The airport was unusually crowded that morning with irate passengers waiting for information on their canceled flights because of mechanical difficulties. Children running wild and disembarking passengers only added to the noisy chaos.
While waiting for their departure, Samantha strolled to a souvenir store and skimmed through the gifts section before selecting a light reading material. The magazines were sold out, so she picked up a newspaper and gave the clerk a five-dollar bill. Samantha flipped through the pages; nothing caught her eye. And then she saw it. Below her picture, written in large bold letters, was a full-page wedding announcement: Artemus St. James of Beverly Hills, California, is happy 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 planned.
Samantha’s eyes widened. Outraged, she screamed so loud everyone turned around to see what was going on. Samantha glanced up and saw people looking at her. She kicked the chair next to her. Her friends rushed to her side to console her. They reached out, caressing her back to calm her. They had never seen her shaken or unnerved before.
“Sam, what happened?” asked Stephanie.
For a little while, there was silence between them, broken only by Samantha’s sniffles and sobs. It took a while before she calmed down. After she recovered from the initial shock, she sat down on a chair, tears filling her eyes as she folded up the newspaper and handed it to her friends. They took it from her hand and read the society page section of the Los Angeles Times, dated May 12. Their eyes widened. They, too, could not believe what they read.
Samantha was furious. How could her father do this to her? How could he plan her wedding without discussing it with her? She could not believe her happiness of only moments ago when she kissed and cradled 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 asked.
“I don’t know, but I have to sort this out. It’s not like my dad to do such a thing. Something must have happened at home for him to decide this on his own.”
Samantha gritted her teeth and fought to control her anger. She was upset and confused, and she couldn’t wait to get home to talk to her father.
Samantha Isabella St. James, a frivolous twenty-two-year-old Beverly Hills socialite and a well-known spoiled brat, was the only child of Angelina and Artemus St. James. Her father was a millionaire retail mogul, a successful property developer, and president and chief executive officer of Artemus Industries, a multi-million-dollar retail company. Her mother passed away just before her seventeenth birthday. As an only child, Samantha was in line to inherit the family business.
Samantha along with her friends, Stephanie, Rachel, Jennifer, and Alexandra, were at the airport departure area in Honolulu. They were waiting to board their plane for the flight home after enjoying a month-long vacation at Fisherman’s Wife Vacation Resort in Towi Island, a quaint, but unremarkable, village on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. Vanessa Florence Grandeville-Angelo, their best friend, and the sixth member of the Spoiled Brats Princesses of Beverly Hills, or SBPs for short, owned the resort. It was what the students and even teachers called them in high school because they were attractive, rich, and famous. That name stuck with them even though they had graduated and moved on. They were in Hawaii celebrating Clarissa Belle’s first birthday—Vanessa’s daughter and Samantha’s first godchild.
Several times over the next five hours, Samantha became restless sitting on the plane. Releasing the tense breath she hadn’t realized she had held, she sat back on her seat and fastened the seat belt. She tried to pass the rest of the time leafing through magazines the flight attendant had handed her earlier, but she looked back at the wedding announcement again. Looking at it caused a sense of dismay and helplessness to sweep over her. Something bordering on fear made her blood race as if she had entered the twilight zone. What could have made her father betray her by making such an arrangement without talking to her first?
As soon as they landed at LAX, Samantha phoned her father but got no answer, which was just as well. She was angry at what he had done, and she didn’t know what her first words would be.
After collecting her luggage, Samantha hugged her friends, turning down their offer of a ride home in the black stretch limousine waiting at the curb. All she wanted to do was to be alone to gather her thoughts.
“We understand, Sam. Just remember, we are here for you. Promise you will call if you need us?” offered Rachel.
With a gentle smile, Samantha waved her hand and said goodbye to her friends as she walked to a car rental desk. Moments later, she was driving away along Pacific Coast Highway in a rented silver convertible and letting the wind whip through her black hair. Samantha played the radio loud—hard rock—something she never listened to but thought it would help her. She wanted to forget everything—her dad and her pending nuptials to a man she despised. Samantha pounded her fists on the car steering wheel until her hands hurt. Tears trickled down her cheeks, and as they obscured her vision, she wiped them away. She had an urge to scream, so she raised her hands and shouted, just as she would on a roller coaster, but her cry caught in her throat. Pulling over to the side of the road, she turned the key, switching the car off, and leaned on the steering wheel. The urge to cry was strong, but instead, she slumped back into her seat, unable to move, unable to breathe.
After a long moment of silence, she started the car again. As she drove, the strong wind gusts buffeted her convertible from time to time. The realization there had been no place to forget, no place to wander, and no place to hide hit her. It was time to face her father. She slowed the car, swung a U-turn, and went back the way she had come.
Samantha pounded her fist on the steering wheel with frustration. The security guard at their gated community saw her coming. He smiled, waved his hand, and leaned out the door of the gatehouse to allow her to drive through. Samantha paid no attention to him. As soon as she entered the gate, she sped up until she pulled into their driveway, slamming on the brakes and coming to a screeching stop in time to barely miss her father’s car parked a few feet away. Her sudden stop left deep tire tracks in the driveway. Grabbing the folded paper from the car seat, she jumped out of the car, dashed up the steps, and rushed into the living room where her father was entertaining a guest.
“Dad, is this true? What it says in the newspaper? Is this true?” Samantha asked, waving the newspaper.
Her father only gave her a quick look, shrugged, and continued talking to his guest.
However, that did not deter Samantha. “You can’t do this, Dad! You can’t force me to marry someone I hate! I am not ready to marry yet, and even if I were, I refuse to marry someone like . . . like RJ. He is the devil’s spawn. I am only twenty-two, and in case you haven’t noticed, I am too young to get married. Dad, are you listening?”
Artemus stopped the conversation he was having with his guest, his eyes narrowed. With his weathered old face growing crimson, he rose from his seat and, for a second, just stood still as if he had a moment of indecision before moving to his wet bar. After pouring a glass of his best cognac and downing it, he closed his eyes and exhaled before turning toward his daughter.
“What the hell is this about? What is so important you feel the need to interrupt my meeting?” he said and started back toward his seat.
“This wedding announcement in the newspaper,” Samantha asked, waving the paper. “Is this true?”
Her father barely glanced at it. Instead, he let out a long breath. “I am disappointed in you, Samantha. Since when do you raise your voice in front of a guest?”
“I’m sorry, Dad, but I need to know.” Turning to the guest, she said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I need to talk to my father alone.” She flashed an impatient look his way.
The guest caught the gist of the girl’s impatience and knew he should leave. “Um, Mr. St. James, we can continue this meeting some other time.”
“Humph,” Artemus grunted in response. “Perhaps you are right. Just call my secretary to set up another meeting.”
The guest nodded and walked out the door, leaving the father and daughter to their discussion.
“Well?” Samantha asked when they were alone.
“Well, what?” Artemus asked.
“Dad!” Samantha yelled. “Aren’t you going to tell me what is going on?”
“There’s nothing to tell. I made the arrangements for you to get married, and that is that,” Artemus answered but looked away to avoid her gaze. He was afraid his daughter would see right through him, and somehow, she would know right away he was hiding the truth from her.
As the shock of her father confirming what he had done sunk in, Samantha felt betrayed. The truth rushed at her in a dizzying pace. How she could speak at all or even breathe was afterward a matter of wonder to her. She should be able to choose her future. Every person should have that right. She knew her parents had never believed in arranged marriages, not for religious or financial circumstances. She would never think her father would allow the conceptual possibility of a coerced agreement. Knowing him well, she knew something was wrong.
“B-but why, Dad? It’s not like you to do such a thing. Please help me understand your sudden decision. What is going on?”
Artemus preferred to avoid confrontation, but he admitted he could be passive-aggressive and may make condescending comments when he was mad. But he knew his daughter well. She had no problem expressing her anger and often would throw a tantrum to get her way—the one thing he could not stand.
With sadness in his eyes, Artemus looked at her. He decided it was time to tell his daughter the truth, but he didn’t know where to begin. He felt a stabbing pain in his heart and thought it would explode from his chest. He took a deep breath. His voice cracked as he began to speak.
“Sam, believe me, you are the last person I would ever want to hurt, and you deserve to know the truth. The truth of the matter is I’m in trouble. I said nothing to you before. I thought I could fix it. I was wrong. When your mother passed away, I drank, trying to drown my sorrows. I devoted myself to my business empire, acquiring a variety of projects to develop. I wanted to keep busy, but my body is exhausted. I hoped to distract myself long enough to help me deal with the unrelenting grief I endured after your mother’s death. She’s been gone a few years, but I still miss her. One day, a friend of mine invited me to meet him at Bayview Casino, about an hour drive from the office, to discuss some business opportunities. I had not seen him for a long time, and out of the blue, he called me. I thought I needed a break, so I accepted. We had drinks, and afterward, we played a few hands in the high limit poker room. Later, we returned to the bar again and drank more.”
Samantha focused on her father’s story. To her surprise, her father sat back on the chair, put his hands on his face, and sobbed.
“Sam, I don’t know what happened after that. Everything was a blur. Something terrible happened, and I found myself in a jam. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you the rest. I feel ashamed.”
Samantha’s eyes grew wide and confused as she looked at her father. “Dad, what is it you are not telling me? Who was the friend you were drinking with? Please tell me. Help me understand you.”
“I’m sorry, Sam, but that’s all I can say. Just believe me, it is best for you to marry RJ for our sake.”
“For our sake?” she repeated. “I don’t understand what you are saying. You are one of the most influential business leaders, one of the wealthiest and successful people in the country. Why are you letting RJ push you around? Does he have something against you that makes you feel compelled to go along with this? You are twice as wealthy as his father is. It’s not like you to compromise me like this. I know you are keeping secrets from me. Tell me the truth. Why do 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 as if a bomb had hit it and exploded. Angry, frustrated, and disappointed, she wanted to yell at him. It defied everything she knew her father could be capable of such a despicable act. Her entire world was crashing down around her. Samantha could feel all her hopes and dreams shattering to bits.
Samantha stood silent, but the extreme pain was still clear in her eyes. She shook her head as tears continued to fall. “So, this marriage is a business deal, is that it? Did you sell me on paying off a debt? Is it money? How much is it, Dad? How much do you owe them?” Samantha yelled as she stared at her father with a sickening feeling of tightness in her chest.
Artemus couldn’t look at his daughter. Instead, he looked at the floor, avoiding her stare and rubbing his hands together. He remained silent and did not answer.
Samantha was growing frustrated with her father’s silence. She loved him very much, but she could not trust him anymore.
“If you force me to marry RJ, I will run away,” she threatened.
Artemus did not expect 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 enough to agree with his decision. He looked at her and almost broke down when he saw how much he had hurt her with everything he had said. He walked away without looking back, afraid he would fall apart in front of her.
As her world collapsed, Samantha felt she was falling with no solid ground beneath her. Her father had been adamant in his demand that she accepts RJ’s proposal. He had threatened to disown her, and it was something she never thought she would hear from him. It filled her with a seething rage.
“If my mom were still alive, she would not let you force me. . . marrying a . . .” Her voice cracked. She could not bring herself to say horrible words like, “I hate you, Daddy!” Samantha sank, almost fainting on the sofa. The sharp pain in her heart had her gasping for breath.
Artemus heard his daughter’s voice behind him. He stopped walking and turned around. “I’m sorry, Samantha. I don’t want to hurt you, but I want no more discussion about this. Whether you like it or not, you are marrying RJ.”
Samantha hesitated as if she wanted to protest. She stared at her father, terrible anger welling up in her again as he stared back at her, steady but not defiant. Samantha had enough. She could not keep up this facade a moment longer.
“I’m going to my room!” she yelled, made her way across the hall, and ran all the way upstairs without looking back.
Moments later, there was a tap on her door.
“Sam, may I come in?” her dad asked.
“No, you may not.” Samantha said. “Please go away and leave me alone.”
“Samantha, we have to talk. Please open the door,” said Artemus.
Samantha didn’t answer and remained silent. She didn’t want to hear anything her father had to say anymore.
“Okay, have it your way, but this conversation is far from over,” said Artemus as he left.
Samantha didn’t care how many times her father knocked on the door and asked her to open it. She closed her eyes, covered her ears, and ignored his plea.
It was dark, and the room was quiet. Samantha got up and tiptoed toward the door. She twisted the door handle but found her father had locked the door from the outside. She shook her head and drew in a deep breath.
Maybe if I sleep long enough and wake up tomorrow, I’ll find out everything that has happened today was only a bad dream.
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