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Treffen Christmas Ball Set To Be As Glittering As Ever!
With a national honor for his good works on the horizon, celebrated women's advocate Jason Treffen is preparing to host his annual Holiday Ball. Though once overshadowed by a tragedy that occurred during the festivities a decade ago, Treffen has never canceled the event, and Manhattan's elite all clamor for an invitation. It's even rumored that Jason's son, New York's other premier attorney, will be in attendance.
The younger Treffen has skipped the event since the unpleasantness ten years ago, which seemed to have caused a rift between father and sonthe only tarnish on an otherwise glossy legacy. Could this finally be the reconciliation that the public has long hoped to see?
Reconciliation. There was no chance for it, and yet his father had bought into his reason for coming to the office Christmas party without blinking. But then, the public had bought it as well, so why wouldn't his father?
He really hated these types of events. Because they were reminders. This one especially. Ten years ago was the last time he'd been to a Treffen Christmas party. His father enjoyed the holidays, not because of any sort of religious fervor or sense of merriment, but because it gave him a chance to do what he loved best.
Showing off his wealth, his excess. Making a show of his name, his fortune. His goodwill. There was a silent auction happening tonight, the proceeds of which would go to benefit a shelter for battered women.
The irony burned. Because if Austin's suspicions were correct, very few people had left more emotionally battered women in their wake than Jason Treffen.
Of course, the media would never believe it. Jason was so high-profile. On every late-night news show, commenting on sexual harassment and abuse cases in the news. Spitting fire and brimstone on any man who dared to harm a woman. On misogynists and their power games.
But Austin knew Jason was the wolf condemning foxes for being predators.
Still, here he was, wrapped up in his brilliant, shining lie. People fawning over him, his achievements, his goodness.
And this year was no different. The largest of his three holiday parties, this one included past clients, current clients and anyone who was anyone in New York's social circle.
Everything was pristine, glittering, dipped in his father's wealth and left to sparkle before the magpies who were attracted to it all without having any idea just how tarnished it was underneath.
The same as it had always been. The same as it had been ten years ago.
Oh, yes, Austin well remembered the last time he'd been to this party. It had ended with a dear friend throwing herself to her death. And it had been his own father's fault.
No, he wasn't here for reconciliation. He was here for blood. But before he could have his revenge, he would have to get closer to his old man again. Keep your enemies close, and all that.
He wondered what Jason's reaction would be. Hell, he might kill the fatted calf. The prodigal son, returned to the old law firm.
That was the reaction he dreaded most, though it was the one he should want.
What he really wanted was alcohol.
He walked over to the bar and leaned on the counter. "Scotch. Neat." The whole bottle would be nice.
The bartender poured a measured amount and Austin knocked it back then set the glass back down. "More."
He took another hit and let the burn wash through him. He'd never thought of himself as the kind of man who needed liquid courage. And maybe it wasn't courage he needed, not really. He needed to blunt the memories. Of what it had been like to be in this building with Christmas carols playing when, suddenly, screams had risen over the band.
When people had gone running. To the balcony. To the street. He'd stopped at the window, frozen, transfixed by the broken figure below.
And he had known. In his gut, without having to be told, who it was.
He hadn't had the strength to go down. Hadn't been able to face seeing her like that. With no life in her. Her skin cold. Her body crushed. Nothing of Sarah there anymore except for her shell.
He hadn't been able to face it then. He could scarcely stand to recall what little he'd seen now. This was where the alcohol came into play. Blessed alcohol. It helped hold back some of the cold.
Ten years ago, at this very party, his life had been going perfectly.
Two weeks until Christmas, an end-of-term party that had been filled with toasts and slaps on the back. And then he'd come to the Treffen party. He'd stood next to his father, a proud Treffen, basking in the promise of a partnership in the prestigious firm, in the position he'd gotten in law school because of that name. The name that had opened every door to him for all of his life. That had seen him educated in the finest private schools, had given to him the very best connections.
A name he now had to see was destroyed.
His father's. And his along with it, because it would be inextricably linked.
That was how it worked. That was how the media worked. It was how society worked.
The silver spoon that had gotten him through life would damn well choke him now. It only seemed fair, really.
Everything felt out of control. For the first time, things felt well and truly beyond him.
Which called for another drink.
He tapped the top of his tumbler and the bartender filled it again. Austin held it up and looked through the faceted glass and amber liquid. And he saw her.
Nothing more than an impressionistic vision at first. Obscured by the glass and the unsteady golden line.
Even then, he could tell she was beautiful.
He lowered his drink and stared past the crowd of people at the woman. Dark hair twisted into a neat bun, her skin pale, flawless, her lips a deep crimson.
It was her hair that had him truly transfixed. He wondered how long it was. What it would be like to unwind it. Wrap it around his hand and draw her to him.
Damn. That was the alcohol. He had more control than that. He knew better than to let his mind wander down dark alleys. Every so often, in the privacy of his own room, he indulged in a bout of shameful, illicit fantasy. But never with a woman.
He wasn't the type of man to treat women that way. Because he knew better than to ever let the monster out of its cage.
And he knew there was a monster in him. In his blood, wrapped around his genes. He was a Treffen, and to most of the world, that meant something good.
He knew that name should only ever be synonymous with evil.
And once he, Hunter and Alex had their way, it would be.
He would go down with the ship. It was unavoidable. He was a Treffen, after all. In name, and in every other way that counted.
But right now, he was just a man, transfixed by a woman.
He set the glass back down on the bar and started across the room before he could think his next action through. He wanted to meet her.
She was something new in this stale, horrific memory. She hadn't been there that night. She was a stranger. Separate from all of the insidious darkness that surrounded this building. That surrounded his family.
She looked up for a moment, her eyes meeting his. They were electric blue, a shocking contrast with her dark hair. It made him wonder if her hair or eyes were artificial. It was so unusual. So enticing.
She turned away and headed toward the other side of the room, her stride purposeful. Then Austin saw just whom she was headed toward.
His father. Jason Treffen.
She smiled, crimson lips parting and revealing straight white teeth. She looked down, then back up, the move demure and flirtatious. It made his blood boil. Just imagining the bastard's hands on her
He started toward them, then stopped. Reconciliation. Oh, yes, that was the name of the game tonight. He was supposed to be reconciling with the bastard, not introducing his face to the marble floors.
But he did not like the smile his father gave to the woman in return. He didn't like the way she ducked her head again, like a child expecting a pat.
Maybe she was already one of his creatures.
He breathed in deeply, rage pouring through him. He couldn't handle this. It was too much on a night like tonight. At the party where Sarah had died.
Why had he left his drink back at the counter? He needed more alcohol.
The woman turned away from his father and he saw something pass across her face. Anger. Sadness. Grief. He recognized the emotions because they echoed inside of him.
Because they were with him, always. Amplified now as the truth about Jason's treachery became clearer.
Files and files of women who were being paid for vague "services." Interior design. Catering. Event planning.
Austin was still turning over the implications.
None of the possibilities made him happy. Except for the possibility that his father had used the design services of a couple of young women more than six times in a fiscal year. But he highly doubted that was the case.
It was taken care of. They were compensated.
That last conversation played again in his mind.
He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to get his head together. He was drowning in air. His tie strangling him. Icy fingers wrapping around his neck.
Sarah's, maybe. He deserved it. God knew he did.
He pictured the dark-haired beauty again, scanned the crowd for her and couldn't see her. Where was she now? Was she waiting to meet his father? Would she end up as a name on one ofJason Treffen's invoices? Payment for services rendered.
No. Not if he could do anything to stop it.
He'd let it happen once. He'd be damned if he ever let it happen again.
He started back across the room and swung by the bar, grabbing his scotch and knocking it back.
Hell, he was damned either way. But she didn't have to be.
Katy Michaels sent up a silent prayer and hoped that, for once, someone was listening. She didn't want to get caught, not now. All she wanted to do was verify that the invoices existed.
She was armed with a tip and a key from Jason Treffen's front desk attendant, Stephanie, a bright young girl with brown eyes that had permanent shadows beneath them.
Just looking at her made Katy's skin crawl.
Her eyes reminded her of Sarah's eyes. Haunted. Tired. Hollow, as if the hope had been carved out of her and an endless black hole was left behind instead.
She went into the office and stared down at the dark wood file cabinets. What an asshole. With his defunct filing system, all old and stately. It was like a big middle finger to everyone, to her, to the women he hurt, that he didn't even bother to keep this information in cryptic folders. That he kept records at all.
Had to get his damned tax write-off. Even when he was paying for sex.
He was lucky she was pursuing legal action rather than going Batman on his ass and seeking a little vigilante justice.
"I am the night," she muttered, going toward the third cabinet to the left, as instructed, and putting the key in the lock. She turned it and it gave, a small click in the silence of the room.
She pulled the drawer open and went for the folder marked "special services," then she opened it and rifled through. It was one year. Just one year and it was filled with names.
Sarah's name would have been in it ten years ago. So many women.
"Binders full of them," she said, trying to smile at her own frail joke as she snapped a shot of the first invoice with her phone's scanner. Humor was all she had left to get her through this crap. She'd taken her other crutches away from herself.
Her parents' drug use. Her sister's death. Raising a younger brotherTreywho was angry at the world. And it was much better to laugh when she was beating back her own demons with a stick.
And she definitely had her own.
Scanning invoice after invoice that represented a woman who had been abused by Jason Treffen.
She had to laugh or curl into a ball and give up on humanity. Or go back down the deep dark rabbit holes she used to hide in. Soothe her pain in the other ways she knew how to soothe it.
No. She wasn't going back there. Not again.
She scanned every doc, then put them back in the folder, and back in the drawer, which she locked. Then she stuck her phone back in her handbag and made her way out ofJa-son's office, dropping the key beneath a little potted flower on Stephanie's desk, as she'd requested.
Katy let out a long breath and started walking back down the empty corridor, back to the party.
Back toward Jason Treffen.
Talking to that scumbag had just about made her lose her mind. It had taken everything in her not to grab his glass from his hand and pour it over his head. Then break the glass on his face.
She considered the man as good as her sister's murderer, so she was short on charitable feelings where he was concerned.
The door to the ballroom opened and she froze, trying to affect an "I'm just coming back from the bathroom" demeanor. Whatever the hell that was.
Oh. Her breath left her in a rush, a current of electricity washing over her skin.
It was him.
The man who'd been drinking scotch. The man whose eyes were like an endless black hole, drawing her in, a force she couldn't deny or control.
The man who had looked at her for a moment.
Someone looking at her wasn't really that significant. It happened every day. Except when this man had looked at her, she'd felt as if she were grounded to the spot. She'd felt like he had looked and seen her.
Seen everything. More than that, she'd looked back and she'd seen him.
Had seen a grief in him. An anger.
It had been, in some ways, like looking into a mirror.
And in just a second, it had been over. She'd gone to find Jason, to put herself in his vicinity. Just because she'd promised herself she would. Because she'd promised herself she would look him dead in the eye one day, knowing she was going to destroy him, while he didn't have a clue.
And so she had.
But it had been a sacrifice, because she'd had to look away from the man. It was a moment that summed up her entire life, really. Deny, deny, repress. Push on through. Don't let the pain touch you. Don't let the pleasure touch you, either.
"It's you," he said, his voice deep, smooth. Like really good chocolate.
"Yes, it's me. I was in the bathroom." Oh, nice, Katy. That was very good.
He arched a brow. "Fascinating."
"Not so much, I know."
"I'll let it slide because I was hoping to run into you."