Home > One for the Money

One for the Money
Author: Skye Warren

 


Chapter One

 


Eva


Black tuxedos. Glittering gowns. Splashing champagne.

These things are common in my life. Mundane. I grew up under the warm glow of chandeliers. Laughter and conversation were my lullabies, the sound drifting up the spiral staircase to our bedrooms. I learned the planning of these events from my mother, the same way other daughters learn to quilt or bake or garden.

This particular gala benefits the Society for the Preservation of Orchids.

Ironic, considering the number of orchids we had to kill to build the elaborate sculpture in the foyer. My mother sits on the board. She doesn’t care about flowers.

She cares about connections.

It’s the family business, really. Making deals in ballrooms.

My father waves me over to him. He’s officially retired. Stepped down as CEO of Morelli Holdings. Replaced by my brother Lucian. Unofficially, he’ll only stop working when he’s six feet underground. It’s just the way he was made.

“Hi, Dad.” I give him a dutiful kiss on his cheek.

He pulls me close to his side. His mood is magnanimous. Probably because there’s a congressman, a famous filmmaker, and an oil tycoon from Texas hanging on his every word. “This is my daughter, Eva. Have you met her? She’s the one responsible for all this.”

The group responds with enthusiastic praise.

“The arbor is absolutely inspired,” the filmmaker says. “The way you used crepe paper to mimic the tree bark, the way the branches wind above you. It feels like you’re walking through a real forest. If you ever want to do set design, you have a place in L.A.”

My father’s hand tightens on my arm. “We could never let her go.”

I manage a gracious smile. “High praise, indeed. But you’re right. I could never leave New York. It’s home.”

The oil tycoon winks. “That’s right. I tried to lure her down to Texas. Unlimited barbecue and a swimming pool as big as a basketball court couldn’t sway her.”

My cheeks flush with old embarrassment. The man is handsome enough, in a white-haired kind of way. Smart enough. And definitely rich enough. But he didn’t even bother asking me out. No, he went straight to my father and offered to buy me in a business deal.

As if I were a head of cattle.

I excuse myself and stride away, directing a server to refill their glasses. I know what each of them likes to drink. I know where their vacation homes are and what racehorses they own. It’s part of my role as hostess, to make everyone comfortable.

To make everyone comfortable except for me.

My face feels tight from smiling. My feet ache from running around all day. I wore flats until the gala started, then I switched into heels, but it didn’t help. My calves are burning.

Since things are smooth in the ballroom, I swing through the kitchen. One of the cooks is shouting obscenities at a server who dropped a plate of appetizers. Even I have to cringe at the loss. Each large white spoon contains a thin slice of Japanese Shorthorn Wagyu beef with caviar and mascarpone cream, topped with delicately sliced jalepeños, red onion, and Asian pear.

“Clean this up,” I say to the server, mostly to get him away from the cook. Will he hire him again? Maybe not, but there’s no point making him cry in the middle of service. Then I address the cook. “Do we have any more of that caviar?”

“Yes,” he growls, still frustrated. “None of the beef.”

“Serve it on crostini with crème fraîche.”

“I don’t serve boring food.”

“You do unless you want the people to go home hungry.”

He curses fluently but turns to prepare the tray. My work here is done. For now, anyway. I head back upstairs. On the way I pass the head bartender, who looks harried.

“We’re out of champagne,” he says, panic in his voice.

“How is that possible?”

The top of his bald head shines with sweat. He used to be a top sommelier at a five-star hotel, but a few hundred of Bishop’s Landing’s elite reduces him to a nervous breakdown. “Some young men. They wanted the bottles for beer pong. Champagne pong, they called it.”

“And you gave it to them?”

“Of course not.” He looks indignant. Then he sighs. “Mrs. Crockett asked after that vintage of Chardonnay she likes, and I went down to the wine cellar to get it. Then when I got back, two entire cases of champagne were gone.”

I press two fingers to the middle of my forehead. No champagne. If we aren’t careful, we’ll have a full-scale revolt on our hands. “We have white wine, right?”

“Plenty, madam.”

“The signature cocktail of the night is now a white wine spritzer, designed to celebrate both the simplicity and the depth of orchids. Have the bartenders offer it first. If we’re giving them something delicious and sparkling, they should be content.”

“And if someone requests champagne specifically?”

“There’s a couple bottles of Armand de Brignac in my father’s study.” Which I’ll have to replace before he notices it’s gone. He won’t appreciate having his private stash picked over. Then again, he wouldn’t like to have the guests denied.

That crisis averted, I continue working my way through the room.

My mother waves me over. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she says, and she’s already smiling. Which means he must be nearby. And powerful.

“Who?” I know the entire guest list for this event, which means I know everyone in the room. Maybe not personally, but I know their names and their net worth. Those are the main things that matter in high-society circles.

An older man waits near the balcony door. He wears the black tuxedo well. He clearly works out. And if his hairline is receding, well, he can hardly help that. He looks to be in his forties, maybe ten years older than me. I recognize him as being in the manufacturing industry. “You must be Mr. Langley,” I say.

“I see my reputation precedes me,” he says, laughing. “Call me Alex.”

“How long are you staying in New York?” I ask, being polite. He’s got factories throughout the flyover states, but his home is in Chicago if I remember correctly.

“For a long time, perhaps. I’m thinking of moving to the East Coast.”

“Are you?” I say, my stomach sinking as I realize why my mother wanted to introduce us. It’s her attempt at matchmaking. The irony is that if I actually got married and started my own family, my mother would probably have a nervous breakdown. My father would get arrested for being drunk and disorderly. And my siblings would need something from me. Having money smooths a lot of life’s hard edges, but it doesn’t blunt them completely. We still need someone to handle the details. To get my mother her Xanax, to call the lawyer. To de-escalate every situation. We need a manager. And in the Morelli family, ever since I turned fifteen, that’s me.

He gives me a vaguely paternal smile. “It’s time for me to start a family.”

Not exactly subtle, Alex. “I wish you luck, then.”

“Eva planned this little gala,” my mother says, breezing past my comment. “She creates the most memorable displays. People talk about them for months.”

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