The three-story mansion of cream stone sat imposingly in a wide clearing at the end of a long drive. The road to the house wound its way back from a gated guard station through a thicket of heavy-limbed oaks and maples. Nick took note of the Morans' small concession to water conservation—the large fountain ensconced in the circular driveway was reduced to a low trickle until later in the fall.
Vivienne closed the heavy wood door behind him and grabbed his hand to walk together under an arched stairwell to an expansive family room in the rear of the house. Her parents already sat on the huge brown leather sofa, holding cocktails. Vivienne snaked her arm around his. The sudden physical contact along with the brightness in her eyes and smile startled him. She leaned in and whispered, "I'm so glad you came," and gave his arm a tight squeeze.
Nick returned a hesitant smile. Her affection gave him hope for their future together, but he didn't understand its sudden resurgence. He suppressed his alarm and shook Tom's hand. If Vivienne was happy again, he would be happy again.
"It's lovely to see you, Nick. You two are such a striking couple," Vivienne's mother, Sheila, exclaimed. Nick walked over to her and leaned down to kiss her pale, powdered cheek. He looked from the older woman to Vivienne and back again.
Sheila didn't have Vivienne's height, but the two looked alarmingly alike. They both had pale blonde hair that almost read as silver even in the younger woman's shoulder-length bob. Both had an elegant length to their neck and limbs, and both moved their slender bodies with practiced grace. According to Vivienne, her mother preferred to sacrifice a more youthful plumpness in her face to maintain her size two figure. "When you get old, it's either your face or your ass," Vivienne had told him.
Jonah, Vivienne's brother, waved at him from the arched portico outside. He had the same tall frame and blond hair, though a darker gold than his mother or his sister. He likely didn't maintain a standing appointment with a colorist like the women in his family. At forty-one, he was Vivienne's senior, but his girlfriend looked like she couldn't be more than twenty-five or twenty-six.
"Nick! Good to see you. This is Emily," Jonah said, extending his hand. Nick shook it and then turned to the smiling woman with fine, light brown hair.
"Nice to meet you, Emily."
"Nice to meet you," Emily said. Her eyes darted around him as Vivienne came to stand next to him.
"Emily teaches kindergarten. Isn't that delightful?" Vivienne said in a way that made it sound not delightful at all. Nick got the feeling Viv wasn't Emily's biggest fan. Despite Vivienne's tone, Emily kept smiling and clinging to Jonah's hand.
"It is. I love that she works with kids. She's got a big heart," Jonah said.
"It's admirable," Nick replied. They stood in awkward silence until Tom came over and slapped Nick on the back.
"What can I get you to drink?" he asked while cradling his tumbler of Scotch in his hand. Nick asked for the same. He'd grown to appreciate the drink, and he knew whatever Tom was serving would be spectacular. Tom motioned to Miranda, their housekeeper.
"Daddy was telling us that you had a meeting today," Vivienne said.
"We're helping your father with a new venture," Nick explained.
Miranda handed Nick his drink, and his prospective father-in-law raised his glass.
"Cheers," he said, raising his glass along with his host.
"Getting involved in the family business, huh, Nick?" Jonah asked.
"Not exactly. Your father was looking for new counsel, and I introduced him to the partners in my firm."
"Trust me," Jonah said with a sideways grin. "That's being in the family business. And, hey, I think that's great. I'm still looking for that save the date for the wedding, though."
Vivienne stiffened. "We're working on it, Jonah. I didn't think you'd be in a rush to have your younger sister get hitched before you."
Jonah laughed. "I'm a man, sister dear. I've got time."
"Don't take too much time, Jonah. Your girlfriends are staying the same age, but you're not," Vivienne retorted.
Poor Emily looked back and forth between brother and sister.
"She's kidding, Em." Jonah tilted his head toward his younger girlfriend, who gaped, none the wiser.
"Dinner will be ready in a few minutes if you'd like to head into the dining room," Miranda announced.
Tom and Sheila headed down a hallway, past their massive kitchen, and into the dining room. Jonah took Emily by the arm and down the hall, turning back briefly to shoot his sister a dirty look.
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