We are pleased to be shining the spotlight on the chick lit/contemporary fiction, Along Came Jones, by Victoria Bernadine.
“What?” she teases with a
fond, slightly mocking smile. “Are you
‘proposing’ because you think it’s what people are supposed to do on New Year’s
Ferrin smirks his lopsided, endearing smirk as he lowers
himself to one knee and proffers the small, square velvet box he dug out of the
pocket of his tuxedo.
The beautiful brunette laughs
again. “Oh, Ferrin, get up—you’re being
ridiculous! And the joke really isn’t
all that funny.”
Olivia glances at the crowd of
beaming friends and family surrounding them and Ferrin watches as realization
slowly dawns on her face. Her gaze snaps
back to his as realization morphs into horror, and Ferrin feels a corresponding
sick, sinking feeling grow in his stomach as her expression changes. His own smile slips away and his face freezes
into an expressionless mask. Their
spectators’ hissed in-drawn breaths and sudden, uncomfortable silence barely register
given his complete and utter focus on Olivia.
He knows what she’s going to
say before she says it, but like any impending disaster, he can’t seem to look
“Oh, my God,” she
whispers. “Oh, shit!” She bites her lip, then says in a rush, “I
love you, Ferrin, I really, truly do…but I can’t marry you.” Her voice breaks; her eyes fill with tears.
The silence that follows seems
to grow and envelop them in a stifling cocoon built from his humiliation and
suddenly terrified heart. Ferrin hears,
as if through cotton wool, subdued voices and the shuffling of feet as their
family and friends gather their things and leave the apartment. In some distant corner of his mind, he’s
mildly surprised they’re all leaving so quietly…or maybe he just can’t hear
them across the yawning divide that’s opened between him and Olivia.
As the door closes, she
whispers, “Get up. Your knee must hurt.”
Does it? He can’t tell over the crushing pressure in
his chest, his stomach, his head, but he struggles to his feet anyway, like she
asks, because she asks, aching and sore and
suddenly ancient. He straightens and
becomes, as always, self-consciously aware of how big he is in comparison to her, and how his bulk
looming over her always makes her edgy.
He automatically slouches his shoulders, trying to minimize his size,
trying to make her comfortable.
“Say something,” she begs, and
her voice breaks.
His voice is cracked, hollow,
distant, as he says, “Is this it?”
‘It’, he thinks with despair. Such a tiny word with such a huge meaning.
She hesitates, then nods, not
quite looking at him.
“This can’t come as that much
of a surprise. Not if you’re honest with
Ferrin can’t seem to make his
brain work. He shakes his head, trying
to force something—anything—loose so his world—his life—will start to make sense again.
“I—I—no. Yes. Why?” he asks, and winces at just
how lost he sounds.
Olivia sighs and says, very
gently, “I want other things in life than you do, Ferrin. My career means everything to me and I want
to make it to the top of Macon-Jones Enterprises, or as high as I can get
without being a blood relative.”
Finally, finally, anger flares
“And I’m holding you
back? In my own family’s company?”
Ferrin’s eyes widen. “You really believe it,” he breathes. “When have I ever stood in your way, Olivia?”
This time her sigh is
long-suffering. “You’ve never stood in
my way, no, but you’ve never actively helped me, either.”
“I didn’t think you wanted me
to! If I recall correctly, you told me
so in no uncertain terms when we moved in together. That’s only a couple of years ago! What’s changed?”
“I didn’t want you using any
undue influence with Abram to get me promotions I didn’t deserve,” Olivia
snaps, her own anger flaring. “That
didn’t mean I didn’t want you to help me at all!”
Ferrin snorts. “Nobody has undue influence with Abram. You should know that by now!”
“Abram isn’t the point! The point is that I could have used your
support when some of my projects came up for a vote before the Board. Instead, you, as always, stayed out of it and
gave your vote to the first cousin who asked for it, without any regard to how
the decision would impact my career or my projects! Half the time, you didn’t even bother asking
me how I wanted you to vote!”
“I never ask anyone about the
projects or how they want to use my vote!
The cousins know how I play the game and it works well for all of
us. Why do you think I’m the only one
any of them will talk to without a witness present?”
Olivia throws her hands up in
the air as she whirls and paces away.
“There! That’s exactly the
He takes a step back,
blinking. “What? The fact that I’m friendly with all my
cousins? That’s a problem?”
“No!” She brushes a hand over her face in
exasperation. She turns to him, and now
he recognizes that look on her face.
It’s the one she has when she’s getting ready to lecture him on what,
exactly, he’s done wrong, and what he needs to do to avoid making the same
She says, “It’s not the fact
the cousins all like you that’s the problem; it’s the reason they all like you! You’re such a goddamn fixer, itching to solve
everyone’s problems that you’ve become a complete pushover! I don’t want to hurt you, Ferrin, but, let’s
face it: you’re a sucker. You’re gullible. And I hate to say this, but you’re also a bit
of a wimp. You’ll do whatever anybody
tells you to do, and that’s proven in spades by your so-called ‘business
investments’! All anybody needs in order
to get money out of you is a sob story and a half-assed idea!”
His mouth sags open as he
rocks beneath her barrage, every word slamming into his heart and his gut and
“What the hell?” he chokes.
Olivia deflates, pity in her
“Look,” she says, and now her
voice is calm and firmly matter-of-fact, the way Ferrin has so often heard her
speak whenever he’s forced to attend a board meeting with her, “I’m going to be
CEO someday of a multi-billion-dollar multinational company. Your family’s multi-billion-dollar
multinational company. It’s
ruthless and cutthroat, and a spouse’s strengths and talents are just as
important to an executive’s rise as the executive’s own skills and talents,
especially in Macon-Jones Enterprises.
You know how outright Machiavellian your family can be, and that’s when
they’re arranging Christmas! If you
think they’re ruthless in their personal lives, they’re ten times worse in the
boardroom, trust me!”
“Yes, I know,” Ferrin says
drily, and is almost glad he’s starting to feel something—anything—now. “I have met my cousins and I’ve even been to
a board meeting a time or two. Abram
seems to have done all right without a spouse to support him.”
She snorts. “He’s Chair and he was handed the job by your
great-grandfather! He’s never had to
prove anything to anybody!”
His laugh is harsh and
barking. “Now you’re the one who’s forgotten
what my cousins are like!” He waves his words away. “Doesn’t matter. You knew when we met that I do everything I
can to avoid anything to do with the company.”
“You’re not supposed to avoid
it by giving your vote to whichever cousin gets to you first! Besides, you’re your father’s only surviving
child, the last of your particular branch of the family! You out of all your cousins shouldn’t avoid
the company at all!”
She grimaces. “I’m sorry; that was low…but you know I’m
right. You could wield enormous
influence and power in the company, and not only with the family when they want
something, if you’d just take an interest!
If you would listen to me, let me guide you, advise you so you don’t
believe everything you’re told, and let me stop Carson, Dyson and Jack from
constantly distracting you, you could be the next Chair of the Board instead of
“So I’m not only gullible and
a wimp, I’m also so stupid I can only trust you to advise me?” he says,
“Of course not! But you’re wasting your potential—and your
birthright! Your father was Abram’s
second-in-command, for God’s sake! All
you have to do is step up and follow in his footsteps!” She runs a hand through her hair and
groans. “Face it, Ferrin, I’m never going
to be CEO if I remain allied with you, not unless you change your approach to
Ferrin rears back and stares.
“‘Allied’?” he says
slowly. “Is that what the last five
years have been about, Olivia? An
“No! Of course not! I love you.
I do! You’re a wonderful man,
Ferrin. But you’re…” She spreads her
hands and shrugs helplessly.
“Weak,” he says flatly, “and
obviously a little stupid. Have I got it
“Ferrin…” She takes a step towards him, but he quickly
retreats. She stops and stares at him,
her large, brown eyes brimming with tears.
For once, he’s unmoved.
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a disappointment to your professional
ambitions,” he grates out, a bitter twist to his lips. He turns and heads for the exit.
“Where are you going?”
“I have no idea,” he says, and
slams the door behind him.
Lou signs the last of the
papers and sits back with a rueful scowl.
“Considering I never leave the
house,” she grumbles to Ike, “you’d think there’d be less paperwork.”
Ike chuckles as he straightens
the papers and tucks them into his briefcase.
“You have a lot of
investments, Lou. You need to keep track
of them all.”
She shrugs. “I suppose, although I thought that’s what I
was paying you to do.”
“Lou,” Ike says, and leans
back in Ike’s Chair with an annoyed sigh.
She grimaces and waves a
hand. “Whatever. You know I don’t read the things when you put
them in front of me, and I tune out as soon as you start talking finances and
investments and whatever the hell else you’re saying when your lips are
“Yes, I do know. Why do you think I gave up a long time ago on
trying to convince you to pay more attention?”
She shrugs, then tugs her
over-sized, dirt-brown sweater more closely around herself. Her stomach churns and tightens as she buries
her suddenly shaking hands in the knitted wool.
She staunchly reminds herself of her New Year’s Resolution to make
changes in her life, beginning with her relationship with Ike and ending with her
finally figuring out a way to leave the house.
“Would you like something to
drink?” she asks, carefully casual, but she can’t quite keep the hopeful lilt
from her voice.
It’s been a long time since
Ike stayed past the time it takes to get her signature on a stack of papers, or
to confirm she’s still breathing. She
misses the days when he’d linger and talk with her, giving her news of the
world outside the walls of her house.
Even more, she misses those all-too-few nights, when he’d whisper
against her heated skin, and leave her weak with need. But those nights, like everything else, faded
away and now he barely spends any time with her at all.
She doesn’t really miss
people, but she misses Ike, and he’s the only one right in front of her.
Now he hesitates, and the
thoughtful look on his face makes her stomach drop.
This won’t be good, she thinks.
“I don’t want anything to
drink,” he says slowly, “but I do want to talk to you.”
Her stomach drops even further
as she shifts her weight in her seat, her fingers clutching at the strands of
“All right,” she says, feeling
as wary as a rabbit sensing danger.
Ike leans forward, his
gorgeous golden-brown eyes never wavering from hers. He says, very carefully and precisely, “On
New Year’s Eve, I asked Irish to marry me, and she said yes.”
The ensuing silence lengthens,
deepens, as the words drift around her like leaves, like dust.
She loves Ike, has always
loved him. Even while they played cops
and robbers through the dusty streets of Ledoux, or hunted for ghosts in and
around the abandoned hospital on the outskirts of town, or searched for buried
treasure in the rare copses of trees that dot the prairie landscape, she also
secretly dreamed of playing house. He’s
her white knight, riding to her rescue whenever he noticed her schoolmates
teasing her or when her mother got sick or when she realized she could no
longer bring herself to face the world lurking outside her windows. He starred in more dreams than she can count
when she was a teenager, and he’s in more fantasies than she cares to admit as
Ten years ago, he helped her
cope with her mother’s illness as he gradually took over all the mundane tasks
she had no time or energy to do: paying
bills, buying groceries, talking to the neighbours. Five years later, he stood by her side,
strong and tall and comforting, when she finally laid her mother—that poor,
long-suffering woman—to rest. Lou had been twenty-five then, grief-stricken and
suddenly unable to cope with the world outside, but Ike remained her friend
even after she crept into her house and allowed the doors to seal shut behind
She stayed inside, and there
were those few brief months when he joined her in her bed, but then his desire
faded away, and when she wasn’t looking, he fell in love with Irish.
The cold of a Saskatchewan
winter doesn’t even come close to the ice growing inside her.
She blinks and shifts, her
fingers flexing nervously against the knitted fabric of her sweater.
croaks. Her heart clenches at the
genuine happiness on his face, in his eyes.
She clears her throat, then asks, her voice husky, “When’s the big day?”
“The beginning of March.”
“That’s only six weeks away!”
He laughs. “Well, there’s no reason to wait, is there?
Don’t worry, Lou, I’m still going to manage your finances and take care of
That’s…good.” What did it
wants to scream, if there’s no longer any hope you’ll come back to me?
Ike nods as he smacks his
hands against his knees and surges to his feet.
“Maybe someday you’ll meet
her,” he says, grinning as he picks up his briefcase.
She forces a smile, and hopes
he doesn’t notice her trembling lips.
“Maybe. You’ve told me so much
about her, I feel like I know her already.”
She winces inside at her dry tone.
Ike either doesn’t notice or
decides to ignore the sarcasm.
“You’d like her, you know,” he
says as he walks to the door. She drifts
after him and watches, helpless, as he pulls on his boots and parka. “She reminds me a lot of how you used to be.”
Lou opens her mouth to say she could be the way she used to
be; she just needs to figure out how to get there, that’s all. But he’s already opening the door, and she
closes her mouth, the words unsaid.
He pauses on the threshold,
the icy air swirling round his feet and into the large, cluttered foyer. He
half-turns towards her, standing in both shadow and light. Lou swallows, once again struck by how
perfect he is, from the compelling beauty of his amber eyes, high cheekbones and
perfectly symmetrical features, to his crown of carefully groomed dark brown
hair, now ruffled by the cold winter wind.
She sometimes finds it hard to believe he’s ever run barefoot through
mud, or hovered over her as he patiently coaxed her to orgasm. Maybe if she had been able to enjoy the sex
“I’ll be back before the
wedding,” he says now, startling her from her thoughts. “See you later, Lou.”
He flashes his charming smile,
and is gone before she even finishes nodding.
She stares at the door without
seeing it before she carefully straightens her sweater, vaguely aware her feet
are numb even in their wool socks, thanks to the cold prairie wind that had
blown inside the house. She turns and
walks just as carefully back to the living room. She eases down onto the couch, feeling as if even
the air touching her skin is enough to break her.
She stares at nothing, and
allows the comforting silence to gently settle over her.