Cora struggled to tamp down her nerves and quiet her anger as she stepped off of the train and onto the platform with her sullen fiancé. When she had arrived in France after a dreadfully long and utterly terrifying voyage from New York to meet the man she was being forced to marry by a uncaring yet overbearing father her discomfort and silent rage was only compounded by the sudden discovery of the exact reason a man who came so highly recommended, with such a successful career and accumulation of wealth would be in search of a bride. He was a relatively speaking handsome man, only twenty seven and part of one of the most successful private engineering firms in Austria, with stunning blue eyes that were the lightest shade of blue she had ever seen in a human being. His hair remained platinum blond, neatly combed, parted on the side, and he was of tall build, possessed strong shoulders, and had a handsomely lean frame. The only part of his appearance that made him look so sickly, and it was in fact enough to diminish the rest of his good attributes, was the pallor of his skin. So pale and nearly yellow, it looked like he had not seen the sun for years. His lips were shapely, but pale as well, barely containing a strong enough pink hue to differentiate from the rest of his face. That alone had not been enough to satisfy the curiosity that had been gnawing at her since she was informed she was to go to a foreign land and wed a complete stranger.
She had not known how he would look when she arrived in France, but she knew he had been sent a picture to more easily collect her before the train ride to the South of Germany. He greeted her with a shy smile and a little nod of the head. He had reached up, fisted the wool hat with sweaty hands, and removed it to reveal his exquisite hair.
"Y-you mmmust b-buh-be C-Cora," he said and if she had been smiling before it would have fallen from her face. She was proud of herself, that she did not let her horror show, for even though she did not like this man already, she did not wish to cause anyone pain. "I'mmm Heinrich-rich."
The conversation that followed was short and awkward. When he tried to lean down to kiss her cheek she flinched away as if she were about to be struck and he pulled back abruptly, his embarrassment turning his pale skin red. He gave a little nod and a sheepish grin and bungled up an apology.
"Ssssorry," he mumbled and turned slightly, holding his arm out before her. They walked at a respectable distance from one another and a stranger walking by would never imagine that the two were engaged to be married in only a month's time. He made sure that she was not lost in the crowed, oversaw her luggage being moved from the shop to the train, and then boarded with her.
"I-I-I kn-know," he started off quietly as they sat in their private room. "Th-that th-this is a t-t-terrible dis-disapointment f-fuh-for you. B-but you will f-f-fuh-find that I will b-be a g-good hu-husband to you. Y-you will w-want for n-n-nothing and-and-and-and I will pr-provide…." He let out a long, shaky breath before pushing forward. "a g-good home. I-I o-only a-a-ask th-that you… th-that you per-perform y-you duties a-as faithfully as I per-perform my own."
"I will do what is expected of me," she answered curtly and he lowered his eyes. He rolled his lips in on themselves and she could see him thinking of what to say next. She felt badly as she watched his ring his hat in his hands where they rested in his lap. His jaw clenched and he nodded to himself, blinking rapidly a few times, and then looked out the window with a deep sigh. Nothing else was said the rest of the train ride.
Though they had not spoken afterward she could feel his eyes on her as she gazed out the window for most of the trip. He looked at her unabashed and in the one moment she chanced to look back at him she saw longing so profound that it could not be hidden. She turned away, her anger only growing, and did not turn her head again. She was thankful that the train station they stopped in was only twenty miles from the village she would be staying in until the wedding. He lead her to a car that was significantly nicer than the one her father had owned. She had been devastated when he sold it to pay off the first of his gambling debts. It felt to Cora that the last thing he had to sell off was her.
Throughout the drive, he continually wiped his palms on his pants. She stared out the window, watching the beautiful green countryside pass her by. She was in an intense state of calm, a smile on her lips, when his voice jarred her out of her thoughts. It was annoyance she felt when she turned her face to look at him, but it disappeared as he pointed out to his left.
"Th-th-the A-alllps," he said and she leaned forward for a better view. Her lips parted as she was struck with its beauty and Heinrich smiled as he glanced between her and the road.
"W-we a-are cous-cousins you kn-know," he said and she realized for the first time, to her surprise and slight discomfort, that he was using the familiar form in his address of her. "B-but nnnot r-r-really. I-I-I am re-related t-to you-you're g-great aunt Ann-Annaliese and sh-she is nnnot tr-trully blood t-to you."
She nodded in response and he glanced at her as if he was unsure if she heard him. She would have struggled to understand his accent even without the stammer. Her German was good, but in her classes at school she had been taught a very refined German used up in Berlin. The Austrian accent, slang, and stammer, made it difficult for her to discern his words.
Once again they fell silent and she silently thanked God as they approached the little town. She was not in the least excited to see her great aunt and uncle. She had never met them before and her grandfather had only ever spoken of his brother occasionally. She knew though, that she would not be leaving their household until she was married, and then, she would be forced to live as this stammering stranger's wife for the rest of her life. She would do her duty, she was an obedient daughter and knew her familial duties, but she was under no obligation to like it.
She climbed the steps and Heinrich hurried past her to open the door for her. She thanked him softly and stepped past him but she was unable to muster up the energy needed to force a smile. By the time she was stepping into a little sitting room to greet her elderly relatives she had been awake bordering on thirty six hours.
"Oh my goodness!" Annaliese cried as Cora stepped through the door and Konrad merely looked up from his newspaper. "Look how beautiful."
The old woman stood on shakey legs and Cora smiled as the woman's arms were thrown around her. She felt suddenly more at ease. This woman had an ability to do that it seemed, and her love, despite just meeting now, was genuine and freely given. Cora knew it was genuine the moment the old woman pulled back and looked at her full in the face. Her eyes, the same color blue as Heinrich's, were soft and gentle, loving and unjudging, and her smile was even warmer.
"Isn't she beautiful Heinz?" she asked and Cora looked down at her shoes, cheeks turning red, as he stuttered out his reply.
"V-Very beautiful," he said softly.
"Our Heinz has been speaking of you without pause for weeks now," she told Cora, holding onto her shoulders and looking her over with the gaze of a loving parent. Since her mother had died, she had not known such a gaze.
"O-Oma," Heinrich said reluctantly from the doorway.
"Oh, no need to be shy Heinz. He's been so nervous. He bought that suit special to pick you up in," she said and Cora felt her throat tighten and guilt gnaw at her stomach.
"O-Oma please," Heinrich said softly.
"It is a very handsome suit," Cora said. She looked back at Heinrich but he would not meet her gaze.
"Oh, and this I must show you," Anneliese called and went from the room. They waited in awkward silence as the sound of rustling papers met everyone's ears and then Anneliese called from the other room before she reappeared.
"He forgot it here three days ago but he's been carrying it around with him," Anneliese said with a smile and turned her affectionate gaze on Heinrich.
"He's a romantic boy," she said affectionately and handed Cora a folded up and worn piece of paper. She opened it, wondering what Heinrich could love so much that might pertain to her, and her face crumpled as she spotted her sister's handwriting. The content of the letter was what alarmed her the most and she looked up at Anneliese and then back at Heinrich. He watched her, face looking pained, skin pink. The letter he seemed to cherish so much, the one written in her sister's handwriting, with Cora's name at the bottom, was an affectionate and enthusiastic acceptance of what Cora could only imagine had been his personalized letter of proposal sent for her. No doubt her father had had her sister send this just before making his will known to Cora.
"I didn't write this," Cora found herself saying. "It is my sister's hand."
"O-Oh," Heinrich breathed and let out a little, pained laugh. He reached out and took the letter from her, his large, warm hand brushing hers, and seemed to read it over again. "I-it ex-explains a-a lot a-a-actually."
"I don't understand," Anneliese said with a frown.
"I-it's fine Oma," Heinrich said, face stoic but eyes wet. They did not fill with tears but his embarrassment and disappointment was palpable. "J-Just a mis-misunderst-standing. Y-You mmmust be t-tired."
"A little yes," Cora admitted, watching Heinrich try to regain his composure with actual pity over taking her. She glanced over at Konrad and found he was not nearly as confused as his wife and instead, stared at her with hard, knowing eyes. Her skin flushed at the intensity of the gaze and she felt as if he suddenly knew every little harsh reply or disapproving gaze she had tossed at his gentle grandson.
"I-it is f-fine, Oma," he said and actually got a passable smile onto his face. "We a-are b-both happy w-with each-each other."
The beaming smile returned to Anneliese's face and she immediately offered to make them a large meal. Cora declined politely and asked if she might eat after a little nap. Anneliese agreed readily and told Heinrich to lead her up toward her bedroom. She followed him up the stairs, staring at his broad shoulders with the same sick feeling she had when she heard her aunt tell her how excited he had been to retrieve her.
"R-right here," he said softly and motioned to the door. He took the letter he still had in his hands and ripped it into little pieces, not in a dramatic or theatrical manner, but with calm, small movements.
"Herr Scholz –"
"P-please," he said. "Mmy O-oma will be de-devastated if she knew. Sh-she is very o-old and I… I w-want to l-let her believe."
Cora nodded slowly. He smiled sadly.
"A-and c-call me Heinz…. O-or H-Huh-Heinrich if you l-like."
He reached up and tucked a strand of lose hair that had fallen from her bun behind her ear. He looked at her face and his lips moved upward slightly, but no true happiness could be found in his eyes. Still, she saw affection, affection she tried to muster up for him, but she found herself lacking.
"Y-you a-are so b-beautiful," he whispered. He let his hand fall and took a step back. "I-I will s-see you at dinner."
She watched him walk down the stairs head bowed, shoulders slumped, and looking absolutely miserable.
A/N: A little different, but I think better than the first. I also think this is slightly more realistic. Hopefully you will like the rewrite, but I will leave the first story up for people to read. This one will be a little bit more organized as I now have the entire storyline worked out where as before, for the most part, I was just kind of winging it as I went along.
Reviews would be appreciated as always.