The party was loud and hot and crowded.
Everywhere people were dancing, laughing, punching the air. Everyone was having fun. Everyone except Rachel Adams . Leaning against the wall, her dark brown hair lit up by the flashing strobe lights, she stood slightly apart, gazing critically across the room.
Nowhere in the world was as vibrant as Manhattan at midnight. And nowhere was more glamorous than Fleming Tower, the lean, gleaming skyscraper of steel and glass owned by her brother David’s boss, Christopher Wood , billionaire property tycoon and the party’s host.
Rachel sighed softly. It was a great party.As long as you were a guest!
Stifling a yawn, she glanced down at her uniform. If, like her, you were handing out glasses of champagne, then it was just another shift at work. And being a waitress sucked ,no matter how cool the venue. Or how attractive the guests.
She glanced over at the young man who had been hovering at her elbow all evening.
Skinny, dark and charming, he was exactly her type. Ordinarily she might have flirted a little, but tonight she was struggling even to remember he was there.
‘Come on!’ He smiled at her hopefully. ‘One little glass won’t hurt.’
Behind his back, Hannah, another of the waitresses, rolled her eyes.
Rachel breathed out slowly. Six months ago she’d arrived at David’s apartment, hoping to make it big on Broadway. Only just like the rest of her life nothing had gone to plan, and her dreams had got lost in a depressing loop of auditions and rejections. But all those years at drama school hadn’t been entirely wasted, she thought wearily as, setting her expression to one of disappointment, she gave him a small, regretful smile.
‘It’s sweet of you, Tim. But I can’t. Like I told you earlier. I don’t drink when I’m working.’ She glanced pointedly down at her uniform, but he wasn’t taking no for an answer.
‘It’s not Tim.....it’s Tom. Come on. It’s just one glass. I promise I won’t tell.’ He grinned encouragingly. ‘It’s not like the big boss man is here to catch you.’
Christopher Wood. The ‘big boss man.’ Picturing his cool, handsome face,the one that gazed so disdainfully out from the Wood Organisation’s website,Rachel felt her heart thump nervously. It was true. Despite the fact that the party was in his building, for his staff, Christopher had declined to attend.
Of course, there had been the usual rumours he would turn up unannounced. Someone even claimed to have seen him in the foyer. But Rachel knew for sure that he wasn’t coming. Christopher Wood was in Washington on business, and by the time he returned the party would be wrapped up. Finished. Over.
And not just the party, she thought, glancing furtively at the clock on the wall.
‘So do you work for him?’
Startled, she turned and saw that Joanne was looking curiously at Tom.
He nodded. ‘Yeah, for about a year now.’
‘Really?’ Hannah's eyes widened. ‘He is seriously hot. What’s he like?’
Her question was directed at Tom, but Rachel had to bite her tongue to stop herself from replying. Hours scouring the internet had turned her into the world’s leading authority on Christian Wood . Not that there was much to know. He rarely gave interviews and, aside from being photographed with a string of breathtakingly beautiful models and socialites, his private life was largely undocumented.
Tom shrugged, and a mixture of awe and admiration crossed his face. ‘I don’t have that much to do with him personally. But when it comes to business he’s definitely got the Midas touch. And he gets all the hottest babes.’
‘He’s kinda scary too though. I mean, he works insanely hard and he’s a total control freak. He knows everything that’s going on--and I mean every tiny detail. And he’s obsessed with honesty...’ He paused, frowning. ‘I was in a meeting with him once and there was a problem. Someone tried to cover it up and he was... Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.’
Rachel felt her stomach twist.
Tom’s words confirmed everything David had already told her. Christopher Wood was a ruthless workaholic and a commitment-phobic philanderer. Basically a supercharged version of Alex, her ex, and exactly the kind of man she loathed.
Looking up, her heart gave a jolt,not at the memory of her latest failed relationship but at the time showing on the clock. Her shift was nearly over. On any other evening she would have been relieved, but tonight was different. Tonight was the first and hopefully the last time she would have to choose between breaking a promise and breaking the law.
‘Are you okay?’ Hannah nudged her arm. ‘You look like you’re going to be sick.’
Rachel swallowed. She felt as if she was too. Just thinking about what she was about to do was making the contents of her stomach curdle.
She smiled weakly. ‘I know it’s the city that never sleeps, but sometimes I wish New York would have an early night!’
‘Look...’ Glancing around, Hannah lowered her voice. ‘Why don’t you go home? I can finish up here.’
Rachel shook her head. ‘I’m just tired. And I don’t want to leave you in the lurch-’
‘You’re not!’ Hannah frowned. ‘So stop pretending you feel okay.’
Rachel hesitated. She hated lying to Hannah, particularly when her friend was being so kind. But she could hardly tell her the truth. She was only just coming to terms with it herself.
Stomach tightening, she thought back to the moment four days ago when she’d arrived back at David’s apartment to find him in tears. After much coaxing he’d finally confessed that he had a gambling problem. Only it was way more than a problem. It turned out he’d been gambling and losing money for months, and his debt had spiralled out of control.
Rachel shivered. Her parents had drummed into them the importance of living within their means. But David’s debt was the least of his problems. Dropping off some papers in Christopher Wood office earlier that day, he had noticed a watch on the floor. Only it hadn’t been just any watch. It had been an exclusive designer watch. And he hadn’t just noticed it. He’d picked it up and pocketed it, imagining that he’d be able to sell it and thus clear his debt.
Back home, he’d realised what he’d done and broken down completely. Which was why Rachel had ended up promising to return it for him.
The thought jogged her back into real time. Looking up, she grimaced. ‘I do feel a bit odd. Maybe I will go now. Thanks, Han. You’re a star.’
Hannah nodded. ‘Yes, I am. But don’t be too grateful. I need you to cover for me on Tuesday.’ Her face softened. ‘Cam’s taking me out to dinner. It’s our six-month anniversary.’
That was what she wanted to be doing, Rachel thought dully as she negotiated a path between the drunken partygoers into the deserted hallway. Going on an anniversary date with a boyfriend.
But, of course, that would require a boyfriend.
And five weeks ago Alex had decided that he needed some space.
Glumly, she stopped in front of the lifts.