Runaway Heiress

By: Heidi Betts
One

Impossible. This was impossible.

Lily Zaccaro maximized her browser window, leaning in even more closely to study the photo on her laptop screen. With angry taps at the keyboard, she minimized that window and opened another.

Dammit.

Screen after screen, window after window, her blood pressure continued to climb.

More angry keystrokes set the printer kicking out each and every picture. Or as she was starting to think of them: The Evidence.

Pulling the full-color photos from the paper tray, she carried them to one of the long, wide, currently empty cutting tables and laid them out side by side, row by row.

Inside her chest, her heart was pounding as though she’d just run a seven-minute mile. Right there, before her very eyes, was proof that someone was stealing her designs.

How had this happened?

She tapped her foot in agitation, twisted the oversize dinner ring on her right middle finger, even rubbed her eyes and blinked before studying the pictures again.

The fabric choices were different, of course, as were some of the lines and cuts, making them just distinctive enough not to be carbon copies. But there was no mistaking her original sketches in the competing designs.

To reassure herself she wasn’t imagining things or going completely crazy, Lily moved to one of the hip-high file cabinet drawers where she kept all of her records and design sketches. Old, new, implemented and scratched. Riffling through them, she found the portfolio she was looking for, dragged it out and carried it back to the table.

One after another, she drew out the sketches she’d been working on last spring. The very ones they’d been prepared to work with, manufacture and put out for the following fall’s line.

After a short game of mix-and-match, she had each sketch placed beside its counterpart from her rival. The similarities made her ill, almost literally sick to her stomach.

She leaned against the edge of the table while the images swam in front of her eyes, sending a dizzying array of colors and charcoal lines into the mix of emotions that were already leaving her light-headed and nauseated.

How could this happen? she wondered again. How could this possibly have happened?

Wracking her brain, she tried to think of who else might have seen her sketches while she was working. How many people had been in and out of this studio? There couldn’t have been that many.

Zoe and Juliet, of course, but she trusted them with her life. She and her sisters shared this work space. The three of them rented the entire New York apartment building, using one of the lofts as a shared living space and the other as a work space for their company, Zaccaro Fashions.

Although there were times when they got on each other’s nerves or their work schedules overlapped, their partnership was actually working out surprisingly well. And Lily showed her sisters all of her design ideas, sometimes even soliciting their opinions, the same as they shared their thoughts and sketches with her.

But neither of them—not even slightly flighty party girl, Zoe—would ever steal or sell her designs or betray her in any way. Of that, she was absolutely, one hundred percent certain.

So who else could it have been? They occasionally had others over to the studio, but not very often. Most times when they had business to conduct, they did it at Zaccaro Fashions, their official, public location in Manhattan’s Fashion District, where they had more sewing machines set up, with employees to produce items on a larger, faster scale; offices for each of the sisters; and a small boutique set up out front. Something they hoped to expand upon very soon.

Of course, that particular dream would be nearly impossible to realize if their creations continued to get stolen and put on the market before they could release them.

She collected all of the papers from the cutting table, being sure to keep each of the printed pictures with its corresponding sketch. Then she began to pace, worrying a thumbnail between her teeth and wearing out the soles of her one-of-a-kind Zoe-designed pumps while she wondered what to do next.

What could she do?

If she had any idea who was responsible for this, then she might know what to do. Bludgeoning them with a sharp object or having them drawn and quartered in the middle of Times Square sounded infinitely satisfying. But even going to the police would work for her, as long as the theft and replication of her clothes stopped, and the culprit was punished or fired or chased out of town by a mob of angry fashion designers wielding very sharp scissors.

Without a clue of who was behind this, though, she didn’t even know where to begin. Wasn’t sure she had any options at all.

Her sisters might have some suggestions, but she so didn’t want to involve them in this.

She’d been the one to go to design school, then ask their parents for a loan to start her own business. Because—even though they were quite wealthy and had offered to simply give her the money, since she was already in line for a substantial inheritance—she’d wanted to do this herself, to build something rather than having it handed to her.

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