New Year’s Eve
Sora’s assistant Cristina appeared a few minutes before midnight with a purple foil top hat on her head and a noisemaker in one hand. “You’ve got a visitor.”
“At almost midnight on New Year’s Eve?” Never mind that Sora had been in the Himura Media Group offices since seven this morning, save for a brief lunch at home with her son, Tommy. She didn’t have anything else she’d rather be doing with her house empty and her son asleep. Surely, whoever this was could wait.
“He said it was important.”
“Tell me it’s not my ex-husband.” Her head gave a horrific twinge in memory of her persistent migraine, and she stood from her desk to brace herself for the onslaught. Sora Gallegos Himura was nothing if not willing to take a hit on her feet.
Cristina pulled a face. “Not yours, no,” she hinted heavily. “Shall I show him in?”
Sora eyed the clock. Her assistant had stayed late on the most exciting night of the year to keep her company. The least she could do was let the woman join the other workaholic employees in their after-hours celebration.
“Sure. Why don’t you join the others on the roof, I hear the fireworks are going to be amazing tonight.”
“I don’t mind sticking around.” Which Sora might have believed had Cristina not perked up so obviously at the mere suggestion.
“The hat says otherwise. I’ll be up for drinks in a little while. Have enough fun and kiss enough gorgeous people for the both of us.”
“You saying that as my boss or my friend?”
“I’m saying it as the person who doesn’t want to see you sued for sexual harassment, so choose your kissees wisely.”
“Will do.” Cristina quirked a smug grin. “As for you, don’t have too much fun either. The view is delicious.”
But Cristina only laughed and darted out of Sora’s office on her towering heels. Sora forgot her assistant’s odd parting shot when a knock sounded at her door and a tall, broad figure followed. She almost didn’t recognize him.
Is that...? It can’t be, can it? He’s still in Rome. A sudden quirk of full lips proved her wrong. The chiseled jawline that had haunted her sister’s youth was buried under a bristly layer of whiskers. His hair was longer, save for where his trademark sideburns had ruled; those were gone. Thoughtful lines crossed his brow where none had been before. Softness had glommed to the athletic physique he so prized. Yet, there was a youthful light in his eyes Sora had never seen. He had aged in both directions, it seemed; but for all that time had finally touched him, it was as if no time had passed at all. Sora grabbed onto the back of her chair, overwhelmed at the sight of him as she hadn’t been in twenty years. It was her ex-brother-in-law.
He smiled wider and rocked back on his heels.
She smiled past her surprise. Ravi Misra, the prodigal son of House of Misra fashion house and couturier, had stopped by for a visit.
“You came back to L.A.”
“I thought it was time.” He cocked his head, watching her. “You all right?”
“I’ve been worse.”
His expression shifted, going momentarily pensive. “I heard about that. How are you, really?”
“Like I said, I’ve definitely been worse. A lot worse.” She was determined not to let the past ruin her new year. She and Ravi had never truly been close, but that could change. Sora wasn’t exactly overrun with friends nowadays; she couldn’t be turning potential allies away at the door. “So how do you like the new office?”
Ravi did a quick turn about the perimeter of her ex-husband’s ex-office, letting his designer’s eye take everything in. Anthony had liked clean lines and open space. Modern industrial chic. Black leather, glass this and stainless steel that, the sort of aesthetic that made men of a certain type feel powerful but mostly left Sora with a chill. The place didn’t look much different since Anthony’s ignominious exit as she hadn’t taken the time to redecorate yet. In truth, she’d been procrastinating. The office of the CEO still felt like a borrowed throne.
“I like what it stands for, but it’s not you yet. I’ll like it better when it has you painted on the walls.” He came forward to knock on her glass desk. “And on the furniture. This is Tony all over; his ego’s embedded in the details. Mr. Glass and Chrome. Cold as logic and twice as ruthless. That’s never been you.”
Ravi had known her as well as one could know their off-and-on younger sister-in-law. He had known her as an appendage to Hana, a hanger-on and obstacle as their ensuing drama required. Sora was an ancillary character in Hana Gallegos Mirren Torres Misra’s latest great love story. She scarcely rated higher billing in her own.
“How would you know?”
“I’ve known you for twenty years.”
“Closer to twenty-five.”
“Don’t remind me.” He swept a hand through his wavy black hair, grousing about the passage of time. She could just make out strands of silver gleaming beneath the harsh office lights. “In any case, this place could use your touch. You’ve always had style.”
“That’s a bold-faced lie. I was as terribly dressed as any child of the nineties. I only learned how to present myself because I couldn’t bear the ridicule from my sisters or their friends any longer. When I was wealthy enough, I hired a stylist. You’re the real artist when it comes to fashion.”
His brown eyes twinkled. Her stomach did somersaults. He was never less than the most handsome man in any room he entered.
“You’ve never called me an artist before. I thought you hated fashion and everything to do with it.”
“I like beautiful things, and you make beautiful things. If you weren’t so busy destroying everything you touched, I would have adored you. Sometimes, I did anyway.” Ravi was capable of such immense beauty when he turned his energies to needle and thread; dressforms came alive in taffeta and organza, models turned to dreams. Charmless social climbers became queens in his gowns and angels in his cocktail dresses. As furious as he had made her for years, she couldn’t deny his talent. “You’re a brilliant designer. I admire that.”
“The feeling’s mutual.”
“That’s two lies in five minutes, a record even by your standards.” She crossed her arms over the back of her chair. “Ravi Misra, what brings you to my corner office?”
“I came to offer you applause.” He lifted his agile hands in a raucous clap that filled her office with sound that would put Maria Callas to shame. Genius must have its audience.
“If you think you can embarrass me that easily, it’ll never work.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He gestured toward the chair opposite her desk. “May I?” At her nod, he took a seat. “You did something most people thought impossible: You stole Anthony’s company right from under him and you did it from the inside. I think that deserves a round of applause and an all-expense paid trip the Alps. You’re amazing.”
Sora tucked her hair behind her ear, a nervous habit from adolescence that reappeared whenever she took center stage in any of life’s little melodramas. “That confirms it: You’re an imposter.” She turned her back on the man to stare out down at the bustling streets as the clock counted down on this dying year.
“Nothing fake about me or that compliment. You knock me out. What the hell was that husband of yours thinking, looking at anybody but you?”
He was laying it on thick to her mind. Ravi had a way with guilt; it was temporary and hellaciously convincing. He’d stolen countless hearts with that transient sincerity. She found it easy enough to understand how.
“Hana’s not just anybody. Wasn’t that what you said the last time you left Jasmin to get back together with her?”
Dr. Jasmin Sadangi was Ravi’s first wife and Hana’s polar opposite in almost every way. Though both women were too clever by half and educated to the point of tedium, Jasmin had all the composure that Hana lacked. Jasmin was slow to anger and swift in vengeance. Hana was a raging river that showed no mercy, only to languish in regret. Jasmin was charm personified and ageless beauty. Hana was passion made flesh, halcyon days trapped in a bottle, an addiction Ravi had not been able to shake in twenty-four years, three divorces, and four children, give or take a paternity testing disaster. Her sister wasn’t just anybody.
Sora looked back at him, determined to see this through.
“I know what I said and what I did.” He uncrossed his legs and sat with his hands sandwiched between his knees as if he were afraid they’d shake if he left them alone.
“You disappeared without a trace.” She let her old anger spark. Oh, what might have been avoided if he’d shown up and acted his age. The pain she might not have endured, that she might not be feeling the phantom ache of even months later.
“I had my reasons.”
“You left your family and, by extension, my family in the lurch. You’re going to have to do better than ‘I had my reasons.’ That’s not good enough.”
“I know. That’s why I’m here. That’s part of it.” He stood up again and she had to lean back to keep meeting his eyes. She’d forgotten about those eyes of his. He had eyes that talked; dark and reflective, they demanded that she watch and listen. They were the eyes of a better man than he had been. “I’m sorry.”
She didn’t respond. There weren’t words for the riot raging in her head.
“I don’t—what do you want from me? What is this? You’re sorry?”
“You know why.”
“I don’t know anything. I’ve had a tough year and I’m not up to games, so I need you to state your business or leave.” Sorry. He was sorry. He was the first person in two years to say the words without provocation and Sora was choking on them. He wasn’t even here. She clung to her composure as the sole port in this storm of something that was shaking her to the core. He’s sorry.