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So Close
Author: Sylvia Day







The party is a lively crush, yet I’m keenly aware of one singularly significant presence – my employer’s wife, a woman who has been dead for many years. Manhattan glitters in the vast night enfolding the penthouse tower. Clouds froth against the floor-to-ceiling windows, at turns obscuring then revealing the stygian spread of Central Park and its reservoir far below. The tower creaks as it sways ever so slightly in gusts of evening wind, the plaintive sound hidden beneath the music and sea of conversation.

Within the glass walls, tension seethes. Dangerous electricity charges the air, the inevitable result of confining rivals in a neutral space. Restrained by decorum and the fear of losing face, adversaries bristle, claws and fangs only briefly and resentfully sheathed.

The event is a black-tie reception in honour of a new cosmeceutical line. The attendees are the best known of Manhattan’s young elite, a collective pool of the too-beautiful and too-rich. Among them are celebrated friendships and infamous feuds. It’s a testament to Mr Black that he could bring such a diverse – and divisive – group together in his home.

Like chess players, the guests have chosen their positions for the best advantage. Mr Black’s longest-known friend, Ryan Landon, stands opposite the spacious living room from Mr Black’s business partner, Gideon Cross, the two men perpetuating an enmity passed down from their fathers. As regretful as their discord is, I can still admire the purity of their open dislike of one another.

In contrast, Mr Black’s main adversaries – his half-brothers Ramin and Darius – undermine him whenever it benefits them. And then there is Amy, Darius’s wife, the only woman in the room who won’t look at Mr Black. Not even a surreptitious peek.

The spaces between these key players are filled with reality television personalities and influencers, models and musicians. Bursts of light bounce off the glittering dresses and wide windows as mobiles capture a seemingly endless number of selfies that will be shared with millions of followers. Most companies pay exorbitant fees for such photographic endorsements, but that is not the case tonight. An invitation to the penthouse is a social coup, as is proximity to Cross and his wife, Eva, seemingly the world’s most popular couple, if measured by media coverage.

I glance around the living room, assuring myself that the waiting staff are present but unobtrusive, supplying canapés and beverages while clearing away the discarded Baccarat glasses and Limoges plates.

Extravagant bouquets of Blacklist lilies decorate the sterling-silver tops of African blackwood tables, adding texture and glamour without colour or fragrance. Music weaves through the room, effervescent and of the moment. The singer is present, slouched against a wall with his arm around a woman’s waist and his lips to her jaw. His eyes are on Mr Black, but they shift to me just as the smartwatch on my wrist gives a haptic signal announcing the arrival of new guests.

I move to the foyer.

The moment the sleek brunette glides through the front door on limousine heels, I know my employer will seduce her. She’s arrived on the arm of an attractive gentleman, but that’s irrelevant. She’ll succumb; they all do.

The lady resembles the late Mrs Black: inky hair, sultry green eyes, crimson lips. A beauty, yes, but a pale imitation of the woman immortalized in the portrait Mr Black treasures. They all are.

I greet them both with a nod and offer to take her wrap, standing by as her attentive escort assists her instead.

“Thank you,” she says as her companion hands me her shimmery wrap. She’s speaking to me, but Mr Black has already captured her attention and her gaze is on him. Despite his deliberate withdrawal to the fringes of the room, his towering height makes him impossible to ignore. His energy is a lashing inferno checked only by a tremendous force of will. He is a man who composes himself with a stark economy of movement yet somehow gives the impression of furore. I can see the effort it takes for our new guest to look away from him and take stock of the festivity.

Mr Black’s sister, Rosana, holds the command position in front of the windows. She is a tall, dark beauty in a beaded turquoise dress. Gleaming hair the colour of mahogany drapes her shoulders, a striking contrast to the silvery blond of Eva Cross, who stands beside her, petite and curvaceous and dressed in elegant blush-hued silk. Eva is Rosana’s co-ambassador in the new venture; the two women so very different, yet both are tabloid and social media darlings.

I look at Mr Black, searching for his reaction to the latest arrival. I see what I expected: a focused gaze. As he scrutinizes her, his jaw tightens. The signs are subtle, but I sense his terrible disappointment and the resulting surge of self-recrimination.

For a moment, he’d hoped it was her. Lily. A woman whose exquisite beauty is immortalized in a single image that hangs in his private rooms but whose profound significance haunts this home and the man who is its master. That he continues to search for her in every woman is heartbreaking.

Lily was absent from Mr Black’s life before he acquired my services, so I know her only posthumously, but I’m in the position of overhearing a great deal. That she was incredibly lovely is universally acknowledged; many say she remains the greatest beauty they’ve ever seen. Though her given name suggests delicacy and fragility, acquaintances describe her as independent, sharp-witted and bold. She’s remembered as being kind and encouraging, entertaining and deeply interested in others, a quality which I would argue is far better than being interesting.

For some time, I had only those scant impressions and opinions until a tormented night, when Mr Black was wild with drink and half-mad, no longer able to suppress the furious grief inside him. I understood then the extraordinary hold she continues to have on him; I can sense her power when I look at the massive portrait of her that dominates the wall opposite his bed.

In his room, her image is the only spot of colour, but that isn’t what makes the photograph so striking. It is the look in her eyes, feverish and incisive.

Whoever Lily was, her love for Kane Black consumed them both. That obsession remains the most perilous element of his life to this day.

I watch as our newest guest wades through the others, separating from her escort as she moves towards Mr Black. She is fire-bright in a crimson dress, but she is the moth, and he is the flame.

A popular periodical recently declared him one of the sexiest men alive. Mr Black is nearing thirty-three and wealthy enough to afford me, a seventh-generation majordomo of British lineage, impeccably trained to handle any situation from mundanity to extreme crises. He is remote and unreadable, yet women are drawn to him without any thought of self-preservation. Despite their best efforts, he remains staunchly unavailable. He is a widower who remains deeply, thoroughly married.

His most frequent escort, the slender blonde who hovers nearby, gleams in ivory and pearls. She’s his mother, although no one would suspect the relationship if it weren’t widely known. Age isn’t the only thing Aliyah hides well. The lone clue to her nature is her manicure, the long nails filed into a modish almond shape resembling talons.

As I turn away from the coat cupboard, I hear the pop of a champagne cork. Crystal flutes clink merrily, and conversation hums. A small fortune in designer shoes clicks and taps across obsidian floor tiles so liquid-like in their pristine reflectiveness one is reminded of the calmest of nocturnal waters. Mr Black’s residence is a study in maximalism: dark woods, natural stone, rich leathers and hides … all in the darkest of shades, creating a space as elegant and masculine as its owner.

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