Chapter Fourteen

The common room was a cozy room of carpeted floors, paintings of what seemed relatives of the Cunards or the wife’s. Aurora was seated in one of the cushioned sofa chairs while Paul Cunard poured a glass of scotch in one of the glasses, handed it to Jared and seated himself in the chair behind his oakwood desk. The room also serves as his office, Jared realized. Rosalie Cunard however, is now seated in a trimmed chaise lounge near the fireplace. Jared decided to seat right next to Aurora, as he deemed most fitting.

“You called me an asshole?” he whispered in German enough for Aurora to hear.

She stared at him and immediately shifted her gaze on the wall. She did not know Jared could understand German. “Yes,” she decided to reply curtly. “Are you going to contradict me?”

“That is quite enough,” Paul said in a steely voice, which made Aurora wince. “I can see you don’t get along well the both of you. Might as well learn to set aside your difference soon enough before the wedding is due.” He was not addressing Jared, Aurora knew. Her father’s gaze and barb was meant directly to her. She could make herself disagreeable when she wants it and her father knew her too well. Still… she felt so frustrated.

“I can’t go through with this, father” she finally said it. “I don’t want to marry him.” Aurora was sure her mother just fainted with the sound of her gasp enough to rattle the entire room. Her father however, looked amused.

In a low voice, he asked Rosalie to show Jared her collection of paintings in the drawing room as he needed to discuss something with Aurora privately.

He saw Aurora jerk her head, her gaze falling to her mother then to her father. She sat herself straight, and held her head high in complete defiance, which Jared found amazing. He also noticed how she held her hands together until her knuckles turned white. She was frightened… and Jared felt he needed to stay close. Give them the privacy Paul requested but close enough to reach her anytime. He did not understand this sudden protectiveness envelope him.

The moment the common room’s door was closed, her father started his inquisition. “What’s going on, Briar?”

“I said I can’t go through with this, father” she replied her voice scared and shaking. All the anxiety was beginning to take its toll.

“But that’s not possible,” Paul answered his voice calm but serious. “You must understand that I’m doing this for you and no one else. I need you taken care of.”

“This is not just about me,” she argued intensely. “I know because you know that I am capable of taking care of myself very well.”

“You may be capable of caring for yourself, young lady but do you think you can handle the corporation on your own? If I don’t marry you off, do you think you’re capable of running Cunard the way your grandfather and your great great grandfather ran it? Cunard is a shipping line, Briar. It’s a multibillion dollar corporation and you cannot play surgeon in that board room!”

“Alright,” she conceded. “Point taken. But why do you have to strike a documented arrangement with the Rickfords just to have someone handle the corporation? I may not have a brother, but I have cousins who are capable of running it.”

“You think I’ll give majority share of the business to your cousins?” Paul asked her his voice almost insulted. “Most of them are through with their trust funds. Your cousin Edmund married a gold-digging model and look what happened to his shares? He sold it, and did not even put the money to good use. A lot of them already splurged their shares as if there’s no tomorrow. Are you getting me now?”

She heaved a sigh, which was her way of admitting defeat. “You could have married me off to a banker or lawyer but of all people why Jared Rickford?”

He looked at his daughter with utmost concern. He did not understand her agitation against her betrothed. “Why not Jared Rickford? Have you seen him work?” he asked instead.

She nodded hesitantly. “In a very minimal sense though. Why?”

“And what did you notice?” he curiously inquired, raising a brow at his daughter.

Aurora knew it then and she hated the fact that she had to admit it to her father. “He’s controlling I can’t surmise anything else. I noticed that he doesn’t depart with his company’s money easily unless there’s a benefit for the whole of the corporation,” she remembered how Jared reacted when offered the solution of paying five grand per person for the Met. “I guess that’s enough commonality when it comes to work”

“Yes. It is more than enough. He would know how to protect your interest without compromising his business. There are so much respect between our families and he recognizes that”

“But still. I’m not earning well as of now, but I will in time. I only have a year left into my fellowship. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“That’s the problem,” her father said his voice low, almost cheerless. “I only have a year left in me. Maybe less. I’m dying my sweet. I have been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, three months ago”

Hearing those words, Aurora stared at him motionless and when she could not bear it anymore she denied his words blocking it off with reason. “No,” she adamantly stated her voice firm enough to reach the door. “That’s a lie! You’re just saying that to manipulate me to agree to your demands!” She was trying her best to control her emotions but she knew he was serious because he looked forlorn, and so she ran to him and embraced him as she struggled to contain her tears. She was oblivious of her mother and Jared who was now in the room with them when they heard her raise her voice in anguish.

Rosalie now was fighting back tears as she realized that her husband finally admitted the real reason of the abrupt implementation of the arrangement which was never intended to be executed. When she heard her daughter beg, “Father, no… please.. Tell me this is all a game,” she reasoned almost pleadingly. “I’ll ask Dr. Finnegan to take a look at you” she murmured aimlessly not realizing Dr. Finnegan was neither an oncologist or a pulmonologist. “There must be some kind of mistake. Did you get a second opinion? Who is your doctor?” Her voice was trembling yet her face was still composed, trying her best to remain calm breathing deeply to steady herself and her thoughts.

Jared stared motionless, unable to comprehend what was going on until he heard her begging her father there was no truth in all of it. Paul Cunard apparently is very ill, if not dying and this is the main reason why he insisted on the arrangement, Jared now realized. Seeing Aurora defenseless almost disoriented like this gave an unfamiliar tug in his chest that he could not seem to understand, and to his surprise, the way he heard her trembling voice as she held her father gave him an unfamiliar ache in his throat and good reason to block the signs of tears in his eyes by pressing the bridge of his nose to stop them from falling. The sight was just so emotionally consuming, it hurt. How do you come to terms with the fact that your father has only months left to live. It was unimaginable.

He watched as Rosalie slowly touched Aurora’s back to comfort her. Paul loosened his embrace and began gently stroking her wavy hair as if she were only a five-year-old who just had an upsetting day from school. Jared caught Paul’s gaze and the older man’s eyes beg to him like a dying man with his last wish and he read his mouth quietly saying, “please”, and he did not even hesitate which later he might question - as he nodded his affirmative.

“Briar, sweetheart” Paul said his eyes sad but smiling. “You need to loosen your embrace now, papa can’t breathe”. She did his bidding immediately but remained close to him, she could now feel herself trembling in both shock and disbelief. Jared came over and touched her arm with his and whispered near her ear the words “would you like to have some air?” and when she shook her head, Jared carefully placed himself beside Aurora and gently but firmly placed his arm around her waist to support her. She was trembling and knew she’s on the brink of a breakdown.. Jared wrapped his arms around hers, shifted her so she would be facing him and slowly put her arms around his neck. “It’s okay” he whispered. “You’re going to be okay”. The moment she heard those words she looked up to his eyes, and felt his hand on the back of her head as he pulled her against him her face under his chin. Jared immediately felt her tears. As he continued to comfort her, he watched Rosalie guide Paul into his chair and put an oxygen mask into his mouth and nose to breathe in.

It would have been an awkward moment, the fact that he was an outsider in this tight small family of three. But of all the things he just witnessed, he felt quite certain that marrying Aurora Cunard is one thing that would never be awkward at all. With tonight’s surprising turn of events, his intention changed from a selfish one to something worthwhile even for temporary purposes. He had seen her anguish of the discovery that she will soon lose her father, and he wouldn’t wish to witness it again. He had to admit, the mere feel of her body trembling in fear and anxiety has stirred his supposedly long absent emotions.

He let his jaw rest gently on the top of her head and muttered comforting words. Aurora seemed to recognize his voice and he felt her freeze against him. He gently pushed her to gaze at her eyes and what he saw completely undid him. Her violet eyes were full of unshed tears while her cheeks were wet from the shed ones. He reached for his white handkerchief and gently tapped the cloth to clear her tear-streaked face. He was thankful she did not fight him off the gesture, nor avoided his touch. He pulled her against him again and pressed a kiss on the top of her head. He did not know why but he heard himself say, “Hang in there. You will be all right.”

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