Her Second Groom
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In the midst of a seemingly ordinary life, Azalea Phoneix, a forty-year-old businesswoman, harbors a dark and unsettling secret that draws attention from those around her. Despite her best efforts to provide a loving home for her stepdaughter Sinclair, their relationship remains strained. Azalea's one wish is to see Sinclair wedded to the groom of her late husband's choosing, Orion, which is also the final term of her contract with her deceased spouse. This contract is the key to her long-awaited freedom, and she will do whatever it takes to fulfill it. However, when Sinclair rejects the proposal and refuses to comply with her father's last wish, Azalea's plans are thrown into disarray. To make matters worse, Orion finds himself drawn to Azalea instead of Sinclair, leading him to court her. But as he delves deeper into her mysterious persona, he uncovers chilling secrets that even Azalea is unaware of. Secrets that have been buried for years, and ones that threaten to destroy everything she has built.
‘Though we didn't get to spend much time together, I believe my mother was a wise and perceptive person, as evidenced by the name she gave me. I can still recall my father's words, spoken during his rare moments of sobriety and kindness, explaining that my name, Azalea, was chosen because it represented a perennial plant that would never lose its youthful vibrancy. But deep down, I always suspected there was another meaning behind my name, one that spoke to a harsher reality. You see, Azalea also means "dry flower," a cruel and bitter irony that I've carried with me my whole life. It was as if my mother was trying to prepare me for the withering, desolate existence that lay ahead of me, and the weight of that knowledge has never left me.’
Azalea Phoenix, the Chairwoman of the Grandeur Hotel chain, had accomplished more in her life than most people could dream of. Yet, it was not her success that caught people's attention. At forty years old, she had the beauty and youthfulness of someone in their late twenties. Her heart-shaped face boasted highly defined cheekbones that were always stained peachy pink. Her full lips and long, thick black hair were often the topic of conversation, but it was her eyes that truly captivated people. When asked about her eye color, she would chuckle and say, "It's brown." But they were not brown, they were like honey or melting chocolate.
Azalea had never been one to flaunt her beauty or hide her age, but it was hard not to notice her. She was a widow with a daughter who had just turned twenty-two. People often wondered how she maintained her youthful figure, but Azalea would simply reply, "I don't have one." No one could believe that someone could hold such beauty without a secret.
Apart from her accomplishments as a businesswoman, Azalea had become a beauty standard or a role model for women. She avoided mainstream media as much as possible, but she still caught people's attention and became a trending news topic. At the annual ceremony of the Grandeur hotel, all eyes were on her, not the man on stage. Azalea was in an angelic white dress, her hands tied together, listening intently to the man speaking.
"And now, for the moment everyone has been waiting for, I invite Miss Azalea. Please come on stage and share your feelings regarding the 45th anniversary of Grandeur Hotel's success through all these years," the man on stage announced. As Azalea stepped on stage and took the microphone, the crowd erupted into applause. Her eyes reflected the lights, making them seem like clear waters.
"I appreciate the gesture, Ray," Azalea said with a rare smile, looking at the man who had introduced her. Her eyes twinkled, and the corner of her eyes wrinkled beautifully, giving her a harmless aura. She then looked at the crowd, and lights started to flash in her eyes. The reporters weren't missing a single moment of capturing the beauty that appeared in front of the cameras once in a full moon.
"I am so glad that all of you could make it and add to the joy of this anniversary, and I hope you do the same in the years to follow. My joy knows no bounds, and I am elated as I stand here. I could have never imagined this much success even in my wildest dream, but our team and our employees worked tirelessly and turned what was a dream into reality," Azalea said, giving a heartfelt message.
The crowd burst into applause once again, and her face was radiating genuine happiness. One could tell that she meant each word that she said. "If today, Reza, my husband, was here along with us, this moment of joy would have become a hundred times more special but-" She bit her lip, holding her breath inside, and soft tears rolled into her eyes before she pulled a smile once again, letting out a heavy sigh. "But it is okay, as his dream is with us, and I thank everyone from the depths of my heart who helped me achieve this dream." The tears in her eyes shined, and despite that, she smiled.
"I think I have said too much. If anyone has questions to ask, you can feel free," Azalea said, referring to the reporters who were on their toes to get the chance. As soon as they saw the opportunity, they started to shoot questions at her.
“Excuse me, when will Mr. Reza's daughter be joining the company, or will you continue running the company on your own?” an elderly reporter asked the question in a strange manner that made Azalea tilt her head and feel uncomfortable. The security team suddenly glanced at her for instruction, but after a short break, she slowly smiled.
“I apologize for taking a moment to respond. You mentioned Mr. Reza's daughter, so I thought you were referring to someone else and not my daughter Sinclair," she gave him a serious, hostile look, making it clear not to mess with her. "Yes, Sinclair will take over the company as soon as she graduates, and I will step down from my position. I hope that answers your question,” she said softly but with a hint of warning in her tone.
“Any more questions?” she added.
“Me!” an enthusiastic voice came from the crowd of reporters. It was a young girl with lush green eyes and a small, cute face. She seemed to have the most important question of all time.
“Yes, what might that be?” Azalea asked.
“How – I mean, what is your skincare routine? Our viewers are desperate to know the secret of your beauty," she blurted out nervously. Her words caused the crowd to fall into a distinct silence, and then everyone turned to look at Azalea as if meaning to find the answers, and that made her nervous.
“Um… I –” she looked at Ray for help, but he too seemed shocked by the question. Azalea found herself helplessly staring at the crowd and then spoke, “I will send you the details personally." She chewed on the side of her cheeks awkwardly and then added, "Please leave your details with my assistant here. I hope that is all." She lowered her microphone and let out a painful moan. Sweat had formed on her forehead, and she gave the crowd a forced smile. "Please enjoy yourselves as I have some matters to attend to. Thank you." Azalea gave one dry laugh and stepped down from the stage before heading out of the doors. Her guards followed her closely to stop any sneaky reporters from following her. Ray took over once again and gave a few last words before the party officially began, and then he too disappeared behind the doors.
Azalea's face had turned a few shades paler as she reached for her back and started kneading it. She took off her heels one after another as she walked and left them in the way not bothering about them in such time, her breathing heavy and labored. The sudden rush of panic and anxiety had left her feeling breathless, and she struggled to steady herself. "Did you get my bag from the car?" she asked, her voice trembling and breathy.
The guard who was following her closely responded in a calm tone, "Yes, it's in your room, Madam."
With a nod of thanks, Azalea hurried straight into one of the rooms in the hallway, her eyes scanning the space frantically. She needed her cream-colored handbag, which she had accidentally left in the car when she had rushed out of it earlier. Finally, she let out a sigh of relief when she spotted it and quickly picked it up, her hands shaking as she unzipped it to reveal a tablet organizer. With trembling hands, she clicked open one of the compartments and tossed a few tablets into her mouth, gulping them down forcefully.
Suddenly, a voice caught her ear, making her lift her head slightly. It was Ray, holding a bottle of water. She groaned as the pain in her back intensified, and she let go of her bag, reaching out for the bottle with a shaky hand. She sat down on the couch beside her, sipping the water, which washed down the tablets, making her throat feel raw. Ray was holding onto her heels that she had left in the hallway.
"Did you eat?" Ray asked, his tone serious. Azalea buried her head in her hands, shaking it weakly. The pain was making it hard for her to speak up.
"Was this your first sip of the day?" he asked, his voice laced with concern. She nodded slowly, wincing as the pain continued to throb in her back. Ray let out a tired sigh, checking his watch, which showed that it was close to 9 pm.
"Boss, you know that the medicine won't work if you keep going around with an empty stomach, right?" he said, his tone stern.
Azalea's heart sank as she asked, "Where is Sinclair?"
Ray rolled his eyes, exasperated, and replied, "She isn't coming."
"Give her a call," Azalea said, her voice hushed.
"I did, but she said she would spend her birthday with her friends," Ray replied, his tone resigned.
Azalea moaned in pain for a while before she finally relaxed her body and let it fall on the couch. "I need to rest now. Take care of the party and the guests," she instructed Ray, her voice barely audible.
"What about Mr. Asher? What if he comes?" Ray asked, his tone worried.
"He isn't coming tonight, so it's okay for me to rest," Azalea mumbled, gesturing for Ray to leave. He half-heartedly followed her instructions and left the room, closing the door gently to avoid making noise.
The moment the door closed, Azalea's eyes opened again, and she stared at it for a few seconds, confirming that she was alone. With a few careful movements, she reached out for her phone, searching for it on the couch as the pain in her abdomen made it hard for her to move freely. Finally, she found it and pulled it into her hand.
She tilted the phone over the couch, her face buried in the cushion, and tapped the screen, pulling up her inboxes to see if she had received any replies from Sinclair. As she opened her conversation with Sinclair, her heart sank. There were never any messages from Sinclair's side, and she didn't bother to reply to Azalea's messages. The most recent message read,"Happy Birthday, Love. I hope we can have lunch together today. I will wait for you."
"Sigh– it has been 20 years. What am I expecting?" She let go of her phone and closed her heavy eyelids, slipping into a deep sleep.
Seated on a circular leather couch were three stunning girls, but one of them exuded a captivating aura that drew everyone's attention. Her youthful and fresh appearance was complemented by her slim and petite figure. With a heart-shaped face, prominent cheekbones, and a pair of large almond eyes, her small nose and filled lips added to her beauty. Her soft brown hair was styled in loose beachy waves, and her blunt bangs sat above her arched eyebrows, which seemed to have curled up with dissatisfaction as she stared down at her phone screen.
Snow, who sat across from her, had been studying Clair's expression for a while before finally breaking the silence, "Clair! What's wrong? Why are you looking at your phone like that?"
Clair rolled her eyes and tossed her phone aside before shaking her head, "It's nothing. Just someone annoying," she responded, picking up her drink from the table in front of her.
Jill, who sat to Clair&#x
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