Chapter 3

The alarm exploded a morning song, usually it had me up and rearing to go for the day ahead but not today. I had lay awake most of the night thinking about everything that had happened. Groaning and rolling on my side to shut off the blasted thing, I pulled back my covers and headed for the much-needed shower, hoping it would perk me up a little. The hot scalding water on my skin felt great, I took my time showering and moisturising after.

I descended the stairs with heavy steps not wanting to be in the company of my unsupportive family. When daddy was home it was expected of me and Mel to breakfast with him as he was around so little, business took him away from us for months at a time. It was 7 o'clock sharp when I made an appearance in the dining room. Daddy and Mel were already seated at the table, immersed in a discussion; business, politics and economy no doubt.

As I advanced further into the room the conversation stopped, they both looked at me with concern. Mel quirked an eyebrow at my choice of wardrobe; I wore an almost black dress save for a white pattern embroidered at the neckline, I never wore black unless I was upset. Mel shifted uncomfortably in her chair, good I hope she dies with guilt, I thought cruelly and turned my head away deliberately, showing my anger was still blazing at her betrayal. I took my usual seat next to daddy and opposite Mel.

"Good morning princess, did you sleep well?" daddy asked cheerfully.

"No," I gave a short answer. He cleared his throat at my honesty.

"I asked Helen to make French toast just the way you like it." He said to try and win me over.

"That's kind of you father, thank you." Formality was another way of me showing my displeasure and I knew calling him father instead of daddy would surely cut him up.

"Princess, don't be like that, I am trying here." He pleaded rather defensively.

"Why? Have you changed your mind?" I asked, jutting my chin out stubbornly.

"Have you?" he threw back.

Helen burst through the door with the breakfast trolley laden with cakes, croissants, crumpets, tea coffee, juice and more. The teacups rattled in their saucers, I noticed Helen had taken out the best china for daddy's pleasure. She laid the food out on the table, the warm sweet smell of the French toast hit my nose making my stomach growl in anticipation. Daddy held out his hand when Helen came to serve me.

"Allow me." He said to Helen dismissing her of her duties.

Daddy stood and shook his napkin sharply before laying it on his lower arm gently, much like a garcon. He poured me a cup of tea and prepared my plate, comically exaggerating each movement, he did this when I was miserable. The toast was cut in shapes of hearts, daddy's request undoubtedly. I felt a pang in my own heart for behaving so unkindly towards him, but I couldn't help it.

"Bon appetit, mon cheri," he said with an exceptionally thick French accent and twisted his invisible greasy moustache to make me laugh. I crossed my arms in front of me and pursed my lips tightly together should they betray me.

His shoulders sagged when I failed to laugh at his attempts, it was futile to carry on as he knew too well, he sat down at the head of the table and silently tucked into his breakfast.

Mel was awfully quite throughout the whole breakfast only answering when daddy asked a question. She wore a stunning chiffon emerald dress that made her eyes pop, the diamond necklace daddy bought from Dubai lay stunningly around her elegant neck, if I wasn't furious at her I would have complimented her on it. She watched me curiously, trying to work me out like her business clients. I gave her my best poker face; giving nothing away.

Later I excused myself from the table leaving the French toast untouched still sitting in the plate daddy had prepared for me, making a statement that I would not be guilt tripped or bought off so cheaply and easily. I could feel both pair of eyes on my receding back. Daddy's voice stopped me just as I was about to step out into the foyer. I remained with my back to the room.

"Darling, I hope you are not going to come to the party with a frowny face, I need you to put your game face on for the sake of the family reputation."

Family reputation! I think scornfully. Is that all he cares about? What about my eternal happiness? or the lack of it? My lower lip wobbles as my eyes start to well up. To hell with him and everybody that stood in my way.

I spend the rest of the day pampering myself at the spa, I needed to cheer up and the spa was a cure to my many ailments. I took Penney along with me for company, she was only too happy to oblige. She was careful not to touch upon yesterday's subject and I was fine with it as I no longer wanted to discuss it with anybody. We spoke about trivial matters such as new hair and face treatments, new seasons clothing line and the latest gossip on who was dating who, who got dumped and who was cheating on whom, all the while sipping on martinis and mochitos. I was thankful for the distraction and ended up enjoying my day regardless of the feelings brewing in my heart.

The chauffeur dropped Penney home first to get ready for the party tonight. I had been looking forward to this night for weeks but now that it was here I was less than thrilled, my enthusiasm drained away.

Daddy held a party every summer night on this day to mark his success and all the family were obligated to attend as without him they wouldn't be where they are now. I loved seeing my aunties, uncles, cousins and old friends who were otherwise too engaged to meet up any other day, this night reunited all. They would book their flights from where-ever they were and rush to the outskirts of London, ready for tonight.

When I got home that evening the garden grounds were heaving with activities, the contractors bustling around trying to set up the place to daddy's satisfaction. The front of the house was all lit up for the guests and a valet, specially hired for the occasion, already stood at his post ready to receive guests.

At the back of the house the marquees were set up if the weather misbehaved, the lights were all around the place; on the roof of the house, the trees, hedges and hanging from above it looked like the stars had been plucked from the sky and put on the Earth. The fresh flowers were carefully arranged on the stairs leading up to the massive patio. The smell from the flowers was intoxicating mixed with nostalgia.

A memory of my mother stood at the top of the patio overlooking the garden full of guests below, flashed through my mind. A rock sized diamond wedding ring on her finger worn for the party shimmering brightly as she delicately hit a silver knife against the half full Champagne glass in her hand ready to make a speech for daddy who would pretend to be embarrassed at his wife's gushing compliments while everybody applauded and cheered in unison in the back ground asking them to kiss when she finished. My mother would look intensely in to daddy's soft brown eyes as he held her protectively in his arms around her waist, a brief pause to say I love you telepathically before they embraced in a deep and passionate kiss as the love filled the air around them.

That was the last party my mother had made a speech at before she died later that year in a fatal car accident, that was almost seven years ago. No-body made a toast since then, daddy raised a glass for her every year and before when the place used to be beaming with laughter was replaced with solemn silences as everybody raised their glasses in her loving memory, then later daddy would get drunk stupid to drown his sorrows.

Mel came through the patio doors already dressed for the party conferring with a maître d' for last minute instructions who tapped hurriedly on his tablet. Seeing me standing at the foot of the stairs lost in thought she quickly dismissed the maître d' and made her way down, the train of the glittering silver dress she wore trailed after her. She looked so beautiful; tall, slender, her golden hair tied loosely up behind her head looking very much like a halo, her makeup perfectly on point. At every given opportunity I told her she could make it big in the modelling industry, but she always brushed it aside like some terrible idea. Mel had a strong-willed mind that she used for much of daddy's business, she would make a perfect replacement for when daddy retired. She was born to be a leader; confident, powerful, courageous, intelligent, tenacious but what made her different and ultimately greater than daddy was her compassion towards people and in return everybody treated her with upmost respect and gratitude.

I needed my big sister tonight, so I decided to go easy on her, just this once.

"Hey Ana, I have been looking for you since this morning, you haven't returned any of my calls. Are you still mad with me?" she asked in a small voice. "I am sorry for going behind your back but its only because I worry about you." She cupped my face in her warm hand as her thumb stroked my cheek. I wanted to fall into her arms and cry like a baby, but I held myself back with whatever dignity I could scrape together.

"I was mad, but I think I will get over it, I know you meant well." I forgave her just like that.

Mel's lips curved up in a radiant smile I reflected her smile and held her tight in my arms slamming her back into the embrace when she started to pull away, we held each other for a while.

"You should go up and get ready, the guests will be arriving any minute."

I left Mel at the bottom of the stairs surveying the garden with a keen eye, she was meticulous as they came.

Matthew Ford, owner and manager of several businesses he built up from scratch, named one of the most influential and rising business magnate of the century sat slumped in a leather chair in his private library, a glass of untouched whiskey in one hand and a framed photo of his wife, Linda and their two young daughters in the other. Linda stood behind the sisters, aged three and five, hand in hand smiling brightly in innocent youth at the camera, soft curls framing their cherub faces as they stood frozen in time.

Tonight, was the night when everybody came to celebrate his success over the years and in turn he expressed his gratitude the only way he knew how; by throwing a lavish party, opening his home and his heart for the people he loved. It was once the most wonderful day of the year for him, his family all gathered around with nothing but smiles and laughter as the soul music. Watching his beautifully charming wife and his two-wonderful daughters, he loved so profoundly, having a magnificent time.

Now it started to feel like an unnecessary burden without Linda by his side.

Mel bustled into the room with a small tray supporting a glass of water and boxes of medication. She looked at him with a disapproving glare.

"Daddy, the guests are starting to arrive you must get out there and show your face." She set the tray on the table beside his chair and forced the glass of whiskey from his hand placing it on the tray. Next, she took the photo he stared at so intently and placed it back on the mantle piece above the fireplace. She popped out the pills from the foiled casing placing them on his palm one by one.

"Has Anabelle come home?" he asked in his foggy daze.

"Yes, she is getting ready upstairs." Mel guided his hand to his mouth to take the pills, but his mind was preoccupied with other matters.

"Melony? Why must she defy me?" his voice full of anguish.

"She is her father's daughter; does what she pleases. You must not stand in her way, daddy, or it will make her more determined, you know what she is like thinking she has to prove to the world her worth."

"I am afraid, Mel. What if she finds that wretched boy and finds the truth about-," his voice drowns into a sob.

"Hush, we must never speak of it." Mel said sternly looking behind in paranoia towards the door she had entered.

"It will break her and ruin this family," he covered his face with his hands in shame and remorse.

She fell to her knees in front of her broken father, uncovering his face as she tried to console him.

"That is precisely why he will never tell her. If he wanted to tell Ana everything, he would have told her from the beginning when he found out. It's ok daddy, nothing is going to happen, she is still your princess," she said confidently.

"How can you be so sure?" he looked at her with tears threatening to fall.

"Because he cares for her as much as we do, he won't do anything to hurt her. As soon as she finds him he will reject her, and she will be back home where she belongs."

She saw a flicker of hope in her father's eyes, his glum state lifted. He stood abruptly and paced the room as he did when he was working out solutions to a problem.

"Yes, yes." He thought aloud. "You may be right Mel. She will find him living in a squalor like a pig and she will be straight back with her tail between her legs. She can't live without her luxuries!," and as if struck by a brilliant idea a satisfied smile rested on his face, " I will cancel all her cards, she will have no choice but to return home." He laughed almost manically.

Mel gently coerced him to take his pills.

"Take your pills, daddy, you don't want your blood pressure shooting up again."

He swallowed the pills gladly with the glass of water Mel presented to him. He took her hand and kissed it affectionately, looking at his daughter he thought what he would do without his lioness to guide him.