Little White Lies
Summary: Darien Shields was the last man on earth Serena Tsukino wanted to marry. He was arrogant, overbearing, and well, just plain grumpy! But her grandfather was determined to see her settled down with a husband, and telling him she had married Darien seemed to put his mind at ease…
As far as Darien was concerned, if Serena had told everyone she was his wife—then that's what she would be! Serena was about to find out that it didn't matter how small, or white, the lie was—you always paid for it in the end.
A/N: I own none of the characters duh…..first fanfic so be kind. Constructive criticism appreciated.
"Darling, Darien," Jean Shields gushed patting her grandnephew's hand. "Here comes the angel I've been telling you about." From her usual place at the far end of the yacht's ten-foot dining table, the elderly woman clad in a green sweat suit and a yellow-feathered boa, beckoned with a bejeweled hand toward Serena. "Come here, my dear."
Serena's stride faltered as she entered the dining salon, and she prayed her misstep had gone unnoticed. The second occupant at the table could have been none other than the "great and powerful" president and CEO of Shields, Inc., Darien Shields. The newspaper photos she'd seen of him didn't do the man justice.
The complete opposite of his flighty great-aunt, he was clad in clothes that were sedate yet in vogue. His lightweight cashmere jacket was an icy blue, fitting precisely across stunningly wide shoulders. His cotton shirt was of the ultra-expensive Italian variety, and his abstract-print tie no doubt cost more than the entire complement of the yacht crew's uniforms.
Since the dining table was topped by a rare piece of etched glass, she could see that his long legs were stretched nearly the width of the table. He wore gray slacks and matching wing tips. Entirely, utterly elegant.
He glanced her way at his aunt's prodding. His strong features closed a bit, going from amusement at one of Jean's offbeat quips to mildly curious. His eyes, a deep, rich blue, narrowed, but his dashing smile didn't waver.
Serena just stared. That grin dimpled his cheeks. It was and intriguing, crooked grin, masculine—gorgeous in newspaper photos, but almost frighteningly so in person. It occurred to her that she'd never seen eyes so vividly blue as his, or lashes quite so long. And that neatly trimmed mane of hair. She'd known it was black from his photographs, but now, in his presence, his hair glistened and had somewhat of a shimmer do to the sunlight.
How could she ever have bragged to her poor, sickly grandfather that this paragon of male beauty was her husband! She should have her tongue ripped out for such a brash lie! They weren't in the same universe, let alone the same league—matrimonially speaking! He'd probably marry some countess or movie star. Not an untidy cook, for heaven's sake.
"There's my little kitchen saint." Jean smile, patting the general vicinity of the curls of one of her numerous wigs. This model, Serena liked to think of as the "Cher". Totally unfit for a woman of seventy, it was a frightful riot of brown ringlets that stood out in frothy chaos around her unlined, plump face. Still, she carried off her bizarre dress code with the sweet aplomb of those who don't concern themselves with the small-minded of the world. Aunt Jeannie, as she liked to be called, loved life, loved her grandnephew, herself, everybody else, and her two spoiled pugs—not necessarily in that order. "Why Darien," she exuded, "on Serena's diet, in just four weeks my womanly hormones have shot up to lethal levels." She winked. "I'm a deadly catch now. You just wait and see."
Darien's grin grew wry as he eyed the mandarin salad on the luncheon tray Serena was carrying. "Am I to assume that by the end of this cruise I'll be singing soprano?"
He was looking directly at her now, and she found herself tongue-tied. Though she knew his remarks had been joking, she couldn't seem to get her lips to form a grin. All she could manage was a wide-eyed stare as his glance raked her slender form, from her white deck shoes upward to the tailored, thigh-length shorts and on past her knit shirt to the fresh blush on her cheeks.
"Silly, silly boy," Jeannie admonished, filling the breach with health titter. "A little Soya flower and red clover sprouts would never stand a chance against the raging masculinity of your hormones."
Serena felt an awkward thrill at the mention of his masculinity. She had to agree with Aunt Jeannie. Darien Shields didn't appear to be in imminent danger of losing much ground in that area merely by eating a little "pasture food".
She managed to clear her throat, and belatedly offered, "I-I'll prepare whatever type of dishes you want, sir. I can do steak and potatoes, too."
A well-shaped brow rose as he took in that information. "I'm gratified to hear that." He turned toward his aunt, apparently dismissing her from his mind. She felt that vaguest sense of being chastised, as though it should go without saying that the Shields's would never hire a chef who couldn't do anything asked of her. Or should she feel complimented that he naturally assumed she was completely capable? The man's ambiguous manner was probably one of the reasons he was so successful. He had a gift for keeping rivals off-balance.
Aunt Jeannie waved airily toward Serena. "Come over here, dear. Meet my contrary grandnephew." She grazed his square jaw with her fingers. "I simply couldn't let him leave on his little cruise without seeing him for a few fleeting minutes. If I didn't have that important bingo tournament, I'd stay on board and go with you." She sighed with all the theatrics of a dying Camille. "Darien so rarely visits me, I can hardly recall his face."
How could anyone forget that face! Serena's mind cried—those firm, sensual lips, that stubborn jaw, and the almost supernatural beauty of those dark lashes and handsome mane of hair. She chewed the inside of her cheek, hoping her expression betrayed nothing of her wayward thoughts.
Darien was grinning at his great-aunt. "You fraud. Do really think you'd rather have a lapdog than an income?"
Aunt Jeannie threw back her head and guffawed, both pudgy hands going up to hold her heavy wig in place. "Touché," she chortled. "But I must say, I wonder how you can really be running the company when all I ever see of you is that rakish face in the Miami papers with yet another society nymphet." She shook a ringed finger at him. "And there's the core of the very predicament I must discuss with you, my dear. Your reputation as a playboy and your tyrannical ways with you board of directors is becoming a sticky issue I think you must address."
Serena couldn't see Darien's face, but had a feeling he'd stopped smiling. Jean beckoned to Serena again. "Come here, dear, you be the impartial judge."
Serena hesitated. She knew Jean got quirky ideas into her head, and she had a feeling this wasn't one of her best. "I—I…"
She had no chance to complete her thought for Darien shifted to face her, his jaw working. It was clear he didn't have any intention of his yacht's chef sitting in judgment of him. With a thickly polite smile, he said, "Just leave the lunches, Miss…"
She swallowed. "Tsukino. Ms. Tsukino."
He nodded dismissively. "Ms. Tsukino. I'm sure you have duties to attend to."
A dog grunted loudly from his sprawled position between Aunt Jeannie and Darien. Reaching down to pat at it, Aunt Jeannie huffed, "Jade, you're so right. If that's to be Darien's attitude, I don't know what I can do for him." Directing herself back to her grandnephew, she scolded, "You realize of course that Seiya Braxton has most of you cousins quite charmed. Even though you own forty-one percent of the company stock, I'm beginning to worry about you ability to hold on to control—even with my five percent solidly behind you. You are aware that Seiya and his father before him have been loyal company men, and to be utterly frank, the board is simply frightened of you. Yes," she admonished with a nod so strong her wig skewed down over her eyes. Righting it, she added, "I repeat—frightened. They fell you've bullied them into over—er—exercising in—in a poor envelope—"
Darien frowned at his aunt. "I can see Seiya has been lecturing you, too. But I believe you mean, overextending in a poor economy. And that aggressive tactic," he counseled softly, "along with an excellent product line, is exactly what had made us the success we are."
Jeannie shrugged. "Well, Seiya is loudly touting the need for caution. That appeals to the board right now. If I were you, I'd not take my warning lightly. I know, Darien, dear, you've rarely sought or accepted advice, and you're a loner due to you family's dreadful…" She faltered, looked pained, then regained her poise. "Well, anyway, just listen to me when I say, at least promise that you'll look into more conservative strategies. And for heaven's sake, get that handsome face of yours out of the gossip columns. If you don't expend more energy charming the board and less charming the ladies, for the first time in the company's history, someone outside the family will be elected Chief Executive Officer."
Serena was placing the salads and Jean's pot of ginseng coffee substitute on the table as swiftly as possible. She knew this conversation was none of her business, and she shouldn't be party to it. From the look on Darien's face, it was clear he was working hard to keep his anger under control.
She forced her eyes down and purposefully closed her features. But this new development was intriguing. Could Darien Shields be on the verge of toppling from his majestic seat at the head of Shields Inc.? Well, if her plan succeeded, she just might help topple him!
When she straightened, preparing to go, Darien's gaze snagged hers, and she was struck by the impact. His eyes were dazzling in his irritation, lie fire-lit sapphires. Managing a weak, employee smile, she murmured, "Will there be anything else?" She breathed a sigh of relief that her voice sounded so placid. She was certainly not placid. She was staring into Darien Shield's sparkling gaze, wishing his opponent all the luck in the world. As far as she was concerned, the Shields's were where they were because they'd crawled over the backs of innocents. Maybe it was time they took a hard fall from grace and somebody outside the family grabbed the reins of the company. She was all for that!
"Nothing else, right now," he told her coolly. When she'd turned to go, he added, "And nothing further from you, either, Aunt Jeannie. You know under my management the company has had a major profit increase every year for the past five years. Braxton's chief talent is his knack for exploiting situations. He's a slimy little yes-man, and if he gets board approval, I swear he'll bring this company to its knees in two years—"
"Oh, that reminds me," Jeannie interrupted in an airy trill. "Serena, dear, you neglected to tell us what you've prepared for the rest of our meal."
She was taken aback. Jeanne didn't seem to register that she'd just been soundly reprimanded by her grandnephew and that food had nothing at all to do with the subject they'd been discussing.
Wishing she could escape to calm down and absorb what she had learned, she slowly turned back. She tried to address Aunt Jeannie, the Shields who'd hired her, yet her gaze drifted awkwardly toward Darien. His mouth set in a firm line, his nostrils flaring with outrage. He obviously didn't care a twit about what they were having for lunch. Taking a calming breath, she began, "Steamed clams with a buttery flour roux, seasoned with chopped parsley, green onions and fresh herbs…"
She went on to describe the meal by rote, anxious to get away. This was the most tedious part of her job, but Aunt Jeannie relished the telling. Unfortunately, Serena was having a hard time keeping her mind on the menu. Her glance was drawn again to Darien's ebony mane of hair. It looked thick, yet fine. She imagined it would be wonderful beneath her fingers—to stroke and pat.
"We're having hair for dessert?" Jeannie cried, horrified.
The aghast tone drew Serena back to what she was supposed to be doing. "I beg your pardon?" she asked, not sure she'd heard right.
Darien sat back, his expression skeptical. "My aunt doesn't seem to be thrilled with the idea of eating hair for dessert." His eyes had lost some of their angry glitter, and Serena had a vague fear that he was amused by her slip of the tongue. She had an awful feeling he'd had people surreptitiously admire his dark shimmering hair before—never making quite the fool of themselves as she had, however.
Clearing her throat and feeling irritation at herself for her slip, she backpedaled. "I—er—said—Rasp-beeeeeerrr-y—Raspberry yogurt tarts. You must have misunderstood me." It was a transparent lie, but her pride forced her to try it.
"Ah," Darien murmured with a slow nod. "I'm sure that was it."
Serena faced him, cringing inwardly. His eyes had narrowed further, and he didn't appear all that amused any longer. He wasn't buying it, and obviously didn't appreciate her weak fib. He had some nerve to disapprove of lies, considering his father's, and probably his, business practices! With great effort, she kept her dark thoughts to herself and dragged her eyes from his.
It upset her to realize her hands were shaking and she clutched them together. She lied badly—even small, unimportant ones. This man could read people, see through lies. He was not one to be trifled with, and Serena had a sneaking dread that trying to put anything over on him would be very dangerous, if not impossible.
"Oh, good!" Jeannie exclaimed. "Raspberry yogurt tarts are a favorite of Opal's." Reaching down, she caressed the squashed-in nose of her female pug, lounging on her other side. "I do hope you've made extra."
Serena nodded, backing away. Though she was ignoring Darien with all her might, she knew his gaze was riveted on her, taking in her humiliation. "There are plenty of tarts," she mumbled.
Forcing herself to meet Darien's gaze one again, she asked, "Would you like coffee now, or with desert?"
"Now." He crossed his arms over his chest, adding softly, "Sugar."
She hesitated. He'd called her sugar! She felt and upwelling of indignation. "Excuse me, Mr. Shields," she objected, "but I must insist you call me Ms. Tsukino."
He'd turned away, but when she made her staunch, if a bit tremulous demand, he shifted back. This time his eyes grew openly amused, and his mouth quirked to display a flash of teeth. "Forgive me for offending your sense of propriety, Ms. Tsukino. However, I meant, I take sugar in my coffee."
She blushed fiercely. Wishing she were dead, she could only manage a stiff nod before pivoting away. He'd merely anticipated her next question when he's said "sugar," she'd taken it wrong. She wondered what demented quirk of her mind had made her do that. Now he probably believed she thought he was irresistible or something. Well, he couldn't be more wrong!
Without paying much attention to her surroundings, she hurried through the luxurious dining area and connecting salon. Always before, she'd enjoyed gazing around that bright, open space, alive with indirect sunlight and pale tones. Deep-pile, beige carpeting ran the fifty-foot length of the dining and salon area. Maple and ash wood had been washed by a white stain to emphasize the grain. Touches of lively cinnamons, greens, and vermilions from artwork and sculptures warmed and humanized the room. She loved the room—usually—but right now she saw none of its beauty. All she could see was Darien Shields's taunting grin. Oh, what an idiot she'd made of herself!
The yacht's sparkling and spacious galley was tucked into the port side of the main deck. Glancing absently out the window over the sink, she noticed clouds rolling in. Too bad. The weather had been so nice for the past month. She wondered if the rain clouds were a foreboding of bad things to come. No, no—that was just her guilt getting to her again. She mustn't dwell on it.
Stirring the clam sauce, she nervously peered at her watch, deciding she had a few more minutes before Aunt Jeannie rang for the main course. She'd been the yacht's chef for over a month, and she hadn't been found out, yet. But the thought of trying to deceive a man as perceptive as Mr. Shields made her go weak in the knees.
No matter how impossible the obstacles seemed, she was determined to clear her grandfather's name before he died. The sweet man had lived too many years with a cloud over his reputation. Unfortunately she was no closer to her objective that she had been four weeks ago when she'd started working for Jean. And things weren't looking a bit better for her now that her "bridegroom" had entered the picture.
She'd never done anything even mildly underhanded before, and she didn't know if she could continue to get away with her wild fabrication—having to look into Darien Shields's shrewd eye day after day…
She shook off the foolish thought. He might be what the news magazines called "a genius in the business industry," but he was no mind reader. If she was careful, he couldn't possible find her out before she sprang her trap. She just had to bide her time, pretend to have nothing more on her mind than her cooking, and continue to force herself to act like a compliant employee.
Poor Grandpa Aquino was in such fragile health. His doctor had warned her that he probably had only months left to live. Serena had decided that just in case she couldn't find out the truth in time, she could at least make his final days happy. So she'd called him with the Big Lie—that as the Silver Cat's chef, she'd met and married Darien Shields. What harm, she'd reasoned, could a few cheering phone calls do?
When her butter roux sauce began to thicken, she took it off the flame and eyed her watch again. This delicate sauce was like a hothouse flower. It didn't languish well. She hoped Aunt Jeannie would ring soon.
Rather than torture herself with wild fantasies of discovery, Serena decided she'd be better of thinking positively. She still marveled at her good luck. Twenty-two years old and just out of the Culinary Art Institute of America, she hadn't been the most experienced applicant Jean had interviewed. Shaking her head, she once again thanked providence for her good fortune. It seemed the older woman had so many health concerns, she'd had a hard time find a chef who could keep up with them. However, since healthy eating was one of Serena's top priorities, she'd found favor with Aunt Jeannie right away.
She'd taken the job thinking of all the Shields's as grasping, greedy snobs, but she'd grown to like Aunt Jeannie and felt bad about her deception. She didn't think Jean Shields had been a party to the conspiracy to frame her grandfather and hated the thought of hurting her.
But that might be a moot point now. She'd been stuck on the yacht all month, nowhere near any file where she might get the answers to how her grandfather had been framed and financially ruined.
As she arranged food on the luncheon plates, she thought again of how poor, sweet Mikou had never even defended himself when Damon made his accusations of mismanagement. The harsher term Damon used had been "embezzlement." He'd offered to buy Mikou's half of the company stock for a fair but bargain price, and in return he wouldn't press charges.
Mikou had been the automotive designer, a sensitive artist, not a hard-nosed businessman like Damon Shields. He's merely assumed he'd done something stupid and accepted his firing, sold his stock for Damon's price—stock that today was worth millions of dollars.
It had been Mikou's daughter, Serena's mother, who'd complained to Serena year after year that she was sure Mikou had been framed by Damon Shields, conniving to get the whole company to himself.
After all this time, Serena's mother was dead and gone, and Mikou was dying. If her grandfather's reputation were to be cleansed, it had to be now—had to be by Serena—so he could know it before he died. She only hoped that after this cruise to the Caymans, she'd have a chance to work in the Miami mansion and get access to some old company books she'd heard were stored in the basement.
The green call light flashed on, startling Serena. She untied her apron and put it aside, then picked up the silver tray. Having a thought, she set it back down to scan herself in the stainless-steel refrigerator door. She grimaced, grateful she'd checked. Taking a damp kitchen towel, she swiped at a brown splotch on her breast pocket where the ship's name was embroidered with silver thread. When it didn't leave a stain she breathed a sigh of relief.
Tucking away a stray strand of light blonde hair back into her ponytail at her nape, she shook her head at her murky reflection. At moments like this she wished she were just a little neater at her job. But neat or not, she was a good chef. That's what counted. Aunt Jeannie had rarely ventured into the galley, anyway. And Serena always left the place spotless when the day's work was done. So what was the harm of a little clutter?
Sucking in an apprehensive breath, she retrieved the tray and headed abaft along the narrow hall toward the dining salon. She was startled to see Opal, Aunt Jeannie's female pug, shuffling her way. She grinned wanly at the sweet-natured pet. "He makes you nervous too, huh?" she whispered
When Opal snorted in seeming response, Serena couldn't help suppress a melancholy chuckle.
They'd headed out to sea an hour ago, and the ocean was getting rougher and rougher. Serena swallowed, feeling a tinge of seasickness, and prayed it would quickly pass. She'd rarely been seasick, but the waters had always been calm until now. Or maybe it was just knowing that the crafty Mr. Shields was so near that was making her feel sick. As she wiped the countertops, she tried desperately to get her mind off her queasy stomach and on tonight's menu.
What would a fire-eating tyrant eat? Raw meat? Nails? After a month of preparing dishes of bean sprouts and tofu, she was going to have to switch gears quickly. Ah, she thought perversely, maybe, for dessert tonight, he'd like an arsenic apple!
"Ms. Tsukino?" came a deep voice from the vicinity of the galley entrance.
Serena jerked about, startled that a fire-eating tyrant could move so silently. "Yea—yes, sir?" Heat rushed up her cheeks at her recent wayward thoughts and she hoped once again that his keen gaze couldn't penetrate her brain.
He was lounging against the doorjamb and had changed into blue chambray shorts that displayed his long legs to perfection. His washed-cotton shirt matched exactly. Except for the color, he looked surprisingly like one of the crew. Quite diplomatic of him, Serena mused caustically. A tiny, inner voice said, Nice legs too—tanned, muscular… She worked at ignoring the voice. Darien Shields's legs were none of her business—no matter what she'd told her grandfather about being his blushing bride.
"What the hell happened in here?" he asked, his gaze critical as it shifted around the room.
She fought down a surge of nausea, and clung to the locker handle. She was going to be sick, and his accusing tone wasn't doing her stomach any good. "I—I was just getting a mop," she mumbled, feeling dizzy.
"That's very optimistic. Personally, I'd opt for a bulldozer." His glance fell to a brown puddle of sauce that had dribbled from the countertop to the floor. "Ms. Tsukino," he'd admonished, "with the seas this rough, you could slip on that muck and kill yourself. I've got enough on my mind. I don't need—" He bit off his remark, seeming preoccupied. Maybe he was more disturbed about this Seiya Braxton problem than he'd let on to Jean. "Never mind," he said less harshly. "I just came in for some coffee." He walked to the coffeemaker, got down a mug and poured himself some.
"You could call for coffee, sir."
"I was passing by." He added a teaspoon of sugar, turned to go, then faced her again. "I won't
tell you your job, Ms. Tsukino. I'm sure you're very good or my aunt wouldn't have hired you." He indicated the galley. "But try not to kill yourself or anyone else."
She nodded, swallowing hard. Her seasickness was getting worse by the second.
He peered closely at her. "Do you feel alright?"
"The seas are—uh—a little rough," she offered honestly.
"You should take something."
She blinked. Had she detected a hint of actual humanity in his tone? Surely not! Avoiding the urge to clutch her cramping stomach, she managed, "Yes, sir." She squared her shoulders with effort. "And don't worry. The galley will be shipshape in and hour."
He raised a brow, as though dubious that such a feat were possible even if she'd felt perfect.
"Feel free to come back and check," she blurted, his doubtful silence pricking her pride.
For a moment he studied her with watchful eyes. She had a feeling he was trying to reach into her mind. Offering him a fake smile, she hoped it would throw him off the scent. She knew her tone had been snappish, and he no doubt wondered why. She certainly didn't want him to discover her true feelings for him or the real reason she was working here. After a few seconds he shrugged dismissively, probably deciding her shortness had been because she didn't feel well. "All right, Ms. Tsukino, since you insist, I'll see you in an hour." As suddenly and silently as he had appeared, he was gone.
Serena's stomach lurched, and she gave the empty door a sour look. She had an urge to call after him and tell him she had not insisted, and if she never say him again it would be fine with her! But she was afraid to open her mouth. She only longed to be alive an hour.
whew…that was longer than I thought…sorry. anyways tell me what you think so far. I'll have the second chap up if I get good reviews, otherwise I'll just quit while I'm behind.