Copyright 2014 – All rights reserved.
Nothing has changed, Lucy thought as she glanced through the window of her Mercedes convertible. The familiar stone gateposts were still at the entrance of the two-mile driveway that led up to her stepmother’s vineyard. She didn’t bother to press the intercom. Lucy wanted her entrance to be a surprise. The ride was rough and bumpy, even though her car had great suspension. The whole place, with its acres of grapevines, still possessed the charm since the last time she was there fifteen years ago. The rich orange color of the family’s palatial Tuscan mansion, Haviesmon, was as vibrant as ever.
As she drove along the driveway, the sunlight glared through the tinted window and she felt a waft of dust-scented air. The palm trees started to dance in the wind. Closer to the main house, the grapevines were drooping, the leaves brown, they were nothing like the vibrant green and purple plants of Lucy’s childhood.
Pulling up at the end of the vineyard, Lucy slammed the car into park. Her lower lip trembled as she tried not to cry. A few tears slipped down her cheeks. She reached into her purse and grimaced when her hand grasped something sticky and moist. Her anger swelled when she saw that her lipstick had splattered everywhere. She took a deep breath through her nose. She didn’t know what she was getting into. Here she was, at her old home, in a car that no one would recognize-with her few possessions in the backseat. A figure appeared at the driver’s side and Lucy jumped.
“Hello,” the stranger said kindly, almost as if they had seen each other yesterday. There he stood in tattered shorts and an old polo shirt. He wasn’t dressed in the usual designer gear of Loretta’s crowd. Some instinct cautioned her to be wary of him.
She dismissed it and replied, “Hello, I was expecting Julian.”
Julian was her family’s old head gardener. She wished it was him standing here before her, not some new man; she felt vulnerable enough without having to deal with someone who didn’t know her. But then Julian rushed up to the car.
“Hello Lucy, let me introduce you. This is Christian.”
“So you are still here, Julian!” Lucy exclaimed, relieved that it was him. She smiled at Christian.
“Nice to meet you, Lucy,” Christian said. “I’ll be going inside then Julian, see you next time, thanks for the advice on growing herbs.”
As Christian stepped past the topiary plants that lined the driveway, she caught her first real look at him: olive skin, dark, dark hair, and a tall well-set frame. This man was one many women would desire. Lucy wondered who he was; he was different from the usual hired help. Maybe he was a traveler from an exotic European country?
She hurriedly wiped her eyes and composed herself. “How did you know it was me, Julian?”
“I still remember you as a baby, with your little rosy cheeks and plump smile,” he recalled with a fond smile.
Lucy rolled her eyes.
“I’ll get Loretta for you.” Julian started back to the house. He knew what Lucy wanted without her saying a word.
Chewing on her lower lip, she watched until Julian disappeared from view. She was nervous, although she knew she shouldn’t be. Maybe she was unsettled because she was returning for the opposite reason she had left so long ago? She shifted the car into drive and continued on her way. Images of her twelve-year-old self flashed before her eyes, the time her father had hired a new farmhand to prune the vines. Wandering around the vineyard was what Lucy had missed the most when she left for college. Now she was walking out on Thomas again. There was no way she was going to return to his arms this time. This time, she was determined to never see his face again.
She certainly hadn’t felt this way towards Thomas when they had their first encounter in medical school. She hadn’t felt this way when they’d wed in a lavish ceremony before two thousand guests and at the births of her three beautiful daughters. At first all of this was enough for her, and she was able to turn a blind eye to Thomas’s constant betrayals. Now, nothing would ever be enough.
Even so, she felt guilty. Her marriage to Thomas had consumed her entire life, forcing her to sever ties with her family. She hadn’t spoken to her own siblings in years. She felt utterly ridiculous. She had been so desperate to keep her perfect life that she had forgiven every one of Thomas’s infidelities. Every time he was caught he promised to stay faithful but, Thomas being Thomas, the promises were soon broken. Having the girls would make things better, she had convinced herself. Of course, they had only made things worse. This was her chance to leave Thomas. She hoped her children were old enough to understand her reasons and would forgive her for leaving their father.
Now she was at the front of the house, her heart beat even more quickly. She remembered discovering in her childhood that Loretta wasn’t her birth mother. It was one of the best moments of her life. Lucy despised her stepmother and had promised herself years ago that she would never see the woman again. She cringed at the memory of the woman—dishonest, rude, and selfish—who had recklessly married one billionaire after another and abandoned her three stepchildren: Edward, Grace and Lucy to the care of a nanny.
With the car parked, she sat still for a moment. Was it really a good idea to come home? Is everyone capable of abandoning those who love them? she wondered. How cruel life is. People are so selfish. Would her stepmother welcome her or turn her away? It was a huge gamble she was taking however she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Lucy felt like she was playing Russian roulette with her life. She carefully got out of the car, dragging her ‘feet.’
Julian stood by the door, hands clasped behind him. He regarded Lucy with a nod of his head as she climbed the steps.
“Can I ask you something, Julian?” she asked, as she stared at the door.
“Anything, ma’am,” Julian answered.
“Why haven’t you left yet?”
Julian frowned, not really knowing what to say. His lips went pale. He was the complete opposite of Loretta—loyal, kind, considerate, and generous. He could be living a different life right now, had he not divorced from his wife and taken up Loretta’s job offer so many years ago.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” he answered with a sigh. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Lucy stared down at her cream pumps in response. The door flew open and Loretta stood on the other side, blinking in amazement. Without hesitating, Loretta rushed to hug her, forcing back tears that welled in her eyes.
“Oh, Lucy!” she said, pulling back to look at her. “You look so wonderful.”
Lucy nearly laughed at the insincerity but instead just smiled. “Thank you, Loretta.”
“Don’t be so formal, Lucy. At least call me Mom really, it’s okay to address me that way.”
Lucy smiled again, “I’d prefer to call you Loretta.”
“Okay Lucy, if that is how you feel,” she replied uncomfortably.
Loretta tidied herself, gently touching the locks of hair dangling on either side of her face and smoothing down the jacket of her red Givenchy suit. A strand of pearls hung around her youthful neck; Botox made sure she didn’t look a day over forty.
“It’s been fifteen years. I wasn’t sure how to greet you,” Lucy said.
Loretta firmly embraced her. A whirl of thoughts and emotions swirled in her head. How long would Loretta let her stay? She was too afraid to ask, fearing it would turn into an argument.
Suddenly, the tears spilled over Lucy’s cheeks.
“Oh, Lucy,” Loretta sighed. “Everything will be okay.”
“No, it won’t,” Lucy insisted. “I haven’t had the chance to tell the children. Thomas hasn’t even bothered to contact me at all.”
Ah! Thomas has betrayed her once again. Do fifteen years of marriage and three children mean anything to him? thought Loretta. Loretta had always known Thomas was a rat. She wasn’t sure when he would show his true colors but she had known one thing for sure—he would show them eventually. Loretta let go of Lucy. Lucy took a step back.
She shook her head. “I’m alright, Loretta.”
Loretta looked straight at her. “Let’s go inside,” she said.
“Yes, a good stiff gin and tonic would be nice,” Lucy added with a weak smile. She lifted her head and blinked.
They both walked inside, to Lucy’s surprise a man stood before her with a glass of gin and tonic nestled between his fingers. The definition of his body showed through his black turtleneck and perfectly-tailored trousers. Sleek, smooth and professional. For some reason he looked familiar; it puzzled her, she couldn’t place him.
Then someone else entered. He looked like the man she had met on arrival, except this man was so well-groomed she could not be sure. Lucy looked at him again as he walked past the window, his dark hair, tanned skin and classy attire surprised her.
Who was that? she asked awkwardly.
“Christian, Tobias’s friend,” said Loretta. “I’ll tell you all about him later. For now, all you need to know is he’s a writer, he comes and writes here on weekends as he finds there are too many other distractions on his yacht, his home.”
“I met him when I arrived—I thought he was one of the assistants,” said Lucy, smiling.
Tobias laughed. “Christian Black is an internationally-renowned author—has written over 200 novels, been published in many languages and countries.”
“Oh,” said Lucy.
Loretta butted in. “Don’t be deceived by the way he looks, Lucy. Christian is a player, be careful of him. We’ll discuss more about him later. Right now, I’ve more important news: Tobias and I were married last year.”
“Oh, really,” Lucy said blankly.
“I believe you knew my son,” Tobias added. “Tobias Wentworth Junior? I think you went to school together.”
Lucy’s face turned a little pink.
“You’re Tobias’s father?” Lucy repeated, remembering her childhood friend. That was why he looked so familiar: he had the same hair color, the same facial structure, as his son.
He nodded and swirled the ice in his glass.
“What happened to your wife?” The last Lucy remembered, Tobias had two loving parents.
He sighed. “My relationship with her had been on the rocks for a few years. When your mother offered to look after me and make sure I was okay, I jumped at the chance.”
Lucy almost let her jaw drop. Yet another man had deserted his wife to be with Loretta. Why was her stepmother such a cruel person?
“So you abandoned your wife to marry my stepmother?” Lucy spat, casting a vicious glance at Loretta.
Tobias shrugged lightly. “Not in so many words. Besides, my wife had filled our twenty-five years of marriage with betrayal and lies. It took me that long to realize that she was abandoning me.”
“See? It’s not what you expected,” Loretta said. “Lucy, Tobias is a wonderful husband. In fact, he’s the best one I have ever had. There’s no comparison.”
Tobias kissed Loretta on the cheek. “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said, gesturing to his glass, “I need a refill.” He left the room and Loretta was faced with Lucy’s scolding glare.
“How many guys is that you’ve married?” she snapped. “Isn’t Tobias your fourth one?”
Loretta sighed deeply. “If you’re going to insult me, make sure you’re informed. Tobias is my fifth billionaire husband, dear.”
Lucy shook her head, What’s the point of it all? she thought.
“Now, go get some rest, dear,” Loretta urged. “You sound tired.”
“I can’t sleep knowing you’ve married another man,” Lucy said adamantly.
“Tobias is just fine with our marriage. He says he was so lonely with his ex-wife,” Loretta said quietly. “I look after him.”
Lucy pursed her lips. “You don’t look after anyone. You have a whole house of maids-a cook, and a gardener, and a cleaner. Oh, and you have your own chauffeur! What do you actually do for him?”
“I provide him with friendship and intimacy,” Loretta said briskly.
Rolling her eyes, Lucy glared at her. “You don’t do anything for him. You can’t do anything for him. I mean, you were never a mother to us!”
“You had a nanny … ” Loretta started to protest.
“She was more of a mother than you were. She was always there for us. She educated and loved us, something that you couldn’t do.”
Loretta was silent for a few moments. “Well, at least I did something right. I hired a wonderful nanny who shaped you into a beautiful woman.”
Lucy felt like she was being punched in the gut. Of course, Loretta had to find a way of praising herself. She shook her head and rubbed the bridge of her nose between two fingers. “Never mind.”
“You’re welcome to stay in your old room,” Loretta offered, tugging lightly at the strand of pearls around her neck.
“Thank you, I am going to do that!” Lucy said bitterly. She sent Loretta an icy glare before heading out of the room.
She wandered down several corridors whose walls were adorned with paintings and photographs. The hallways were dimly lit and Lucy found herself getting lost. Fifteen years away from home had really done a number on her memory. Eventually she stopped and leaned against the wall, staring at the picture that hung opposite her. It was a painting of the vineyard, filled with bright purples and greens and blues. Lucy smiled.
“Are you lost?” asked a deep voice.
She raised an eyebrow as she turned around. A man stood at the end of the corridor, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his trousers.
“I’m not lost,” Lucy retorted. “I’m going to my room. Christian, is that you?”
“Yes,” he responded. “I’m a friend of Tobias,” he said smoothly.
“I know, Tobias told me all about you,” Lucy replied.
“I decided to accept Tobias’s invitation and spend some time on weekends writing at Haviesmon finishing off my next two novels before going on my yacht around the Mediterranean and soaking in the beach atmosphere.”
“Are you just saying that to impress me?” Lucy said with a grin.
Christian shrugged. “Just stating the truth.”
Her thoughts shocked her—he was so sexy.
“I’m Loretta’s stepdaughter.” The last word got caught in her throat. Coughing softly, she continued. “I’m staying with her for a while until I sort out my life. I’m just . . . going through a personal crisis.”
“I’m sorry about that,” he said, somewhat startled.
Lucy shrugged. “Has Loretta mentioned me?”
“No, she hasn’t. That explains her fabulous figure, it would’ve never crossed my mind that she’d bore any children-that explains it then.” Lucy felt her cheeks grow warm. He grinned. “Did I embarrass you?”
“No. I’m just surprised she’s never mentioned us-she has three stepchildren,” Lucy said flatly.
Christian tightened his lips and shrugged his shoulders. “So, why do you need to sort out your life?”
“Excuse me, that’s my personal business,” Lucy said tightly.
He held up his hands in defense. “I was just wondering.”
Lucy narrowed her eyes. “I recently left my husband.”
Christian’s eyes widened. “Oh, really?”
She shook her head, cross with herself. Why did I just say that?
Christian’s eyes followed the curves of Lucy’s body, taking note of her silky blonde hair and deep blue eyes. She was a real-life Barbie doll. With those looks, he tried to imagine what happened to cause her to leave her husband . . . . Surely, he hadn’t cheated? After all, how could he. She was so stunning.
“Well, I’m going to get some rest,” Lucy said, taking a few steps back until she finally recognized her room.
“I guess we can catch up later,” Christian suggested, keeping eye contact.
Lucy severed it and turned to walk down the hallway, her heels clicking against the floor.
Christian swallowed and watched her quickly duck behind her door. I must not let myself be affected by a beautiful woman. It always leads to trouble. There was no way he was going fall for another woman, let alone a friend of Tobias, since he valued their relationship highly and didn’t want to jeopardize it. Why was she so hot?
In her room, Lucy leaned against the door, her heart pounding. Standing in that corridor with Christian had set her heart racing. Christian had the looks of a model—an angular jaw, soft curls of black hair, captivating eyes—and he oozed sex appeal. She stood there for a few breathless moments before she stepped away and ran her hands through her hair.
Looking around she noticed how elegant her room was. It was filled with fine furniture and beautiful fabrics. The Persian carpets, the Georgian dresser, and the matching wardrobe were all immaculate, just as they’d been in her childhood. It had always seemed a room fit for a princess but, regrettably, Lucy was a princess no longer. She had grown up royalty and had married a toad in disguise. At least, unlike most princesses who left their princes, she had somewhere to go. Loretta could’ve told her to leave, to never come back, and she hadn’t. That was the only thought in her head as she tucked herself between the soft, fluffy sheets of her four-poster bed. After so many years of sleeping with Thomas or the dogs by her side, it was strange trying to sleep in an empty bed. She felt like she was swimming in the sheets, the bed was much too big for just one person.
Suddenly, she found herself thinking of Christian. Of how nice it would be to sleep with another body, another human, next to her. His sharp jaw, panther’s eyes, rich caramel skin, dashing smile all went through her mind. He possessed looks to rival an Italian sculpture.
Lucy’s mind wandered from thought to thought: Christian, then her stepmother, then Thomas. So much to think about. . . .
Her mind was so scattered. What if that? What if this? How am I going to manage that?
Thomas had made sure she never had to work. She had never bothered starting a residency after medical school because she didn’t need it. He had the money and lived the lifestyle to provide for himself and Lucy, as well as their three children. She had spent her days working out, enjoying hour-long beauty appointments, and discovering the latest fashion designers. Donna Karan and Christian Lacroix couture had become her favorites, and she often chose Valentino for formal events. Once most of the day had been passed in this way, she would go home and prepare a wondrous meal, cracking open a bottle of French champagne. If Thomas came home in one of his adorable, attentive moods, it made for a lovely evening.
Suddenly, a knock on the door startled her and she bolted up.
“Yes?” she asked. For a moment, Christian’s face flashed through her mind.
The door cracked open and Loretta poked her head in. “It’s me.”
Lucy sat up and gently smoothed the bed sheets.
Loretta came into the room and shut the door behind her. “Lucy, I would like to talk to you. I want to know what has happened over the past fifteen years.”
Lucy rolled her eyes.
“I’m being serious. I want to be the mother I never was,” Loretta said, sitting down at the foot of the bed. “I wasn’t perfect, and I want to make up for it.”
Lucy stared at her. Was Loretta actually interested in her past? Could Lucy trust her with the messy details of her life, even after she had hardly been there as a mother? No/Yes/Maybe. She was going to keep some of her feelings to herself—she didn’t want to trust someone who had been so absent. Then again she was so tired of it all – she decided to talk about it.
“Basically,” Lucy sighed, “Thomas did everything right. He showered me with gifts and seduced me with his charm. It was all a bribe. He expected me to be the perfect wife and sit around while he acted single and pursued every potential opportunity with other women. When I got pregnant I thought everything would change, that he would drop his promiscuous habits.” Lucy pushed her lips together. “Of course, it didn’t happen. In fact, it got worse. When I had the twins, it was unbearable. My love for him has slowly drained away, and I knew it was time to leave years ago.”
Loretta shook her head.
“It’s taken me two years this time to do anything,” Lucy went on. “I hesitated because I’d nowhere to go. I was too worried to come here, since we’ve not spoken for such a long time.”
As she spoke, teardrops fell. She blinked and they spilled down her cheeks, salty trails framing her face.
Loretta moved to sit beside her and pulled Lucy into her arms. She stroked Lucy’s hair gently. “It’s alright, darling. We’ll settle everything soon. Oh, dear girl, you have been through so much. You can stay here and sort your life out, we’ll help you as much as we can.”
After a few minutes, Lucy pulled her face from where it had been buried in Loretta’s jacket. She wiped her tears, and Loretta quickly left the room.
Lying back, Lucy pulled the sheets over her shoulders, turned over, and buried her face in a pillow. To her surprise, she quickly fell asleep.
To find out what happens to Lucy and Christian you can buy the rest of this book here.