Author: Alessandra Torre
I’m blessed. I know that.
1. Booted From My Life
Someone was trying to break in. I sat up with a start, pushing up my sleep mask, the sunlight coming in through the windows too bright, my drunk stumble into bed last night neglecting the blackout curtains. I found my phone and peered at it. 9:48 AM—an odd time for a robbery. There was more pounding, the sound coming from the living room, then the splintering of wood. I yanked at the cord of my cell and unplugged it, gripping it tightly, pushing the covers aside, my bare feet hitting the floor just as my bedroom door swung open, a stranger in the opening.
My search for a weapon stopped as I stared at the man, clad head-to-toe in tactical gear, a walkie-talkie at his mouth.
“Chloe Madison?” he asked.
“Yes?” I said weakly, praying my grandma underwear didn’t show underneath my baggy tee, a Versace number that barely hit mid-thigh.
“I’m from the FBI. As of now, this apartment is the property of the US Government. We’re going to have to ask you to leave, or you will be arrested.”
“But … I own this apartment,” I said weakly, my gaze darting around the bedroom, a Monistat box open on my dresser. I closed my eyes in embarrassment, two more men appearing in the doorway.
“Your parents did,” he corrected me. “Not anymore.” He glanced at his watch. “I’m going to need you to get dressed.”
There was a time in my life when I found FBI agents sexy. Let me assure you, they aren’t.
I’d spent my whole life trying to impress people. Maybe that was the start of my fall, the last two decades one plush float into the depths of shallow, insecure, hell.
All I know is that when I hit the bottom, I hit hard.
I stood in the afternoon sun, my eyes stretching up the Central Park brownstone, counting the stories out of habit. Five. Double-checking the address on my phone, I rang the bell, my toes tapping a nervous beat, my eyes tracing over the decorative B that was carved into the heavy door before me. I wasn’t used to being nervous. Or anxious. Or desperate. And that’s what I had become. Desperate. It didn’t wear well; it itched along my skin like a T.J. Maxx clearance sweater.
I should have been in South Beach, with Cammie and Benta, lying on a beach and celebrating our NYU graduation. They’d flown out yesterday and hadn’t stopped Instagramming since. If I could have reached through the Internet and throttled them, I would have. Instead, I gave them the ultimate passive-aggressive snub: no likes.
A pathetic move on my part, but the best I could manage from my reduced social state. Anyone who’d seen a television in the last month knew about my family’s downfall. The Madisons—a filthy rich financial advisor couple who pocketed a hundred million bucks from insider trading—were front-page news. My mom had befriended all of the Fortune 500 wives, prying business tidbits from their martini-stained lips and passing them on to Dad. Daddy Dearest had used the information wisely illegally, steering his clients (and our portfolio) through a hundred highly profitable deals. I’d gotten a new Range Rover for my sixteenth birthday and didn’t think twice about it. My parents got arrested in the midst of their Christmas party and laughed it off. Told me it was a ‘minor mis-understanding.’
They weren’t laughing now. Not since last week, when the easy wealth I’d enjoyed my whole, pampered life ended faster than a Taylor Swift relationship. Our accounts were frozen, cars taken, assets seized. Including my NYC apartment. Thank God they had let me keep the clothes. I might be homeless, but I was rocking it in Marc Jacobs.
The biggest issue was my tuition. Half of my last semester was due, NYU being absolutely uncool about it, holding back my degree until it was paid. A month ago, I’d have swiped my AmEx and not thought another moment about it. Now, the huge bill seemed impossible. What good was four years of undergrad without a degree? Worthless when it came to the cutthroat job market that was NYC. So while Cammie and Benta were toasting their futures with mojitos in the sunshine, I was alone in New York, praying that this interview would go well. I’d had three interviews so far, submitted my résumé to twenty-two jobs, and had gotten zero callbacks. I was getting desperate.
The door swung open, and Nicole Brantley stood there.
Nicole Brantley. Sole heir to the inventor of the latex condom. Every time a foil package got pulled out of a pocket, Nicole Brantley got paid. At sixteen, she played a blonde bimbo on a Party of Five knock-off and had humped the Lifetime movie circuit ever since. My mother met her at a charity golf luncheon last year, and they’d stayed in touch. Mother promised that “Nicole was a doll” and “would be a pleasure to work for.” This all coming from a woman who hadn’t worked a day in her life. Regardless, I couldn’t be picky. I needed money, and Nicole Brantley had piles of that.
“Yes?” she asked, her bright blue eyes skipping over me, darting from my heels to my handbag, a critical appraisal that ended in approval. “Can I help you?”
“I’m Chloe Madison. My mother said you were looking for an assistant? I have an interview scheduled for one.” A pathetic opening. My mother? But, remarkably, the woman’s face curved into a smile, the Madison name still having some pull in the lowly area of hired help.
“Thank God,” she drawled, dragging me through the front doors. “This week has been a disaster. Come inside and let me track down Clarke.” She turned on her heel—a hot blue Louboutin—and clicked a rapid path through the foyer.
I’d been in New York for four years. Enough time to realize the mansions of my Florida youth didn’t exist on Manhattan’s streets. Pools and guest homes, tennis courts, and country clubs—those niceties were in the Hamptons or New Jersey. In the city, wealth was spoken through garages, Central Park views, and square footage. The Brantleys had all three. I spied a housekeeper, uniformed in the white and black attire that a sliver of the upper-class demanded. Saw the Picasso and Kandinsky in the hall. Noticed the views of the park that dominated the room we moved into, and the man who stepped away from the window, a phone to his ear.
He nodded to me, a curt smile passed over before he refocused on his conversation, his voice sharp as he spoke into the phone. I watched his hand come up to the window and press, the lean of his body against the glass stretching his suit tight across broad shoulders and a tight ass, the drop of his head a masculine, sexual gesture. I watched him and felt a pull of longing, the Chloe romance channel devoid of excitement for a very long time.
“That’s Clarke.” Mrs. Brantley’s voice rang out loudly, no concern given about his call. “Sorry about his lack of greeting,” she said airily, snapping at me and gesturing for me to follow, her ability to move in five-inch stilettos admirable. “His hand is permanently attached to that phone.” She rounded a staircase and headed up and glanced down at me. “Chanel is up here.” She took the steps two at a time, her calves ridiculous, my follow more laborious in execution. I tried to respond and managed a wheeze, glancing around for the elevator that surely existed. Chanel. Mom hadn’t mentioned any children, and I prayed this girl would be old enough to be potty-trained.
Nicole glanced back. “As far as pay, it’s a thousand a week. I’ll need you from nine in the morning until four, Monday through Friday. Chanel will be a large part of your job. Does that work for you?”