AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
B&N / KOBO / APPLE BOOKS
“This is quite the reunion then.”
“One I would have avoided if possible.”
“You said you have business to discuss? I’m so intrigued.”
His facetiousness, which was once fun, has now turned biting. We’re on opposite
sides, no longer partners in crime.
“I want to meet Mr. Nilsson, and you’re going to introduce
“I don’t know who Nilsson is. And he doesn’t go by Mr. Nilsson.”
I sigh at the obvious misstep. He knows what he’s
“If you don’t know him then how do you know he doesn’t go by
“You said you don’t know him, so how do you know the
nomenclature he prefers?”
“All staff are briefed on the host.”
“And you’re just a regular, nobody, member of the staff.”
“Yes. That’s me—”
“Sir!” A young man in a waiter’s tux bursts through the
patio doors. “The caterer is freaking out. She can’t find her late-night peanut
butter and jelly puff pastries.”
“Why are you asking me?” he asks stiffly without looking
away from me. “Why would I know where the caterer’s puff pastries are?”
The kid looks like the waiter is a world-class idiot and
speaks very slowly, a thick New York accent peeking out.
“Because you’re the chief of staff, which you made us repeat
back to you three times in a row. In unison.”
He glances at me, and I raise my eyebrow, a victorious but
He turns back to the boy, clearing his throat.
“Tell the caterer to check the walk-in in the second
kitchen. Some of the overflow went there.”
“Thanks.” The kid is gone as fast as he arrived.
Kai’s expression is as innocent as a newborn baby taking a
“Surely the chief of staff, the representative
of the man of the house, knows and has met his boss.”
He folds his hand behind his back, rocks on his feet.
“Even if I do know Nilsson a little, why would I agree to
arrange a meeting?”
“Because I have something he wants.”
“And what’s that?”
“A life away from the spotlight. Away from the people he
hates. An easy life with no expectations.”
He stops moving, his eyes narrowing. “What exactly are you
“Just that. A proposal. Of marriage.”
He stares at me, his eyes wide, and then he laughs. I knew
he would, the idea so outrageous and outdated. But I have my sources, and I
know Nilsson is as desperate as I am. I keep my expression neutral, unaffected
by his reaction.
“There are at least a hundred women,” he says, finally
composing himself, “inside that ballroom that want to provide what you’re
suggesting. What makes you think you have anything to offer? Your family
reputation is tarnished, thanks to that article. What advantage could you give
He’s listening. Time for my pitch.
“Those women come with rules and expectations. They want his
name and the privilege that brings. They want him at their side at galas,
showing him off like a fucking engagement ring or a puppy with a diamond
“What do you come with?”
“Freedom. The freedom for Nilsson to do whatever the fuck he
wants. Stay holed up in this mansion. Travel the world. Never see me, not once.
I’ll agree to anything he wants, as long as I get what I want.”
“He’s already free. He’s richer than Croesus—”
“Which I hear will change if he doesn’t marry by the end of
If silence could kill, Kai’s weapon of choice would be made
of a narrow looks.
“How do you know that?”
Play it cool. Hook him and trap him.
“I have my sources.”
We face off for a moment, the tension riding us, stirring
us. Eventually he shrugs, acting nonchalant.
“It doesn’t matter. Even with that knowledge, you don’t have
anything special to offer. You don’t know him, and he doesn’t
want just anyone.”
“You’re right. No one knows him or what he wants. I don’t
know what happened to him after his parents’ death, what made him the way he is
now. Maybe he’s disfigured or crippled or just really really shy. Maybe he’s a
drag queen by night, and he knows at least a quarter of the men and women in
there won’t give to his charities anymore if they discover his true self. I
don’t know why, and I don’t need to know. I don’t care. I want one thing.”
He doesn’t ask, and I don’t wait for him to. I don’t need
his permission or his acknowledgment.
You don’t own me.
“I want the money.”
He takes a step back, disgust clear on his face, even in the
dim light of the patio.
“Of course you do. Christ.”
“I want a limited amount, and I’m willing to sign a
contract, a prenup, whatever he thinks necessary.”
“That’s for Mr. Nilsson and me to discuss.”
He shakes his head and the disappointed expression almost
makes me waver. Almost.
“You’re just like them,” he grits out.
“What did you think I’d become after you disappeared?”
It’s the only memory I let slip, the only sign I’m angry at
him and still holding a grudge.
His eyes are fathomless as he takes me in. “Better.”
He turns on a stiff heel, and as he walks out, calls back,
“Nilsson will be in touch.”
“How? A text?” I lay on the sarcasm, thick and
He pauses, his hand hovering over the doorknob lightly, no
sign seeing me has had any effect on him at all.
“Email. Cell service isn’t very reliable around these
“Just like the people here. What a life he must live.”
He grins. It’s cold. So unlike anything I remember. “Life is
the ultimate delivery system for disillusionment.”
With a snap of the door frame, he’s gone.
I sag against the railing and down my glass of champagne.
The alcohol burns and carbonation fills my lungs like balloons.
There. It’s done.
The wheels are in motion. I’m on my way to seeing the arts
program finally succeed, and I survived a meeting with Kai.
Not half bad for a night’s work.
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