Rise of the Billionaire
Page 21

 Ruth Cardello

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Jeremy’s head snapped around. Did he really just say that?
Alessandro shrugged and smiled. “Don’t tell my wife, but sometimes I get her angry just to spice it up.” The older man dismissed Jeremy’s surprised look. “You’ll understand after you’re married awhile.” He tossed his chin at Romario and said, “Papa doesn’t look very happy with you, my friend.”
Jeremy didn’t spare Jeisa’s father a glance. “I don’t care what he thinks of me.”
Alessandro’s voice deepened as he said, “Yes, you do. And so does Jeisa. You’re a good man, Jeremy. I have no doubt you’ll win him over as I did Elise’s father. Show him that you will be good to his daughter and he’ll overlook many things.”
A weight lifted from Jeremy’s chest. He and Alessandro had spoken at length during several past functions and Jeremy felt comfortable with him. He was exactly what he appeared to be: a self-made man who loved his family very much. Alessandro and his brother, Victor, shared an enjoyment of people that made everyone feel like a part of their family, regardless of the length of their acquaintance. Across the foyer, his mother was huddled with Elise and appeared to have discovered the same quality in her. It was good to see his mother laugh again, and he regretted not doing more to remove her worries earlier. This is all going to work out.
The absence of an older generation made Jeremy inquire, “Are you still close to Elise’s father?”
A shadow passed over the older man’s face. “He left us about eight years ago. A good reminder why not to keep a grudge, no? None of us are meant to be here forever. When you remember that, it’s much easier to sort out the important from what should be forgotten. Jeisa’s papa is here to protect his little girl. Respect that. It’s his love for her that will outlive him, not whatever he says today.”
Jeremy nodded. “You’re a very wise man, you know that, Al?”
Alessandro’s smile widened and he gave Jeremy’s back a final pat. “I’ve always thought so, but don’t tell Victor. He likes to think he’s the smart one.” After checking on the progress of the others, Alessandro said, “Most of the men are in the solarium and on the patio. Come, it looks like my brother is herding your future papa that way.”
Jeremy hesitated. He wanted to say something to Jeisa, but didn’t know where to begin.
Noting the direction of Jeremy’s attention, Alessandro said, “Eat first, then talk to her. Everyone’s temper is better on a full stomach.”
Jeremy wasn’t sure turkey would soften Jeisa’s mood, but he wasn’t about to ignore sage advice from a man with a happy marriage and a loving family. Evidence of his expertise on family matters was scattered throughout the house in the form of multiple generations.
Jeisa watched Victor Andrade lead her father away, leaving her with Victor’s wife, Katrine, a tall Norwegian blonde who looked like she could still grace the cover of a fashion magazine. “Everyone will be thrilled that you’ve arrived, Jeisa,” Katrine said. “Come, they’re gathered in the kitchen.”
The infamous Andrade kitchen. Jake’s fiancée, Lil, had described it to her once, but it was larger than she’d imagined and a bit overwhelming at first. Everywhere Jeisa looked, the women were dressed in high-fashion gowns and enough diamonds to support a small nation. Her nude silk Carlos Miele spaghetti-strap gown was simple and fit in perfectly with what the other women had worn.
Through her time with Jeremy, Jeisa had gotten to know each of the women in the room. Alessandro’s wife, Elise, was an elegantly dressed, petite, auburn-haired woman in her fifties who gracefully shared her role of hostess with her much taller and equally exquisitely dressed sister-in-law, Katrine. Although Alessandro and Elise owned the home, they lovingly shared it with Victor and Katrine when they visited. It was hard not to envy the closeness of the group.
Although the women had chosen the kitchen as a meeting area, it was obvious from the wine in their hands and their attire that their choice had nothing to do with cooking. One loud Frenchman was barking out orders to the kitchen staff as he orchestrated the countless dishes that were cooking on every heated surface.
Lil bounded forward in a deep-blue formfitting Mouret gown with her infant daughter, Colby—dressed in a complementary light-blue cotton dress and sweater—on her hip. Another woman might have handed her daughter off to a nanny, afraid that the young child might mar the perfection of her dress, but Lil looked unconcerned. “So, let’s see it.”
Her sister, Abby, was equally elegantly dressed in a melon-hued Oscar de la Renta strapless maternity dress with her hair swept up in a style that looked both effortless and modern at the same time. She rushed to her sister’s side and said, “Lil, give her a minute to settle in.”
Feeling like she’d walked onto a stage and forgotten her next line, Jeisa looked around the room and noted that all eyes were on her, waiting for her to say something. She directed her question to the most reliable source of unfiltered truth. “See what, Lil?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jeremy’s mother shaking her head and waving for them to stop.
Lil looked down at Jeisa’s left hand, then back to her face, and went red. “Ooh . . .”
Abby suddenly also looked quite uncomfortable. “Lil, didn’t you want to change Colby before dinner? We should probably do it now.”
Lil glared at her sister. “Come on, how was I supposed to know?”
Abby sighed. “I’m not saying it’s your fault, I’m just . . .”
Jeisa’s temper rose. “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”
Elise’s daughter, Maddy, stepped into the group. Her playful manner made it impossible to do anything but smile when one saw her. She said, “Don’t mind them, I’m sure they’ve been dipping into the cooking wine.”
Therese said softly, “I am so sorry, Jeisa. I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just that Jeremy was so excited and I was positive that we’d be greeting a newly engaged couple.”
A growing understanding made the room spin. Jeisa held onto the back of one of the chairs. “A what?”
Lil spoke to the room in general, “I really don’t think she knows.”
In a softer tone, Abby suggested, “Maybe we should give Jeisa a minute alone with Therese.”
No one moved.
Jeisa felt her face drain of color and her mouth dried. She searched the faces of the women around her and whispered, “Jeremy was going to ask me to marry him, wasn’t he?”
His mother nodded.
Suddenly the helicopter of roses made sense. Oh, my God. And I brought my father. She started to laugh and cry at the same time.
Lil turned to Maddy and said, “Get her some of that wine you were joking about before she passes out.”
Jeisa collapsed into the seat Katrine offered her, letting the events of the day run through her head again. What she’d thought had been part of a seduction scene had an entirely new meaning now that she knew what his real intention had been. The rose petals on the white carpet, the champagne—it all made sense now. “He was going to ask me to marry him.”
Maddy handed her a glass of red wine. “This is my husband’s own label. Careful, it has a kick.”
Jeisa downed it in one gulp, barely tasting it. All that planning to give me the perfect proposal and instead he gets grilled by my father and I tell him that I hate him. I don’t hate him. “I love him,” she said aloud.
Lil laughed and bounced her baby. “We all pretty much guessed that part. What happened to the proposal?”
Abby cautioned, “Some things are none of our business, Lil.”
Maddy chimed in with her opinion. “I have to agree with Lil on this one. I’m not going to be able to eat unless I know. I’ve got that nervous churning in my stomach again.”
Elise hugged her daughter. “You’re probably just pregnant again.”
Maddy rolled her eyes. “I think I would know if I were pregnant.” She looked up at the ceiling and started counting on her fingers. “Oh, my God, I could be. I thought you couldn’t get pregnant while breast-feeding.”
A quiet observer until then, Dominic’s sister, Nicole Corisi, stepped forward and joked, “If you are, Maddy, I’m not going anywhere with you until the baby is born.”
Jeisa looked questioningly at Nicole.
Lil explained, “Nicole delivered Maddy’s son, Joseph, in a limo. I can’t believe we never told you that story. That was back when Nicole pretended she was engaged to Stephan but they weren’t even dating. He was so angry when he found out. It took them forever to figure out that they were meant for each other.”
Nicole blushed. “I thought we were talking about Jeisa and Jeremy.”
With that, everyone’s attention turned back to Jeisa, who was feeling a bit sick from the wine she’d guzzled. “What can I say? He didn’t ask me.” She closed her eyes for an embarrassed moment and admitted, “Of course, he didn’t know that my father would join us for the trip.”
The ever-optimistic Maddy clapped her hands happily. “That’s it, all we have to do is give the two of you a little time together and he’ll pop the question.”
Jeisa’s eyes flew open and she admitted her mistake. She stood and hugged her arms around her waist. “I told him that I hate him.”
Elise laughed and waved a hand in the air for emphasis. “I tell Alessandro that all the time. Sometimes that man knows just how to rile me. It means nothing.”
Jeisa hedged, “I don’t know . . .”
Jeremy’s mother, Therese, said, “Maybe we shouldn’t push . . .”
Abby nodded in agreement. “Jeisa, we’re here for you. You can tell us to mind our own business and we will.” She looked pointedly at Lil, who smiled back at her sister, promising nothing. “But if you want to marry him, you’ve got some of the finest matchmakers in the world right here. I can’t figure out how they do it, but somehow the stars align and their crazy schemes work.”
With a whoop of surprise, Lil grabbed her sister and hugged her. “Abby, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about my ideas.”
Abby hugged her back, a rueful smile on her face. “I didn’t say they weren’t crazy, I just said they tend to work out.”
Maddy snapped her fingers in the air. “I’ve got it. After dinner, Richard can ask Jeremy to come to the kitchen and we’ll make sure no one but Jeisa is in here.”
Her French husband walked up behind her, slid both of his arms around her waist, and nuzzled her neck. “Is that all I am to you? A patsy?”
Wrinkling her nose at Richard, Maddy teased, “You know you love it, Richard.”
“I’ll tell you what I love,” he growled suggestively and whispered something into her ear that made her blush.
Maddy’s smile held a cheeky promise. “Only if you get Jeremy in here after dinner.”