Richard laughed, swatted his wife on the rump with a towel, and crossed back to where the staff was creating the holiday meal. He said, “I’ll hold you to that.”
Watching their open display of love left Jeisa yearning for that for herself. Could she and Jeremy get to that place?
Lil turned to Elise and asked, “Do you have candles? We can have the staff clean up early, dim the lights, and fill the kitchen with them to make it more romantic. This could work.”
Practically dancing with excitement, Maddy declared, “Lil, you’re a genius.”
Abby shook her head and confided to Nicole, “Those two scare me when they’re together.”
Nicole laughed. “Twins separated at birth?”
Abby joked, “Thank God, because I wouldn’t have survived raising both of them.”
Therese touched Jeisa’s arm. She wasn’t laughing along with the other women. “Jeisa, don’t feel pressured. This is a big decision and one that no one should rush into. I just want to tell you that I cannot imagine a better woman for Jeremy. I would love the honor of calling you my daughter.” Tears began to rush down Jeisa’s cheeks. Therese hugged her and chided, “Don’t go crying now and messing up your makeup. I want pictures.”
Jeisa straightened and wiped away her tears. She looked around the room and asked, “Where’s Marie?”
Maddy pointed at the ceiling and said, “She took Joseph upstairs to put him down. I hope he doesn’t spit up on her dress. She looks stunning.”
Ha, I bet she wore the dress I sent her. The feeling of triumph was fleeting in the face of all the other emotions storming within Jeisa. “Does she know?” Jeisa asked.
Lil laughed and spun, eliciting giggles from her young daughter as she said, “Knowing Marie, she probably has your honeymoon planned out.”
Maddy’s mother piped in and took Jeisa’s hand. “Speaking of honeymoons,” Elise said, “sit down, Jeisa. We should talk.”
Maddy gave a laughing groan. “Mom.”
Grinning, Nicole asked, “Is this the bikini theory?”
Katrine shook her head and wagged a finger at the woman who would one day be her daughter-in-law. “No, your fiancé spilled the beans on that one.”
Elise laughed. “I don’t care if Alessandro knows the rules. It still works for us.”
Maddy covered her ears at her mother’s admission. “Please, no. You’re scarring me.”
Fascinated, Abby took a seat at the table and said, “I don’t know the bikini theory.”
Lil threw a napkin at her sister. “See what all that sophistication cheats you out of? Even I know the bikini story. I guess everyone figures I’ve done worse.” She linked arms with Maddy and waved to Nicole to join them. “Let’s escape while we can.” To the young daughter on her hip she said, “Be grateful that you’re too young for the talk.”
Nicole smiled sympathetically at Jeisa as she fled. “Sorry, Jeisa. Sometimes it’s every woman for herself. You’ll know to run next time.”
After the three young women left, Therese, Elise, Katrine, and Abby sat at the table with Jeisa. Elise jumped right in and asked, “How much did your mother talk to you about men?”
Jeisa’s eyes rounded. “My mother passed away before she had a chance to.”
Placing her hand over Jeisa’s on the table, Elise said, “I’m so sorry to hear that, but don’t worry, we’ll fill you in.”
Jeisa sank lower in her chair. “That won’t be necessary. I figured it out on my own.”
Victor’s wife, Katrine, chuckled. “We’re not talking about sex, honey. Well, not the act itself. A happy marriage is full of healthy sexuality. People confuse sexuality with the mechanics of the act itself. Good sex is like planting a garden in the spring. Do you put a seed in the ground and call that a garden? Would you expect to live happily off something you put so little effort into? Or would you tend that garden? Water it. Weed it. Watch it grow, knowing that the more you put into it, the more pleasure you get out of it. There are techniques you can use that will help you to maintain your garden, and so many of them should happen outside of the bedroom.”
Jeisa looked helplessly at the kitchen’s exit and then back around the table of women. There is no escape for those who stayed, is there?
Therese looked at the two older women with growing admiration. “What an incredibly healthy outlook on sexuality.”
Under her breath Abby mumbled something and started to rise from her seat. “As a happily married woman, I should be exempt from this.”
Jeisa grabbed her hand and pulled her back to a seated position. Oh, no, if I’m staying, you’re staying. She said, “I bet it applies to all of us.” Abby met her eyes with a smile that promised some future payback, but Jeisa didn’t let go of her hand. There was no way she was going to sit through the talk alone.
Elise dove right in and started giving Jeisa relationship tips that no woman should hear in front of her future mother-in-law. When Jeisa thought it couldn’t get more mortifying, Therese said, “That reminds me of what I used to do with my husband when we first married,” and shared details that set Jeisa’s cheeks ablaze.
Jeisa looked across the table and met Abby’s eyes, and they both burst out laughing. In that place, with those women, Jeisa’s heart filled with hope.
Jeremy is going to ask me to marry him.
In this very kitchen.
And she smiled.
In the solarium of the Andrade home, Jeremy was finishing off a heated debate with Jake’s parents, about their latest experiments with quantum computational operations and the feasibility of their success, when he noticed Jeisa’s father nursing a drink and watching him. He could feel the man’s dislike from across the room. He excused himself from the older couple and headed over to Romario. The man straightened as Jeremy’s approach, and his eyes narrowed at Jeremy drew near.
With Alessandro’s words echoing in his mind, Jeremy said, “I know we got off on the wrong foot, but I think you misunderstood what you saw earlier . . .”
“Don’t waste my time with lies.”
Jeremy stiffened. “I have no reason to lie. I simply want to explain . . .”
The older man’s face tightened with anger. “Your intentions for my daughter were pathetically obvious. A young woman, alone in a foreign country. You thought she’d be easy to take advantage of.”
“No, I’m serious about your daughter.”
Romario leaned down aggressively. “Let’s be clear about one thing. After today, you’re never going to see her again, so I really don’t care how you feel about her.”
Jeremy fought down the anger that was building within him. This was Jeisa’s father. Someone she loved even if she fought with him. If Alessandro could win over his wife’s father and live to tell about it, then so could Jeremy. He swallowed his pride and said, “I intend to marry Jeisa. I’d like your blessing, but I don’t need it.” He took out the three diamond rings from his pocket, each over five carats but with different cuts. “One of these would have been on her finger if we’d taken that helicopter ride alone today.”
Romario let out a harsh laugh. “You think I’d let her marry someone like you?”
A deep voice joined their conversation. Dominic chastised the diplomat. “Hey, ease up on the kid. He loves your daughter.”
Romario spun on his heel and went nose to nose with the interloper. “Stay out of this, Corisi. It’s none of your business.”
Dominic snarled back, “You made it my business when you brought it here.”
This wasn’t how Jeremy envisioned winning Romario over. He said, “Dominic, I’ve got this.”
Dominic persisted. “What makes you think Jeremy isn’t good enough for your daughter?”
Romario gestured to Dominic. “Perhaps who he keeps company with.”
“You don’t know me,” Dominic hissed.
“No, but I knew your father, and that was enough.”
Dominic’s fists clenched at his sides.
Stephan Andrade stepped into the conversation with his easy California smile. “Gentlemen, it looks like we’re being called in for dinner.” When none of the men responded, he directed his next comment to Jeisa’s father. “Mr. Borreto, we made a place for you next to your daughter. I’m sure this discussion can wait until after dinner.”
After a tense moment, Romario said, “I believe we all said what needed to be said.”
Jeremy blocked Romario’s way. “No, we didn’t. I’m sorry you don’t like me or my friends, but I will ask your daughter to marry me, and if she says yes there is nothing you can say or do that will stop us.”
Tight-lipped, Romario said, “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”
Never one to back down from a challenge, Jeremy asserted, “I guess we will.”
When Romario stepped away with Stephan, Jeremy let out a long, relieved breath. He met Dominic’s eyes and said, “I’ll win him over, just probably not tonight.”
Dominic threw back his head and laughed. “I don’t want to like you, but you are the craziest bastard I know.” As they walked together toward the dining room, Dominic asked, “And why do you have three rings?”
Jeremy took out a green princess-cut diamond set in white gold. “This one reminded me of the outfit she wore the first time I met her.” He held out a clear teardrop diamond, larger than the last. “A friend’s wife told me that most women would love this one.” The last ring he held out was twice the size of the others, a white cushion-cut surrounded by one-carat diamonds in a platinum setting. “The jeweler said that no woman could resist this one.”
“Go with the green one and tell her why,” Dominic suggested gruffly.
Jeremy put the other two in his pants pocket. “Thanks, Dom. You’re really good at this relationship stuff.”
Straight-faced, Dominic said, “Don’t make me hit you.” A hint of a smile curled one corner of his mouth.
Despite how it had worked out, Jeremy was grateful for what Dominic had attempted to do. “Thanks for what you said before . . . to Jeisa’s father.”
“Don’t mention it,” Dominic said. Then he frowned. “Seriously, don’t tell anyone.”
Jeremy merely smiled. Your secret is safe with me.
In an impressive display of hospitality, the Andrade Thanksgiving table sat thirty people, thirty-four if one counted the children in high chairs. Victor Andrade took his spot at the head of one end, flanked by his wife, Katrine, his son Stephan, his son’s fiancée, Nicole, Dominic, and Abby. Alessandro Andrade, the owner of the home, sat at the other end with his wife, Elise, his daughter Maddy, her husband, Richard, and their infant son, Joseph. Jeisa took her place between a determined-looking Jeremy and her angry father.
Once everyone was seated, Victor Andrade stood and raised a glass to toast. “Thanksgiving is about gratitude and family. Our table grows every year, and I want to thank my brother for always graciously setting another place as it does.” Across the room, Alessandro raised his glass to his older brother. “This has been quite a year for all of us, no? We have overcome our differences and grown stronger because of it. When I look around this table, I am reassured about the legacy I will leave behind. Life will throw you many challenges, but if you remember that this is what is important—your spouses, your children, your good friends—you will always find your way back to happiness.”