Bound By Vengeance(4)

By: Cora Reilly

“Be polite,” Mother whispered under her breath as we were led toward the double doors that opened up to the ballroom with crystal chandeliers and high tables that fringed the dance floor. One wall was lined by a long table filled with canapés, piles of langoustines and lobsters, bowls filled with crushed ice that were topped with the biggest oysters I’d ever seen, tins with Ossetra caviar and every luxurious piece of food I could imagine. The bellboy excused himself the moment we arrived inside the ballroom and rushed off to the next guests.

Once inside I let my gaze glide over the guests looking for my friends. I was eager to join them and let my parents seek out their own preferred company, but Mother didn’t give me a chance to search very long. She touched my forearm lightly and whispered in my ear. “Be on your best behavior. We’ll have to thank Mr. Falcone for the invitation first.”

I looked past her to where Father was already talking to a tall man with black hair. Father held his shoulders in a hunch as if he was trying to bow before his boss without actually bowing. The sight left a bitter taste in my mouth. With Mother’s palm resting against the small of my back, I crept closer to my father and his boss. We stopped a couple of steps behind them, waiting for them to turn to us. Falcone’s dark eyes found me first before Father noticed our presence. The coldness in them sent a shiver down my back. His high-colored white shirt and black bowtie made him look even more intimidating, which was a feet in itself considering that bowties usually let their wearers appear comical to me.

After the exchange of a few meaningless pleasantries, I was finally dismissed and rushed toward one of the waiters balancing a tray full of champagne flutes on his palm. He was dressed in a white shimmery smoking and white high-polished shoes. At least the outfit made it easy to spot them.

One of our bodyguards followed a few steps behind me as I strode away from my parents, the other positioned himself at the edge of the gathered guests and kept an eye on my parents. I wondered why it was even necessary to have our bodyguards with us at a party of our supposed friends. I pushed the thought aside, wanting to enjoy this evening, and I took a glass of Champagne with a quick thanks, then downed a long gulp of the prickling liquid, grimacing at the tart taste.

“How can you make such a face while drinking Dom Perignon, the best drink in this world,” Trish said, appearing at my side out of nowhere and snatching a glass of Champagne for herself.

“It’s the water of kings,” Anastasia intoned, and it was unnerving that I wasn’t sure if she meant it as a joke or was dead honest.

“I’m trying to get used to it,” I admitted, lowering the flute from my lips. The alcohol was starting to do its magic and for that I was grateful after the short chat with Falcone. Both my friends were styled to perfection. Anastasia in a floor-length dream in silver, and Trish in a light green cocktail dress that brushed her knees. Not that I had expected anything less from them. They’d told me at length about their shopping trip for new dresses for the occasion. Of course I hadn’t been allowed to go with them despite my best attempts to convince my parents. Instead her mother had made me wear a dress I’d bought for Christmas last year. My only consolation was that nobody but my family had seen me wear it, so I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my friends.

“I hear it’s an acquired taste,” Trish added thoughtfully. She took a small sip from her glass, her expression turning into one of bliss. “I suppose I’ve always had a knack for Dom Perignon and in the past year I’ve certainly had enough chances to get acquired to its taste, and I intend to drink it even more often in the future.” She and Anastasia shared a laugh, and I cursed my parents again for sheltering me as much as they did. If Trish and Anastasia could brave the supposed dangers of our world, then so could I.

Trish gave me a teasing smile, then hugged me with one arm, careful not to ruin either of our hairdos or make-ups. Anastasia only smiled. Her bodice was a masterpiece of pearls and embroidery. “I’m worried I’ll pull a thread if we hug,” she said only half-apologetically.

“That’s reasonable,” I said, taking another sip from my drink and forcing my face into one of delight instead of revulsion at the taste. I knew for most people this champagne was the height of their drink fantasies but I just couldn’t enjoy it. I’d have to try harder if I didn’t want to see Anastasia’s pitying expression again.