Bedding the Billionaire
Page 29

 Ruth Cardello

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Although Alethea was not attending the wedding, she’d sent a wedding present–a schematic breakdown of the weaknesses she’d found both at Dominic’s engagement party and in his plans for the island wedding. Abby hadn’t warmed up to her enough to invite her to the wedding, but she was beginning to soften her stance against her. After all, Alethea had played a role in saving
Corisi Enterprises.
The only one who wasn’t presently happy with Lil’s best-friend was Dominic’s head of security. Rumor had it that he was furious when he read her report, especially since she’d noted that he was “easily distracted” from his duties. That was Al, making friends wherever she went.
My sister is getting married today.
Three weeks hadn’t been much time to prepare for a wedding, but since the budget had been so generous–it had come together seamlessly. Amazing what people could accomplish when they worked on commission and the bride could have whatever she wanted.
Concepts for wedding dresses had arrived almost immediately from several well-known designers and it was no surprise that Abby had chosen something simple: a white strapless, silk gown with layers of lace that covered both the dress and Abby’s arms and shoulders in the classic style of Grace Kelly. Her bouquet was a nosegay of white wild orchids, white peonies and mini calla lilies. Abby’s most stunning accessory was the huge smile that hadn’t dimmed since she’d met Lil for breakfast that morning.
Lil looked down her own iridescent, charcoal chiffon dress. The body of it was shirred and fitted from the strapless, ruffled bodice to the mid-thigh hemline that boasted a detachable flowing skirt. Mrs. Duhamel had found the perfect compromise-dress, floor length to satisfy Abby and sizzling and short in one easy step for Lil. Nicole and Maddy had been easy to talk into wearing the spicy bridesmaid’s dress, but Zhang had been an altogether different matter. She had also been the wildcard in the wedding party. Maddy’s husband, Richard, and Nicole’s fiancé, Stephan, were natural choices for groomsmen. Maddy convinced Abby that choosing a groomsman for Zhang had to be done as carefully as if they were matchmaking.
Lil smiled at the memory of how they had finally chosen a fourth groomsman.
Dominic had declined on having a bachelor party, saying that he’d had quite enough wild days in his past. In the spirit of that decision, in lieu of a bachelorette party the women had gathered at one of Dominic’s homes with a few bottles of champagne for a high tech slide show of men Dominic knew well enough to ask to be part of his wedding party.
Maddy had suggested that, to keep it fun, the candidates must either be royalty or be on Forbes list of most influential men. The selection process was as much fun as any night on the town would have been. Maddy cued up the photos on a large screen in the home’s private movie theatre. Nicole read a detailed description of each man. Pros and cons were discussed and then Maddy used her Photoshopping skills to superimpose Zhang and the potential escort into the same photo walking down an aisle, arm in arm.
Even if the candidates were wildly inappropriate, some were kept in the proposal packet simply for the humor of it. Too tall. Too short. Too old. Too young. Too greasy. Too uptight. Too much facial hair. Too bald.
At first Zhang had stoically held to her stand that she had no preference.
Lil poured her a glass of champagne.
“No, thank you,” Zhang politely refused the beverage.
“Everyone drinks at weddings,” Lil insisted.
Zhang motioned with her hand at the movie theatre around them and said, “This is not even the wedding.”
“True,” Lil laughed and pushed the drink into Zhang’s hand. “But you’re going to spend a significant amount of time with whoever we pick. There is the rehearsal, the wedding itself, photos, maybe even some dancing. You don’t think you care now, but do you really want to spend the wedding holding onto this Prince Charming?”
Lil motioned to Maddy who brought up a photo of a man they had actually found on a world’s scariest criminals website, but Zhang didn’t need to know that. Lil said, “Sober, you don’t seem able to decide. We can choose for you if you want, but this is what might happen.” Maddy cued up the photo of Zhang and a long haired, mostly toothless criminal walking down an aisle together.
Shamelessly, Lil added a final zinger, “Maddy even has the software that could show you what your children would look like if ended up with him.” The photo Maddy produced was as hilarious as it was hideous.
Zhang downed the glass of champagne in one gulp and replaced the glass.
Abby looked on, shaking her head. “Lil, you are…”
Maddy answered for her, “My hero!”
Abby smiled sympathetically at Zhang and said, “You know, I can call her off. At least, I can try.”
Zhang took the second glass of champagne Lil offered her and smiled in resignation. She and Lil were polar opposites, but somehow they had connected and were building a friendship through the planning the wedding together. She joked, “I had no idea that the American custom was to choose a groomsman worthy of bearing children with or I would have paid more attention to the previous ones. Please, cue up the next one.”
Nicole read the corresponding card. “Sheikh Rachid bin Amir al Hantan, Crown Prince of Najriad–a small country but gaining prominence for their technology as well as their oil.”
Lil shot a quick look at Zhang and saw her interest before she was able to conceal it again. Thank you champagne. Lil prompted, “He’s hot.”
Abby added, “I think Dominic actually knows him pretty well. He either graduated from Harvard the year before or the year after Dom and Jake did. I’ve heard him mention him before.” She smiled, “I agree–he’s hot.” Everyone looked at her. “What, I’m getting married, but I’m not blind. That man is gorgeous.”
Zhang said, “He wouldn’t be our worst choice.”
Lil said, “Cue up how they would look as a couple.”
Maddy clapped. “Oh, we have to pick him. He’s perfect for you.”
Nicole warned, “Just remember, gorgeous men have big…” she paused for dramatic emphasis. “Egos.” She finished with a laugh.
Everyone laughed – even Zhang.
Abby said, “If he got out of line, I’m sure Zhang could put him firmly back in his place.”
Zhang straightened a little defensively and said, “Sometimes I’m shy around men.” A round of laughter swept the room, but Zhang didn’t join in. She added, “You don’t work as much as I do and date much.”
Maddy said, “Oh, my God that is so cute.” When Zhang shot her a glare, she back-peddled nervously. “I mean cute in the least condescending way I could have said it. It’s just that I can picture you staring into those beautiful dark eyes–temporarily at a loss for what to say–waiting for him to kiss you for the first time.”
Lil said, “You’ve been reading too many of those romances again.”
Maddy countered, “Hello, I married a French man. I live romance. And who do you think suggested that Jake be the one to move you into a new place? Hmm?”
Lil threw some popcorn at the tiny woman’s head. “That was you?”
Maddy laughed and removed a piece of popcorn from her hair. “You can thank me whenever you’re ready. Match-making is my gift.”
Zhang said, “I’m not looking for a man.”
Maddy nodded her approval, “That’s always the best time to find one. I vote for the Sheikh. All in favor say ‘aye.’”
Everyone except Zhang chimed in their approval.
Maddy played around with her laptop until a photo of a beautiful baby, somewhat distorted, appeared on the screen. “Come on, look at how cute your children would be.”
Zhang stiffened. “I don’t care which man we choose today.”
Lil leaned closer to her and said softly, “Really, then why are you blushing?”
Before World War III broke out, Abby quickly interceded. “I’ll have Dominic call him.”
Lil said, “Should we pick a runner up in case he says no?”
Everyone looked at her like she’d asked if they should have a plan in case the world stopped turning on the wedding day. Dominic got what Dominic wanted–that hadn’t changed regardless of how much Abby had tamed him. Lil laughed, “You’re right. Meet your date to the wedding, Zhang–Prince I-should-be-an-underwear-model Rachid.”
Zhang laughed and shook her head.
Lil said, “See, if you get shy just imagine him in clothing catalogue. That always cracks me up.”
“Lil, are you listening?” Abby said in a tone that implied she’d asked it before and gotten no response.
Her voice brought Lil back to the present.
Lil said, “I was just thinking about Zhang and her Prince. What a shame he couldn’t make the rehearsal. I hope he’s not a total stick in the mud.”
Abby spun in the mirror and adjusted the back of her dress again. “He had some business he couldn’t get out of. Dominic said it was important enough that he understood. Some border dispute that his country is having with one of their neighbors. Whatever it was, it looks like it has temporarily been quelled because he’s here today.”
“I’m glad. I’d really like to see Zhang have a good time,” Lil said and fixed Abby’s train for the fiftieth time.
Abby cautioned, “Lil, don’t push her. Whatever happens–happens.”
“I know. It’s just that she’s all tough and reserved on the surface, but I think she’s really sad on the inside. She told me the story about her parents. Do you know that although she was born into a very poor family and it would have been easier for them if she’d been a boy, her father celebrated her? She said he always told her that she could do anything a man could do. She certainly proved him right, but it’s almost like she thinks she can’t be successful and be a woman. The fact that she’s wearing a dress for your wedding is a testament to how much she cares about you. I don’t get why it’s such a big deal to her. Does she think she’ll lose it all if she wears a dress one time?”
“I told you, no one is immune to fear.”
Something in her sister’s voice gave her pause. “Are you nervous about today, Abby?” She didn’t look nervous, but the closer she and her sister became the more Lil saw that Abby worried just as much as she did–she just hid it better.
Abby gave her a shaky smile. “I love him, Lil, but sometimes I wonder if I can do this. Did you see his side of the invitation list? What if I make a fool out of myself out there today? I have to study before I meet new people so I’ll know how to address them; actually study with Marie. Is that really the woman Dominic wants at his side for the rest of his life?”
Lil hugged her sister. “Dominic told me that he’s a better man because of you. I don’t think he gives a flying squirrel if you mess up when you greet some head of state. And didn’t you tell me that beneath all the money, these people are just as messed up as we are?”