If she could look at it, with the hindsight of everything that had happened, she would say that it all began six months before Wallace Bryce Talbert went missing. The day Ella Jane Munro sold Llewellyn Koonts a hit of blow in the locker room of her father's country club.
Of course, if she had the luxury of hindsight, she might have changed everything by simply going to lunch at the Greenhouse instead of tennis at the club.
Then again. Charlotte had never had much use for hindsight and even less for regrets.
Charlie Brooks was an institution at the Buringtree Country Club. She had grown up in the halls, played tennis early and well, swam in the summer and pranced around the greens in tiny shorts, her blonde hair bobbing in her signature braid.
She was a perfect debutant. Sweet as sugar when it suited her, and an utter bitch when it didn't. The staff at the club lived in fear of her temper. HR had to step in when she was in high school and they couldn't keep a staff--Charlie either terrorized them into quitting or demanded they were fired over minor infractions.
And because she was Travis Brooks only daughter, she usually got her way.
Ella Jane Munro was different from Charlie. Just as bitchy, just as demanding. Filthy fucking rich. But Charlie revealed in who and what she was born to. She never wanted anything but to be the queen bee at her private school, at the club, and Vanderbilt. Everything she did was carefully calculated for how it would reflect on her and how people viewed her.
It’s why she and Ella Jane had never gotten along, despite being in the same circles.
From the outside, they would have made the perfect frenemies. Self-destructive, the kind of too close back-stabbing that would fuel the wet dreams of high school boys with visions of love hate sexcapdes.
Ella Jane and Charlie didn't cooperate. Ella was bored to death with country club life and everything expected of a deb. And she might be an it girl, in her blasé way, but she never aspired to steal Charlie's crown.
They existed for most of their life, in a kind of live and let live détente.
No one could explain why that changed. It was whispered about, of course. Two of Charleston's favorite daughters, suddenly inseparable? Everyone had a theory. No one knew the truth, though.
No one would have ever believed the truth.
The door to her office opened and closed again, in the kind of way that was an announcement. She swallowed a smirk and layered another coat of pale pink on her nails.
Most girls would pay for a manicure, but she had always found the ritual of her nail care to be soothing.
The cash slapped down on her desk and she blinked at it slowly before letting her gaze slide lazily up to the woman across from her.
Sharp green eyes, long jet black hair with a single streak of magenta in bangs cut across her forehead. A pair of designer skinny jeans and a loose, sheer black tank top scattered with polka dot skull and cross bones, lace edged cami under it showing off her amazing tits.
Only Ella Jane could stalk into her office in designer jeans and a Walmart clearance top and look perfect instead of ridiculous.
“Your half.” She says.
Charlie finishes her last finger, admiring it briefly before screwing the lid on her nail polish and giving the other woman her attention.
“When are you meeting with Jacobs?”
“Tomorrow. Don’t be impatient, greedy girl.”
She bites down on the acidic response that wants to rise, and arches an eyebrow silently. EJ stares at her for a long moment, before she huffs a sigh and drops into the high back leather chair across from her.
“You can’t do anything until Monday anyway. Isn’t your engagement thing tonight.”
It’s posed as a question, but she knows damn well when it is. Charlie goes still and her gaze clouds for a heartbeat.
“Do you want me to come?” EJ asks, quietly.
The offer startles a laugh from Charlie and she grins, a dry, mocking thing. “And how the hell would I explain that? No. Stay on your side of the club, and I’ll stay on mine. I’ll be fine.”
There’ a tense moment, as they stare at each other, and Charlie wonders just how much EJ suspects.
They weren’t supposed to become friends—it was a business arrangement. One that benefited them both and made EJ’s supplier happy. But it had evolved.
It made her nervous, and nothing made her nervous. She didn’t like it.
“Don’t be a bitch, Charlie,” EJ says coldly.
“Then don’t fucking hover.” Charlie snaps.
Anger flares in EJ’s eyes, for a moment, and then it vanished, and she stands. “Fine. Have fun with your boy.”
Her tone is mocking and knowing and it stings a little as she watches EJ leave.
For a moment, it occurs to her that she should apologize. She dismisses it just as quickly and grabs the stack of cash, standing and moving to the wall where her safe is.
It’s crammed with cash and a small black revolver. As she adds the new stack to the others, she touches the gun.
It’s soothing, and her unease and nerves settle at the touch of the cool metal.
It’ a standard black Glock. Most of her girlfriends carry a tiny pink pistols they can tuck into their Coach bags with equally ridiculous sized dogs. But Travis Brooks always said that if she wanted to be man enough to carry a gun, she’d damn well carry a man’s gun.
“Charlotte? We have a meeting with the partners.”
She snaps the safe shut, keying the lock and spins to smile at her fiancée.
Wallace Bryce Talbert the Third. Tre to his friends and enemies alike. A golden boy in her father’s law firm, and the man she had promised to spend her entire life with.
He’s grinning at her, holding a hand out and she swallows her nerves and fear as she places her hand in his and follows him out of the office.
EJ pads out of her bedroom, her naked body wrapped in moonlight. A bottle of spumante sits discarded in a silver wine chiller, and she grabs it as she moves to her purse and pull out a pack of cigarettes. She smokes almost pensively, staring out the window. Behind her, she can hear him moving and she keeps her gaze trained on the window as smoke curls around her, dissipating slowly.
“You should come back to bed,” he says, and she can hear the tease in his tone. She barely manages to keep from rolling her eyes as she wraps her lips around the cigarette again, pulling one last time before dropping it into a forgotten champagne flute.
“You should go. I’ve got an early morning tomorrow.”
Surprise and anger chase across his face, and she waits to see if he’ll follow through.
Clayton Poole was the heir of an ancient oil tycoon, and would be much more interesting if he would lose his temper every once in a while.
He was a fun fuck, always took care to get her off, and he opened doors even she couldn’t walk though. But he was boring as fuck when they weren’t naked.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he says, lamely, and she flick a look at him as she pours a glass of spumante.
“Don’t. I’ll call you soon.” She gives him a smile and kisses his cheek before returning to her bedroom.
She lets out a sigh when the door shuts behind him, and settles on her bed. It smells of sex still, but she’s too drunk and lazy just now to strip the sheets.
Besides, she likes the smell of sex, even if Clayton isn’t her favorite fuck buddy.
There is a joint in her bedside table and she fishes it out and lights it, pulling on it deeply as she thumbs through her social media.
The entire newsfeed is abuzz with the engagement party of the year, and she grits her teeth. She should have been there. Clayton had been invited—Charlie will be pissed he didn’t show, a thought that strings a smirk across her lips—and she could have crashed it. Nothing to be done once she was there.
Once upon a time, it would have been amusing just to get a rise from Charlie.
When the fuck had that changed? When she realized that Charlie was just as unhappy in their fucking perfect life as she was?
Or was it when Charlie blackmailed EJ into sharing her distribution, earning her respect as more than another empty headed social climber.
She huffs, and takes another pull on the joint. The smell of weed fill the bedroom, covering the scent of sex. Her muscles are loose and relaxed against the bed and she let’s her phone drop beside her, drifting on her high, drunk and post-orgasmic relaxation combining to pull her down into sleep.
The room is pitch black, her body hot and sweating against the rough duvet when she wakes. Her mouth is dry and for a disorienting moment, she wonders where the hell she is, and what happened.
Her phone buzzes against her thigh again, and she fumbles for it.
“Charlie?” she croaks, and swallows. Reaches for the spumante on the bedside table.
“I need you.”
The whisper from the other end of the line chills her, and she shudders, rubbing away the goosebumps that trace along her arms.
That’s it—those three words and nothing more.
Sleep is forgotten completely as she sits up and nods. “I’ll be right there.”