Zinnia
She gave Leo a quick summary of events. “So, you see,” she concluded. “We had a mutual interest in poor Morris.”
    “Hmm.”
    “What’s that supposed to mean?”
    “I’m not sure,” Leo admitted. “But I think I understand why Aunt Willy and the others are in hysterics. Especially after what happened eighteen months ago when that bastard, Eaton, set you up to take the fall as his mistress.”
    “I assure you, Nick Chastain and Rexford Eaton have absolutely nothing in common.”
    That was nothing less than the truth, she thought. Rexford Eaton, patron of the arts, major contributor to the Founders’ Values political party and all-around very-important person, had hired her to design new interiors for the Eaton estate.
    At the time, she had been fervently grateful for the lucrative commission. The death of her parents, followed by the downfall of Spring Industries had put her and Leo in bad financial straits. The fortunes of the rest of the extended Spring family had gone down with the business so there was no one she could turn to for help.
    She had poured all of her energy into building Zinnia Spring Interiors into a viable design firm. She had been thrilled when she had secured the Eaton project, not just because it paid well, but because it gave her an entree into the closed world of the high-end design market. She knew that if she satisfied the Eatons, they would tell others in their exclusive circle.
    But less than two weeks after she had begun work on the Eaton estate, she had found herself on the front page of Synsation as well as several other tabloids. When she saw the photo of herself emerging from a bedroom of the Eaton estate into a garden with Rexford Eaton at her side, she realized that she had been set up. No one believed that she and Eaton had been examining wallpaper samples inside that bedroom.
    It had taken her a while to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
    Rexford and his elegant wife, Bethany, had conspired to use her as a cover for the ménage-à-trois affair that they had been conducting with Daria Gardener, a powerful politician in the Founders’ Values political party.
    Following the trail of rumors deliberately leaked by one of Gardener’s political rivals, reporters had begun asking pointed questions. The Eatons and Daria Gardener had crafted a scheme to throw a chunk of raw meat to the wolf-dogs of the press in an effort to put them off the scent. Zinnia was the dish they had served up on a silver platter.
    It had all gone off like clockwork. Bethany Eaton had staged a tastefully tearful scene as the wronged spouse when the tabloids portrayed Zinnia as her husband’s mistress.
    On the surface, it appeared to be just one more unfortunate tale of a philandering husband caught with his passing fancy who just happened to be the daughter of a once-prominent city-state family. No one suspected the three-way arrangement with Daria Gardener.
    An affair was regrettable but survivable. A threesome involving one of the most prominent couples in society and an important politician, on the other hand, would have done serious damage to both the Eatons and Gardener. None of the three lovers would have made it through such a scandal unscathed.
    In the end Zinnia was the only one who had been hurt. Daria Gardener was never once mentioned in the press. There was quiet sympathy for Bethany Eaton who bore up nobly. As for Rexford, most people just shook their heads when they read about his affair.
    Straying husbands were not all that uncommon, especially among the elite where people were not always matched by an agency. It was an open secret that the very wealthy sometimes entered into marriages for reasons of property and money rather than with the goal of a happy, stable relationship. With divorce an impossibility, there had been no question but that the Eaton marriage would make it through the unpleasantness.
    The whole thing had been forgotten by the press within three days.
    But three

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