Chapter Seven

Walking along the hospital corridor with her parents, the lawyers and her betrothed gave Aurora a feeling of dread which was slowly penetrating her tolerance. She was lucky that her department had additional staff and so she managed to get permission from her senior supervisor – Dr. Finnegan – to get out earlier than used to. They already left George Rickford III back at the Intensive Care Unit to continue his recovery.  Recalling that she was dating an acquaintance of her betrothed three weeks prior was quiet disconcerting. She met Stephen in one of the hospitals’ fund raisers and he was charming and kind. Not to mention familiar with how their family business works though she does not talk about it as she has no idea how to run it. Stephen was a nice guy some days and disappearing in other days, reason why she decided to cut him lose. His inconsistency does not bode well to her instincts and having first hand experience in a toxic relationship, she did not want to be on the same shit hole as before - and Stephen’s treatment reeks of the very kind of relationship she wants to avoid. Though attractive and successful, she also know he loves attention and likes to be seen in public. Aurora however, likes to keep her life in private at all cost. Those differing views is already a huge hurdle they both can’t seem to overcome. Stephen was attractive enough, tall and lean with tawny hair like Brand Pitt, has features of a celebrity. Come to think of it, his features were attractive but not the way she is discovering herself attracted to the man who was walking beside her. She didn’t understand this. Stephen was a great catch of a man. There are a number of women who would want to be his plus one Not to mention attractive. But she has never felt so drawn to him unlike the way she’s being drawn to her soon-to-be husband, whom she just met once.

A wedding was to take place as soon as possible, her father assured George Rickford III. It’s just a matter of when. The two lawyers explained to her the conditions of the upcoming marriage. Hearing those conditions made her head ache. Her father was making Jared Rickford his beneficiary to his every wealth. No, her father was making Jared his rightful heir to their family business. She would be the means to ensure legality. As her husband, Jared will be part of the family… and the Board will have a difficult time rejecting this move of her father’s. She knew that much. Of course this was the case for Aurora knew her father couldn’t give the company to her care. She won’t be able to continue the prestige of their company no matter what she can do. It is simply not her strong point to run things around – especially big things like the cruise line, hospitality company, and its subsidiaries. Only a man like her father can run those things, well perhaps now… a man like her husband-to-be. She can’t believe the man beside her was going to be her husband. She has never dreamed of marrying this soon, what more to have a child in three years? Well, some of those things were lies. For one thing, she does want to have a child of her own, she likes children. Her cousin on her mother’s side Eustace has two kids and Aurora dotes on them to great extent. Besides, she never dreamed of herself growing old alone. That would be torture. But to be married to a man who clearly doesn’t have any interest in her is another thing. Jared’s face was pure concrete. Why does he look so bored and irritated all the time? Does he even know how to smile? But what’s bothering her most is that Aurora has a strong feeling that he abhors her. He sacked her a few days ago. Though he explained his reason behind this decision, she is still unconvinced.

The sun was bright as they exited the hospital lobby onto the parking lot. Jared was stunned to notice Aurora’s hair turn into a shade of gold the moment the sunlight collided with it. He thought it was striking. Shrugging the unfamiliar thought aside, he climbed into his routine ride of black town car trailed by a black Lincoln Navigator. Jared whispered to her that they have tea at one of his hotels to discuss their possible arrangement and she agreed.  Aurora climbed inside and the moment she sat comfortably the door shut and the limo was in motion. Aurora felt awkward riding with him. There was no hint whatsoever if he was going to converse with her for he started to open his laptop, dialed numbers on his phone and started talking about business transactions which she was familiar with. She was half-grateful she grew up watching her father work. She looked outside the window to think. What to think, she didn’t know. Then, her phone rang. She flipped and answered it.

“Stephen”, she mouthed.

She was sure Jared inclined his head towards her.

“Why are you in town?” she asked her brows curling in suspicion. “I don’t understand, we broke up remember. Listen, I would have to call you back. I’m in a middle of a meeting.” And she hung up. “I’m sorry about that.”

Jared glanced at her. “What did he want?”

“He wanted to see me tonight”

“Are you?

She glanced at him and shook her head. “I recently discovered that I’m already betrothed, so no I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to see someone else when I haven’t figured out how to go about my betrothal to this stranger I just met a few days ago.”

“It’s a simple question. Would you like to continue seeing him or not? Because if it is a yes, then we navigate around and find a way to get you out of this mess.”

Aurora inhaled deeply before asking “what is it that you want to happen?”

“You’re throwing a question on top of my question,” he countered.

“Do you know him well? How did you know I was dating him?” she curiously raised.

Jared look at her before answering, “he was bragging that he’s dating Paul Cunard’s only daughter, the elusive Countess of Vienna. Though I definitely don’t have any inkling what you look like I know the little detail that Paul Cunard has only one child and is a daughter rarely seen in public”

Aurora could not help but cringe at that information. “Where was this if I may ask?”

“The Henley Regatta. We were there to support Harvard’s former international rowing team” he glanced at her and was amused on how embarrassed she seemed of the information he just revealed. He was not one upon gossiping but what he mentioned was nothing but facts that she needed to be aware of.

She heaved a deep sigh. “Mr Rickford, I think you and I should decide how to go about this betrothal.”

“Don’t you think we might progress to first name basis now, Aurora?” he neutrally suggested with a hint of amusement. Aurora nodded her agreement and replied, “Yes of course, Jared”.

“Good. We are here,” referring to one of his luxury hotels. “Might as well discuss what is needed”

Upon entering the Rickford Hotel in Boston, Aurora didn’t have any idea who Jared was. But the moment they entered the revolving doors, all eyes were riveted to him and him alone. They were followed by a man in a dark suit which Aurora identified as his bodyguard. Bellboys greeted him with utmost respect and he greeted them back by giving them a curt nod. The hotel was an enormous structure which architecture was the most brilliant Aurora’s ever seen. The whole lobby was carpeted in a very intricate design of Persian rugs and the interior design itself was purely modern but quite luxurious in all the furnishings. She was like entering a palace, and the man who was walking beside her owns it. As she later learned from what she just overheard, the Rickford Palace Hotel in Boston just recently reached the pinnacle of success by becoming a seven-star hotel – only the second in the world. How does he do it? Aurora asked herself as she glanced at the man in front of her. They went up to the 42nd floor where the Executive Club Lounge was located were now seated across from each other in one of the settees.

“Would you like some tea?” he asked making her come to her senses.

“Yes please,” she added. “I’d like a bit of cream with my tea.” Without replying, Jared ordered for them tea and sconces and additional canapes.

While waiting for their food, they fell silent again. She’s becoming more and more frustrated as she sat there doodling with her fork and sipping her red wine and water until she could sip no more. At last, when she had enough of silence, she dared speak to him.

 “So how do we discuss this?” Jared looked at her and to his bewilderment, he answered;

“What’s that?”

“I thought this meeting was supposed to be a conversation which would lead to the agreement needed?” This time, Jared stared at her.

“It was already reached a few hours ago. We are going to be married as soon as possible,” he declared.

Aurora heaved a sigh. “That’s not what we were discussing earlier. Do you want to marry me, Jared?”

He looked at her pitifully. “I never wish to marry anyone” Aurora was appalled with his blunt remark but decided to feel unaffected.

“Why the sudden change of heart?” she asked mockingly. Jared looked at her with interest. His dark eyes were glaring at her seductively Aurora almost blushed. But she controlled herself. He was studying her intently and it made her nervous. But when he spoke, his voice was deep and serious.

“Your dowry is tempting. You are every man’s dream of a merger. I must admit, even a wealthy man like me can’t say no to that.” If Aurora was someone without poise and breeding, Jared knew she would have tossed her wine in his face.

But to Jared’s fascination, she smiled.

“You are a very honest man. I admit you handle yourself well. A man of means and still wants more, no wonder women of all ages flock over you.” Aurora said this smilingly with a tone of utmost ridicule which made Jared’s face harden like granite.

“You noticed,” he quipped. He never took his gaze from her. Neither of them blinked. Aurora didn’t even budge. Thank goodness their food arrived before either of them became paralyzed by their silent war. Aurora looked at her plate. It looked delicious, and smelled delicious too.

“Thank you”, she said to the waiter after putting her meal in front of her.

Aurora noticed Jared give the waiter a curt nod after he was served. They started eating before Jared asked her something unexpected.

“Do you wish to be with Ross?” It took her a while before she could muster and asses herself in answering his question.

She wanted to be honest with herself, and somehow she wanted to be honest with him. She couldn’t understand but she didn’t want to make him feel she belonged to someone.

“No, it is of no consequence” she replied no hesitantly. “I was decided when he and I parted ways. He confuses me and I am not keen on that kind of uncertainty”.

She looked at Jared and he was glaring at her.

“What do you mean he confuses you?” 

Aurora shook her head.

“I ah... prefer to not discuss that now”. It was their first time to speak of something that wasn’t leading them to an argument. Somehow, Jared felt relieved at this. But to his curiosity, he found her feeling uneasy. “I’ve got time. Explain.” He looked at Aurora’s startled gaze.

 “You like ordering people around, don’t you?” she eyed him disapprovingly. The man was an arrogant one, she decided.

“Yes, and you don’t like being ordered about… is that it?” he countered. He knew she was unlikely to accept and obey orders as quickly and graciously as revealed during her confrontation with her father earlier that day. He wanted to hear it from her.

“No,” she replied curtly her voice bearing aloofness he could not quite identify. “Might as well let you know of such a preference if you want to get your hands on my bride prize.”

He shrugged in a careless gesture. “There’s no bride prize. Half of your father’s share will be transferred to me the moment I sign the damned marriage contract. I’m waiting for your explanation”, he urged. But Aurora didn’t speak after a while which intrigued him. It gave him the notion that Aurora wasn’t entirely used to bearing her soul to people both close ones or not.

“Stephen is a nice man, he is attractive and successful” she began, her voice soft but unswerving. “But he’s not whom I want. I don’t see myself being with him permanently. I hope that’s enough explanation for you”

“Eventually Aurora, I will find out everything about you. Either you give it to me voluntarily or it will unfold naturally or through other means that is your decision. For now, I respect what you are comfortable to share but if there’s one thing about this arrangement that I would like to insist is you should never lie to me.”

Her answer just opened more questions which Jared wanted to ask of her but knew better. He saw the hint of discomfort with the way she said those words and somehow this made him pay attention to her. Was she wanting someone she could not have? Is there a man she’s wanting some where? That interested him though. Why he was interested he did not know. She was keeping something! And somehow, this left him a feeling of unfamiliar foreboding.

Aurora glanced at him and shifted her eyes towards the glass window overlooking downtown Boston. She did understand his words perfectly. What made her uncomfortable was how serious his tone was and knew he was.

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