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12 Days of Krista

By´╝ÜTheodora Taylor

12 Days of Krista
        Author: Theodora Taylor

Part I

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Do They Know It's Christmas Time at All?

10:47 a.m.

25 December

San Francisco

Bugger me, Hugh can't help but think when he sees his girlfriend's name flashing in angry block letters on the Jaguar's incoming call display screen. REBECCA PELTON …  REBECCA PELTON …

It's just getting on 7 o'clock in the evening in London, which means Christmas dinner-the one during which he was supposed to propose to his girlfriend of two years-is long over.

Nonetheless, he depresses the button with the green phone icon on it. "Christmas dinner didn't go well, I take it?"

"It went rather terribly, actually," Rebecca answers, her tone cool and understated, yet still somehow dripping with tension. "My parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my cousins, our friends-in fact, every person you insisted I invite to this dinner-are now wondering why I made such a fuss."

For the record, he'd suggested a small gathering with his father, her parents, and perhaps their grandparents in attendance. And he'd only bothered to tell her about the planned marriage proposal as a courtesy. Because knowing Rebecca, he was sure she would want to plan her attire in advance. If not for that, Hugh would have been happy to let the whole thing come as an unexpected, if not complete, surprise. It had been Rebecca's idea to turn a cozy, intimate family dinner into a full-blown Christmas extravaganza plus cocktail party.

But Hugh rather wisely decides to keep those thoughts to himself. Opting instead to take the apologetic route with his would-be fiancée. "I'm most terribly sorry, darling. Really I am."

"Papa has worked in business for nearly thirty years, and not once did he miss Christmas dinner with us. He's told me that several times today."

Well, Stanley Pelton was little more than a figurehead after the Pelton Pit was purchased by British Coal in the late nineties. And the mine had officially been shut down in the early aughts. It's rather easy for a businessman to make it home for holiday dinners when one doesn't have any actual business to attend to … besides living off the profits resulting from the sale of his family's private mine, that is.

Hugh's father, Charles Edgeworth, is nothing like Stanley Pelton. Even when his fellow metal barons began selling their centuries-old companies to American and Middle Eastern outfits, Charles insisted on holding on to Edgeworth Metals. And to this very day, Charles has kept his vow to never sell his legacy to "those upstarts," even as it becomes harder to compete in an increasingly global market. 

In fact, due to the fierce competition at home and abroad, Edgeworth Metals is currently in desperate need of overseas contracts to keep the company afloat. To that end, Hugh and his father came to San Francisco a few days ago to pitch their aluminum manufacturing services to Boris and Alexei Rustanov, the director and the founder of Rustanov Enterprises. Despite being one of the smallest outfits on the Rustanovs' short list of partner companies-businesses they were researching to help them manufacture a massive, recently found Bauxite deposit from their Siberian mines-Hugh had campaigned ferociously for the contract.

As Hugh explained to the Rustanov brothers (in fluent Russian, thanks to a former Russian nanny, and a year abroad in Moscow), Edgeworth Metals might not be the biggest European metals company, but they would certainly be the most invested in the success of the project. And he doubted the Rustanovs would find another company who would be more responsive to their needs.

The brothers seemed impressed by Hugh's pitch. But Charles hadn't been content to let his son bask in the glow of a job supremely well done. When Boris Rustanov mentioned his plans to fly his mother-in-law to London on Christmas afternoon for a surprise tour of the city's great libraries, he'd volunteered Hugh to escort her. He'd done this, despite knowing full well about Hugh's Christmas plans with Rebecca.

Of course he had. Because unlike Stanley Pelton, Charles Edgeworth had-over the years-become well-practiced at skipping Christmas and most other holidays in favor of his work. He'd happily sacrifice his only son if it meant securing a billion dollar deal. And in his opinion, Hugh should be keen for the opportunity to prove himself a worthy successor for the Edgeworth Metals presidency.