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Sarah Griffin watched the red shoe wing past her, then tumble in slow, horrible motion, toe over heel, out the open window and into oblivion. Shock kept her rooted to the floor for a good half second, before the horror of what had just happened pricked her like a pair of spurs, and she dived, too late, for the custom-designed, one-of-a-kind Frederick K red stiletto.
The shoe that was going to make or break her career the same shoe that had just made a three-story disappearing act.
"How could you do that?" The words exploded from her throat, but elicited no response from her younger sister, standing just a few feet from the window. "Don't you know how important that shoe is?" Sarah leaned out the window, searching for the burst of crimson leather on the gray concrete. Nothing, nothing, then
There. By a trash can. Relief surged in her chest. Okay, the shoe was still intact. Seemed okay, at least from here, but she'd never know for sure until she retrieved it. She wheeled away from the window and dashed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Honest surprise lit the notes in her sister's voice. Sarah paused and gaped at Diana.
Did she really expect her to stay here and finish the argument?
Diana Griffin had a slender frame, but it covered for a surprisingly strong body. She spent her afternoons beating up a punching bag at Gold's Gym, so much that they'd replaced it twice in the two years Diana had been a member.
You didn't mess with Diana. Sarah knew that, and hadn't heeded her own advice. Match Diana's temper with Sarah's tendency to blurt out her true feelings, and you ended up with a disaster. Now the shoethe shoewas on the sidewalk and her career was hanging by an ever-unraveling thread.
"I have to get that shoe back," Sarah said. "Do you know what's going to happen if"
"Let it go, Sarah." Diana waved in dismissal. No biggie, she was saying. Diana had made her point, using her right pitching arm, and Sarah should just get over it already. "It's just a shoe. If you want something cute and pretty, I'll give you a pair of mine."
Sarah threw up her hands and shoved past Diana. "You don't get it, Diana. You never do."
Her sister shook her head. "Get what? That you are trying to ruin my life again?"
Drama. There was always drama with her younger sister. It was as if Diana hadn't gotten enough attention as a kid and was in a constant quest for more. Hence the hyperbole and the temper-tantrum shoe fling. Sarah had seen more than one model diva pull the same stunt, and over the most ridiculously unimportant things, like a corner table or a too-warm glass of chardonnay. It was the kind of behavior that filled the gossip pages at Behind the Scenes. Written by Sarah herself.
She was tired of the drama, the look-at-me antics of the people she covered for the tabloid. Just once, she'd like to see someone defy the stereotypes she blurbed with oversized headlines. Someone who got honest, admitted that the club scene was as shallow as a puddle, and that there were more important things in life than starring on page six.
"I don't have time for this, Diana." Sarah opened the door, hurried down the hall, bypassing the elevator for the stairs and then burst out the front door of her apartment building and onto the congested street of her Manhattan neighborhood. Traffic hummed, garbage trucks bleated and construction crews hammered, creating the morning melodies of the city. She had loved this neighborhood the second she stepped foot in it, finding a small apartment in an old brownstone and a kindly landlord who brought her cookies on Christmas Eve.
Her apartment was insanely small, and yes, a third-floor walk-up without any of the fanciness of a doorman or an elevator. But the neighborhood had charm and a genuine quality about it that Sarah craved at the end of the day.
The bright fall sun blinded Sarah for a second, bouncing off her glasses and giving her twin bursts of yellow in her vision. She pivoted to the right, toward Mrs. Sampson's trash cans, fully expecting to see the shoe right there. Just where she'd seen it a few seconds ago.
The space by the landlord's trashcan was empty. Well, not emptya crumpled soda can, two ketchup-spattered fast-food burger wrappers and a torn Chinese-food box leaking its leftovers in a dark puddlebut empty of the most important thing in Sarah Griffin's life right now.
Panic fluttered in her chest. It couldn't be gone. Couldn't be. It wasn't like it could walk off, right? And who would only want one shoe? What would be the value in a solo stiletto?
And that shoe, of all the ones in the world. Completely impractical, good only for special occasions. Surely, no one would take it?
If the shoe wasn't here, though, that meant someone had it. The question was who? And why?
She glanced around, looking for someone carrying a red high heel. Hurried businesspeople crowded the sidewalk, all of them so intent on getting to their skyscraper destinations, they powered right past her in their sneakers and loafers. Not a one held a shoe.
A tall dark-haired man in a navy pinstriped suit had stopped a few yards away from her. From this distance and angle, she couldn't tell if she knew him or not. Heck, most of the men on the street looked the same from the backall suit and dress shoes. She saw him shrug, reach into his jacket, then continue on his way. Could he have the shoe?
She watched him for a moment longer, then decided no. From behind, he looked too much like the guy next dooralbeit, the handsome guy next doorto be the kind that would pick up a stray shoe and walk away with it. She considered running after him, just in case, but then he hailed an oncoming cab and was gone before she could get her feet to coordinate with her brain. Damn.
The shoe had to be here. Somewhere. Sarah bent down and drew closer to the trash cans. Maybe a rat had dragged it into the dark corners? The thought made her sick, but she looked anyway. She looked behind, in front of, beside and even under the dark brown plastic containers.
No footwear of any kind.
Now the panic was clawing at her throat, threatening to cut off her air supply. This was not happening. So, so, so not happening. Karl was going to kill her. No, not just kill hermaim her, behead her and then hang her decapitated body in the parking lot as an example of idiocy.
How on earth was she ever going to get off the gossip pages of the tabloid and move over to and into the main section of Smart Fashion magazine if she couldn't keep hold of a simple shoe? It wasn't just the Frederick K that had gone sailing out the windowit was every dream she'd had for her career.
For months, she'd wanted to switch to the editorial staff of Smart Fashion, the monthly magazine put out by the same parent company that did the tabloid. One magazine was the shining respected industry publication; the other was the back-stabbing stepsister. At the time, working for the tabloid had been a job, one that paid well. One she'd needed desperately. She'd seen it as a stepping stone, a temporary stop.
It had become a long-term stall. One she hated more and more every day. Moving to Smart Fashion and covering the newest trends in jewelry and skirt lengths didn't exactly call for deep journalistic investigation, but it was a step in the right direction. A step away from the years she'd spent observing and penning exclamation-point- studded stories about how the "glamorous" people lived.
She was tired of working in the shadows. Tired of putting her future on hold. This shoe, as silly as it sounded, had been the symbol of everything Sarah intended to change about her job, herself and most of all, her life.
Fifteen minutes of frantic searching passed before Sarah was forced to admit the shoe was gone. She ran back up to her apartment, and headed straight for the window, ignoring Diana sitting on the sofa, filing her nails with the kind of calm that said she had no idea what kind of damage she'd just done. Or if she did, she didn't care
Both were typical Diana.
Sarah and her sister shared a lot in the genes depart-mentthey were both slender, both had long, dark brown hair with a touch of red that turned to gold after too much time in the sun, and both had wide green eyes. But when it came to sensitivity and empathy, there were many days when Sarah wondered what had happened to her sister's. She loved Diana, but her inability to relate to other people's problems chafed at their relationship like a splinter. It was as if Diana had decided Sarah did enough worrying and caring for the both of them.
"Please let it be there," Sarah whispered. She leaned forward, out the window, scanning the sidewalk a second time.
Nothing. The shoe was gone.
Sarah sank to the oak floor of her apartment. "I'm so dead."
"I don't know why you're making such a big deal out of this," Diana said, flinging out her fingers to check her emery job. "It's just a shoe."
"It's my job." And so much more, Sarah thought, but didn't say. Her sister would never understand what that shoe represented. How it was so much more than her first big project for Smart Fashion magazine. Okay, so not exactly bigjust a quarter-page write-up on the launch of the line by Frederick K, with a review of the premier stiletto in the collection. But it was a start, and that was all Sarah needed.
She couldn't make Diana see how that simple strappy red heel seemed to hold everything Sarah had always wantedand had thus far denied herself. "Not just that, but that shoe is a one-of-a-kind, secret prototype that no one was supposed to see before the spring fashion shows. No one."
Diana shrugged. "You did."
"You're not helping the situation, Diana."
"I'll buy you another pair. There. Problem solved."
"You can't buy these. That's the point. No one is supposed to have them until after the spring fashion shows. My boss trusted me to keep them under wraps, and now"
What was she going to do? How on earth was she going to explain this? The photo shoot for the fall issue was only three days away, and half of the starring product had disappeared. The magazine had everything laid out and ready to go, with space left for photos and stories from coverage of Fashion Week in two weeks. The top designers would be showcasing their spring fashions for next year, and all of New York would be abuzz with chatter about their new designs. It was the biggest week of the year at the magazine, one where tensions ran high and expectations ran higher.
She couldn't make Diana see that, nor, Sarah was sure, could she get her sister to understand why she had taken the stilettos home in the first place. Explaining to Karl the little field trip she'd taken those designer shoes on was going to be even harder than telling him she'd lost one half of the pair.
Why did you take those one-of-a-kind Frederick Ks home, Sarah?
Because I thought having them, just for a little while, would transform my life.
Oh, yeah, that was going to go over well. Like, unemployment-line well.
"Well, we have a problem. And we need to deal with it right away." Diana tucked the emery board away, then flipped out a lipstick case and slicked on a crimson bow.
"That's the understatement of the year. You just singlehandedly sent my career down the fast track to nowhere. Gee, thanks, Diana."
"I didn't mean with that silly shoe." Diana sighed, then met her sister's gaze. "I meant with Dad. You are not dumping him at my apartment. I have a life, you know."
They were back to this again? Sarah shouldn't be surprised. Diana was the kind to pick at an issue until she got the answer she wanted. Preferably one that absolved her of all responsibility.
For years, Sarah had taken on the caretaker role. When their mother had first gotten sick, it had been Sarah who stepped in to be the lady of the house. Heartbreak over his wife's cancer had immobilized their father, leaving Sarah two choiceslet everything go to hell, or step into her mother's apron.
Bridget Griffin had lingered, in that limbo between life and death, for almost ten years before death finally ended her suffering. For so many years, Sarah had expected the death, but when that day finally came
She'd found herself standing there, stunned. A hole had opened up in her life, and she had yet to find a way to fill it. Live your life, her father had said.
What life? she'd wanted to say back. For so many years, she'd poured everything into her family. No time for dating, for daydreaming or for thinking about the paths she might have taken, if only
All those if onlys had been lived by Diana. Sarah had made sure her little sister got to experience everything dates, proms, partieseven if that meant Sarah was the one waiting up at home instead of doing the same thing. Or working insane hours to help pay for Diana's dreams.
Their father had worked hard all his life, but a cop's salary only went so far. As his wife's illness worsened, he became less attentive to the holes in the family budget, so Sarah went to work, adding what she could to the family coffers. Never telling her father, just quietly taking care of them all.
Which meant her life had been put on hold for so long, she'd forgotten what it meant to have one outside of work. Working a job that paid well but that grated on her conscience on a daily basis. Sarah Griffin needed a change and she'd thought that bringing home the Frederick Ks would be the first step.
Kinda hard to take any step at all only wearing one shoe.
"Diana, you promised," Sarah said, returning her attention to the problem at handwhat to do about Dad. "You can't just back out on that because it's inconvenient."
Her sister winced. The truth had hit its mark. "I can't drop everything just because you've decided that Dad has overstayed his welcome. I mean, I have a job, friends"
"And what, I don't?" Sarah said.