Replica Trilogy - 1


Jenna Black

For Dan, the world’s greatest husband


The limo pulled up to the curb at the entrance of Chairman Hayes’s Long Island mansion, and Nadia dug deep in search of an untapped reserve of energy. Her throat scratched with the early warning signs of a cold, and if she had any choice she’d be cuddled up in bed with a good book and a cup of hot tea, not spending the next four or five hours at a wedding reception. However, this was the event of the season, and she’d heard her mother’s lecture on the duties of an Executive enough times to know it by heart. Attending state events was on the top of that list, so staying home was not an option.

A liveried attendant hurried to open the limo’s door. Gerald and Esmeralda Lake, Nadia’s parents, exited first, posing and smiling for the photographers while Nadia stayed momentarily hidden behind the limo’s tinted windows. She wrinkled her nose at the stately mansion, hating the place. Chairman Hayes had built it shortly after Paxco had bought out what was then the state of New York. It had been the first in a long line of dominoes that had eventually led to the transformation of the United States of America into today’s Corporate States. The mansion was a monument to the Chairman’s ego, not an actual home meant to be lived in.

Too bad she would have to live in it someday.

Nadia plastered a smile on her face and exited the limo. Cameras flashed from all around her, and the photographers called out orders for her to turn this way and that. The good news was that only the most respected—and well-behaved—reporters had been invited to cover this event, so everyone was being very polite, and if her smile drooped or she blinked at an inconvenient moment, those photos wouldn’t show up on the net.

The mansion was positively aglow, golden light flooding every visible window. White bunting draped the marble-columned porch, and a bloodred carpet drew a path between the driveway and the front door. From outside, Nadia could hear the lively music that said the reception was in full swing. The atmosphere might have been festive, if it weren’t for all the armed guards who tried futilely to fade into the background. Even at its most joyful and relaxed, the mansion had teeth, and only an idiot would forget that.

Nadia kept the polished smile plastered on her face as she and her parents made their way through the gauntlet of photographers, and she didn’t let it slip while going through the endless receiving line. Her cheeks ached by the time she and her parents stepped into the ballroom, a vision of antique elegance with its crystal chandeliers, soaring ceilings, and large parquet dance floor on which no one was yet dancing. Arrangements of white flowers abounded, with the occasional splash of pink or yellow for contrast. The mingled scents of gardenias and roses made her nose itch. Liveried waiters made the rounds, offering cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and the Executives of Paxco and Synchrony mingled to celebrate the alliance between their two states that would be cemented by this wedding.

As soon as they entered the ballroom, Nadia and her parents went their separate ways. She was expected to mingle, but she was on the lookout for an inconspicuous corner she could park herself in. Her cold was gaining ground, and the last thing she wanted to do was engage in a round of social sparring. She snagged a glass of champagne punch from one of the servers and edged her way toward the wall, eying one of the enormous flower arrangements. It might be tall enough to completely hide her from view if she stood in just the right spot. Then she wouldn’t have to—

“Nadia!” cried a delighted voice from behind her, and Nadia fought a sigh.

Forcing another smile, she turned to face Jewel Howard, who looked painfully perfect with her blond ringlets and her frothy pink gown. As always, Jewel was flanked by her younger sister, Cherry, and their mutual friend, Blair. The Terrible Trio never failed to show up at any event where they might find fodder for their favorite pastimes of malicious gossip and intimidation. Unfortunately, their families were the cream of the Executive crop, so protocol required Nadia to act as if they were all best friends.

“Your gown is simply stunning,” Jewel said while giving Nadia the requisite air kisses. “I could never wear that color without looking like a ghost.”

Jewel’s skin was the same unblemished alabaster as Nadia’s, and while Nadia was confident her royal-blue gown wasn’t too dark for her skin tone, she hated the frisson of doubt Jewel’s comment triggered. The society columnists would eviscerate her if they felt she’d chosen the wrong gown for the occasion. There was an edge in Cherry’s and Blair’s smiles as they enjoyed their leader’s backhanded compliment. Ordinarily, Nadia would have shot back an appropriate rejoinder, but tonight she just wondered if she could give them all her cold if she breathed on them enough. The image of Jewel with a runny red nose was almost cheering.

Nadia took a sip of her punch, which was watery and way too sweet. The bubbles in the champagne irritated her throat on the way down, and she stifled a cough. “Wasn’t the ceremony beautiful?” she said in her best imitation of a gush, knowing the Terrible Trio couldn’t resist the opportunity to dissect every moment of the wedding. Nadia might not enjoy the gossip and small talk that were the most prized skills of girls of her station, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t good at it. She put in just enough commentary to keep the conversation going, and though she internally winced at some of the Trio’s most vicious critiques, at least their malice wasn’t aimed at her. For once.

Nadia let her attention stray from the conversation, her eyes scanning the ballroom, and that’s when she saw him.

Nathaniel Edison Hayes, Chairman Heir of Paxco, was flat-out gorgeous. His dark, unruly hair had been slicked back for this formal occasion, and he wore the standard black tux, but there was always an aura of contained energy around him that made him stand out in a crowd. His deep blue eyes sparked with mischief.

Nate was talking to some stuffed shirt Nadia didn’t know, but he seemed to have a sixth sense where she was concerned, his eyes straying unerringly to hers practically the moment she caught sight of him. He grinned at her, and there it was, that glint in his eyes. He said something to the stuffed shirt—something offensive, or at least not particularly polite, based on the man’s outraged expression—then turned away from him as if he didn’t exist, making his way through the crowd toward her. As future Chairman of Paxco, Nate could get away with behavior that would have lesser Executives ostracized.

Nadia smiled back at the boy she was destined to marry, enjoying the view more than she liked to admit. He would be any girl’s dream husband: rich and powerful and handsome. And Nadia was more than happy with their betrothal. Well, not betrothal, exactly. Their parents had agreed to the match when Nate was six and Nadia was four, but they couldn’t be legally betrothed until they’d both reached eighteen, and Nadia still had two more years to go. Two more years of watching every well-bred girl in Paxco throw herself at him—or be pushed at him by ambitious parents. Two more years of not just good behavior but perfect behavior on her part to ensure no action of hers would discredit her family before the arrangement became legally binding.

Nadia knew the moment the Terrible Trio caught sight of Nate, because their inane banter suddenly stopped. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw all three of them stand up just a little straighter, hold their chins just a little higher. Jewel even took an extra deep breath so the tops of her breasts peeked out of her decolletage. Nadia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. If only Jewel knew how little her assets interested Nate.

“Be still my heart!” Nate declared when he was within earshot, sweeping all four of them with a lascivious look. “Such beauty will surely blind me.” His voice dripped with so much exaggeration Nadia almost laughed out loud.

“You are too kind, sir,” Jewel simpered, leaning forward so Nate could look down her dress if he

Вы читаете Replica
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату