Chapter 1: A Secret Love
The afternoon sun blazed high in the sky, casting its golden rays over the metropolis of Lenmont, a massive concrete jungle known to the world as the “Land of Hope and Dreams."
From the Earth's stratosphere, Lenmont was a giant teardrop surrounded by the bluest parts of the ocean.
On this day, the ocean was exceptionally blue. Cheerful, even, like a large mirror reflecting the sunny sky. Birds soared over a stretch of glossy sand lined with ruffles of sparkling waves.
Next to the beach, a villa stood proudly in the middle of a grassland the size of six football fields as waves of brilliant music poured from within.
A slender figure with long, luscious brownish-red hair, the one and only in Lenmont, swayed gently with a violin amidst her beautiful fair hands.
Then, she paused.
She turned her graceful hips and frowned slightly at her maid standing nearby.
“Will Uncle Sarkon like this?"
The woman in uniform, who was more mature and wiser in demeanor, smiled back and answered truthfully, “Of course, he will, Miss Maria. You've practiced so hard."
Eighteen-year-old Maria removed the instrument from her reddened neck and held up her fingers. New blisters had formed over old calluses. Smiling weakly, she tilted her head delicately left then right to stretch the soreness out of her neck.
The maid caught more calluses along the gentle curve to her shoulder and swallowed a sigh.
“It'll be worth it," her young lady muttered at the glistening sea.
“Yes. It'll definitely be worth it, Miss Maria. Mr. Sarkon will love it, I'm sure."
Just the sound of his name was enough to bring a huge smile to those rosy lips. A smile of a secret; the deepest affection for her one and only.
The only one who could make her tremble with furious flutterings of millions of butterflies waiting to burst from her chest. A precious lover known only to her heart.
But he was no lover, not yet. Maria thought and gripped her bow willfully. It's not that he didn't like her. He just… He didn't know it yet.
The maid spotted her little mistress' delighted expression and smiled with the affection of an elder sister and the knowing of a best friend.
She knew the secret in Maria's heart and the person occupying every inch of her mind.
Since the young lady was eleven, she repeatedly announced that she would marry Sarkon, her guardian, who adopted her when she was nine.
At first, Maria's words were thought to be a child's play and treated as such. Girls her age always wanted to marry their father when they grew up but later had husbands of their own.
The maid thought Sarkon was like a father figure to Maria.
But it wasn't the case for Maria.
On the contrary, her wish to marry Sarkon, the second most powerful and dangerous man in Lenmont, turned into something else that grew stronger with each passing year.
She never kept it a secret.
Since the seed of love was planted in her, every day she displayed her affections openly and wholeheartedly for all in the household to see. She yearned for Sarkon and his return of her affection like a woman in love would.
“Will he be back for dinner today?" Maria's voice echoed through the cool space, bringing the maid back to the library where they had been at violin practice the past four hours.
“Of course," the maid replied earnestly. “You know he will. However busy he is, he'll always come home to have dinner with you."
Maria lifted her gaze at the shimmering blue waters outside. They reminded her of those gorgeous deep blue eyes.
A face flooded her mind.
That sharp nose, full lips, and strong, chiseled jaw—they belonged only to Sarkon. Her Sarkon.
The smile melted into a serious line.
Maria had seen the way Sarkon looked at her recently. There was a change. He was seeing her differently…
Yesterday, while having their usual after-dinner stroll in the gardens, in a spur of the moment, Maria suggested that they take a walk at the beach.
“We can still catch the sunset. Let's go!" She chirped excitedly at the expressionless face looking down at her.
Sarkon had never shown an emotion since the day she first met him. In the beginning, she cried in fear whenever she caught his gaze.
Now, she was used to it.
Beaming at the cold and serious face, she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the sounds of the crashing waves. He followed her in his usual silence.
As her feet sifted through the soft sand, she noted Sarkon's shiny, black leather shoes stepping quietly beside her and giggled.
The wind was gushing through them, toying with her brownish-red curls and flapping her dress viciously like a boat sail.
She tucked her hair behind her ear as she turned toward the orange egg-yolk of the sun resting on the horizon of the metallic sea. Holding a hand above her eyes like a roof, she marveled at the glorious sight.
“It's so beautiful, isn't it?"
Sarkon didn't answer her.
Maria turned to her left and froze.
Bathed in the warm glow of evening colors, the man who saw himself as her guardian, the man whom she saw as her protector, the man who had been invading her dreams every night, stood before her like a beautiful bronze statue in his all-black suit.
His deep blue crystals eyes pierced into hers. She saw something in them she'd never seen before —a desire so strong, she almost couldn't breathe.
“Miss Maria," Her maid's voice snapped her back to the violin in her hands.
“Y-yes?" She answered as coolly as she could.
“Mr. Sarkon's back."
Maria swung around. She couldn't hide her large grin. “Really?" Then, her eyes looked down, and she gasped in horror, “This won't do! I need to change, Sophie."
Sophie returned her little mistress a knowing smile. “Of course."
The two women scurried across lengths and lengths of corridors aligned with expensive tapestry and masterpieces of art and sculpture until they arrived at a large oak door.
Maria was faster than her maid and hurriedly pushed open the door. Without waiting for her usual help, she rushed to her wardrobe and grabbed a dress the color of the cloudless blue sky sprinkled with stars.
Holding it against her front, Maria smiled into the mirror at Sophie, "He'll be mesmerized."
Sophie couldn't help but grin as well. "Yes, he won't be able to take his eyes off you."
Maria giggled proudly.
"Let's get dressed, Miss. I'll do your hair."
There was a gentle knock on the door. Sophie disappeared to answer it.
The silky fabric snuggled perfectly to her skin, showing off her curves at the right places. Maria glanced at the low V-neckline and the top swell of her breasts and grinned.
Sophie appeared in the mirror again.
Maria smiled widely at her reflection, "How do I look?"
Sophie tried to smile, but Maria knew better. With her shoulders dropped, she coaxed the maid to spill her mind.
"What's wrong? Did something happen to Uncle Sarkon?"
Sophie shook her head, "He's well, Miss."
Maria held a hand to her chest in relief.
"But Mr. Sarkon is with a guest. A woman."
"A woman? Do you know who?" Maria felt a mixture of uncertainty and jealousy.
She turned around. Sophie shook her head apologetically. "Albert didn't say except that Mr. Sarkon expects Miss to be present in five minutes. The guest shouldn't be waiting. "
Maria widened her eyes in disbelief. Her mouth went dry.
It sounded like an order. Her first one from Sarkon. For the nine years they lived together, never once did he order her around or rush her through anything.
He'd never brought a woman home either.
What's her relationship with Sarkon?
A strange sense of panic washed over Maria. Then, a dreaded feeling shot up in her chest. Her emerald eyes widened at the beige carpeted floor as her mind rummaged for the most plausible reason.
She's probably a business partner. Breathe, Maria.
Maria inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. She checked her reflection.
A tiny voice in her head told her to go to Sarkon quickly. Maria mustered a smile at Sophie.
“But Miss, your hair."
“Let's leave it," Maria spun around and glided toward the door. “Uncle Sarkon's right. We shouldn't keep our guest waiting."
As always, Maria's eyes instinctively go to Sarkon.
Because of his athletic build and great height, he reminded Maria of a hulk.
But this twenty-six-year-old hulk exuded a deadly charisma and had the magnetism of a magazine model. Men everywhere in Lenmont followed his style of suits with a classic men's crop and a dandy quiff while women trampled on each other just to secure his attention for more than five minutes.
None of those women succeeded.
Except, of course, Maria.
But all that would change.