Sold into Marriage(10)

By: Ann Major

“Loneliness. So that’s why you came down tonight?”

“I guess.”

“I know what that’s like,” he said. “Even back home in Texas surrounded by all my associates, ranch hands, clients and family, I feel lonely.”

“Even with your girlfriend?”

He refused to think about Abigail. Instead he thought of his huge modern house, constructed of glass and steel, on its limestone hill. How cold and lifeless it always seemed…even with Bob there to run things so perfectly.

“I dread going home at night,” he said. “My house is beautiful with towering glass windows. The whole city of Austin looks like jewels scattered beneath it.”

“Big houses are the loneliest houses,” she said.

“Maybe that’s why I work all the time,” he said.

“Do you have friends?”

“Yes, but my friendships are all about networking and getting ahead.”

That was how Abigail operated, too. She was brilliant, super-efficient. People had to be worth knowing careerwise or socially for her to bother with them.

“But that sounds so cold,” Josie said.

“Maybe. Outside of work, I rarely talk to these people.”

Strange, that he hadn’t realized how lonely he was before tonight…. With Josie.

For no reason at all he remembered how easy he used to feel with both his brothers before Ethan’s death. Back then, Adam had had real friendships and real feelings.

With a quick frown Adam killed that dangerous train of thought by changing the subject. “How about you?” he said.

He asked Josie about her life. When she began to open up about herself, about her brothers, about her awful childhood in the Atchafalaya Swamp, Adam began to relax as he hadn’t in years.

“So, for years I thought I was swamp trash, and then these tall young men roared up to our barge in an airboat. It was like a dream.”

She smiled. “They totally intimidated me. Even before they told me who I was and brought me home. Home being this enormous, southern mansion in one of the oldest, most prestigious neighborhoods in New Orleans. I spoke this terrible, backwater French none of them understood. And my manners were wild. I didn’t know how to hold a fork or a knife. I was dirty, shoeless and in ragged jeans. The soles of my feet were so black and tough, it took six months of scrubbing and wearing shoes all the time to turn them pink and soft.”

She sighed. “My mother stared at me with such horror that day on her veranda. She couldn’t believe what had happened to me. I’d dreamed of having a mother like her, and my brothers told me that the minute their father died she’d begun to weep for the daughter she’d been forced to give away. So, she wanted me, I guess. But that day I didn’t know that. All I saw was how she frowned. When she ordered the maid and her daughter, Brianna, to bathe me in a big sink in the utility room adjoining the kitchen. Even after they finished, she didn’t act happy about my coming into the main house. She told me not to touch anything. I got so scared I ran, and so I broke one of her favorite china figurines. We both cried for hours.”

Josie paled at the memory.

“I liked going away to college better.” Her smile brightened. “I got to study art. Not that it was easy to find my medium or my muse.”

Although he listened, he couldn’t really figure out what a muse was exactly. She even mentioned Barnardo in passing, frowning as she said she wasn’t free to give out details because of pending litigation.

She really did seem to be a nice person. He felt like a heel for coming here to buy her off. But not for watching her. That bizarre lapse held some elusive truth he couldn’t evade.

She told him all about Brianna, her boss, who was the daughter of her mother’s onetime maid.

“Brianna was the only person I ever really felt close to as a teenager in that grand house.”

He stared at her, wishing heartily that she wasn’t such a nice person.

“But, Adam, you haven’t told me much about yourself,” she murmured. “Most men…that’s all they talk about.”

He shifted uneasily, dropping his napkin. He leaned down and picked it up. “I already know about me.”

“But I don’t. If you won’t talk to me, I’ll think you have something to hide. Why, you haven’t even told me your last name. I know you’re from Austin and you’re a lawyer and that you have a big house. But that’s all.”

She leaned toward him with a slippery mollusk dripping off her fork again. “Last one. You really should try it….”

He was about to shake his head again, but her big eyes were bright with delight. “Oh, hell, why not live dangerously?”