Wildest Dreams

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Chapter 22

I’ve always liked to believe that tomorrow is safe. That when I wake up in the morning I will be renewed, and I’ll be better equipped to take on the battles of yesterday.

This, however, was not the case with this tomorrow.

The day after the movie premiere, I thought I could fly. Xander decided last night that he was too tired to attend the after party and he had an early start the next morning.

Instead, we ducked out of the premiere as quickly as we could, before picking up a late dinner on the way home. I didn’t care what we ate as long as I was holding his hand the whole time. By the time we made it back to Xander’s apartment, my heart had been wholly surrendered to the movie star.

By morning, I had all but forgotten my run in with Xander’s ex, Allison and I hoped the tabloids would too. However, waking up to the sound of Xander’s raised voice, quickly burst my bubble. A chill raced through my body and my legs got twisted in the bed sheets, almost slamming my head into the door in my haste to get out.

“Dee, just stop!” Xander shouted, before throwing a newspaper down on the kitchen bench as he paced by. His face was screwed up, and his eyes were drilling holes through the hardwood floors. Dee-Anne, his publicist, was busy tapping away on her phone, but I didn’t miss the roll of her eyes over Xander’s outburst.

Giovanni had planted himself in front of the TV with the Entertainment channel on mute while the closed captions scrolled across the bottom. If he was here, then it must be bad.

“I’m just saying, you pick a girl up off the street you never know what skeletons she has hanging in her closet.”

“Dee!” Xander slammed his palms against the bench, breathing heavily across the space between them but Dee-Ann still seemed engrossed with whoever she was messaging. She barely spared him a shrug of her shoulders. “Neither of you will say anything until I’ve spoken with her,” Xander warned, glaring between both Dee and Giovanni, not that anyone paid him any mind.

“Xander?”

“Here we go,” Dee-Ann muttered, pushing away from the bench and coming around to sit beside Giovanni, oblivious to Xander’s glacial stare.

“What’s going on?” I eyed the two on the couch warily. “I thought you had to be on set early today.”

“I’m going in late.”

“Okay,” I drew the word out when he didn’t offer any explanation and instead, he let out a tired sigh, running both hands through his hair.

Casting a look over at the bad news twins, Xander marched over to me, took my wrist and tugged me in the direction of his bedroom. Too confused to put up much of a fight I followed him in and waited for him to shut the door behind us.

“Xander, what’s- “

“Are you engaged?” He blurted out. I spun to face him, my eyes almost falling out of my head and my heart, shattering at my feet.

“Who have you been talking to?” There was a dark edge to my voice, and I didn’t even bother trying to fight my emotions because judging by the defeated slump of Xander’s shoulders my time spent running from my past had finally run out.

“It’s true?”

“No,” I scoffed, crossing my arms tightly across my chest, my chin rising a little higher. “Not anymore.”

Xander’s eyes shot to mine, hooded by his furrowed brow, “What does that mean?”

“I was young,” I offered. “I was different.”

“They’re saying your name isn’t Annie Reiner. They’re calling you- ”

“Annabelle Felicity Weatherall, daughter of Francis and Janine Weatherall.” I spat, knowing exactly what the news outlets had probably stumbled across. Knowing my mother, she probably fed them the information, trying to smoke me out. “I’m not that girl and that’s not my name.”

“That’s not what the woman pleading on the TV for you to go home was saying. Or the man anxious for his sweetheart to return to him.” I scoffed at ‘sweetheart’. I had never been Darren's sweetheart. At best I was obedient.

“They’re lying.”

“Well, their acting skills would give me a run for my money.”

“Their entire lives are one big act,” I spat keeping my eyes trained on the fury in his.

“What’s going on, Annie? Because I’m having a hard time trying to defend you when you’re here telling me everything is true.”

“I didn’t ask for you to defend me.”

“Well, you’re my girlfriend Annie and you’re making me look like an idiot.”

“I never asked to be your girlfriend,” I yelled. “I didn’t ask for any of this.” Anger mixed with fear was rushing through my veins. I could barely keep my breathing in check as I started to pace in front of Xander. I could feel his eyes watching me and I knew he deserved an explanation and if I was honest with myself, I always knew this was how we were going to end.

“Annie,” he began, and my eyes darted to him, surprised to find that it was concern, and not anger staring back at me. “I trust you. I just want to know what’s going on.”

“I know,” I sighed. “I just thought, or hoped, that this was a part of my past that could stay where it belonged.” He’d told me the media would find anything from my past and exploit it and I knew that they would, I had just hoped that they wouldn’t.

Gently, he took my elbow and led me towards the bed, but instead of simply sitting beside me, he shuffled up till he was rested against the pillow and had me firmly between his legs and resting against his warm, reassuring chest. Then his arms wrapped tightly around my middle, holding me tight.

“Darren Billingsly was a family friend. His father and mine both built their mining companies from the ground up. Ours in Queensland and theirs in Western Australia. As children, Darren and I were thrown together whenever there were business meetings and during social events both our parents were attending. He was being groomed to take over his father’s company and while I hadn’t known it at the time, my own parents had been pushing me closer to him so that one day I might be his wife. Protect the family money, and all that.” I shrugged, feeling his arms tighten around me, giving me the strength to keep going.

“When I was young, my parents would hardly spend any time with me. Don’t get me wrong they always made sure I had everything, but I was always an afterthought.” It didn’t matter that all I had ever wanted was for them to love me, to pay attention for me but no matter how many times I begged my mother to stay home with me or tried to connect with my father through something he loved they always pushed me aside or told me not to be selfish. There was one time when I was seven years old, my parents had travelled overseas for business and the nanny they had booked had fallen through. I called them every day for a month, and not once did they accept my call. I think the teachers suspected something was wrong but even at seven I knew how to take care of myself.

When they finally arrived home, they told me I was old enough to take care of myself anyway. Then my father had locked himself in his office and my mother had gone out to a charity luncheon, no children allowed.

“When I was nineteen, Darren and I had been dating for two years and all I ever thought about was making my parents proud. If I was with Darren, they paid attention to me and I wanted it to stay that way. So, when he proposed, I said yes without hesitation. I knew I didn’t love him, and he didn’t love me, but he always reminded me that no one ever would. How could they when even my own parents didn’t?”

Darren was always reminding me of my worth whenever he had the opportunity. He would tell me how beautiful all the other women were and ask me why I wasn’t the same. He would always find a way to embarrass me in front of our friends. Eventually, when we were out, I decided it was easier if I just stayed quiet.

“When it was time to plan the wedding, every decision felt like a new bar on my window. I knew with every choice I made about the wedding that this was not the life I wanted. I had seen my mother be nothing more than a trinket on my father’s arm. She agreed with his every thought and never had one of her own. My father wasn’t even faithful to her,” I sneered, feeling Xander’s arms tighten around me. “She knew and she continued to stay with him because she loved the lifestyle or maybe she just didn’t think there was another choice.

“I knew I didn’t want to be like her. I wanted options. I needed to know I had an escape. So, I begged my father to let me go to university. I threatened to call off the wedding if he didn’t allow me to go. I don’t think he truly believed that I would because I had never gone against him before, but he indulged me. I had to move in with Darren, but I was allowed to get my degree and that gave me four years to plan my next move. I just didn’t want my mother’s life.”

“I’m sorry, Annie,” Xander said suddenly, and I twisted in his hold to get a better view of his face.

“It wasn’t your fault I had backed myself into a corner,” I frowned.

“No, but the first night I brought you here, you flipped out on me and ran. I was asking you to be exactly who you didn’t want to be. I’m sorry.” He murmured, pressing his hand against my cheek and drawing me in for a kiss and I clung to him with all that I was. I didn’t want to let this go, but I knew it was never mine to hold on to.

“You couldn’t have known,” I breathed when we finally broke the kiss.

“How did you end up here, Annie? How did you get away?”

“I ran out of time,” I shrugged, settling back into his chest and relishing the feel of his arms wrapping tightly around me again. “I was close to completing my university degree and Darren and my father were breathing down my neck to finalize the wedding details. Then one night, I finally snapped.” Or more accurately Darren snapped.

I had just gotten home from my final class to find Darren waiting for me in his office. He called me in as soon as I closed the front door of our house. He grabbed my elbow as soon as I entered the room and had pulled me flush against him.

“What’s this I hear; you’ve applied for a masters?” He demanded, both his hands moving to grip my upper arms tight enough to leave bruises. His hot breath was tainted by the foul smell of whiskey and his eyes were wild as he was glaring down at me. “You’ve made me a laughing stock you know? I should never have indulged you for this long.”

He shoved me from him, my back slamming into the door frame, the shock reverberating through my body and the pain settling as a dull throb in my head. When I had gathered myself, I looked across Darren’s office to find him busily working on his laptop, as if I wasn’t in the room. As if I didn’t merit any more attention. The matter was settled.

“Darren- “ I started but he was quick to cover my words with his more impatient ones. Tears were already pricking the backs of my eyes from the blow and frustration was going to make them fall freely.

“Annabelle, I don’t have time for this.” He waved his hand dismissively at me, not even raising his eyes from his computer screen to address me.

“Darren, please.”

“The decision is made Annabelle.” His voice was firm, unyielding. It reminded me of how he would speak to the junior members of his company like they were beneath him. “As soon as you get that diploma in your hand, we set the date. We end this farce and you will stop wasting all of our time. I have waited long enough.

“I entertained your desired to get an education and now you need to hold up your end. You need to make appearances at my company functions and plan the wedding.”

“But I went to university to get a job,” I answered, my voice smaller than I had ever heard it. It felt as though the ground was being torn out from underneath me and suddenly, I was falling.

“You won’t have time,” he shrugged, still refusing to look at me. “Once you are my wife, I need you to manage this house and eventually when we have children- “

“Children?” I gasped, clutching the edge of the door frame for support as my knees almost gave out from under me. “You want to bring children into this?”

“It’s the respectable thing to do. People will be expecting it of us. Your parents and mine.” Then he got to his feet, throwing me a disgusted look before making his way around his desk and making to leave the room.

My chest was tight and the room around me was starting to dim. The lights seemed to be winking out of my sight. Each breath felt like a monumental effort until my chest was so tight it felt as if an elephant was sitting on it. What was happening?

“Darren,” I managed to squeeze out.

“Enough Annabelle,” he shouted, causing me to shrink against the door frame as he loomed over me. I could still feel the throb of his hands on my arms from earlier. I didn’t want him to hold me like that again. “I’ve kept my word now it’s time for you to keep yours. No more stalling.” His palm slammed against the wall beside my head and it felt like the whole world was shaking. What if that had been me? Would he hit me?

“Hey,” his voice gentled, and my wide eyes moved from where his hand rested against the wall and turned to his face. “I didn’t mean to scare you. My father’s been pressing me on this. I’m just frustrated. Every time I think I’m closer to marrying you, you go and move the goalposts.” His hand against the wall slid down to take my hand in his and I fought the urge to pull away.

“I just want my life to mean something more.” I answered, but Darren was already moving away from me and heading for the front door.

“You’ll mean something as my wife.”

“I want to be more than a wife.”

“So, you left?” Xander asked. His hold of me had grown impossibly tight as I retold my story and I suddenly felt that if he were to let go, all the pieces that made up me would crumble.

“Not that night.” I sighed, knowing this part of the story was one I had never told anyone else. Not even Sarah and not even Teddy. “I still deluded myself into thinking I’d be able to convince them to allow me to finish my masters and one day allow me to teach.” I hated that I had allowed myself to believe that I needed someone else’s permission to be who I was. I hated that my parents had made me that way. I hated that I was still living in fear that they would come along and take my freedom away.

“What happened Annie?” Xander breathed, his warm breath caressing the shell of my ear as he pressed a kiss against the soft skin of my neck.

“I enrolled myself in a masters for the following year. My hands shook the entire way through enrolling, and I was so on edge from sneaking around to do it that I had allowed myself a moment to breathe when it was done. I had, in my excitement, left my laptop in the living room and he found the acceptance email.” I shrugged, suddenly feeling too tight in his hold. I tried to push out from it but he held strong.

“Annie,” he murmured, pressing me tightly to his solid chest and I tried to match my breathing with his.

“I had been in the kitchen getting a drink and came back to him throwing my laptop into the wall. It crumbled into pieces, the same moment the glass slipped from my hand and shattered at my feet. But, before I could gather enough sense to move, he was on me, slamming me against the wall so hard the room was spinning.” To this day, I don’t remember what he said to me. All I remember was the pain.

“He was shouting and then there was a ringing in my ears and a pain in my cheek and I was no longer being held against the wall by his forearm. He hit me across the cheek, my body flying across the room and skidding over the broken glass. I remember hitting my head on something hard, but nothing after that. I woke up hours later to an empty house. I packed my bags, moved from Brisbane to Melbourne, changed my name and never looked back.”

I heard Xander curse behind me before suddenly, I was lifted and spun so I was facing him. His eyes were running all over my face, his fingers wiping away the tears that were flowing freely down my cheeks and splashing against his shirt.

“Then you came here?” I nodded, a broken sob falling from my lips, making it almost impossible to speak.

“One of his friends found me at the school I was teaching at. He came in after school. Told me that Darren already knew, and he was on his way back from a meeting in Hong Kong to collect me. So, I contacted an overseas recruitment agency and was on a flight 24 hours later. I stopped in Europe until they could place me somewhere and within the week, I was on my way to New York. Another new name and a new school.”

I buried my face in the crook of his neck, my tears dampening his skin. His arms pressed me tightly against his chest again and I clung to him like he was the last thing keeping me tied to this earth.

“I don’t want to go back,” I breathed between sobs.

“I won’t let them take you from me, Annie,” but all I could do was cry harder. I had been running for four years, and in my heart, I knew they would find me. I knew I would have to go back.

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