(Author's Note: I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about Arabian marriage customs, or any other Arabian customs, whatsoever. Therefore I am apologizing beforehand for any snafus and /or just plain errors. So please, go easy on me on the subject. None of it was done intentionally. However if anyone has any information that they may wish to share with me, e-mail me at
Legal dribble:I do not own Gundam Wing (Darn shame, tho. Then maybe I wouldn't be so broke!) As previously stated, I have NO money. So please don't sue me. I wrote this purely out of the desire to entertain ppl like me who can't get enough of their favorite bishonen pilots. No money is being made off of this. However, Quatre's sisters (except Iria) are my creations. I can't stop you if you like one of them enough to want to use them. I would like to be told, however so that I can read what you have written. Okay? Okay. Now, I'll shut up and we can all get to what we really came here for!)
AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE
"Iria, tell me that this is a joke?!" Quatre Reberba Winner, head of the influential Winner family, CEO of Winner Enterprises and former Gundam pilot, ran a shaking hand through his golden hair. He stared at his older sister in patent disbelief, turquoise eyes wide. He threw the sheaf of papers down on the spotless surface of his desk and stood, a fine trembling running through his entire body. He moved out from behind the large desk and began to pace across the floor of his office.
Iria slid behind the desk, sat down in the chair so recently vacated and started to read through the apparently legal document. Her own eyes widened as she realized why her normally placid younger brother was upset. "An arranged marriage?" she asked, unable to believe it herself. She looked up at her brother, realizing that he wasn't upset. For the first time in his entire life, Quatre was furious! His hands spasmodically clenched and relaxed as he ground his teeth. She eyed him warily. "Quatre…"she ventured. "We can fight this. Surely it can't be legally binding? After all, you never agreed to this—"
Quatre whirled around to glare at her. "Did you finish reading it?" he hissed through clenched teeth. "Did you get to where Father explicitly states what happens if I DON'T honor the contract??"
Iria scanned down the page, finding the section that he spoke of. Shocked, she stared back at him. "No, he wouldn't??"
"It's all there in black and white. Spelled out legally. If I refuse, I will be disinherited and Ahmed becomes the CEO and head of the Winner family," Quatre said, still shaking with barely contained anger.
"Ahmed's an idiot," Iria said, tapping her fingers on the desk. "If he took over the company would be bankrupt and the family in turmoil inside of six months."
"I won't let that crass moron ruin everything I've spent the last five years rebuilding," Quatre stated flatly.
"You sound almost like you're considering this injustice," Iria retorted, indignant that her brother was giving up so easily.
A faint smile appeared on Quatre's pale face. "You sound like WuFei," he said, sitting down in one of the chairs across from the desk. "If I contest this contract, I lose everything. Even if I try to fight it in the courts, it will take time and money and our family will be dragged through the media. Can you imagine the scandal?" he asked rhetorically. "It's bad enough that I have to put up with all the attention and the rumors. Imagine the fun the tabloids would have with this."
Iria nodded thoughtfully. "That's true. And, not to be insensitive, little brother, getting married would be a good way to derail a lot of the rumors."
Quatre sighed. The media paid a great deal of attention to his private life, or lack of one thereof. Recently, a nasty rumor about his sexual preferences had surfaced, causing a great deal of consternation to both him and his various family members. It wasn't that he disliked women, it was that he had decided long ago that he was willing to wait for the right one. And what with the war, then trying to rebuild his family and their business, and then that business with Mariemaia, he had found himself with very little time for a social life. Recent attempts by his sisters and his "aunts" at matchmaking had fallen through. One very nice young lady had taken extreme exception to the paparazzi that always managed to find him and had ambushed them during a candlelit dinner. He sighed again. Maybe his idea of finding love was foolish, but still…
Anytime he was with Trowa and Catherine or Duo and Hilde, he was stricken with conflicting feelings of jealousy and happiness. Happy that two of his good friends had found love, and jealous of their newfound happiness. Even WuFei and Sally had seemed to come to some sort of understanding, or so Duo had told him.
Iria's snort of derision roused him from his increasingly depressing thoughts. "Some birthday present, eh, Quatre?" The look on his face told her that his birthday was the farthest thing from his mind. "Hmm, looks like Alima and I will have to cancel that little bash we had planned. According to this, the wedding is to take place on your twenty-first birthday. That gives you a week to try to figure a way out of this." She scanned long down the page. "I don't believe this. Even the wedding' s been arranged. It's to take place at the bride's home, on Earth. The Summer family, huh? I've heard of them. Father tried to buy them out several times. The head of the family wouldn't budge. Said that he wouldn't sell everything his family worked so hard to create." Iria threw her head back and laughed. "Father, you are a clever old bastard, aren't you."
Quatre eyed his sister worriedly. "Iria, are you okay?"
She wiped laugh tears from her eyes and leaned forward to explain. "I just figured out why Father did this. He'd been trying to buy the Summer Industrial Complex for years. They've been on the cutting edge of computer technology for the last 30 years and have some of the most lucrative patents ever created. Not to mention the chain of mining suit manufacturing plants. The head of the family is Mustafa bin Summer. He's got several daughters but no sons. If you marry the eldest daughter, you'll stand to inherit everything someday as her husband!"
Stunned, he collapsed in his chair, letting all of it sink in. When the phone rang, he almost fell out of his seat. Waving Iria away from the phone, he picked up the receiver. His secretary, Imara Winner, one of his also numerous cousins, was on the line. "Quatre, you have a call from the CEO of the Summer Industrial Complex. He was pretty insistent that I put him through," she explained worriedly.
Who?Iria mouthed as he told her to put the call through. He waved at her again as the caller came on the line. "Hello? This is Quatre Winner speaking."
"Quatre, this is Mustafa bin Summer. I believe we have much to discuss," said the robust voice on the other end of the line. Quatre motioned his sister to be silent and switched on the speakerphone. She leaned back and waited.
"Can I assume that you have been informed of the contract that your father and I had written?" bin Summer continued. "I need to know what your intentions are as to the contract. That way, I can go ahead and begin preparations.
"Mr. Summer," Quatre said, drawing in a deep breath, "I am fully prepared to honor my father's last wish."
"Good, good," came the voice on the other end of the line. Then I will begin preparations immediately. There are a few details that will require your assistance however. And of course, I assume you may have some friends outside of your immediate family you with to invite."
"Yes, of course, Mr. Summer," Quatre began, only to be interrupted.
"Call me Mustafa, after all, in a week, we'll be family," he said cheerfully.
Quatre grimaced and continued. "According to what I have here, the ceremony will take place at your family estates on Earth, correct? I was wondering as to what security measures will be in place. As I'm sure you know, I've had a great deal of problems with the press lately."
"Our home is literally a fortress, Quatre," Summer explained. "There is only one way in or out. Don't worry about the press. In fact, I was going to allow my niece exclusive coverage of the event. That is, if you have no objections."
"Your niece?" Quatre inquired, one eyebrow going up.
"She works for GNN and this would be quite a coup for her. Of course, she will have to clear everything with me before she airs it. Perhaps you've seen her on the newscasts? Jasmine Summer."
Quatre nodded, even though he couldn't be seen. "Yes, I've seen her. She's quite good."
"Well, we like to think so," bin Summer chuckled. "Now on a more sensitive note, there is one matter that needs to be settled as soon as possible. A witness."
"Witness?" Quatre asked, confused. Someone to sign the marriage license? Why would that be overly important.
"Yes. It is stipulated in the contract that the marriage must be consummated. Two witnesses must be able to verify this. One from your family and one from mine. My wife has already agreed to serve on behalf of our family," the older man explained. Quatre's face flushed beet red and he began to breathe harshly. He opened his mouth to let fly a detailed explanation of what could be done with this whole affair, when Iria snapped her fingers at him and made a slashing motion across her throat.
She nodded slowly and pointed to herself, then gave Quatre a thumbs-up. He sagged down in his chair, struggling to control his sudden fit of temper. "I'll make arrangements with my sister," he choked out.
"Good, good," bin Summer said jovially. "I'll be in touch in a few days with all the details. Just don't forget to send me a list of non-family guests. Only those with invitations will be allowed in. Good day, Quatre." Quatre's response was automatic, and he sat, frozen, while Iria reached over to disconnect the phone. She was speaking, but he didn't hear. All he could think about was how, just when he didn't think things could get any worse, another bomb was dropped.
Very pleased, Mustafa bin Summer leaned back in his large, leather covered seat. He had expected a bit more of a struggle from the head of the Winner family. Perhaps what he had heard of the boy was true. He was said to be very savvy, able to see a deal from all angles. The contract worked in his favor, giving him an alliance with the Summer family, and access to all of their business resources. But that door swung both ways. He, Mustafa bin Summer, would be the grandfather of the next head of the Winner family and in a position to exert a great deal of influence. He smiled again, large teeth baring in a sharklike grin. Now, he had only to inform his daughter of the arrangements. He picked up the phone and called his wife, to let her know that he was on his way.
"Seri? It's done. Expect me in half an hour."
"Leila? Are you in here?" The large woman pushed open the double doors and burst into the room. Startled, the girl seated at the writing desk whirled to face her.
"Seri! I've asked you time and again. Please knock first," she said, with a hint of impatience. The older woman waved aside her words and gestured for her to stand.
"Make yourself presentable, girl, your father is on his way. He wishes to speak with you," Seri said, clapping her hands loudly.
Another woman rushed into the room and bowed, "Yes, mistress?"
"The master is on his way. See to it that Leila is ready in ten minutes," she ordered, breezing out of the room.
Leila grimaced and made a rude gesture to her departed step-mother. The servant woman stifled a giggle. "Oh, Mistress Leila, one day she is going to catch you at that."
The girl shrugged and went to the cavernous closet across from the large bed. "She can't make my life any worse than it already is." She pulled out a demure emerald green button front blouse and tossed to the woman. A black pleated skirt soon joined it. "Leila, stand up straight; Leila, don't be so forward," she said in a devastatingly accurate imitation of her step-mother. "How will you be a good wife someday, if you don't heed what I say?" A nervous scratching at the door caught her attention. "Come in, Ilona!"
The door open a fraction and a dark haired little girl slid in. "S-Seri's been l-looking for you," she whispered in a halting voice.
Leila sat down at the dressing table and the servant unbraided her waist length brown hair. "I know, sweetheart. She's already been here. Can you help Melan with the pins, please?" She sat patiently as the two arranged her hair in a braided coronet.
"S-she's happy about s-something," Ilona confided. "S-she and Al-almira both. T-they're out in t-the s-sitting room, making tea and c-coffee. S-she's even g-getting out the g-good dishes."
Leila shrugged. "Father's coming," she said, frowning as she saw her little half-sister go pale. "That's all." She hid her own suspicions; her step-mother was going to entirely too much trouble for a mere visit from her father. She wracked her brain as Melan finished her hair. She had done nothing recently to warrant her father's attention. All her tutors had been pleased with her progress and she had actually earned a degree in music composition. Not that she expected to ever do anything with it. The eldest daughter of the Summer family would not be allowed to do something as plebian as actual work. She was sure that her father would be interviewing "suitors" soon, young men of impeccable breeding and well to do families. Not that she would have much say in the matter, she thought, seething. The heavens forbid that she may have some say in her own life.
"Finished," Melan declared, stepping back to let her mistress examine her handiwork. Leila nodded and began to dress. "Now, Mistress Ilona, let's go and make you pretty for your father," the servant continued, shepherding the child out of the room. Leila found her slippers under the bed and slipped them on, going to join her step-mother and other half-sister in the parlor of the women's quarters.
Seri and her daughter looked up when Leila entered the room, then returned to their perusal of the books scattered across the low table before them. She ignored their mutterings and prepared herself a cup of tea. No sooner had she sat down with it, than the main door opened and her father strode in. Seri leapt up and escorted him to the most comfortable chair.
"Shall I prepare you a drink," she asked, going to the serving cart. He waved her away.
"Let Leila do it," he said cheerfully. "After all, she'll need all the practice she can get." Leila rose and went to the cart, hiding her grimace of distaste. So, that's what this was about. Evidently, the bidding was about to begin. In her opinion that's all it was. She would be sold off to the person with the best to offer her father. She picked up the coffee pot and began to prepare her father a cup of the hot, thick brew.
"You should be happy, Leila," he continued. "The preparations for your wedding are underway, and you'll be wed in a week." The pot slid from her suddenly numb fingers and crashed to the floor. She whirled to face her father, utter shock written across her face.
"W-wedding?" she gasped, unable to comprehend. "F-father, what do you mean??" She ignored the identical looks of smug enjoyment on the faces of her step-mother and half-sister and focused on her father.
"Yes," he went on, "The preparations are underway, and I've just spoken with your fiancé. He's looking forward to the big day as well."
"You should thank your father," Seri interjected, "After all, he's managed to wed you to the most eligible bachelor in the solar system."
Almira smirked at her older sister. "I'd trade places with you in a heartbeat, Leila! You're so lucky!"
"Yes," her father continued. "Quatre Winner is quite a match. I'm sure you'll do the family proud. Now, Seri, about those wedding preparations." He dismissed his daughter and turned to his wife.
"Excuse me," Leila murmured, in a daze. She quietly left the room and went to her bedchamber. Once there, she laid down on her bed and cried.
Quatre looked up as his sister Zahra slipped into his office. She flipped a slim folder at him and sat down while he scanned through its' contents. "That's all you could find?" he asked looking up at her.
She nodded, running a hand through her short brown hair. If a person could be summed up in one word, nondescript would be the word for her. She was of average height, and could pass as a young man or a woman, depending on the situation. Her features were pleasant, but nothing overly memorable. Her appearance served her well, however. She worked for the Preventers as a surveillance operative.
"It appears that the Summer family keeps a tight rein on their daughters," she said, her voice slightly rusty. She was at the family home recovering from a bout of laryngitis and had used all of her considerable sources to look for information when she heard about the situation that had befallen her younger brother. "Sorry I couldn't find more, Quatre."
"That's all right, Zahra, I'm sorry for not being more grateful," Quatre said. "Iria's going to be here in a moment, and we were going to go and have lunch. Will you join us? We don't see much of you, you know." He slipped the folder into his briefcase and spun the locks. He'd look over the information later. For now he intended to enjoy a rare meal with family. The huge Winner estate was mostly empty these days. All of his sisters were either married, working or going to school. Iria was the only one he saw on a regular basis. And that was only because she worked in the main offices.
"Sounds nice. Beats the thought of eating by myself at home," Zahra said, leaning back and kicking her scuffed boots up onto the surface of Quatre's highly polished desk. Quatre rolled his eyes at her and picked up the contracts he had been going over when she had entered. One in particular had caught his attention.
He leaned over and paged his secretary. "Imara, send Tyler up to my office. I have something I want him to look at." Zahra leaned forward, interested, and Quatre slid the document over to her. She took it and began to read.
"Yes," she said. "I see what you mean. Oh and look who's name is on it." She pointed to the relevant line. Quatre nodded and frowned. "Quatre, why don't you save a lot of time and effort and just fire the jackass?"
"He's family," Quatre said with a shrug. "Besides, I prefer to keep him where I can keep an eye on him."
Zahra frowned and leaned back again. "All Ahmed ever does is cause trouble. Somehow, he's gotten the idea that he has a functioning brain. Remember that fiasco when he tried to convince everyone that he should be the CEO?" She frowned, still annoyed at the idea that her little brother was less than competent. Before she could go on, the door opened and a tall, gangly young man rushed in.
"You wanted to see me, Mr. Winner?" he got out, breathing heavily. "If it's about the Marchant contracts, I'll have them by—"
Quatre waved him to a chair, cutting off his hurried explanation. Zahra hid a grin at the other man. "No, no, it's not about the Marchant deal, Tyler. I want you to have a look at this." He handed the paperwork to the other man and waited while he read through it very carefully. Tyler Lane was young, only a few years older than Quatre himself, but he was one of the best contract lawyers in the Earth Sphere. Quatre felt very fortunate to have hired him.
Tyler frowned as he read the document, then looked back up at Quatre. "What does he think he's getting away with? Does he think that if he can gain enough stock in this company, he can take it over?" Quatre shrugged. He really had no idea what went on in his cousin's brain.
"I didn't want to mention this, Quatre, but Cryo-tech has, at best, a shady reputation," Zahra said. "There've been rumors that they're building more than cooling systems for labor suits, if you get my drift." She nodded when he frowned at her. "You might not want to do business with them."
Quatre drummed his fingers on the desktop and thought. "I wasn't aware that we were doing business with them. And how to I keep Ahmed from doing this again is another problem." Suddenly a wicked grin blossomed on his face. "Tyler, take that contract and make sure that nothing comes of it." He rose and shook the other man's hand, than sat back down as he left. "Now, for dear cousin Ahmed." Zahra's grin echoed Quatre's as she waited to see what he had in mind. He picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers. "Get me the head of Personnel." He waited a few seconds. "Yes, hello, Mary. This is Quatre. I need you to pull Ahmed's file. Can you tell me if he has any piloting skills? He does? Mining suits? Wonderful. Thank you so much. Goodbye." He hung up the phone and punched the intercom. "Imara? Ask Ahmed to step up to my office. Thank you."
Zahra rose, laughing. "I'll just go and hide in the conference, room, Quatre. I don't think Ahmed will notice if the door is a bit ajar." Still chuckling, she strode to the door leading to the room where the board met every three months. Five minutes later, Quatre's office door opened and his portly cousin lumbered in. The two men were as opposite as night and day. Quatre had grown in the last few years, reaching a full six feet and two inches. He was still slim, but his well cut business suit hid the muscles he kept toned. Ahmed, however, barely reached five foot seven and was about fifty pounds overweight. He wore his lank black hair pulled back in a ponytail and a scraggly goatee attempted to hide his growing double chin. Quatre hid a grimace at his cousin's messy appearance. He looked like he had slept in the dark blue suit for about three days. An unidentifiable stain marred the wrinkled tie, and his brown loafers were scuffed. He notice a ring of sweat beading his cousin's brow and almost smiled. Evidently he was worried that Quatre had found out about his business arrangements.
Quatre smiled and waved Ahmed to one of the seats. "Thank you for coming so quickly, cousin. I need your help." At that, Ahmed sat up a little straighter and began to smirk. "I need you to supervise a new resource satellite. XJ-199. Construction has just started on the satellite itself and there have been a few problems." Quatre struggled to keep a straight face at the look of dismay on Ahmed's face. Evidently this was not what his cousin had been expecting. "It's a tough job," he continued. "And you're just the person I need out there."
"Ah, well, Cousin, at any other time," Ahmed stuttered, trying to find a way to refuse without refusing directly.
"I've checked with your schedule," Quatre went on, leafing through the papers on his desk as if they were important. "You're not currently working on anything that can't be handled by another in the legal department. Waste of your time really. Now," he selected a sheet of paper and studied it closely. "There's a supply shuttle to XJ-199 leaving Bay Five at 7 am." He looked up meeting Ahmed's eyes for the first time. "I expect you to be on it."
Ahmed opened his mouth, then closed it again, realizing that he was not being asked. Fury brightened his eyes and he stood and nodded. He stormed out the door, the force making the heavy door bounce back. Quatre could see his surprised secretary at her desk before it swing shut again. Muffled sounds started coming from the conference room. The door opened and Iria and Zahra came in, laughing wildly.
Iria caught the back of his chair with one hand and pressed the other to her ribs, attempting to control herself. She dashed tears of mirth from her eyes and gasped, "Oh, Quatre, the look, the look on his face was hilarious. I wonder if he knows that XJ-199 has only minimal accommodations? At any rate, the diet of protein bars and fruit paste ought to help him lose some weight." Zahra snorted, then giggled, then burst out into laughter. Iria soon joined her and Quatre even managed a few chuckles. Glancing at his wristwatch, he stood and offered each of them an arm.
"And on that jolly note, shall we adjourn for lunch, ladies?" Arm in arm, the three sibling left the office, still laughing.
Later that night, Quatre remembered the file that Zahra had given him and padded barefoot to his home office to retrieve it from his briefcase. Back in his room, he stretched out on the bed and carefully read over all of the information. It didn't really tell him anything he didn't know. Mustafa bin Summer had been the head of the Summer family for the last twenty-five years. Under his guidance the family had grown and prospered and was now considered one of the wealthiest families in the world. He had been married three times, each marriage producing one child. His second wife was the only one still living. His first wife, Janine Graham-Summer, had died in a car accident when their daughter, Leila, was only four years old. His second wife had a daughter named Almira, who was only one year younger than Leila. Three years after that, he had married a young woman from colony L-3, who had died in childbirth. The child, another daughter, had survived and was now seven years old. There were no pictures of any of the girls. They all lived at the family estate which was highly secured. None of the girls were allowed outside of the compound. All had been educated by the finest of tutors, but none of the tutors were allowed to speak of their students. Leila was seventeen, about to turn eighteen. Her birthday was three days after his own. Very cut and dried.
Quatre placed the folder on the bedside table and turned off the light. As he lay in the darkened room, sleep eluded him and he couldn't help but to wonder about his future bride. He imagined that she was probably quiet, demure and reserved; a perfect lady. Little did he know, at that moment, nothing could be farther from the truth.
"Leila! Don't be difficult!" Sira shouted at her step-daughter. "You should be thanking your father for this wonderful opportunity."
Leila's pale green eyes iced over and she glared at her step-mother. "I will go through with this farce," she hissed through clenched teeth. "I will obey my father and I will marry this man. But I will also have some say in the matter!" She gestured at the frothy pile of lace that her step-mother considered a wedding gown. "I may have been bartered like common goods but I will not wear that whore's garment you call a dress!!" Breathing heavily, she snatched up the dress and flung it onto a chair. Her father chose that moment to walk into the room.
"Leila! What in Allah's name is going on in here? I could hear you all the way out in the courtyard!" Mustafa said, barely raising his voice. Sira rushed to his side and grabbed his arm, gesturing wildly as she explained, managing to make herself sound much put upon by an ungrateful girl. Mustafa's dark eyes narrowed as he considered.
"Let me see this dress," he ordered. Sira shook out the dress and held it up. He examined it carefully, then frowned at his eldest daughter. "I see nothing wrong with it." Sira smirked at the younger woman.
"Father," Leila said calmly. "When I put the dress on, you can see through the material. Surely it would not be seemly for my body to be revealed to anyone but my wedded husband?" Her father held up a fold of the dress and looked. Sure enough, the material was sheer enough to see through.
"Sira? What is the meaning of this? If she had worn this, our family would have been shamed and my eldest daughter would be considered immoral!" he thundered, ever conscious of family honor. Sira paled. She had not considered that her husband would have been shamed. She had only wanted to embarrass Leila; she had not thought that the girl had enough nerve to make a fuss. Mustafa turned to his eldest daughter. "I will send the dress makers to you, daughter. Choose a dress that pleases you." He turned back to his wife. "Surely I can trust to at least plan the wedding feast?" She nodded, chagrined. When he had left, she leveled a chilling glare at her step-daughter and stormed out of the room. Leila flopped into a chair and sighed loudly. Within minutes a knock sounded at the door and Melan entered with two women carrying several pattern books a piece. Leila stifled another sigh as she picked up the first book. It was going to be a long day.
It was two days before the wedding. Quatre had considered calling Trowa and running away to join the circus, but that hadn't sounded like a real option. He sighed as he tossed a pair of boxer shorts into the large suitcase lying open on his bed. Iria had reminded him yesterday that he and his new bride—he shuddered again at the strange thought—would need a place to sleep. She had marshalled the household staff and cleaned out the master suite. He had completely forgotten all about his father's rooms. Since his father's death, he had never gone into that section of the house. He swallowed, remembering how he used to go there every morning and share breakfast with his father in the small dining alcove. The table had overlooked the gardens that his father had so loved.
He dropped several pair of socks into the suitcase and snapped it shut. With a grunt, he pulled the large piece of luggage to the door and set it in the hallway outside of his room. Once done, he found himself pulled to investigate the master suite. He walked slowly to the west wing of the house, almost hoping someone would stop him to talk. But unfortunately, everyone was busy in other areas of the house.
Without even realizing it, he had stopped in front of the large wooden doors. Taking a deep breath, he reached for one of the brass handles and pushed it down. The door swung on freshly oiled hinges without so much as a creak.
Quatre walked into the comfortably furnished sitting room and took in his surroundings. A small bar was nestled in the far corner and on the wall next to it was the door leading to the bedroom. To his left was the door to the small glassed in dining alcove. The sun shone brightly in the wide windows and the small oak dinette gleamed under a fresh layer of polish.
He walked past the couch and two matching chairs arranged in front of a small cozy fireplace. He remembered one time that his father had actually lit the fire and produced a small bag of marshmallows and two forks. The two of them had sat on the thick rug and toasted marshmallows while his father told a young, wide eyed Quatre tales of his youth in the deserts of Arabia.
A bittersweet smile touched his lips as he opened the door to what had once been his father's bedroom. He had never been allowed in here. The room had obviously been cleaned recently. A snort of mirth escaped him as he saw the enormous four poster bed. The thing was huge! Big enough for a sultan and his entire harem. The notion of himself with a harem won another small chuckle from him and he continued his investigation. To the left of the bed was a door leading to what was evidentally his dressing room. Some of his clothes already hung in the cavernous closet and there were new toiletries in the bathroom. Quatre eyed the large whirlpool tub with anticipation. He had a weak spot for jaccuzis. Maybe staying in here wouldn't be that bad after all.
He went back into the bedroom and through the door on the right. This dressing room was evidentally meant for his wife. The décor was feminine without being frilly and the bathroom was stocked with an assortment of bath salts, oils and bubbles. Anther large tub dominated the room along with a vanity and double sinks. He noticed the door on the right of the dressing room for the first time when he walked back in. Faintly puzzled, he opened the door to find a beautifully decorated nursery. His stomach lurched as he looked at the rocking chair, fully appointed changing table and a crib complete with a mobile. This was something he hadn't allowed himself to think about. He would be expected to father children with this unknown woman.
He sat down in the rocker and tried to envision a child, his child, being rocked in this chair. All he could picture was the wing of the hospital where children were grown in artifical wombs. Space had not been kind to women. Exposure to cosmic radiation and chemicals had rendered many women unable to carry a child to term and the few who succeeded generally died in childbirth. He and his sisters had been brought to into the world this way and, though he had come to terms with it, he still abhorred it.
"Quatre?" He looked up to see Iria standing in the doorway leading back to the master suite. She was gazing at him with concern and he wondered if she ever let the thought of her origins bother her. "Everyone's waiting for you," she said softly. She looked around at the nursery and grimaced. "I didn't even know anyone had cleaned in here, much less stocked it. I think some of the house staff are engaging in wishful thinking."
Quatre looked up at her, turquoise eyes dark with sadness. "I don't even know her, Iria, and I'm expected to have children with her. That's the closest two people can become, how can I do that with a stranger?" Iria knelt down next to the side of the chair and took his hand.
"I don't know, little brother. Take it one day at a time. Who knows, she may be a wonderful person. Perhaps in time…" she trailed off, unable to finish. Shaking off her own misgivings, she rose and dusted her hands together. "Come on, Quatre. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can be done with it. And like I said, she's probably a really nice girl." Quatre rose slowly from the chair and, with one last look, followed his sister out the door.
"L-leila? Are y-you in h-here?" Her sister's soft voice managed to reach to the back of the large walk-in closet.
"Ilona? I'm in here, dear," Leila dusted her hands and rose to poke her head out of the door. Ilona sneezed as the dust tickled her nose. Her wide dark eyes were puffy and red and she rushed over to grab her sister's hand. Burrowing her head against her waist, the little girl began to cry. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?" she asked, kneeling to embrace the sobbing child.
"I-I d-don't wa-want you t-t-to go," she choked out, holding on tightly. Leila stroked her sister's fine black hair and rocked her gently.
"I know, I know," she whispered. "I'll miss you too. But I'm not going to be gone forever. I'll come back and visit, and perhaps I can persuade Father to let you come and visit me."
"R-really?" Ilona sniffled, tears still running down her cheeks. Leila hugged her little sister and dried her tears.
"Really," she said. "Now, I was going through some things I had stored back in my closet. Do you want to help me?" Ilona rubbed her face and nodded.
That was how Melan found the two sisters when she rushed into the room. "Mistresses! The master sent me to tell you to make yourselves presentable. The Winner family will be here in about an hour. He said to tell you that you'll all be having dinner together," she said breathlessly. She was not a young woman and the dash across the compound had winded her.
Ilona glanced nervously at her older sister and Leila kept her face calm and serene. She managed a smile for her sister. "Why don't you go with Melan and let her help you bathe? And when you're dressed, you can help me with my hair." Ilona nodded and grabbed the older woman's hand, letting herself be led away.
Leila grimaced at her dusty, wrinkled clothes and opted for a quick shower. She thouroughly washed her long hair, making sure that all of the suds were gone. Wrapping herself in a large bath towel she dried her hair as best as she could and sat down at her mirrored vanity to brush it out. She had just finished coaxing all of the tangles out of her hair when her step-mother entered the room. Leila opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. If asking the woman every day for the last ten years to knock had produced no results, she doubted that anything would change now.
"What do you want?" she asked warily, noticing a smug look on Seri's face.
"Dinner will be brought to you," Seri announced. "Your father has decided that it would be for the best if you do not meet Mr. Winner until the day of the wedding."
Leila could tell by her step-mother's voice that she had had no small part in this decision. She sighed, arguing would be useless and only earn her father's displeasure. She placed her hairbrush back on the vanity and settled for nodding.
Seri's face settled into disappointed lines. She had been hoping for an arguement. She was still seething over the incedent with the gown and waiting for a chance to get back at the wretched girl. With the wedding only one day away, she didn't have much time left. "Well, then," she huffed, stomping out of the room, making a point to slam the door.
Leila placed her aching head ontop of her folded arms and sighed. This dinner had been her only chance of meeting Quatre Reberba Winner before they were wed. She knew that her entire family, especially Sira and Almira, would conspire to keep her from seeing him. A cool wind from the vent above her made her shiver and she rose to go and put some clothes on. She pulled her long chestnut hair back in a simple ponytail and found a worn t-shirt and a pair of cutoff short. She almost hoped that her step-mother would come in and find her dressed like this. Maybe she would finally have that coronary she kept talking about.
Quatre smiled politely at his host, his soon to be father-in-law, as he escorted them to their rooms. Only ten of his sisters had been able to make arrangements to come on such short notice, but all of his friends would be there. Rasid cleared his throat and Quatre realised that he was holding up the party. He barely took note of the lovely courtyard as they passed through into the living area of the huge estate. The weather was hot, not humid, just the normal heat of the desert region that was home to them all. He tugged at his collar and wished that he had thought to wear a lighter shirt.
With a great deal of pleasure, Mustafa showed Quatre into the suite that had been chosen for him. It was a pleasant group of rooms, with rich furnishings and tasteful art. He nodded and smiled as Rasid carried his one suitcase into the bedroom. Quatre thanked his friend and waited until he had left to address the older man.
"I appreciate your generous hospitality," he began, only to have his words waved aside.
"No, no, it is I who should thank you," Mustafa said. "After all, we are soon to be family and family is the most important of all things." He beamed at the younger man, and clapped a meaty hand on his shoulder. Quatre barely moved, even though the slap had been fairly hard. He caught a faint glimmer of approval, quickly hidden, before the older man continued. "Now, we will be having dinner in an hour. Will that give you and your family enough time to settle in?" Quatre nodded. "Good, good. I will have someone here to escort you to the dining hall. This old place is huge and easy to get lost in." Quatre maintained a pleasant expression until his host had left, then he collapsed into one of the arm chairs in the sitting room. He felt like a tiger was loose in his stomach and he was sure he'd have a full blown ulcer by the time this whole affair was over.
Dinner was a lavish event, with many courses and the conversation mostly centered around the upcoming business conferences scheduled in London. Bin Summer was evidently looking forward to the event as a chance to meet with old business associates and to also look over some of the emerging rival companies. Quatre wasn't overly enthused about the six week long series of conferences and seminars. He had long since learned that most of the business on the earth and in the colonies were run by old men who considered him to be little more than a boy. He toyed with the exquisitly spiced roast duck on his platter and heartily wished for an antiacid.
He looked over at Iria and Zahra, who were sitting at the other end of the table with the women of the Summer family. The youngest daughter was adorable, her features holding a promise of great beauty in years to come. She focused on the plate before her, very seldom glancing at anyone and saying absolutely nothing. The middle girl was the image of her hawk faced mother, just not as plump. Both girls had honey colored skin and long black hair, but the younger had wide, light brown eyes, the color of fine whiskey. The older one had jet black eyes, matching her hair. He supposed that their older sister looked much like them. The older girl, Almira, he thought her name was, noticed him looking and smiled at him. There was something in her smile that he didn't like, and he turned his head away, forcing his attention back to the conversation. She put him in mind of Dorothy Catalonia, there was that air of ruthless calculation about them both. He could only hope that her sister wasn't like that, too.
Iria fought back a yawn as she listened halfheartedly to bin Summer's wife prattle on and on. Gods, she thought, did this woman think of nothing besides decorating her home and dressing herself? She noticed Quatre nodding his head at something Mustafa had said. Zahra caught her attention subtly and rolled her eyes. Iria hastily turned her laugh into a cough and took a sip of water to clear her throat. She noticed Rasid looking at her and gave him a reassuring smile. To her surprise, a faint tint of red appeared on the bridge of his nose and he looked away quickly. She blinked, surprised. What had that been about?
Leila was almost asleep when she heard someone outside her door. Bolting up quickly, she started to reach for the panic button on her nightstand when she heard Ilona's voice. "Leila? C-can I c-come in?"
She breathed a sigh of relief. This whole wedding business was making her jumpy.
"Come on in," she called, turning on the bedside lamp. The faint light was enough for the little girl to make it to the side of the bed. Rubbing her eyes, she stared imploringly at her sister.
"I c-can't s-sleep," she admitted, voice barely above a whisper. Leila pulled the covers back and patted the space next to her. Ilona climbed in, snuggling up to her big sister. "H-he's n-nice, you know."
Leila popped up and stared at her drowsy sister. "Who?" she asked suspiciously, already knowing the answer.
"M-mr. Winner," Ilona said, yawning. "H-he s-said I c-could c-call him Quatre. A-and h-he d-did't l-laugh at m-me, either." She dozed off, unaware that she had just taken a large amount of worry off of her sister's mind.