Chapter One

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Yelena Solodnikova drove her black Mercedes Benz through the Hollywood Hills thinking of a man other than the one she was coming home to. That man's name was Marcel and despite Yelena's best efforts to love again, Marcel was still the only man who had ever been housed deeply within her heart. Back when they lived in Malibu, Marcel went for a run on the beach and never came back. It took Yelena more than a year to accept that Marcel would never return, and when she did, she moved out of their house, left the beach, and retreated to the hills.

An hour before she stepped into her car she had been sitting on a sofa in a corner office on the fourth floor of an architecturally unimaginative office building. Already into the hours of night, the floors of fluorescent lights were turned out, making the building's glass appear black, with only the amber glow of the street lamps tapping against them. Only in that single office suite on the fourth floor did light shine from within, and even that was dim, its source being two incandescent bulbs, already soft and furthermore shaded.

As usual, Yelena was dressed in all black-a pencil skirt and a blouse that left her pale arms bare. Her youthful platinum blonde hair, which caused most observers to incorrectly conclude she had an excellent colorist, was worn up that night, held in place with two black chopsticks, each studded with a diamond. She wore diamond earrings as well, a diamond bracelet, and a wristwatch encrusted with diamonds. But around her neck she wore a simple silver chain with an asymmetrical heart-shaped pendant with an empty setting that held neither a diamond nor any gemstone at all.

Yelena was a woman who should have known she was exceptionally beautiful, but she never thought about it and certainly didn't see it. She noticed the stares she would receive from both men and women in public, but they would only force her to look away. She didn't recognize when she was being admired; rather, she saw the flaws she felt resided within her were visible and being scrutinized.

Though placed at her youthful age of twenty-four, she carried an elegance more commonly seen in an older woman. Her posture and grace suggested the background of a classically trained dancer, which she had once been. She was twenty-three and actually en pointe when she first saw Marcel. He was sitting in the sixth row of a full auditorium, staring directly at her on a stage full of dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet, including the company's étoile, who Yelena was not.

Yelena's eyes were dark and serious. Her lashes were long and her eyebrows always appeared as if they had just been meticulously threaded. Her pallid skin was without hue but appeared flawless as though she powdered the entirety of her beautifully lithe body. Her lips were lusciously full and always perfectly lined with a deep red lipstick. I wish I looked like Yelena, but I don't. Not remotely.

Sitting in a chair opposite Yelena was Dr. Sloane, her psychiatrist. I only met him once while sitting in his waiting room one night during Yelena's session, but I've gotten to know him quite well since. At the time, Dr. Sloane was in his fifties. His socks always matched his ties, which Yelena had noticed, but she didn't realize her shrink was dressed by his wife until I told her. She got a good laugh out of it. His wife didn't decorate Dr. Sloane's office, however. It looked like it hadn't been decorated in over thirty years. The furniture was comfortable but older and more worn than Yelena would have expected for her three hundred and eighty dollars an hour.

"And today?"

"I had coffee," Yelena answered softly, as was her nature.

Dr. Sloane jotted something down on his notepad. "Anything else?"

"No."

"How would you say your energy level has been this week?

"Low. I barely made it here."

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