CHAPTER 1 | outed

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Sydney had managed to avoid New York's social scene for the better part of a decade.

So why did I agree to go?

Anxious, she fidgeted with her Gucci clutch and continued to stare out the window onto the busy Manhattan street. The reflection that stared back at her belied the terror that clutched at her chest, making it difficult to breathe.

What if someone recognizes me?

The closer the taxi got to their destination, the more paranoid she became. For a split second, Sydney considered asking the driver to turn around, then instantly changed her mind.

This is ridiculous. I'm a grown woman. What's the worst that can happen?

Memories that still haunted her dreams rushed to the surface, a gentle reminder of just how bad things could get. Not for the first time today, she questioned her aunt's and cousin's reason for pushing her to join them; not to mention her sanity for agreeing to attend. They, of all people, understood her reluctance.

Sydney's attention was diverted by the woman staring at her through the window. Her face, poised in a perfectly upright and still position, gave no indication of the secrets that lay behind her smile. Neither warm or cold, as with the remainder of her countenance, it encouraged distance. The soft, twisted, chignon, reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's stylish up-do, complemented the flawless and understated make up. There wasn't a hair or smudge out of place. Familiar almond shaped eyes stared at her in wonder; the only chink in the armour that kept the world at bay.

Startled, it took Sydney a moment to recognise her own reflection. She had hidden herself deep behind the person she had become, and was now a stranger to the girl she had once been. Inwardly chastising herself for dwelling on a past better left in the past, she focused on her surroundings and checked the time.

Shit, I'm late.

As they pulled up to the main entrance of the Roosevelt Hotel, Sydney rechecked her outfit. If she blended in, and no one noticed her, perhaps she'd come out of this unscathed.

The taxi driver eyed up the smattering of paparazzi that loitered outside of the iconic landmark. "You one of them rich and famous?" he asked as he glanced at her attire.

Sydney handed him the fare and smiled apologetically as she shook her head, relieved that he had no inkling of the price of her Chanel gown.

"Not even close," she said, "my boss cancelled at the last minute and gave me his ticket. I'm only a Personal Assistant."

The cabbie glanced appreciatively at the ten-dollar tip. "Well, don't you be scared going in there." He indicated towards the photographers who had pounced on a minor celebrity. "They 'ain't any better than us."

Thanking the taxi driver for his kindness, Sydney steeled herself and made her way to the entrance of the hotel. She was determined not to let anyone detect the fear that was a constant companion when she felt exposed and vulnerable in public. Years of conditioning kicked in, and she schooled her features to appear disinterested and unapproachable.

Sydney glided through the revolving doors, thankful the paparazzi's focus was otherwise engaged. Waving off a white-gloved porter, she made her way up the short flight of stairs towards the central reception area. As she took the second set of stairs to the mezzanine floor, she glanced at the hotel patrons that relaxed in the lush, resplendent chairs dotted around the main lobby. The familiar indications of wealth reflected in the way they presented themselves to the world.

Subconsciously running her hands down her gown to ensure everything was in place, she followed the distinctive brass plated signs that lead the way. As she ascended the red and gold carpeted stairs, she forced herself to practice the chakra breathing exercises Stephen insisted she learnt.

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