Hi, peoples, I'm cyber-ready again, thank God. Here we go with the final two parts of Trading Hearts.
Trading Hearts is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons in coincidental. Photo courtesy of www.islandhideaways.com.
“Are you sure you’re up for this?”
Natasha looked in the mirror at the worried expression on her sister’s face and shrugged. “I’m not sure about anything right now,” she replied. “I’m just going with the flow.”
She twisted her body and examined her side profile. The gold strapless Grecian-styled dress she was wearing accentuated her bust line, and drew attention away from her expanding tummy and hips. Her hair was swept up in an elegant chignon and delicate teardrop Swarovski crystal earrings sparkled in her ears as she moved.
She patted her tummy and cast an admiring glance at Kim’s slim figure, encased in a black, low-cut floor-length gown with gold rhinestones around its bust line.
“No, you don’t look fat,” Kim teased, handing her a shawl. “Let’s go before you change your mind.”
Frank and Marie Taylor looked up as their daughters entered the kitchen. “You two look gorgeous,” their father complimented as the girls kissed him goodbye.
“You’re sure you don’t need us to help out around here? I don’t like leaving you to do all this baking by yourself,” Natasha pointed to the baking pans and dried goods scattered on the countertops. The inviting aroma of ham baking in the oven already filled the air.
Marie shooed them out of the room. “We’ll manage. You all have a good time and make sure you talk to Michael,” she reminded Natasha sternly.
Twenty minutes later, the Taylor sisters swung through the open gates of Emerald Bay House. Natasha gasped in admiration at the thousands of fairy lights that adorned the tall trees lining the drive. The whole effect was of entering a Christmas wonderland.
“I know you told me the decorator outdid himself but this is unbelievable,” Natasha laughed in delight.
“Wait till you see the inside,” Kim grinned back. “I think the man bought every real and fake poinsettia plant in Barbados.”
After turning over their vehicle to the valets specially hired for the evening, the women were met at the main door by the butler Henry. As they exchanged warm season’s greetings, Natasha admired the beautifully decorated foyer, the centerpiece of which was a massive live Christmas tree adorned with red and gold silk poinsettias. The decorator had even entwined a garland of fresh red poinsettias around the staircase leading up to the upper floor.
Natasha refused a glass of champagne from a passing waitress and the sisters moved towards the rear balcony. It was packed with persons chatting or dancing to the jazzy rendition of “What Child Is This” being performed by a local songstress on a stage erected poolside. A large crowd clustered around the stage, matching the singer note for note. The Christmas spirit was definitely alive and well at Emerald Bay House.
Kim tapped her sister’s shoulder and Natasha turned to see Brian Goddard strolling in their direction with Jasmine on his arm. Brian cut a handsome figure in a tuxedo, while Jasmine was poured into a gold, knee-length sheath that belied her age.
“You made it!” Brian exclaimed, kissing Natasha and Kim on the cheek. Jasmine forced a smile and wished her nieces a Merry Christmas, and the women thanked her coolly.
Although they had come a long way from the open warfare of past weeks, thanks mainly to the concern expressed by Jasmine towards Frank, Natasha was still not at the stage of letting bygones be bygones.
Brian noticed Natasha scanning the crowd and smiled. “His flight was delayed so he’s still over in the guest cottage getting ready. Maybe you should go offer him a hand.”
Natasha nodded and excused herself, heading back inside the house. Just as Henry opened the main door to let her out, in walked Matthew and a woman Natasha recognised as Eve Whittaker. She stepped aside wordlessly to let them pass but Matthew halted in front of her.
“Natasha, you remember my wife, Eve. Eve, this is Natasha Taylor.”
Natasha extended her hand politely and the woman shook it limply. "When I met her she wasn't your wife but that's just semantics," Natasha said dryly.
The woman eyed Natasha’s dress enviously and clung protectively to her husband’s arm. “I remember you from functions held by my father’s firm. You used to date my husband, right?” she asked, her lips curled into a tight smile.
Natasha resisted a chuckle as she observed the other woman’s actions. Although Eve did not look as thin and sallow as she did five years earlier, her self-confidence had certainly not improved. “That was a long time ago,” Natasha reassured her. “In the folly of my youth.”
Matthew threw her a scowl and she smiled at him sweetly. “Merry Christmas, Matthew, Eve.” She excused herself and proceeded to the guest cottage at the other end of the property.
“Hold your horses, Brian man!” she heard Michael call as she rang the doorbell.
He threw open the door without looking out, bending over to tie the laces of his black leather shoes. His expensive-looking black silk shirt was unbuttoned, leaving his toned abs on display. Natasha’s breath caught at the sight of this beautiful man who had turned her carefully-constructed life upside down in the past few months.
Realising that the cute, red-painted toes peeping out of gold heels most definitely did not belong to Brian, Michael straightened. A range of emotions flickered across his handsome face before a guarded smile settled on his lips.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” he said, his tone curt.
“I wasn’t sure if I was,” she replied. “May I come in?”
He moved aside to let her enter. “As you can see I’m in a bit of a rush so…”
She squared her shoulders, trying to hide how upset she was by his indifference. “I won’t keep you too long, I just need to tell you something, Mi...Alan...what do I call you?” she blurted out in frustration.
He put his hands on his hips and stared at her coldly. “Michael will do. Why are you here, Natasha? I thought you were through talking to me.”
She gave in to her irritation and returned his glare. “There’s no need to be so hostile, Michael Austin.”
He uttered a sardonic chuckle. “I don’t? I thought we meant something to each other, yet you wouldn’t even hear me out when I tried to explain. You put up your damn walls as usual!”
“With good reason!” she gasped in anger. “Because you were pretending to be some penniless handyman when you not only own King Properties but nearly half the luxury villas in the whole frigging Caribbean!”
His jaw tightened and he nodded slowly. “Ah, I see. So that’s why you’re here now, to cash in?”
Natasha felt as though she had been punched in the stomach. “This isn’t going to work,” she whispered tearfully.
She reached into her handbag and removed a folded sheet of paper. “I came here to show you this,” she said, tossing it at his feet. “When you get around to looking at it call my lawyer at Yearwood and Boyce and we’ll arrange how to proceed.”
She turned and stomped out of the cottage before he could see the tears streaming down her face.
Annoyed with himself, Michael scooped up the paper and unfolded it. His jaw dropped when he realised he was looking at an untrasound scan. Swearing loudly, he bolted out the door after his girlfriend.