PRESIDENTIAL ARMS BALLROOM - CHICAGO, IL
no reason for you to be nervous," Joyce Preston whispered into her daughter
Sara's ear. "You look stunning. Anyone in their right mind
would be proud to have you as their daughter-in-law."
"Well, Dane's parents aren't just
anyone," Sara Manchester muttered, her voice shaking with anxiety.
"Mr. Manchester is running for state senate and..."
"Sara, there they are," Dane
Manchester spoke up as he took his wife's hand and nodded across the room.
As she followed her husband's lead, Sara
inhaled deeply, hoping that the breath would calm the butterflies in her
stomach. Unfortunately, those pesky butterflies weren't about to be
"Father, Mother," Dane spoke up as
he walked up behind them and waited for them to turn around to greet him.
"It's so...good to see you again."
"Dane!" Olivia Manchester exclaimed
and threw her arms open wide so that she could hug her youngest son.
"It's been far too long."
"Yes, Mother, it has." His
tone was cordial, polite, and respectful -- the only tone he'd ever been allowed
to use with her.
"Let me look at you." Olivia
stepped back to arms length, keeping her hands on her son's shoulders, and eyed
him up and down. "You're looking healthy -- fit as always. I
take it that your studies are going well?"
"Splendid!" Her attention
left him as she began to look around. "Where's that girl you ran off
and married? You did bring her, didn't you?"
"I didn't 'run off'..."
would be me, Mrs. Manchester," Sara spoke up at Joyce's prodding and
extended her hand to greet her mother-in-law. "I'm Sara, Dane's
"Sara," Olivia repeated the name as
she stepped away from Dane so that she could stand directly in front of
Sara. She cocked her head sideways and inspected Sara closely. She
carefully looked her over from top to bottom, nodding every so often as if she
were making a mental inventory.
"Is...something wrong?" Sara asked
nervously, her eyes darting towards her mother as if to catch some sort of clue
as to what mistake she'd made.
"Oh, not at all, dear," Olivia
smiled. "I just want to see the type of girl my son's decided to make
his bride." She paused as she rested her chin on her index
finger. "You're not blonde. I'm surprised."
"Why, yes," Olivia laughed.
"You see, my darling Dane has always seemed to have a penchant for
fair-haired girls. Dane, whatever happened to that girl from Manhattan you
"I...um..." Dane stammered,
immediately uncomfortable by the direction of the conversation.
"She...Jillian got married a few weeks ago."
"Pity," Olivia sighed.
"She was from such a good family."
"So, where'd Father disappear to?"
Dane spoke up in an attempt to steer the conversation in a different
direction. "I could have sworn that he was right here."
know your father," Olivia laughed. "He's so into this political
campaign that he's always going here and there trying to make a good impression
with his possible supporters." She began looking around, hoping to
catch a glimpse of her husband. "Oh, there he is! Nigel!
Nigel, dear, come here and meet our new daughter-in-law."
"Well, well, well," Nigel
Manchester spoke up as he pulled away from one of his campaign managers and
joined his family. "If it's not the prodigal son."
"Father," Dane nodded politely.
"And this must be that girl you
married." Nigel nodded towards Sara. He stopped for a moment
and eyed her closely. "I guess she'll do."
"Mr. Manchester, it's so good to finally
meet you," Sara smiled warmly and extended her hand. When it simply
hung in the air without Dane's father even acknowledging that it was there, she
quickly pulled it back. "I've...heard so much about you."
"Too bad I can't say the same," he
muttered in reply. His attention was soon drawn by Joyce who standing
right behind Sara. "And who's this lovely lady?"
"I'm Sara's mother," Joyce beamed
proudly and stepped forward, extending her own hand which Nigel quickly
accepted. "My name's Joyce Preston. Perhaps you've heard of my
late husband -- Thornton
"The author?" Olivia's eyes
grew wide with surprise. "Dane, you didn't tell us that Sara was the
daughter of such a famous author."
"But, I'm not...."
Thornton was Sara's step-father," Joyce corrected. "Sara's real
father..." Her eyes darted to Sara and then back to Olivia.
"Well, he died when Sara was very young. She never really had a
chance to know him. But my darling Thornton was extremely devoted to
Sara. In fact, he regarded her as his own flesh and blood." She
quickly stepped in front of Sara in an attempt to hide the obvious shock that
registered on Sara's face as a result of Joyce's blatant lies.
"I see," Nigel nodded, taking in
everything Joyce was saying. "But...aren't you far too young to have a
daughter this old, Mrs. Preston?"
"You're much to gracious," Joyce
laughed warmly, her hand fluttering up to her neck in feigned
embarrassment. "Mrs. Manchester, you're husband is quite the charmer,
"Quite," Olivia replied dryly.
"You know, Mr. Manchester, I've always
been fascinated by politics." Joyce moved closer to him and took him
by the arm. "Perhaps I can get you alone and you can fill me in on
the particulars of you campaign?"
"Maybe a little later," Nigel
smiled as he patted Joyce's hand. "First, I'd like to have a few
words alone with my son."
Dane felt a lump start to form in his
throat. "Yes, Father."
"Ladies, if you'll excuse us, Dane and I
need to have a talk." Nigel took his son by the arm and nodded
politely. "It'll give you girls a chance to become better acquainted."
As Nigel quickly led Dane off towards a
private corner for their "talk", Dane dreaded hearing those words of
fatherly advice that he knew he was about to get.
what do you think of Sara?" Dane finally asked once they were out of
earshot. "She's a wonderful girl with a good head on her shoulders
"She's completely wrong for you,
son," Nigel interrupted. "Not the right breeding at all.
You really should have married that Stokes girl. Now there was a girl with
the perfect background and upbringing."
"Jillian married someone else,"
Dane reminded carefully.
"Why do you always let the good ones get
away?" Nigel sighed. "Well, what's done is done. Her
mother is charming enough, though." He turned and glanced back in
Joyce's direction. "What do you know about that girl's real
"I...um..." Dane paused and
took a deep breath. "Not much, really. Only what Joyce and Sara
have told me." He paused again. "It's like Sara's mother
said, her father died when she was very young. Joyce later married Mr.
Preston and he pretty much thought of Sara as his own daughter." His
stopped and his eyes darted back towards his wife. "He did leave his
entire estate to us, after all."
"So I've heard." Nigel
covered his mouth with his hand and slowly nodded, clearly deep in
thought. "Maybe we can work with this. Maybe my advisors can
fix this with the press."
Nigel sighed and shook his head, "why did you have to run off and marry
that girl? I've told you a thousand times that a boy of your stature
shouldn't even consider marriage until he's much older. And marriage to a
girl like that!" He shook his head again. "You just never
think about how your public actions reflect on this family. If I've
told you once, I've told you a thousand times, you can do whatever you wish with
whomever you wish as long as you're discrete. But you never make one of
those private indiscretions public." He looked back at Sara.
"And it doesn't get much more public than by getting married. I can
tell you one thing -- Grant would never have done this to this family."
"No," Dane muttered, annoyed by the
mention of his older brother's name. "No, I'm sure he wouldn't