Chapter Fifteen

She was surprised of his gentle gestures but her mind was not on him but her sorrow. She was half thankful and half irritated with the fact that Jared allowed himself to be cried into. His shirt was wet with her tears and now his handkerchief. She finally found reason against her sorrow and whispered a mortified apology for the mess she created.

“I made a mess of you…” she uttered her breathing still uneven choking her words in her throat.

He shook his head in reply. “Don’t mind it. Let’s get you some water…” he muttered as he held her hand in his and walked towards the mini bar where her father’s drinks were kept. He poured some in a clean glass and handed it to her to drink. She took a sip and replaced the glass on the shelf.

“I need some air,” she said her voice still shaking, her eyes still in shock.

“Come,” he instinctively wrapped his arm around her. Aurora wanted to remove herself from his wrapped arm but she felt tired to even exert such effort and just walked towards the veranda.

“There’s no cure for cancer,” she whispered her voice tearful and shaking. “And to think I’m a physician, cannot even help my own father. It’s terrible you know? How life pierces you where you least expect it?”

“You are lucky enough to know your father’s condition,” he said truthfully. He leaned his left shoulder in one of the marble columns as he looked at her. She gave him a doubtful look not sure if he was reprimanding her or trying to make her feel better. He looked casually elegant in a navy blue shirt with sleeves folded to his arms, khaki slacks, and camel loafers. Aurora however, did not much notice this for her attention was now on his grey eyes which suddenly looked distant.

“Your mother died when you were young, didn’t she?” she asked not meaning to pry but needed to know how he had recovered and learn from his experience.

He heaved a sigh and reached for her and said, “Come here,” She felt surprised with those words but decided to walk towards him and immediately felt his arm wrap on her waist in a very possessive gesture which Aurora involuntarily liked. “It was a shock. I was informed that she was very ill and had gone to heaven. As a boy it appeased me to think that she was with the angels. As a man, it feels like shit, not growing up with her. Wondering what it is like to have a mother. You, on the other hand are still capable of making your old man feel the joy you can still give him.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she allowed herself to lean closer to his warmth. “Thank you for that insight.”

“You must be strong for your mother,” he added in a whisper and she nodded her agreement.

“Did you ever see your father break down when your mother was ill?” she inquired not knowing why.

“I just found out recently that he has never gotten over it or over her,” he smilingly said shaking his head still in disbelief. “I actually thought he does not have a heart. He raised me like a demon, and I hated him for it.”

“Do you still hate him?”

“I realized then,” he stated, drawing Aurora closer to him in a half hug. “…that he raised me the way he thought best. By showing no emotion, he made me believe he did not care. As I think about it now, I wondered why he never remarried all those years when he had the chance…”

“He must have loved your mother very much…” she concluded for him.

He shrugged that remark aside not sure why he felt uncomfortable talking about love. He drew her to him for an embrace before saying. “Why don’t you want to marry me?”

His question caught her off guard but decided to treat it nonchalantly. She removed herself from his tight embrace but remained close to his side. “Because you are a public figure” she truthfully replied, her voice soft but unwavering.  “…and I’m not sure I can handle it.”

He moved in behind her so that she was now standing in front of him, her back against him, and his arms around her settling his hands on her stomach, while resting his chin on her temple. “Is that all?” he gently inquired.

She shook her head and sighed before going on. “Above all, because we both know you are marrying me for money.”

He remained silent for a few seconds before Aurora heard him speak. “Whoever marries you will no doubt marry you for your money,” he stated. The moment those words were out, he felt her stiffen against him. He felt her move away from him but he pulled her closer instead silently ordering her to stay put. “A man who wants to marry you but not your money does not deserve you.”

She turned to face him this time. “Is that right? Don’t I deserve who could love me for who I am and not for what I can give him?”

Ahhhh love, he concluded. Why do women want to fall in love, he did not understand at all. He stared at her for a while and then explained further.

“The money is part of who you are. Whoever marries you need to know what he’s getting into. You’re titled, you practically own several estates in Europe, and you are the only daughter of a shipping magnate. Whoever marries you must know how great this responsibility is.”

“You make it sound so intimidating,” she remarked upsettingly.

“Because it is,” he seconded while looking directly at her. “And so are you,” he added.

“I’m absolutely not!” she remarked defensively and hastily moved away from him when she got the chance.

“See?” he smiled at her gesturing towards her sudden defensive motion. “You handle yourself like a queen – untouchable, unapproachable".

“I’m only like this towards you,” she defended, holding her chin up eyeing him unfavorably.

“Yes,” he nodded in agreement. “But there are other things which intimidate other men, however.”

“And that is?” she inquired, raising a brow at him while letting her arm fold across her chest.

“Let’s just say that your birthright is already intimidating enough,” he stated. “Add to that your achievements and I’m certain no ordinary man would even dare come near you.”

His words did not just shock her, it hurt her. It hurt her so much she found it difficult to breathe so she took a deep breath held it and exhaled soundly. She unfolded her arms and looked at him straight in his gray eyes. It was the truth, and she need not feel angry. She needed to accept that fact.

“Thank you for being honest,” she managed to say in her already trembling voice. No wonder no man ever stuck around to fight for her, she realized. It was a pathetic thought she needed to dispense immediately.

He could already sense her upset upon hearing his words. She looked steady but her eyes looked troubled and he was not sure what she was thinking. She exuded great amount of grace, Jared noticed impressively. He reached for her and was stunned when she moved away from him the instant she felt his hand on hers.

 “Fortunately, I’m not an ordinary man”.

Aurora glared at him not entirely certain what he was getting at. “You obviously think highly of yourself…”

He reached for her and this time, he was grateful she did not move away from his touch. She really did confuse him a lot, he smilingly thought. When at last, she was now only inches away from him, he began to caress her flawless face and traced the bridge of her nose with his finger.

“Aurora…” he stated whisperingly. “Just trust me when I say I know how to handle you and the rest of the responsibilities which is part of being married to you…”

“What are you implying. You hardly know me at all”

“I’m saying…” he concluded for her. “In our current circumstances, I’m the only man capable of making you happy.”

“What made you think I’m not happy?” she countered but her breathing was beginning to slow down because of his nearness, his lips hovering over hers waiting to be appeased. She did not know if she wanted to feel it again or if she wanted to slap him again for his over-conceited nature.

“Hmmm” he smiled seductively, his gray eyes boring into hers. He started caressing her cheeks and again was grateful she did not pull away from him. “If I kiss you now, are you going to push me away again?”

She couldn’t contain her breathing, he was too near, she frantically reasoned. She started to move away from him but felt his tight hold on her waist. “Let me go,” she prayed her voice did not quiver. She knew if he was able to place his lips on hers, she would by then throw herself at him for ravishment. It shocked her to have such thoughts whenever he was near her.

She was thankful, as she heard one of the maids interrupt them telling them dinner is served and that her parents were waiting for them. She immediately moved away from his tight hold and was about to walk away when he grabbed her by the waist and claimed her mouth for a brief yet deep kiss. By the time he ended the kiss, she was reeling. “I don’t understand why you like doing that,” she murmured, instinctively reaching to wipe the trace of her lipstick from Jared’s lips.

Her surprisingly pleasant gesture made him smile. “Marry me,” he whispered as he pulled her gently beside her as they walked towards the foyer. “You’ll have that and much more…” he teased. He saw her flushed cheeks and her violet eyes shoot daggers at him and he felt like laughing, and he did. Never did it occur to him that there are still women in this generation who are capable of blushing, and to actually be with a woman who does so frequently and so naturally pleased the hell out of him.

They were in a lightened mood when they approached the dining room. Paul was seated in the head of the table looking a little frail but better. He smiled when they saw them. “You’ve decided to be agreeable, Briar?” he asked expectantly no trace of frailty from earlier seeing his daughter looking calm and collected. He was certain Jared was capable of handling Aurora’s money but he was not so sure if the man was capable of taking care of his daughter’s heart.

Aurora looked at her father wearily and grinned, trying to look unaffected as he was now with not so much as a trace of his earlier devastating revelation. She noted the roasted chicken in rosemary and the baked veal which was served by their maids and she felt her stomach rumble. “My tummy is screaming for your recipes, Maude” she remarked at their family’s long time cook who was carefully placing a plate of appetizers in the dining table. The middle-aged cook smiled graciously at Aurora before muttering “bon appétit” and exiting the dining room with the other maids.

“Jared informed me you are going to New York tomorrow,” Rosalie stated as she entered the dining room. She was wearing a lavender sleeved pencil dress with a bow collar which made her look like Jacky O, complete with her white blonde hair, dark blue eyes and flawless skin. She sat herself adjacent to her husband, facing Aurora and Jared who were seated side by side.

Remembering this, Aurora glanced at Jared who was also looking at her. “I don’t think I can come,” she started.

“Why is that?” her mother inquired, her voice authoritative, her eyes inquisitive. Aurora saw her father tap her mother’s hand which practically meant he wanted her mother to calm down.

“I was thinking of spending more time with father,” she reasoned truthfully.

“Nonsense,” it was her father who spoke this time. “It’s just one weekend. You go ahead with Jared. He already informed us of it yesterday evening. I’m not going to die tomorrow, Briar…”

“But father…” she tried to argue.

“It’s fine…” Jared spoke this time. “I definitely understand. She needs time,” he added as he squeezed Aurora’s hand in support.

To both of their surprise, her father shook his head while her mother nodded in agreement. Aurora did not know if she was to be confused or whatever.

“What she needs is time to get to know you,” Paul explained in a low but commanding tone. “What you have of each other are childhood memories that are practically a blur, not even tangible enough to be remembered. We’re no better than fools to suppose that in two days of reunion, both of you developed some fondness for each other. But Rosalie and I, and I believe George will agree with me that we are hoping both of you would at least try”.

Aurora looked guilty of the wisdom behind her father’s words. Jared admired the man even more upon hearing his words. He did not feel anything yet for Aurora but he sure as hell trying – at least to lure her to his bed – which he immediately thought unwise. He then shifted his gaze towards Aurora and he knew she was thinking of her father’s words.

“Briar?” Rosalie spoke this time, her gaze directly at her daughter who looked defiant but beaten.

She gave them a nod of agreement. “You are right father. What time do you suppose we leave tomorrow?” she finally conceded, her violet eyes unsure but her voice firm. She then saw her father sigh in relief and her mother break into her triumphant smile.

“Is three o’clock, convenient?” he replied and then watched as she nodded her affirmative.

“Besides,” her father added. “It will do you both good to be seen in public at least once before you decide on a date.”

“Aurora and I discussed how we plan to move about this arrangement,” Jared began in response to Paul’s statement about choosing date. “Our initial plan involved me dating her in let’s say a few months before announcing the formal engagement. I also convened my PR team how to best respond to the situation should we decide on the date and how it would be announced. Rest assured that the privacy of the arrangement is kept in confidence for both our families”.

“That is reasonable,” Paul agreed. “There will be a significant impact on stock prizes once your engagement is announced. People will look at it as merger and it is technically so I recommend that Cunard and Rickfords’ PR teams be working together to form a communication plan without too much noise going about.”

“My PR team has already reached out to your PR team this very moment,” Jared acknowledged.

Rosalie looked at Jared and when he got his attention, she immediately brought up her concern. “Forgive me for bringing this up, Jared.”

He already knew what she was going to ask and it was only fair that he be honest to her from the get go.

“I understand that you and actress Eleanor Weinberg is in a serious relationship? I’m curious how you wish to proceed with this betrothal if your heart belongs to another?”

Jared smiled quietly emphasizing that he was not uncomfortable with the question. He nodded his agreement and said, “Ms Weinberg and I indeed were in a relationship. It is only fitting for Aurora to understand that I broke it off with Eleanor a week before my father suffered his heart attack. There are rumors I must admit that I am aware of, which I’m sure you are as well. But there is no truth to any of them. I would not have been interested in this merger if my heart belonged to another. I might have a reputation but I sure hope I don’t become a cad” He actually said those words with a straight face he was amazed. He was never someone who discusses his personal life to strangers.

“Wonderful,” she heard her mother say. “It’s good to know!”

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