Aidan’s lashes fluttered then opened slowly three weeks after Matilda met with him at the pub. He waited till his gaze had adjusted to the rays of sunlight coming through the window. Looking around, he yawned lazily as he stretched his body. He scratched the stubble on his chin absentmindedly. Sitting up, he swung his feet out of the bed, rested his elbows on his knees and wiped both palms downward over his face. His mouth felt dry but he could still feel the lingering taste of last night’s wine on his tongue.
He glanced at Rob’s empty bed, sighed and managed to get on his feet. Slowly he walked into the short corridor and headed for where he knew Rob would be, his mother’s room. When he approached the door, what he saw shocked him to the bones and for the first time he felt urgent grief and fear. Rob sat by his mother’s bed silently weeping and muttering a prayer. His mother’s eyes were swollen and almost shut. She was lying very still and breathing hoarsely. She could hardly breathe nor see any more through the swollen slits her eyes had become.
The stench of the room was eye-watering and when Aidan roved the floor of the room with his eyes, he saw several stained rags of blood and more blood was still dripping from the woman’s nose, mouth and ears. Her dress was almost soaked to the skin on her chest and her fingers trembled which showed that she was in extreme pain. Unable to take the horror in anymore, Aidan dashed back to the room, grabbed his shirt, slinging it over his shoulder, he hurriedly slipped into his boots while standing, staggering and trying to keep his stance, he stormed out of the house without a word.
He couldn’t watch Robert emotionally and psychologically suffer in frustration and watch his dying mother bleed to death. He had promised Robert he would do anything to save her life but obviously, time was not on their side anymore. He had to do something, and something fast he must. He didn’t care how he got the money to get that damned drug imported and make the doctor start his treatments on her but he just had to make it happen very soon. He knew where just to go, just to someone who would willingly give him more than enough money he could ever need for his services, he just hoped he wasn’t too late.
He knew he was going to offer the service he would forever regret, a situation he had dreaded, despised and avoided for years but he had to make this sacrifice even if it meant saving a life of the mother of the boy he had grown to love as a family. He continued down the deserted bush path and turned into a busy street, heading to the Darthem Inn.
She walked around the large room, caressing every furniture and tenderly fingering the drapes. The room was so quiet and so devoid of life. Since the death of the Duchess, she had restricted anyone from going into the room except the cleaning maids who cleaned the room every three days. She chose to remain in her former room than move into this room because it held so many memories, both the happy ones and the sad ones. She turned as the ferret leapt onto the bed and snuggled in its fold. She eyed the ferret for a while then approached the window that faced the east to look out.
The sun was very high up in the sky and she could see horses grazing on a pasture close-by. She sighed after sucking the fresh air into her lungs. Oh! How she missed the Duchess so much. Something round laid in the corner close to the foot of the bed but she did not take notice of it. She only stared out of the window, admiring nature. She felt like singing, running around the garden. She missed school and she missed her friends. Phyllis and Thelma had promised to pay her a visit someday, how she missed their little gossips and talks of their fantasies.
She was still staring out of the window when a knock interrupted her thoughts. She half turned to face the door wondering who would dare disturb her in here. “Come in.” she said when the knock came again. The door opened and Matilda stepped in, smiling. “I thought you said you were going to the garden with Lacy to pick some berries for my tart?” she asked the woman.
Matilda rubbed her hands in glee and hunched her shoulders. “True Your Grace but something important came up.”
“Something important than the tart?” Emilia gave her a questioning look. “You know how much I enjoy eating your tart, Matilda.”
“C’mon dear, something better just came up, the tart can wait!” she answered dismissively. “He is here!”
Confused, Emilia turned fully to face Matilda, her back to the large window, the sun shining through her hair, creating a halo around her head. “What do you mean? Who is here?”
“The Rogue!” Her smile widened. Emilia could swear Matilda just blushed just from pronouncing the name. “I think he changed his mind.”
Emilia’s eyes widened in surprise but it quickly passed. “I will see him, have him wait!” she said stonily, dismissing the older woman.
“Yes Your Grace!” Matilda said and exited the room.
Emilia stared at the ferret on the bed and said. “Well Thomas, we are about to add someone to the family but it won’t be for long. So what say you?” The ferret yawned and looked away. “I bet we won’t like him.” She said to it. “We only have to put up with him for the time being…” She paused and sighed deeply mustering courage to meet her visitor. “Well, let’s go. let’s see what he looks like.” she picked up the reluctant ferret who still wanted a beauty sleep on the soft bed and exited the room, walking down the door.
Aidan stood unflinchingly. He wanted to leave. It wasn’t too late to give this all up and leave but he didn’t have a choice than to get this done with. He stood in the centre of the large foyer which was a few paces from the door and besides facing different hallways, it also overlooked a magnificent flight of stairs.
A maid stood in the corner behind him as if waiting on him or her mistress to arrive while Festus stood beside the door. Matilda who couldn’t seem to contain her joy stood beside a sofa. They were all standing as if awaiting someone very special and important, royal to be precise. He wondered what was keeping the mistress waiting. The woman had better come attend to him because he had no time to waste. Suddenly, footsteps echoed above. He raised his head and looked up to see a woman descending the stairs gracefully, her hand on the banister.
He thought, this must be the Duchess’ daughter. She descended without a word and only halted at the foot of the stairs, ferret in her arms. The look on her face was cold and unfriendly. When the three people in the room bowed low, he was shocked. He was actually expecting an older woman not a young one. This very one was such a young Duchess perhaps judging from her features shouldn’t be more than two and twenty. Aidan had the feeling that he had seen her before but he couldn’t remember where or when.
Gosh! Wasn’t she breath-taking? She was ravishing. Her complexion, her brunette hair, her lips, her little waist, everything about her was exceptional but he could only admire a woman, he sure didn’t want one. He killed the admiring thoughts immediately for he knew that behind every good looking woman laid in wait a cold heart to trap an unwary man.
Then she lifted her face as if tired of stroking the lazy ferret in her arms and finally remembering that there were people with her in the foyer. Jade gaze locked with sapphire gaze as their eyes met. They both flinched but no one noticed besides both of them. Composing herself, Emilia examined him but in a rather rude manner for despite his height, she still looked down her nose at him. She stared at him with disgust. His hair was unkempt and shaggy. His chin was covered with neglected stubble, his clothes were old and faint irremovable stains were still traceable.
Only his sapphire gaze was gentle, soft and appealing. She had a feeling that she could lose herself with careless abandon in the whirl pools of those blue depths. Everything else about him was rugged and dangerous. She wondered if she was not making a mistake by bringing a street bum into her house. For heaven knows, he might be a murderer, a rapist or a thief. She didn’t want to think further of what else he might be capable of but something about him erased these despicable thoughts from her mind as he also stood there unemotionally regarding her without a word.
“Name?” she asked, taking her seat in a sofa away from the stairs.
“Rogue!” he simply answered.
“Full name please?” she said impatiently.
“Aidan Warren Eugene.”
“I believe you have been told of what this is about?”
“I would like a better explanation from the horse’s mouth!”
She flinched at his daring attitude. She gave the maid a knowing look and the maid who understood left. When she was gone, Emilia said. “We are to have a marriage of convenience for a year, nothing more and nothing less. When the year is done, I will reward you handsomely and we shall have a divorce and we will forget anything as this ever happened.”
“What is this all about?” he asked.
“You will ask no questions!” she said coolly. “You are only to do as you are told and keep up with your part of the bargain Mr. Warren!”
He glared at her but only briefly.
“Have you any objection or requests?” she asked.
“I will like a particular drug imported and some money for a start.” He answered.
“Fine! My Steward will see to that.” She said. “We meet for the wedding on Wednesday morning, 8a.m by the clock at St. Louis parish. I should warn you that I do not like to be kept waiting. A legal certificate will be issued concerning our marriage which after I will be called your wife and you my husband. Nothing is involved, absolutely no intimacy between us.”
Aidan secretly sighed in relief. “We use different rooms and we only appear as husband and wife before guests and the public. After the wedding, you will call this place your home but after the year runs out do not hesitate to get the hell out!”
Aidan could feel the hatred in her voice. He was beginning to ponder if he had wronged the woman before. Proud thing she was and so tender and harmless she looked but her unsavoury tongue could make him wring her neck if he was forced to.
“We will eat and dine as couples.” She continued. “Attend occasions and Balls together. We will only display acted affection in public but this is going to be a platonic marriage. I shall pay you every month as long as you hold to your side of the bargain.”
“Like I have an alternative.” He said stonily.
“Very well then, I believe we have reached a mutual agreement now, Mr. Warren!” she stood up and said to Festus and Matilda without taking her steely gaze off Aidan. “Shave him and comb his hair thoroughly after a thorough equal wash.” She turned to leave, remembered something and stopped. She turned to examine his filthy clothes then she added.
“…And give him something befitting to wear after burning his clothes. I do not want it obvious that I took a scoundrel for a husband.” She said coolly.
Aidan flexed his jaw in anger, but held back his words as he watched the proud empty- head ascend the stairs again, ferret in arms, chin raised in pride.
He would take such pleasure in snapping her slim frame in two. What does she think she was anyway? Goddess of Olympus? He fucking loathed the daughters of the aristocrats. They needed nothing but a couple of slaps to tame their untamed vile tongues and this one was no exception. Imagine! She didn’t even give her name! What a terrible wife she will be.
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© Angela Okoduwa