Chapter 1 - Mesmerized
September 12, 2003 (Three Days Earlier)
The Emerald Hotel
Jann Arden’s song, ‘Insensitive,’ blasted through the entire grand ballroom of an exclusive five-star hotel which currently held a party that Cassia Andrade was forced to attend. She leaned over one of the marble pillars and sipped her drink while she contemplated all the things the other girls here had that she didn’t.
First of all, they all looked like glittering princesses.
Well, that was bound to happen when one was born into so much wealth that they never had to work a day in their life. They were pampered right from the start and then raised to be the spoiled, snobby bitches they were right now.
Cassia snorted, exhaled and then tried harder to blend into the shadows.
To be honest, she tried as much as she could but she still stuck out like a sore thumb. She was like a duck in a room filled with gorgeous peacocks. She was not like these people. Yes, her grandfather was wealthy but she had not been born into the grandeur of wealth like these girls. She did not even know of her grandfather’s existence until about a month ago.
Her parents died in a plane crash. Up until then, she had been happy. Her parents loved her very much. They may have had a difficult time scraping by financially but everything was alright since they had each other.
Then they died and orphaned Cassia at the age of twelve years old. Since then, she had been passed from foster home to foster home.
But her life changed one month ago, exactly after her nineteenth birthday, when her grandfather finally found her.
That was when she found out that her father was the only son of Costas Andrade, one of the richest men in the world. Her father was disowned because he married Cassia’s mother, a common waitress. Her father gave up everything for her mother.
Now that her father was dead, she was Costas’ only heir. After that bomb shell of a declaration, she was then swept into the glitz and glamour that was the life of the rich and famous.
“That was when I found out I would never fit in,” Cassia muttered under her breath as she took another swig of the punch in her hand.
“Hey there, fat-ass,” one of the women in the party snarled. Cassia ignored her. There was nothing else she could do but ignore these women who thought themselves to be the epitome of perfection.
“Hey hon, my dad owns a gym. Let me give you a free membership, okay?”
“Who did your hair? My poodle’s hair looks so much better than that.
“When you shop for dresses, make sure it’s the correct size. Not one or two sizes too small.”
Again, she ignored all those taunts. But from all those words, it was the last ones that stung the most. Cassia tried everything to be refined, beautiful and smart like her grandfather wanted so that she could please him. But he was a hard man to please and instead of earning his love and his praise, she always earned his wrath.
The women sauntered by and Cassia knew she was not like them. They were like those models she saw on TV while she was short and plump. To top it all off, she had a face that no amount of make-up could fix. Her mother was so very beautiful and to her, her father looked like a Greek god. Yet somehow, fate and genetics laughed at that and produced Cassia.
Cassia snorted at her thoughts and scanned the beautiful ballroom.
Supermodels and sons of rich businessmen twirled around the dance floor in glittering silks and satins. They flirted openly with each other and looked as though they were having the time of their lives.
Cassia shook her head and refused to feel sorry for herself.
So what if no one looked at her with admiration?
So what if she was an outcast?
So what if no one asked her to dance?
She would just go through this ordeal to please her grandfather and then she would return home at the first available chance. She never belonged with this crowd. And she knew that she never would, for she was not beautiful and she was not accustomed to the lifestyle of wealth.
Suddenly, she was jolted out of her thoughts when somebody barreled into her.
“Whoops! S-sarreh din’t see ya there,” a drunken voice slurred.
Cassia spilled her drink on herself during the impact. She quickly reached over for a napkin and began to wipe her bodice. The drunken guy quickly retrieved the napkin from her.
“I’m so sorry. Let me do that for you,” he offered with a sneer. He proceeded to wipe Cassia’s bodice with a slowness that suggested lechery. Cassia gasped and stepped back from him but he tugged on her wrist and forced her to come into contact with his hard body.
“What’s your problem, sweet thing? Shouldn’t you be thankful that I am paying you some notice so that you won’t have to blend in with the marble?” he whispered to her. She could smell the alcohol on his breath and it made her want to hurl.
“Please just let me go,” she whispered as she tried to tug her wrist out of his grasp.
But even if the man was drunk, he was very strong.
“Let her go,” another voice cut in. The pressure on Cassia’s wrist eased and she opened her eyes.
Her gaze clashed with the most vivid green eyes she’s ever seen. Immediately, her throat ran dry and her heart started to beat faster. She gazed at her savior and the first thought that popped into her mind was that he was the most handsome man she’s ever seen.
He had jet black hair and a face which looked like it was sculpted by the gods themselves. Every inch of him was flawless but his most striking feature was his beautiful green eyes. Right now, those eyes looked at her with concern.
He moved closer to her and Cassia realized just how tall he was. He towered over her by about a foot and she was already wearing four-inch heels.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
His voice slid through her like silk. It took her some time to reply but she was able to stammer, “Y-yes...”
“Good. Leave her alone, George,” he said in a curt tone.
“Aaaw. Come on, Nikos. Don’t be such a buzz kill. I just wanted to have some fun with her. She looked like she needed to be rescued from the wall.”
Cassia flinched at his words and Nikos saw it. He shot her an apologetic look and her heart went out to him. Right now, she did not know if this was some case of hero-worship but she was definitely infatuated with this gentleman.
“I said leave her,” Nikos repeated in a sterner tone.
“No. One good fuck may change her views on these kinds of things,” George snarled.
Cassia flinched again and at the same time, she saw Nikos tense. George hand shot out and gripped Cassia’s wrist. Before she could blink, she saw that Nikos launched his towering frame towards George and landed a solid punch to his right jaw.
George fell and clutched his bloody lip.
“What the hell, man!” he shouted.
George started cursing both of them but Cassia paid him no heed. She gazed at Nikos with a dumbstruck expression. That tender moment was ended when she noticed that everyone turned to look at them.
I wish the ground would open up and swallow me whole... Cassia thought to herself.
Everyone around them started whispering. Others sneered at her and sadly shook their heads. Cassia cringed at the thought of gossip reaching her grandfather and instantly dreaded the coming punishment.
“Again, I said leave her alone,” Nikos said as he reached inside his suit and retrieved his handkerchief. He then tossed it to George who was still clutching his jaw.
Nikos turned towards Cassia. He lifted her hand and placed it inside the crook of his elbow. He leaned forward as if to whisper something to her and Cassia was able to get a whiff of the exquisite perfume he wore. Mixed with his masculine scent, it was a drug unlike any other.
“Come on, the least you can do is dance with me,” Nikos told her with a small smile.
When she heard those words, her knees almost buckled. Sheer happiness raced through her and she wanted to jump up and down with joy!
She managed to nod and Nikos guided her to the dance floor.
Nikos exhaled the breath he’d been holding. He really did not want to cause a scene tonight. Hell, almost every week he’d already been on numerous magazines and tabloids! It was all because of his playboy lifestyle.
Just right now, he punched one of his friends to rescue this girl he did not even know. For sure he’d be in another of those blasted tabloids.
Quick as a flash, the two of them became the center of attention and the only thing he could do to avoid reporters swarming around both of them right now would be to whisk her away to the dance floor.
Nikos waved his hand and it was as if someone hit the play button once more. The music resumed, people turned around to go about their business and conversation all around the party started once more. He then pulled Cassia close and placed his hand on her waist. She seemed stunned as he guided her onto the dance floor.
This was her first dance ever and she was so lucky to be in this hero’s arms.
Effortlessly, Nikos Demakis led her on the steps of the waltz. He smiled at her when she stepped on his foot and adjusted his steps for her. With every sway, every smile and every step, Cassia fell deeper and deeper.
“I’m sorry about what happened,” Nikos said after a long moment of awkward silence.
“Thank you for rescuing me...” Cassia breathed.
“It’s nothing,” Nikos replied in a clipped Greek accent that made Cassia’s pulse skyrocket.
“I am Nikos Demakis.”
“And I am Cassia Andrade...”
There was a long pause and Cassia noticed a different expression cross Nikos’ face. It was something like surprise mixed with uncertainty. But it was gone in a flash and she thought that she must’ve just imagined it.
“Nice to meet you, Cassia,” Nikos managed after a few seconds of silence. He never expected that the woman he saved was the Andrade heiress that everyone was talking about. He didn’t envision that this was how they’d meet.
He tilted his head to the side and looked at her features. Yes, he agreed with what everyone was saying. She seemed plain, but if one looked at her harder and got past that first glance, it was plain to see that she had a fine facial bone structure. She also had skin so smooth and so pale that it looked as if it was glowing.
They called her fat but what Nikos saw was curves that made his mouth water. He blinked and tried to clear his head of these shameful thoughts. She was the granddaughter of the man that wanted to ruin his family! If he made her one of his conquests and broke her heart, the Demakis Shipping Corporation would surely plummet to the ground under her grandfather’s wrath.
“The pleasure’s mine...” she managed to reply.
They say time flies when you are enjoying yourself.
That happened to Cassia. All too quickly, the dance was over and she found herself craving to be closer to her savior. She wished he’d take her in his arms again and dance with her until the night was over.
But that was not to be. Cassia frowned a bit when Nikos let go of her hand. Then, he bowed and she realized that the song had already ended. She so desperately wished that it would go on for a little while longer for she really wanted to know him more.
It was as if there was something in him that called out to her.
She wanted him...badly.
“Thanks for the dance. I have to go,” Nikos Demakis said as he picked up her hand and kissed it.
Then, he turned his back and walked towards his peers who started teasing him because he danced with her. He just shrugged as though it wasn’t really a grave matter. He turned back towards her one last time.
When their eyes met across the crowded ballroom, he winked.
“I think I’m in love...” Cassia giggled.