Today's Reading

From a distance, she heard her name being called. Cat had expressly told Fern that she needed her close. This was a big day. The biggest.

"Fern!" Cat shouted. She sounded slightly unhinged.

Fern sighed. She still needed to make sure that the drivers were at the airport, ready to pick up the guests when their flights arrived, and find out why the host of the show hadn't yet shown up. Her cell phone buzzed. A text from Cat.

Where is the Ruby Nights Red red lipstick? I need it!

Fern pushed back from the railing and felt a slight wobble of the iron. Fern would have to remind the guests not to lean against the railing and get it fixed as soon as possible. It wouldn't do to have someone fall thirty feet to the marble floor below.

Her phone buzzed again. Fern didn't quite understand why Cat was leaving her livestream to the last minute. She could have prerecorded it, but her followers were expecting her. For the last four years, each Monday and Thursday night, Cat went live on Instagram and waxed poetic on everything from the hottest fashions from Milan to the latest book or movie she consumed, all while she expertly applied her makeup. She hadn't missed one night, not even when her husband left her for good. Cat had soldiered on that evening, and Fern had been right along with her. Afterward, Cat had lost it, moving through the house throwing things and smashing bottles of wine against the marble floors.

Fern ended up taking a shard of glass to her upper cheek—she still had a faint scar. Cat felt terrible. Fern had nearly quit that time. Her therapist told her that under no circumstances should she tolerate such behavior. In theory, Fern agreed, but in the end, she forgave Cat. Fern could understand the anger. Cat had lost her husband. Fifteen years of marriage thrown away—for what? Cat never said, but Fern wondered if it might have been another woman. Whatever it had been, Cat was devastated.

But, as always, Fern was right there by her side, picking up the broken glass, pouring Cat a glass of bourbon, telling her that everything was going to be okay.

Fern moved to the large room that Cat used as a video recording studio and stood in the doorway. She watched as her boss, dressed in ivory linen pants and a matching sleeveless T-shirt, was getting ready to do a promo for One Lucky Winner. A white distressed end table was placed next to a king-size bed covered in layers of down comforters, cashmere blankets, and piles of pillows all in a crisp snowy hue that hurt Fern's eyes if she looked at them too long. Today, in preparation for the livestream, she had set a vase of white hydrangeas, their heavy heads as delicate as cotton candy, on the bedside table.

With effort, Fern wheeled the long marble-topped table across the white carpet to the spot marked with a duct-taped X. This is where Cat kept her laptop, microphone, and ring light. If she placed the front left wheels of the table on the X, the camera would catch the perfect angle of the bed, the table, and the flowers.

There was no way Catalina was going to let millions of viewers into her actual bedroom. That was just too intrusive, but her "Lovelies," as Catalina called them, liked thinking they had a peek into her private, luxurious, beautiful world. The bed in this room had never been slept in, probably didn't even have sheets covering the mattresses, the spines of the books on the bedside table had never been cracked.

The room also held a walk-in closet filled with her most expensive clothes, shoes, and accessories. Despite her sleek white-blond bob and her perfectly pressed wardrobe, Catalina James was not tidy. Her everyday closet was cluttered, the silk blouses hung askew, sweaters were wadded up on shelves, and her shoes heaped in mismatched jumbles on the floor. A weekly cleaning crew made sure that every other room in her home was camera ready.

Atop the marble table, Fern had neatly laid out all the items Cat would need to get ready for going live: brushes, concealer, bronzer, blush, eyeliner, and a dizzying number of other beauty products. Confident that everything was good to go, Fern made her way down the steps. There was so much to do before the guests arrived. Catalina liked everything to be perfect.

"Fern!" Catalina shrieked. "Where the fuck is my lipstick?"

It was five minutes until showtime. "Here, let me look," Fern said, easing open one of the craft table drawers. Fern learned over the years that remaining calm rubbed off on Cat. She pulled out a handful of tube-shaped lipsticks from one of the drawers. Hot Red Mama, Red Door, Naughty Red, but no Ruby Nights Red.

Fern scanned the floor. "Here," Fern said, bending down to retrieve the wayward tube.

Cat snatched the lipstick from Fern's hand. "Is Philippa here yet?" Philippa was te supermodel host of One Lucky Winner. With her six-foot lithe frame, long raven hair, and authentic Italian accent, Philippa was the beautiful face of the show.

Fern shook her head. "Not yet. I've tried to call and text but haven't heard back. She's probably stuck in traffic."

"Dammit," Cat said, sliding her phone into its stand, and adjusting the lighting and reflectors. "We need her here, now. How the fuck are we going to do the show without our host?"


This excerpt is from the ebook edition.

Monday June 10, we begin the book Leave No Trace by A. J. Landau; Jon Land; Jeff Ayers. 
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