Authors: Annie Sauder-Wallen
Contract to Love
By Annie Sauder Wallen
“All in favor.” All hands went up. “All opposed.” Sabin’s eyes glanced around the table. No one would oppose what he wanted. His eyes came to rest on his grandson who sat beside him. Young Sabin would be a great leader one day, but if business were conducted as it had been in the past, Jack, Orlando’s son, would inherit everything. Everyone knew that Sabin would, of course, make the final decision, of all his sons and grandsons, young Sabin was most like him.
“One more item before we leave today,” Sabin said watching all eyes. “A young woman has opened a new furniture store right in our district. Her business must be crushed!” Sabin said with a vengeance. “We cannot let new business come in; it would hurt all we do.”
“What do you suggest, Papa,” Orlando asked.
“Since our unfortunate incident with the Torrolli brothers, the police have been watching us like a hawk,” Sabin explained, “So we can’t get rid of her.”
“I have an idea,” Sabin continued, “Young Sabin will court her.”
“What?” Lawrence gasped. “Me, you’ve got to be kidding? How would that help?”
All eyes turned to Sabin.
“When we try to scare her into selling, the police won’t believe we would do that do a girl being courted by my grandson.”
All heads nodded together. It was true. This is a good way to keep their business running smoothly. If the girl moved in, their business would suffer, and give others the idea they were not as powerful anymore. The Karapellis wouldn’t accept that.
“Young Sabin?” Sabin questioned.
“If it is your will, Nonno, of course.” Lawrence answered.
“All right, meeting adjourned, Mario, get me Lorenzo Doletti on the phone. He owes me a favor.”
Elizabeth anxiously watched the embers of the fire burn her new furniture store. Oh, how she dreaded telling her father. John Sanders had argued with his daughter about moving so far away, and opening his chain furniture store. Elizabeth wanted to make her father proud. Her brothers had made a success of their furniture stores. Now she wanted to prove to all of them she could do it. But her dream was burning around her.
“Ma’am, the damage seems to be contained in only one room. You sure were lucky. The fire seemed to be cause by and electrical outlet.”
“Thank You.” Elizabeth said absent-mindedly. Her mind already thinking about what to say to her father.
The next day Elizabeth spent cleaning the room that had the most damage. Her father begged her to come home, but she told him she would still succeed. She could make the store a success. He finally agreed to send money to pay for the damage since she still had no insurance.
Elizabeth swirled around so caught up in her own thoughts she had not heard anyone come in
“Hello,” she said tentatively.
“I see you have had trouble lately.”
“Yes, can I help you?” Elizabeth asked still unsure. Her father had warned her to be wary of other people.
“My name is Lawrence. I live down the street. I was wondering if I could help you clean?” Lawrence asked.
“You want to help me? Why?” Elizabeth wondered.
“Well, you are my neighbor.” Lawrence answered.
He was tall, dark, and handsome. His hair and eyes were as dark as night. His boyish grin whispered of mischief. His strong, powerful arms could hold her in the dark of night.
“Ms. Sanders, are you all right?” Lawrence asked.
“Um, yes, of course. If you are sure you want to help, those boxes could be taken out.” Elizabeth stammered.
“Sure.” Lawrence answered easily. They worked the rest of the afternoon chatting comfortably.
“Thank you for your help, neighbor.” Elizabeth smiled.
“Sure, no problem. Since we have been working all evening, how about supper tonight?” Lawrence asked smoothly.
Elizabeth chewed nervously on her bottom lip. Should she go out with him? After her earlier thoughts, she wasn’t sure, but they got along so easily that afternoon. They talked about furniture, birds, weather and nothings. But could she trust herself and her thoughts?
“Well, what do you say, Elizabeth?”
“Ok, I would love to.” Elizabeth agreed.
His strong hand grasped hers lightly and he led her out the door. Where had that electric shock come from that shot up her arm? Had she imagined it? Lawrence didn’t act like he felt anything. He just smiled his boyish smile. Oh, those lips!
After a week of hard work, Elizabeth and Lawrence had set the store to rights again. It soon would be time for the new reopening. Elizabeth and Lawrence seemed to get along so well. His help was almost too good to be true. He just appeared at the moment she needed him the most. Every evening he would come by and help her clean. Then they would go out to supper to a nearby restaurant.
On Sunday night, Lawrence had called and invited her to a celebration dinner. Tomorrow would be her grand reopening. She quickly accepted. Now she had to decide what to wear. Since last week, she couldn’t stop thinking about the man. His dark eyes and hair, and those strong, powerful arms. She wanted this evening to be perfect. Should she choose the sleeveless black dress or the low-cut red dress? The red dress!
Elizabeth glanced in the mirror one last time. Then grabbed her purse and made her way to her small living room above the store.
“Hello.” Lawrence said as his eyes appreciably taking her in the stopping at her breasts. Elizabeth blushed. Lawrence chuckled.
“We have reservations at The Waterfront.” Lawrence said taking her hand.
“Did your dad send any money for the insurance yet?” Lawrence asked.
“Not yet, and I hate to call him back. He will just beg me to come home. He was livid when I told him about the fire.”
“Why would he beg you to come home?”
“Well, I am his only daughter, and he doesn't think I can handle it. I have four older brothers that started a store like my fathers’. I want to prove to him I can run my own business myself.” Elizabeth stated emphatically. Lawrence dared not try to contradict what she said even though his job was to make sure she didn’t succeed.
“What about your mother and sisters? so do they help in the business?” Elizabeth asked curiously.
“No, my grandfather is from the Old World. Women are partners to their husbands only in love.” Lawrence continued, “My mother told me she nearly went crazy after she married my father, Mario. Her father allowed her to help in business. They grew grapes and made wine.”
Elizabeth listened intently trying to concentrate on his words and not those lips.
“So tell me how the furniture business is different in your family. There are a lot of people that run it. In our family business, there has been my father. Then my brothers moved and started their furniture business. So ours has always been a small business.”
“Well, my grandfather is the head of business. Then next in line is my Uncle Orlando because he is the oldest. Then is my father, Mario, and uncles Romeo and Fabian. Then the grandsons, Jack and John, Orlando’s sons, me, and Thomas, Romeo’s son. Uncle Fabian doesn’t have any sons.” Lawrence explained. “When my grandfather passed on, Orlando will be the main boss, with Jack and John to inherit everything. But my grandfather will make the final decision if he feels someone is better suited for the position. I want to be the head businessman someday!” Lawrence finished with a cold look in his dark eyes.
Thankfully the waiter brought their entrees. They ate in silence for awhile. Then talked about the water, and boats. Elizabeth was not going to talk about business again. She didn’t want to see the cold, determined look in those eyes.
He walked her upstairs to her room.
“Thank you, I had a great it--,” She didn’t get to finish her sentence he captured her lips with his own wonderful lips. Masterful lips. His kiss was gentle, at first, then it deepened hungrily. Her arms enclose around his neck. Her fingers ran through his dark hair. His hand found her breast and squeezed gently. Then his had moved up and slipped the red fabric off exposing her creamy, supple breasts. His warm mouth found each nipple hardened and begging for more. Then he quickly stood up and walked out the door. She stood their naked to the waist aroused, and confused.
This week had been a success with her new reopening. Lawrence came by every evening. Nothing was said about last Sunday night. Every time Elizabeth thought about it she blushed. When Lawrence came, he would bring little gifts to her. Then he would lean in, steal a kiss, but things never went further than that. Then he would turn, grab the key and lock up her store. On Saturday, Elizabeth decided to visit some friends, while Lawrence decided to stay home and catch-up on business.
In the middle of her meal, she received a phone call from the police saying her store had been robbed. She hastily made her way back home. All the furniture had been taken.
“Maam, the intruder appeared to have used a key to get in. Have you given anyone a key?”
“No, I haven’t...” Elizabeth trailed off.
“Does someone know about the key?” the policeman asked.
Elizabeth assured him no one knew, but her didn’t look very convinced. He told her if she remembered, to give him a call.
Oh, she was calling someone all right, but it was not the police. She quickly dialed Lawrence's number with her shaking fingers.
“Hello?” the deep voice answered.
“Where have you been tonight?” Elizabeth said trying to keep her voice even.
“What’s wrong, Elizabeth?” Lawrence asked concerned.
“You broke in my store, and stole my furniture!” Elizabeth said in a rush and on the verge of tears.
“Calm down. Think about what you just accused me of.”
Elizabeth broke down and cried.
“There, there, now tell me how it happened.” Lawrence comforted.
“Well,” sniffed Elizabeth, “someone used my key and broke in my store. All my furniture downstairs is gone...” Elizabeth started sobbing again.
“Elizabeth, any one could have found that key. It’s under the rock by the door. Tomorrow you will call the insurance company.” Lawrence dictated.
Elizabeth agreed and said she would call tomorrow. She apologized about accusing him of doing the deed. He assured her everything was all right.
The insurance money came in, and Elizabeth used it to order new furniture. Lawrence helped her pick out the most popular items. She still felt bad about accusing him. He would just shrug and say no problem. They had been out to dinner every night this week along with plays, ballet, opera, and dancing. At the end of each date, he would kiss her lightly on the lips. Then turn and leave. And yet, with each kiss her love deepened. Yes, it was love. She saw that fact staring at her in the mirror. She loved in love. Her blue eyes sparkled. Her cheeks bloomed in color. A permanent smile fixed on her face. She couldn’t stop singing. If she only knew how he felt. He seemed to care for her, but was it love?
A crashing noise jarred her back to the present. She rushed downstairs only to catch two masked men loading up the new sofa she had ordered last week with the insurance money. She turned to run back upstairs and phone the police. Then they turned. They dropped the sofa. One grabbed her arms. The other pushed her to the floor. The one with a black mask slapped her face and her nose started bleeding. The blue-masked one leaned down by her ear and told her to take her business back where it belonged or she would pay the consequences. How odd? He had an Italian accent? Then the black-masked one took the knife and sliced down her arm. Elizabeth then passed out.
Elizabeth vaguely heard a frantic voice call her name. Then carefully she was taken to the hospital.
Elizabeth woke up and looked around the room. Then she heard voices in the hall.
“Mr. Karapelli, she will be fine. She was very lucky. Just keep ice on her eyes and nose, and keep the stitches dry,” the doctor instructed. Then Lawrence came in and kissed her on the forehead. He took her to her friend Mary’s house. When he was satisfied she was all right, he left. He had a bone to pick.