Chapter 22

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Trisha pins my waves, turning all my hair onto the left side of my body. My hair has grown so long that it's past my breasts now. I smile, makeup already completed for the launch.

"It looks great, Trish."

"Just wait."

She grabs a red rose, perfectly matched to my lips and settles it onto the right side, just above my ear. Pinning that down as well, she nods, grabbing the hairspray bottle. I close my eyes as she makes sure not a single strand will wilt.

"Okay, now you're done."

Sore from sitting for two hours, I stand, stretching my back slightly. She smiles, nodding. "You're a fucking knockout."

I turn, looking into my door-length mirror. The dress that cost me a fortune was worth every penny. It's black, strapless, and body hugging till my knees where it flares out to the ground to form a train behind the dress. My heels are also black, simple pointed stilettos.

Thankfully, a month after the tsunami, the only trace of it left on my body is the gash on my hairline. It's begun healing so I'm happy it's not going to scar. I lift a pair of sapphire earrings my mother once sent me as a graduation present and set them onto my ears... She sent them because she couldn't be there but honestly, they're too beautiful to neglect.

"We're so late," I utter, grabbing the phone I've been meaning to send back to Tristan and my lipstick, stuffing them inside. "The cars outside."

"Not Tristan's right?"

"No, no... I haven't used his driver since he went on that show... I told him I wasn't going to need Tristan's services."

"Good girl."

She pulls on the top of her strapless, white dress, adjusting her breasts uncomfortably. She hates dressing up. I smile and sigh.

"You look gorgeous. Stop fussing."

"There better be good food at this place," she mutters, smiling. I kiss her cheek and gesture her to follow me.

"Come on. I can't be late to my own party."

...

"Okay, ready?" I breathe to her as our vehicle nears the very crowded steps of the building.

"Born ready."

I step out first, clutch in hand and wait for Trisha. The amount of reporters outside are daunting. I blink uncomfortably as the flashes go off in our faces as we walk up the steps. My name is screamed left and right from the reporters, forcing the people around us to stare.

Trisha grabs my hand and I look over at her. She smiles, nodding. Comforted, we step out of the chaos into enchantment. I nod, noticing this room looks even better with the twinkling lights on the ceiling. There is a carpet leading to the main room.

"I have to go through the back, okay? It's straight that way. I'll meet you inside."

"Sure, I'll be good."

I tug on her hand before I make my detour, heading for the employees hallway. It's full with my staff as well as the caterers and musicians. I smile, greeting them as we make our way into a small room. Everyone's packed in by the time I make it to the door.

"Hey, guys... Alright, so tonight's the night. I can already tell this is going to be freaking awesome." I grin when a few shout exuberantly, obviously ready to party. "Before we do this, I just want to thank you all for the extra work you've put in. None of this could be done without you, really. I couldn't ask for a better team..." My ears tune into the orchestra that's begun their first piece. "And on that note, let's go do this."

...

I exit the employee's doorway, immediately scanning the room for Trisha. A smile appears on my face as I behold the ballroom, filled with elegant people. I saw the set up earlier today but this is so much more. People are already filing through the room towards the hallways holding the artwork.

My boss makes her way over to me in a short, red dress. "This is wonderful, Miss Harding."

"Thank you, Mrs. Monroe." I grin, shrugging happily. "It really all worked out."

"Well you were in charge... I wouldn't expect any less."

She walks away, leaving me in her wake awed and even more pleased than before. Standing off in the corner, I clutch my hands tightly in front of my body, people watching. A few of our investors come by to greet me but don't stay long. Finally, I see Trisha by the orchestra, talking to some guy because she is, as always, my idol. I don't understand how she can attract men the way she does. She's beautiful of course, but still.

I ignore the stares as I take the stage, wishing I didn't actually have stage fright... but I do. I grab the microphone and plaster on a large, very fake smile.

"Good evening, everyone. I'm Genevieve Harding, the museum's Painting Curator. The Institute would like to thank you for coming to see these remarkable works of art and also- for your contributions. They help so much- we wouldn't be able to do these exhibits without them so thank you again... We're very grateful. Please, feel free to eat and drink as much as you would like- the open bar has its perks."

As laughter sounds through the room, I blush happily and continue, exhaling. "As your invitation announced, we will be having an auction of new artists works in room B. That will begin at 8pm exactly. If you have any questions about that or anything else, please feel free to ask the greeters at the main entrance of this room- they will be happy to assist you... Um, okay, enough of that. Please enjoy your evening."

A round of applause sounds as I quickly exit the stage toward the raffle table where Ray, our oldest employee is sitting, handing out tickets to a line of people.

"Ray, how many have come up for the raffle?"

"Over a hundred already. Karen is filing them in this way so it will be fine."

"Good. I want people to leave here happy and free stuff makes people happy." I nod, touching the rose in my hair to make sure it's still sound.

"Go have fun. Honestly, you've earned it. We've got this here," he whispers, shooing me off with a gesture of his hand. I glare, grinning and head toward where Trisha is standing.

She hugs me when I reach her. "This is spectacular."

"I'm glad you think so... Have you gone to look at the artwork?"

She makes a face and I laugh.

"I know, I know, you're not interested."

"You promised me hot guys and free drinks." She scans the room, raising champagne to her lips. "You've definitely held up your end of the bargain."

"And what exactly did I get out of this deal?"

She bats her eyes, shrugging. "Moral support?"

"Ah, I see... Where is that guy from earlier?"

"He went to go see the art. He's a collector."

I purse my lips approvingly. "Maybe you should go after him."

She grins, biting her bottom lip with anticipation. "Maybe I should."

I'm chuckling as she walks by, leaving me alone to find my seat. In a much-needed detour, I head to the bar, desperate to get some really expensive champagne in my body. Jessica beats me to it, cutting in front of me with a smirk.

"Seniority."

I laugh softly, rolling my eyes and cross my arms in front of my body. She orders a white wine to the handsome bartender and turns to me. I look at her, opening my mouth to ask her about the speech she's going to give later when I notice her gaze is directed straight past my head. The expression on her features sends a chill straight down my spine.

I turn, slowly and try to keep my face as passive as I can as I stare into the eyes of Casey Mathews and Tristan Maddox.


A/N: Considering another double update day... We'll see. ;)

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