Prologue


I scrabbled to get my stuff from across the room – I was already 7 minutes and 3 seconds late. Oh wait make that 4 now. How could let this happen? Especially today! I hastily grabbed everything within 3 feet radius of me and stuffed them into my bag and threw my shoes on.

Looking at my cellphone for the time I wasn't surprised to see a text from Lyla asking where I was, if I was close by, if I was ok. I texted her back with what I'm sure had a hundred different grammar and spelling mistakes but I didn't care to check it over – she could yell at me later for it along with being late.

If I left now it would take me about 10 minutes to get there – maybe an extra 3 for traffic – and about 2 minutes to find parking. Why today? Why why why?

Exactly 11 minutes and 17 seconds later I pulled in to Keiko à Nob Hill and lucky for me found a parking spot easily and made my way to the front. I tightened my tie and cleaned off some dust from my suit and went to the nearest hostess and asked, "I'm here for Canning."

Doe eyed she scurried to check the reservation list and looked at me again. With my thick brown hair and my scruffy beard she must have thought I came in her my accident or ask if they had a bathroom I could use. I know, I wanted to let her. I don't belong here.

"Zachary Smith," I said as she nodded and led to a table near the front of the restaurant.

I heard her before I saw her. It wasn't loud, it was commanding. "I started this business about 3 years ago…"

"There you go, sir," The girl smiled and left me to my devices. The appetizers were already out and I was sure she had already ordered for me.

She was sitting at the very end of the table, almost like a queen at her royal diner. She had slanted velvety black eyes that had a more soft muted color, her long brown hair in an up do. Even sitting you could tell she is tall and has an hourglass build. All the seats were taken except for the one next to her which I supposed was for me. I contemplated whether or not I should wait for her to finish her tale before seating next to her but already people were starting to quit down and look at me.

I nodded in hello to everyone that happened to catch my eye as I made my way to the seat next to her. She leaned in close to him and whispered, "You're late."

"Won't happen again."

"I know," She smiled. She tapped her glass getting everyone's attention. "Now that everyone's here I would like to thank everyone that came today. Without all of you this business wouldn't have ever existed. In truth this isn't just my business, it is ours. I just happen to legally own all of it."

Everyone laughed as they were supposed to and she continued with her speech. I listened to parts of it but I mostly wondered off. Royalty was a makeup business that Layla made 3 years ago just when we started dating. She quit her job and ate, slept, and bled for Royalty. Now 3 years later it was a multimillion dollar business and her baby. While I was still stuck at my job at a tattoo parlor, not that I was mad or unhappy I was just a bit jealous. But the again I didn't waste any blood, sweat, or tears over my work so I got what I deserved. An hour into the dinner I got a call from an unknown number. I touched Lyla's elbow and excused myself telling her I had to take a call. Much to my shame I was glad I could get up for a few minutes, I was getting fidgety. Plus few people talked to me and the few that did asked very general and awkward questions.

'What is your relation to Ms. Canning? We are all so very proud of her.'

'What do you do for a living Mr. Smith? Oh, very interesting how is that going for you? Is that your actual job or are you studying for something else?'

'When is the wedding? What, no wedding?'

I wasn't actually planning on answering the phone, but I sure pretended too. I led myself outside and leaned against the wall and breathed in and out the cold night air. What I would give for a cigarette, or at least a drink of alcohol but I knew what would happen if I had some. About 5 minutes and 13 seconds later I came back in.

Lyla leaned in and whispered, "What was it about?"

I raised an eyebrow to her, "Huh?"

Her eyebrows pushed together, "The call?"

I bit my tongue, "Nothing important."

Her black eyes searched my grey ones and nodded knowing that was all she was going to get out of me. It wasn't a lie, I didn't answer so it really was nothing important I guessed.

When the dinner was done Lyla hugged all the people that came and I nodded and thanked them behind her, she hugged one of her friends once more and thanked her for taking her here, since I was late. Her friend smiled and waved off.

The ride was awkward to say the least. Lyla turned to me, "Thank you."

Without taking my eyes off the road I asked, "For what?"

"For…" She breathed slowly. "Everything. For coming. I know stuff like this makes you feel weird. With the crowd, the people…." The alcohol.

"It's no problem." It was silent.

When we got home Lyla tore off her shoes and feel into the bed upstairs. I undid my tie and sat next to her. She was already knocked out, what a gift to sleep in a blink of an eye. I checked my phone to see 3 more missed calls for that unknown and a voice mail. I sighed and decided to check it. It must have been important to leave a voice mail.

The voice I heard was familiar. The voice I heard was crying. Torn, broken, wrecked.

"Zach, zach please pick up your phone, it's me Harper. I know it's been a long time. " Harper? Harper Penn? Like hell it's been a long time - 5 years long time. How did she get my cellphone number? "I- I wouldn't be calling you if it wasn't important. Andrea…. Andrea's dead."