A Hurt So Sweet - Isabella Starling

Chapter One


Taking the steps leading up to Oakes Estate is making me quiver in my studded boots.

But I’ll never show my family how scared I am.

It’s been four years since I’ve seen my biological father. Four years since he and my stepmother shipped me off to a boarding school, just hours after meeting me for the very first time.

Now, I’m back – armed with the knowledge of etiquette, having learned two foreign languages, and having spent day after day buried between the pages of books. Now, I’ve finally been deemed ready to be introduced to their high society.

The driver who brought me from the airport appears by my side, giving me an encouraging smile. “Excited to see your family again, Miss Lily Anna?”

I’m desperate to interrupt. Tell him to use my real name, Pandora. But I fight the urge to correct him.

“About as excited as they seem to be,” I mutter in response.

He laughs, then coughs to cover it up. Of course, he isn’t allowed to think badly of my real family, just like I’m not. They’re practically royalty in this town.

“I’ll walk you in,” the driver, Kelley, offers, and I give him a curt nod, falling into step beside him.

There’s nobody waiting outside for me. You’d think my new family would be excited for the prodigal daughter to return, but Oakes Estate looms before me, silent, and majestic.

I step inside the impressive mansion that carries my real last name, trembling all over. The staff has gathered in the marble hall – over fifteen people who seem to be more interested in their shoes than getting a good look at the heiress of their workplace.

I look at them one by one. They’re all wearing the same uniforms – men in black and white, and the women in white and sky blue. Their faces are hard, rigid. All except for one girl – tall, willowy and incredibly beautiful. I’m mesmerized by her, but before I can inspect her further, a figure appears at the top of the stairwell, staring at me critically.

My father commands attention. Even I can’t deny that.

He’s tall, handsome and everything about him screams money.

Now, he stares down at me, his gaze filled with cool curiosity as he bellows, “Welcome home, daughter.”

I bow my head in respect just as I’ve been taught as he descends the impressive staircase. He doesn’t offer me a hug, or a smile. He just inspects me without mercy, as if I’m there for a job interview.

“You will find a few new items in your chambers. The help will have to take you shopping one of these days too, so you can fit in better. Your old clothes were…” He smirks. “Not appropriate.”

“Thanks,” I grit out. “And when do I get to see the rest of my… family again?”

“Your brother and sister are out,” Father says. “And your stepmother is… visiting a dear friend.”

“Of course,” I scoff.

I’m sure a dear friend is so much more important than me coming home. And I’m also sure it’s code for her plastic surgeon.

Father narrows his eyes at me. Great. I’ve been here five minutes and I’ve already managed to piss him off.

Such a warm welcome from the Oakes family, I think bitterly. After years of being away, this is how they treat me?

“Belle will show you to your room,” my father continues, gesturing to a tall blonde woman standing by the girl I’d admired earlier.

They look so alike I can’t help but think they must be related – mother and daughter, perhaps?

“Thank you,” I reply sans emotion, staring at the ground.

“Oh, something else, daughter.” He pauses, and I can feel how displeased he is with me already. “Could you pay attention?”

I don’t even want to look at him. I’m too nervous to hold his gaze. I barely know this man, despite being his biological daughter. And even though his ‘welcome back’ greeting is cool and collected, I can’t help but hope he’ll warm to me. Regard me with more interest, and perhaps, someday, even love me like a father should.

“Yes?” I manage to get out, raising my eyes to his. “How can I be of service, father dearest?”

Again, displeasure flashes across his face.

I search his features for familiarities and am disappointed when I find some. We look alike. I am Emilian Oakes’ daughter – not that there was any doubt of it before. Not after the DNA test he made me take.

“There will be new rules now that you’re in Eden Falls,” he explains. “There is a notebook