Chapter 6

As the evening of the party approached, regular squeals of excitement rang throughout the house from Annie and Grace, occassionally even Oliver. The guest list was filled with the biggest names in U.S politics, the most famous Hollywood stars (a special treat for both Annie and Grace), the best circus performers in the world (a special treat for Oliver, a circus lover from childhood), the most wonderful food and candy that could be found and most importantly, many loving and secure couples who had all been so touched by Annie's story, that they were more than happy to provide homes for the other girls from the orphanage. It was widely acknowledged that July 4th at the Warbucks' mansion was to be night that no-one would forget.

"Who could possibly have known that you love fire-eaters so?!" Grace chuckled, approaching her fiancee on the balcony. "I mean, you've been up here watching us prepare the gardens for at least an hour now. I don't think I've ever seen you still for this long!" She found herself swept up in Oliver's embrace, whilst he delivered a surprisingly intense kiss to his love's lips. Breathless when the kiss was over, Grace found herself still for a moment, stunned into silence by the intensity of the look in Oliver's eyes.

"Oliver? Darling?" She was met with a startled, almost frightened look from Oliver, as if something from another world was standing in front of him. Grace felt his fingertips tracing her hairline, then down over her cheeks and across her lips. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh at the sensation, which felt like a gentle seduction. 'God, the things this man does to me...' she blushed outwardly at the private thought. Her eyes fluttering open, she saw a smiling Oliver looking back at her.

"Well thank goodness," she uttered, her voice uncontrollably huskier than before. "I thought for a moment you'd taken flight to somewhere far away and left me behind."

"Never," he whispered, taking her chin in between his finger and thumb and tilting her head ever so slightly, before bringing the ghost of a kiss to her mouth. "I love you," he stated simply, watching a smile grace the beautiful face before him. 'My God, what that smile does to me,' he thought to himself. "I'm sorry sweetheart, I suppose I was a little far away, I was just thinking..."

"Thinking about what?" Grace asked when Oliver left the rest unsaid. "Is everything OK? Are there things for the party that you're not happy with?"

Oliver let out a soft laugh, but at the look on his love's face, soon relented and decided the time for this unwitting elusiveness had passed. "I'm sorry Grace, I didn't mean to be so ambiguous! Of course there is nothing wrong with the party, everything is going to be wonderful- the gardens look stunning, the food smells incredible and you, well you look -" unable to find the words, Oliver settled for a long, drawn out breath, a low throaty groan and a stronger grip on Grace's hips, as he moved his forehead to rest against hers. Grace's blush intensified as she realised the effect her gown was having on Oliver. Being just low enough in the front, and made of a stunning emerald green silk which clung to her in the most flattering way, she was indeed quite a vision to behold. Needless to say, her feelings of girlish glee meant that she couldn't help being elated that Oliver appreciated the way she looked - after all, three hours of dress shopping deserved to end in a little admiration.

"I think we should head downstairs, before Annie comes to find us," Grace suggested sensibly, unwrapping Oliver's arms from around her waist, and rewarding him with a gentle kiss on the the tip of his nose, a playful gesture which only served to intensify the electricity between them. Dragging Oliver from the balcony, the vision in green led him down the stairs and into the garden as the last minute touches were added to the scene.

Making his way through the ever growing throng of people, Oliver cursed inwardly for allowing control of the guestlist to be left to the women in his life. If he had his way, the only guests at the party would be himself, his beautiful former secretary and his newly adopted daughter. His newly adopted daughter would then soon be sent to bed and -

"OLIVER! How WONDERFUL to see you!" The unmistakeably politician-like tones of FDR rang through the halls of the mansion, even above the din of the crowd. Turning towards the President, Oliver managed a smile, a small but genuine smile, at the sight of his friend advancing towards him.

"Franklin, Eleanor, glad you could make it on such short notice," Warbucks said, shaking hands and kissing cheeks respectively.

"And where is the lovely Miss Farrell this evening? I hear that you two have something to celebrate?" Eleanor asked, ever the small town gossip at heart. She gave a brief glance around the room before catching sight of the woman in question, giving a small wave and continuing. "Well my goodness Oliver, she looks absolutely dazzling this evening. I'd be surprised if you aren't having to fight off suitors before the end of the party! But oh my word, what a beautiful ring!" Eleanor exclaimed as Grace finally made her way through the crowds to join them.

"Isn't it? I'm sure that Annie must have had him view every ring in the store!" The group laughed together and Oliver wrapped his arm around the waist clad in green. "Good evening Mr. President, Eleanor," Grace greeted the couple in the same practised way as Oliver had just moments before, "I hope your trip was free of any complications? We're so glad you could make the party, I know Annie will be thrilled to see you!"

Eleanor smiled at the young woman's graciousness and poise. 'Wherever did she learn that?' she wondered to herself, knowing Grace's humble beginnings. Coming to the conclusion that it must have been inherent for this beautiful woman before her, Eleanor laid a hand on her own husband's shoulder and arrived at pondering the relationship between the millionaire and private secretary before her. Of course there would be talk of seeking fortune, of secret pregnancies, of simply business deals providing security for a little orphan girl, but this First Lady would be happy to defend these two to any sceptics. The love she saw now solidified by an engagement ring had been obvious to her probably before it had occured to either of the two before her. She looked first at Oliver, his grip on his fiancee never waivering, never hesitant. The man may have been judged by many to be cold and unfeeling, but that would be a misjudgement at best. Eleanor knew that since Grace had appeared in his life, Oliver had been gradually, modestly and quietly, a little more empathetic in his decisions, a little less Capitalist in his thoughts - feeling more for the individual than was perhaps productive for a businessman, but was admirable in a human being in the Depression when so many lived in fear of losing everything. It was as though the ethereal quality of Grace's beauty had reminded Oliver that there was something more of heaven and earth than could be shown in a company's accounts; that there was more than factories and budgets and exports. It reminded him of the space in his chest that was filled by his heart, a heart that Eleanor knew to be generous and large. This was all awake once more and, for the first time, was now reflected in his eyes when he looked upon and laughed with his love.

As remarkable as Oliver's transformation was, Grace herself had changed noticeably. Now this young woman had always been radiant and full of life, but never had Eleanor seen her more confident. A playful teasing comment here and there, and a hand placed firmly on Oliver's chest as they laughed together showed the First Lady the most tangible effects of being loved. Being cherished as more than a secretary had shown Grace, all but forgotten by her own neglectful parents, that she was wonderful enough to be the very centre of someone's universe. This someone was, of course, not just anyone, but the man that Eleanor knew she respected and cared for more than anyone else in the world. To have the love that she had harboured for so long, returned to her in duplicate, would surely explain the vitality which shone in Grace's eyes as she gazed at her husband conversing with the President. The confidence which Grace exuded on that particular evening was something which Eleanor knew could drive men wild. The First Lady may be the proper representation of all pure American values, but she was no innocent; she had seen the look of desire flash across many men's eyes, and it seem steadfast in Oliver's glances at his future bride. The playful touches and dazzling smile made her even more a fantasy, a clear target for other women's jealousy. Eleanor though, was happy to see this change. Far from being jealous, she knew that Grace and Oliver had found in their union the kind of joy that Franklin and herself enjoyed; a true meeting of hearts and minds.

As the party swung successfully into its later hours, the circus entertainment came to life and even Mr Warbucks himself was delighted to take part, stealing a very public kiss from his bride on his way around the piazza. Annie was ecstatic, Grace was, of course, blushing and Oliver couldn't have been more proud to call these women his family. As the fireworks delighted the crowd, Oliver daughter, fiancee and even dog close and let out a sigh of relief. It felt good to finally have something real to hold on to, something more than profit margins and taxation figures, something real and warm and alive and right here beside him. Feeling emboldened by the happiness around him, Oliver freed one arm from Annie and turned to take Grace's face in his hands.

"You have made me so embarrasingly happy," he laughed, "and I promise you, that I will never stop loving you. I want to see this smile every single day, I want to hold you, to talk with you, to laugh with you." The next part was whispered gently into Grace's ear, "I want to wake with you every morning."

The latter made the breath hitch in Grace's throat as she suppressed the excitement and nervousness stirring in her stomach. As she pulled away slightly from her love and looked him in the eye, she felt as though the fireworks were reduced to whispers across the sky, as though all that existed for just a second, was the love that she felt so blessed to finally be sharing with Oliver. Feeling braver than ever before, she smoothed her arms around Oliver's neck and showed little hesitation in placing a gentle kiss on his lips, followed by another and another, each one longer and harder than the last. Only the sound of Annie's, "leapin' lizards!" penetrated the fog in her brain and caused her to pull away, realising that the fireworks had stopped and the applause of the hundreds of guests was now solely for them.