Jaci Brookes-Lyon walked across the art deco, ridiculously ornate lobby of the iconic Forrester-Grantham Hotel on Park Avenue to the bank of elevators flanked by life-size statues of 1930s cabaret dancers striking dance poses. She stopped next to one, touching the smooth, cool shoulder with her fingertips.

Sighing through pursed lips, she looked at the dark-eyed blonde staring back at her in the supershiny surface of the elevator doors in front of her. Short, layered hair in a modern pixie cut, classic, fitted cocktail dress, perfect makeup, elegant heels. She looked good, Jaci admitted. Sophisticated, assured and confident. Maybe a tad sedate but that could be easily changed.

What was important was that the mask was in place. She looked like the better, stronger, New York version of herself, the person she wanted to be. She appeared to be someone who knew where she was going and how she was going to get there. Pity, Jaci thought, as she pushed her long bangs out of a smoky eye, that the image was still as substantial as a hologram.

Jaci left the elevator and took a deep breath as she walked across the foyer to the imposing double doors of the ballroom. Here goes, she thought. Stepping into the room packed with designer-dressed men and women, she reminded herself to put a smile on her face and to keep her spine straight. Nobody had to know that she’d rather stroll around Piccadilly Circus naked than walk into a room filled with people she didn’t know. Her colleagues from Starfish were here somewhere. She’d sat with them earlier through the interminably long awards ceremony. Her new friends, Wes and Shona, fellow writers employed by Starfish, had promised to keep her company at her first film industry after-party, and once she found them she’d be fine. Between now and then, she just had to look as if she was having fun or, at the very least, happy to be surrounded by handsome men and supersophisticated women. Dear Lord, was that Candice Bloom, the multiple Best Actress award winner? Was it unkind to think that she looked older and, dare she even think it, fatter in real life?

Jaci took a glass of champagne from a tray that wafted past her and raised the glass for a taste. Then she clutched it to her chest and retreated to the side of the room, keeping an eye out for her coworkers. If she hadn’t found them in twenty minutes she was out of there. She spent her entire life being a wallflower at her parents’ soirees, balls and dinner parties, and had no intention of repeating the past.

“That ring looks like an excellent example of Georgian craftsmanship.”

Jaci turned at the voice at her elbow and looked down into the sludge-brown eyes of the man who’d stepped up to her side. Jaci blinked at his emerald tuxedo and thought that he looked like a frog in a shiny suit. His thin black hair was pulled back off his forehead and was gathered at his neck in an oily tail, and he sported a silly soul patch under his thin, cruel mouth.

Jaci Brookes-Lyon, magnet for creepy guys, she thought.

He picked up her hand to look at her ring. Jaci tried to tug it away but his grip was, for an amphibian, surprisingly strong. “Ah, as I thought. It’s an oval-faceted amethyst, foiled and claw-set with, I imagine, a closed back. The amethyst is pink and lilac. Exquisite. The two diamonds are old, mid-eighteenth century.”

She didn’t need this dodgy man to tell her about her ring, and she pulled her hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it on her cinnamon-shaded cocktail dress. Ugh. Creep factor: ten thousand.

“Where did you get the ring?” he demanded, and she caught a flash of dirty, yellow teeth.

“It’s a family heirloom,” Jaci answered, society manners too deeply ingrained just to walk off and leave him standing there.

“Are you from England? I love your accent.”


“I have a mansion in the Cotswolds. In the village Arlingham. Do you know it?”

She did, but she wouldn’t tell him that. She’d never manage to get rid of him then. “Sorry, I don’t. Would you exc—”

“I have a particularly fine yellow diamond pendant that would look amazing in your cleavage. I can just imagine you wearing that and a pair of gold high heels.”

Jaci shuddered and ruthlessly held down a heave as he ran his tongue over his lips. Seriously? Did that pickup line ever work? She picked his hand off her hip and quickly dropped it.

She wished she could let rip and tell him to take a hike and not give a damn. But the Brookes-Lyon children had been raised on a diet of diplomacy and were masters of the art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they immediately started planning the best route to get there. Well, Neil and Meredith were. She normally just stood there with a mouth full of teeth.