My life is perfect.
It has to be because he designed it that way.
I am just one shiny part in the Croft world—glittering like spun gold for all to see.
And they will.
It’s why I exist.
To be a trophy displayed to the world. Beautiful, polite, intelligent, poised, elegant. I’m everything he demands I be. Never do I argue or resist his impossible demands.
Because of Della.
She’s not perfect.
At least, not in his eyes.
To me, my little sister is everything. Funny and sassy and a little odd sometimes. She’s the realest thing in my life. The only thing that brings me true joy.
But for some reason, he hates her. With every fiber of his being. Nothing she does is even satisfactory in his eyes. She’s a burden—an embarrassment. And if it weren’t for my careful intervening, there’s no telling what would happen to her.
I suck in a deep breath and then exhale all the stress that comes with living in the Croft penthouse condo in the prestigious Hudson Yards neighborhood with one of New York’s most powerful men.
Our condo might be valued at nearly thirty million and always magazine perfect, but darkness lurks behind every shiny marble surface. This home is nothing more than a fancy nightmare. An illusion tied in a pretty bow.
My bedroom is where I spend most of my time. The floor-to-ceiling windows that make up an entire wall of my room are where I can escape while still trapped. The expansive views of the sparkling Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, eighty-eight floors above the ground, remind me that life is beautiful out there away from my harsh reality. Lady Liberty, that bitch, taunts me from afar, boasting of her freedom.
Turning away from the false getaway that my windows tease me with, I take in my room. Like the rest of our condo, my room is immaculate. Very little reveals me or my personality. Sleek white furniture, snowy white bedding, soft white rugs sitting on warm charcoal gray wood floors. No art or fancy decorations. No television or stereo. Nothing but my picture-perfect prison.
I’m a pretty doll in an even prettier dollhouse.
And he likes playing with his things.
Tonight, he’ll be home, back from a two-week business trip to Tokyo. All the tension I’d managed to unknot in that time has found its way back into the muscles of my neck, twisting me up with each passing second that’ll eventually bring me to the moment I’ll be forced to see him again.
“Miss Landry,” Noel chirps from the doorway, making me jolt in surprise. “Do you require my assistance?”
I blink several times as I steel my spine. I can’t afford to let my guard down even for a second. Not because I’m afraid of Noel, but because I need to be ready for him. Lifting my chin, I give Noel a polite smile.
“Yes, please.” I motion toward the silky, golden Georgio Armani textured drape dress laid out on my bed, an exquisite blip on the otherwise perfect white comforter. “I always have trouble with the zippers.”
Eager to help, Noel scurries into my bedroom, a small smile curling her lips up. I like Noel, and in another life, we could be friends. But we’re not in another life. We’re in this one. Here, she’s paid help and not allowed anything more. I’m curious what her life consists of outside the Croft penthouse. Does she have children or a husband or hobbies?
“Mr. Croft likes this color on you,” Noel says, her voice reassuring. “I’m sure he’ll have missed you dearly.”
I try not to wince at her words. He will have missed me and he will like this dress. I’ll be everything that he’s groomed me to be—perfect.
It’s Della he won’t have missed dearly.
Della who will be the recipient of his scornful glares and scathing remarks.
Clearing my throat, I attempt to ready myself for his arrival. There is no room for jittery nerves or a twisting stomach. I have to be strong and distracting so Della flies under the radar. Sure, we’ve had a much-needed break from him, but he’s back in town, which means it’s business as usual.
All playfulness will be gone. Our movie and popcorn nights in her room will cease to exist. The treats Noel sometimes smuggles in for us will discontinue under his watchful eye. Della’s sleeping in my bed will be no more. We’ll have to watch our backs, which means always being on guard.
Even the staff is rigid once more. They’ve been whisking around all day, readying the condo for his arrival. His security detail lets us bend the rules while he’s gone, as long as we don’t leave the condo. But with his return they’ll be strict and smothering again.
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