Hot City Nights

A Life on Top Novel

Clara Darling

St. Martin's Griffin

One
 
Sophie and Tai had been engaged for six weeks, but the diamond still had the power to catch her by surprise. Every time she reached for her computer mouse or shuffled a deck of cards, there it was, shining up at her like a strange dream.
It would have looked better on Bella. Sophie’s hands weren’t elegant like her sister’s. She kept the nails short and usually sported a writer’s callus or paper cut or some other evidence of being a math geek. She twisted the ring around her finger, watching the stone twinkle beneath the bright lights of the SoHo boutique. It made her look like somebody else.
“What’s the matter, sis?” Bella asked. “Rock not big enough for you?”
Sophie looked up guiltily. Her big sister, Bella, and her best friend, Maya Kim, were both eyeing her with amusement, their arms filled with fancy cookware. A salesman in a Broadway Panhandler apron was trailing them with a clipboard, marking down items for Sophie and Tai’s registry.
How could she explain her ambivalence to Maya and Bella? Everyone expected her to be blissed out.
“It’s plenty big,” she murmured. “Too big, maybe.”
Maya snorted. “That’s impossible. There are two things in this world that can never be too big. One is a diamond. And the other one …” She gestured suggestively with a rolling pin. Sophie and Bella laughed, and the salesman blushed bright red. Bella took a picture of him.
It was hard to stay serious for long around Bella and Maya. Today the two of them looked as though they had dressed to set each other off. Bella was wearing a white fur coat that Sophie hoped was not real, nude fishnets, and red gold heels the same shade as her abundant hair. Her blue eyes were aglow, and she kept snapping pictures of everything. Shopping was Bella’s third-favorite pastime, after photography and sex.
Maya had poured herself into a shimmery black top, skinny jeans, and crazy space-age boots. Bleach-streaked hair swung about her cheekbones. All the kickboxing Maya had been doing was paying off. With her tiny waist, big breasts, and the sexy cuts in her arms, Maya reminded Sophie of a samurai princess from one of those Japanamation movies Bella loved.
Had Sophie been the insecure type, it might have made her jealous the way all the men in the store stopped and stared as Maya and Bella passed. The two of them were glamour models after all, and Bella even moonlighted as a dominatrix. The clothes they wore did nothing to hide how good they looked naked.
When she’d first discovered what Bella and Maya did for a living, Sophie had freaked out, but she had since come to accept it. If they felt happy and fulfilled, who was she to judge? Besides, the mathematical side of Sophie’s brain recognized that Maya and Bella were in possession of valuable natural resources. The smart thing to do was to sell high.
“How about this?” Bella asked, holding up a tall, thin pot.
Sophie squinted at it. “What’s that for?”
“Who cares? It’s so cute!”
The salesman cleared his throat. “That is an asparagus steamer, miss. Imported French copper from E. Dehillerin.”
Maya laid a hand on the arm of Bella’s fur. “We should steer clear of anything too advanced. The less Sophie cooks, the happier the marriage will be.”
Sophie was about to protest, but Maya countered with the embarrassing incident of the potatoes Sophie had tried to bake her last year of business school. Which wasn’t really fair, because she had been distracted by a very interesting advanced statistics problem. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know how to bake a potato.
“I think she kept them in the oven for about seven hours,” Maya concluded. “It was like the Hindenburg. We had to evacuate the entire dorm.”
“Might I suggest these?” the salesman asked, holding up a kitchen timer and a copy of Cooking for Dummies.
“I’m not a dummy,” Sophie grumbled. She still thought the whole registry thing was self-centered and materialistic. She wasn’t even sure she wanted a big formal wedding anyway. But after Bella went through their family tree predicting what all the aunts would give if left to their own devices, Sophie had capitulated.
Resistance was futile. Bella was the unstoppable force when it came to shopping. Sophie watched her sister float over to the checkout counter in her luxurious white fur, carrying the six-piece Japanese carbon knife set she was inexplicably purchasing. The knives were made by some swordsmith in Osaka, and they cost more than anything Sophie had registered for.
Bella slid her platinum card on the counter next to the sleek gray box of knives.
“Ooh, these are gorgeous!” the cashier said. “Are they a gift?”
“Yes. For my inner chef.” Bella flashed him a mysterious smile.
Sophie had never known her sister to cook a meal in her life, let alone spend so much money on something that wasn’t a fashion accessory. Maybe she was sleeping with that hot chef again.
“Next up, linens and towels!” Maya announced.
She and Bella put their arms around Sophie, who breathed in the fresh floral scent of their mingled perfumes as they herded her through the exit and into a taxicab. Bella took a photo of the back of the driver’s head.
“Bloomingdale’s, please,” Maya sang out. “And drive carefully. We’ve got a bride on board.”
Maya squeezed Sophie’s hand. Sophie squeezed back, ignoring the irritating way the diamond ring dug into her finger.
 
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