Page 89 of Coercion

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My brother Emerson and his pregnant wife.Will and his fiancée and her two ten-year-old siblings.My mother, who returned from the dead almost three decades after she looked me in the face and saidI can’t go back for them, Sin, I just can’t, I’ll die.

I was the one who went back.I made her death seem real enough to be believed.

And here we are.My brothers, happy.My mom, happy.

The Hughes relaunch party has transitioned out of the corporate façade and into an expensive cocktail party with an open bar.Lights are significantly lower.Much better for people-watching.

I’m tucked up on the far side of the bar, two drinks in.The evening plays out in front of me.Emerson’s over in one corner with Daphne.He’s talking, which probably means he’s attracted some people interested in art.

Mom’s there, too, looking proud as all hell.

Will’s not far away, Bristol at his side.They’re all wrapped up in a crowd of people from Hughes.When he thinks nobody’s looking, he turns away and gives her a look that says he’d rather be elsewhere with her, somewhere private.

Toward the middle of the room, Leo Morelli has something similar on his mind.He escorts his wife Haley around a bunch of similarly rich assholes with a look in his eyes that can only be described as extremely suggestive.

He must feel me looking.It takes him all of two seconds to spot me by the bar.I wiggle my fingers in a wave.He glares back and mouthsit’s rude to stare, motherfucker.

I stare harder.He flips me off.

Then he’s all sharp-toothed charm again.

Something else catches my eye.

A particular shade of white-blond.It’s a canvas for the bar lights.Blue.Purple.Red.I see its true color in the spaces between.

She’s in a black dress.An attempt to blend in.I can tell by the way she moves through the crowd that she has experience with becoming invisible.It’s an act.A piece of jewelry she can take on and off at will.

This woman, if she wanted, could part the crowd like the Red Sea.

She’s magnificent.

She approaches the bar with a smile on her face.Makes the hair at the back of my neck stand up.Not because it’s threatening, but because it’s genuine.

And because she’s giving it to the bartender.

“How are you holding up, Joe?”she asks the bartender.

“It’s a good night.Thank you for stepping in earlier.”The bartender, apparently named Joe, raises his eyebrows.“Your usual?”

“It’s all that sustains me.”

“That bad, huh?”Ginger beer.Lime juice.A generous pour of vodka.He makes her a Moscow Mule and pushes the copper cup across the bar.

She drops a couple twenties into the tip jar.“You tell me.”

The bartender scans the crowd.“A quiet night.Not counting the—”

She takes a sip, and the look in her eyes turns dark and arresting.“I had him removed.What an ass.”

“You’re a good egg, Ms.Constantine.”

Constantine.She’s a Constantine.

They’re the mortal enemies of the Morellis, the family my brother married into.I’ve also heard about the relatively recent peace.I don’t buy it.Feuds never really die.

“Speaking of asses.”She drops her voice.“Madeleine St.James over there?Don’t stop serving her, but when she asks for another Jack and Coke, leave out the Jack.She’s too drunk to notice.And too drunk to have any more.We don’t want another incident like the debutante ball.”