Violetta Dorée is breathtaking. No other word could do her justice. Along with my breath, she stole my heart the first time I saw her, almost a year ago now.
Ever since, I’ve tagged along to more of Grayson’s outlandishly opulent outings. Sumptuous hedonism surrounds us as I witness the affluent few indulge their every whim.
I came to New York to steep myself in its architecture, to lose myself in the lines and flourishes and history, to learn as much from the influence of past greats as from my higher-ups at Lynch & Co.
But once I saw Violetta, no splendor of the city could draw me away.
She is flawless, from the cascade of her dark-blonde hair, to the tantalizing swell of her breasts; from the endless lengths of her legs, to the intrigue of her upturned mouth and the spark in her piercingly blue eyes. Eyes that promise untold delights but can’t hide an astute resolve.
The darling of the elite, Violetta is the shining center to their gaiety, invited to every event she doesn’t host herself.
“She lives for a good party,” Grayson informed me once, catching me staring.
She, too, was born outside this world of flowing spirits and ceaseless merriment. But unlike me she has penetrated it brilliantly, perhaps effortlessly, with her combination of beauty, charisma, and enthusiasm. Now, she is adored.
And the moment I saw her, laughing by a glittering champagne tower, she became loved.
Frequent peals of laughter break through the thrum of chatter filling William’s penthouse. I trade my empty glass for a fresh one, luxuriating in the unabashed revelry. Deft waiters circulate expertly prepared delicacies and superb wines. Every face sports a delighted smile. And why shouldn’t they?
This is my reintroduction into the world, and I have been missed.
Even Doctor Greenfield decided to attend, though he stands off to the side, unused to our boundless mirth. This room has no care for the trivialities of everyday life that weigh down his days. As I watch, Finley—my only competition for the title of premier hostess—aptly draws the doctor into conversation, saving me the trip across the room.
Instead, I exchange a flurry of kisses and greetings with well-wishing latecomers. Seconds after I turn away, Grayson’s friendly face appears before me. His familiar hand presses mine. “How are you, Vi?”
“Better now,” I assure, using my champagne to gesture around us. “What do you think?”
“You’ve been good for him.” Grayson’s gaze takes in the room before returning to me. “Braxton has finally learned to throw a decent party. Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, though we’re all looking forward to your next masterpiece.”
“Soon enough,” I promise with my best mysterious smile, ignoring his unsubtle dig at William. This is a perfectly respectable cocktail party, considering he had to plan it without my help. Lacking in creativity, maybe, but William is a businessman, not a socialite.
Grayson steers me to an empty spot on a nearby couch and perches on the armrest, bending toward me. “You look stunning, of course.”
“Of course,” I echo. A day of pampering at the spa guaranteed I look my best for tonight. A waiter offering crab beignets briefly interrupts us, and we both indulge. I snag the opportunity to verify the other servers are well spaced throughout William’s expansive living room.
“So…” Grayson says when the waiter moves on.
“So?” I murmur, lifting my glass to acknowledge Karolina’s wave.
“Bored with me already?”
Grayson is many things, but never boring. Charmingly oblivious, though. And there’s no reason to stroke his ego, so I shrug, crooking an eyebrow.
“How can I redeem myself?” he teases.
I slide my gaze over him, down and up, just slowly enough for his smirk to slip. “Tell me something I haven’t heard.”
He recovers quickly, flashing me that trademark, cheeky smile—the one that says he doesn’t have a care in the world and makes you believe, however briefly, that you shouldn’t either. “That’s easy.”
“Not for most.” Even if I have been out of commission awhile.
Grayson stalls, swirling the golden liquor in his hand. “No,” he muses, “maybe I shouldn’t say.”
“Well if it’s not worth sharing…”
Unlike most of our friends, Grayson can keep a secret. But we both know he won’t resist telling me now that he’s caught my attention.
He leans closer, a devilish gleam in his eyes. “My friend Adrian has quite the crush on you.”
That is news, but I shrug again, lightly shifting the fall of my hair on my shoulders. Grayson’s shadow has lurked around, but I couldn’t have pointed him out from the fluid collection of plus ones. Let him enjoy the pleasures we can offer, if Grayson wants him here. “You introduced him to our world, yet blame me for his infatuation with it?”
“You are blameless as ever, Vi. But he believes himself in love,” Grayson says, lilting the final word like a schoolboy.
“Poor fool. Love doesn’t last.” This room is littered with lovers of my past. I lean back into the couch, welcoming the soft comfort. “Only pleasure counts.”
Laughing, Grayson raises his glass.
I tap mine against it then lift the resonating crystal flute to my mouth.
Grayson’s eyes catch the gentle parting of my lips, watching the trickle of champagne. Even he once wanted me. But choosing William allowed me more freedom, and Grayson’s desire, like so many others’, has morphed into an easy fondness. It helps that no one dares risk exclusion from my parties.
It also helps that I am dying.
But as I die, Manhattan’s elite embraces me, wrapping me in all the pleasures endless wealth can offer in its attempt to stave off the inevitable.