Miami, Florida. Or, to me, Hell on Earth. I glared around at the sunshine and the palm trees and wondered yet again, why my darling father had decided I HAD to come ‘home’. What a colossal joke. ‘Home’ was a boarding school in Switzerland. ‘Home’ was a chateau in Paris. ‘Home’ was being surrounded by paid help, not a person sharing my blood in the bunch. Not this. Glaring sunlight and palm trees without the refreshing breeze I’d come to expect from the south of France. Honestly, why would that man assume this would be ‘home’?
“Elizabeth,” my father’s voice, would I ever grow accustomed to hearing it nearby instead of over a static filled international phone line?
“Yes, Father?” I asked, knowing that my own accent was far more cultured than his. It was what he bought and paid for with that boarding school education, after all.
His smile was charming, I supposed. I wasn’t used to his face anymore than his voice. I knew, from the whispers of the other girls at my schools, that my father was notorious. Or he would be, if more people realized that he was “The Butcher”. I wondered if he’d had a hand in my own mother’s death? An internal shrug, I knew my mother as well as I knew him, not at all. I knew my nannies better.
“‘Father’, I like that.” Internal groan at his smugness, and the lusty look he shot my new ‘step mother’, Lily. She was my age, or nearly. “Come here, sweetheart.” A term of endearment he’d used during weekly calls with me. A term that sounded no less foreign here than it had on a phone call. I walked closer and sat in the lounge chair he’d indicated, keeping my eyes firmly affixed on his, since my new ‘mommy’ was completely naked.
“Yes?” I asked, eyes on his, as I knew he was studying me as much as I did him. I was as foreign to him as he was to me. When was the last time we’d been in the same room? When I was born? Surely not. I had to have been a bit older, the schools and nannies wouldn’t have taken charge of me immediately, would they?
“How are you liking Miami?” As though my constant irritation wasn’t clear as a bell? I tried to smile, but it felt forced even to me.
“It’s hot.” I offered, true, yet noncommittal at the same time. “There isn’t a breeze to be had, is there?”
He laughed, but I stayed as stiffly seated and careful. Even if I’d never met him, even if we weren’t blood, a fool would see how dangerous he was, even if I was his child. “That it is, my dear, that it is.” I waited. Clearly he wanted to expound on why I was here. Surely I’d get an explanation. “You’re home, Elizabeth, because it’s time your expensive education was put to use.” What? How was my finishing school education helpful here? Amidst this stark, bright fake paradise?
“Confused?” I simply waited for him to continue. “Of course you are.” He leaned forward, causing HER form to fill my gaze for a moment before he was so close that all I could see was him. Thankful for that at least, I focused on my father. “You, Elizabeth Diamond, are my crowning jewel. Kept from the stain of business. Kept from the stain of MY business. You were raised by the finest caregivers that money could buy. You went to the best schools money could pay for. Just so you could sit in front of me, with the posture of a cultured woman, looking down your nose at me. You’re perfect. Just like I paid for you to be.”
I felt the ire of twenty years come roaring to my being. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to fight him. I wanted to cause the damage that a father’s neglect had caused. But I didn’t. Because he was correct. I was raised to be better than that. To be better than him.
I took a walk. My father had told me what he expected. He’d dismissed me, and I took that dismissal willingly. Away from him. Away from his newest wife. Away from that house with its gate and its over the top opulence.
I was walking down another street, paying no mind to where I was heading or where I’d come from, thinking that worse case scenario I’d just call my erstwhile father’s home and have someone come fetch me when I grew tired. I came to the hotel, the resort by complete accident. How would I have found it on purpose? I hadn’t been in Miami for over forty eight hours. Knowing where the Miramar Playa was, much less its import to my father was beyond me at that point. Yet find it I did.
And I watched as the tall, dark man punched the protester. Watched as he looked supremely unconcerned as he walked back inside. Watched as he turned and caught my eye briefly.
I had my purse. I was dressed more than well enough to go inside for a drink. And so I did. I walked to the front doors and smiled as that same man held the door for me.
“Welcome to-” He stared, his voice so deep I felt it in my bones.
“The Miramar Playa?” I offered, smiling up at him. “I can read, mister?”
His smile made dimples appear in his cheeks, taking him from slightly dangerous to devilishly handsome. “Evans. Ike Evans. The owner of this fine establishment, miss?”
“Diamond.” His eyes widened and I knew that in Miami, my new home, my name was WELL known. “Elizabeth Diamond.” I held out my hand, gloved as a lady was supposed to, and waited. “It doesn’t bite, Mr. Evans.” He took it with a small chuckle. “Pleasure to meet you, is there a restaurant?” I looked around curiously.
“Of course.” He tucked my hand into the crook of his arm and walked me further inside. “Allow me.”
Ike Evans took me to the inside dining area, clearly realizing that dining outside would cause me to melt, quite literally. I’d worn a fashionable dress, with the stockings, heels, gloves, and hat that went with it. But honestly, in southern Miami it seemed too much. I’d have to reevaluate my wardrobe. Making sure I was comfortable, he left me, and I was left to my own inner turmoil.
A drink, and lunch, had me feeling marginally better. My father expected me to perform, but how? I’d been raised to be a lady, pure and simple. Not to act as some pawn in a game I didn’t understand. Yet, here I was, at his mercy. And that made my blood run cold.
I left the money for the check, and recalling that one of the other American girls at school mentioned that tipping was required stateside, I left what I hoped was enough. Double the check seemed fair. Pulling on my gloves and taking up my clutch, I walked out of the restaurant.
“Leaving so soon?” Mr. Evans asked, and I smiled up at him. “I haven’t had a chance to show you the hotel.”
“What would warrant such service, Mr. Evans?” I asked, honestly curious.
“Ike.” I nodded. “I like showing her off.” He glanced around himself at the lobby, and I had to fight a laugh. Like a little boy showing a drawing off.
“Lead away, Ike.” He tucked my hand into the crook of his arm again and gave me the tour. By the end of it, I’d agreed to allow him to call me Liz. Something only friends did, my father didn’t even get the memo. He showed me the beach, the outdoor eating establishment, he even showed me a ‘sample room’. He talked to me as though I mattered and I realized this made him a wonderful businessman. The ability to make anyone feel important was rare. And worked like a charm. He’d brought me back to the lobby when I noticed my father’s driver waiting. A sigh built up until I couldn’t hold back. “Seems I’m being summoned.” I glanced at the driver and saw he looked as comfortable with the situation as I was. “Thank you for the tour, Mr. Evans.” We had an audience, and we both knew it.
“Of course, Miss Diamond.” He let me pull my hand free and took it in his own. “Let me know if you wish to dine with us again, I’ll reserve the table of your choice.”
A nod of assent, and then I walked to the driver. “I suppose you’ve come to collect me.” It was as tired and irritated as I could feel in public, which wasn’t a great deal. “Let’s go.”