“Yeah,” she said. “That works for me.”
It was the biggest night of her professional life, Talia thought three months later, as she wove, champagne flute in hand, through the glittering, black-tie crowd. She couldn’t dislodge the hard knot of fear in her throat.
For one thing, she could hardly believe that she was here in such an opulent setting, and no one was kicking her out. Candles flickered on giant candelabras. Giant arrangements of flowers—Casablanca lilies, gardenias, hydrangeas and other exotic blooms that looked as if they cost five dollars or more per stem—graced round bowls on every horizontal surface. Uniformed servers marched back and forth with trays filled with caviar points and lobster thingies that she didn’t know the names for, but she was too frazzled to eat. The general hubbub was intensified by the sounds of a jazz combo playing somewhere nearby, and she could feel the beginnings of a tension headache tightening the back of her neck. A single thought kept running through her mind: these might be Tony’s people, but they sure weren’t hers.
Still, they all went out of their way to make her feel welcome, and that was another thing that had her so rattled.
The kudos came from every direction, so many they made her head spin.
Someone touched her arm. Turning, she saw a well-known Manhattan socialite, a woman active on the board of the Museum of Modern Art and so wealthy that she could fly to Paris to order her spring wardrobe from the couture shows or write a six-figure check for a painting without breaking stride.
The woman’s beaming smile was barely visible over the blinding glare from her diamond choker. “The mural is stunning, darling. Brilliant job. I’d love to have you around for lunch one day next week. I have a wall in my apartment I’d like you to do something about. I’m going to look at my calendar and give you a call.”
Talia worked hard on being nonchalant and getting her bulging eyes back in her head. Was this what happened when the Davies family gave you their seal of approval? Millionaires suddenly knew your name, christened you with endearments and wanted to hire you?
“That’d be wonderful,” Talia managed to say. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The woman swooped in for an air kiss that breezed by Talia’s cheek, then continued on her way.
Talia tried to catch her breath.
Maybe if she ducked into the ladies’ room for a minute—
A prickle of awareness tingled down her bare arms, and she looked across the atrium, to Tony. Catching her eye, he winked. Smiled.
He stood with his family in front of the mural, and she knew he wanted her to meet the newcomers, including his sister, Arianna, and his fraternal twin, Sandro. And she would, in a minute.
For now, she needed a minute.
It would help if Gloria were here. The party was now in full swing and there was no sign of her, which didn’t bode well, as the two of them had never missed an important night in each other’s lives.
Maybe she should text her again, Talia thought, digging in her beaded bag for her cell phone as she skirted the crowd and edged into the ladies’ room. As expected, it was a decadent minispa for women, with expensive lotions and other personal items laid out on the counter for the guests’ use. It was also empty, which gave Talia the chance to—
A woman was crying quietly in the single stall. Her sister, Gloria, to be exact. There was no mistaking the familiar sobbing ah-ah-ah noise she made, and Talia ought to know because she’d heard the sound often enough since Gloria had taken up with that married bastard.
Talia sent up a quick prayer for empathy and patience, but none seemed forthcoming. This was just freaking great. As if she needed this drama on top of everything else.
“Gloria.” She tapped on the stall and tried to keep her voice in the soothing range. “It’s me. What happened, girl?”
The lock slid free and the door banged open, revealing a woman just this side of distraught. She also smelled yeasty, which would probably explain the empty champagne flute on the counter by the hair spray.
Oh, man. This was bad.
Talia put a hand on her arm and squeezed in what she hoped was a supportive manner. “Glo?”
Jerking free, Gloria stalked over to the console beneath the mirror to snatch a tissue from the box, no easy feat with her questionable blood alcohol level and four-inch heels. It would take more than a few little dabs to get rid of all that tarry black mascara, but she’d probably started out looking drop-dead gorgeous. She was in black, of course, a sleeveless and backless number that accented her legs and ass, and Gloria had plenty of both. But her eyes were bloodshot and her nose red and swollen. To top it all off, she couldn’t seem to catch her breath or control her shaking shoulders.