I too had earned Cooper’s father’s scorn for trying to think for myself. Tired of the bubble-gum stuff the label was churning out for me to sing, I convinced Grant Cartwright to listen to some songs I’d written myself. This turned out to be a big mistake. Next thing I knew, Tania Trace was opening for Jordan instead of me . . . in more ways than one.
“Look, Heather,” Cooper says, “I get that you don’t want to be here tonight. I don’t want to be here tonight. But this is the first family dinner I’ve been to in ten years. I can’t handle it without you.”
“I know,” I say with a sigh. I peel back the curtain and look down at the car. The driver is leaning against the passenger-side door, chatting with someone on his cell phone. “And I’ll be there, Coop. But just so you know, hanging out with your dad wasn’t real high on my list of things I was hoping to do tonight. Getting into my PJs, ordering a pizza from Tre Giovanni’s, and watching Tabitha Takes Over in bed with you was more what I had in mind—”
“Forget Tabitha,” Cooper says, sounding relieved. “I’ll let you take over. You can hire as many people as you want to clean the house. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mary Poppins, the National Guard, whoever you want.”
“Really?” My mood brightens.
“Really. Just get over here.” He lowers his voice. Apparently someone has just entered the room. “Fair warning, though, Jordan’s here, too.”
“I figured.” Hanging out with my ex and his new wife is even lower on my list of things I was hoping to do tonight than hanging out with Grant Cartwright. “How’s Tania doing?”
“Well, remember when we saw her that night at the Allingtons’ apartment,” Cooper says, “and all she’d do was sit there and kiss that damned dog—whose name is Baby, by the way?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Picture her the same way, but times a thousand.”
“That’s not good.”
“No,” Cooper says. “And now my sisters have shown up—”
“Your sisters?” I haven’t seen Cooper and Jordan’s twin sisters—the result of a late-in-life “surprise” pregnancy from which Mrs. Cartwright never quite seemed to recover—since they were shipped off to boarding school, at their father’s request. They have to have graduated from college by now.
“Yes,” he says. His voice dips sarcastically. “Nicole has volunteered to be a source of comfort to Tania, who’s blaming herself for what happened to Jared, although of course she’s claiming she doesn’t have a single fan who’d ever want to hurt a hair on her head. Jessica has already volunteered to murder Nicole. Between the three of them, I might swallow some rat poison myself.”
“See you in forty-five minutes,” I say and hang up.
The Town Car drops me in front of a building on Park Avenue that I remember only too well from the many uncomfortable dinners I attended there back when I used to date Jordan. Even the doorman is the same.
“Hello, Ms. Wells,” he says, smiling at me with what looks like genuine pleasure. “How are you? It’s very good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you too, Eddie,” I say. Suddenly I feel nervous. The lobby is a thousand times fancier than I remember it being. Everything has been tastefully updated, from Eddie’s dark-green uniform to the multiple gilt-frame mirrors showing me my own reflection. The only thing that looks out of place is me.
That’s because I’m so much older and wiser now than I was the last time I was in it, I tell myself. My blowout is long gone, but my long blond hair looks shiny and healthy, and though the dress I’m wearing might have been picked up at a deep discount, it fits perfectly, emphasizing all the right things and hiding what I don’t care to advertise. If my feet are already throbbing because I’m so unaccustomed to wearing the high heels into which I’ve stuffed them, at least no one but me will be able to tell.
Still . . . what am I doing here? Why did I agree to come? Sure, Cooper said he needed me, but he has a gun. He could whip it out and tell his family to leave him alone.
“Mrs. Cartwright called down to say she’s expecting you,” Eddie informs me, smiling as he guides me toward an open elevator and presses the button for the penthouse. “She said you can go straight up.”
“Thanks,” I say, feeling queasy. The elevator doors close before I can turn around and run for my life . . . not that I’d have made it far in my heels.
When the doors slide open again—far sooner than I’d have liked—it’s onto a stunning vista. The Cartwrights’ building lobby isn’t the only thing that’s been remodeled: the penthouse has been redone too. Now, instead of stepping into a stuffy foyer, the elevator doors open directly into Cooper’s parents’ living room, most of the walls of which have been torn down and replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass doors to the terrace, so the first thing you see when you step off the elevator is the fiery glow of the sun sinking down into the west.
What isn’t glass is white pillars, stainless steel, and concrete. The place looks like something out of Architectural Digest, and knowing Grant Cartwright, I’d guess that the penthouse has probably been featured in it.
I step onto the highly polished ebony floor. “Hello?”
“Heather?” I’m startled when a petite, rail-thin young woman—with vanity sizing, she’s probably a two—and stick-straight dark-brown hair steps out from behind a white pillar and eyes me, her manner guarded but not unfriendly. “Oh my God, it is you. It’s me, Jessica.”
Then, to my surprise, she pulls me into her arms and hugs me. It’s like being held by a very skinny cat . . . if cats wore a lot of smoky eyeliner and silver wrist bangles and smelled like cigarette smoke.
“It’s so good to see you,” she says into my hair. “It’s been ages. You look great.”
“Thanks,” I say, my voice a little hoarse since her head is jammed into my throat. “So do you.”
The last time I saw Cooper’s little sister Jessica, she was in pigtails and on the way out the door to her pony-riding lesson. She had braces, a lisp, and attitude that was worse, in many ways, than Cassidy Upton’s.
“Cooper told me everything,” she says when she finally lets go of me.