A Very Exclusive Engagement(10)

By: Andrea Laurence

Everyone but Liam. He was polite and distant. He didn’t need her money. Or at least he hadn’t until the ANS deal came up and he didn’t have enough liquid assets to buy a majority stake quickly. Other people also were interested in the company, including leeches like Ron Wheeler, who specialized in hacking businesses to bits for profit. To move fast, Liam had had to swallow his pride and ask his aunt to invest in the remaining shares of ANS that he couldn’t afford. Together, they had controlling interest of the company, and by designating her voting powers to him, Aunt Beatrice had put Liam in charge.

Liam had every intention of slowly buying her out over time, but he wouldn’t be able to do so for quite a while. So now, at long last, Aunt Beatrice had something to hold over his head. And when she snapped, for the first time in his life, he had to jump.

“Dinner is at six,” she said, either oblivious or unconcerned about his unhappy silence on the end of the line.

“Yes, Aunt Beatrice. I’ll see you at six.”

After he hung up the phone, he eyed the clock and realized he didn’t have long to get over to her Upper East Side mansion in rush hour traffic. He’d do better to walk, so he needed to get out the door soon.

It was just as well that Francesca had turned down his dinner date so he didn’t have to cancel. That would’ve pained him terribly, even after knowing what she’d called him.

“Son of a pig farmer,” he muttered to himself as he got dressed.

He opted for a gray suit with a pale purple dress shirt and no tie. He hated ties and only wore them when absolutely necessary. Today, he’d felt like he needed to look important and in control at the board meeting. He didn’t want the ANS directors to think they were in the hands of a laid-back dreamer. But as soon as he had a strong foothold in the company, the ties would be gone.

Tonight, he left it off simply because he knew to do so would aggravate Aunt Beatrice. She liked formal dress for dinner but had given up long ago on the family going to that much trouble. She did, however, still expect a jacket and tie for the men and a dress and hosiery for the ladies. It was only proper. Leaving off the tie would be a small but noted rebellion on his part. He didn’t want her to think she had him completely under her thumb.

It wasn’t until he rang the doorbell that he remembered her mentioning something about an important issue she wanted to discuss. He couldn’t imagine what it could be, but he sincerely hoped it didn’t involve him dating someone’s daughter. Aunt Beatrice was single-minded in her pursuit of marriage and family for Liam. He couldn’t fathom why she cared.

“Good evening, Mr. Crowe,” her ancient butler Henry said as he opened the door.

Henry had worked for his aunt Liam’s entire life and a good number of years before that. The man was in his seventies now but as spry and chipper as ever.

“Good evening, Henry. How is she tonight?” he asked, leaning in to the elderly man and lowering his voice.

“She’s had a bee in her bonnet about something all afternoon, sir. She made quite a few calls once the power was restored.”

Liam frowned. “Any idea what it’s about?”

“I don’t. But I would assume it involves you because you were the only one invited to dinner this evening.”

That was odd. Usually Aunt Beatrice invited at least two family members to dinner. She enjoyed watching them try to one-up each other all night and get in her good favor. It really was a ridiculous exercise, but it was amazing what the family would do just because she asked. His grandfather, Aunt Beatrice’s brother, had never had much to do with her, so neither did that branch of the family. It was only after all the others of the generation had died that she took over as matriarch. Then, even Liam’s part of the family was drawn back into the fold.

Liam held his tongue as Henry led him through the parlor and into the formal dining room. When a larger group was expected, Aunt Beatrice would greet her guests in the parlor and then adjourn to the dining room when everyone had arrived. Apparently because it was just him they bypassed the formalities and went straight to dinner.

Aunt Beatrice was there in her seat at the head of the long, oak table, looking regal as always. Her gray hair was curled perfectly, her rose chiffon dress nicely accented by the pink sapphire necklace and earrings she paired with it. She didn’t smile as he entered. Instead, she evaluated him from top to bottom, her lips tightening into a frown when she noted his lack of tie.

“Good evening, Aunt Beatrice,” he said with a wide smile to counter her grimace. He came around the table and placed a kiss on her cheek before sitting down at the place setting to her right.