|Subject: Chapter 21
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Date Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 10:04:12pm
In reply to:
's message, "Angelita" on Wednesday, November 23, 10:02:58pm
The sun was setting when their plane touched down in Marseille. Nikita gasped at the sunset sparkling over the ocean. The weather seemed a balmy 48 degrees after the near zero temperatures they’d been having in Switzerland. Nikita stepped off the plane and felt like they had moved to a different planet. She didn’t care what the weather was, as long as there was not a sea of photographers waiting for her.
A limousine pulled onto the tarmac and the driver began loading their bags into the long car’s trunk.
Michael held the door for Nikita and she climbed inside.
“Do they know we are coming, Michael? Or are we going to surprise them?” she asked, settling into the luxurious leather seats.
“My sister Antoinette knows. We will be staying at her villa. Marie does not know yet, and neither does my father,” he told her.
Nikita clapped her hands together gleefully. “I can’t wait to meet them,” she said with excitement.
“My sister is very excited to meet you,” he told her. I spoke with her on the phone while you were napping. I haven’t talked to her in years,” he said thoughtfully.
Nikita’s gaze went soft. “Oh, Michael. I’m so glad we are coming to meet them,” she said, touching her fingers to his cheek.
Nikita glanced out the windows and the beautiful Mediterranean scenery took her breath away. She stare transfixed as the streets and buildings sped past the limousine. They drove up a winding road to the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. A large black gate swung open and the limousine pulled slowly inside.
The exterior lights were on, reflecting on the creamy pink stone of the villa and the trees and landscaping surrounding it. As the limousine pulled up the circular drive near the front entrance, a petite, dark-haired woman came rushing out of the front door.
The limousine stopped and the women wrenched open the door.
“Michel? I can’t believe it is you,” she said in rapid French.
“In English, please, Antoinette,” he reprimanded gently, with a smile on his face.
“Ahh, of course,” Michael’s sister said, looking at Nikita now. Her French accent was thick, but Nikita could tell what she was saying.
“Welcome to my home, Nee-kee-ta,” she said, holding out her hand to assist Nikita from the car.
“Thank you for allowing us to stay with you,” Nikita replied as Michael’s sister embraced her, kissing both cheeks.
Michael climbed from the car and was immediately set upon by his sister.
“Oh, Michel, je suis…”
“English,” he reminded.
Antoinette shook her head. “I am sorry. I am so happy to see you again. When I got your call, I almost fell off my chair. Henri did not believe that it was truly you,” she said, taking Nikita’s arm and leading them toward the house.
“Marie and I have been following every bit of news we could get about you, Neekeeta,” Antoinette told her. “Of course, we do not believe all of what they print, but when we saw the pictures of you in St. Moritz…” she trailed off, and threw her arms around Michael again.
Nikita smiled at the obvious love of Michael’s sister.
Antoinette led them through the front foyer and into an elegant living room. The Christmas tree was still up. Now that they were in the well-lit house, Nikita could examine Michael’s sister more closely.
The woman was very petite and, Nikita guessed, only 5 foot four or so. Where Michael’s hair was auburn, Antoinette’s was jet black and her eyes were a beautiful blue. As Nikita studied the other woman, she began to see similar facial features that the two siblings shared. After a few minutes, Nikita could definitely see the family resemblance.
“Where is Henri?” Michael asked, looking around the beautiful room.
“He and the children went to a movie so I could catch up with you. They will return later so you can meet them,” Antoinette told them, motioning for them to sit down. “Can I get you a drink?”
Nikita shook her head and Michael asked for wine. After Antoinette brought wine for herself and her brother, she settled down into an overstuffed leather chair and tucked her feet up beneath her.
“You must tell me everything, Michel,” Antoinette gushed, her excitement clear.
“Um…” Nikita asked, glancing at Michael.
“Yes, ‘kita?” Michael prompted turning to her.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but why do you keep calling him Michelle?” Nikita asked confused.
Antoinette’s tinkling laugh filled the room, and even Michael smiled.
“Michel is the way the French say Michael,” he explained.
Nikita made a silent “oh” with her mouth, and nodded.
“If we tell you the story, then we will have to repeat it for Henri and then again for Marie,” Michael told his sister. “Why don’t you tell me about your family,” he suggested.
Antoinette looked disappointed, but she relented. “Very well. Amélie is seven. I don’t think you’ve even seen her since she was a baby. But she is so beautiful Michael. She is taking ballet lessons and loves to ride Papa’s horses. She is attending St. Barnabas Academy and makes good marks.
“Charles is four. He keeps us very busy. He looks just like you do Michel. He is very bright and loves to play on Henri’s computer. He loves to sing. He even convinced Henri to get him a dog.”
Michael smiled. “And Marie?” he asked her.
“You can talk to her tomorrow. She and Andre will be here for luncheon. Oh, Michel, their baby Éduoard is an angel. He looks just like Mama,” Antoinette gushed.
Their conversation continued with memories of their childhood, discussion of their father, and, when Antoinette’s family returned, introductions. Nikita drank in the love of the family, surprised that Michael had left all of his relatives for so long.
Later in the their room, Nikita lay her cheek against Michael’s chest. “Michael, how could you leave all of this?” she asked.
Michael sighed. “Truly, Nikita, I did not realize how much I had missed them until I returned. I was so angry with my father, and with Elena, and … life, that I ran away from it all. Living in South America was like locking away my feelings, my heart. …Until I found you, I hadn’t realized what I was missing,” he told her haltingly.
Nikita raised her head and looked into his eyes. “I love you, Michael,” she whispered.
“And I, you, ma Coeur,” he breathed, leaning up to kiss her lips.
The kiss deepened and soon all talk was forgotten as Michael tortured Nikita with his talented hands and body. All she could do was whimper as he played her body like a virtuoso. As the lovers came together, all other thoughts were banished by the searing love of the two hearts joining.
The next morning, Nikita and Michael joined the family for breakfast enjoying the warm sense of belonging that permeated the house. The children played with their new Christmas toys, and a warm fire blazed in the hearth.
Relaxing and reading, Nikita waited for Michael’s other sister to arrive. Michael had told her that his brother in law, Andre, was extremely wealthy, and they spent much of their time on their yacht. Andre also helped Michael’s father run his business dealings.
Nikita looked up in surprise as the front door banged open and the whirlwind that was Marie came bursting through it.
“Michel!!!” she screamed, throwing herself into his arms.
Nikita looked on as Michael twirled his youngest sister in a circle. Marie was as petite as Antoinette with dark brown hair and eyes. She wore an expensive, yet casual outfit and she laughed as Michael spun her.
“Marie!” Andre reprimanded from the doorway as he shut the door and hauled in a baby carrier and diaper bag. “Please control yourself,” he told her in French.
Nikita looked at Michael as Antoinette rushed over to the take the baby from Andre. She cooed to him in a sing-song voice in French.
“I must apologize for my wife,” Andre said to Nikita in English with only a touch of a French accent. “She has spoken of nothing but you and Michel for days. I am afraid her exuberance overwhelms her propriety.
Nikita smiled as the other man embraced her. “Welcome to the family,” he said.
“Thank you,” Nikita said with a smile.
“Marie, release your brother and introduce us properly,” Andre gently scolded. The smile on his face belied his words.
“Oh Andre! Isn’t it so wonderful that Michel is finally home?” Marie gushed.
Nikita noticed that she too, had only a trace of an accent when speaking English.
Marie towed Michael toward her husband. “Michel, this is my husband Andre. Andre, my brother Michel.”
Nikita’s brow furrowed as the two men shook hands. “You don’t know each other?” she asked in confusion.
“Andre and I were married after Michael… left,” Marie explained. “We have much to catch up on.”
Antoinette brought a drooling Éduoard over to the group. The baby had a chubby fist stuck in his mouth and smiled broadly at the adults who were now focused on him.
“Would you like to hold him, Nee-kee-ta?” Antoinette asked.
Nikita nodded and put out her hands for the baby. She had loved the babies in her village and was excited to be able to play with one again.
“How old is he?” she asked.
“Six months,” Marie told her.
The group made their way to the living room and sat down. Antoinette brought drinks for all and Nikita sat on the floor to play with the baby, while Michael finally told their story from start to finish.
At the end, all three of the others sat stunned.
“Amazing,” Andre said, recovering first.
“Oui,” Antoinette breathed.
“It is really quite wonderful that we have found each other, but now that I am somewhat of a celebrity, the media won’t leave us alone,” Nikita told them.
“Ah yes, we know how it is,” Marie sympathized. “Andre’s family is rather like French royalty, so when we were married and had Éduoard, the papers were always lurking around. But for you and Michel….” She clucked her tongue. “It is very much worse.”
“You are welcome to hide out on the yacht any time, Michael,” Andre offered. “It is totally self-sustaining and you can stay out of sight for weeks at a time.”
“Thank you for the offer Andre. I fear we may actually take you up on it,” Michael said with a rueful smile.
“What about your father?” Nikita asked, handing a now fussing Éduoard back to Marie.
Antoinette sighed. “Ahhh, papa. What is there to say? After Mama died, he has never been the same.”
“He was so bitter when Michel left. He has never let go of his anger,” Marie continued.
Michael sighed. “Have you told him I am here?” he asked his sisters.
Antoinette looked at Marie. “I said nothing,” Marie protested.
I do not think he knows, Michel,” Antoinette said with a shrug. “We did not know whether he would be happy or angry, so we did not say anything.”
Michael sighed again. “It’s probably for the best. I suppose I should just get it over with.”
“Michel, your father is getting old. He is constantly asking if I will take over more of the business,” Andre put in. “But alas, I have neither the time nor the inclination. He may be very happy to see you.”
“But if Michael did not want to run his father’s business before, won’t this be like reopening an old wound?” Nikita asked.
Marie shrugged. “You see the dilemma, Nikita. No one knows how our Papa will react,” she told Nikita.
“Well I think you should just go,” Nikita said taking Michael’s hands. “He is your father. Even if he was or still is angry, he loves you. You are his only son.”
Michael leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “You are right of course.”
The five talked more over brunch and fussed over Edouard. Nikita was truly in love with the little baby. Michael watched her with the baby, feeling a strange, fullness around his heart. He realized with a start that he was content. For the first time in years, Michael felt content. He was with his family again, in France, with the woman he loved.
Where would things lead? He wondered to himself. He had his father to worry about, the paparazzi always stalking them, and Nikita’s father. He wondered how long Nick would allow them the freedom they had now. He was certain that the financier would not sit by as his newly found, and ONLY daughter, was made the subject of tabloid rumors again and again.
Michael looked at Nikita, who glanced at him and smiled.
What did Nikita want? Was she coming to love the glitz and glamour of Manhattan?
He sighed and noticed Andre watching him.
“Come,” the other man beckoned, pulling a cigar out of a case in his pocket. “Walk with me while I indulge my… nasty indulgence,” he gave his wife a smile, “outside.”
Michael, intrigued, stood and kissed the top of Nikita’s and Edouard’s heads and then followed his brother in law outside onto the deck.
“What is on your mind, Andre?” Michael asked in French.
Andre took his time lighting his cigar then took a long drag, looked thoughtfully out at the view, and then blew the smoke away.
“Your father, he is not well,” he began, with no preamble to soften the blow. “I have not said anything to Marie or Antoinette because I do not want to worry them, but his mind is not what it used to be. He needs someone to run the company, Michel. I do not have the time, nor, if I am completely honest, the desire to run his empire. Henri does not have the spine for it. He may have been angry with you once, Michel, but he needs you now. You must go to him. Make amends. Take over where you should have before,” Andre said seriously.
Michael stared at his brother in law for a long moment.
“You are right, of course,” he said with a sigh. “But I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Nikita?” Andre asked, taking another long puff on his cigar.
Michael nodded. “We are lovers, but I am also her bodyguard. The press hound her constantly. She is not safe without me… and I do not want to be without her,” he answered.
This time Andre nodded, but said nothing.
Michael’s head dropped back as he stared up at the sky, not really seeing anything. “I will go tomorrow,” he said.
“Take Nikita,” Andre said, clapping a hand to Michael’s shoulder. “Her beauty will calm the beast. It will force your father to be on his good behavior. He is old fashioned about these things.”
“Very well,” Michael sighed. “Shall I just show up at his office unannounced?”
Andre pondered that for a moment then blew out a cloud of fragrant, blue smoke. “No, we shall call Madeline right now and make an appointment. Then you shall not be interrupted,” he said, pulling out his cellular phone.
“Oui, Madeline, s’il vous plait. C’est Andre,” he paused as he was transferred. “Madeline? It’s Andre. I need you to block out at least 2 hours tomorrow for Jean-Luc. Yes, over lunch would be fine… Very well. Eleven o’clock. Thank you.”
He flipped his phone shut and gave Michael a triumphant look. “All set.”
Andre stubbed out his cigar and followed Michael back to the house.
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