A year ago, International Assembly delegate Suyana Sapaki barely survived an attempt on her life. Now she’s climbing the social ranks, dating the American Face, and poised for greatness. She has everything she wants, but the secret that drives her can’t stay hidden forever. While she’s saved herself from a life-threatening political scandal, she’s gained a new enemy: the public eye.
Daniel Park was hoping for the story of a lifetime. And he got her. He’s been following Suyana for a year. But what do you do when this person you thought you knew has vanished inside the shell, and dangers are building all around you? How much will Daniel risk when his job is to break the story? And how far will he go for a cause that isn’t his?
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Suyana wore sleeveless gowns so people could see where she’d been shot.
On red carpets, she cheated her shoulder so the scar—a gleaming planet, the skin around it spidered in raised threads—was visible. She never wore necklaces, so the scar was the first thing your eye went to; it was the thing you recognized her by.
Daniel couldn’t swear to it, but he thought maybe once or twice someone had even brushed the scar with makeup that sparkled, just to draw attention. He didn’t want to think it was something Suyana would allow, but he’d never had the courage to ask. Easier to hope.
The red carpet was crowded. People had lined up since the early morning, and Daniel had been sitting third row back since four o’clock, holding a small handwritten sign that read GRACE 4EVER. Grace never looked into the stands except when the Weekly suggested she wave, and the Weekly had set up shop practically at the theater door, so his sign in a sea of them rendered him invisible.
He should be standing outside Suyana’s New York apartment so he could catch what happened in the moments before something was scheduled to happen. That was how he’d met her; that was what he’d been best at, for a year. But on a night like this, Faces were careful, and Li Zhao wanted her snaps where the pictures would be pretty, and so he was parked where it was easiest to get good pictures of dresses and handlers puppeteering from the sidelines.
Grace walked by without a glance—she wore pale blue draped low in back like a singer in a movie, and was deliberately alone. The UK Face could afford to stay single, and Daniel suspected she liked reminding people. Her handler, Colin, hovered out of camera range like a ring bearer at the wrong wedding.
Daniel was surprised anyone had allowed their Faces at the premiere of a biopic about the founders of the IA, but if their handlers and home countries didn’t mind critics drawing eyebrow-raising comparisons between what the founders had wanted and what they had now, Daniel supposed there was no reason not to trot them out for an evening of glitter where the little people could get a look.
Martine was in white, a beaded dress so heavy he could hear it slapping her legs with every step. She’d have bruises.
He was really close to the front, he realized—maybe too close, maybe the angle wasn’t worth the risk of being seen—but he never thought about those things until it was too late, or until he saw Martine.
One year in, he still went for the closest shot he could get. Bo warned him against it—people at the edges of the frame could be important, he should keep farther from the crowd and care less about expressions—but expressions sold copies, and Daniel didn’t need anyone looking at anything that happened at the edges with Suyana. Bo was welcome to record eight hours of group shots from twenty paces back (or to pretend that was what he did; Daniel had seen what Bo was like when he knew he had Margot all to himself). Daniel kept as close as he could to his subject and trusted Suyana not to break formation.
Daniel’s shots still ended up on the evening news, candids of Grace and Martine conspiring during a vote, or Suyana smiling and smiling at Ethan above the newscast’s title bar IS THIS LOVE FOREVER?, and that was all that was required of him.
On Martine’s walk along the crowded carpet, she spared a single look at the seething knot in the press pit, where half a dozen arms were reaching to get her attention, an anemone of mics. She never even slowed down. Her handler, Ansfrida, who was waiting in the background holding a cape for Martine like she was actually a Valkyrie and not just playing one, closed her eyes with a sigh so long-suffering Daniel could feel it a hundred feet away.
Daniel kept Ansfrida out of the frame (it seemed mean to capture this moment too clearly) and caught a decent shot of Martine glaring at the peasants over her shoulder.
In the last year, Daniel had watched Martine breeze by a terrifying amount of press for someone with name recognition as high as hers was. She was on at least four magazine covers a year, and though she didn’t conduct any political business whatsoever (Hannah was bored out of her mind on that beat; they were cutting her when everyone went to Paris for the session), any exclusive candids of Martine paid Bonnaire’s rent for two months. They were easier to come by than Daniel would have expected—apparently Martine’s official photographers didn’t work regular shifts, and it was open season for Hannah if Martine went out for coffee.
He wondered if Suyana would ever reach that level of recognition, the magical threshold where you became an ecosystem. He suspected she was too new. The next Face of the United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation might be able to coast, but Suyana would always be scrabbling.
Suyana and Ethan showed up as soon as the door closed on Martine (of course—peak crowd, peak desperation from the stands, peak press attention). Suyana’s hand curled under Ethan’s forearm, and she gave him a wide smile that aimed, just for a second, into the crowd.
She might have been looking for Daniel. It might just have been kissing ass for the cameras. Daniel had given up trying to decide the difference.
Her hair was always arranged, these days; braids and buns and ponytails threaded with a single thin strand of gold beads. She pulled it back so nothing covered the scar.
“Elegant,” Closer had proclaimed her new image, and talked about how Suyana had grown up since the Disappearance; being kidnapped had been good for her wardrobe.
(One of the anchors on Tonight in the Spotlight had joked that she’d been lucky, because a black shirt and pants were the chicest, most practical thing to get kidnapped in. Daniel was in a hole in the wall halfway through an order of dumplings when the show aired. He’d stood up and left cash on the counter, not interested in whatever fashion advice was coming.
For the next three months, whenever Suyana had to look casual but serious at informal events, she wore black pants and a black shirt rolled to the elbows, the collar artfully low to show off her earrings.
Daniel had filmed it all—his job was to watch her, whatever she did, for the rest of her tenure or the rest of her life—but occasionally during those months he had glanced over her shoulder or at the ceiling or the exit, just to have somewhere else for his eyes to go.)
She was in black tonight, too—sleeveless and with a collar that rose at the back of her neck and made her look slightly like an evil queen. Daniel assumed the silhouette was trendy. There was no way Magnus would have let her out of the house in clothes that suggested she was capable of plotting something.
Magnus was haunting the far end of the red carpet with the rest of the handlers, his fists in the pockets of his suit like he was trying desperately not to reach over and fix something Suyana was doing wrong.
Impossible, these days. Suyana was a polished stone, and nothing got close enough to scratch her any more.
The first of the interviews was in full swing—it might actually be Tonight in the Spotlight, son of a bitch—and it had probably been a question about their upcoming anniversary, because Suyana was curling her fingers against Ethan’s arm, glancing up at him through her lashes as she said something fond and placid that had the reporter grinning.
Ethan laughed and tapped Suyana’s left ring finger as he answered, his words lost as the crowd shrieked and applauded at the idea of the United States and the UARC making it official right in front of them. Suyana grinned, holding up her hand palm-in and narrowing her eyes at him like a reminder of a ring he’d long promised, and the clapping in the stands escalated to screams and stomping.
Daniel tuned it out, tried to decide if her loaner earrings were smoky topaz or champagne diamond. Did the UARC think she rated diamonds already? No way they were diamonds. Had Ethan given them to her?
As Ethan laughed and the reporter leaned into the frame for the sign-off, Suyana tapped her thumb and forefinger lightly together twice as she dropped her hand, like she was nervous.
Between one microphone and the next, Ethan leaned down and whispered in Suyana’s ear. She squeezed his arm just a little, glanced up just a little, too small for the news cameras to clock it.
Smoky topaz earrings, he decided. She’d want topaz. They were closer to the color of her scar.
He followed Ethan and Suyana’s progression slowly, turning his head to keep them in sight without holding too still (it was easy to hold still, after a while, but it creeped people out).
His phone buzzed. Bo, checking in.
He waited three minutes before he handed his sign to the woman next to him and slid through the stands and out. Bo was near the rope and stanchions that guided the gawkers off the sidewalk and safely away from the drop-off lane, where black sedans were still spitting out the occasional C-level Face amid the actors.
Daniel didn’t look over. Not his beat, not his problem.
“Where’s yours? I didn’t see her.”
Bo shook his head, unflappable but unhappy. “She went in through the caterers’ entrance—two others with her, waiting for IDs now, but it’s too late to follow. No idea why she’s trying to play it under the radar, it’s not like she can change the movie by staying invisible. Got the shots, though.”
For all the good it would do. Li Zhao never seemed to find a buyer for Margot’s shots, which seemed strange for the head of the Central Committee. Either Li Zhao was creating scarcity to drive up prices—which Daniel had never dared suggest to Bo, who tended to be very stolid about work and wasn’t ready for the idea that Li Zhao was playing the market—or she was waiting for an international scandal to sell the lot. In the meantime, Bo spied on the most powerful diplomat in the world for no return on investment.
“When are you off duty?”
“Now. Our man in Catering clocked Margot inside, and Reg takes over in ten minutes. You?”
“Same,” said Daniel. “Magdalena should already be inside when Suyana finally snaps and murders Ethan. You want dinner?”
“Sure.” Bo barely frowned; Bo was hard to rattle.
They set off together down Broadway, Daniel using the only-slightly-embarrassing gait he’d adopted to keep up with Bo’s mountainous strides. But Bo wasn’t in a hurry, so it was easy enough.
Daniel wasn’t in a hurry either. Suyana had given the signal. She couldn’t meet her Chordata contact until two a.m.; Daniel had hours to spare.