Chapter 9 : Unexpected Outcome

It was such a very trying 5 years for me since I reunited with Charlie. He never recovered from his selective amnesia, he remembered well how to run his empire and how to dance but he never remembered who I am. He never accepted and treated me as his wife nor friend, whenever I am around he would be so irritable and annoyed, he often show despise and distraught, I could not believe that this is my Charlie, my husband. But all those five years I never showed him that it bothered me, I showed more love and affection. My patience was always being tried. I did everything that we usually enjoyed before, breakfast in the garden, I would play the pianoforte, I would take him to The Crypt with me at nights and dance for a couple of hours. I would even serve him his favorite meal everyday. I can see all the servants and security aids pitying me especially Bruce who always was at my side giving me hope each day and strength with his encouraging words of wisdom. One day I just received a message from Charlie’s lawyer asking for an audience. He gave the news to me straight and hard when I met him, “Please sign this Madame Graham, Mr. Graham is filing for a divorce, he could not continue living with a woman whom he claims to be a stranger. He also will take care of the 7 years that you spent married to him with monetary consolation and your favorite resort in Hawaii. He also ask that you not fight his request anymore for both party’s benefit. The private jet will take you straight to France where your entourage will be waiting your personal things are taken cared of as we speak and will be sent to your villa by tomorrow morning.I deeply regret to be the bearer of these news Valerie, I know how you suffered all these years and how you truly cared for Charles.” I signed the papers, left the package of consolation and shook the lawyer’s hand and left without a word.
The gravity of my divorce only hit me when I arrive that noon at the château, “home sweet home” I exhaled.  I went straight to ask the chef of the main house for his best bottle of red wine and took a glass with me, started drinking in solitary confinement of the Blue Rose garden. It was close to eleven that evening when I turned around and saw Alec staring at me from the opening of the maze. “It’s such a pity for a lady to finish a bottle of the best alone. The servants told me you’ve been out here since noon and haven’t touched your food yet that’s your second bottle.”  He close in the distance and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek, “How are you cheri? I am so sorry for not being the one to welcome you back, I finished most of the week’s transaction reports on Le Blanc so I could spend this week with you.”  He gently took the empty bottle of my hand and led me to the secret path through my villa. “Cheri I believe you need to rest now and tomorrow we will have a very busy day. But if you want to talk about “it” I’d be willing to listen.” I guess it’s the influence of the alcohol in my blood, I just decided to drag Alec at the back of the villa to the gazebo. “Dance with me Monsieur Mowatt, tonight we will relive our days at The Crypt, remember the music that we danced to when we won the contest? I can hear the music playing now Alec, my body is aching for the old times. Feel the music at it moves your body Alec…” We dance that instant in unison, the same Argentine Tango that we danced at The Crypt on the night of the contest. We won that night, it was my first. Alec and I danced as if it was just yesterday, flawless and the intense feeling still there. The ending was a dip and after that was supposedly a deep passionate kiss, but unexpectedly I passed out. Alec carried me to my room and put me to bed. He was about to kiss me on the lips when he heard me murmured “I love you, Charlie” and tears escaped my eyes. He wiped those tears and kissed my forehead instead and left me.
True to his word Alec spent the week with me, entertaining me taking me to museums, restaurants, plays and concerts. I momentarily felt so relieved but on the seventh night I had a very brief and sincere talk with Alec pouring out my feelings yet I am now resolved and will start moving on. I will now also start helping Alec running Le Blanc.

The next couple of months passed quickly with Alec keeping me in tow, we would visit all the partners and branches, within France and abroad. He also helped me arranged a meeting with Charlie’s lawyer, I returned the monetary consolation and the deed of the resort at Hawaii that they sent together with my luggage. I was enjoying the business world now, Alec taught me everything I need to know. It was sooner than I’ve expected when Alec reintroduced me in the empire, gathered all the new board of directors, CEOs, partners and managers under Le Blanc empire. He then turned over everything to my care but still under his supervision. My world now was the empire and it kept me busy enough to think of my past I was enjoying every single day of it, yet from time to time Alec would update me with the outside world and drag me out of my office and take me to an amusement park or museum or the beach for me to relax and loosen up a bit.

On my 30th birthday he took me to Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand. I get to buy my first set of  ski, the experience was so magnificent, I never wanted to leave that place. It was a very nice winter get-away/ birthday present to receive from Alec. We were check in at Bayview Chateau Tongariro, dined at their restaurant and had a night-cap at our adjoining suites. We were drinking wine and sharing old stories of childhood when I remembered my surprise gift. I stood up went to my bedside table and grabbed a wooden box. “This is my very belated birthday gift for you, Happy 30th birthday! I’m really sorry for being so late, I did not forget your birthday but I was so engrossed with work I never stepped out of the office to buy your gift. I hope you like it.” Alec opened the box and was smiling when he took out the gold-plated pocket watch with a matching 24k gold chain, he read the inscription out loud, “to my mentor, hero and mon ami…toujours Valerie“.  He was now teary eyed, embraced me and said “merci, merci cheri”. “Why are you frowning Alec, are you upset? I thought you’d like it, do you want to change it?” Alec took my hand and said”It’s not that cheri, I love this, I’m honored as well.” I tilted Alec’s face so I can see well into his eyes, “And what’s the matter, can’t you tell me?” He fished for something in his jacket and sat beside me. “Since the day we met I knew I felt something special for you Valerie, but we both detest match-makings that is why we acted indifferently towards each other since that day.  Then I met Claudette and married her, I thought the feelings would’ve died by then, but it was just slumbering. Then all of those incidents in the past, the circumstances that developed , I thought fate was playing with me, I was being painfully led towards you, and these past months I know that my feelings for you since that first time I saw you grew even more. I planned to propose to you tonight. Hence, this black diamond ring, I love you so much Valerie, but I don’t want to lose you. If proposing to you means losing our friendship then I’d rather be your friend and companion forever and run the empire with you.” He took the ring out of the box and put it in my finger, “This is your birthday gift cheri, mon ami toujours! ” then kissed my cheek. I instinctively held kiss face and kissed both his cheeks a couple of times being so grateful that he understands me. Then Alec got carrier away, he began kissing me with warmth and passion, I returned the kisses and when we broke off I said to him in a gentle tone,”Thank you for understanding me Alec, you really are a true friend. Yes, we love each other very much but both on different levels. The respect you have given me since the first day we met up until now is unwavering and I am grateful for that. I will cherish this ring and you, Monsieur Christian Alexander Mowatt forever. ”
…..fin…..

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Chapter 8: Revelations

Confused and nowhere to go, that is how I am now. It is very agonizing , how I came to this point of my life. There is nothing left for me, no reason to live and continue this journey called life. Before I have everything that I could wish for and easily dispose off things, now in a blink of an eye I’m reduced to nothing. I used to wear lovely couture dresses, shoes and bags. Young women my age envy me for my beauty, fame and fortune. Graceful, elegant and seductive, I am Valerie Blanc, from a noble family in France and the Princess of Tango – the renowned Blue Rose Tango. I guess you can say that I have experience a great loss in love that I can express the Tango’s real emotion exquisitely. I have enchanted many men through my Tango. But that is now my past as I ended up destitute and now seeking refuge under this bridge away from the prying eyes.

“Wake up, Princess your carriage awaits you.”  jolted by harsh hands and their mocking laughter, they blindfolded me and dragged me. I guess it took me an hour or so being  dragged and driven to nowhere I guess. The next thing I saw was a blinding light and Alec’s angelic face then I passed out again. The dreams continued to haunt me, I kept seeing daddy, Claudette, Charlie and Monsieur Duncan. I kept chasing them as the scenes from my childhood to my wedding day flash back. Then a sudden soft comforting voice called my name, “Valerie, are you alright? Everything will be fine from now on cheri.” I know that familiar voice, when I opened my eyes I saw Alec sitting beside me in the bed holding my hands. “I guess you are having a bad dream again cheri, you kept mumbling and grunting in your sleep. You are safe now, the doctors came earlier and gave you these dextrose and medications, plus a bit of sedative, you should rest now Valerie, I promise I won’t leave you. ” then I passed out again. I woke up a bit refreshed and rested the next day, Alec was really there beside me and attended to my needs then I slept again for the day. On the third day I woke up by mid-day and surprised to see Alec extracting my blood. “So you became a doctor now?” I smiled. Alec kissed me on the forehead and said “Hello there, sleeping beauty, you’ve been in and out for 3 days, I guess you are feeling better now, you can even smile sweetly at me. I’ve done all extractions from you and I even inserted this dextrose on you, we’ll just finish that bottle and off it goes. I want to take care of you first hand and make sure nothing happens again.”

It took me a 10 days to fully recover, now that I have my strength back, I can go out and catch some fresh air. Alec brought me to the gazebo where my favorite breakfast awaits, croissant, freshly squeezed orange juice, diced tropical fruits and brewed coffee. After breakfast Alec and I had our very first long talk since I came back.

“I have so many things to tell you cheri, which may answer most of your questions.” he led me to our comfy Cleopatra chairs and started talking. “When your father had his first heart attack he contacted me immediately and asked me to help him run the empire, discretely of course, I was also given the power to run Le Blanc in the absence of the heir. He also  knew that there was a plot to overrun his place as the president by the board of directors, I was also leading a team who investigates that matter. And when your father died I was pulling all the strings for you and Monsieur Duncan in the empire, but when he died I devoted myself and the team in nailing the board of directors. The day you got kidnapped was the day they were almost caught, I was in the midst of an agreement,  the seven board of directors, who were really pulling the strings for the overtake and Monsieur Duncan’s death and all those threats you received, when their goons took you as assurance and tie my hands for any entrapment they thought  I was planing.” Alec reached over to me and checked my pulse out of impulse. “Are you okay cheri? Do you have any questions? Do you still want me to continue or should we rest first?”  I smiled and assured Alec I was fine and I wanted to hear more. “Okay. My team searched for you for 3 days and 3 nights and on the 4th day just before you were to be brought back to Cannes, my team intercepted those bad guys and brought you back to me, where I raced back as soon as I sealed the agreement from the board of directors, I had the three directors signed a confession implicating the other seven directors being the masterminds of the mishaps and most of the fund loses since the past 8 years.”  I looked at Alec and smiled, “So that’s what you’ve been up to those times and you don’t know how great it felt when I saw your face after that blinding light that day. I had a recurring dream for that three scary nights, alone and cold, I kept seeing my childhood until my wedding in flashes, I saw daddy, Claudette, Charlie and Monsieur Duncan, then the dream would usually end up with me in rag clothes and under a bridge alone and shivering just like a pauper in the streets. I guess it was because I was not fed for three days and nights not even a single drop of water grazed my lips, but since that is all in the past now and I am really grateful that you kept you promise to daddy and cared for the empire and me, you never left my side since I came back, I know daddy and Claudette is looking at us and happy of what you are sacrificing for me and Le Blanc. I just wish Charlie is also here with us.” I blinked back the tears that were starting to blur my vision. “And lastly, Bruce called me this morning and said that they found Charlie’s plane in the Congo and are on their way back to London, he will be treated at the mansion, the private jet will be sent for you in four days.” I embraced Alec. “This is great Alec, won’t you come with me?” “Cheri, as much as I’d want to I can’t I need to make sure that the trial goes smoothly and I also need to put the empire back on its feet and prepare it for the time you’ll be managing it. But Bruce also mentioned that Charles did not receive any severe injuries except for an amnesia, but they are not sure about what degree it is yet.” When Alec saw the concern in my eyes he embraced me tighter and whispered words of encouragement and wisdom. “Now I think it’s time for you to rest in your room, get all the strength and energy you’ll be needing for the flight back to London. For the remaining days here in France, I’ll make sure to treat the princess as a queen and give you all the best that you want and need, I made arrangements at the office, I’ll stay with you till you return to Charlie.”

Chapter 7 Alone in this cursed world

I never thought that my almost, soon to be 2nd year of being happily married would end in an upsetting chain of events. Charlie and I were on our way to meet with my father at The Ritz Hotel here in London for my simple birthday celebration. Daddy took the afternoon flight and was now staying at The Ritz. As soon as I saw him sitting at the restaurant I felt something heavy and disturbing in the air. I rushed to him and gave him a warm embrace, “Daddy! How are you? I missed you so much!” He settled me down to my chair and said, “There now, is this how a lady should act in public? Hello there Charles! I hope my princess is not giving you a headache.” he chuckled and ushered Charlie to sit. “Nothing like that dad, you know this princess here is not a brat but she gets stubborn when she wants something that badly.” Both men laughed at my expense. All three of us enjoyed our meal and went to daddy’s suite for a night-cap and half past 11 that evening daddy just collapsed and instantly stopped breathing. As Charlie led me out of the emergency room daddy’s secretary asked me to go out to the limousine and discuss some very important matters as the heir. I was doing my best not to take over the empire for some time, and now I learned that my father had suffered from two slight heart attacks and forbid the staff to tell me. I also learned some of the partners wanted to take over the empire that stressed him deeply. Since I was not that interested, he tried to face the problems all by himself. “As your father’s secretary, close friend and lawyer it is my duty to read you his will right this very moment for us to do necessary actions.” As expected the will states that I inherit the empire and run it with my husband’s guidance and Monsieur Duncan, his secretary and lawyer-friend, as my secretary and mentor. He must immediately declare to the board of my status and that I will have the last word on every transaction. “I have asked the hospital’s management to keep this from coming out, it’s going to blow in our faces if the news of your father’s death leaks out before we plan your moves. Your father’s colleagues and board members are like sharks waiting on for its prey.” Charlie soon joined us in the car. “Everything’s arranged now my dearest, I need you to rest now because tomorrow is a big day.” Monsieur Duncan shook Charlie’s hand and thanked him as we dropped Monsieur Duncan off at The Ritz to fix daddy’s things and make the necessary arrangement to the hotel’s management. The next day Charlie and I flew back to France with daddy’s casket. The funeral arrangements where indeed settled and I went straight to daddy’s office and held an emergency meeting with all the board members and business partners of the empire. Wearing my black suit and poker face I faced all of those big men with Charlie on my right and Monsieur Duncan on my left. I thought everything went smoothly but little did i now that a plot to oust me was now in process. I was now on my 2nd month being the president and was very used to handling every thing they threw at me when I received a distressing call from Claudette, I flew to London and met Charlie on my way to the hospital Claudette. Claudette was hysterical when she found out that she lost their baby, on her 2nd trimester of pregnancy, and not even Alec could console her that’s why they sedated. After 4 months Claudette died, she wasn’t able to overcome the post-natal depression, isolated herself and eventually starved herself to death. And as the saying goes, “Death comes in threes” , before that year ended Monsieur Duncan who made my living as the president for the Le Blanc empire as smooth as possible died by receiving a bullet intended for me the night we were suppose to hold the annual board meeting. We were both in the limousine discussing the reports as we drove down to Hotel Martines in Cannes, France. As we stepped out of the car a gunman pointed a Glock 17 at me but before he could pull the trigger Monsieur Duncan pushed me aside the bullet hit him in the chest and instantly killing him . I lost my daddy, my sister and a very trusted friend-mentor all in one year. All that’s left to me is this empire with the big bad wolves, Charlie and Alec, “I don’t think I can handle this anymore. I don’t want to lose them too, Le Blanc is a result of daddy’s hard work, I know I can’t live without Charlie by my side and Alec, my dearest Monsieur Mowatt whom Claudette treasured so much.How I wish I could turn back time.” I sighed and continued with my daily reports.

I received countless death threats but did not bother to be affected I flew back home to London on a daily basis taking only Charlie’s personal jet and driving only the car that Charlie bought me, I have bodyguards in tow, every route that I take is different everyday, and I don’t keep appointments I usually drop in unexpectedly on meetings and gatherings. I always convince myself by saying, “It’s better this way, Valerie”. Château deFerrières and Blue rose garden is also crawling with security, I spent most of my days there doing work if i”m not surprising my CEOs. Charlie was now bound to go on a convention for a week in New York and he ordered that I stay at London but I of course being hard-headed as always stayed at my villa in France and continued on my surprise inspections and visits on all the business establishment under my empire. But a very bad news came knocking at my door, it was 2am I was at my villa when my maidservant woke me up and gave me a message from London. “No, this is happening! Bruce I need to go back to London prepare the car and call the pilot, Charlie is missing, I can’t believe this.” I hastened my steps as I departed the villa, gave short instructions to the château’s butler. “How long has it been missing Bruce?” the car was speeding towards the airport. “It’s been of the radar for about 30 mins Madame, everyone is in high alert, everybody is looking for him and the media is being kept out of this. I also assigned 3 secretaries to keep your reports and Le Blanc’s transactions up to date, I’ll have reports every 30 mins.”  I reached out for Bruce’s hand, “Thank you Bruce, you’ve been such a big help, you won’t leave me now would you. Tell me that Charlie will be found and that he’s alright…” I started sobbing now. I went straight to Notting hill mansion, as expected everyone was busy looking for Charlie, the library was instantly turned into a briefing room for all his security aids, they also set up a communication area, connected to the pentagon and to all airport control towers. The hours passed and still nothing came, not even a brief sign of hope, we were now counting days, then weeks and on the 2nd month I was losing hope. Bruce never left my side and kept the empire in France and in London running smoothly but on the 3rd month I returned to France to face the board once again for a meeting, I asked Bruce to stay behind and keep me posted on any updates and on Charlie’s empire. I guess I really can’t have the best of both worlds.

I was driving to the Le Blanc’s head office while talking to my secretaries on the phone when a black Ford Expedition blocked my way, 4 big guys came directly at me and pulled me out of the car. I guess they put me to sleep because when I came to my senses I was all alone in an empty dark room.

Chapter 6 : Blue Rose Wedding

I was staring at my reflection, the make up emphasized my eyes, it complimented well with my baroque gown in medieval renaissance Tudor dress design, the black velvet and gold brocade. Claudette loosely tied my hair in a bun with loose tendrils. Today’s the day, I’m going to walk down that aisle and exchange promises to Charlie. Up until now, I’m still getting used to the fact that I’m going to be Madame Graham and will be living in Notting hill mansion. wasn’t it just a month ago I turned 18, got engaged and now this. I could not believe it either when Charlie took me to London as an engagement gift for a week. He even invited Claudette and Alec to stay with us in his mansion at Notting hill. I was like in a dream, free to travel around London by day and by night the four of us will dance till we drop at The Crypt. I learned a lot from Charlie, he loves dancing so much it’s like a contagious illness that spreads all over the body down to the next person. From day 1 to-day 4, Charlie never left my side, but on the 5th day he was suddenly called back to New York to sign one of his biggest project leaving the three of us to continue our London escapade of course Bruce was there tagging along, well actually guarding me and my every move but Charlie returned the following day. On the seventh day, our last day,Charlie and Claudette went to the city and talked with the wedding planner and her teams of men and women in charge of my wedding and soon to be Claudette’s. On the other hand Alec and I stayed in our own rooms at the mansion. As I checked on Alec whom I’ve heard was now coming down with a fever the incident happened. He pulled me to his bed as I checked for his temperature and suddenly kissed me aggressively as his hands explored my body at the same time. It was such a suffocating kiss, it was like drowning in the warmth and the passion, I did everything I could to get out of his grip but in the end I ended up kissing him back, then the kisses started to taste very sweet then suddenly he stopped moving, Alec passed out apparently from his high fever. When Charlie and Claudette came home that night, Alec’s fever came down already but leaving the air of awkwardness. I could not put myself to face Claudette and Alec now, luckily Charlie and I returned to France that night leaving the two and that incident behind. I know it was all because of his fever and nothing else. Then a sudden knock at my door jolted me back to reality. “Ready?!” It was Claudette. “Valerie, you look so beautiful! Everyone is waiting.” We descended the stairs and went out my villa, as we took the secret path towards the Blue Rose garden where the ceremony will take place I suddenly stopped and embraced Claudette. “You know how much I love you, you are like a sister to me, you’re my only best friend and now as you look so alluring in that lovely Japanese kimono marching as my bridesmaid, you make me feel so relaxed and envious.” She started laughing, “Silly girl, so you wanted to wear the kimono after all. Hahaha, and to think that you deliberately planned everyone’s attire today. Anyway, kidding aside, I am really happy for you. Just like me you found the man who will truly make you happy. I will be seeing you more often now since you two will be living in London. Now let’s get going.” Claudette guided me towards daddy and went to her place in line. “You look so beautiful your mother would’ve been so happy and proud. You are my one and only treasure, my  family, after your mother died you were all that matters to me that’s why I worked hard to build an empire for you my sweet. Now that my little princes found a man who will love you and put your happiness first I can finally rest. Though I’m sad to give you away in marriage, I’m happy for you.” Then my father embraced me warmly and kissed my forehead as tears began to swell.  As I walked down the Blue Rose garden aisle, I can’t help but remember my childhood days and the 31 days I’ve known Charlie.

As we exchanged vows in poetry, we exchanges poesy rings bearing the message a vila mon coeur gardi li mo – here is my heart guard it well accompanied  by a Sapphire oval ring.  After the ceremony, we all went inside the main hall where a four-layered black and white cake sits in  the middle of the long buffet table. It was delicately assembled, the cake was a combination of carrot, almond, chocolate fudge and ginger spice flavors.  and was topped with a small bouquet of  Blue roses. The food was in Western and Eastern cuisine that also includes my favorite French delicacies. Everything went so grand and smoothly, We danced Tango, Rumba, Salsa and Waltz till our feet hurt. It was such an overwhelming experience for me. The next day both Charlie and I bid daddy au revoir, we will now be living as married couple at his mansion in Notting hill after our 3 weeks Asian honeymoon tour.

Chapter 5 : Whirlwind chain of events

Breakfast with my father was a complete disaster, I was enduring a terrible headache from drinking till 2am, with only 2 hours of sleep and thinking about my fiancé, sounds funny doesn’t it? I just turned 18 and got engaged with a fiancé I really don’t know anything about in just one night. Croissant, coffee, Wall Street Journal and Wedding magazines were all over the breakfast table. I was really on the edge now, my father on the contrary was not showing any emotions, his well-known poker face is staring at the newspaper, then out of nowhere he pulled out a legal sized yellow envelope with a sticker label stating Monsieur Charles Austen Graham. He said with authority, “This will enlighten you, read it.”  He then shuffled a few more envelopes and gave me another one, “Your itinerary for the week, wedding draft, and some wedding gown catalogs.” He stood abruptly and kissed my forehead, “I’m going to a conference, I’ll be back tonight, looking forward to seeing both you and Charles. Enjoy your day princess.” Then with that I was left staring at the envelopes.”I really can’t believe this is happening, didn’t he saw me dancing with that arrogant man last night? Is this his way of saying he is consenting my dancing? I’m totally lost.” I stood up and picked up the envelopes and called my maidservant, who I know was eavesdropping by the door. “Marie! Go and tell Claudette I’m coming over now.” I went to my father’s library and tried to compose myself before I read the first envelope father gave me. “Monsieur Charles Austen Graham” the labeled states it is a complete background check report, I scanned quickly over the 20 pages report and shoved it all back inside the envelope, checked my itinerary. “So I have from this time till 6pm free to do whatever I want, then by 7pm I am to have dinner with daddy and Monsieur Graham, and I can only go back to my villa by 11pm, What is this?! 4 hours with those two, this is going to make me crazy indeed.”

Walking along the Blue Rose garden somehow gave me comfort, the butterflies are all over the place, the sun is now rising. “It’s almost 6am I still have almost 12 hours to think and sort everything before dinner. I wish I was back in London, at The Crypt now relaxing.” I was now almost half way through the secret path towards my villa when I started running. I started shouting as soon as I opened the front door. “Claudette! Claudette! Where are you? Claudette!” I was running all over the house, I checked all the rooms and was almost knocked off when I bumped into Alec at the end of the hall at the top floor. Good thing Alec’s reflexes were fast, he grabbed me by the waist and lifted me up before my head hit the marble statue. “Easy there princess, What’s the rush? Running around and shouting like a kid.” We he settled me down, he inspected my face and saw that I was on the verge of tears, “Are you hurt cheri?” Alec started inspecting me, not letting go of my hand. “Alec, I need to speak with Claudette.” I said crying and shoved both the envelopes at him. He quickly scanned the envelopes and embraced me, with his assuring smile he said, “Don’t cry cheri, Alec is here. Come! we’ll go to Claudette and discuss this matter. We will sure come up with some solution.” We went down stairs and out at the back of  the house, the gazebo, where Claudette was preparing breakfast. She was trying to hide the concern behind her friendly smile as she received me. “This Missy needs out relaxing potion Claudette.” Alec declared as he sat down and started reading the report in earnest. “Drink this first cheri, it’s lavender tea I also made some shortbread and croissant. Crying this early in the morning , with just a couple of hours sleep with a terrible hang-over is not healthy.” She smiled as she fixed my messy hair. After that relaxing breakfast we started discussing, Alec and Claudette were both reassuring and rational, they made me understand the situation well, made me realize all the consequences and possible ways to accept and refuse the situations. They clearly showed me the 2 sides of the coin, now all I have to do is decide what I really want to do. I sat comfortable in my Cleopatra chair as Claudette and Alec started clearing out our breakfast, not being aware that I have started my way in dreamland. When the two came back, Alec stopped Claudette from waking me up, “Let her sleep, she’ll need all the rest and strength she can get.” “But I don’t think she’s comfortable there and besides it’s almost noon, it will be hot in here.” “Don’t worry, I’ll put down the curtains and start the air condition, go get her a blanket.” As Alec and Claudette walked towards the house Claudette started telling Alec our childhood stories. “She loved that gazebo, we practically lived there, we planted those Irises surrounding the gazebo, we decorated the place. She loves different cultures, that time she was so engrossed with the Ancient Egyptian culture that she requested that the gazebo be our pyramid palace and brought imported Egyptian furniture. She went there every single night, when she is lonely, happy, worried, sad and angry. It’s like a secret world of hers that gave comfort and support. When her mother died I was on my first year with them, she locked herself in that gazebo for a month, her father ordered it to be destroyed is she will not go out and mingle. Guess that shook her up, but when we were out with the cousins or guests for luncheon or parties she was not herself, she started to have this second personality that is very pleasing to her father. She never disobeyed her father since then, gave in to all the things her father decides and declares, but when we are alone in that gazebo, the old Valerie comes out, cheerful, energetic, adventurous, sweet, talkative, happy, always dancing around the place. Valerie was not allowed to dance anything except for the waltz. You see, her mother was a great dancer, loves Tango and Salsa but I guess Monsieur Blanc doesn’t want to be reminded of his lost love.” Alec and Claudette were now at their room. He took Claudette’s hands and said “Don’t worry Claudette, everything will be alright. I know she’ll do the right thing tonight. We will support her all the way.”
I woke up right before the sun set, I had another tea with the two and Claudette helped me prepare for dinner. I love wearing different traditional clothes, which my father hated at first but now got accustomed with. Tonight I decided to wear my Sapphire Blue Chinese dress with black dragon print running down the slit at the left leg, dyed my hair blue-black, wore eyeliner and mascara emphasizing my deep blue eyes and a pearly pink lipstick. I was  now walking down the secret path along my Blue Rose garden towards the main house,Château de Ferrières,with a 3 inches black clog sandals, taking my time as I prepare my answers in my head.

Dinner was quite satisfactory for my palate. It was a Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, corn kernels, peas, diced carrots in butter, red wine and garden salad. Simple yet I’m not used to it. Grateful that my father and Monsieur Graham did not talk about anything except the food throughout the dinner. Then we went to my father’s sitting rooms where they both had cognac while I continued drinking the wine. I was now nervous and can’t sit still. My father and Monsieur Graham were in a conversation as I started to compose my answer when suddenly , “Valerie my dear, the engagement party is tomorrow, the invitations were sent this morning. The wedding will take place in a month, the preparations are almost complete,, I have all the best men and women working on it, so you have nothing to worry about.” I was very upset with that I started to object with a very harsh tone, “Monsieur Graham, I”. “Please Valerie in four weeks you’ll be my wife, there is no need for any formalities, call me Charlie.” I glared at him this time, “Monsieur Graham” I stressed on it, “I know you can do anything you wish but don’t you think I still have to agree on this matter? This is my wedding we are talking about, my life!” turning to my father, “Daddy, so you are okay with this? Don’t you give a damn thing about what I really want this time?”. “Young woman enough of this nonsense, you are not a child anymore to throw tantrums at me and be careful with your words. Everything is settled, you will attend your engagement party tomorrow night and have a wedding next month. The empire can’t wait forever for your decisions, you will take my place by next year and Charles here can help you in everything as well. You will be a very busy woman and no more time for unnecessary stunts. Now I’ll leave you two to discuss the details. I will see you tomorrow for our early breakfast before I proceed to another conference.” He stood up and kissed my forehead and bid Charles good night.

Monsieur Graham, I beg your pardon but I am still in shock, everything happened so fast. You proposing the instant we finished dancing, left after that and returned in less than 24 hours to tell me that the wedding will take place in 4 weeks and that I have nothing to worry about? Don’t you think I should state my thoughts clearly first?” I was now sitting upright facing the handsome man who will be my husband in 4 weeks, whom I’ll be spending my life with. “Monsieur, this is a life time commitment for me, I think I have the right to choose who that person will be on my time. And I envisioned myself marrying the one I love and loves me back.”  I paused to look him in the eye and sighed “But since it’s clearly stated by my father that I have a duty to fulfill as the daughter of the great Monsieur Irvin Philippe Walsh Blanc and as the heiress of his business empire, I have no choice but to submit to your plans, but may I ask for some more time? I wish to get to know you more, not just knowing you from the background check reports but I need to see and meet the real you.” Charles sat closer to me and said in a sad yet earnest manner, “Valerie my dearest, I ‘m really sorry but you see time is so precious to me, when I see something I want I have to acquire it, when I need something I make sure to have it and when I saw you at The Crypt dancing with Mr. Mowatt during the contest I knew immediately that you are the one I want to spend my eternity with, but I admit I have the most detestable ways of acquiring things. But I am really serious when I proposed and said that I will do everything to make you happy. And I know that no amount of money of treasure can compare to that desire, that need, that LOVE that I feel right now for you.” He took my hand and kneel before me, “I will make sure you will never cry in pain anymore, I will listen to everything you will say, do what it is you want to do, you will not run out in the night just to enjoy dancing, I will personally take you to every dance studios, gathering and contests you’d want to visit and experience, but I cannot give you more time. Because I feel lost without you and another 4 weeks is like an eternity for me. I love you Valerie Blanc, will you marry me?” I was now teary eyed when I said “Okay sir” smiled and rephrased my answer, “Oui, Monsieur Charles Austen Graham, I will marry you.” He stood up and kissed me. It was a very sweet, warm and gentle kiss, when he felt me responding his kisses deepened. “Come, I guess we both need some fresh air, let’s walk at in the garden.” We strolled hand in hand sharing childhood stories for about and hour and then he said, It’s time for me to take my leave Valerie, though I don’t want to but I have some meetings back at home in the morning, I’ll be back for our engagement party. Everything is arranged, I will leave Bruce to take care of you and your needs, he will be your personal aid and bodyguard. I am very happy that our misunderstanding is all settled now. I am very happy. Thank you Valerie.” He kissed me and embraced me with the warmth of his love. He called Bruce, “This is Bruce, one of the best in my team, he knows everything that you’ll need to know, ask him for anything. He’s in charge of your food, clothes, beauty regiments, he’ll walk you through all your itinerary with ease. I want what’s best for you dear. If you need me ask Bruce to contact me.”  He left with his own bodyguards in tow. Bruce was like a handsome mean dog as he was following me on my way back to my villa. “You can rest now Bruce, use the room next to my sitting room. I will just go upstairs to Claudette and talk with her for a while. Thank you.”  He left me standing at my door. I went upstairs and convinced Claudette to spare me an hour. Alec I presume is  now sleeping in his room, so Claudette and I walked quietly towards my sitting room. I poured us a glass of wine each and I started telling Claudette everything. She was also in tears when I finished my story. “See, I told you earlier that it was just a misunderstanding, and all you have to do is tell him what you think and want, he is not your father whom you’ll succumb to his every whim. I’m so happy things turn out this way for you. So I guess you will have a very wonderful life from now on.”

Chapter 4 : Débutant

As expected from my father my birthday is like one of the Queen’s banquets. Among the families and relatives that I really don’t know were my father’s business associates and their sons of course. This début will be meaningless for my father if I would not end up with a great offer. Having a very hard time with my elaborate gown as I been tagged along by my father from one party of old businessmen to another, introducing me to their sons and talking about the stocks and their business not really paying close attention to me. As I try to sneak away from the senseless chatter I found myself being hauled into another set of old men. “Merde! – damn.” I muttered under my breath. “Just smile and nod sweetie.” Jolted by a familiar deep husky male voice, I turn around and I saw the devil’s smile and my best friend standing before me. I politely excused myself from my group trying very hard to contain my excitement as I dragged the two outside. I took them to my rose garden, my Blue Rose garden which I’ve spent practically every free time that I am away from father. “Claudette! Alec! ” I almost shrieked as I hugged both of them. I thought you guys wouldn’t come, I thought you both forgot my birthday.” teary eyed I held them both. Then I composed myself and shot them questions after questions. “When did you arrived?”, “Why did you not even call or emailed me?”, “‘How are you two now?” ,”How was the Caribbean cruise?”, “So when is the wedding date?”, “Don’t tell me Claudette you’re pregnant already?” …I wanna be the first to know, the maid of honor and the godmother of your first child, you don’t know how happy I am right this minute, and I can’t even seem to stop talking.” We all laughed, Alec was the one who talked first, “I thought you won’t stop cheri! Sit down Mademoiselle first we came here to greet you a very happy 18th birthday, and of course, Claudette do you mind?” Claudette took my hand and said, ” We would like you to be our maid of honor four months from now, we will have our wedding in London.” I embraced Claudette as I looked at Alec and said, “I’d be honored you silly. But you both have to promise me one thing, no match-making please, I’ve been dealing with that for a month now, since I came back from London daddy kept me in tow in every business meeting and luncheons he had, introducing me into the business world and into countless husband candidates, and I am very sick and tired of it. Even tonight , my very own birthday turned into a grand match-making party.” Claudette took my hand and said earnestly, “You poor thing, I know your father only wanted what’s best for you.” I suddenly turned to Alec and glared at him, “I was expecting for a god-child as soon as you both arrived from that cruise, you disappoint me Monsieur Mowatt.” Alec laughed and stated mockingly, ” I beg your pardon madame Blanc, you sound like a grandmother eager for a grandchild, sorry to ruin your fantasy missy but we both agreed that we will wait for another year before we start our family.” we were chatting happily when the butler interrupted us, “Mademoiselle Blanc, forgive my rudeness but Monsieur Blanc request your presence in the hall.” I gave a disgusted face and told Alec and Claudette that I will have my little villa ready for them and that they should stay with me for rest of your trip.”I want to see photos and hear more of your stories tomorrow, we’ll have brunch by the garden.”  With that I left instructions with the butler for their luggage and food. As I went inside I immediately put on my façade, my mask, the polite, aristocratic figure of Valerie Blanc, that matches everyone inside.

It’s almost midnight and I was hoping to go back to my quarters, when I the last guest arrived. It was the son of the business tycoon daddy met in New York a couple of months ago, “Monsieur Charles Austen Graham” the butler announced. He strode gracefully towards me, kissed my hand and led me in the middle of the ballroom, instantly the orchestra played a tune where we danced the Argentine Tango. He led me with confidence and clear, precise execution, every step we made was synchronized. The manliness, the arrogance and the strength overflowed as I flawlessly swayed and turned, it was like being hypnotized by the music and by his radiance, he was like the movie actor Brad Pitt in the persona of Lestat, The Interview with the Vampire. The music ended with a powerful bang and as we walked towards my father who was aghast by what he saw if it wasn’t for the Monsieur I definitely would receive a piece of his mind. “Don’t worry about your father my dearest Valerie, I’ll deal with him. You danced so well I bet it was all thanks to your nightly escapade at The Crypt.” Then he laughed mockingly as he ushered me back to my father’s side. “That was quite a spectacle mademoiselle you may excuse yourself for the night, I will see you tomorrow at breakfast.” my father dismissed me with that, but to my surprise Monsieur Graham interrupted my leave with a shocking proposal, “Marry me and you can do whatever you wish Mademoiselle Blanc. Monsieur Blanc you know that I do not care about your empire for I have my own, established and continuously expanding. All I wish is to marry your lovely daughter and see her happy.” His hand snapped in the air and suddenly a gentleman brought a small box, where a big diamond ring glistened in front of me, he inserted the ring in my finger ” I will be back tomorrow night to discuss the details of the wedding but I must take my leave now, I have business to attend to in the morning. I bid you bonne nuit Mademoiselle Blanc.” He kissed my hand gently and bowed at my father then left us both speechless. Now that was a spectacle, the chattered started the minute Monsieur Graham left and a continuous “Congratulations” echoed across the ballroom and one by one the guests left leaving me still in shock. ” I better hurry back to my villa and tell Claudette what happened, I’m so confused. I’m engaged to a man I know nothing of and danced the most passionate and powerful Argentine Tango ever.” I started running towards the Blue Rose garden where a hidden path leads to my villa.

I saw Claudette with Alec sitting next to each other at my favorite wooden swing in the porch, their smiles vanished as they saw how miserable and disturbed I looked. “What happened in there sweetie you look distraught?” Alec reached his hand for mine and seated me in between them. “You wouldn’t believe what happened.” I raised my hand and showed them my engagement ring. “I danced the Argentine tango with a certain Monsieur Graham of New York, got proposed in front of everyone, got engaged without me answering yet and he left as soon as he placed this ring in my finger. I did not get the chance to decline, to get to ask why and how he knew about my trip to The Crypt and a lot of things in between. I’m so confused, I want to pack my bags and return to London with you both.” Claudette and Alec were now laughing softly, “I guess all we need to do now is to celebrate your birthday and instant engagement and plan what our next step is.” Alec lead us two inside and pour wine as Claudette and I sat comfortable in the den. My eyes caught a glimpse on Alec’s and a disturbing look and grin was across his face, the devil’s grin again, what’s with him all of a sudden? I thought to myself. We stayed up till 3am, talking about the endless possibilities on how my so-called fiancé found out ‘The Crypt” and what will I do when I see him again. My birthday ended the minute Monsieur Charles Austen Graham left and another chapter of my life starts to unfold as I face a new day…

Chapter 3 : Au revoir London

My vacation is almost over, I will be leaving London tomorrow leaving behind the most interesting and memorable days of my life. I never expected that I would enjoy this birthday vacation my father planned for me. Aside from the occasional afternoon tea parties and opera nights that I obediently attended with the les vieux (old folks), my nightly Tango escapades at The Crypt gave birth to the new “Valerie”, the Blue Rose of Tango. I will be leaving with a heavy heart, I will miss The Crypt, dancing Tango, the tea parties I got used to, and most especially I’ll miss my best friend – Claudette. “Penny for your thoughts cheri.” It was Alec with Claudette in tow. “We were looking everywhere for you, and to think of the least place you’d go. I thought you hate bars? Why are you sitting here alone cheri? ” Oh, you two love birds should not worry, I’m a big girl, in a month’s time I’d be of legal age. Come!, let’s celebrate, I don’t want my last day here at London be gloomy.” I stood up and took my glass of champagne and ushered the two at a vacant table. glancing briefly to the bartender, “une bouteille de champagne s’il vous plaît monsieur .” I poured them as graceful as I can, and declared a toast. “To you two lovebirds, may you both live happily every after and to my last day here at London.” We all held our glasses up. “santé!” “cheers!”. Okay drink up guys, we are off to The Crypt for my last Tango.

We spent all our energy dancing and drinking at The Crypt and went back to my hotel suite by midnight and stayed up till 4am recounting our days together and the adventure we three shared. By noon my bags were all packed and Claudette’s too, she will be living with Alec from now on. We had lunch in my suite and continued our stories like every minute is precious that we need to make the best of our time together. I was holding back my tears, for 10 year I spent every waking hour with my best friend, my sister, my confidante, my Claudette, now she will leave my side and be with Alec, but I am happy for her. One last afternoon tea for us, when I’m back in France this will no longer be included in my daily routine. I went straight to the airport where a private jet awaits me, when the limousine fetched me at the hotel by 6pm,leaving Alec and Claudette at the lobby. I don’t want farewells, I’m not good at it. I hate to see Claudette cry and let her see me cry, I know she will just worry. As the jet took off I remembered how happy Claudette was when Alec proposed to her the night we won the contest. Claudette just came in from The Crypt with Alec’s friends, Alec and I were talking at my sitting room. He was so passionate on proposing to Claudette that night that he bought a diamond ring the day before the contest and was intensely asking me things about Claudette. I knew from the first day we started practicing that Alec had a thing for Claudette and that she too was very attracted to this guy, though I know both were just thinking of me. Claudette immediately said YES to Alec and shared a very passionate kiss forgetting that I was still there. I know they will love my surprise engagement gift.

“I’m so happy Alec, I can’t believe this is real.” Claudette was unpacking her clothes when she discovered and envelope with both their names in my handwriting. When she opened it she cried instantly as she held my favorite locket, in it was a photo of us two and an inscription that says “ma sœur bien-aimée”  – my beloved sister, also enclosed in that envelope was a round trip ticket to a Caribbean cruise and a note that states: “To the two most important people in my life and for a new beginning. I love you both. till then! Valerie” Alec embraced me warmly as the tears ran down my cheeks. “Alec, I miss her already, she is the only family I ever had since I was 7 years old and now she will be alone. I feel so guilty.” Alec dried my tears and said, “Don’t cry my love, I understand, but you also now have me as your family and it was also thanks to her that we met. We will soon see her again, we’ll visit her at her birthday, in France I promise!” Then the two shared a passionate kiss.

“I’m glad I took the evening fight, tomorrow when I wake up I’d be the old dutiful heiress once again, always in Monsieur  Blanc‘s tow, showcased as a priceless commodity ready for exchanged if the price is right. But I bet all I’ll see are the old folks’ arrogant, snobbish, irritating, money-loving businessmen sons that will just treat me as a bond, a living currency that ties them to my father’s empire… oh well, I guess my nightmare will now start…better brace myself…but before that it’s au revoir London, au revoir Blue Rose…till we all meet again – soon.”