Read an Excerpt
'I can't do this.'
Eve's voice was little more than a whisper as the icy hand of fear gripped her throat and trailed its chilly fingers down her spine. She wanted to run, but was suddenly too panic-stricken to move. Besides, in the stiletto-heeled thigh-length boots she probably wouldn't get very far.
On the other side of the curtains the ballroom of Florence's grandest palazzo was packed with five hundred of the world's most wealthy and beautiful, who had come to pay homage to the man who had been dressing them for half a century. Only the cream of Antonio di Lazaro's client list had been invited to attend this exclusive fiftieth anniversary retrospective, and any celebrities not sitting out there in the glittering ballroom waiting for the show to begin were backstage, getting ready to model some of the legendary Lazaro label's most iconic designs.
Sienna Swift, current supermodel darling of the international fashion scene, looked up briefly from the magazine she was reading and gave Eve her famously dazzling smile.
'Course you can. You'll be fine.' 'But I'm a…a journalist.' The dishonesty of the statement made Eve falter as she said it. 'My friend Lou was supposed to be doing this article—she'd have been fantastic, but I've never done anything like this in my life. I don't know the first thing about modelling!'
Sienna turned the page. 'Well, babe, you've got the legs for it. And better boobs than the rest of us put together. What's to know? It's hardly rocket science.' She paused to scrutinise a photograph of one of her closest rivals before adding, 'It's all about sex, I suppose.'
'Sex?' Eve wailed, her spirits sinking even further. 'Why sex?Where I come from sex is not something you do in front of five hundred people and photographers from every major publication around the globe.'
Apparently. She couldn't very well say she didn't know the first thing about that either.
Sienna sighed and put the magazine down. 'OK, we haven't got long, so let's make this as simple as possible. All you have to do is find someone to focus on. You're up there on the catwalk, right? And you just fix your eyes on some bloke and forget everyone else. Watch.'
The model took a couple of steps back, thrusting her hips forward in classic catwalk style and placing her hands on them. Looking around for a likely candidate, she fixed her smoky gaze on the singer from Italy's hottest new boy band, who'd just come offstage.
'You walk towards him and you never take your eyes off him,' she murmured through sultry, pouted lips. 'Not for a second. This is lust at first sight.You're looking at him as if he's the sexiest man alive and you're going to go right up to him and strip his clothes off and there and then.' She swung back to Eve with a wicked smile. 'That's all there is to it!' And to the obvious dismay of the blushing singer she picked up the magazine again and resumed her study of it.
Eve squirmed uncomfortably in the transparent PVC mini-dress, and tugged it down over her bottom. It would be a lot easier to follow Sienna's advice if she was allowed to wear her glasses, without which she wasn't going to be able to focus on anything more than half a metre away from her face, and if she wasn't dressed in an upmarket plastic bag. She seemed to have drawn the short straw in the clothes lottery, and had been allocated one of Lazaro's more bizarre creations from his avant-garde phase in the 1960s. Strategically positioned fluorescent flowers stopped the dress being absolutely X-rated, but she still felt horribly exposed.
All around her some of the most beautiful women in the world were sipping mineral water from miniature bottles and dropping the kind of names that would have sent a real journalist into a frenzy of excitement. Among them Eve felt lonely, disorientated, and about as glamorous as a transit van in a garage full of sportscars.
She didn't belong here.
She closed her eyes against the sudden wave of homesickness that threatened to knock her for six as she thought of her messy desk by the window in Professor Swanson's office. At this time of year her view of the college quadrangle was almost entirely obliterated by the wisteria rampaging across the window, casting a murky underwater light over the clutter of teacups and student essays and piles of scribbled notes in the dusty book-lined room.
That was her world, and she had been crazy to think for a second that she could cut it in Lou's. Fashion journalists—especially those who were successful enough to shadow supermodels for exclusive behind-the-scenes articles on the A-list events of the year—were generally not shy, shortsighted academics. There was just no way she could pull it off.
'I think I'd better go and get changed,' she muttered, trying to squeeze through the crush at the steps to the catwalk.
The plan had failed before it had even begun, and it was better that she face that fact now. Lou had taken a huge risk in faking illness at the last minute and putting Eve forward for this article, and if either of them had stopped to think about it they would have realised how outrageous the whole scheme was. She was going to let Lou down, but that wasn't the worst part.
The worst part was letting her twin sister Ellie down. And letting Raphael Di Lazaro slip through her fingers again.
Without looking up from the horoscope page, Sienna grabbed her arm and pulled her back. 'No time,' she said cheerfully. 'We're on in a second. Look, it says here that Scorpios should exercise caution in financial matters. Do you think that means I shouldn't buy that Prada clutch bag, then?'
Eve's teeth were chattering violently as she replied, 'I shouldn't think so. Look, it doesn't by any chance say that on Thursday Aquarians should avoid public displays of nudity and stay at home eating chocolate instead, does it?'
Sienna laughed. 'Let's see. Aquarius. "Due to Mercury moving into the pinnacle of your chart, Thursday will see a spectacular reawakening of your love-life. Your destiny awaits you in a most unexpected place." Excellent! You'd better stick around after all!'
Eve grimaced. Even if she could persuade herself to believe in astrology—or destiny, for that matter— she'd have to draw the line at reincarnation. Her love-life wasn't just sleeping, it was dead and buried.
No. If she was going to stick around it would be nothing to do with love or destiny, for pity's sake, and everything to do with revenge.
She gave Sienna a watery smile. 'Just my luck the man of my dreams is going to appear in my life the day I'm dressed as Porn Star Barbie.'
The grand ballroom of the Palazzo Salarino glittered in the light from its famous antique crystal chandeliers as the floor-length windows darkened from the blue of late afternoon to the deep mauve of evening. The body of the room was filled with row upon row of gilded chairs, seating the fashion world's premier figures, and the perfection of the scene was reflected in the numerous Venetian mirrors that lined the walls.
On shaking legs Eve stepped out from the wings. For a second she couldn't see anything at all as a thousand flashbulbs dazzled her, and it was all she could do not to put her hands in front of her face to shield it. The catwalk stretched ahead of her, looking at least a mile long, and beyond it lay the elegant salon with its sea of upturned faces.
Sienna's words came back to her. 'Find someone to focus on…'
Desperately she scanned the cavernous room, for once glad that her shortsightedness prevented her from recognising the dauntingly famous faces. Her steps slowed and she felt the smile freeze on her face. Was she supposed to smile? She couldn't remember. The audience was a whispering restless mass. It was impossible to single anyone out, Eve thought in panic, willing herself to keep going while every fibre of her being was telling her to turn on her spike heels and run.
Someone was standing in the shadows, leaning against one of the marble pillars with his head tilted back. He was wearing a dark suit that outlined the powerful breadth of his shoulders against the pale marble, and there was something incredibly arresting about his stillness. In the dimly lit room, through the fog of her shortsightedness, it was impossible to see him clearly, but she could feel his eyes upon her.
I can do this, she thought. I can do this. Achingly beautiful, heartbreakingly poignant, the exquisite notes of Madame Butterfly drifted through the room, filling her with their bittersweet sexual yearning. She and Ellie had always loved this opera, sneaking to the top of the stairs in their nightgowns to catch this particular aria when their mother used to play it late at night on an old record player. The words were as familiar to her as a lullaby, and hearing them now gave her strength.
Everything around her receded—the cameras, the audience, the syrupy voice of the pink-suited host. The world shrank to encompass nothing but the music and the dark, narrowed eyes of the stranger. He didn't move, but as she swayed towards him she could feel the laser beam burn of his gaze and sense the sexual energy he gave off, like heat. It melted into her skin, making it tingle, thawing her icy shell of insecurity and shyness.
For the first time in two years she felt properly alive. Reaching the end of the catwalk, she lifted her head and paused. Their eyes locked over the rows of people separating them in a dizzying moment of absolute sexual recognition. For a brief second Eve seriously considered keeping going: jumping down from the catwalk and walking right up to him, as Sienna had said. Her body was crying out to him with an urgency that took her breath away, and the need to touch him, to inhale his scent and taste the warmth of his lips, was almost overwhelming.
The photographers at her feet surged forward in a volley of flashbulbs. Blinded by white light, she could still see the dark silhouette of her mysterious rescuer imprinted on her mind. Wrenching her dazzled gaze away, she turned to walk back up the catwalk, still feeling his eyes upon her and helplessly aware of the wanton undulation of her hips. In the few seconds that their eyes had held he had insinuated himself under her skin, like some mystical enchanter, infusing every cell in her body with molten longing. She was possessed.
Stepping shakily off the catwalk, she slipped through the crowd of girls waiting to go on and, oblivious to their smiles and congratulations, stumbled back to her corner of the communal dressing area. Throwing herself into a chair, she stared at her reflection in the mirror.
She looked like Sleeping Beauty must have in the moment following Prince Charming's kiss—dazed, bewildered, and unmistakably aroused. Gone was the shy, uncertain girl who had stepped nervously through the curtains five minutes ago, and in her place was a tousled maenad with bee-stung lips and eyes like dark pools of invitation.
The horoscope had been spookily accurate. It was exactly as if she had been sleeping until the electrifying presence of the unknown man had brought her painfully, pleasurably, back to consciousness.
She dropped her head into her hands. Except that clever, sensible Eve didn't believe in all that nonsense, did she?