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On a cold April night as the Titanic sinks to the ocean floor, Conrad Bradenton asks his new business partner, Aaron Stone, to fulfill a final wish: that Aaron return a well-worn book to his family and take care of his sister. Aaron seeks out Conrad's family, never imagining the depth of his commitment until he meets lovely Lillian Bradenton. Hit hard by the despair in her eyes, Aaron encourages Lillian ...
On a cold April night as the Titanic sinks to the ocean floor, Conrad Bradenton asks his new business partner, Aaron Stone, to fulfill a final wish: that Aaron return a well-worn book to his family and take care of his sister. Aaron seeks out Conrad's family, never imagining the depth of his commitment until he meets lovely Lillian Bradenton. Hit hard by the despair in her eyes, Aaron encourages Lillian to restore her hope by bringing a boarded-up bookstore back to life.
Lillian is uncertain whether she can trust this stranger, the last link to her beloved brother. But she has faith in her brother's ability to read people. If Conrad saw something in Aaron, maybe she will in time.
Then Aaron is summoned to London, and Lillian wonders if it is too late to turn hesitant friendship into undying love.
Aaron Stone pressed his bloodied coat to the deep gash on Conrad Bradenton's leg. He stared past the faces of the others in their lifeboat. Strangers, save their present shared experience. His gaze traveled across the frigid waters into the almost black night, a darkness interrupted only by the sight of the sinking wreckage that had been their ship.
"Soooo cooold," Conrad mumbled. He clutched the blanket around his shoulders and closed his eyes.
"Don't you give up, Conrad." Aaron glanced down at his friend. He applied more pressure to the wound, but the blood flow showed no signs of lessening. "Don't you die on me."
A wan smile found its way to Conrad's pale lips, and he opened his eyes to mere slits. "Not exactly the turn of events we were expecting, is it?" he managed to say, his voice strained and weak.
Aaron could only muster derision at Conrad's words. That was an understatement if he ever heard one. "The ship is unsinkable," they'd touted. Unsinkable. Right. Tell that to the over two thousand passengers and crew who had either already lost their lives or were fighting at that moment to keep them. The churning waters of the icy Atlantic bubbled around the remains of the Titanic, as the ship sank farther and farther beneath the ocean's surface. What were those engineers saying now after learning the news? They'd likely think twice before making such audacious claims again.
If only Conrad hadn't insisted they secure their passage from London on this particular vessel. But his friend had gotten caught up in the prestige and excitement that came with being a first-class passenger, and he wouldn't be dissuaded. Look where that got him, though—where his hasty decision had gotten them both.
A raspy, shuddering breath drew Aaron's attention back to Conrad. His friend's face had taken on a deathly pallor, and blue tinged his lips. No. This couldn't be the end. Why did the ship's pitch have to shove that trunk into Conrad and send him flying? And why had he landed on that large shard of mirrored glass? Just when their escape had been within their grasp. Yet, despite Conrad's almost useless right leg, they'd clawed their way to safety and snagged a spot on one of the lifeboats. They'd gotten away from the danger of the sinking ship.
And now this.
"Please," Conrad whispered.
Aaron leaned down, putting his ear close to Conrad's mouth. His friend's words were barely discernible above the lapping waters against their boat and the roaring groan of bending metal as the greedy fingers of the Atlantic pulled the ship deeper into its clutches.
"Please," Conrad repeated, the veins in his neck popping from the strain of speaking.
"Shh," Aaron cautioned. "Save your strength. You're going to pull through this."
Where was that rescue ship? The Carpathia? The one that had telegraphed to say it was en route to their location, no doubt with extra boats and medical care. Aaron would make sure they saw to Conrad first.
"No. Must. Tell. Sister," Conrad continued.
Each word slipped through his friend's lips on a gravelly breath. Aaron leaned as close as he could to save his friend the effort. Whatever it was he wanted to say obviously couldn't wait.
"What is it, friend? What must you tell your sister?"
Conrad managed to raise his right arm enough to hold up a well-worn book. Now, where had he been keeping that? And how had Aaron not noticed it before now?
"You." Conrad's eyes opened all the way, and his earnest gaze sought Aaron's. "You take care of her." He wet his lips with his tongue. "For me," he finished in a whisper.
The book fell into Aaron's lap, and Conrad's arm dropped to the base of the boat. His eyes drifted closed, and his chest rose and fell one final time. In slow motion, the life that had infused Conrad for over two decades left his body.
"He's gone," one of the other passengers said.
"If we bury him here, we can make room for two or three more in the boat," another voice spoke.
Aaron's ears heard their words, and his brain processed the wisdom of it all, but at his core, he couldn't accept the truth. They were right, though. Nothing could be done to save Conrad now. He barely managed a nod, never taking his eyes off his friend. Immobilized, he watched as the others dumped Conrad's lifeless body over the side. Aaron shut his eyes tight. The body made a muffled splash as it slipped away with no fanfare. Or was that only what he heard? A near silent testament of a life so full of unrealized potential. No man should have a burial like this.
Even when the boat rocked as they took on new survivors, Aaron didn't look. Instead, he ducked his head and opened his eyes to look at the book in his lap. If he acknowledged the other passengers, they'd only remind him of the place where his friend had just lain. Running his hand across the faded cover, he moved his fingers to the edge, caressing the fine leather binding.
How in the world could he make good on Conrad's request? He didn't even know where his friend's family lived, let alone any of their names beyond the surname of Bradenton. They had briefly talked of heading south once they docked in New York to some area south of Philadelphia, but for the life of him, he couldn't recall the town. Aaron slid his fingers to the edge of the cover and opened the book.
There, scrawled in blotted ink was what looked like it could be an address, but in the darkness, he couldn't make out the words. He could only see a few numbers and possibly a town name. All right, so maybe he had the where. Now, he just needed the how and the what once he arrived if he arrived. They hadn't been rescued yet. And until that happened, Aaron had no guarantees of anything. But he couldn't lose hope.
After closing the book, he placed his right hand on the cover and raised his eyes to the midnight sky. "I promise, friend," he spoke to the heavens. "I'll find your family. If it's the last thing I do."