Yes, we," says Alex.
We head to the office and I spend very long days fetching endless rounds of coffee and pastries for the hard-working men and women who work tirelessly to undo Pembry's work.
I quietly drop coffee on people's desk as they hurry to buy up available Euro's and raise the value again.
"We cannot let this crisis spread to America, we won't survive another GFC, it would push us into depression," Alex's says accepting a coffee from me.
"And that rat Pembrey is nowhere to be found," adds Alex with anger.
In the late evening on the day before our wedding the crisis draws to a close as the currency markets and finance ministers respond to Alex's moves.
The financial press hails Alex's white knuckled grip and steely hold on the situation.
The crisis though does claim a victim. Devastated by the shame brought on the family by Pembrey, Alexander Senior suffers a fatal heart attack.
Despite being rather reclusive for nearly the past decade the media hails him and extensive coverage is devoted to his passing.
"What do we now honey?" I question Alex when the news comes through about Alexander Senior, in the middle of the currency crisis.
Alex pulls me into a hug. "We are going ahead with the wedding, but smaller. I've already emailed our planner to scale things back. Grandfather always wanted us to get married, so we will. We had already decided to go ahead when we started dating for real, instead of giving it time. Why stop now."
I nod and snuggle in close. "It can be a celebration for Alexander Senior. Tasteful."