Sienna I take a handful of my thick, long golden hair and twist it tight, securing it in place with pins. Then I ease on the wig and adjust the glossy black bangs so they sit at the top of my brow. I make sure the part is straight, as if it were made by a knife. I smooth down the hair around my face, moving my head from one side to the other. I’m assessing myself, critiquing my reflection. My new hair shines under the overhead light of the hotel’s dressing room. The cut hits under my chin, a dramatic frame for my face. My gaze moves down, taking in how the soft gold silk dress I’m wearing hugs my hips and falls around my legs, rippling when I move. I look as if I’ve been dipped in honeyed ambrosia. The dress has turned my hazel eyes to gold. I planned my look this evening especially carefully. I want to walk out of this room onto the casino floor and into my new life as part of Roger’s Inner Sanctum, the elite escort service I’ll be working with from now on, and to exude power and mystery. Of course, it’s my bad luck that my debut has to take place in the back rooms of the Alchema, the sleek and elegant hotel and casino owned by none other than Leo fucking Asher. Leo’s come a long way from the boy who raced around the grounds of my father’s estate. His father worked for us; his mother lost a battle to cancer when he was a toddler. Growing up, Leo and my brother, Jax, would spend their days teasing me and racing around the grounds of our California ranch. We grew older. Jax went east to boarding school; Leo won a scholarship and followed. I stayed behind. When the boys came home on holidays, Jax’s teasing turned into sharp jabs at my expense. His friendship with Leo had cooled significantly. Maybe it was simply a case of growing older and growing apart, but I don’t know what happened. Jax would get annoyed when I’d ask and Leo would ignore the question completely.
By the time they went to college, neither one was speaking to the other, so Leo turned his attention to me. He would call me Golden, because of my hair and eyes. We would talk or sit together quietly for hours. Then, ten years ago, he left California and transferred to Harvard. He only came home to visit once. It was the summer I turned eighteen. Three months before my father had to shutter the mines that made the Reids the prominent family we were. Five months before the beginning of the legal wrangling that left my family broke. We lost everything. Meanwhile, Leo made a name for himself in New York. Opening bars and then clubs, he had the golden touch because every establishment he worked on was a wild success. Now, at 30, Leo Asher is a hotel and casino magnate. He not only owns the 55-story Alchema Hotel in Vegas, but the Nocturne in Monaco. If I see Leo, I want to be the opposite of the girl he must remember: she was young, gentle, eager, shameless, and curious. I try to assure myself that I won’t see him because otherwise I won’t maintain my calm. Ten years ago, when I was eighteen and hungry to explore the things he made me feel, Leo ran his finger across my jaw one afternoon. I let him see me shudder. He called me Golden, and I opened myself to him. Gave myself to him. Gave him everything. The memory quickens my pulse. I can see the flush on my cheeks reflected back to me in the mirror, feel the heat on my skin as it reddens before me. My nipples harden under my dress, the fabric feeling suddenly restrictive, invasive, and giving me attention I don’t want because I memories I can’t forget. I exhale and try to push the thought of him out of my head, angry that he still has this effect on me after all this time. Control is exactly the thing I don’t want to grant him; it is precisely the thing he has over me now. I want control of my body, but my reactions leave me as helpless as if his hot breath was