Home > By Virtue I Fall (Sins of the Fathers #3)(7)

By Virtue I Fall (Sins of the Fathers #3)(7)
Author: Cora Reilly

I almost snickered but managed to keep a straight face. Sometimes it was unsettling how similar our minds worked.

“Good thing Bea stayed at home. She would have started crying the second she saw those creepy smiles,” Leonas continued, oblivious to Mom’s warning expression.

I nudged him. “Shhh.”

Clifford didn’t take his eyes off me while I shook hands with his parents and exchanged dishonest pleasantries with them. He looked almost… confused, as if he simply couldn’t believe that I was his future wife. I wondered if he’d argued with his parents. He wasn’t bound to the same rules like people in our world, so what was stopping him from refusing to marry me?

Mr. Clark pointed at his son with a benevolent smile. “This is my son Clifford.”

“We know each other from tennis practice,” Clifford said in a voice that suggested it wasn’t the first time he’d told his father.

I nodded and extended my hand, even if it felt awkward to greet my future husband with a handshake.

After that, we all settled at the table. The atmosphere was tense. Especially Clifford’s sisters were obviously wary of us as if they thought we might pull guns at the table and shoot them all.

Even though Clifford and I sat across from each other, we didn’t talk much except for “Would you mind passing me the bowl?” and avoided eye contact. Mom tried to catch my gaze during dinner, her expression questioning. I gave her a quick smile before I focused on dessert once again.

When the maid pushed a trolley with digestif bottles over to the table, I said to Clifford, “This place looks really big.” I hoped he’d get my cue.

“Do you want a tour of the house?” Clifford asked with a pleasant smile, finally meeting my eyes.

I got the feeling he wanted to escape the tense atmosphere and not-so-veiled complaints from his parents as much as I did.

“Yes, please.”

I glanced at Dad who gave a curt nod. I pushed to my feet and gave Leonas a forbidding look, lest he might consider joining us. I wanted a word with Clifford alone and not have my brother poking his nose into things that didn’t concern him.

Clifford made an inviting gesture toward the door. I walked back out into the foyer, feeling lighter with every step that took me farther away from the rest of the Clarks. It was one of the very few occasions away from home that I was allowed to be without either my parents or Santino, and that too felt good for once.

“Do you really want a tour of the house?” Clifford asked the moment the door was closed.

I shook my head. “Not really. I just wanted to escape and I’m not too keen on returning any time soon.”

“Me neither. How about we go to my room? Nobody will bother us there.”

“Lead the way.”

Clifford still kept up his public smile as he led me through the lobby. “The walls have ears.”

I gave him a questioning look.

“We’ve had some problems with personnel in the past.”

I nodded and followed Clifford into another hallway that led to an annex.

“This was meant to be the pool house but my parents turned it into my own place.”

We stepped into the house which had a big living space with a couch, ginormous flatscreen TV, a kitchen unit, and a pool table. It had a direct view of the pool and the gardens. A pebbled pathway also led from the pool house back to the porch of the main house. There was a door to my left, where I suspected the bedroom to be. I was glad Clifford didn’t show it to me, because that would have undoubtedly become awkward.

Clifford leaned against the pool table and finally dropped the constant smile.

“How long have you known about us?”

His voice wasn’t unfriendly but I caught the hint of accusation.

“Since I was thirteen. Remember back when I watched you that one day and you and your friends snickered? That was a day after I found out.”

“My friends thought you had a crush on me.” He chuckled then regarded me curiously. “That’s not the case, right?”

I burst out laughing. “No, it’s not. And that’s not why our parents decided to match us if that’s what you think. Only tactical reasons have led to the union, not emotions.”

“That’s a consolation, I suppose?” Clifford said wryly, his face scrunched up in obvious puzzlement. Poor guy.

“You were really rude to me that day.”

“Was I? It must have been bad if you still remember after all this time.”

“I have the memory of an elephant, especially when it comes to people being rude to me.”

Clifford rubbed the back of his head, still uncomfortable but I could tell he was slowly loosening up. “What did I do?”

“You got mad because I interrupted your tennis match.”

“Ahh, I’m competitive. Sorry. I loathe losing, so I can get really rude if people disturb my concentration.”

“Good to know.”

“Taking notes for our marriage?”

“Definitely.”

Clifford shook his head. “This is really strange. Nobody from my friends is engaged yet, or even thinking about it.”

“I can’t say the same. It’s common in our world for people to be promised as kids or teens.”

“That’s what I hear.”

I could hear a hint of disapproval in his tone and it made me want to defend our way of living, but I held back. I didn’t want an argument on this day. “But we’re not officially engaged yet. We need to have an engagement party and an official announcement.”

“My father wants to wait until we’re both eighteen.”

Dad had mentioned it. It was uncommon in our world to wait this long, especially if one party was as high profile as me.

“They make it out to be some kind of star-crossed lovers thing. Apparently, that’s what will sell this bond to the doubters,” Clifford continued.

“Who can resist true love against all odds?”

Clifford’s lips curled.

“You don’t believe in true love?”

“I only believe in things I can see.”

“Your parents don’t love each other?”

Clifford smiled in a disarming way. “Do yours?”

I smiled in turn and looked around the room. My parents most definitely loved each other. Sharing family secrets was way too personal for us at this point. Though, I wasn’t sure I’d ever trust Clifford enough to divulge any secrets of importance to him. “I guess this is good for parties and for having girls over without being interrupted.”

Clifford tilted his head, watching me closely. “Jealous?”

I chuckled. “Not one bit.”

It was true. It didn’t feel as if Clifford were mine and I didn’t feel the desire to claim him as mine. That would probably come once we were married. Now the word jealousy only brought up one name: Santino.

He nodded but didn’t stop the staring. He seemed to want to figure me out. It would take him years to do so if I allowed it.

“Are you a virgin?”

I couldn’t believe he asked that. “What?” In our circles, it was offensive to ask a girl something like that and to implicate that she might not be a virgin.

“Just curious. It’s none of my business anyway.”

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