Chapter Sixteen

Dinner was friendly and casual without delving into much discussion about the impending marriage. After dinner, Jared and her father were deep in discussion about the shipping company and went into the salon to discuss it further. She decided to look for her mother and found her upstairs in her in the common room.

“I’ve asked Maude to serve us some tea, why don’t you join me while we wait for the gentlemen to finish their meeting?” her mother invited, gesturing her to sit next to her in the chaise.

“They are discussing serious business matters?” she inquired as she sat herself next to her mother.

“You can call it that,” Rosalie replied while taking a piece of carrot tart from the desert tray. “Your betrothed will be handling quite a lot once your father transfers his shares to him.”

Aurora gazed at her mother worriedly. “Isn’t the company in good financial standing?”

Rosalie nodded her affirmative. “It is,” she replied. “Some of the Board however is expecting that you will be handed your father’s share. It is common to assume that since you are your father’s only child, that you be handed the reigns of the organization. They also know you are not capable of managing the chairmanship, and are hoping to overrule you.”

“I did not realize the situation would be that serious,” she sadly lamented. Their conversation was halted when one of the maids knocked and entered with a tray of coffee cups and saucers. After serving, she curtsied and excused herself from their presence.

“The shipping company is your grandfather’s legacy, and now to be your father’s,” Rosalie explained after sipping her tea. “You never really made an effort to study the family business. It is essential for you to realize the gravity of it, and the risk Jared will be taking once he oversees it.”

“I apologize for my lack of effort,” she admitted in defeat. “But I don’t understand…”

Rosalie heaved a sigh before continuing. “Your father will hand his financial & administrative power to your future husband. Although you are his daughter and is this family’s sole heiress, the business side of running it will be given to Jared, and all the powers associated with it. Not all members of the Board at Cunard Shipping will welcome that decision. Both of you must expect a lot of opposition, and you must be ready to support him whatever circumstance.”

“You so much trust him with handling that kind of responsibility, but that doesn’t change the fact that I hardly know him,” she argued ostensibly not understanding why they had to even dictate these things to her like a brainless child.

“Must you be so stubborn?” Rosalie hissed as she started to lose her composure, involuntarily replacing the cup and saucers a lit bit harder making a sound of clattering dishes. “You’re supposed to be matured enough to deal with these in a very subtle and diplomatic way. I expected more from you than your selfish attitude and close mindedness.”

Aurora was caught off guard with her mother’s show of temper. She had known her to be as cool and as calm but tonight, her mother looked agitated – at her.

“I was twenty-two when your grandmamma told me I was to marry,” Rosalie further explained her voice calm and collected but it bore an authority by which Aurora deemed irritation – at her. “I was frightened. I eventually learned that the marriage was for a merger, and that your father was marrying me for my money to save Cunard which was already in the brink of ruin from its competition. It was not love at first sight. He loathed me, because of the money I brought him and I was Austrian and thought our family was an ally of the Nazis and did not even bed me after our wedding. It took more than a year before our marriage was consummated.”

Hearing this, Aurora stared motionless at her mother. The shock was overwhelming, and it rendered her speechless.

“I never gave up on your father,” her mother continued and Aurora’s attention was riveted on her every word. “He was unfaithful during the first couple of years. I knew this because the maids gossiped and it was not uncommon for English gentlemen to keep mistresses. He was always out of town and I felt alone in a country I was not familiar with. I could not even speak fluent English. But I persevered because I was falling in love with him. I told him I will no longer tolerate his infidelity and when he tried to control me, I fought him. I learned how to deprive him of his husbandly rights, and I learned how to speak the language. He was a silent but ruthless man but he had a kind heart. On our third year of marriage, I got pregnant with you. That changed him and I finally felt his care. When you turned one, he admitted that he was in love with me all along, and that he was just too proud to even succumb to the unfamiliar emotion. He said he did not intend to fall in love with me, but knew it was inevitable. It was the happiest day of my life. He was the very first man who kissed and touched me, and he will be the last.”

She did not understand why but she felt humbled at the same time reprimanded upon hearing her mother’s confession. It also gave her a feeling of renewed joy and hope that maybe there’s a possibility of a happy ending for her and Jared.

“You’re very blessed, mama” she remarked sincerely giving her mother a hug.

Rosalie held her hand. “I’m telling you this because I need you to understand the difficulty and the sacrifices you and Jared must make to actually have a marriage. Everyday, choose to stay married. Always choose him. It is difficult but not impossible.”

“I admire what you and father have, and I shall remember that,” Aurora nodded her agreement, not sure though if she believes it or not.

“Your stubbornness and willfulness cannot help you,” Rosalie added. “Get rid of your doubts and selfish thoughts. This is no longer about what you want. Your father and I already gave you so much of your freedom when we allowed you to pursue medicine at Stanford. But you have an obligation to this family, and your father’s legacy. We all do. Give Jared the support he will need from you and be there for him at all times just as I did with your father.”

She nodded again, feeling like a robot but knew her mother had a very strong point. Arguing would only stress her mother more. If she had more energy, she would have argued that the man was a manipulative rake. It was not the time for that, though.

They both heard her father and Jared approach the common room. As soon as she saw him, she noticed he was smiling while chatting with her father. She wondered what her father told the man to make him break into such a charming grin. He really was one hell of a sexy creature, to Aurora’s dismay.

“Jared must take his leave,” Paul announced as he entered the common room. His affectionate gaze was directed at Rosalie, which Aurora noticed. “You have to postpone your wedding ideas for next week, darling, after their trip from New York.”

Aurora watched his father held her mother’s hand as she stood from the sofa and gave her a kiss on her forehead. What a love story her parents had, she now realized. Thinking about it, if she were in her mother’s shoes, she would have never tolerated the infidelity and the sacrifice her mother went through. Now, looking at the both of them together for more than thirty years, it seemed that persistence and perseverance worked well for them. She was not sure however, if it will be enough for her and Jared.

“Shall I take you back to your apartment, or do you wish to stay here for the night?” Jared asked, making her direct her attention to him.

She looked at her parents, and was torn between staying for the night to spend time with her father and wanting to be alone to think things through. Tonight’s revelations were just beginning to sink in her cerebellum and there was tomorrow’s New York trip with her betrothed. She has not even started packing yet. She was not certain also if she has a decent gown to wear for Saturday.

“Oh heavens,” she muttered totally caught off guard with the realization. “I must return to the apartment…”

“Is everything alright?” Rosalie inquired, touching her daughter’s face. “You look rather pale…”

“Yes, mama,” she smilingly replied and gave her and Paul a kiss. “I just need to make last minute appointments for Saturday. I’ll call both of you tomorrow.” She turned to Jared and instinctively placed her hand on his arm. Jared bid his farewell, shook the hand of Paul, and kissed Rosalie’s hand before escorting Aurora out towards the main door where his SUV was parked.

Inside the vehicle, when they were already approaching the highway on their way to the city center, Jared glanced at her somewhat perturbed profile. She seemed deep in thought.

“Something bothering you?” he finally asked somewhat irritated with the fact that her mere facial expressions can stimulate his interest without difficulty.

“Yes,” she replied while forcing a laugh for the mediocrity of it. “Kinda pathetic actually but still a problem as of now…”

He glanced at her again before returning his focus on the road ahead. “Well, what is it?”

“I’m not sure I have an appropriate dress yet,” she murmured but enough for Jared to hear. He gave her a look which Aurora defined as a smile and a scowl or something in between.

“You don’t need a dress,” he replied instead. “You need a gown. And I need you looking fabulous in that sea of phony personalities so when they ask me who am I with, I would simply tell them the truth that I’m with the Countess of Bavaria. That way, they will all shut up and leave you alone.”

“Wow,” she whispered in reply. “Was that supposed to encourage me?”

He broke into a grin and simply said. “Call your stylist. She’ll worry about it for you.”

This time, Aurora looked at him like he was out of his mind. “I hate to break it to you, but I don’t have one.”

She heard him sigh deeply as if the situation was trying his patience. “I don’t remember concerning myself with women’s dresses before,” he unconsciously blurted out.

She wanted to curse him but decided it was unladylike. “Perhaps you never dated commoners before…” she remarked sarcastically.

“Why don’t you call your mother’s stylist?” he asked, deliberately ignoring her jibe about his dating preferences.

“She does not have one either,” she retorted. “Don’t concern yourself. I’ll manage”. She assured him as she began texting messages to her friends who were in New York.

“Seriously, Aurora” he emphasized his concern as they neared Marlborough Street. “Let me know if you need assistance. I can make some phone calls…”

“It’s fine,” she insisted her voice irritated and upset. “I said I can manage. Worse comes to worst, I would just have to settle for last minute shopping in Manhattan tomorrow.”

“Would you like to leave earlier tomorrow so you will have enough time?”

“Might as well,” she reluctantly decided while heaving a deep sigh of what looms ahead. “Is ten in the morning possible?”

“My phone’s dead and I don't have my charger with me. My pilots have to be notified. I would have to issue Renata some instructions before she retires for the night” he said. They were nearing her apartment building and were pulling over the front entrance.

“What time’s her bed time? My phone’s nearing dead too,” Aurora noticed, her attention riveted in her phone’s battery icon to be 2% left.

“Nine,” he replied and then checked the clock in the dashboard. It blinked 08:45. “You have a phone I can use upstairs?”

She nodded an affirmative. “Why don’t you drive around the back entrance? You can use the available parking slot,” she invited and Jared maneuvered the steering wheel towards the back entrance.

Hers was a two-bedroom apartment with approximately 2,000 square feet complete with a functional kitchen, study, a living room and dining place facing the historic Worcester Square. Aurora opted to purchase a more practical and a cheaper studio flat but her mother insisted that every good home must at least have a guest room. Her father’s real estate agents offered several apartments to choose from and so she decided on this because of its quiet neighborhood and proximity to the hospital.

“The phone’s at the study,” she stated the moment she unlocked the door and ushered him in. After she switched on the lights, she pointed at her left side where a small room was located. “Do you want to stay for coffee?”

He was walking towards the study when he heard her invitation.

“I would like to stay for the night”.

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