Chapter Ten

“You will join me in New York,” he told her when they were inside the elevators descending towards the basement parking.

“I beg your pardon?” she was not entirely sure if she heard him right, with the exhaust humming in the background as they reached the basement parking where Jared’s silver BMW X5 was parked.

He smiled at her as he prompted its keyless controller to unlock the door of the vehicle. “We go together. It’s black-tie, this coming Saturday. We’ll leave for New York on Friday afternoon. We’ll fly back here the next day. Can you clear your schedule?”

She heaved a sigh before answering his gentle orders. “You misunderstand,” she began her explanation. “I don’t go to these kinds of social events. In Germany and in Austria, yes but not here in the States. Absolutely not.”

“Why not?” he was scowling now, irritated more with her foolish reasoning. “What’s the difference between the social events in New York than that of Germany and Austria? Except of the fact that both countries are members of the European Union?”

“Well…” she was not entirely sure if it was possible to actually go out with Jared Rickford without creating so much buzz and stirring unwanted attention. “I’m not a fan of the media scrutiny. You date movie stars; I am not one. What about Eleanor Weinberg? Don’t you think she would mind?”

She did not sound nervous but Jared understood her concern. She was not used to the attention and it made her uncomfortable. He knew the Met Charity Ball was one event New York socialites,  America’s fashion elites and Hollywood’s celebrities flock into and the press people are expected to have a field day. It was recently coined by Vogue to be the ultimate social event of the year. He did not want to attend it himself but he knew he needed to portray RHI in a good light to New York society. For him, it was just part of his job. For Aurora however, means being introduced to the limelight she never wanted to be part of. That is a challenge Jared needed to navigate through if they were going to proceed with the marital union.

He leaned towards the steering wheel and shifted his attention to her. “I understand your anxiety. But you want me take Eleanor Weinberg to the fundraiser several days or either weeks before our official engagement announcement, I don’t think either one of us wants to be portrayed as fickle minded, impulsive do you?” he asked gently eyeing her with a grin on his face, while gently holding her left hand in his.

She shook her head and sighed. “I understand, but it’s a bit frightening for me” she finally admitted. “I’ve never been out for a while. The last time I attended this sort of thing was during my grandmother’s Annual Royal Ball when I was eighteen!” She tried to pull her hand from his grip but he wouldn’t let go.

“And where is this?” Jared probed interestingly to help her calm her nerves. For her to actually admit her vulnerability and insecurity gave him a glimpse of her strong and brave character. He was beginning to admire her courage to admit what she feels - a total opposite of his always confused character when it comes to emotions. How in the world he came up with such a definition for himself was beyond his reckoning.

“At the Schronbrunn,”

Her lack of enthusiasm only made him more confused. The Palace was a magnificent place and only diplomats and distinguished guests are allowed to use the now-proclaimed Heritage Site located in the heart of Vienna. He knew her mother was an Austrian socialite. It’s the reason they get invited to such grand events, he assumed.  But at least he now knew she did have some experience in socializing.

They were now settled comfortably inside the vehicle, and was already treading the downtown traffic of Boston. “You may not be an actress, but you’re one of the best surgeons MassGen ever have – as stated by Dr. Finnegan.”

“You fired me, remember?” she retorted bitterly.

“I relieved you of your duties,” he defensively explained. “That’s different from being fired.”

“Sounds the same to me,” she shruggingly replied.

“Second,” he decided to move on with his explanation. “You’ve attended royal parties as you mentioned and that makes you a better caliber than most of those socialites attending that annual event. Half of them can’t even waltz. But you, definitely know how to.”

“And how did you know that?” she was beginning to be amused with his reasoning.

“I guessed,” he stated matter-of-factly. Aurora laughed. It was a marvelous sound, he decided her amusement evident in her eyes. He was somewhat surprised; he was able to make her laugh. He was not a joking sort. He knew he’s got no sense of humor. He used to be regarded as humorless when he was still in Harvard. But hearing her laugh at his remark was indeed a pleasant surprise. His next statement however, surprised him more.

“You up for some burger and fries?” he was stalling and did not even understand why. But he did not feel like going home yet and he’d been craving for fast food for quite some time now. Dating Eleanor Weinberg prevented him to do this in public as she prefers meeting in one of his hotels or other high-end restaurants and it’s beginning to take its toll on him. He felt he could use some normalcy and less formality.

“Does it come with a big glass of milkshake?” she expectantly asked. He saw her smiling when he turned to look at her.

“I’d make sure it does,” he responded good-naturedly and turned left over to Beacon Street where one of Boston’s best burger houses was located.  He was lucky enough to find a parking space for their vehicle. After turning off the car engine, they both unfastened their seatbelts and proceeded to remove his tie and placed it at the back seat. “You go ahead; got to make some phone calls first. I’ll follow shortly.”

“Alright,” she muttered as she exited his vehicle. She turned around and asked, “What are you having?” intending to get his preference so she can order ahead for the both of them.

He reached for his wallet in his back pocket and handed her a hundred dollar bill. “Cheeseburger with extra cheese, large fries and coke”, he stated.

“Got it,” she replied and then closed the car door. She did not take the hundred-dollar bill. Jared looked confused and decided he’d pay for their expenses when he gets inside. He took his phone from the dashboard and dialed Eleanor Weinberg’s number.

Several minutes later, Aurora finally saw him enter the restaurant. For a minute there, she actually thought he’d abandoned her, like he was called in an emergency meeting and needed to rush and did not have time to tell her so. She tried to hide herself subtly in the corner of their table making it easier for her to observe him. With his tie gone and his white shirt unbuttoned just below his neck, his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, he looked breathtaking. He exuded extra appeal making both men and women turn their heads in curiosity and interest. It seems she wasn’t immune to his charm just like majority of the people in the diner.  The owner, a lean man in his mid-thirties by the name of Thomas recognized him immediately, and she watched them exchange a friendly banter, shake hands, and few taps on each other backs, then he gave Thomas the hundred-dollar bill he tried to hand to her earlier to pay for their orders but Aurora knew Thomas will shrug it aside. She already paid for their burgers, she mused. She saw Thomas looking over to where her table was. She waved and Jared acknowledged with a scowl in his face and walked towards her.

He sat himself across from her and held his one palm up. “Give it to me, Aurora”

“What?” she asked in total confusion.

“The receipt, so I can properly pay you for this meal,” he replied. He looked serious and sounded like it too.

She shook her head at him, her brows drawing together in absolute confusion. “It’s just burgers. And besides, I’m pretty sure our lunch earlier today cost you several hundred dollars more than a few of mine,” she logically explained and gave him a charming smile.

“You’re allowed this time only,” he instructed his face still serious and Aurora knew he wasn’t jesting. “All the rest will be cared of me. Do you understand?”

“Definitely not all” she countered, her face expressionless but her eyes glimmering with amusement and laughter. “Also my toiletries and hygiene tampons? Are you sure you wanna do this?”

He heaved a sigh and broke into a smile. “You got me,”

Aurora could no longer suppress her chuckle her amusement and to hide the sudden reaction of her heart skipping a beat. “Relax,” she soberly stated a smile still radiant in her face. “I know you’re a wealthy man, and I’m merely working as a common Bostonian earning an honest living. But at least believe me when I say I can afford some burgers.”

He was leaning against the couch they were occupying and he regarded her with his gray eyes not leaving hers. He shook his head at her. “We both know you’re not a mere common Bostonian, earning her living Aurora,” he stated matter-of-factly his lips bearing an elusive grin. “You practically own half the world’s luxury cruise liners.”

Aurora was quite stunned with that remark of his. Jared did not understand the reaction. “Now that is a misinformation” when she saw him shrug as an answer, she continued. “My parents are quite wealthy, yes, and by birthright I was able to have the privilege accompanied by that – title and all - but I don’t receive a monthly allowance from my father like all other heiresses as it is usual. I don’t live in a trust fund contrary to the high society’s standards.”

“Are you telling me you really are earning a living through your profession?” he clarified his voice low as to make sure no one overhears their conversation. “You pay rent, do your groceries and laundry?”

“Yes, why?” she challengingly questioned. “Does that bother you?”

A waiter excused himself interrupting their conversation with the arrival of their burgers. After which, Jared stated his reply to her question. “Perhaps,” he started, immediately noticing her dismay with that remark. “I was expecting you’d be the typical heiress who cannot even identify a dryer from a washing machine.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” she graciously conceded as she tried hardest not to show any regret she was currently feeling with that statement of his. She decided to divert her attention to the fries, got a few pieces and shoved in her mouth. Funny, she immediately realized. Thomas’ fries used to delight her palate, now however she could not even taste a thing.

“How was that possible?” he blurted out before taking a bite on his cheeseburger.

“Sorry?” she clarified. Her attention now back at him.

“How did that happen? Were you born here?” he clarified. He did not know anything about her and every information she gives of herself was beginning to pique his interest more than he so desired.

“I was born in Leipzig but was raised in Salzburg,” she provided. “We came here when I was fourteen, when father decided to oversee the New York office of Cunard during that time. He bought our house now from a friend here in Boston coz mother did not like living in an apartment which is basically what New York boasts. He did not intend to stay but mama loved Boston’s neighborhood they settled into and decided to acquire permanent residency, and legal citizenship.”

“And so you learned to be domesticated?” he was unsure of his hypothesis but Massachusetts has a long history of traditions even after the second world war of the standard of woman-living particularly in Wellesley wherein majority of women marry in a very young age, and devote themselves to domesticated duties rather than finding their own fulfillment in either academics or a career. His mother was a perfect housewife as far as he can remember, seeing through the kitchens, the lawns, even the laundry for she knows where his favorite pair of pants were every time Jared searches for it.

“I never saw my mother lift a finger in our entire household,” she shook her head while smiling awkwardly. “Every spring break, I was sent to my grandmother’s in Leipzig. She taught me how to cook and bake, while my maids tutored me on domestic duties. It was a necessity for me. I needed to know how to survive in the dormitory without assistance.”

“You went to boarding school then?” he finally understood.

“Wycombe Abbey,”

“Buckinghamshire?” he clarified.

“Yes,” she nodded her confirmation. “Then I went to Stanford. It’s where I took pre-med and medicine proper”. She held the glass of milkshake in her right hand while daintily sipping generously.

If he was impressed, he was trying his hardest not to show it. He was looking at her with utmost interest now and all he wanted to say was wow. He kept silent though, not really understanding why he chose that option. Maybe because she said it so casually, no hint of arrogance nor boastfulness in them and she was busy slurping the contents of her milkshake which tugged an involuntary grin in the corners of his mouth.

“Good thing your old man allowed you to be miles apart from them,” voicing his mind. “California is quite a distance.”

“It is,” she nodded her agreement. “Father was adamant at first. It took a while before mother and I got his approval. He insisted I study in Harvard, coz it was nearest and no need to be in the dorm since there’s Peter.”

“Who’s Peter?”

“Our chauffeur,” she clarified.

“Sounds highly logical to me,” he nodded his approval of her father’s insistence. “HMS is one of the best in medicine research and practice. Why didn’t you?”

“I did my research,” she answered after chewing her burger. “When I got accepted in them, I studied everything about the schools. They were all excellent in academic and social activities but it was the specialization in each I was most interested in. I was looking for a specific one that I did not find in both which I found only in Stanford”.

“And that is?” he eyed her curiously while munching on his burger.

“Cardiothoracic surgery,” she confirmed. “I wanted to be in that school so bad, I practically dragged my grandmother down from Leipzig to help me convince father that it was my destiny to be in that school and to specialize on that particular matter. He finally agreed but with conditions one of them is that I was forbidden to bring any maids while I was in California. He thought that would change my mind but I did not budge and work, I did.”

She looked at him and she chuckled at his expression. He was looking at her like she has lost her mind or something. “You think me, crazy, huh” She was laughing slowly now her eyes dancing in amusement but she sobered up the moment later when she saw him shake his head in almost a daze.

“Why cardiothoracic surgery?” he inquired further. They were both done with their burgers and just sipping water, both leaning against their seats to relax. “It sounds complicated.”

She shrugged her answer and said, “I like complicated. And my grandfather once said to me, bless his soul, that to be brilliant, one must be able to simplify the complicated.”

 “I am now your late grandfather’s biggest fan,” he smilingly interjected.

“You are not alone in that regard,” she smilingly acknowledged. “What about you? Tell me something interesting?”

“Well...what do you want to know?” He was really not comfortable talking about himself. Aurora would eventually find that out.

She shrugged “You mentioned Harvard, so that’s a start”

“I went to Eton before Harvard, and William is a close friend of mine”

“William Windsor, you mean?”

Jared nodded. “Yeah the prince”

“He is a distant cousin of mine,”

“Now look at that, I’m marrying royalty” he teased

Aurora gave a slight laugh and negated him “Royalty twenty times removed you mean”

Jared smiled. A real smile - which showed his rather very handsome charming face dimples and all. Aurora was starstruck and knew she was going to be in trouble with this man - betrothed or not.

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