Delia brushes off her pencil skirt in a huff as she storms down the manor hallway to her grandmother's study. There’s no conceivable reason why her grandmother would propel her into an unwanted marriage. Money was never an issue before—no—she wasn’t going to waste time with that thought. She might not know a lot about business, but, that doesn’t matter right now. She’s going to get answers. Just because her twin brother Delius and Thea were no longer engaged didn’t give them the right to put Delia in his stead.
Her white stained knuckles pound against the door. She’s never been this rude to her elders but her future is at stake, and, she deserved to know why. Her throat closes up as she hears her grandmother's approval, sudden nerves paralyzing her step as she opens the door.
Cordelia raises her gaze from her desk to her granddaughter. She gestures her hand to the cream coloured chair in front of her, tucking a loose faded blonde hair behind her ear. Delia doesn’t have to explain what’s on her mind. Her grandmother’s sympathetic gaze is an indicator of that.
“Grandmother, I…I need to talk to you about what you told me today.”
“Naturally, but I have to say I’m confused. You wished to get married and start a family since you were very young. You’ve had no luck with anyone you’ve dated, and with Delius’s fractured engagement with Ilythea, I felt that this was a fantastic arrangement. If Theodore Avangard is truly incorrigible, then we’ll look at other options—although I don’t place my hopes in Thorne. He’s a lovely boy, but you know how cruel the outside world can be.”
“I didn’t come here to talk about Thorne.” Delia crosses her arms. “I’m not marrying this…Theodore…or whatever you called him—and I can't even believe you’d pawn me off just because Delius didn’t want to marry! What kind of double standard is that?!”
“It’s as I’ve said before. Time By Firthe's fallen on hard times and we need the bailout—the Avangards want in on our shares, but, with our recent fraudulent scandal, they want assurance that we won't go astray. After sensitive company information was leaked last year, our security’s been considered weak by the shareholder’s board. I can’t let economic failure be the reason for our family’s downfall. The Avangards are the only ones who believe that we Firthes aren't at fault." A pocket watch retailer that's lasted centuries was bound to come crashing down at some point. With the arrival of smartphones, pocket watches would become a relic of the past. It was time to modernize the business and keep up with the times. But her grandmother wouldn't listen to Delia. She wasn't her precious grandson.
“Yet they intend to marry into a family that is untrustworthy…because?”
“It’s not like that. Milo was good to your grandfather. He trusted that man with not only his friendship but his life. The problem stems from the fact that they are new money. They are staking a lot by replacing the shareholders we have, and, would feel a lot more secure having ties to the family. I thought Delius would have explained this to you?”
“Funny how we haven’t heard of the Avangards until Thea’s arrival, considering how close the head of the Avangard Family was with Grandfather. And they're a trading company no less. But no, Delius hadn’t explained anything to me. He was too busy brooding over his predicament. I thought he was being overdramatic but now I understand why. This is a horrible thing you've sprung onto us.” She brushes a honey blond curl from her face as if it would add to her protest.
Cordelia's steel-blue eyes darken as frowns. “It wasn’t my intent to force any of my grandchildren into marriages that would make them miserable. If Theodore is a horrible man, then say the word and I’ll call off the engagement officially.” Her eyes dart back to the paper on her desk as a stray greying blonde hair falls against her cheek. She pretends to study it thoroughly but it's clear she's upset.
“You made Delius CEO—it’s supposed to be his job to bail us out. It was his responsibility to marry Thea.”
“It was an oversight of mine—if I had known he fancied men—”
“Great—so my preferences net me this position. Glad to know I’m the one who’s singlehandedly assuring the survival of our company—and not your chosen CEO…That man he's with, Oli, was tasked to kidnap him because his employers wanted to destroy us by exploiting our secrets. We still don’t know if they'll come back for Delius, or if we can even trust Oli! Just because he’s an Avangard by blood doesn’t mean he will be loyal to them—they outright disowned him, and we still have no idea why!”
“No need to dramatize this, Delia. Everything's been handled. Anyways, as I said, if Theodore is horrible, then you don’t have to marry him. It’s that simple.”
But she can tell by her grandmother’s stiff posture that she wants this to go off without a hitch.
Delia’s lip curls in disgust. “If I were to agree to this engagement, how soon would the wedding take place?”
Cordelia folds her hands together. “Two weeks from now—what was initially scheduled to be Delius and Ilythea's wedding date.”
Delia knew the venue—a private beachfront area that was impossible to book—so it made perfect sense to repurpose the date. Not that she agreed with it.
“I have two weeks to decide if I want this man to be my husband?”
Cordelia nods, but slower. “I…implore you to meet with him at least. Please...you're my last hope, Delia.”
There it is...the thread that would weave its way into Delia’s heart. To hear her grandmother say those words is worrisome. She was not the type of woman to beg, or even plead. This was serious. God…why did she have to be the one to fix their family’s financial affairs?
“Fine. I’ll meet him. When can you book the arrangement?”
I’ve already booked a private meeting with Theodore for tomorrow evening. I would have cancelled if you said no, however, I’m relieved I didn’t have to. The two of you will be spending time together in one of the finest executive suites downtown. Refreshments will be provided of course to loosen your tongue. I know how shy you can be.”
“You booked a suite—like in a hotel?!” Delia’s heart jumps to her throat. What kind of first meeting place was that? A coffee shop would have done her just fine!
“I did this your assurance, dear. You don’t want to marry someone who can’t satisfy you.” There’s a glint in her eye as she speaks. “It’s what young people do nowadays, isn't it?”
“I-I’m not…you can’t expect me to—this isn’t proper!”
Cordelia clears her throat. “Delius and Ilythea had no problem with this when I arranged a similar meeting for them. From what I heard, they managed to have a lovely conversation about the trash animals outside—apparently, she’s got quite the love for them—” Cordelia pauses, noticing Delia’s tense frame. “If you go through with this, I’ll increase your shares—although it won’t mean much if you don’t marry. With the money flowing in after your wedding, you can fund Egg-cellent Eats. If Theodore is the man that I believe him to be, he won’t have any problem with this—he seems like a level headed man.”
Delia huffs—she was wondering when her grandmother would dangle that in front of her.
“Fine, whatever. I'll meet him. But that's it—I make no promises!”
“You would do well to check his socials. Theodore's got some flattering photos on that...erm…uh…”
Cordelia claps her hands together. “Yes! I searched his name and all sorts of pictures appeared.” She smiles, appearing proud that she had used the platform. “You'll like him—he reminds me so much of your grandfather back in the day…”
Delia groans inwardly.
What the hell did she sign up for?
Delia tenses in unison with the digital number’s increase. She swears the elevator’s rising faster than she’s ever felt one before. Her palms become sweaty as she grabs the ends of her dress. How did she even agree to this—yes, he was easy on the eyes but he looked so hard-faced in his Instagram pictures? Her grandmother called him Theodore, but it made sense that he went by a nickname, as she could only find a Theo_Avangard online, with over fifty thousand followers. He was a rugged yet well-dressed man with dark well-kept hair. Muscular too. She should have expected as much from one in his position. He didn’t seem to be one for smiling which was unusual for an influencer, except in one photo where he was petting a golden Persian cat—which gave her the thought that Deel would be a much better match for this man than she would. Who was to say that this Theo was even straight?
The elevator dings—large arched doors stand firm at the end of a long hallway. There are no other exits on this floor. If the Firthes were so short of money, they shouldn’t have expensed this. Delia gulps as she leaves the safety of the elevator, a wave of uncertainty fills her as she hears the elevator close behind her. She grips the handle of her luggage bag, taking a deep, yet shaky breath. She’s thankful she wore flats—heels would not have been suitable given her wobbly her ankles feel.
Delia reaches into her purse, pulling out an ornate golden key. It’s exuberant, but she supposes that’s the point. She sticks the key into the matching ornate lock, her hand sticking to the handle as she opens it.
The first thing Delia sees is a pair of men’s dress shoes tucked in the corner, ignoring the luxurious entryway entirely.
Large man’s shoes.
God, he was going to make a mess of her, wasn’t he?!
Delia grips the handle of her rolling luggage bag as she forces her feet to move. She forgets to slip off her shoes.
“H-Hello?” Delia calls. Her attempts to sound reassured have vanished. High rise windowpanes show off the night’s cityscape—twinkling lights surrounded them. This would have been the ideal spot for a romantic night. But, like everything else in their family, this was business.
Business she has to resolve.
Delia sits on the leather couch—it’s comfy, but her back’s too stiff to appreciate it. A door hinge squeaks as it opens, Delia makes the same noise—was it him?!
He emerges from the hallway, slicked dark hair put in place, his sideburns and stubble are well-trimmed. She’s relieved the ceiling is high, his hulking frame didn’t give her any confidence. His maroon coloured turtleneck clings to his toned arms—just like in his pictures—but his dark denim jeans show he prefers casual dress. His amber eyes narrow as he notices her presence, glossing her over before he adjusts his dark-rimmed glasses.
“Yes, I am. And I take it that you’re Theodore?”