“What’s the catch?”
“Well, obviously, you’d have to move.”
“That’s not a catch. Getting out of here is a major incentive. What’s the catch?”
“There is something else. It’s not really a catch. At least, I’m hoping you won’t see it that way.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I wouldn’t ask just anyone to take over my business—something I’ve worked for my entire life. You would have to be a part of my family. I don’t have a son of my own, Sevin. I have three daughters. Your father…he wanted the best for you. He knew you weren’t happy here, that you might be getting into some trouble. But I know you’re a good kid because you’re Brent’s son. This plan…it wasn’t supposed to come about so soon, but after Brent died, I didn’t think it should wait.”
“What are you getting at?”
“You met my daughter, Elle.”
“Yeah…nice girl. What about her?”
“Sevin, in our community, we don’t just let our daughters date men. The women are courted.”
“Yes. As a father, it’s my responsibility to find a good Christian man to court my daughter with the best of intentions.”
“What does that involve?”
“Well, one thing it does not involve is physical contact of any kind. Under this scenario, a young man spends several months getting to know the girl. Then, eventually, if he’s far away, he would move closer and outings would be chaperoned.”
“What if I don’t want to court Elle?”
“Then, this situation wouldn’t work.”
“That’s part of the deal with this job?”
He hesitated. “Yes.”
“You talked about this with my father?”
“Yes. He wanted this life for you.”
“So, what happens if the courting doesn’t work out?”
“Sevin, I can’t give up my empire to someone who isn’t even a part of my family.”
“So, we’re not just talking about spending time with Elle. When you say court, you really mean—”
“Marry,” he interrupted. “You would marry my daughter.”
The phone rang every night at the exact same time. It was cute how consistent she was. It wasn’t even necessary to look at the caller I.D.
“Hi. What are you up to?”
“Just starting to pack up some things, actually.”
“You don’t move out here for another month, though. I thought you said you don’t have that much stuff.”
“I guess I’m just a little eager to get outta here.”
Elle and I had been talking on the phone every day for three months. After Lance and she left the house that first day, I spent a couple of weeks mulling over his offer before accepting. Agreeing to marry someone I didn’t even know seemed like an insane thing to do at first. But in the end, the opportunity handed to me on a silver platter was really hard to turn down. My outlook was also different now since Dad dropped dead of a heart attack. I wanted to change my life, be a better person to honor his memory…basically, stop fucking around.
The timing of this opportunity seemed to be heaven sent. It felt like a now or never situation. I kept telling myself that I could always back out if it didn’t feel right. With each day, though, it seemed to make more sense.
For one, the fact that I didn’t know Elle enough to love her was irrelevant. I had no desire to fall so crazy in love with someone that losing them caused me the same kind of irreparable damage my father experienced after my mother died. I was too young then to remember much about the years before Lillian but not too young to know that my mother’s death wrecked my father.
Even though a part of me wanted to experience the intensity of love just once in my life, it wasn’t worth the risk. Having a healthy mutual respect was more important to me. Love was fucking crazy. Marriage, on the other hand, was basically just a business arrangement. Elle made it easy to want to follow through with it. She was sweet as hell and easy enough to talk to. If I did end up falling in love with her, then I’d deal with that when it came. If I didn’t, then at least no one would get hurt, and there was some good in that, too. Things were moving a little faster than they probably should have, but then again, nothing about this situation was typical.
“Well, I know Daddy is really eager about you coming out here. He says he’s gonna put you to work before you even take your coat off.”
“Seriously, anything will be better than working at the stables. You might not want to marry me right now if you knew what I smelled like.”
“There is nothing that would make me not want to marry you, Sevin Montgomery.”
“Really? Nothing? What if I were secretly a serial killer?”
“Of animals or humans?”
“Then, there could be a problem. But Daddy is a hunter, and I love him. So, animals would be okay.”
“He hunts? Really?”
“Yes. He’ll probably want to take you out sometime with him.”
Shit. That better not have been another job requirement. It was then that it really hit me that I’d be working for a fucking beef plant, and that meant that I was essentially going into the business of dead animals. I’d have to suck that up, but there was no way I was going to kill one myself. Wow. I guess I did have some morals. I could look into another man’s eyes after fucking his wife, but shooting a bunny for enjoyment was out of the question.