By: Mia Sheridan

My stepmother ran a hand over her sleek, blonde updo, not a single hair out of place. "Why, thank you. And you look," her eyes ran over me, assessing my outfit, a nude maxi dress with a floral design, "lovely." I resisted scowling and instead took another sip of my champagne. No one had the ability to make the word "lovely" sound critical quite like my stepmother. Ex-stepmother actually. She had recently remarried. "Is that from last season?" she couldn't resist adding on.

Of course it was from last season. Ginny was well aware of Stuart's and my financial situation. Did she think I was still splurging on expensive designer clothes? Naturally. Because it's what she herself would have been doing in my situation.

"Oh hello, Jane!" Ginny called, looking behind me. Always looking behind me to see if someone better, more interesting, more popular, more able to serve her needs, might be around. But I was happy her focus had moved away from me, even momentarily. "I'll be right over," she called, a large smile on her face. "We need to discuss the Bough Center charity banquet."

Looking back to me, her smile wilted. "I hate that bitch." Her eyes narrowed in on me again. "You really should try to mingle, Lydia. There are quite a few eligible men here. You're not getting any younger. Strike while the iron's hot and all that. When was the last time you went on a date?" Her eyes homed in on my face, making a disapproving clicking sound and then bringing her own hand to her eyes as if smoothing wrinkles away she'd seen on me. As if they might be contagious. Classic move to make me feel self-conscious without saying a word. Although I couldn't deny Ginny's skin was perfect, even though she was ten years older than me. In the past, I would have beelined for a mirror to find out what fault she had evidently spied in my complexion, in my outfit, in my overall being. But now, it only made me want to shake my head in exasperation of her shallow put-downs. Perhaps it came from having bigger fish to fry than the size of my pores.

"Carter Hanes is right over there by the bar," she went on, pointing out a tall, thin man with light hair. I already knew Carter Hanes. In fact, I'd gone out on a date with him the year before, and he'd licked my face when he kissed me. I shuddered at the memory. My stepmother was prattling on. "He's not the most handsome man, but you and he would make a good pair. His father is worth billions and he's unwell. Near death I've heard." There was a note of glee in her voice, as if she'd just shared a piece of good news. Had she thought about my father in such terms once upon a time? Near death? Her face screwed into a frown. "Well, Mindy Buchanan is swooping in on him, and now you've missed your chance."

She clicked again, looking around to see who might be listening in—apparently Daisy didn't count—before she leaned toward me. "When your father died, and we found out about all his debt, you didn't see me sitting around waiting to be rescued, did you? No, I went out there and found Harold, married him, and solved my own problems. You need to stop being a martyr and take the initiative like I did. I'll be back after I've chatted with Jane. Don't move." With that she dismissed me, sashaying off toward Jane, leaving me to ponder how exactly marrying a man for his money was solving your own problems. I shook my head. There was no point in trying to analyze Ginny's flawed, selfish logic.

Daisy put her hand over her mouth, stifling a laugh. "Wow. She's . . . something, isn't she?"

I rolled my eyes. "I can't even believe I came to this," I muttered, draining my glass. As a staff member walked by with a tray of champagne, I switched out my empty flute for a full one, smiling a thank you.

"Of course you did," Daisy said. "It's the social event of the season." She winked at me. I smiled half-heartedly, barely able to remember a time when any of this was important to me, when I'd tried to please my stepmother—a never-ending impossible task. Since I was having financial issues, she thought she would help me find a rich husband—in her mind the perfect solution. God. To her credit, she wasn't gossiping about Stuart and me. These people would all turn their backs on us in a heartbeat if they found out the extent of our money problems.

"I feel like I might die of boredom," I said. "But even worse, Ginny will be back. I have to hide." God, I was a twenty-three-year-old woman with a job and my own home and I was still hiding from my stepmother at parties. Ex-stepmother. Even worse. "And get drunk while I'm at it."

Daisy laughed. "I'll come with you." We grabbed a couple more drinks and started making our way across the lawn to an outdoor balcony overlooking the party below. As we began to climb the steps there was a group of women descending. I resisted the urge to groan, instead taking a large sip of the champagne I was double fisting.

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