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C2 One

15 years later

Sara felt completely drained. Profoundly, utterly, bone-deep exhausted. However, she also experienced a sense of undeniable achievement. The wedding had concluded. Without any remorse, she discarded the slightly wilted Calla Lilies into the nearest trash can and located a chair to rest in for a few moments.

It had been a chaotic affair, but it was finally over. Her incredibly pampered and excessively spoiled younger sister had married the man of her dreams. Sara loved her sister, though she couldn't quite pinpoint why. Over the past twenty-three years, her father had showered Sandy with affection, indulged her every whim, and provided her with everything she desired.

He hadn't been as generous to Sara. She would never forget when she was only six years old, and her sister was just four. Their mother had tragically died in a car accident, and from that moment on, Sara's life had turned into a living nightmare.

Her father had relentlessly reminded her that her mother was an unfaithful woman and insinuated that Sara might not even be his child. He had claimed ownership of her and vowed to make her pay for her mother's perceived transgressions. The physical abuse had begun and continued to escalate over the years.

Her father was a respected man in the business community, and Sara feared him deeply, knowing he had the power to make her life even more unbearable. She had learned early on that if she endured the pain silently, he would stop sooner. If she cried out, he seemed to derive sadistic pleasure from prolonging the torment.

She had run away once, and a shiver ran down her spine as she recalled the agony she had endured when he found her. Bruised from head to toe, she had been bedridden for two weeks. Her father had kept her hidden in a cottage on the outskirts of town to avoid arousing suspicion among the household staff.

A few brave individuals had suspected and even inquired about her well-being, but she quickly learned not to speak up. Those sympathetic employees had vanished one by one. Soon, no one would help or look out for her. She had learned that silent suffering was the key to survival.

Sara glanced around the reception as she pulled herself out of her bleak memories. The event was still in full swing, prompting a sigh from her. Her sister had left a while ago amidst a flurry of birdseed and well-wishing from the crowd. As soon as the limo had driven away, Sara's forced smile had vanished.

Friends from near and far were taking advantage of the open bar, free food, and the thrill of being at the exclusive country club. It was all a facade. None of them genuinely cared about Sandy. Sara suspected it didn't matter because her sister cared about no one but herself.

The one silver lining in the entire charade was that at least Sara wouldn't have to witness Sandy's tantrums and manipulations anymore. She had quickly learned that if she didn't comply with her sister's wishes, all Sandy had to do was complain to their father, and he would make Sara her servant.

Now Sandy was Mason's problem, and Sara hoped that her father would let her leave now that Sandy had moved out. There was no reason to keep her confined in his vast mansion any longer.

As Sara allowed her mind to wander, Mason's name unexpectedly crossed her thoughts. She slowly rose to her feet and made her way to her room. Fortunately, she was staying at the hotel that night, as she had no energy to drive home.

In the elevator, her heart pounded as she thought about Mason. She had believed she was deeply in love with him, head over heels, but it had evidently been one-sided. The moment Sandy decided she wanted him, he had followed her sister like an obedient puppy.

His feeble apology and explanation about not being able to control his feelings had done nothing to salvage Sara's pride.

The wedding had been arranged in just four months, and their father had seemed oblivious to the fact that Sandy was suddenly marrying Sara's boyfriend. When Sara had made a mild comment about the impropriety, her father had launched into a lecture about keeping her jealousy of her perfect sister to herself.

Sara hadn't dared to argue further. If she really thought about it, she had only been with Mason to escape her father. Surprisingly, her dad had approved of her relationship with his loyal employee.

Sandy had demanded a perfect wedding with her ideal groom, and that's exactly what she had gotten – an extravagant event attended by Hollywood celebrities, musicians, and the social elite. People were eager to attend the wedding of one of the wealthiest men in the United States, hoping to gain something from him.

"It doesn't matter," Sara said aloud, trying to convince herself. She needed to let it all go. She was fortunate to have discovered what a deceitful man Mason was early in their relationship. It could have been worse; she could have married him and suffered the humiliation of him leaving her for her sister.

Being the maid of honor, holding her sister's ridiculously ostentatious bouquet of flowers, and watching Mason sweep Sandy into his arms for a kiss in front of everyone was humiliation enough for Sara. But Sandy had to further humiliate her by tossing her bouquet straight into Sara's hands during the reception.

Sara had forced a smile as if she were delighted, but she hadn't missed the snide remarks and giggles from people behind her, commenting on her inability to keep a man long enough to walk her down the aisle. When one woman added that at least Sara didn't have any other sisters to steal her man, Sara had reached her limit.

Mason worked for her father, and marrying either Sara or Sandy was essentially a ticket to becoming the next CEO of the corporation. He had steadily climbed the corporate ladder, and when he hit the jackpot by marrying the owner's daughter, he had secured it all. He would have settled for Sara, but why settle when he could have Sandy, the popular choice among the two siblings.

Sara finally reached her hotel room and swiped her key card, relieved when it worked on the first try. She stepped inside and tightly closed the door behind her. All she yearned for was freedom, and maybe, just maybe, she would finally get it. Besides, she had no desire to get married. Why subject herself to a situation where a man had control over her again? If she ever escaped her nightmare, she vowed to remain single for the rest of her life.

Glancing at the clock, she noticed that it was just past midnight. Sandy and Mason were likely en route to Europe by now. Sara felt a twinge of jealousy that her sister got to visit one of the countries she had always dreamed of, but she felt little remorse for the loss of Mason.

With a sigh, Sara unzipped the uncomfortable dress and let it cascade to the floor in a sea of satin. She kicked it away, knowing she wouldn't take it with her from the hotel. She had no desire to wear it again, and one of the maids might appreciate the expensive dress more than she ever would.

Sara didn't need any more reminders of her sister's wedding. She would have plenty of daily reminders as she witnessed her happily married sister in the arms of her ex-boyfriend.

She removed the hundreds of pins from her updo, feeling a sense of relief as her tightly held hair tumbled loosely around her shoulders. Her head ached, and her feet were sore.

She stepped into the shower and massaged her scalp, dreading the conversation with her father the next day. She had no idea what it was about, but his formality had indicated it wouldn't be pleasant.

Sara managed to return to the bedroom of her spacious suite, where she collapsed face-first onto the comfortable bed. She vowed not to get up until her body woke her, knowing that her father's wrath wasn't worth an extra hour or two of rest. However, convincing her physically and emotionally exhausted body of that was another matter.

Libre Baskerville
Gentium Book Basic
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