Clara knelt down and planted a kiss on Genevieve’s cheek. Her heart was fluttering nervously in her chest. They were about to leave for Magnolia Promenade where they would meet her parents for dinner.
“Be good for you Grandmother, darling. Me and your Father will be back home soon. Why don’t you play some void critters with Cullen tonight?”
Genevieve pulled away and looked up at her Mother with worried eyes,
“I know something is wrong Mommy. I can see it in your eyes. Even though you’re smiling you’re scared.”
Clara smiled sadly and bent down again but this time to wrap Genevieve in a tight embrace.
“Oh sweetheart. Mommy will be fine.”
Claudio reached down to wrap Cullen in a hug and squeezed him tightly.
“Watch over your sister, son. You know how your Grandmother likes to fall asleep early. Don’t go doing any wild shenanigans.”
Cullen giggled mischievously,
“I wouldn’t count on anything Dad.”
Claudio sighed and stood up, he reached for Clara’s hand and squeezed.
“We should get going, love. I don’t want to keep the chauffeur waiting.”
As they walked out of the front door Clara turned around one last time and blew a kiss at her two children. She had tears threatening to fall but she didn’t let anyone see. She wouldn’t let anyone see. She could be strong, for their sakes.
When they arrived at the restaurant Clara got a sudden pain in her stomach, worse than any of the other ones she had had throughout the pregnancy. She sucked in a quick breath and almost fainted from the pain. Claudio was busy talking to the rather rude host so she was able to compose herself before he noticed.
“Yes, there should be a table waiting for us with Mr. and Mrs. Bledstone?”
The host gave Claudio an incredulous look while briefly glancing down at his computer.
“Yes sir. Right this way.”
They were led outside by the host and as they got closer Clara made out her Mother’s pale frame. As if she felt her presence she turned around and stared at the both of them as they made their way to the table.
“I see you haven’t lost your good sense of fashion, darling.”
Clara grimaced. Her Mother, Elizabeth Bledstone, was a very vain woman. Throughout Clara’s entire life everything she wore was dictated by her mother, even down to how she styled her hair.
Clara cleared her throat and smoothed out the napkin on her lap,
“I see these past few years have been kind to you Mother.”
Elizabeth scoffed and patted her daughter’s hand,
“Flattery will get you nowhere, darling. You should know that better than anyone.”
The tension in the air only increased when Nathaniel Bledstone let out a large sigh,
“For the fanciest restaurant around here they don’t have a very good wine selection. There’s a better list at a pub in Champ les Sims!”
“Well I think their wine selection is fine. They have a good year from Monte Vista.”
Nathaniel let out a dry laugh,
“My dear boy. If you think you can school me on wine then you are sorely mistaken. Have you forgotten who you were talking to?”
Claudio bristled and glared at Nathaniel,
“No I haven’t forgotten that I am speaking to the man that would have married my wife off to a man she hardly knew.”
Elizabeth gasped and Clara placed her hand on Claudio’s leg in an attempt to calm him. Nathaniel on the other hand gently laid down the menu and stared coldy at Claudio.
“Well if that’s how you want to play it Mr. Belle then let’s skip the formalities. I called you here to arrange a business deal between the two of our families.”
Nathaniel paused to glance around the table to confirm all eyes were on him before he continued,
“As you know my daughter, Clara, was supposed to marry a man I arranged for her to. Well not a man per say but a Lord from Widenburg. She was my heir and he was going to take over my estate when I passed away. That included all the vineyards, mines, farms, and other assets I have in my holdings. You see Mr. Belle, my family is self made and we keep our heads above water by drowning everyone else. Even if that means sacrificing my daughter's happiness I am happy to oblige.”
“Everything you are telling me isn’t making me like you any more Nathaniel.”
Nathaniel scoffed, annoyed, and shook his head,
“Mr. Belle you haven’t let me finish. Since my daughter has gone off and married a lower class family I have no heir to take over my holdings. But what I do have is two grandchildren who can certainly fill the mantle that my daughter so willingly tarnished.”
Clara sat on the edge of her seat. Her father meant to take one of her children away from her. To lead the same life she had to suffer through. She wouldn’t allow it!
In a voice barely a whisper Clara spoke,
“I won’t allow it…”
Nathaniel and Elizabeth turned to her,
“What did you say?”
Clara could feel the anger bubbling in her as she practically yelled,
“I said I won’t allow it! I won’t allow for you to take one of my children away from me and make them suffer what I had to go through my entire life!”
Elizabeth let out a high pitched laugh and glared at Clara,
“Suffer?! You went to the best schools, had the most expensive clothes money could buy, and you could do anything in the world! But what did you decide to do?”
Elizabeth looked at Claudio out of the corner of her eye and sneered,
“You decided to fall in love with a long haired, doe-eyed man who comes from an upstart family who hasn’t even been around twenty generations like ours has! No instead you want to tarnish the Bledstone family name and have half-breed children with someone from a lower class!”
Claudio , seething with anger, growled under his breath,
“My family might not have been around as long as yours has but at least we have love in my family! What can you say for yours when your own daughter ran away?!”
The anger in the air was almost pliable as Nathaniel raised his voice above Claudio’s,
“Love?! You speak of love as if one needs it! Where we are from you marry for money or practicality. Not for something so silly and frivolous as love. And where do you have a say in love Mr. Belle?! When you are off touring across countries with your band and when you are home you’re off at your petty studio writing more of your garbage music! No, I dare say you know nothing of giving love when it is needed most.”
Claudio sunk back into his chair, defeated, as Nathaniel straightened his dinner jacket.
“Yes I know who you are Claudio Belle. You really think I would let my daughter get away just like that? If it wasn’t for you knocking her up before you two were married I would have gotten her back.”
As Nathaniel and Elizabeth got up to leave Nathaniel grasped Claudio’s shoulder and bent down to whisper into his ear,
“If you think that you can stop me from taking one of my grandchildren. You are dead wrong. My lawyers would tear you apart and frame you as the Father that is never there and stays out partying and drinking til the early hours. What do you think the judge would have to say about that? See, they don’t take to kindly to a household that is only being run by one parent.”
Nathaniel patted his shoulder before he walked away. Claudio knew he was right. The magazines had pictures of him partying and touring, none of them with his family. Plus even though the Belle’s had accumulated quite a bit of money over the years they had nothing to match the fortune that the Bledstone’s had.
Clara’s anxiety had skyrocketed. She froze up when her parents started yelling again. It was as if she was back in her old room and her parents were yelling at her about her painting again. Just as she was lost in thought another pain shot through her stomach, she felt the baby move around suddenly as if it were trying to tell her something.
Clara shook her head and swallowed the pain, now wasn’t the time.
“What did he tell you Claudio? Did he threaten you?”
“No..no. He just told me the facts. The painful facts but nevertheless the truth. If we fight this it will be tough. He knows what I do for a living and he knows I’m never home. The courts will use that against me and even though my parents are still alive, for how much longer will they? There are so many things they can throw at us to get Genevieve or Cullen taken away…”
Clara screwed up her face in disgust and raised her hand,
“If?! Are you saying that we won’t fight this when the time comes?! Are you that ready to give up on this family Claudio?!”
Claudio winced and gave her a pained look,
“That’s not what I meant…I plan on taking leave from work until further notice. I’m staying home with you and the children until we can figure everything out. I promise you I won’t be gone anymore and I won’t back down from this.”
Clara sighed as she leaned back in her chair and reached for Claudio’s hand,
“Good...I’m glad that you said that. How about we go home, I forgot how quickly my parents tire me out.”
As Clara and Claudio were walking up to the front porch, chattering away, Clara suddenly stopped walking and leaned against Claudio.
Claudio chuckled and wrapped his arm around her shoulders,
“Clara? I know you’re tired, love, but we’re almost to the bed.”
In that moment the world started to crumble around Claudio. Clara let out a cry of pain as she clutched her stomach in agony.
Claudio stared at her in shock as he saw her eyes roll to the back of her head as she crumpled to the ground. He leaned down to try and help her back up then he noticed blood. It started as a small spot first but was rapidly taking over the front of her dress.
“Oh dear lord…”
He scooped her up quickly and screamed out for help, from anyone, from everyone. It was to early for the baby to arrive, and even if it was time it wasn’t normal for her to bleed so much. It was everywhere, on his hands, dripping from her dress onto the pavement. He couldn’t stop it, it was all happening too fast.
“Somebody! Help! Please! It’s Clara! Something’s happened and we need a doctor!”
Harley appeared on the front porch with Mason close behind and when they saw their son covered in their daughter-in-law's blood, and they realized where it was coming from they had to act fast.
Claudio could feel his entire body shaking as he made his way inside the house, all he could do was kiss Clara’s forehead and hope.
“Please don’t leave me sweetheart. I can’t do this without you. I need you.”