My high society life came with high expectations and pressure. Then a much-needed vacation abruptly turned into chaos. I'm being watched, followed and ... worshipped. Inhibitions are pushed, boundaries are tested, privacy is invaded. All the while I feel eyes on me. Can I trust the mysterious stranger who awakens my body and reads my soul?
This is book 1 of the published duet.
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About the Author
As a resident of South Florida, she finds inspiration in the fast-paced, urban lifestyle, proximity to the ocean, and the year-round warm weather.
Her days are filled with reading, writing, and caring for her family-two children, and a husband, who also happens to be her biggest supporter and best friend.
Read an Excerpt
The plane is accelerating, getting ready to take off the ground. I hear the turbines working, feel my body being pushed into the cushioned seat, and get even more anxious. Flying has never been my thing. No matter how many times I've done it — and we are talking a hundred, no less — I'm a nervous mess every time. Take offs and landings are the worst. I can deal with being up in the sky, the serenity of the view takes my breath away and calms me. The getting to and from that high is a whole different story. Working in my family's investment firm, I endure flying on a weekly basis. Every time, I try to talk myself into not caring about the upcoming flight, only to get on the plane and get anxious all over again. Luckily, I'm taking this trip for pleasure. Should make me feel better, but it doesn't.
Finally, the plane loses contact with the ground and lifts into the air. We are taking off from O'Hare, so it takes a sharp angle up and I grip the armrests, my knuckles white from pressure. Just another few minutes, keep it together a few more minutes and it will get easier. I'm tight, my muscles tense, my nerves in coils. Taking slow, shallow breaths, I try to think of something relaxing. The ocean comes to mind, blue and endless, wave after wave after wave, slow and peaceful. My thoughts drift to my destination: Miami. I'm finally taking the trip I've been planning for a few years — planning, but never actually making. There was always something urgent that required my attention, or the timing wasn't right, or my family had other plans that required my presence.
At last, we reach a high altitude and the plane levels off. I visibly relax and let go of the armrests. I have three hours to spare with no propositions to review or documents to go over: a rare luxury for me. My days are usually planned to the minute, weeks in advance.
I close my eyes and think about my life. After all, this is, for the most part, why I'm taking the trip: to rethink my life, set new priorities, and most importantly, plan a new path.
I'm in my late twenties — a successful young heiress to the family business. I'm good at what I do, and I know it. Years of nonstop work will do that to you.
My family owns a real estate investment and management company. In the years since my graduation, I've initiated and completed several projects, effectively doubling the company's worth by reversing a near-collapse situation and taking advantage of the overall economic downturn. In addition, I've managed to attract a few major investors. I love and hate what I do. I wish I could make my own decisions, bring the company into the twenty-first century. Instead, I feel stuck. My father has little trust in my decisions and ultimately, he maintains tight control of things.
Being a part of the family business is both a blessing and a curse. I have to fight with my old-fashioned father every step of the way, then never hear one good word once my idea proves to be a success. Even with all the setbacks, I've managed to build quite a reputation in Chicago and beyond its limits, on both coasts. Luckily, I don't conduct any business in Miami yet, so I'm running a small chance of being recognized. Good for me, given the current state of my personal life.
My personal life! That's a different story, one that can hardly be called a success. I used to think I had it all together, completely figured out. Turned out that could not have been further from the truth.
I think back to my first relationship. Stanley was my high school sweetheart. It was four years of pure affection, followed by two more years of unsuccessful attempts to keep us together. We met at the start of freshman year and dated throughout high school. Unfortunately, our relationship did not stand a chance in the real world. We never survived the long distance after he went away to college. Trying to keep it alive for two years eventually proved to be too hard, and we decided to end things peacefully and promised to stay friends, or as close to it as possible. I felt heartbroken nonetheless, thinking I should've done something differently, put in more effort, maybe even followed him to college. He went to an engineering school, and I was aiming for a business career. Now I realize we were just kids, more friends than lovers for sure.
My second and only other relationship was the serious kind. He was older and wiser. He exuded confidence and respect. We met right after I got my bachelor's degree. I was barely twenty-one, while he was thirty-three. My parents approved, and I even suspected they arranged our meeting. He was a successful businessman and marriage material, as my mother put it. I was told to be a good girl and warned not to screw it up.
By the time we met, I'd been single for a year. After a rather busy but lonely year of self-pity and doubt, I was ready to put that chapter of my life behind me. I welcomed the idea of meeting someone new.
I was even pleased to have my parents' approval. They never took Stanley seriously, so I felt like a grown-up next to Matthew. I realized, though not soon enough, the choice was taken away from me and they were making the decisions yet again. They had plans for me and Matthew before I ever met him.
My parents have been planning my life since I was a little girl. I never rebelled, justifying it by telling myself that they loved me and wished me the best. All these years I've been living in denial, thinking if my parents thought so highly of my boyfriend, then he must be a good person.
Little did I know ... He was the exact opposite of what I thought. My parents are still in their own state of denial, thinking it was my fault we didn't work out. They assumed I went away to get a better perspective on my life, so I could come back and fix everything.
The truth is, we haven't had a real relationship in years. Come to think of it, I don't think passion was ever there at all. Pragmatism is what ruled, from day one. At first, I tried to get him to do fun and romantic things. In return, he would ruthlessly throw it back in my face, telling me I was being childish. I was hurt at first, but then I would end up blaming myself, as I always tend to do. He was older, so maybe I was being childish after all. I thought that's what being in an adult relationship must be like. My parents were a lot like Matthew, and they've been married for thirty years.
On the outside, he was the proper, polished version of the perfect life partner: caring, attentive, reliable, cultured — a gentleman in all aspects of the word. On the inside, our relationship was empty. At times, it felt as if he was on autopilot around me, saying what needed to be said, being courteous when necessary, but showing no interest in who I was. At first, I didn't realize any of this; I was too young and busy with school and work. I was too excited to be in a relationship, especially with someone so sophisticated. As the time went by, I realized more and more there was something dysfunctional about us.
Being the gentleman he appeared to be, he proposed right after I finished school. We moved in together shortly thereafter. We had a little family thing going. Once again, everything was picture perfect on the outside. Unfortunately, the more I looked at it, the more I saw him living another life, one that didn't involve me. Once my eyes were wide open, I saw more than I ever could have imagined. Two-faced does not even begin to describe him. Six years of my life wasted. I had been just a career milestone to him.
After we got engaged, my father offered executive positions and stakes in the company to both of us. I wanted to try doing things on my own, but I was again pushed and, as always, I gave in. My parents talked about me being ungrateful for all they'd done for me. The least I could do was work for and help expand the family business. They said it hurt them to think a stranger, meaning my fiancé, was more eager to work for the family business than their own daughter. I felt, yet again, obligated, and ashamed I didn't see it this way myself.
The reality is, I've been living up to someone else's standards my whole life. The harder I worked, the harder I was pushed. I graduated high school having already completed my first year of college, then finished my bachelor's in less than three years. Finally, I got my MBA from Kellogg. Through it all, I was working, interning at the family firm. To say I had no social life is the understatement of the century.
I'm grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunity, but the cost was way too high. I had to grow up all too fast, skipping some of the steps to adulthood completely.
Here I am at twenty-seven, dead tired and totally confused about who I am. I never lived the life of an average teenager or partied my way through college. I feel too old, too serious, and desperate to change something before it's too late.
I'm taking this trip to get away from my reality, to try and be myself without the pressure of expectations. I want to relax and stop looking over my shoulder all the time. I want to have time to meet my own self.
Back in Chicago, people expect me to behave a certain way, to be mature and contained, act with dignity and grace — a shining example of a perfectly raised daughter, top student, aspiring business woman, and heiress. There's no room for anything else, and that's how I've lived my whole life.
Unfortunately, outside of these confines, I don't know who I am. I've yet to start living on my own, making my mistakes. I need to rethink my life, reset my priorities, free my mind of the constant guilt trip.
I love Miami! It was the first place my thoughts went when I decided to get away. It's so different, so easygoing compared to Chicago. I love that the ocean is endless, and the air is hot and humid. I wanted to enjoy everything, from the sand and the palm trees, to the freedom to be myself. I refuse to be judged by my looks and actions. I've been living up to an image for as long as I can remember. Either I need a break, or I will break.
I spend most of the three-hour flight thinking about my life and where I want it to go. I'm conflicted about what exactly I want to achieve by going to Miami. I know I need an outlet, but I'm not used to having days to myself. I had to work hard to clear my schedule for the next three weeks. This is how long I gave myself to relax, rethink my life, and try to determine the path I should follow. It is too ironic to have to reevaluate your whole life in three weeks, having the schedule filled three months in advance. This is the first time I'm going somewhere alone, and by far the most free time I've had in my adult life. You could call me a workaholic, except they usually enjoy what they do; I just do it. It's just business, just obligations.
I tense as the plane starts to descend and grab the armrests all over again. I shut my eyes tight and breathe ever so slowly. Just a few more minutes and I'll be on the ground. The plane makes a rough landing, and I bite my lower lip to fight back the anxiety attack. I gnaw until I can almost taste the coppery blood. The pilot announces our arrival, and I open my eyes. My heart rate is slowing and I take a few full, deep breaths. Finally, I'm safe on the ground.
Exiting the plane makes me feel tremendously better. Feet firmly on the ground, I follow the instructions around the terminal. First stop, baggage claim. Second stop, rental car office.
This is another exciting part of traveling on my own: I rented an Audi A4 convertible. I'm going to have fun, just like I promised myself. In Chicago, I have a Lexus SUV: luxurious, comfortable, reliable, and conservative. The Audi has all the same qualities, but it's sporty and adventurous. Nothing exotic. Keeping a low profile is better in my case. I've been down that road before, where I'm looked at as an asset, a career advancement, a status symbol. I want none of that now. Just the simple me.
I get settled into my new ride and put in the address for the rental condo. Plugging in my iPhone, I go for my playlist. I decide on Maroon 5 mixed with some SHM. I love their track "Don't You Worry Child." Makes me want to believe the heavens really do have a plan for me. The night is warm, and I put the top down. I try not to get lost navigating the ramps around the airport and luckily make it to the highway pretty quickly. Music is blasting from the speakers, and I'm speeding down I-95. The wind is in my hair, whipping it into a crazy mess. The neat waves that once were are long-gone now, replaced by wild and tangled curls. I guess I won't be wasting time straightening my hair on this trip — in a battle with the Miami weather, I didn't stand a chance. On second thought, I kind of like this new, raw look.
Half an hour later, I arrive at the condo. It's a tall, modern, glass building right on the ocean. Palm trees line the front, and the fountain is lit up from beneath the water's surface. I turn the car and luggage over to the valet, grab my purse, and enter the foie. The interior is luxurious, with ceilings three stories high and intricate granite patterns on the floor. There are antique-looking columns scattered all around, and arches leading down to secluded alcoves stuffed with seating areas. The whole place is a mix of European luxury and tropical comfort. A bar is tucked away in the far corner, private and inviting.
A tall blond with a professional smile plastered on her face greets me from behind a rich mahogany concierge desk covered in black granite. I make quick work of checking in, then head for the elevators. I rented a one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen, living room, and a separate master bedroom suite. Once upstairs, I slide the key card into the lock and push the door open.
What I see is everything I wished for, plus a little more. The foie area is covered in white stone tile brushed to a mirror shine. To the right is the living area, with an open gourmet kitchen. The cabinets are white and glass, with some built-in lights to make everything glow. The countertops are charcoal grey, with sparkles twinkling from somewhere deep in the stone. The kitchen itself is a work of art, and I promise myself I'll take full advantage of it.
I make my way down to the living room. The entire back wall is made of glass, with a sliding door leading to a wide balcony. The moonlight is reflected in the ocean, and I see the white foam of the waves breaking against the shore. It's late, past eleven for sure, but below me, life is raging.
Walking around the dinette set, I see a recliner covered with a luxurious pillow top and towels, then spot another sliding door leading to the bedroom. In the center is a king-sized bed, positioned for a view of the ocean. The headboard is a mix of dark wood and lush, soft fabric; beige, brown, and teal patterns echo the colors of the beach and the ocean. There are at least fifteen throw pillows, all different shapes and sizes, sitting at the header. I sprint a few steps forward and jump onto the bed. I laugh to myself, happy as a kid. I love it!
Finally, I make my way to the bathroom, and oh my, oh my! It's huge! There is a Jacuzzi tub that could easily fit two, a stone-walled shower with multiple jets lining the walls, and two sinks with at least four feet of gorgeous marble counter space between them.
Everything is covered in light beige stone with golden undertones. I can almost see my own reflection in every shining surface. This is simply amazing! I can't say I haven't stayed in nice places before, but this place makes me feel something different. It's probably the fact that I'm alone here. This is my own little fairy tale.
I look into the mirror and see myself smiling; even my eyes have a new sparkle to them. I'm normally a composed person, with a polite smile that rarely touches my eyes. I look closer and see evidence of my recent lack of sleep, in the form of new under-eye circles. I look a little paler too. No wonder, I never had any dinner. Food and flying are a bad combination for me.
I decide to unpack, take a quick shower, and head to bed. I finish everything in under an hour and climb the pillows to get under the covers. The bed feels like a cloud, and sleep takes me in minutes.
Excerpted from "One to Watch Me Book One"
Copyright © 2017 Alicia Maxwell.
Excerpted by permission of Alicia Maxwell.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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