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0999784102 (ISBN13: 9780999784105)
A billion-dollar fashion empire, and it’s about to be mine…
I’ve worked a decade for this. I’ve sold my soul and my reputation. I’ve lived a lie, smiled for the cameras, and hated myself, all for this inheritance.
And then … she pops up. A mysterious heir with a rap sheet, combat boots, and a mouth that I want to pin shut with my—
It doesn’t matter. I’ve played this game for a decade. I can continue the charade a little longer, keep my hands to myself and her body out of my mind. I can keep my secret until the ink dries and everything is mine.
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SEVEN YEARS LATER
I fucking hate fashion. Not the clothes, but the people, the illusion—this industry was handed down to us by the greats, and we’ve poisoned it with greed, inflated opinions and social standings. The garment no longer seems to matter, just the label sewn into its neck. A brilliant gown could be ruined by the wrong pedigree, banished to a Des Moines TJ Maxx rack and some cornhusker’s high school prom. In this world, the designers are the gods and lives are orchestrated, backs stabbed, promises and threats made, all to try to climb onto one of those almighty thrones.
I’m the worst of the bunch, and know the sacrifices more than anyone. The last ten years of my life has been orchestrated, a web of deceit and lies, all for one of those thrones.
I sit in a Vince Horace original, an omen to the god, the custom silk-blend suit hugging perfectly to my build. It should. He measured me himself, stretching out that gold and red tape measure, his glasses perched atop his nose, his eyes admiring the lines of my muscles as he worked. Now, I watch him sleep, the fur coverlet tucked under his thin forearms, the limbs slack and almost swallowed by the tubes and wires. Between us, set against gold-leaf walls and velvet curtains, a monitor beeps, his statistics displayed in quiet clarity.
It’s been four days since he last spoke. Four days that I’ve sat in this chair and watched one of the only men I’ve ever loved, die.
“Are you done with dinner, sir?”
I don’t turn my head to acknowledge the man or the silver plate that sits on the table beside me, the veal now cold, the greens past limp. “Yes. I’d like another drink.”
“Certainly. I’ve taken the liberty of calling in Tony. He’ll be here shortly.”
“That’s fine.” In another situation, I would wave off the masseuse, but if there is any energy left in Vince, it doesn’t need to be wasted with scolding me on the finer things in life. If he knew I was sitting here with a stiff back and tight neck, he’d bust a blood vessel, his lips sputtering, eyebrows pinching, disappointment heavy in those piercing brown eyes.
“Marco.” When he speaks, my name is soft, almost lost in the clink of silver, the butler pausing, both of our heads turning at the sound. I rise, stepping to the bed and link my fingers through his, a contrast of strong against weak, tan against pale. I keep my eyes on the man’s face, his eyelids fluttering for a moment but not lifting. “I think it’s time.”
“I know. Stop stalling, old man.”
A ghost of a smile lifts one corner of his mouth, a mouth I know so well, so much wisdom and friendship passing through those lips—a decade of curses and brilliance. “Live well, Marco.” He wheezes out the words, his hand tightening on mine for a whisper of a moment.
I swallow. “I love you, Vince.” I know the answer before it comes, yet need to hear it one final time.
“Always, vecchio amico.”
“Always, vecchio amico.” I lean forward and press my lips to his forehead. “The world will miss you.”
I wait for a scoff, a humble protest of something we both know to be true, but there is only a gentle sigh, a moment of peace falling over those strong features, the muscles in his face falling, my grip of his hand unreturned.
The world spent five decades learning his name, and in just a handful of seconds, Vince Horace is gone. I close my eyes and try to feel him in the room, his presence one I’ve leaned on as heavily as breath. But there is nothing. I lower myself carefully, my hand still in his, to my knees, my cheek against the rough paper of his palm, and close my eyes, saying a prayer that God will respect his choices, honor his lifestyle, and accept him into his kingdom. I pray, in the dim bedroom six floors above Fifth Avenue, for guidance and peace—both for him and for myself.
I stay on my knees beside my mentor, until the doctors arrive, an ashen-faced houseboy helping me to my feet and to my bedroom, the bed already turned down, my evening wear laid out on heated pads, a glass of ice water chilling beside a sleeping pill on the nightstand. I glance at the curtains, pulled tight, and wonder at the city behind them, the chitter chatter of news services and reporters, blogs, and Twitter. The death of Vince Horace will not be ignored. Tonight, a throne is vacant, and everyone in the fashion world will be elbowing and fighting for a chance at it.
* * *
I sit on the edge of the bed and work my watch from my wrist, the vintage Cartier dull in the dim light. I pull off the jacket, stepping slowly to the large closet and carefully hanging the piece up, ignoring the line of similar suits, each one a different story, a different factory, trip, or memory.