Home > King of Wrath (KINGS OF SIN #1)

King of Wrath (KINGS OF SIN #1)
Author: Ana Huang

 


CHAPTER 1

 

 

Vivian

 

 

“I can’t believe he’s here. He never comes to these things unless it’s hosted by a friend…”

“Did you see he bumped Arno Reinhart down a spot on the Forbes Billionaires list? Poor Arnie nearly had a meltdown in the middle of Jean-Georges when he found out…”

The whispers started halfway through the Frederick Wildlife Trust’s annual fundraiser for endangered animals.

This year, the small, sand-colored piping plover was the alleged star of the show, but none of the gala’s two hundred guests were discussing the bird’s welfare over their Veuve Clicquot and caviar cannoli.

“I heard his family’s villa in Lake Como is undergoing a one-hundred-million dollar renovation. The place is centuries old, so I suppose it’s time…”

Each whisper grew in intensity, accompanied by furtive glances and the occasional dreamy sigh.

I didn’t turn to see who had the normally cool-as-ice members of Manhattan high society in such a tizzy. I didn’t really care. I was too focused on a certain department store heiress as she tottered toward the swag table in sky-high heels. She quickly glanced around before swiping one of the personalized gift bags and dropping it in her purse.

The minute she walked off, I spoke into my earpiece. “Shannon, Code Pink at the swag table. Find out whose bag she took and replace it.”

Tonight’s bags each contained over eight thousand dollars’ worth of swag, but it was easier to fold the cost into the event budget than confront the Denman’s heiress.

My assistant groaned over the line. “Tilly Denman again? Doesn’t she have enough money to buy everything on that table and have millions left over?”

“Yes, but it’s not about the money for her. It’s the adrenaline rush,” I said. “Go. I’ll order bread pudding from Magnolia Bakery tomorrow to make up for the strenuous task of replacing the gift bag. And for God’s sake, find out where Penelope is. She’s supposed to be manning the gift station.”

“Ha ha,” Shannon said, obviously picking up on my sarcasm. “Fine. I’ll check on the gift bags and Penelope, but I expect a big tub of bread pudding tomorrow.”

I laughed and shook my head as the line cut off.

While she took care of the gift bag situation, I circled the room and kept an eye out for other fires, large or small.

When I first went into business, it felt weird working events I would otherwise be invited to as a guest. But I’d gotten used to it over the years, and the income allowed me a small degree of independence from my parents.

It wasn’t part of my trust fund, nor was it my inheritance. It was money I’d earned, fair and square, as a luxury event planner in Manhattan.

I loved the challenge of creating beautiful events from scratch, and wealthy people loved beautiful things. It was a win-win.

I was double-checking the sound setup for the keynote speech later that night when Shannon rushed toward me. “Vivian! You didn’t tell me he was here!” she hissed.

“Who?”

“Dante Russo.”

All thoughts of swag bags and sound checks flew out of my head.

I jerked my gaze to Shannon’s, taking in her bright eyes and flushed cheeks.

“Dante Russo?” My heart thudded for no apparent reason. “But he didn’t RSVP yes.”

“Well, the rules of RSVPs don’t apply to him.” She practically vibrated with excitement. “I can’t believe he showed up. People will be talking about this for weeks.”

The earlier whispers suddenly made sense.

Dante Russo, the enigmatic CEO of the luxury goods conglomerate the Russo Group, rarely attended public events that weren’t hosted by himself, one of his close friends, or one of his important business associates. The Frederick Wildlife Trust didn’t fall under any of those categories.

He was also one of the wealthiest and, therefore, most watched men in New York.

Shannon was right. People would be buzzing about his attendance for weeks, if not months.

“Good,” I said, trying to rein in my sudden runaway heartbeat. “Maybe it’ll bring more awareness to the piping plover issue.”

She rolled her eyes. “Vivian, no one cares”—she stopped, looked around, and lowered her voice— “no one actually cares about the piping plovers. I mean, I’m sad they’re endangered, but let’s be honest. The people are here for the scene only.”

Once again, she was right. Still, no matter their reason for attending, the guests were raising money for a good cause, and the events kept my business running.

“The real topic of the night,” Shannon said, “is how good Dante looks. I’ve never seen a man fill out a tuxedo so well.”

“You have a boyfriend, Shan.”

“So? We’re allowed to appreciate other people’s beauty.”

“Yes, well, I think you’ve appreciated enough. We’re here to work, not ogle the guests.” I gently pushed her toward the dessert table. “Can you bring out more Viennese tartlets? We’re running low.”

“Buzzkill,” she grumbled, but she did as I said.

I tried to refocus on the sound setup, but I couldn’t resist scanning the room for the surprise guest of the night. My gaze skimmed past the DJ and the 3D piping plover display and rested on the crowd by the entrance.

It was so thick I couldn’t see beyond the outer edges, but I’d bet my entire bank account Dante was the center of their attention.

My suspicions were confirmed when the crowd shifted briefly to reveal a glimpse of dark hair and broad shoulders.

A rush of awareness ran the length of my spine.

Dante and I belonged to tangential social circles, but we’d never officially met. From what I’d heard of his reputation, I was happy keeping it that way.

Still, his presence was magnetic, and I felt the pull of it all the way across the room.

An insistent buzz against my hip washed away the tingles coating my skin and drew my attention away from Dante’s fan club. My stomach sank when I fished my personal cell out of my purse and saw who was calling.

I shouldn’t take personal calls in the middle of a work event, but one simply didn’t ignore a summons from Francis Lau.

I double-checked to make sure there were no emergencies requiring my immediate attention before I slipped into the nearest restroom.

“Hello, Father.” The formal greeting rolled off my tongue easily after almost twenty years of practice.

I used to call him Dad, but after Lau Jewels took off and we moved out of our cramped two-bedroom into a Beacon Hill mansion, he insisted on being called Father instead. Apparently, it sounded more “sophisticated” and “upper class.”

“Where are you?” His deep voice rumbled over the line. “Why is it so echoey?”

“I’m at work. I snuck into a bathroom to take your call.” I leaned my hip against the counter and felt compelled to add, “It’s a fundraiser for the endangered piping plover.”

I smiled at his heavy sigh. My father had little patience for the obscure causes people used as an excuse to party, though he attended the events donated anyway. It was the proper thing to do.

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