P R O L O G U E
Two Years Ago …
Emma Porter looked bored. No surprise there. It was her standard expression—her failsafe. She, with some effort, avoided the imposing lighted mirror in front of her and kept her gaze on the screen of her phone. Her violet eyes, masked by colored contacts that turned them an unremarkable blue, glazed. It didn’t help that the stylist was working his way around her head in a hypnotic rhythm, pulling long strands of honey-colored hair through his enormous round brush. He would have put her to sleep but for the incessant chatter. Sister, do you model? How has no one approached you before? Oh, they’d approached her.
She gave her standard reply.
“Nope, just in school.”
She checked her phone again. A text.
We’re good for Jane Hotel. I talked to my buddy. Bouncer’s name is Fernand. See you at 9!
The exclamation point annoyed her. You’re a guy, she thought. Guys shouldn’t use exclamation points when they text. She’d probably end up dumping him over it. She’d done it for less.
“Big night tonight? It’s a crazy Thursday. Are you going to that thing at Tau?”
“No. Just meeting a friend for a drink.”
A friend? She guessed he was a friend. She’d met him twice—no, three times; he’d kissed her on 58th Street before she got into a cab three nights ago: hence the big date.
“A friend, huh? Sounds like a date.”
“Yeah,” Emma sighed, “it’s kind of a date.”
“So, no one special? No BF?”
“Nope. No boyfriend. Just a date.”
“Well, I imagine the boys are climbing through your window, gorgeous girl.”
She wanted to say the last time a boy tried to climb in my window, security guards tackled him on the front lawn, as a leashed German shepherd bared his teeth at his neck while Teddy Prescott cried that he was in my seventh grade ceramics class, and he just wanted to ask me to a school dance. Instead, she buttoned her lip and checked her phone. Again.
“No, not so much.”
“Well, my work here is done. What do you think?”
He ran his fingers up her scalp from her nape and pushed the mass of hair forward over her shoulders, admiring his handiwork. She managed as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
“Looks great. Thanks.”
She grabbed her bag, left the cash and a generous tip—partly for the blowout, mostly for enduring her mood—and headed out.
The walk home was a short-ish hike. While Broadway up ahead was always jam-packed, the little Tribeca side street was surprisingly desolate.
Scaffolds stood sentry, and crumpled newspapers blew across the road like urban tumbleweeds. Emma’s footsteps clacked on the pavement, and her shopping bags swished against her legs. In the waning daylight, the long shadows reached out. Emma moved with purpose but not haste, running through the plan for the evening in her head. Across the street, a pair of lurking teens stopped talking to watch her. The jarring slam of a Dumpster lid and the beep, beep, beep of a reversing trash truck echoed across the pavement. Near the end of the block, a homeless man in a recessed doorway muttered about a coming plague and God setting the world to rights. Emma forced herself to keep her pace even but couldn’t stifle her sigh of relief as she rounded the corner and joined the hordes. A businessman let out a noise of irritation as Emma forced him to slow his pace when she merged into the foot traffic. Yes, this was better. She hurried up Broadway and headed for home.
Spring Street was insane. The stores ran the gamut from A-list designer shops to dive bars and bodegas. Beneath the display window of Alexander Woo, a ratty hipster strummed a guitar. In front of Balthazar, there was a hotdog vendor. The street was dotted with musicians and addicts and homeless and shoppers and tourists and construction crews and commuters and students. There was a French crêpe stand next to Emma’s favorite Thai place that was next to an organic vegan café. It was like somebody took everything that made New York New York—the art, the diversity, the music, the food, the bustle, the noise— and jammed it all onto one street. The street Emma called home.
Outside her building, a group of guys from her Abnormal Psychology class was coming out of the corner bodega.
“Hey IQ, what’s up tonight? Heading downtown?”
“Martin’s parents’ brownstone is on Waverly. Party’s on!”
“Okay, I’ll try to stop by.”