Download The Opening Chapters of AVA
Twenty years may have passed since that night they became Priyas, but, unknown to them, the real tests of their loyalty to one another were only now beginning. And Ava, being the founder, the oldest member, would be the first Priya to start down a path from which there would be no turning back.
Not for any of them.
Why Kader Returned to Washington, DC...and Ava
Kader stared down at the photo. It had taken him nearly three worthless years, living a life he didn’t want, an ocean’s length from the woman he loved, to exhaust all of his imagined reasons for staying away. When, finally, he had set aside his pride and listened only to his heart, it had guided him home, to Ava.
The orchestra was in full swing as Kader bolted up the steps at the edge of the stage. Oblivious to the whispers and stares bouncing off his back, he wove his way through the musicians and disappeared behind the wide velvet curtains that formed the backdrop.
It was the fastest route to his office, three floors above.
Backstage, Kader pushed through the cluster of Crestil aides who had spotted him and were circling, eager to have Kader, son of an influential Washington family, appear on camera to give their man his seal of approval. Not a chance, he thought, as he briskly cleared the last person and flashed his wallet in front of an elevator’s security pad.
He stepped inside and used the point of his elbow to block a bold female, in a very small dress, from following along uninvited. On the ride up, he focused his attention back on the photograph, on Ava’s face, her eyes. He let memories of the past hold him, soothe him, before tucking it away.
He had traveled the world in a determined bid to free his heart from this woman. He hadn’t cared where he went, or who he met, or what he saw. No matter how grand or lush the view, how elaborate the plans, how exclusive and desirable the company, nothing and no one had appealed to him.
A Resourceful Investigative Journalist Knows Everyone
They heard Bonner before they saw her.
“Get off me, you maggot! Don’t you mess with me — got it, cheese ball?”
They heard a scuffle from the hallway just as two small hands reached around the left side of the doorframe and gripped it for dear life. “Get. Off. Me.”
Yep, that was Bonner.
They heard a man grunt loudly as the woman in question hurtled herself into the room. She was moving fast, winding her arms wildly as she tried to regain her balance. She would have ended up sprawled on the floor if not for the police officer who stumbled in behind her, holding firmly to the back of her sweatshirt.
Was she appreciative? No, not Bonner.
“Listen, you overcooked turkey. I’m going to have you brought up on charges.” With one arm she pulled back the hood of her sweatshirt, and, with the other, swung a girly punch in his general direction.
“It’s you.” The cop immediately let her go and took a large step backward. “I should have known.”
“Oh. Hey, Officer Frank. How’s it going?” Bonner asked casually as she tucked her hair behind her ears and adjusted her sweatshirt. “That’s some grip you’ve got there. You play softball?”
Officer Frank looked at Bonner and sighed before turning his long-suffering expression in the direction of the Ardens. “You sure you want her in here?”
Derek Arden Giving Advice To His Daughter
Ava’s eyes were on the sky and her thoughts were on Kader. “Dad, is there anything you missed out on by marrying Mom and having us so young?”
“Not a thing.”
“I don’t believe you,” Ava stated flatly.
He showed his irritation at her question by adjusting his posture in the chair. “Ava, why are you asking me this?”
“I just want to know if it was worth all the sacrifices and compromises. I’ve made every personal sacrifice imaginable in the name of business success. And now, I’m beginning to resent those choices — my own choices, ironically. What happens if I commit to a family life and then come to regret it? Feel cheated?”
“The answer is simple. Marry for love.”
She waited for the rest of the advice, but none was forthcoming. “And…?” she prompted.
“And that’s it. Marry for love.”
Ava blinked at her father. Didn’t he understand nothing was that simple? “What is love, exactly?”
“You already know the answer to that question, Ava. Remember, successful relationships are always a joint venture. Keep the give and the take in balance.”
“Love you, Dad. Thanks for the advice.”
“Love you, too, honey.”
Ava sat up in her chair. “Then how come you haven’t answered my question?”
“Talk about a dog with a bone. Who raised you, a lawyer? Anyway, it’s too late. Your mother is home.”
“What? How do you know? I didn’t hear a thing.”
“I just know. When she walks out that door, she takes some part of me with her. And when she walks back in, that part is returned to me. I feel it back where it is supposed to be. I feel her back where she is supposed to be.”
“In the house?”
“In my arms. You’re not much of a romantic, are you?”
The gushing, misty-eyed heart living inside her was the single most overlooked trait Ava Arden possessed, probably because she had learned to hide it well. To work around it.
Chance Kelley Taking Over Ava's Wardrobe
Ava shifted her very large purse to the front of her body and covered it with her arms. “Just what do you have in mind?”
“The works.” Chance held her ground. “Pony up, Ava. I’ve been waiting a lifetime to get my hands on your wardrobe. You are going to spend an enormous sum of money today, and it will be worth every last penny. We are bringing you into the 21st Century.”
Ava shook her head. “No. Out of the question.”
“Need I remind you of Kader’s return? You don’t look like a woman who has moved on, who has made a fresh start. You’ve barely bought anything new since he left. Don’t you think now is the time?” Bonner pleaded.
“Quit stalling,” Chance added. She turned to Bonner. “Let’s get this project started. We’re going to begin our day with the foundation of fashion: lingerie. After all, nothing says ‘Come and get me!’ like La Perla.”
“Project?” Ava said, as she threaded both her arms through her purse straps and held on tight. “Since when am I a project?”
“A total lie, Chance. You’ve only known me since the fifth grade.”
“I’ve seen the class photos.”
Gracie Arden's Secret Wish
Ava picked up her purse and dashed from the room.
It took her four seconds to run across the length of the lobby, past her mother, through the glass doors, and to the bank of elevators beyond.
But it was long enough.
A mother knows her own child’s face. Knows the placement of every line and mark, knows the meaning of every expression. Clear as the light of day, Gracie saw the sign she herself had been waiting for all this time.
Sobs burst from her lips, drawn up from that place in a mother’s heart where she stores her most secret, most cherished wishes. The sound surprised Wren, who was looking in the other direction, watching as Ava stepped into the elevator.
She turned and threw her arms around her old and dear friend. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Gracie clung to Wren. Between ragged breaths and heavy tears, and in a voice overcome with emotion, she managed to say four words. “The miracle has happened.”
Trace Arden, Lying To His Sister
“I brought a new client — The Thornton Trust — into Arden, Loria & Krese. A client with the depth to turn our firm into a global powerhouse.”
Ava was incredulous. “You chose money over my happiness?”
“Pardon? How do you come up with that stuff, Ava? This is business. It has nothing to do with you.” He focused on making his lie sound convincing. He hoped it did. “I have no regrets.”
Frustrated, she shook the back of a kitchen chair. “I almost married this man.”
“But you didn’t.”
“But I almost did.”
“But you didn’t, Ava. If memory serves, you’re the one who sent him packing.”
The reason for the split wasn’t that clear-cut, but she didn’t want to go down that road, not here.
“If he’s been in town for a whole month, where has he been living, hmm? In your guest suite? In the file room at your office? At some trendy downtown hotel? I know he’s not staying with his parents.”
Trace laughed at her words. “And how would you know that?”
Because she kept tabs on Kader’s family, Ava thought. Because she went out of her way to “run into” Mrs. Thornton at social events, and would send cards on holidays and birthdays and sign them Love, Ava.
But her brother didn’t need to know any of those details. He would only use them against her to further his own position. Like father, like son.
Ava gave her hair a toss, stuck her hands on her hips, and lied. “I know everything that happens in this town.”
Ava's Interview With Pamela Millworth Fuller
“I’d barely been here a month when I received my first invitation to dine at the White House,” Pamela said with great self-importance. “The invitation included a personally guided tour.”
An outsider might have thought, from that carefully worded sentence, that Pamela had been invited to a state dinner and given a personal tour by the President, himself.
Ava knew better. She pulled the second card from the hand Bonner had passed her and laid it on the table.
“Eating in the White House Mess is fun, isn’t it? You never know who you’ll bump into during the lunch rush: Congressmen, news anchors, civic leaders. By the way, how is Jonah Bergl these days?”
At the mention of her current – and married — lover, Pamela went for distance. “You know Mr. Bergl?”
“No,” Ava said, shaking her head firmly. “I know his wife.”
Jezzabelle, The Teenaged Pop Star
The beautiful one was the first to speak as Ava unclipped the velvet rope and breezed through the opening without bothering to reattach it behind her.
“Where is my sushi?” A large sneer accompanied the girl’s rude demand and marred what were otherwise perfectly lovely features. “I ordered it ten minutes ago. Service at this hotel is a joke. I’m never coming back here.”
“I hope you don’t,” Ava said.
“Who are you?” The girl, the beautiful one, still didn’t bother to look up.
“Me?” Ava clarified. “I am your personal nightmare.”
“Another stalker? How did you get in here? Willis!” the girl called out urgently, a panicked look on her heavily painted face. “Willis!”
The privacy palms lining the cordoned-off bar area swished into motion as a tight-faced man of about 40 pushed his way through them. “What’s up? Jezza? What?”
Jezza — short for Jezzabelle — the number one teen-pop idol in America, flicked a hand in Ava’s general direction. “Remove this.”
Winston Tulkin, Sweet and Honest
“You look great,” Winston told Ava for the fifth time. “I would like to invite you over to the house tonight for dinner. We’re having the Ornithologist Volunteer Association over. Afterwards, I could show you the new bird house I designed.”
By “bird house,” he meant a 1,200-square-foot, free-standing structure, with multiple levels, climate controls, solar panels, and an open floor plan. Approval of the request, eventually granted by the local zoning board, had been the talk of the neighborhood a year or two earlier.
Ava couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do less than spend two hours at a dinner table full of science-minded, binocular-clutching bird-watchers, all of whom were probably at least as strange as Winston Tulkin, if not more. She tried to think of a polite way out.
It was then that inspiration struck.
“Sorry, Winston, but my boyfriend wouldn’t approve.”
“That’s too bad. You’re looking better than ever, Ava. Right now, in that pink suit, with your long legs, you kind of remind me of a phoenicopterus andinus.
“A pink flamingo,” he clarified.
Ava smiled. It was kind of cute. “Why, thank you.”
“So, Thornton got you in the end, huh?” Winston’s words were sullen, his face crestfallen. “After you two broke up, I thought I might have a chance with you. You probably don’t know it, but I’ve been trying to reach you for almost three years now.”
“If you had reached me, it wouldn’t have changed anything, Winston,” Ava said softly. “Since the night I met him, it has been Kader, and no other, for me.”
“Figures,” Winston said, and dropped his head in disappointment. “That’s what always happens when an eagle soars into view.”
A Frenemy Greeting: Ava and Lydia Hunt Bellsyn
“What’s the matter?” he asked Ava.
Kader casually moved his head enough to see a seriously skinny blond, in a tight black dress, charging in their direction. “Who is she? I don’t recognize her.”
“Long story. Listen, why don’t you turn around and head for your friends over at the bar. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.”
“But I don’t mind—” He stopped when he glanced back down at her face. “Right. I’ll be nearby if you need me.”
Ava sucked in her stomach, but there was nothing she could do to disguise her rounded hips. She already knew it would be the very first thing Lydia Hunt Bellsyn “complimented” her on.
“Ava.” Air kiss. “Well, aren’t you a big girl now. I didn’t know you’d had a baby recently — oh, wait, that was another guest. Still, how wonderful to see that you’ve thrown caution to the wind and embraced carbs. Of course, it is understandable. You still don’t have a husband to maintain yourself for, do you, dear?”
“Lydia.” Air kiss. “I said hello to your husband earlier. He’s over at the bar doing Grand Marnier shots with a lovely college intern from Congressman Ricket’s office. It is so charming the way your man slurs his words. Why, I sent the society reporter and her photographer his way just moments ago. Wouldn’t it be scrumptious if he made it into tomorrow’s paper, dear?”
Lydia scanned the bar stools for her husband and spotted him cozying up to a very young blond. Within seconds, Lydia was shoving people out of her way to get to her errant husband before the society reporter and photographer reached him.
Too bad Ava hadn’t really sent them over.
Kader and Ava, Face-to-Face...Finally
He reached out, picked up Ava’s hand and kissed it, knowing she wouldn’t make a scene. Not here. “My eyes have missed you almost as much as my heart.”
His words, spoken loud enough for all to hear, sent a ripple of surprise through the gathered guests.
Ava refused to be provoked into a making a scene, not with every phone-carrying guest capable of immediately posting YouTube videos. She could feel the D.C. gossip mill weaving new threads all around her, and she was determined at least to slow its pace, resigned to the fact that she couldn’t stop it.
“I hope you enjoyed this little visit to Washington, Kader,” Ava said as she gently tried to pull her hand from his grip. “You should probably hurry to the airport. You don’t want to miss your flight back to Singapore.”
He couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across his face. “Singapore?”
“Or, wherever it is that you live.” Ava flicked her hand dismissively even as her knees began to shake. “Thanks for stopping by the party. You know your way out. Feel free to take a doggie bag with you for the plane. Just be sure to leave the tennis ball behind for Clementine. It’s her favorite.”
Kader blindly chucked the tennis ball over his head, sending Clementine off in hot pursuit of the prize.
“This is a great party. I wouldn’t want to leave it. Lucky for me, I don’t have anywhere else to be. No flights, no work duties, no distractions. It’s just you and me, Ava.”
And a large, fascinated crowd, she silently added.