“Stitches,” I say the instant he answers, “I need you to log onto your computer and open the files on the thumb drive you saved from Adams’ headquarters.”
“Can it wait ’til after I’m done with my Pho? Just picked some up for lunch, and it’s nice and hot, Psycho. Real tasty too. Want some?”
“Stitches,” I growl like a beast, “log onto your fucking computer right now. Open up the Neptune Society files we have saved. You know the ones.”
“The ones from way back when? Our computer guy finally got them open and we looked. Lena Burtka wasn’t on the member’s list.”
“She wouldn’t be on the membership list because she wasn’t a member. But the guest list is a different story. Search for anyone named Lena on that night. You know the night I’m talking about.”
Stitches breathes out a small disappointed sigh and mutters something about his Pho getting cold, but he obliges. For over a minute I’m subjected to the sound of his fingers tapping away on the keyboard and then the clicking of his mouse as he opens up the list and scrolls through.
“Motherfucking Madonna! Psycho, here she is. Lena… on the guest list.”
“No… Lena…” Stitches is so shocked the last part comes out in a hushed tone. “Lena Volchok.”
The Neptune Society’sSummer Nights Masquerade Ball is one of the most extravagant events of the year. The politicians, heirs and heiresses, celebrities, CEOs, high-powered executives, and old money and new money alike all come out for a night of excess. The event is supposed to be to support the arts, but the true value rests in the rich and powerful’s opportunity to do what they do best—be rich and powerful.
I’ve attended only once before two years ago on Garrett’s arm. Determined to impress his prospective clients, he’d begged and pleaded for me to attend with him. Wanting to be the supportive girlfriend, I agreed.
I got dressed up in a fanciful designer gown and played his biggest cheerleader. I laughed at his corny jokes and talked him up to his clients. Later on, during his proposal, I’d find out it was basically a test to see if I could be a proper trophy wife—Garrett was all about appearances and having his ego stroked.
When we broke up, I had every intention of never attending the masquerade again. Before NorthamNeptune123 entered my life, I had specifically told Medjine I didn’t care how advantageous it was for a candidate to attend. I wasn’t going.
“A part of me will always wonder what could’ve made you change your mind,” Medjine says in the dressing room at Vikari, an expensive fashion boutique. She’s speaking from the private room next to mine. “But then I remember it’s in my favor if you do.”
She flings the curtain to her dressing room open and waltzes out modeling the high fashion gown she’s tried on—a bright scarlet halter gown with a feathered skirt resembling the plumage of a tropical bird. The vivid red pops on her dark brown skin, but even Medjine can’t pull off that many feathers.
“Are you going to show me yours?” she asks, sipping from a flute of the complimentary champagne that’s been offered. “I hope you’ve tried on the Oscar de la Renta. That deep wine shade always looks amazing on you on camera.”
I come up from behind as she models her gown with her glass of champagne in her hand. Her eyes widen meeting mine in the mirror.
“Oh,” she says and then, “ohhhhh. You’re trying to have yourself one of those kinds of nights.”
I laugh. “Is that your way of saying it’s too much?”
“That’s my way of saying what have I missed about my candidate’s love life to be this surprised?” She takes the last of her champagne to the head. “Spill it, Delphine. What’s the tea? Who is he and is he married?”
“Medjine, do you realize how crazy you sound?”
“Because if it’s an eligible bachelor, we could parlay that into a photo op or two,” Medjine rambles. Her stare glazes over as though she’s computing the metrics live in her head. “But if he is taken, then I’m afraid you need to cut him loose. Nobody, and I mean absolutelynobody, wants to vote a home-wrecking side chick into public office—”
I wave a hand in front of her eyes. “Back to reality. There is no home-wrecking side chick because there is no man. This is the gown I’m going with.”
Medjine rubs her chin, eying every inch of the dress in silent appraisal. Her face says enough that I end up learning her opinion anyway.
The gown is a delicate construction of black crystals and tulle with a plunging neckline that almost reaches my navel and teases plenty of cleavage. The vaguely see-through tulle skirt falls dramatically to the floor in princess fashion. From afar, the thousands of black crystals sparkle.
Delicate, dramatic, and daring in every possible sense.
It’s a statement dress.
But that’s what I want for a night like the Neptune Society’s Masquerade. I want to turn some heads and put up a certain kind of look to use to my advantage if I’ll finally be meeting NorthamNeptune. I couldn’t care less about the optics for my campaign—I’ve slowly stopped considering it in my decision-making.
If the citizens of Northam would like me to be their district attorney, then I’m honored by their vote of confidence. However, my old obsessive nature about making it come true has begun to fade…