FALLING FOR SAKURA

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Published Date:31-07-2017
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FALLING FOR SAKURA BOOK 1 Alexia PraksPrologue The Throwaway Child Sayonara, my beautiful daughter. Mono no aware. You are like the sakura flower that blooms vibrantly in spring, just like this spring, so lovely and full of life and color. You are here in my life for only a short time, enchanting me with your innocent beauty and kind soul, and a brief moment later you are gone again, out of my life. Thus, I shall name you Sakura. I am sad, my darling daughter, to leave you behind. I am sad to never see you grow up, feel your love, or hear you call F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 me “Okasama.” But I am not a worthy mother. Thus, sayonara, my beautiful Sakura. Sakura, with no last name, was found in spring on the doorstep of Queen Mary Orphanage in a small town called South Hampton in St. Joseph Island. Her mother mysteriously disappeared after leaving the baby girl in a basket along with a note that said My daughter’s name is Sakura and a beautiful necklace with a pink diamond pendant in the shape of a cherry blossom. Sakura was a shy, quiet girl. Her childhood lacked the love and affection that one receives from one’s parents. From very early on, she knew she didn’t have a mother or a father and longed to have them. She did not interact much with the other children in the orphanage, knowing she looked different, having half-Caucasian and half-Asian blood, and therefore she was constantly picked on. Mrs. Byrd, the headmistress of the orphanage, didn’t like Sakura very much, and neither did her pretty little daughter, Tara Byrd, who was Sakura’s age and her worst nightmare. It was apparent from very early on that Tara was destined to be Sakura’s enemy. 2A L E X I A P R A K S The little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl enjoyed tormenting Sakura and making fun of her, isolating the girl from the rest and setting her as a target for her amusement. Tara knew she was pretty and everyone adored her. She had her mother and most of the staff at the orphanage wrapped around her little finger. Many times she would tell her mother, and everyone else for that matter, lies about Sakura. That Sakura worshiped heathen gods other than their Jesus Christ, spoke to the devil, stole food from the kitchen, bullied her or the younger children, and many more. Mrs. Byrd, always believing her beloved daughter, would punish Sakura many times, slapping the little girl on the cheeks, spanking her backside, taking away her toys and books, denying her meals, and making her kneel on the concrete floor in the church from midday until midnight without any food or water, all in order to teach her a lesson. Hence Sakura lived in the orphanage being bullied, hated, and ignored. Eventually, she grew accustomed to being alone and learned to endure the harassment. When she was told to pray to God for forgiveness for being a naughty girl, she 3F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 prayed instead she’d get adopted by a nice family who loved her and to leave this horrendous place where no one liked her. Then she’d daydream about it actually happening, about her going far away and living with her very own family. Every night she’d imagine, smile, and thank the Lord for making her dream come true before it actually happened. Such was the power of positive thinking, for Sakura’s dream did come true one day. The family she wanted to belong to appeared after she turned seven years old. It was during the summer, and the children of Queen Mary Orphanage were invited to have a picnic with the Princetons, the wealthiest family on St. Joseph Island and sponsors of the orphanage. Sakura knew the moment she stepped out of the bus and onto the neatly paved pathway and exotically beautiful garden that she wanted to be here. When she stared up at the enormous mansion like those castles in fairytale books, she sucked in her breath with pleasure. Her head spun in delight as she gazed up at the building that stretched high above her. “Whoa So pretty So big” the children 4A L E X I A P R A K S murmured with delight. And Sakura agreed with them. The man of the house came out to greet them. He was very handsome with silvery- gray eyes and golden-blond hair, very much like Tara’s hair that everyone loved. He had a nice smile on his face as he greeted every one of them, and Sakura felt her heart quicken with happiness as his eyes met hers. There was kindness within those eyes that Sakura had never received from anyone before. The man ushered the children to the large garden with a gentle, rolling lawn and magnolia trees, where delicious food and sweet drinks waited for them to enjoy. That was when the whole family came out, and Sakura instantly fell in love with them and knew she wanted to be with them. They were a big family, just like she’d always wanted, and she did her best learning their names when they were introducing themselves to everyone. The nice father’s name was James Princeton, and the pretty mother’s was Brenda Princeton. The oldest son was Nicolas, who was twelve years old and had golden- blond hair and silvery-gray eyes like his 5F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 father, complete with glasses. He looked kind and at the same time serious, just like his father. Then there were the ten-year-olds, nonidentical triplets: Tristan with golden- brown hair and teal-blue eyes, Logan with copper-brown hair and silvery-gray eyes, and Sebastian with pale-blond hair and azure-blue eyes. The boy with chestnut-brown hair and cobalt-blue eyes was eight-year-old Hayden. He had a mischievous look about him as he introduced himself. Next to Hayden were the nonidentical twins, Alaina and Darcy, at six years old. Alaina, the older sister by a mere three minutes, had honey-blond hair and baby blue eyes, and Darcy, the younger brother, had raven-black hair and mauve-gray eyes. And then there was the baby of the house, Conrad, at four years old, with golden- brown hair and silvery-gray eyes, hiding his face behind his mother’s skirt. Sakura couldn’t take her eyes off all of the children because they fascinated her. She felt a pang of longing as she watched them play with the other children, especially with pretty Tara. It wasn’t until late afternoon that Sakura became aware of one of the boys, Sebastian, 6A L E X I A P R A K S watching her. “Where are you from?” he asked. “You’re not from around here, are you?” Sakura shook her head as she gazed at him, marveling at his blond hair that glittered like white gold under the sun and his azure- blue eyes, the same color as the beautiful summer sky that shone and stretched endlessly beyond the horizon. She knew very well what he meant, for the majority of the population living on St. Joseph Island was white, and she, a half-bred little girl who’d been cast away by her own parents, was a rare specimen indeed. “Her mother threw her away when she was a baby,” Tara said behind Sebastian. “Mommy said she’s tainted, a devil’s daughter, and no one wants her.” Sakura felt her heart thumping furiously in response, her face flushing with shame. She felt like running away to hide because she didn’t want this beautiful boy to know she was a throwaway, a piece of rubbish no one wanted, not even her own mother or father. Perhaps Tara was right. Perhaps she was tainted. Perhaps she was a devil’s daughter, and that was why no one wanted her. “How could a mother throw her own 7F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 daughter away?” Nicolas asked. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his fine nose and made a frown very much like his father when he was contemplating something very important. “That’s just mean.” Tristan stepped toward her and pulled her hair. “Maybe you are the devil’s daughter. Your hair is so black.” “And your skin is so white,” Logan put in, pinching her cheek. Sakura whined. “If she’s the devil’s daughter,” Alaina butted in, “then we shouldn’t be playing with her. We shouldn’t be talking to her at all. She might give us the pox or something.” The pretty girl shivered and pulled a face. “Has she given you anything nasty yet, Tara?” Tara laughed. “No, not yet. Not unless nightmares count. Mama said she cries at night and it sounds like a ghost. So we shouldn’t talk to her at all. Otherwise, she’ll give us nightmares.” Alaina shivered and hugged Tara. “I don’t want nightmares. Go away, you devil witch. You’re a bad witch just like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.” Sebastian frowned at his sister. “Don’t be silly, Alaina. She’s no witch, and she won’t 8A L E X I A P R A K S give us nightmares. She’s just a little girl.” “Oh? How do you know for sure?” Alaina remarked. “You’re so skinny and short like a dwarf,” Hayden said. “But those dwarves in books aren’t that skinny like you.” Sakura blushed, feeling a bit overwhelmed at being the center of attention. She could feel herself shaking from nervousness and took a few steps back to get some space. “I think she looks like Snow White,” Darcy said. His hand reached out and stroked her hair. “Really black hair and really pale skin.” Sakura gasped at the intimate contact and turned to look at him, her eyes shining. No one had ever stroked her hair before, and for him to do so caused her heart to flutter with joy. Little Darcy grinned at her, his eyes sparkling as he moved his fingers to caress her face, marveling at the soft, pale skin. Sakura shyly returned his smile, liking his warmth and his gentle, feathery touches. Her wee heart glowed, and she felt warm all over. She wondered if this was what it felt like to have a real family, to have someone love you and care for you. Tara laughed hoarsely. “Don’t be silly, 9F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 Darcy. She’s ugly and a devil’s daughter. Don’t go near her.” She grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled him back, away from Sakura. Darcy glared at Tara. “Why’d you do that for?” “Just get away from her” Tara snapped, frowning darkly at Darcy. Darcy scowled. “I don’t want to. I like her.” “Darcy” Alaina shrieked. “How could you like her? She’s the devil’s daughter” “She’s not the devil’s daughter” Darcy replied firmly, taking Sakura by the hand. Tara looked as though she was about to scream her head off but held herself in check before she embarrassed herself in front of the Princeton siblings. “What’s your name?” Nicolas asked. Sakura was so conscious of Darcy’s warm hand clasping around hers that she didn’t hear Nicolas. When he patiently asked her again, she glanced up, licked her lips nervously, and said, “Sakura.” “Sa… What?” Hayden asked. “Sa-ku-ra,” Sakura said again. “What does it mean?” Tristan butted in, his head cocked to one side. Sakura shrugged her small shoulders and 10A L E X I A P R A K S lowered her head to avoid their gazes. She felt rather ashamed that she didn’t know what her name meant, but she was determined to find out once she got back to the orphanage. “That name is too hard to pronounce,” Logan said to himself. “Why don’t we give you another name? A nickname?” Sakura glanced up, her heart pounding with delight. Oh God, she thought. They are giving me a nickname. Does that mean they’re my friends? “Why would you give her a nickname?” Tara asked in annoyance. “Yeah Why?” Alaina shouted at her brother. “I want a nickname, too,” Tara demanded, furrowing her pretty brows. “Your name is easy to pronounce,” Sebastian said. “And it’s kind of short already.” “How about Sarah?” Nicolas suggested. “It’s a popular name, and it means princess.” Tara butted in instantly. “But she’s not a princess. She doesn’t even look like a princess. She’s a devil’s daughter.” “She looks like Snow White to me,” Darcy said again, smiling at Sakura. “We can call 11F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 her Snow or something.” “What? Just because she has black hair and pale skin?” Tara muttered unhappily. “She’s plain and ugly like Mommy said. So we should give her a plain and ugly name.” “Yes, we should do that,” Alaina said, nodding her head furiously. “What about Sally?” Sebastian suggested. “It sounds pretty close to Sa-ku… Sa-ku-ra.” “Yes, Sally sounds about right,” Tara said, nodding her head. “She is silly, after all, and it rhymes, I think. Sakura is a silly girl. Sally and silly.” She laughed loudly. “Silly Sally.” And so Sakura had a nickname that she herself did not have a vote in, and soon the children returned to their play and forgot all about her. Every night after that day, Sakura prayed the Princetons would adopt her into their family. Then one day her dream came true in the most bizarre way. The orphanage was on fire and the whole building burned down, killing Mrs. Byrd, though all of the children and staff escaped. After some hard and fast investigation by the police, it was found that Mrs. Byrd had been smoking in the kitchen while the gas was still on, thus leading to an explosion. 12A L E X I A P R A K S However, a rumor was spread that Sakura was actually responsible for starting the fire by leaving the oven gas turned on. Though she had done no such thing, she could not rebuke the claim that Tara and her friends made as witnesses to the whole ordeal. Soon Sakura found herself hated by everyone who knew her, and she lost all hope of an adoption. One week after the incident, James Princeton walked in, claiming that such a nice young girl couldn’t have done such a terrible thing, and since she had nowhere to go and no one would take her, he and his wife would adopt her. Sakura was so relieved and happy over this man’s kindness that, for the first time in her seven years, she cried in front of everyone. James wiped away her tears, told her everything would be all right, lifted her into his arms, and took her home to his family. 13Chapter 1 Sakura, the Lonely Flower Sakura Princeton stroked the strands of her long tresses away from her face. The glossy locks refused to obey her and fell back in place. She muttered under her breath and tossed them back, bunching up the curls and letting them fall to one side of her slender shoulder. Then she turned just so to the right to get into a good position, lifted the camera up to her eyes, and when she thought the lighting was as good as it was going to get, she clicked on the record button. Click Click A L E X I A P R A K S Click Just then a gust of wind blew, loosening her hair and fluttering it about. She, however, paid no heed to this as she was too consumed with what she was doing. It’s perfect Just what she needed. Countless cherry blossom petals were flying all around her like rain. Click Click Click It was so beautiful, wildflowers and cherry blossoms in the woods giving out myriads of colors. It’d be perfect for her painting. She took a step back in order to take in the whole picture—cherry blossoms, leaves, trees, and wildflowers in the background. Once she thought she’d taken enough photos, she lowered the camera and smiled with satisfaction. “You’re going to be my bestseller this week,” she said, tapping her finger on the petal. “And I thank you for that.” Then she imagined the digits increasing in her bank account—and yes, that also meant her plan to go overseas was getting closer to reality too. She turned to pick up her bag, tossed it over her shoulder, and headed back toward the road as she hummed to herself. Woof Woof Woof Sakura felt something soft grazing against 15F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 her legs. She glanced down and saw a cute dog with fluffy white fur and large black eyes watching her, begging for her attention. The West Highland white terrier barked her a happy greeting. “Where have you been, Toby?” she greeted back. “I told you not to go too far. You might get lost. What if I couldn’t find you? What would you do then? You’d become an orphan.” Sakura knew exactly what it was like to be an orphan. It was a most terrible feeling to have no one to share your love, your fear, your happiness, or your experiences. It was a lonely existence, and no one deserved that. “You wouldn’t want that now, would you?” she queried Toby as she bent down to pick him up. The dog stuck out his tongue and licked her cheek. She couldn’t help herself and giggled. The fact was Sakura really loved Toby since it was she who had found him half- buried in the snow in the depths of the woods three winters ago. The pup was lost and very sick, having been abandoned by his owner who had left St. Joseph Island and never returned. If it hadn’t been for her, Toby could’ve died from starvation and 16A L E X I A P R A K S hypothermia. The pup, later named Toby by Sakura herself, had known it had been Sakura who saved him and had taken a liking to her immediately, doting on her and following her wherever she went. “Don’t” She told him off. The dog looked somewhat disappointed as he tried to lick her again. “It’s your fault for not listening to me, Toby.” She returned him to the ground. “Now then, I think it’s time to head back. I do have many more things to do before dinner.” She paused, looking up at the beautiful spring sky; her eyes narrowed against the bright sunlight. “And then there’s Saturday.” She frowned, and her heart skipped a beat. Saturday would come all too soon, the day when everyone would be arriving for the wedding and the holiday. There’d be so many people Sakura didn’t know. But of course that didn’t matter. What really mattered—and what really worried her—was the fact that her adopted brothers—all seven of them—would be coming as well since it was their cousin Mary’s wedding. Sakura cocked her head to one side as she thought about the brothers. There were the very responsible, father-like figure Nicolas; 17F A L L I N G F O R S A K U R A , V O L . 1 the very popular, mischievous triplets Tristan, Logan, and Sebastian; the disobedient, bad- boy Hayden; the smart, arrogant Darcy, who disliked her most since those unfortunate incidents thirteen years ago; and lastly nice, sincere Conrad. Of course she couldn’t really forget about Tara, Alaina, and their big-city friends. They’d no doubt only be too happy to be back and make Sakura’s life as miserable as possible. But Sakura too had grown up into a fine woman with strong will. Or so Daddy James told her many times. Hence, come hell or high water, Sakura wasn’t going to put up with their nastiness this time. After all, she had her own life and her own plans for the future to worry about and therefore had no time for their bull. As she breathed in the fresh spring air and strolled along the woodland, a thought suddenly struck her. She nibbled her lower lip, her eyes gazing off into the far distance to the sea beyond. Would they still remember her, though? She scoffed at the thought immediately. Of course not If they remembered anything about her at all, it was probably the pranks they had played on her and the many 18A L E X I A P R A K S scoldings they had received from Daddy James and Mom Brenda because of her. Not that she’d ever been the one who told on them. It had always been pretty Tara, who was also adopted by the Princetons, and Alaina who had been the masterminds behind everything. Then they’d all gone off to boarding school—the boys to St. Michael’s Boarding School for Boys, one of the most prestigious schools in America, and Tara and Alaina to Princess Margaret’s Boarding School for Girls, also one of the most prestigious schools in America. Not very long after, Sakura too had gone off to St. Helensburgh Boarding School for Girls where she met her friends Mary Collins, who also turned out to be the boys’ cousin from their mother’s side, and Katherine Hodge, a girl from a good family who also lived on St. Joseph Island. She, Mary, and Katherine had many lovely times together, helping each other with schoolwork and enjoying each other’s company, both in and out of school. Back then, during the holidays, Sakura would stay with the Collinses at their farm in California, enjoying her times there with Mary, Katherine, and Mary’s brother, Richard. 19

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