Runaway Romance Book Two

CHAPTER ONE

The airport was especially crowded that morning, with irate travelers waiting for updates on their canceled flights because of mechanical issues. Children running rampant and passengers disembarking just added to the chaos.

Samantha proceeded to a souvenir shop and perused the gift section while waiting for them to depart, before choosing a light reading material. She couldn’t find any magazines, so she grabbed a newspaper and handed the cashier a five-dollar bill. Samantha flipped over the pages, but nothing caught her eye. And then she saw it. A full-page wedding announcement was written below her picture in large bold letters: Artemus St. James of Beverly Hills, California, is pleased to announce the engagement of his daughter, Samantha Isabella St. James, to Robert Chandler Jr., the son of a wealthy industrialist, Robert Chandler Sr., and his wife, Emilia Chandler, of Los Angeles, California. A summer wedding is now on the horizon.

Samantha’s eyes widened. Outraged, she yelled so loudly that everyone turned around to see what was going on. Samantha raised her head and noticed everybody was staring at her. She kicked the chair next to her. Her friends reached out, caressing her back to calm her. They’d never seen her agitated or upset before.

“Sam, what happened?” Stephanie inquired.

Samantha’s sniffles and sobs broke the stillness for a few seconds. It took a while for her to calm down. After she had recovered from the first shock, she sat down on a chair, tears welling up in her eyes as she folded the newspaper and handed it to her friends. They snatched it from her grasp and began reading the May 12 society page section of the Los Angeles Times. Their eyes widened. They, too, couldn’t believe what they were reading.

Samantha was furious. How could her father have done this to her? He couldn’t plan her wedding without telling her. She couldn’t believe her happiness just minutes before, when she kissed and held her goddaughter in her arms before saying goodbye, had turned into a nightmare.

“Sam, why would your father announce your wedding without your knowledge and approval?” Rachel wondered.

“I’m not sure, but I need to figure this out. It’s unusual for my father to do anything like this. Something must have happened at home for him to make this decision on his own.”

Samantha tightened her teeth and fought back her anger. She was upset and confused, and she couldn’t wait to get home and talk to her father.

***

Samantha Isabella St. James, a frivolous twenty-two-year-old Beverly Hills socialite and well-known spoiled brat, was the only child of Angelina and Artemus St. James. Her father was a multimillionaire commercial entrepreneur, a wealthy property developer, and the president and CEO of Artemus Industries, a multimillion-dollar retail corporation. Her mother died just before her seventeenth birthday. Samantha was the only child in line to inherit the family business.

Samantha was in the airport departure area in Honolulu with her friends: Stephanie, Rachel, Jennifer, and Alexandra. They were preparing to board their plane for the flight home after spending a month at Fisherman’s Wife Vacation Resort on Towi Island, a charming little village on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. Vanessa Florence Grandeville-Angelo, their best friend and sixth member of the Spoiled Brats Princesses of Beverly Hills, or SBPs, for short, owned the resort. It was a nickname given to them in high school by students and even teachers because of their beauty, money, and popularity. They were in Hawaii to celebrate the first birthday of Clarissa Belle, Vanessa’s daughter, and Samantha’s first godchild.

Samantha became restless on the plane for the next five hours. She slumped back in her seat and tightened her seat belt, letting out a hard breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She tried to pass the time by flipping through magazines that the flight attendant had handed her earlier, but she kept coming back to the wedding announcement. Looking at it made her feel confused and helpless. Something resembling panic made her heart race, as if she had entered the twilight zone. What might have prompted her father to betray her by making such an arrangement without first consulting her?

Samantha phoned her father as soon as they landed at LAX, but she didn’t get a response, which was just as well. She was furious at what he had done, and she didn’t know what her first words would be.

Samantha hugged her friends after retrieving her luggage, refusing their offer of a ride home in the black stretch limousine waiting at the curb. All she wanted to do was be alone to collect her thoughts.

“We understand, Sam. Just remember that we are here to support you. Promise you’ll call if you need us?” Rachel suggested.

Samantha said farewell to her friends as she headed to the car rental counter. Minutes later, she was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a rented silver convertible, letting the wind blow over her long black hair. Samantha switched on the radio and listened to hard rock, which she had never listened to before, but thought could console her. She wanted to forget everything, even her father and her imminent marriage to a man she despised. Samantha pounded her fists on the steering wheel until her hands hurt. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and she brushed them away as they blurred her vision. Samantha felt the desire to scream, so she lifted her hands and yelled, much as she would on a roller coaster, but her cry became lodged in her throat. She pulled over to the side of the road, turned off the car, and leaned on the steering wheel. She wanted to weep, but couldn’t move or breathe, so she slumped back into her seat.

She restarted the car after a long delay. Strong wind gusts buffeted her convertible as she drove. It hit her hard that there was no place to forget, wander, or hide. It was time to confront her father. She slowed the car, did a U-turn, and returned the way she had come.

The security officer at their gated community saw her coming. He grinned, waved his hand, and opened the security gate, allowing her to enter. Samantha paid no attention to him. She sped up as soon as she passed through the gate and onto their driveway, slamming on the brakes and screeching to a halt in time to miss her father’s car parked a few feet away. Her sudden stop left big tire impressions on the driveway. Grabbing the folded paper from the vehicle seat, she rushed out of the car, up the steps, and into the living room, where her father was entertaining a guest.

“Dad, is this true? What it says in the newspaper?” Samantha asked, waving the newspaper.

Her father gave her a quick glance, shrugged, and resumed his attention to his guest.

“You can’t do this, Dad! You can’t force me to marry someone I despise! I’m not ready to marry yet, and even if I were, I wouldn’t marry someone like… RJ. He is the devil’s spawn. I’m only twenty-two years old, and if you hadn’t noticed, I’m too young to marry. Dad, are you listening?”

Her father’s eyes narrowed as he halted his conversation with his guest. He stood from his seat, his worn old face turning scarlet, and paused for a moment, as if indecisive, before heading to his wet bar. He closed his eyes and sighed, before turning to face his daughter and gulping down a glass of his best cognac.

“What the heck is the point of this? What is so important that you feel the need to interrupt my meeting?” he asked as he sat back down.

“This wedding announcement in the newspaper,” Samantha asked, waving the paper. “Is this true?”

Artemus just gave her a sidelong glance. He instead inhaled deeply. “I’m sorry to say I’m disappointed in you, Samantha. Since when do you raise your voice in front of a guest?”

“I hope you don’t mind, but I need to speak with my father alone.” Samantha addressed the guest. She gave him a quick glance.

The guest realized he needed to leave after getting the gist of the girl’s impatience. “Um, Mr. St. James, we can reschedule this meeting.”

“Humph,” Artemus growled back. “Perhaps you’re right. Just give my secretary a call, and we’ll set up another meeting.”

The guest nodded and exited, leaving the father and daughter to their argument.

“Well?” Samantha asked when they were alone.

“So, what exactly are you talking about?” Artemus asked.

“Dad!” Samantha screamed. “Why aren’t you telling me what’s going on?”

“I have nothing to say. I made the arrangements for your wedding, and that’s that,” Artemus responded, moving his attention away from her. It terrified him that his daughter would see through him and discover that he was deceiving her.

Samantha felt betrayed when her father admitted what he had done to her. The reality came at her at a dizzying velocity. She later puzzled how she could speak or breathe at all. She should be allowed to make her own future decisions. That should be a basic human right for everyone. She knew her parents had never believed in arranged marriages, whether religious or financial reasons. She had no idea her father would even consider a coerced agreement. Knowing him well, she realized something was wrong.

“But, Dad, why? It’s unusual for you to behave in this way. Please help me understand your unexpected decision. Can you tell me what is going on?”

Artemus avoided confrontation, yet he knew he might be passive aggressive.

“Sam, believe me when I say you’re the last person I’d ever want to hurt, and you deserve to know the truth. I’m in a lot of trouble. I didn’t say anything to you before, believing I could make things right. I didn’t want to ruin your vacation in Hawaii with your friends. But I was mistaken. When your mother died, I drank to drown my sadness. I committed myself to expanding my business empire and obtaining a variety of projects. I needed to stay active in order to divert myself long enough to help me deal with the ongoing anguish I felt after your mother’s death. Even though she’s been gone for a few years now, I still miss her. My acquaintance invited me to meet him at Bayview Casino, about an hour’s drive from the office, to explore potential business options. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and he called me completely unexpectedly. I agreed, since I thought I needed a break. We drank a couple cocktails and then went to the high-limit poker area to play a few hands. We later went back to the bar and drank some more.”

Samantha focused her attention on her father’s narrative. Her father slumped back in his chair, put his hands on his face, and cried, much to her surprise.

“I don’t know what transpired after that, Sam. It was all a blur. Something awful happened, and I ended up in a bind. I’m sorry, but I’m unable to provide any other information. I’m too embarrassed.”

As Samantha glanced at her father, her eyes widened and she felt perplexed. “What are you keeping from me, Dad? What was the name of the friend you were drinking with? Please help me understand you.”

“I’m sorry, Sam, but that’s all I have to say. For our sake, trust me when I say it’s best for you to marry RJ.”

“For our sake?” she said again. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. You are one of the country’s wealthiest and most successful people, as well as one of the most influential business executives. Why are you putting up with RJ’s bullying? Is there something he has against you that makes you feel compelled to comply? You have twice as much money as his father. It’s unusual for you to put me in this situation. I know you’re hiding something from me. Please, tell me the truth. What makes you want me to marry RJ?”

“I’m sorry, Sam, but I’ve already decided for the both of us.”

“No, this is not happening!” Samantha demanded under her breath. Her head felt like a bomb had hit it and exploded. She wanted to scream at him. She was enraged, furious, and disappointed. It defied everything she knew about her father’s ability to commit such a horrific act. Her entire world had crumbled around her. Samantha could feel all her hopes and dreams shattered.

Samantha was deafeningly quiet, but the sorrow in her eyes was clear. She shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“So, this marriage is a business transaction, is that it? Did you sell me to pay off your debt? Is it money? How much is it, Dad? How much do you owe them?” Samantha shouted, her chest tightening as she looked at her father.

Artemus couldn’t look at his daughter. Instead, he rubbed his hands together and avoided her gaze by glancing at the floor. He remained silent and did not answer.

Samantha was becoming annoyed with her father’s silence. She loved him, but she couldn’t trust him anymore.

“I will flee if you force me to marry RJ,” she said.

Artemus had not expected his daughter to say that. “My decision is final, Samantha, and if you disobey me, I will disown you,” Artemus said, hoping to scare his daughter into complying with his decision. He almost burst into tears when he realized how much he had hurt her with what he had said. He walked away without looking back, afraid of falling apart in front of her.

Samantha felt as if she was falling, and there was no solid ground under her as her world crumbled around her. Her father insists on accepting RJ’s proposal. He had threatened to disown her, something she had not imagined hearing from him. It infuriated her.

“If my mother were still alive, she would not have allowed you to force me to marry…” Her voice was trembling. “I hate you, Daddy!” she couldn’t bring herself to say. Samantha had slumped on the sofa and was on the verge of passing out. Her heart was in excruciating pain, and she was panting for air.

Artemus heard his daughter’s voice behind him. He came to a sudden standstill and turned around. “I’m sorry, Samantha. I truly am. I don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t want to discuss this anymore. You’re marrying RJ whether you like it or not.”

Samantha waited, as if she had something to say. She gazed at her father, a terrible wrath welling up in her as he returned her gaze, steadfast but not defiant. Samantha’s patience had run out. She couldn’t go on like this for much longer.

“I’m going to my room!” She screamed, dashed across the hall, and hurried upstairs without looking back.

A few moments later, she heard a knock on her door.

“May I come in, Sam?” said her father.

“No, you may not.” Samantha stated. “Please leave me alone.”

“We need to talk, Samantha. Open the door, please,” Artemus urged.

Samantha remained silent and did not answer. She didn’t want to hear anything her father had to say anymore.

“Okay, have it your way, but our discussion is far from over,” Artemus said as he walked away.

Samantha didn’t care how many times her father knocked and begged her to open the door. She closed her eyes, put her hands over her ears, and ignored his plea.

***

The room was dark and quiet. Samantha rose to her feet and headed to the door on tiptoe. When she turned the door handle, she discovered her father had locked the door from the outside. She shook her head and exhaled deeply.

Maybe if I sleep long enough and wake up tomorrow, I’ll realize everything that occurred today was just a dreadful dream.

TO CONTINUE READING, YOU CAN PURCHASE THE BOOK HERE.

 

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