Chapter Nine

Jared, on the other hand did not fail to notice it too. He was now scanning the contents of the red folder his secretary prepared and an idea crossed his mind. He stood up from his high-backed chair and walked over to where the two women were. He then sat himself beside Aurora and without a word to both women, took the put of tea and poured into the empty cup beside Aurora’s. He reached for the creamer, poured a small amount, stirred, and began to sip. Both women exchanged a meaningful look and smiled. Renata then excused herself, and upon receiving Jared’s  approval, walked towards the exit.

“What are those?” Aurora asked as she sipped her tea eyeing the creative board paper in Jared’s hand.

“Invitations for the Met, and the Gates Foundation” he replied nonchalantly as he leaned his back against the couch and rested his head. “Both are fund raisers, Met’s for breast cancer but we need to shell out at least five thousand dollars per individual, the other one’s for obesity – any amount will do. Pick one.”

She looked at him not sure if he was serious. His eyes were closed, his head resting in the edge of the couch his left arm resting in his side while his right rested on his thigh. “Tired?” she mused and then she saw him break a smile in reply. His eyes were closed but he was smiling and Aurora noticed his cleft chin, and the dimple in his left cheek. It only confirmed her worst fears. Yep, he was a very attractive man indeed. She heaved a sigh instead.

“What institution does Rickford’s CSR relationship needs to be developed more in order for you to increase compatibility with its target community?” she asked instead before answering his instruction to pick one for him.

Hearing this, it reminded him that the woman beside him was a surgeon not an actress, nor a ballerina, or a supermodel. She was smart, has exquisite blue-violet eyes and striking wave of hair and sounded intelligent too, not to mention unspoiled as he gathered just moments before. He certainly can’t expect her to merely choose something just because he told her to do so. He decided to cooperate instead.

“RHI has been collaborating with Gates Foundation since its inception,” he explained. He was now leaning over the coffee table in front of them, alternating between sipping his tea and explaining to Aurora what he wanted to accomplish. “RHI’s relationship with them is pretty stable and built. We’ve donated millions to their relief operations in Africa, Asia and South America.” He did not mind their faces were both only inches away from one another. He enjoyed her scent. Chanel No. 5, he knew. It was the best, and the woman beside him recognized the difference of the best from the rest.

“What about the Met?” she asked abruptly turning her head to look at him. Her face was inches from his instead, and he was regarding her with such a confusing state Aurora couldn’t move. Seconds later, she felt his lips on hers surprising her beyond her wits. It was a gentle kiss but the longer Jared’s mouth lingered the more it demanded to be appeased. Aurora opened her mouth to utter a word, and pulled her mouth away from him the moment he intended to kiss her again.

“You taste nice,” he said his thumb caressing her rosy lips. He was not deterred by her deliberate avoidance. It challenged the living out of him.

“What about the Met?” she stated, turning her face against his touch. She was glad enough her voice did not shake, nor her chin or her hands. Why was she allowing this stranger to touch her so freely like this and liking it, she could not understand! She knew how to control herself, her temper, and her emotions no matter how stormy it can get. But damn the man if he was merely stirring some sort of storm in her sensation, it felt like a blizzard.

He stood and walked towards his rosewood desk and sat himself in his chair before continuing. “We haven’t had any dealings with Met before. Minimal donations yes, but significant ones none. However, we need their support because of our expansion plans in New York. We recently bought an abandoned property near Central Park and we hope to develop it bearing the Rickford hospitality standards. It would entail much work for our PR Department since we never had any significant contribution to the community of NYC.”

“That settles it then,” she replied enthusiastically.

“It settles what, exactly?” he questioningly stated.

“You wanted me to pick one, and I pick the Met for you to attend to for the reasons you stated just now.”

“I’m not paying five thousand dollars per individual, Aurora.”

“Is it fiscally suicidal?”

“It’s too much”, he answered firmly and clearly.

“Say goodbye to Park Avenue development then,” she casually replied. “Let’s RSVP your attendance to Gates?”

Silence. She knew she got him thinking as she kept her smile to herself. It delighted her to know that the man did not part with his company’s money like a drunkard. She knew however, he needed to do this to get their expansion plans done.

“How much do you think the company should shell out?” Now, he was making sense, Aurora mused.

“I don’t think I’m the one you should ask about that,” she reminded him. He pressed his intercom and instructed Renata to call several people to report to his office immediately.

Several moments later, as Aurora was seated in the couch with Jared sitting at his desk chair, the intercom sound indicating the arrival of his requested officers. The moment they entered, Jared began the necessary introductions.

“Everyone, meet Dr. Aurora Cunard,” he began his eyes directed at Aurora who is now rising from the couch. “She’s the daughter of Paul Cunard. You all know Cunard Shipping Limited. Introduce yourselves,” he ordered.

The first one who offered her hand was a woman in her late thirties with black hair and blue eyes. “Maris Pontini, Head of PR & Communications. Nice to meet you Dr Cunard.”

“Hi. Nice to meet you too. Please call me Aurora.”

The second one was a tall man in his early forties, Aurora guessed unsurely. “How do you do, Miss Cunard. Gerald Rice, Employee Relations Head”

“I’m doing fine, Mr Rice. Please call me Aurora.”

The third one was a bulky man in his mid-forties with a pleasant face and big round eye glasses. “Good afternoon, Aurora. Ben Carter, Finance. Welcome to RHI.”

“Thank you, Mr Carter. Nice to meet you.”

The last one was a younger version of Gerald Rice in his early forties with grayish eyes and a firm built. “Steve Henderson, Research and Acquisitions. Good to see you Miss Cunard.”

After he heard Aurora’s acknowledgement, Jared told his officers to take their seats.

“Did you bring your files with you?” he asked and received an autonomous affirmative.

“What’s the status of our Zoning Permit in the NYC property?” he directed his question to Henderson.

“Same,” Henderson replied shaking his head. “We’re having a difficult time convincing the community advisor of our sincere intention to develop it based on their standards. We resubmitted it the fourth time since we acquired the property, still no good movement. They think we’re not efficient enough to provide a significant contribution to their reputation most especially in Park Avenue society. We don’t have enough backing. We never penetrated New York before.”

“What about the Mayor?” he inquired, his face scowling in displeasure. “We’re wasting a great amount of time waiting for that permit.”

“We talked to the Mayor,” Maris Pontini replied.“and the PR team extended its efforts to his office but to no avail. I verified that even if we are friends with the Mayor, he still values the opinions of the New York oligarchs. We must face it, he gets his votes from the New York community, not Boston’s.”

“I got an invitation to the Costume Institute Gala to be held at the Met this Saturday,” he finally stated. “I need your thoughts on how we can get those bastards on our side using this as leverage”. He handed the invite to Maris. “How much do you suggest based on your books can we give as a CSR effort and how many people will you need there, and who. Ben, I need you to check the books. Make sure we have funds for this or reallocate some. I don’t want any department’s budget to be diverted in this unprecedented spectacle. Maris, discuss with Steve how you can approach this in a subtle way and still get it done. I want that permit by the end of next week and not later. Who do you think needs to be there? No extravagances, no excesses. After which, discuss with Gerald on how to go about a skeletal force on Friday and Saturday or if it’s even necessary. Compute for additional operations expenses and charge to CSR contingency per head. I need it in an hour. Do it soon please”

Assuming they were all dismissed, they immediately stood up and rushed towards the exit as they began to formulate the solution the boss was asking. Jared stopped them by calling out in his booming voice. “Where the hell do you think you’re all going?”

His officers exchanged confused glances at each other. “To meet it out, Red” Ben Carter bravely replied.

“Yes, but do it here, now.” He replied irritably. “Why do you think I instructed all of you to bring your files with you? It isn’t a financial report, I’m requesting. I’m merely asking you to discuss informally how to go about this gala and work it to our advantage but with the right data.”

“Of course,” Henderson replied uncertainly. The rest uttered their affirmatives.

“You may use the conference table on the other side,” Jared initialed as he pressed the button to reveal his office’s extending conference room complete with glass panels overseeing downtown Boston with its full paneled glass walls, twenty-seater rosewood conference table, white board, lcd projector, and unused laptops. It was shocking for all them. Being ushered to Jared Rickford’s office was a normal occurrence. His immediate report requirements were also normal, not to mention his extremely demanding nature. His generosity of allowing them to use his office to work when only the board has had the privilege of sitting on these chairs was not. To actually see the magnificent view of Massachusetts the way their CEO sees it in a daily basis was indeed very unlikely. After glancing in surprise at one another, they decided to focus on their work. The man was only a panel away from them.

An hour later, the four officers submitted their printed recommendation to Jared’s desk, seated themselves and waited until Jared finally hung up the phone in his hand.

“You’re done?” he inquired, as he opened the document and began studying it intently as silence enveloped the whole room. Aurora looked at him not knowing what to expect. She was practically stunned to actually see how he works. The man was brilliant, knows what he’s doing and Aurora began to feel proud with the knowledge that he’s going to be her husband. This made her blush as she immediately removed her eyes from him.

After several minutes of silence, he finally looked up, his eyes riveted to his officers and said. “You better be sure this thing works,” he stated as he reached for his fountain pen and scribbled his signature at the end of each document. He ushered Renata into his office and began issuing further ministrations the moment the secretary stepped inside. “Prepare the necessary arrangements. Use one of my private planes to transport participants this Friday. It will help lessen the cost. Discuss with the participants their roles and responsibilities. Brief everyone. And…” he paused while breaking into a smile which practically shocked his staff beyond belief. “Have your tuxes tailored, and buy your wives some gowns as I need you all looking expensive in that sea of snobs! It’s the Met. You’re all excused.”

Everyone was still in a daze as they left Jared’s office. It was the first and it beleaguered them in ways they could not really fathom. They finally saw Jared Rickford smile.

After giving more additional instructions to Renata, he told her she can go home earlier if she wanted to. Now, that’s something. Aurora was grinning when Renata closed the door leaving her with Jared alone. “You’re smiling…” Jared remarked as he began to fix his brief case. “Something amuses you?”

“You remind me of my father,” she replied honestly. “He’s ruthless. Well…at least now I have an idea why he wants you to take over”

He did not know what to make of that remark but it somehow gave him almost a pleasant feeling to assume that she thought similarly of him. He locked his brief case, loosened his tie and removed his coat. “I admire your father, and his work. Hearing that from you is a whole different story.”

Not knowing what to make of that, she gathered her bag from the couch she was sitting and stood up to wait for him. He hung his coat over his left arm, and carried his brief case as he walked towards the office doors. He opened it and waited for Aurora to exit before locking and shutting it closed.

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