I stood by Dante in the office. He hadn’t let go of my hand since I had sent Robyn upstairs with Elise. Savannah and Dominique stood together on the other side of the room. Gregory and Kaitlyn Brookes had nothing against them. It was my relationship with Dante they couldn’t accept.
But we didn’t have relationship. At least not the kind they thought we did. We were only friends.
“You can’t marry her,” Gregory stated. “She’s below you.”
“How do you know?’ Dante was angry. “You know nothing about her.”
I hated the fact that they were arguing about me while I was standing there. But every time I tried to talk I was shut down.
“Now, Dante, you know we are only looking out for you,” Kaitlyn said softly.
“No, you are just looking out for the family fortune. Crystal can’t bring anything to help build it up so you think she is worthless.”
I started. Gregory was actually deeming me important enough to talk to? So far he had ignored me and cut off my words with a gesture of his knife like hands.
“Yes?” I wasn’t going to be polite or simper to these people. Dante didn’t deserve parents like these two and I wasn’t going to let them push me around.
“What can you bring to this family?”
“I’m not looking to be a part of this family. The only family I will be part of is Dante’s and Savannah’s. I don’t want anything to do with people who think they can just waltz in and start demanding things of people they supposedly love.” I raised my chin, keeping eye contact with this pompous man.
“You have no right to talk to me like this, wench!”
I cringed. He was mad now.
“I’ll ask you never to speak to Crystal again like that.” Dante’s voice was a sheet of steel and Gregory stepped back. Kaitlyn gasped and pressed a dainty hand to her chest.
“Dante, don’t speak to your father like that,” she said. “We are only trying to protect you.”
“Mother, sometimes I wonder how you can act like this,” Dante said, his voice only a little gentler. “You know nothing about me. You pushed me towards Virgilian and look where that brought me.”
“Virgilian is a lovely young woman. She would have protected us. Her money could have brought us to greater power then her father’s.”
“Like I said you don’t know me.” Dante collapsed in a chair and I sank to the floor by his side. My hand was still in his vise grip hold. “I don’t want a woman for what she can bring this family. I want one who will make me happy.”
“And you think this nobody will?” Gregory asked, his arms crossed over his chest. “And that child, she’s going to make us all the laughing stock of the Elites.”
Savannah giggled and her parents turned their ire on her.
“Just what do you think is so funny, young lady?” Gregory stalked across the room and planted himself in front of his daughter. “You at least have the sense to marry a man of fortune.”
“What’s funny is that you two think you can come in here and tell us what to do,” Savannah said.
I raised my eyebrows. Where had Savannah found her backbone? From what I had heard and Dante had told me, Savannah was more likely to back down and do what she was told. I applauded her silently.
“You are still our children,” her father said.
“Yes, we are. But we’ve been living on our own for years now. This house is mine and Dante’s. It was our money that built it. We can have who we want in here.”
“Are telling me that your brother’s wench is here by your consent also?” Kaitlyn had risen to her feet and a look of utter horror spread over her face.
“She is not a wench,” Savannah said. “She happens to be a distant cousin of Dominique’s. Her family fell on hard times and we took her in. I’ve come to consider Crystal one of my closest friends. So I too must ask you to treat her with the respect due to a young woman.”
The laughter that came from Gregory was neither sweet nor happy. It was more like the laugh of an evil scientist who has finally come up with the solution to destroy the world.
“You have no right telling your own parents how to treat a nobody. And you’d better watch your tongue, young lady. You might find yourself without an allowance and your engagement broken.”
“Father, I want you to take Mother and find a place at a hotel. I won’t have you threatening my guests and my sister.” Dante had stood up and again and was making his way over to his sister. “Savannah is under my protection and you have no right to assault her like this.”
“You can’t tell me what to do! You’re my son!” Gregory’s rage must have reached its end for his hand flew up and before anyone could react, Dante’s cheek sported a red handprint.
I had never seen Dante truly angry before, but the strange fire burning in his eyes scared me. He stood face to face with his father, both of their chests heaving.
“You get out now.” Dante pointed to the door. “You have one minute or I am calling the police.”
Gregory stared at his son and then turned sharply to his wife. “Kaitlyn, get your cloak. We won’t stay in this place.” He turned back to Dante. “I was going to offer to get you and Dominique back into the government but not anymore. From this day on you and Savannah are on your own. No more money will come to you until your mother and I are dead.”
Dante said nothing. Gregory spun, grabbed Kaitlyn by the arm and dragged her to the door. “I won’t darken this door again as long as that slut is living here.”
I sank lower to the floor. Was this what I was going to get from the rest of the Elites? Name calling and insults? I had half a mind to marry Dante just to keep his parents away.
The tension in the room slowly dissipated. The front door slammed and only then did Dante turn to me. I could still see the imprint on his cheek. He held out a hand to me and I slowly climbed to my feet. The fire in his eyes had burned out but I was still scared that any remaining embers would turn on me.
“Leave us,” Dante said quietly. “I need to speak to Crystal alone.”
Savannah opened her mouth to protest but Dominique pressed her arm and led her out of the room. I was still standing by the fire and I could feel its heat seeping through my skirts. I couldn’t move anywhere and I trembled as Dante came closer.
He groaned when he saw my hands shake. “Crystal, I would never hurt you. I’m sorry you had to see that. Father always gets my blood up and when he insults people I love, when he demeans the woman I love, I can’t control it.”
“What?” He had hinted at, Dominique and Savannah had told me that he did but he himself had never said the word. And now just like that he said.
“Oh, Crystal, how could you not see? Since that first time we talked you’ve been mine.”
My heart was pounding and my feet, although I protested that they couldn’t, shouldn’t didn’t want to, had minds of their own as they walked across the room towards him. I placed my hand in his red cheek wishing the handprint away. He closed his eyes and leaned into my embrace. The air in my lungs constricted and I struggled to breathe properly. When he had composed himself, Dante removed my hand from his cheek and held it gently. He pulled me to the couch and I sat down in a daze.
“Crystal, you have to know this. I love you as I have never loved another. I thought I knew what love was until that day you left. My heart ached with pain, real pain. I went after you because I knew that life without would be impossible. You make all this worthwhile. Please, tell me I have some hope.”
I pulled my hand away from him and sank back against the couch. What could I say? My heart and mind were in turmoil. I didn’t want to love him. The people I loved always went away. How could I risk it? And even if what he said about me going away was true, what about the way he treated me when he dragged me back? Had that all been out of love and fear for my life? As I looked into his eyes I saw in them a look of possession and love, something I had seen in Pete’s eyes so many times when he looked at Quincy. I had never thought a man would look at me that way. But was this for me? Could I, a girl from the East Slums, really become the wife of a man who had grown up with all the comforts of life? Was I ready to commit myself to this life style, these dreams?
Robyn’s grin and Macy’s shining eyes popped into my mind and I knew that they would have to come before anything. I may not have loved Dante as much as he loved me, but the feelings in my body told me that one day I would. And Robyn and Macy needed someone to care for them. I couldn’t alone. But Dante would see too their wellbeing. I knew he would. He wanted to help the poor, at home was the best place to start.
“There is always hope, Dante. I don’t think I love you as much as you love me. But with each day those feelings grow. Just please, don’t rush me.”
Dante laughed gently. “I would never rush you. Come here.”
He put his arms around me and I sank into his embrace. His lips pressed into my hair and I smiled. This could work. I would no longer fight against what had happened. This was my destiny, my fate. And with Dante at my side I could face anything.
God, let this happen in your perfect time. Dante loves You as much as I do. Help us to keep You in our sights before all else. Please, let this be for real. I need him, I really do.
With the words spoken a peace unlike any I had known in my seventeen years, surrounded me and I knew I was doing the right thing.
I didn’t fight as he lifted my chin and kissed me, his lips soft on mine.