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The plot unfolds as Anna decides to redefine her professional trajectory, leaving behind not only a long-standing relationship but also her comfort zone. The stage for this transformation is the vibrant city of London, where the protagonist seeks not just a geographical change but a profound reinvention of her life. Confronting the dynamics of her new home, where she now lives with her mother and stepfather, the arrival of Leonardo Van der Wood, her unexpected half-brother, emerges as an intriguing challenge. Leonardo, a being shrouded in an aura of mystery and complexity, embodies all the elements that Anna has always sought to avoid. His presence casts shadows over the path she has chosen, initiating a series of questions and reflections that challenge her understanding of the world. The relationship between Anna and Leonardo becomes the epicenter of her uncertainties as she strives to decipher the enigmatic nature of her half-brother. The daily coexistence with someone so mysterious raises a crucial question: Can Anna escape Leonardo's attempts to have her?

Chapter 1

Carter

Upon encountering the majestic mansion, I was left speechless. It was simply enormous. When my mother mentioned she had married her high school sweetheart, I imagined someone from our social circle, not the owner of a mansion in the heart of London.

I spent about 30 seconds admiring the entire facade of what would be my new residence before being enveloped in a hug filled with four years of missed moments, as my mother described it, after insisting that she let go of me.

This was my debut in London, actually it was my first time outside the United States, and apparently, I was here to stay. After my mother's wedding, she began asking me to move to London so that we could live together, along with her new husband and his son, whom I hadn't had the chance to meet yet. Initially, I refused to do so because it seemed pointless. I had lived my entire life in New York, and I had a six-year relationship that I left behind after my mother secured a position for me as a Modern Literature professor at the University of London, where she had also been teaching economics for five years.

It was a tough choice, but the truth is that my relationship with Ethan had become, at the very least, monotonous. We started dating when I was 19, and since then, we never parted ways until the day we just became part of each other's routine. I won't lie and say that I didn't cry, because I cried a lot, but I believe the main reason for my tears was when I realized I no longer saw him in the same way. It was strange because I loved him, but I didn't love the person in front of me. So leaving him behind in the past was not as devastating as I imagined. If that makes any sense...

"Anna, sweetheart! I've missed you so much!" my mother hugged me once again while the driver took my bags out of the car, and I must add... what a car!

"Mom, please!" I grumbled, being enveloped by her arms. "You're squeezing me."

"These are hugs of 4 years of longing, Anna! I'm your mother, let me!"

I gave a smile masked by discomfort and let myself be shaken like a puppet for a few more seconds until my handsome stepfather appeared at the top of the stairs leading to the entrance of the house.

"Anna! It's a pleasure to finally be able to meet you in person," Michael smiled openly as he descended the flight of stairs that separated us.

"Hello!" I sounded shy.

"Give a hug to Michael,honey!" my mother encouraged me before her husband pulled me into my third hug of the day.

By that time, I should be completely disheveled. I hated being hugged, and I knew that if I voiced it out loud, I would be judged, but the truth was that I hated it, and I was making a considerably large effort not to show my discomfort.

When Michael let me go, I could finally catch a glimpse of how tall and handsome he was. His hair was dark, with some graying strands that gave him charm. He had a strong and angelic profile, if that's even possible, and his eyes were of a mesmerizing green. It wasn't hard to understand why my mother was so in love every time she talked about him in our video calls, and if he was as kind as he seemed, my mother had hit the jackpot.

I was guided to explore the entire house, from the magnificent hall to the garden with a pool, and that took almost half an hour. My mother made sure not to let any room escape, and when we finally reached the door of what would be my room, she decided to create suspense.

"I must confess that I spent a good amount of time looking for the right decorator to help me with your room, and I know you're overwhelmed because so far everything you've seen has nothing to do with the life we had in New York, but I assure you that I made every possible and imaginable effort to make this room your special place."

I raised my eyebrows, kind of wanting to laugh a little at her speech. "Mom, you can relax, okay? I'm not 15 anymore, and yes! This is an abrupt change, but you also gave me the opportunity for a new life here, and I intend to grab it. I know I showed myself very reluctant at first, but you can be calm; I came intending to stay..."

She smiled and took a deep breath before hugging me for the twentieth time that day.

"Mom, please..." I shook off the tightness of her hug.

"Some things never change, huh?" she laughed at my discomfort before letting me go. "Oh! This one in front is Leonardo's room." She pointed to the door in front of my new room. "He's not home yet; he only arrives later. Probably, you'll only meet him at the party."

Ah, the party... I almost forgot about the party... Today, my stepfather was celebrating two decades of a career as a judge, and he had invited a significant portion of London's elite to celebrate this occasion at his mansion.

"Alright," I agreed, trying not to show my lack of enthusiasm.

Without delay, my mother opened the door to what would be my room from now on, and I couldn't help but form a big "O" of admiration when I entered. It was perfect.

She knew me too well, it was obvious from the choice of wallpaper to the light-colored cushions and carpets that gave my room a cozy and elegant look.

"It's perfect," I assured her, with a smile on my lips.

"Do you like it? If you want, I can change some things."

"No, Mom, it's perfect," I repeated, now looking at her. "There's absolutely nothing I want to change."

She showed me the wardrobe, filled with new clothes I never even dreamed of having. They were expensive brands, some I didn't even know, but the price tags revealed luxury in all those pieces.

"I made sure to choose all these clothes, but as I told you before, if there's anything you don't like, we can always buy new clothes."

Even if I didn't like half of the pieces there, I bet I still had more clothes than I ever had in one wardrobe or two.

I reassured her about everything and thanked her once again. She stayed in the room with me for another twenty minutes until she realized that I needed to rest a bit if I wanted to be present at the party later. She didn't leave without bringing me a dress to wear to the party, and then she hugged me as if her hugs hadn't been enough. Finally, she left me alone, and I lay down.

Imagine living in the setting of Gossip Girl! That's exactly how I felt as I descended the stairs to the first floor of the Van der Wood mansion. All that was missing was someone shouting, "LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!"

Now, I genuinely felt like an outsider in that lavish environment. Wherever I looked, I thought, "I just saw the most beautiful woman ever." It was Impossible not to feel intimidated amidst all those beautiful and important people. People who were curious to meet the "new daughter" of Judge Michael Van der Wood.

I took a deep breath before leaving the last step that separated me from the first floor and nervously ran my hands over the black satin dress my mother had left in my room. I must admit I felt extremely elegant. The dress was long and patternless. Its beauty was concentrated on the completely open back. So open that I couldn't even wear underwear without it being visible. My brown, wavy hair was loose, falling over one shoulder, drawing even more attention to my back, adorned with small tattoos or, as my mother liked to call them, stamps. I looked around for the only familiar face, but I couldn't find my mother anywhere.

"Lost?" my stepfather appeared next to me.

"Is it that obvious?" I smiled a little embarrassed to admit it.

Michael offered me his hand to accompany him. I accepted it, a little reluctantly.

"I'll take you to your mother so you can be introduced by her to our friends. I believe that'll be less boring for you!"

I immediately felt relieved. "Thank you."

My mother looked stunning. She wore a long navy blue dress, and her hair was tied in a braided bun. It was the first time I saw her so beautiful and radiant. Her smile infected anyone she spoke to, and I couldn't help but smile myself as I approached.

"My Anna!" she exclaimed a bit too loudly, drawing curious looks to me. "Daughter, that dress looks superb on you."

"Thank you, Mom," I gave a smile of obvious discomfort. "You look beautiful too."

"Christy, Jonnas, this is my daughter!"

I smiled at a woman of medium height, short blond hair, and a scarlet red dress. The man, whom I assumed to be her husband, had graying hair, glasses, and a funny mustache. He wasn't very tall either, and he wore a black tuxedo with a red pocket square, matching his wife's dress.

"Anna! I've heard wonderful things about you, my dear," the woman smiled, displaying the whitest teeth I had ever seen.

"Coming from my mother doesn't surprise me at all. She was never spared from compliments."

"She’s my only daughter, what more can you expect from me?"

"Our Liam is also an only child, Elaine!" Christy exclaimed. "And still, I praise him a third of what you praise Anna."

"There's not much to praise about him, to be honest!" Jonnas commented before receiving a disapproving look from his wife. "It's true, Christy. Liam might be my son, but that doesn't make him perfect, much less an example to follow."

I felt a cloud of tension settling there, but fortunately, it didn't last long. My mother found a way to change the subject, making the couple start telling me their life story, from the moment they met and fell in love to the construction of their real estate empire. They were the owners of one of the largest real estate companies in the country, Hill’s House, and from what I understood, they had been friends with the Van der Wood family for several years.

After my third glass of champagne and at least twenty more new faces, I realized I needed to take refuge for a moment. First, because dinner had not yet been served, and the alcohol was already affecting me, and second, I urgently needed to use the bathroom.

I wandered down a corridor, thinking it was the right one, and walked to the end, only to realize that I was probably in the wrong wing of the mansion. "How can I not find a bathroom in such a big house?" I complained quietly. I sighed in distress as my bladder contorted, and with every step, I felt its pleas.

Until I finally found it! I ran the distance to the slightly open bathroom door, but I was stopped by what my eyes witnessed. My heart raced as I saw a tall man with wavy black hair in an intimate situation with a woman who seemed to be one of the maids. Their mouths kissed passionately. His hands explored the woman's body, fingers digging into her skin. I was completely shocked, but I couldn't move from there until she noticed my presence and called the man's attention to stop.

I closed the door immediately. I was so nervous that all I could think of was getting out of there fast. I sprinted out of the corridor, almost stumbling in my high heels, as if I had witnessed a murder.

Anguish propelled me, but I didn't allow myself to look back to check if anyone was following. My only mission was to find my mother, who fortunately was quickly spotted. She was preparing to sit at one of the many tables that stretched across the hall. The desire to leave that place, away from the disturbing situation, was the only thought on my mind.

"Anna, are you okay?"

"Yes, why?" – I sat down without even confirming if this was my actual seat.

"You look frightened." – she commented – "I believe it might be a bit much for you. Many faces in such a short time."

I twisted my face into a silly grimace, but I think my mother didn't notice. In front of me was a placard that said Anna Carter, and I smiled in relief because I was sitting in the right place.

"Leo!" – my mother exclaimed – "Come meet Anna!"

I looked at my mother, who stood up to greet him with open arms, and I stood up too.

If my eyes didn't betray me, then it was my jaw, which almost hit the floor when I saw that he was the same man who was getting intimate with the maid in the bathroom.

He embraced my mother, covering her completely, he was so tall.

"Anna, this is Leonardo, Michael's son."

His emerald green eyes met mine, and the feeling of recognition gave me the certainty that he had seen me when I fled.

"Nice to meet you, Anna." – he took my hand to kiss it - "I was eager to meet you in person."

I didn't say anything. In fact, I think at that moment I couldn't say anything. I nodded foolishly and tried to produce something that sounded like 'pleasure is all mine', but it sounded more like a strange grunt.

"Sit down, Leo, you'll be at our table next to Anna." – I froze immediately - "I'll call your father, or at this rate, we'll only start dinner tomorrow."

I saw my mother leave the table, leaving me alone with my new half-brother who, unlike me, seemed unshakably calm.

I adjusted my dress, avoiding eye contact, but then a hand rested on mine, and I was forced to face those green eyes that disconcerted me.

"Can I call you Annie, or do you prefer Anna?" – his smile revealed how much he was enjoying all this.

I cleared my throat before speaking – β€œAnna seems more appropriate." – I replied, pulling my hand from under his.

"Pity." – he said, looking at my hand hiding under the table – "Annie sounds more intimate."

I felt my face flush with embarrassment. I didn't know if it was the alcohol or his presence, maybe a mixture of everything, but I felt completely exposed.

Chapter 2

"Van der Wood"

I left the bathroom just in time to catch a glimpse of the tattooed back of the one who had just caught me having an affair with the maid. She fled so quickly that it almost seemed as if she was the one who had just been caught doing something she shouldn't.

I chuckled quietly before returning to the bathroom.

"Do you think she'll say anything?" Beatrice buttoned her shirt hastily. "I need the money! If she blabs, I'll be fired!"

I looked at myself in the mirror, adjusting my hair with my hands. "Don't be naive," I said, locking eyes with her arrogantly. "I hired you. Besides..." I ignored her attempt to pull me in for one last kiss. "She's probably just someone's escort; I've never seen her before."

My response seemed to relax her a bit more.

I told her to wait a couple of minutes so that no one would notice we had left the same bathroom

Heroes

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