“After we find my dad, I need to get out of these hunting clothes, and then I can take you back to your family. Maybe they’ll give us some better answers into our obviously-connected pasts.” Manny lead the way into the house.
“Wow…” Aloise followed Manny into the main entrance, her gaze in awe of the incredible home his father had commissioned. Cathedral ceilings supported by walls of old pine logs towered above the great room. Colors reflecting through a wall of sporadically placed panes of stained glass gave the appearance of sunlight shimmering through a canopy of trees. The whole effect captured the feeling of walking through a forest.
“It still has that effect on me sometimes too,” Manny said, reverently. When his parents had decided to settle here in northern lower Michigan, they’d chosen acres of land surrounded by forests as different as possible from the arid desert where his father, Jacob had been raised.
They’d also built a home ten times larger than was needed. Jacob was one of six brothers, three of whom had married sisters from the same family. In some epic family feud, the two oldest brothers had splintered from the family and the three younger brothers had settled in Central and North America. They didn’t get together often, but Manny knew he had family in Cancun and Texas. This house had been built large enough for family to visit, should they ever choose to travel this far north.
Manny had gradually taken over a whole wing of the house, first with hunting equipment and mounted trophies, then moving his game room and computers over there, then creating a soundproof room where he could record himself singing, then eventually moving his bed to that end of the house.
Although he usually had meals with his mom and dad, he had a full kitchen in his wing which he mostly used for its refrigerator, although he had started experimenting with wild game recipes. He’d shoot a pheasant or goose, find some exotic recipe, and send one of his father’s staff off to find the ingredients. One of the cleaning ladies always cleaned up after him.
“Father,” Manny called out loud enough to be heard from any wing of the stately home. “Where are you?”
“No need to yell, son, I’m right here.” Jacob Cohen came around the corner from the kitchen to the foyer, drying his hands on a dishtowel. He stopped and cocked his head to the side. “You have company. I didn’t even realize you had a girlfriend.” Dad raised his eyebrows at our joined hands.
Manny dropped Aloise’s hand and stepped away. No reason to get his hopes up if she was a cousin or something. “I don’t.”
“I got lost and ran out of gas near his hunting shack, and your son was gracious enough to offer me a ride into town to fill a gas can.”
“I raised him to be a gentleman.” Jacob came forward to pat Manny on the back then held out his hand to Aloise. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, miss…”
“My name is Aloise Ashish.”
Jacob took a step back and his jaw dropped. “You look just like your mother.”
“How do you know mi madre?” Aloise’s eyes lit up anticipation.
“Shira is married to David.” Jacob said his name as if it were vinegar in his mouth.
“Sí, they’re my parents. But how do you know them?”
“Son”—Jacob turned to Manny— “Help this young lady fill her gas tank, show her the way out of our woods, and get as far away from her as you can. I forbid you to see her again.”
“But father…” Manny watched his dad turn on his heels and walk from the room. He turned to Aloise. “Um… what just happened?”
“Obviously your family hates my family.” Aloise pulled her thick, long hair into a messy bun and wound a band around it. Manny was momentarily distracted but reminded himself to stay on task. He needed to get changed and take her into town.
His father had given them no details as to why they were forbidden to see each other or how their families were related. He gently took her hand again, hoping they weren’t cousins. “Come on, let’s go get my clothes changed and maybe we can figure this out.”
“What did you say your last name is?” Aloise stumbled along beside him, her sandals no more practical indoors than in the woods. He wondered if there was a surface upon which they would be practical. A photo shoot, maybe, where she didn’t have to walk.
“Cohen,” Manny said. “Does that sound familiar? Your last name definitely sounds familiar, but I don’t know where to place it.”
Aloise stopped short. “My dad’s former business partner was named Cohen.”
“Great, at least we found a connection.” Manny glanced down at their intertwined hands. “Hopefully, business partner is as close of a familial relationship as it gets or I’m going to be really bummed out that I can’t date you.” His voice lowered and she giggled.
“Your father just said you were forbidden to see me.”
“Do you always do everything your father says?” Manny released her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her close enough he could have kissed her if he were brave enough. She gulped.
“If I want access to my credit cards, I do,” Aloise whispered.
“Ooh, she’s saying ‘I do’ and I haven’t even proposed yet.” He could feel her body close against his and knew he needed to stop this line of thinking before taking her into his bedroom. Manny had never taken advantage of a woman before and didn’t intend to start now, but he’d never been in the arms of a woman so tempting before. “Come on, after I change, we’ll sneak down to my dad’s library and see if we can find his genealogy charts. Maybe we can figure something out.”
Manny reluctantly dropped his arm from around her waist but took her hand in his again, intertwining her fingers and leading her down the hall to his wing of the house. There was almost a physical difference in the look and feel as the hallway ended and opened into the east wing. Similar to the main entrance, Manny had a great room with cathedral ceilings and random tiles of stained glass but unlike the main house, this room was decorated in antlers. His trophy room. He watched her reaction as she marveled.
“What do you think?” His reverent voice combined pride with nervousness. Either she was going to hate his passion for hunting or love it.
“¿Mataste personalmente a todos estos animales?” She hated it.
“Are you afraid of me now that you know I’m a murderer?” He pulled her close again and wiggled his eyebrows, hoping to seem dangerous and exciting but realizing his baby face probably gave him away.
“I was already afraid of you, and yet still followed you down a dark path into the unknown woods,” she said, her eyes just as smoldering as he hoped his were. The difference between his youthfulness and her elegance almost gave him an inferiority complex. Showing her his hunting prowess was an inadvertent way to prove his manhood. “You could have been leading me to a cabin in the woods where you’d rape and murder me.”
“In a manner of speaking, this is a rather large cabin in the woods,” he whispered, allowing his eyes to travel down to her toes and slowly caress every curve of her slim frame before meeting her gaze again. He nodded his head to the side. “On the other side of that door is my bedroom. I could easily overpower you. And I always keep a hunting knife beside my bed.”
“And yet the fact that you were singing showtunes from Phantom of the Opera and let that deer run away without shooting her leads me to believe that you’re more harmless than you let on.” She didn’t pull away.
“If I remember the story correctly, the Phantom kidnapped Christine and took her to his dungeon lair where he seduced her.” Manny gave her back a gentle squeeze pulling her even closer.
“And once he realized he loved her, he set her free.” She raised her eyebrows, winning the argument.
“Remind me not to fall in love with you,” Manny said, squeezing one more time before releasing her from his arms. He stepped away and called over his shoulder as he walked toward his bedroom. “Make yourself comfortable. I’m going to change my clothes. There are cold beverages in the refrigerator.” He nodded his head in the direction of the little kitchen and slipped from the room.