Dirty Rumor

By: Amelia Wilde

Chapter 1

Carolyn





Nobody wants to work past five o’clock on a Friday. Nobody even wants to shop past five o’clock on a Friday, if the lack of foot traffic in my boutique is any indication.

I spent most of the afternoon in the back stockroom making floor selections from an arrival of original pieces delivered earlier in the week from a couple of European designers. Most of the designs were rejects, but there were a few standouts among the array spread out in front of me that I wanted to rotate through inventory.

It’s certainly not the most glamorous work one expects to see a woman whose net worth hovers around a billion dollars doing on a Friday afternoon. My friend Quinn is one of the few who doesn’t roll her eyes when we chat about the hours I keep at the store. She didn’t come from money, and even though she’s married to a Pierce, she still goes into work every day.

Well, on most days, that is. I know her and her husband have a fondness for traveling. Who wouldn’t when it’s on a private jet and money is no object?

I tap my painted fingernails against the countertop next to the cash register and scan the store for any couture pieces that appear to be out of place on the racks or eclectic artwork on the walls—also for sale—that might need straightening, but, as usual, everything appears perfect—still. It was perfect when I sent Natalie, one of the four girls I hired to cover the register when I’m not here, home at four. No reason why it should look any different only an hour later, especially since not a single customer has walked through the door during that time.

The computer beckons.

It’s situated on a classy desk, the monitor sunk in low so it’s not obvious to any customers from where they stand for check-out, and it has a thin, sleek keyboard that rests beside it on the brushed metal surface.

I jiggle the mouse—one of those futuristic affairs that came packaged with the computer when I purchased it—and the screen wakes up, the boutique’s logo hovering in the middle of a white expanse. The logo design features a stylized flower, one that I spent two weeks going back and forth on with the designer before it was finalized. I simply love my store’s logo, and it’s undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of owning this store.

The password is so ingrained in my muscle memory that I hardly remember the letters, so it only takes a fraction of a second before the desktop, pristinely organized, pops into view. Chrome browser, password-protected, private window that won’t record anything, and I’m logging on to Rainflower Blue, the website nobody—not a single person—knows that I own and run.

Running the boutique is a nice change from working among the top echelons of a marketing firm, but it’s just another job front that occupies my time, acting as a placeholder for what I really do. Conveniently, a lot of my friends shop here, and while they shop, we chat. Visit. Gossip.

That’s the business model for Rainflower Blue. It’s what draws people in—the majority of them are wealthy and powerful, the type of person who might click on an unassuming advertisement for a premium-priced item.

Not advertising. Not shopping.

Rumors.

I own and administer the online home for the rumor mill of the ultra-wealthy. The fact that I profit handsomely from it is just icing on the cake.

The door to the boutique opens, the bell hanging gracefully over top of it tinkling clearly, and my heart leaps into my throat. Without a second thought, I hit the commands to close the browser window and paste on a bright smile to welcome a customer.

When my brain finally registers who’s just entered the boutique out of the autumn sunlight, my smile turns genuine. “Jess! Oh, my God!”

She looks absolutely fabulous, her auburn hair piled on top of her head in a bun that’s somehow messy and perfectly styled at the same time, and she’s wearing a navy sheath dress that sets off the jade color of her eyes. She was always the more rough-and-tumble one in our friend group, but damn—a year as a princess, or queen, or whatever she is—has been good to her. And motherhood doesn’t seem to have slowed her down. At all.

Jess spins around, her purse strap slung slickly over her shoulder, and then she spreads her arms out wide in anticipation of a hug. “I had to come see my former roomie’s new boutique!”

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