“Son, here’s your present. Enjoy your transition from a boy to a man.” My father patted my back and then pushed the doors open, leaving me in ultimate heaven. “Thirteen women to celebrate your thirteen years of life.”
That was how my father, Charles Kensington, brought me up. My father was a fine connoisseur of women, in all shapes and sizes. He once told me that marriage meant nothing because all it ever did was merge money for both families; it was a tool to build dynasties, nothing more. Marriage was a façade that people crawled behind in order to unite two powerful families and form a stronger bond which would produce heirs.
Legacy was everything; without it, nothing mattered.
We were, after all, The Kensingtons. At a young age, I was groomed and schooled to marry a well bred woman; someone from my stature who would mingle amongst my social strata easily.
All of these ingrained idiosyncrasies and pompous ceremonials left me when I met a man named Richard von Berg. We went to Cambridge and were on the rowing team together. Richard was in the same class as I was, but he was a free man; a man who was allowed to grow without his parents’ having shackled him to their own beliefs. He didn’t live the way I did. Richard was a unique man; a man I admired and loved like a brother. He taught me to follow whatever and wherever my gut directed me.
With his guidance and support, I was able to find the woman that I could finally say I loved. It was a dire day when that love was not returned. On that day, I found out that my father married the woman I had wanted to spend the rest of my life with. When I confronted him, it left me in shambles.
“I did it for your own good! Love! That word is for cunts. You’re being fanciful. You’re a bloody Kensington and love is not part of our lives. Get that through your skull, you dim-witted fool.” My father’s green eyes struck me with their anger as his words sent me to hell.
I walked out of his home, vowing never to speak to him again.
Vowing to destroy him and his young bride.
No one was going to make me a fool and go unscathed.
As expected, the confrontation left me gutted, but the world had another lesson to teach me. When I got a call from Richard, asking—no begging—me to see him at St. Lucia at once, I couldn’t ignore it.
That call changed my life.
Approximately three years ago
The flight took a little over eight hours. The whole time, I was anxious about what Richard had meant with his “I need your help, brother” statement. Richard von Berg didn’t ask for help. He was very much capable of doing anything and everything; he would rather keel over than ask for help. I knew this man well. For him to ask for help in that desperate tone was more than disconcerting.
Whatever it was, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I had been there once, a couple of years back, before his parents died. I had spent my Christmas holiday there and it had been the best—the only—Christmas I had ever had. At first, I thought it odd how happy and tight-knit Richard’s family was, but as the days progressed, I saw what a truly loving parent meant; his parents were the storybook kind.
Being envious wasn’t really a normal feeling for me, however right then and there, I’d have wished all of my inheritance away merely to have what Richard had. It was tragic when I found out they had died in a plane crash. The bodies were never found. Even then, though the mourning and pain was evident in Richard’s eyes, he took charge and carried on as he slid into his father’s shoes. I knew how much his parents meant to him, yet he didn’t even crumble then.
Never had this man asked for help. Never.
When I arrived at his home and was let in, I made my way back to his study where I softly knocked on the door before pushing it open and letting myself inside. “Richard?”
The study was dark, so it took a good minute for my eyes to adjust. As my eyes finally became used to the dimness, I could see that there was a small desk lamp alit next to a leather wing chair with Richard sound asleep in it.
The sight of him sleeping in his study was shocking, however what took me by surprise the most was his appearance. He looked simply gaunt, almost yellowish, and the man had truly lost a significant amount of weight. My stomach plummeted further when he softly coughed, giving me a glimpse of his dire condition. This wasn’t a sickness that would go away after a few weeks of Paracetamol. This was more serious.
Richard—my best friend, my mentor—slowly pried his eyes open and then his weary, gray gaze met mine. “You came,” he whispered while slowly trying to shift himself on the seat. “Thank you.”
“Of course, I came. Why even doubt it?” I murmured as I strode towards him, steadying myself before I sat on the couch next to his chair. “You’re unwell. Why haven’t you said anything?”
“I didn’t know I was until six months ago.” Richard looked thoughtful, appearing almost sad. “I’m dying. Unbeknownst to me, I was infected with Hepatitis B. The infection turned into liver cancer. Since I was young and healthy, I never thought any of my pains and symptoms were anything serious. Had I known, I would’ve hired the best to cure me.” Richard held my gaze, pausing for a few seconds before coughing mildly. “I have weeks, a few months max, to live.”
It seemed so surreal. Richard couldn’t be dying; how could he when he was one of the strongest men I knew? To me, he was family. My brother. I respected this man so much. Now, he was terminally ill.
“We’ll get someone to cure you. I’m sure there are doctors who are undergoing some trials that could help—”
Richard held up his hand to stop me from talking. “I just got back from a trial they were doing in South Africa. Why do you think I’ve been gone a while? I was looking for a cure.” He sighed, full of melancholy. “My time is running out. I’ve accepted it. There’s no cure out there for me—, but this is not why I called you, Callum. I have a favor to ask of you. It’s a very important one and I would be forever grateful if you could help me. I don’t want to die with worry. I hope you can help me.”
The feeling of helplessness was so profound that I’d do whatever he asked of me in a heartbeat. I needed something to do—anything—to help him.
“Anything, you don’t even have to ask.”
Richard gave me a small, weak smile that broke through my composure.
My best friend was dying. Yet here he was, trying to give me a smile because I was going to grant his dying wish. Life was perverse and I hated it.
“I know you will, but I want you to hear me out and think it over.” Richard reached out and tapped my hand. “I won’t hold it against you if you decide not to agree with it. I would completely understand, so don’t even go there.” He drew a labored breath, as though he was desperately trying to sort his thoughts out before handing it over into my hands. “I need you to marry Stella. I know you’re in love with Zara, but I can’t leave this earth knowing my baby sister is unprotected from vultures that will take advantage of her. You’re the only man I know that fits the bill. On top of that, I trust you completely. In your hands, my sister is safe. I can die happy knowing that, Cal.”
Stella, the young, shy, brunette who couldn’t even look me straight in the eye the last time I met her? Well, it was the only time I had met her, I suppose. Marriage. It was meant for the woman I loved, but now that my father had swept in and taken that away from me, there was no one left that I could imagine spending my life with. Besides, I would shoot myself before I would decline Richard’s request.
It was unfathomable to even consider turning back on him.
“Then, I’ll marry Stella. There’s nothing holding me back from helping you get what you wish, Richard.” I paused, nodding towards his somber form. I truly was devastated. Although I was doing a splendid job of not shedding a tear or going into a raging outburst, inside I was barely holding up. Maybe I was still reeling from the lethal heartbreak Zara had dealt me, or maybe life had fucked me quite well so many times before that I felt the need to be composed. Whatever the reason, I held it together and managed to convey my thoughts to my friend. He needed to know that he could trust me with Stella. “I’ll marry her until she’s of age to marry a decent man. I can promise you that I will make sure she is well provided for; her assets secured and safe from men who are after her money.”
Richard had already outlined everything, right down to having his lawyer draft up the agreements before I had gotten there. I was going to marry and be her conservator at the same time. She couldn’t divorce me until she was at the age of twenty-six. I was also provided with all the to-do lists once Stella had chosen someone to marry. He had everything prepared. Now all he needed to do was tell his sister about this arrangement. Richard promised to tell her during teatime and I would meet her for dinner tonight to discuss what was to happen; amongst other things.