The Contract: Chapter 1
"You know, when I dreamed of my glamorous New York life, eating Chinese takeout straight from the carton at 9:30pm on a Friday night wasn't exactly what I pictured," Caroline huffed while searching through several containers before finally locating her steamed fish. The Chief of Staff and Chief Investment Officer of Mikaelson & Co. had been relegated to the private conference room adjoining the CEO's office for over an hour, discussing their top secret project.
"Really?" Stefan replied while unsuccessfully attempting to raise the lo mein to his mouth using chopsticks. "Spending Friday night with your best friend isn't what you had in mind?"
Narrowing her eyes and giving Stefan a tight smile, Caroline replied, "You know, you're right. Why am I complaining about spending yet another Friday night in the office, eating crappy, artery clogging take-out just so I can play matchmaker for my demented, ego-maniacal boss? I mean, I'm living the dream, right?"
"Come on, Care, you know this has to get done and we are the only people he trusts to handle it. Especially when you consider that his own father is probably responsible for his Visa renewal paperwork mysteriously vanishing. If Klaus doesn't get married in the next 2 months, he has to go back to London."
Caroline looked away and adopted a wistful, dreamy expression. "Can you imagine how wonderful that would be?" she sighed. "Klaus, an ocean away…"
"Need I remind you that your job would relocate along with Klaus. The IPO would blow up…and let's not even think about how much your stock would probably be devalued with this kind of shake up."
Caroline had to concede the point. She had a significant amount of money tied up in the firm and could not afford to lose a dime of it. She had a plan and strict timeline; she would not allow Klaus's current situation to impact her dream.
As the two continued their discussion, Klaus noiselessly entered his office and seated himself at his desk. He knew he was beyond fashionably late and that Caroline would likely skin him as soon as she saw him but he couldn't miss the opportunity to engage in one of his favorite pastimes - eavesdropping. After knowing Stefan and, through Stefan, Caroline for so many years, he was able to visualize the exchange with ease. And, truth be told, he rarely missed an opportunity to infuriate Caroline…
Caroline looked back at Stefan just in time to witness yet another failed attempt with the chopsticks. Frowning, Caroline tossed him a plastic fork and muttered, "you're such a 5 year old."
Stefan gave her an appreciative nod before scooping up a heaping amount of noodles, which barely fit in his mouth. "Thw waster wem gut tuss dom, da butta."
Rolling her eyes and handing him a napkin, "Jeez, you aren't much better with a fork, are you? You look like an animal."
"I'm starving," he replied defensively, "I haven't eaten since this morning because Klaus and I were in back to back meetings for the Kimbay deal."
Klaus sucked in a breath, knowing the ire that comment was sure to produce. He quietly rose from his desk and moved closer into the conference room to get the view offered by the sliver of a crack of the door leading into his office. Klaus had a good vantage of Stefan's profile but he was disappointed to note that Caroline's back was to him. However, as much as he enjoyed watching her expressive face, he knew he would be equally entertained with her ever-effusive gesticulations. He saw her shoulders go rigid at Stefan's last comment.
As soon as he mentioned the deal, Stefan realized his folly. After dreaming up the idea of Mikaelson & Co. purchasing the Chinese asset management firm, burning the midnight oil conducting painstaking research, Caroline was being pushed aside. She was unable to attend the initial meetings between the two camps as her time was otherwise occupied ensuring Klaus Mikaelson, aka the CEO of Mikaelson & Co., aka her boss, aka her nemesis, would not be deported due to the mismanagement of his visa renewal.
"Don't you dare complain to me, Salvatore," Caroline warned, pointing her chopsticks at him aggressively, making Klaus smirk at her histrionics. "While you and Klaus were taking the reigns of the deal I sourced, I was confined to a conference room with Connor Jordan - that creepy, tatted-up PI Klaus keeps around for background checks and probably other unsavory things I don't even care to think about. I feel like I need a shower after compiling profiles on these women that only a madam could appreciate," she huffed, gesturing to the bound presentations, meticulously arranged in the center of the table.
Glancing at the dossiers, Klaus suppressed a chuckle – that is so Caroline. The profiles were probably alphabetized, color-coded – no detail overlooked. Always the perfectionist he thought, his eyes taking in the small glimpse of her profile as she looked at Stefan. She was dressed in her signature attire: pencil shirt, silk collared shirt…not a wrinkle or crease. Her blonde, wavy hair was trained into a tight bun, replete with several pens shoved precariously into the knot. This was one of many small tells into Caroline's moods. Klaus was probably one of a handful of people who knew that Caroline's level of stress was generally equivalent to the number of writing utensils that lay haphazardly on top of the crown of her head. And judging by the current array left forgotten in her mane, Klaus mused, Caroline was at her wit's end…
"Again, Care, you know how private," Stefan began.
"Paranoid…," Caroline interjected. Klaus glowered.
"Whatever you want to call it. Anyway, you know that there are only two people Klaus would ever entrust with this task," he said gesturing between the two of them, "and as his Chief Investment Officer, I have to be included in all of the Kimbay dealings, which, as frustrating as I know it is, leaves you to be the Millionaire Matchmaker."
Promptly losing her appetite due to her frustration, Caroline shoved her food to the side and searched through the bag to retrieve a fortune cookie. She cracked the sweet in half and set the fortune aside without thought. She took one bite and continued to whine, "why can't we just set up a dating profile on eHarmony or, oooh, even better, let's set up a profile on okcupid."
Stefan just smiled and shook his head, equally entertained by her enthusiasm at the idea and anxious about how far she would take it.
Laying a hand on his arm to get him to face her again she continued, "Seriously, Stef, just think of the time it would save." From his perch at the door, Klaus was unable to remove his focus from where the small hand lay resting on his best friend. "I mean, we'll just create a profile that reads, 'Megalomaniac CEO in search of vapid Barbie Doll willing to be carted around like a show pony for a year and then, summarily dumped,'" she said gesticulating with her hands like she was picturing a sign on a marquis. She focused back on her friend with a huge smile on her face, "I think it could work."
With Caroline facing away from him, Klaus took this opportunity to quietly open the door and, with his usual grace, silently positioned himself behind Caroline's chair. "And how does your profile read, sweetheart? 'Neurotic control freak looking for small-town, masochistic whipping boy?" Caroline tensed with surprise at the sound of his voice. He quickly moved around the small table and took a seat across from her, watching as the wild blush bloomed across her face. Picking up one of the dossiers, "Alright. If you two ladies are done with your girl talk, can we begin?"
Rolling her eyes, "So nice of you to finally join us." Passing a copy of the profiles to Stefan and opening to the first page, "I've winnowed the original list down to 10 candidates. We can start with Sarah Ambrose – she's 30, Yale grad, worked briefly at Merrill and is currently a panelist on MSNBC's Quick Money."
After a brief review of her information, Stefan asked, "And why would she agree to marry Klaus?"
"Well, word is that she really wants to take Jim Robert's spot on Market Review. The producers don't really see her as a draw because she lacks name recognition. What could be a better solution than changing her name to 'Mikaelson'?"
Stefan gave an appreciative nod. "I like it. Klaus?"
Looking across the table, Caroline saw Klaus reading the file, his face impassive. After a pregnant silence, he tossed the profile on the table and replied with a simple, "no."
"What do you mean 'no'?," Caroline asked, noticeably perturbed.
Leaning back in his chair and offering Caroline a challenging glare, "I mean no. Next." Klaus reached back to the file and quickly turned the page. Stefan mimicked this motion while Caroline continued to stare at Klaus, infuriated by his response.
"Why not? " Caroline pressed. "She's perfect. She's educated, interesting… You have several acquaintances in common which would help with the back story of how you met…"
"I find her…unappealing," Klaus replied simply.
"What?" Caroline asked in surprise. She pulled out the headshot, which was easily attained from the MSNBC studios. Caroline studied the photo. Sarah Ambrose was quite attractive with striking almond-shaped green eyes, long, curly auburn hair and a broad, straight smile. "I think she's very attractive," she argued.
Taking the picture from her hands, "Well, sweetheart, I'm sure she would be the bell of the ball back in, where is it," Klaus looked briefly at Stefan, pretending to search for a name, "Mystic Falls?" Caroline glowered at his mention of her hometown as he continued, "but in New York she is a 5. And I would not date, much less marry, a 5."
Caroline clenched her jaw, fighting back the urge to reach across the table to wipe the smug expression off of Klaus's face. From the moment they met, Klaus had to unique ability to bring Caroline right to the brink physical violence.
"Fine. I guess the next candidate will be more suited to your tastes. Valentina Diaz. You may recognize her from the cover of virtually every Sports Illustrated and Victoria's Secret catalogue for the past 3 years. She's Argentinian but she was born in the US and has dual citizenship. She wants to transition into acting and, as M & Co.'s mezz fund is heavily invested in one of the top production companies in Hollywood, Klaus could make her a star."
Klaus raised his eyebrows and gave Caroline an expectant look, indicating he expected her to continue.
"What?" Caroline huffed.
"What else can you tell us about her?" Stefan asked.
"Does it really matter? He's looking for a '10' and Miss Diaz certainly fills that requirement."
Klaus gave Caroline a condescending smile. "You are getting warmer, love, but I am afraid that, once again, I have to say 'no'."
"Why? She's everything a superficial narcissist could dream of!"
"Well, love, you see I've already had the good fortune of being acquainted with Miss Diaz." Looking like the definition of smug he added, "and sweetheart, she's an 8 at best."
Stefan could not contain his laugh but quickly stopped when he turned to see Caroline seething.
Two hours passed and they we no closer to a decision. Caroline and Klaus were engaged in a vociferous battle while Stefan began nodding off at the head of the table.
"What do you mean 'pass'?" Caroline shrieked, waving the file in his direction. "This is our last candidate and she's everything you could want. She's the president of a hedge fund, and like you, she went to business school at Stern. You have multiple friends in common, you've been photographed together on several occasions… And I defy you to tell me this woman is unattractive," she said waving the woman's photo in his face. "She's everything you could want in a woman – hell, I'd marry her!" she huffed.
Klaus chuckled. "That's an interesting choice of words, Caroline, as I believe she would be more inclined to marry you than me."
Defeated and exhausted, Caroline rubbed her weary eyes. "What are you talking about?"
Klaus reached across the table and plucked on of the many pens Caroline had tucked into her bun. "She likes women, sweetheart. Shall I draw you a picture?"
Caroline tossed her file on the table and pushed her chair from the table, producing a terrible squeak that drew Stefan from his slumber.
"I don't know what you want, Klaus. I've given you a broad range of women – all successful, accomplished, most are ivy league educated and, despite what you've stated, attractive. How is it possible that a not one woman of what could be considered the most eligible women in the US is up to your standards? I don't understand."
Locking his eyes with her and leaning in Klaus said in a low voice, "It's ok, love," he said placing his hand over hers and giving it a quick squeeze. "I don't expect you to understand having standards."
Caroline went rigid and she jerked her hand from his grasp. "I wish you and incurable disease," she breathed.
"Which one?" Klaus asked, as usual, amused by her impudence.
"Pick one," Caroline growled, glaring at him.
Stefan chose that moment to awaken and interrupt before the two came to blows. "Come on, it's late and we absolutely must come to a decision tonight. Let's go over the basics, again, and maybe we can move forward from there." He turned to Caroline, "Why don't you explain how you chose these candidates and then we can assess how we should move forward."
Caroline took a deep breath before beginning, "I have been looking for someone both INS and Klaus's family and acquaintances will find a believable match. She must be accomplished in her field, educated because he is a school snob." Klaus attempted to protest but Caroline ignored him and continued, "he's shallow and superficial so she has to be attractive. He also needs someone we can prove he has had interactions with in the past. INS may ask for photos, emails and phone records and every one of the 10 women I chose had some kind of interaction with Klaus. And, finally, each woman would likely agree to marry Klaus and maintain this ruse for a year because he has something he can offer to each. Whether it's the power of his last name, business contacts, money… If incentivized properly, any of these women would agree to this ruse. " Caroline turned her hard gaze on Klaus, "if it's one thing you've taught us, Klaus, it's that everyone has a price."
Klaus fingered the files in front of him as the corners of his mouth turned up. "And what, sweet Caroline, is your price?"
Caroline huffed, "There isn't enough money in the world. Right Stef?" She turned to her friend expecting him to back her up. I mean, there is being desperate and then there is selling your soul to the devil. "Stef?"
Stefan stared at the table in deep consideration as if it was offering answers. "It's actually not a terrible idea, Care."
Caroline's face fell. "You can't possibly think this is even a possibility?"
Stefan finally met her gaze, "well, just think about it – you do meet all of the criteria you just laid out." Using his fingers to enumerate each point, "you're the Chief of Staff at one of the top financial institutions in the world, you went to Harvard and then Columbia for b-school, you've known Klaus for years…"
"I only met him because you studied abroad for a semester," Caroline stuttered, completely taken aback by Stefan's argument.
"It doesn't matter. The only thing that is important is that we can prove that you and Klaus have known each other for several years. You are not only familiar with his family but you even stayed with them one Christmas…"
Caroline, still shell-shocked that Stefan was even humoring Klaus in what she suspected was yet another attempt of his to infuriate her, quickly countered, "That was, like 7 or 8 years ago and, again, I was only in London to see you and I spent my entire break trying to avoid him!"
Ignoring the interruption, Stefan continued, now counting off each reason on his fingers "the fact remains that his entire family knows you, you interned for his brother's firm, are close with his sister-in-law…"
Again Caroline interjected, her voice becoming increasingly high pitched and desperate, "Klaus had nothing to do with my internship with Elijah's firm. If memory serves" Caroline ranted, pointing an accusatory finger in Klaus's direction, "he tried to talk Elijah out of hiring me. And as for my relationship with Katherine, well, one of the cornerstones of our friendship is our mutual dislike of Klaus. We've even started a club, written a charter…hell, we even have a handshake!"
Stefan could not help but laugh at Caroline's outburst. And, truth be told, considering neither his best friend nor Katherine were known for being reticent in their distaste for Klaus, a man who caused Caroline more than enough stress at work and in her personal life and who lead an unsuccessful attempt to talk Elijah out of marrying Katherine, he did not have a doubt in his mind that an "I Hate Klaus Mikaelson" secret society did, in fact exist.
Klaus set his jaw and sent Stefan a look that conveyed a not so concealed message of "FIX THIS NOW" which quickly ended his friend's fit of laughter.
Regaining his composure, Stefan reached out to take Caroline's hand so she would return his gaze. She was immediately taken with the strain on his face conveying the gravity of the situation.
"Care, you're right, some people know that you and Klaus have what, for lack of a better word, can be classified as a contentious relationship. However, that can be easily spun into good, old fashioned pulling of pig tails or sexual tension and…" Caroline couldn't contain her scoff and tried to remove her hand but Stefan would not release her from his grasp. "Caroline, let me finish. Everyone will accept that you and Klaus are a legitimate couple. You're the only woman Klaus is seen with regularly and, I mean, you've been single for a long time now." Stefan hated making any reference to anything that would make Caroline think about the engagement that ended just 18 months prior. As strong and stoic as his friend tried to be during the ordeal, Stefan's heart clenched as he watched her flinch at the mere allusion to her break-up with Matt.
Even Klaus had the decency to look away at this mention. Standing and buttoning his blazer, "well, I think I can leave it to the two of you to sort this out." Klaus was almost out of the room when he suddenly stopped behind Caroline and placed his hands on the back of her chair. Caroline could feel the weight but refused to turn to him. "Caroline, I can assure you that I am very aware that I am not your first choice for a spouse and I for one do not relish the thought of tying myself to someone who would sooner burn my likeness in effigy than share my last name. However, my current predicament requires we both make sacrifices to ensure that all we do not lose all we have worked for. I do hope you are able to put aside your feelings for me and make the right decision. This is bigger than the two of us." And with that, Klaus left Caroline with what felt like the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Klaus barely had his foot out of the door before Caroline unleashed her full fury upon her former best friend. "What the hell, Stef! You cannot seriously think that this is a good idea! And you just sat there while he tried to manipulate me into making the "right decision"." Her best friend averted his eyes, succumbing to the guilt he felt. "And for you to even intimate that I would be a good candidate just because I'm single… You know why that is, Stef, and I can't believe you would throw that in my face."
Caroline could see that her friend was contrite and she couldn't help but feel a small tug at her heart. She could never stand to see Stef upset, even when he brought it upon himself.
Attempting to add some levity to her argument, "I mean, let's just consider the very high probability that one of us would meet an untimely death before ever even walking down the aisle..."
Klaus, who had been collecting some work before leaving his office, could not help but hear this comment and smile. He knew that he had placed a huge burden in Caroline's lap but this was the only option as far as he was concerned. So much depended on her. However, he still loved that she wasn't going to go quietly into the night. No, even if Klaus won this battle, he knew he would face many, many more over the course of their short marriage. Fortunately for Klaus, he found just the idea of a year of skirmishes with Caroline invigorating – she was his favorite opponent.
"And when I say "one of us," Caroline continued with a manic fury, "I am, of course referring to Klaus." Looking Stefan directly in the eye, "do you want that on your conscience? Do you? One best friend dead and the other on the run from the police?"
Unable to stifle his chuckle, "Caroline, I promise to get you the best lawyer money cand buy. Now.." Caroline quickly cut him off with a mad gleam in her eye, "Actually, I wouldn't even need to get my hands dirty with the actual murder. I could easily enlist any number of people to kill him for me."
"Care...," Stefan began, attempting to steer the conversation back on course.
Caroline refused to relent. Using her fingers to count, "Let's see, there is the old Head of New Business who he fired one week before he qualified for his pension, the Strauss family hates him after he purchased and then dismantled their 200 year-old family business, the entire country of Ecuador after he closed all of the manufacturing plants..." Klaus grimaced and reminded himself to begin locking his apartment doors. "Then there is the Greek shipping heir who hates Klaus for stealing his wife, which then leads us to the Brazilian model who would probably kill Klaus with her bare hands for ruining her and then dumping her after she left said Greek shipping heir for him." Smiling, she leaned back and crossed her arms, feeling successful in proving her case. "In fact, I could probably ignore the mass of enemies he has made through ruthless business practices and concentrate solely on just the jilted lovers who would gladly have a hand in his demise."
Klaus cursed silently. He had not realized Caroline was so aware of some of his less savory exploits. However, he thought, not everyone could be Saint Caroline.
"And lest we forget, he hates me!" she added.
"Caroline, would you please take this seriously and keep an open mind?" Hearing no reply, Klaus could only assume Caroline was offering Stefan her signature pout. "Let's be pragmatic and go through this as we would any other issue that could impact the business. 1.) Klaus is the CEO of Mikaelson & Co. and, should he be deported, the impact of the business and, subsequently, its employees would be immense. 2.) the easiest and, honestly, the only resolution to this for him to marry a US citizen. We went through candidates, Care." Stefan said, waving to the files scattered on the table," For one reason or another, not one is a good option. You, on the other hand, are perfect." Caroline rolled her eyes turned her chair to look away, indignant at the very idea that she would be perfect for the man she considered one level below Lucifer, himself. Or even Kanye West for that matter. "You've know each other for years, you have friends in common, we can argue that you kept the relationship a secret because you didn't want to expose yourself to unwanted attention at work. Also, you can handle Klaus. Anyone who knows him knows that he only surrounds himself with people he respects and he could never respect some docile dimwit. You go toe to toe with him every day and you never take his shit."
"This sounds eerily familiar to the sales pitch you gave me when you first offered me the Chief of Staff role here."
"Well, that leads me to point. 3.) If you marry Klaus, you will have more than enough money to not only start your foundation but also run it for years without outside contributions. Isn't that what all of your hard work is for? To realize this dream for your mom?"
Stefan pulled her chair closer to him and turned it so she was facing him. "Caroline, you and I have been friends since college. I know he can be a dick but would I ever put you in this position if I thought it was to your detriment? Would I ask you to do this if I thought there was any other way?"
Klaus felt his gut clench at the long silence. So much rested on her answer; what he wouldn't give to be able to watch as his fate unfolded just a room away. Caroline and Stefan were so close that they could communicate so much just with a look or a touch, which drove Klaus a little crazy in this situation. While it generally infuriated Klaus to witness the influence each could wield over the other, he knew that over the course of the last several weeks he had successfully built his case that marrying Caroline was their only option and he had faith that Stefan would do all he could to convince her.
"Give me the weekend to think about it, ok?" Her voice was small and defeated, something Klaus was not used to.