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No," Sasha Moore barked irritably into the phone. She strangled the receiver until her knuckles hurt, wishing it were Marcus's neck.
"Sasha, I am your agent or have you forgotten? I know you want to retire from modeling, No one knows that as well as I do, but I don't think your timing is right. So, I'd appreciate it if you would hear me out before you refuse," Marcus said with desperate firmness.
With a long, exaggerated sigh, Sasha rested her elbow on the arm of the couch. "Go ahead, you've got three minutes."
She listened with a deaf ear as Marcus Vaughn gave herin elaborate detailall the reasons why she should continue to model. He emphasized the fact that she was still young and appealing and a lot of other hoopla that Sasha didn't care to hear. Instead, she frowned in annoyance and had to fight the urge to keep from hanging up on him. She was determined to stand firm in her decision and wished Marcus would just give up, even though he was acting in her best interest. Or at least he thought so.
Since she had made the decision not to renew her modeling contract with designer Jacqueline Giamanco, her agent had called her weekly to remind her of all of the things that she was missing. Today was no exception. His voice was once again humming in her right ear like elevator music.
Dropping her forehead into her hand, Sasha closed her eyes. After seven years of traveling all over the world, living in hotels and out of suitcases, she had finally realizedthat there was something else out there for her and had returned home to pursue a dream.
"Hell-oo. Sasha, are you listening?" Marcus asked.
"Mmm-hmm," she murmured, only vaguely aware that Marcus was speaking. Sasha wondered if she should feel guilty for ignoring him every time he called, then shrugged her shoulders and thought better of it. For as long as she'd known him, Marcus had dominated their conversations and had a tendency to rattle on non-stop like a fifteen disk CD player. Even when she used to listen to him, he rarely allowed her an opportunity to get a word in other than an occasional hmmm or oh.
Before allowing her mind to wander off again, Sasha heard him utter the words intimate apparels and shook her head in disbelief. Marcus couldn't possibly think she would be interested in lingerie modeling again. She'd had a contract with a major department store several years ago and nothing had displeased her more than to appear half-naked in front of a camera. Sasha leaned against the comfort of her couch and lowered her thick black lashes. Modeling was no longer what she wanted to do with her life. There had to be a way.
Her eyes filled with deep longing as she gazed down at the gown lying across her lap. She stroked the fabric with the back of her hand, enjoying the waves of relaxing pleasure the feel of satin between her fingertips sent through her veins.
Smoothing out the skirt, Sasha examined a row of small gold flowers that she just finished embroidering along the hem. There were fifty-seven flowers. Judith Rencher wanted one for each week since the day her fiancé Eric had walked into her life.
She'd been designing wedding gowns since she was a child. In her spare time, her mother had worked as a seamstress. Nothing had pleased Sasha more than to retrieve discarded scraps of fabric from the floor of her mother's sewing room and then spend hours creating dresses for her dolls. As a teenager she began designing gowns for friends and family. Today she was adding the finishing touches to a gown she had designed for her cousin, Judith.
While Marcus continued to speak in a language that was now foreign to her, Sasha cradled the phone against her shoulder and held the dress out in front of her. She was proud of her unique, handcrafted designs. Every gown she created was draped for a custom fit and included a unique train, designed with intricate hand-embroidered threadwork made of the purest silk that Sasha ordered from a small bridal shop she had found while working in Italy. None of her gowns were ever alike, except that they were created to make a woman look and feel the way every bride should feel on her wedding daylike a princess.
Sasha's face glistened with pride. Once again she had brought her creation to life and the finished product was in her hands. Pleased with her masterpiece, she smiled. The sleeveless gown was made of ivory duchesse satin with pleated silk-satin bands at the waist. The fitted bodice was covered in Alecon lace with a low-scooped backline and an A-line skirt where a long row of gold, hand-embroidered lilies extended to the hem of the chapel train. Next week she would complement the ensemble with a floor-length veil attached to a tier trimmed in mother-of-pearl.
Marcus's voice broke into her reverie. "So what do you think?" he asked, sounding out of breath. Sasha couldn't help thinking that it probably had something to do with the long-winded conversation he had just had with her ear.
"No." The word rolled off her tongue without a single thought as to what he might have just asked her. Regardless, her answer would still have been the same.
Marcus sighed heavily. "Come on, Sasha. Don't act like you don't need the money. All they want is six months of your life. You couldn't possibly get a better contract."
Sasha looked up, suddenly aware of the despair in his voice and laid the wedding gown carefully onto the cushion next to her as if it were a newborn baby. For Marcus to sound so persistent, whatever he needed her to do had to be real important, and she owed him quite a bit for his constant support. For years he had taken care of her. The least she could do was listen.
"Six months," she repeated. Curling her legs underneath her, Sasha unconsciously twirled the phone cord around her index finger while she took a moment to think, "Where are you wanting me to travel to this time?" she inquired. Sasha couldn't believe that she was actually considering his proposal.
Marcus chuckled nervously. "You haven't heard a word I've said. You have no idea what I am talking about."
"Yes I do."
"Then I guess you heard me when I said that Deja Davis was murdered." Sasha gasped. Marcus tapped the phone with his index finger. He now had her undivided attention.
"What happened?" she asked. Sasha leaned forward, swinging her legs onto the floor and waited for Marcus to repeat himself. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. Deja could not possibly be dead. Several years ago they had shared a hotel room while modeling for a benefit fashion show in New York. Deja Davis hadn't been just any fashion model. She had graced dozens of runways from those of Donna Karan to Ralph Lauren in cities all over the world. Sasha just recently had seen her on Oprah promoting her new fragrance that she had named after herself. Deja was gorgeous, charming and had possessed a laid-back personality that all of her peers admired.
"I can't believe she's dead." Sasha spoke in a soft, far-away voice.
"It is unfortunate," Marcus added in a somber voice. "The maid found her with her throat slashed. But on a lighter note, her loss is definitely your gain." He chuckled lightly, trying to brighten the mood. "Diva Designs is offering a"
"Did you say Diva Designs?" Sasha asked hastily. Curiosity quickly replaced the pang of sadness she had felt only seconds ago.
"Yeah, I did. You really weren't listening. I should feel insulted," Marcus said with a note of sarcasm.
Sasha snorted. "Save the attitude for one of those new models of yours that are still wet behind their ears."
Diva Designs was the largest black-owned and operated dress designing corporation in the region. They sold evening gowns acid a collection of elegant dresses in an array of styles to complement women of color. They held seasonal fashion shows benefiting numerous hospitals and charitable organizations. The designs were a little too sophisticated for Sasha's taste but her mother owned several. Sasha had tried landing a contract with them for years just so she could stay in the St. Louis area, but each time their fashion director commented that her looks were not mature enough for their gowns. The corner of Sasha's lips curled into a smile. How ironic.
"Come on, Sasha. What other contract have you had that has allowed you to work so close to home?"
"Hmmm." Sasha pursed her lips thoughtfully and settled back against the arm of the couch. She hated to admit it, but Marcus made a point that she could not argue.
"You know, I ... I am really hurt that you didn't hear a word I said," Marcus interjected.
"You're a big boy. You'll get over it," Sasha said dryly.
"You're very lucky that you're my favorite model. No one else could get away with talking to me like you do," he chuckled. Marcus was used to her smart aleck responses. Sasha always had a quick comeback waiting on the tip of her tongue. No one would ever guess that she was the frightened teenager who had walked into his office several years ago.
"Except maybe your wife?" Sasha hissed back at him. "Marcus, the only reason I am your favorite is because I've made you a lot of money over the years. And if you weren't like a big brother to me, I would have changed my phone number weeks ago just so you'd quit badgering me," she teased. They had been friends long enough for him to know that her teasing was not malicious. In fact, it was an expression of friendship.
Hearing the amusement in her voice, Marcus laughed. "You always were a smart ass."
"Uh-huh, and don't you forget it." Sasha ran a hand through her hair. "So, tell me, Mr. Agent, what does Diva Designs have to do with lingerie?" To her surprise, she was suddenly interested in what Marcus had to say.
"Wow! So you actually heard part of the conversation. Well, I am impressed," he joked. If Marcus had to, he'd drive to her house and make her listen to reason. Diva Designs wanted Sasha and he was determined to get her to see that this was a lucrative opportunity for her, even if it meant knocking some sense into her head.
"Marcus, save the jokes. You know I don't like lingerie modeling."
"I know, I know, but Diva Designs is apparently interested in changing their marketing strategy after losing a substantial amount of money last-year. That is why they are launching an intimate apparels division and they need you to get it off the ground. Believe me, these changes are long overdue. Selling designs to a concentrated market, and to a mature audience, might I add, is risky business. They've been limiting their earning potential for years. This new lingerie line might just put them back on the map."
Pressing her lips firmly together, Sasha knew all too well what he meant about concentrated marketing after having the same disappointing discussion with her loan officer the day before.
Sasha had disappeared from the modeling world a few months earlier in hope of starting her own collection of wedding gowns, Creations by Sasha. During her career, she had saved every dime that she made from modelingshort of starvingand turned her savings over to a broker, hoping to receive the biggest return for her money, Instead, she had fallen flat on her face. She had trusted her broker's decisions, but to her devastation, she'd recently learned that he'd invested her savings in several questionable enterprises, causing her to lose a substantial amount of money. Because of that and her father's enormous medical bills and funeral expenses, Sasha had found herself unable to finance her dream. So she decided to seek outside help.
With a great deal of research, Sasha had put together what she thought was the perfect business plan. But the bank turned her down because they did not feel her marketing mix was effective enough nor did they see any immediate return on their investment. Sasha had walked away from the bank feeling defeated. Her mother had offered to help but Sasha knew that the money she offered was for her retirement and Sasha did not have any intention of touching it. Unless she continued to model, she had only one other option, and that was selling the home that her father had left her. But that would have to be a last resort.
"You better be listening."
Sasha's mouth twitched with amusement. "I'm all ears."
"Diva wants you to launch this new division."
"No one makes love to the camera like you do." Marcus spoke in a low baritone voice that was so out of character for him, that Sasha found herself seized by a fit of laughter.
"Pu-leeze!" She was almost in tears.
Her amusement was infectious and Marcus found himself also laughing at his corny joke. After their laughter died, Marcus gave her the details of the new campaign.
"They have scheduled fashion shows in major cities." Before she could object, he immediately added, "One weekend per month." He then paused long enough for Sasha to disapprove. After several seconds of silence he smiled and continued. "Diva Designs is planning to kick off the campaign with a benefit fashion show in St. Louis next month and all proceeds will go to Children's Hospital Sasha, think about what this can do for your career. This might be the perfect opportunity for you to network with others in the design industry, and obtain the connections you need in order to get your creations off the ground."
Sasha dragged her knees to her chest and rested her chin. "Hmmm. Minimal travel doesn't sound too bad."
"You would begin shooting immediately for their catalog ."
Sasha's eyebrow rose in amazement. "Catalog?" Sasha snorted. "Don't tell me they've switched to discount clothing?"
Marcus chuckled. "No, but they are hoping to reach all economic levels."
Sasha's expression stilled and grew serious as her brain deliberated. Maybe she did need to reconsider, at least until she earned the money she needed, and working for Diva Designs did sound like a piece of cake. Sasha raised her hand to her mouth while she pondered the idea.
"I have negotiated a contract that will make you do cartwheels."
"Sure of ourselves, aren't we?" Sasha gave a dry laugh.
Marcus ignored her comment and cleared his throat. This was one time he knew for certain what was best for her and her future. Sasha reminded him of his younger sister and her success meant just as much to him as it did to her. "At such short notice I was able to get them to agree to pay you a very generous salary." Marcus rattled off a dollar amount that caused Sasha to gasp.
Sasha drew her lips in thoughtfully and sighed. She might as well accept the fact and not deny the inevitable any longer. She needed this job. Her entire future depended on it. The undeniable and dreadful truth was that her back was up against a cold wall and she really did not have much of a choice. What else could she possibly have to think about?
Taking a deep breath, Sasha spoke with little reluctance. "OK. I'll do it."
"That's my girl. You just made a smart decision." Marcus exhaled, relieved that he had finally overcome her resistance. "I don't know why you put me through all of that. I think my hair has turned gray."
"What hair?" she teased. "It's not like you left me with much choice."
Marcus heard the smile in her voice. "Probably because I know you could use the money. I've seen your work. Remember, my wife had the pleasure of wearing one of your gowns on our wedding day and what a vision she was. You are a very talented young lady and l would like nothing more than to see your name on a designer label."
Sasha beamed with pride, remembering the strapless design his wife wore last summer at their private wedding. "Thanks, Marcus. You always have looked out for me. I guess I can do you this one favor." Then she added in a stern voice, "But no more." She hoped her tone left little doubt in his mind that she truly meant it this time.
"I appreciate it. But this is really for you. Now I can finally go home and spend some time with Joanne. That's if she'll let me in the house."
Sasha giggled. She had never seen two people more perfect for each other than Marcus and his second wife. They were living proof that true love was possible for some people. Sasha frowned. It just wasn't meant for her.
"Drop by my office Friday afternoon and we will go over your contract together."
Sasha thanked him again and told him to give his wife her regards. Hanging up the phone, she rose from the couch, scooped up the gown and carried it down the hall to her sewing room, where she returned it to the dress form on which it had been created.
Maybe this was just what she needed. A modeling contract right here in St. Louis. Sasha stood still for several moments while she considered her decision to return to modeling. She then strolled over to her design table where she had begun sketching a new gown. Suddenly an idea burst into her head that sent her spirits soaring.
"Thank you, God. I knew you would make a way," she whispered; smiling as the plan materialized. She quickly sat down at the table and grabbed a pen and a spiral notebook from her left drawer and began scribbling a few ideas.
If things worked out the way she planned, her designs were going to be introduced to the world by none other than Diva Designs.
Excerpted from Intimate Intentions by Angie Daniels. Copyright © 2000 by Angela Daniels-Hills. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.