Lured into Love (Blossom in Winter #2) by Melanie Martins



Prologue





Rotterdam, August 20, 2020

Tess Hagen





“Tess, they are ready to start,” Carice announces from the doorway of the terrace.

Standing alone in the living room, I check my appearance once more in the mirror as I stretch the hem of my beige blazer. I’m not sold on the color though—with my blonde hair, I don’t think it suits me. Nevertheless, Carice kept insisting that Von Der Leyen—the European Commission president—was wearing beige on TV and she looked flawless. Well, in my opinion, Carice spends too much time watching the news and flattering politicians. But that’s her thing—Carice is an observer, picky to the bone with details, and the best lawyer we have at my nonprofit. She is also my friend, my adviser, and the shoulder I lean on to cry when days are too hard to handle. “I’ll be there in a minute,” I reply before she returns to the terrace.

Turning fifty-three in ten days is no easy task, but it’s even worse when your only child has been in a coma for nearly six months, while you are here living—or surviving—on the other side of the Atlantic.

Oh, my little angel…

It’s hard not to give up, not to fall into a deep state of depression like the one I was in after I found my daughter in March, lying in bed, unconscious, somewhere between life and death. The steep pain I felt in my chest is still there—and it’s just as intense, raw, and merciless. Since then, I’ve been able to visit her in Bedford Hills only once a month, and under close supervision of the two men I despise the most. Mind you, from the global pandemic to the riots, they’ve tried all the excuses in the world for me not to travel there. But a deal is a deal: I’ve flown private and have managed to see my daughter at least once a month. Despite it all, I don’t lose hope. One day, my little angel will wake up. One day, I’ll see her big blue eyes again. And one day, Van Dieren will be gone. Petra will live a happy, healthy life—a life far away from him. But for now, I can’t let my depression come back to haunt me. Advocacy and politics are good distractions—and interviews like this one too. Taking a deep breath, I leave the living room and head to the outdoor terrace where the TV crew, Kenneth—the reporter—and Carice are waiting.

It’s a warm, bright summer afternoon, and the natural light is fantastic, but I don’t see any fans around to bring a much-needed breeze. Although the sun keeps beaming on my face, I take a seat in front of Kenneth, while an assistant pins the small microphone onto my blazer.

Oh, he is only wearing a shirt, maybe I should ditch the blazer. I look at Carice briefly, but her face tells me nothing. She likes this blazer so much though. Trusting her as I do, I decide to keep it on.

“Are you still sure about this?” Kenneth asks me once more, appearing more anxious than I am.

“Yes, of course.” I disguise my torment with an assertive tone and find myself smiling at the glass of water sitting on the table.

Kenneth grins too. But I know it’s because of the interview. After all, he hates Julia and the Van Dieren family as much as I do. Kenneth is one of those rare souls that isn’t corrupted or impressed by money, status, or power. In fact, he couldn’t care less about those things. I wish Petra would be more like him—less impressionable. As an investigative journalist, Kenneth has uncovered pretty scandalous stories and brought many influential people to account for their crimes. Let’s just say he’s our country’s version of Ronan Farrow. Now his focus is on the Van Dierens and everyone surrounding them. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to give him a hand.

“It’s recording,” informs the man behind the camera.

And here we go…

“Ms. Hagen, many thanks for having us on your beautiful property.”

“Thank you, Kenneth. It’s a pleasure having you here.”

“As one of the most—if not the most—influential activists in the country, you’ve recently been in a court battle advocating justice for Leonor De Vries—wife of the prominent industrialist, Jan De Vries—who was victim of marital rape. Thanks to your help, the court sentenced him to two years in jail, but unfortunately the penalty is now suspended as he appeals to the court of second instance. Given the fact that this case is now in the hands of the most conservative judge in the country, do you believe we will still get justice for the victim?”

“To be honest, I’m particularly worried. It’s definitely not a good idea to give such cases to judges who have a tendency to overlook facts and to conclude that there isn’t enough evidence. I just hope Julia Van Den Bosch won’t withdraw the penalty imposed on the assaulter. This is a serious case of domestic violence, and the judiciary system cannot take it lightly.”