Read an ExcerptNIGHTS IN BLACK LACE
By NOELLE MACK APHRODISIA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Noelle Mack
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Who is he?"
"I don't know, Odette."
Odette Gaillard looked again at the man seated in the front row next to the catwalk. "He is very handsome."
Her assistant only shrugged. "If you like Americans."
"I do." She shot Marc a laughing look. "And I am in the mood to fall in love."
"Oh, Odette. You should not say that." "Why not?"
"Because you cannot decide if you are going to fall in love. Love finds you. Then you fall in it."
"Like a mud puddle?" Odette asked.
"Well, sometimes. And sometimes you experience incomparable bliss, accompanied by earth-shattering sex."
Odette gave a snort. "If you are very lucky. I don't think I could describe any love affairs of mine like that. Which doesn't keep me from wanting a new one."
"How long has it been, Odette?"
She answered with vehemence. "Months! The business of fashion has taken over my life!"
Marc waved a hand in a bored way. "Please, spare me the part about you being an artist and how you need to create."
She stuck out her tongue. "I do though."
"And your latest collection is your best yet. Having so many clients is good for you and good for the company."
"Well, the last part is true. We are making millions, Marc. But I still feel very tempted to quit and go do something else."
"I don't know."
He sighed deeply. "Putting this show together has unhinged your mind." Marc took another peek at the man his boss had her eye on and shrugged. "But I suppose he would do for a fling."
"Exactly," she said with a feline smile. "Besides, love can last a week or a lifetime. No one knows that at the beginning of an affair."
"Alors," Marc said. "We all wish we did."
Odette stepped away from the curtain that separated the backstage area from the catwalk. "Are you happy that we have a full house?"
"Of course. The dragon lady from Vogue is in her accustomed place and we ought to begin."
"I do like peeking at them first," Odette replied. "Especially the celebrities."
"Who is here?" He twitched apart the curtain again. "Aha. Alisa Calderon is making an entrance."
Odette put her cheek next to Marc's to watch a famous Spanish actress saunter to her seat in the front row. "Isn't she going to star in Pedro Almovodar's next movie?"
"I heard that too. You must design something exclusively for her, Odette."
"She is beautiful."
With her cascade of dark hair, doe eyes, huge breasts, and a purse big enough to partly conceal the bodyguard who followed her, the actress caused a stir she seemed to enjoy.
"Beautiful, yes, but she does not know how to accessorize," Marc said disapprovingly. "Her purse is much too large and those shoes do nothing for her legs."
Odette only shrugged. "Since I design neither of those things, that is not my problem. Hmm. I could create a bustier studded with precious stones for her. And if she wears it on the red carpet, then women will be clamoring for their own."
"Fabulously faux, of course."
"Yes, Marc. Great big sparkly fake emeralds and amethysts, I think. With her sultry coloring, perfect. What fun."
Marc thought of something that had evidently been on his mind. "Don't you think that you should move into accessories, Odette?
"Eventually. Ooh, Alisa, you are a naughty girl. How the heads turn when she sits down."
"That is because her skirt hikes up," Marc sniffs. "I can see far more than I want to."
Odette noticed that the American man, whoever he was, did not even look at the actress or seem to notice the hubbub around her. He was talking to a woman next to him, who was delighted to have his attention.
Odette knew her well-Marie Arelquin was a freelance journalist who blogged for Paris Match.
"Your friend may have first claim to him," Marc was saying.
Odette pouted. "I have known Marie since our school days. She was never one to share."
"Then you are out of luck," Marc laughed.
The man was laughing at whatever Marie was saying.
"What a nice laugh he has," Odette said, talking to herself more than to Marc. "I like that type of man. He seems open-minded and open-hearted."
Marc snickered. "And athletic. And too young for you."
"What do you mean by that?" she asked indignantly.
"You will turn thirty in November."
She looked at the man. "He is twenty-seven or twenty-eight. He has smile wrinkles around his eyes."
Marc clutched his clipboard and looked over the top of it. "I suppose so. I would bet he has spent his adolescence on a surfboard. Very bad for the skin."
"And very good for the physical development. Swimmers and surfers have magnificent bodies."
Marc sighed thoughtfully. "Are we reading too much into the fact that he is wearing the top half of a wetsuit?"
"Unzipped," Odette pointed out.
"It is hot out there."
"He is hot."
Marc laughed in a low voice. "Ah, Odette, I know you will find a way to meet him before the show is over. But you have only a little while left for this game of peekaboo."
"What time is it?"
Marc looked at his watch, a massive chunk of titanium and black leather and flashing digital functions. "We are a half hour late."
"Excellent. It would not do to be too prompt. I want to whip the audience into a frenzy of longing."
Marc snorted. "Speaking of that, I should go to the dressing room and crack the whip on our models."
"Yes, please see that they have everything they need and that the hairdresser is not being too cruel to them."
"They are such crybabies," Marc sighed. "It's not as if they can do their own styles."
"I want Nadia's hair up in spikes."
He made a note of it.
"And Dabra, in ringlets, but pulled back very tight."
"Could work," he said indifferently, making another note.
"The rest I will leave up to you," Odette said.
"Merci, madame." He gave a mocking little bow and turned to go.
Marc threaded his way through the backstage personnel, stepping carefully over thick lighting cables and avoiding the technicians who swarmed around the area.
Odette looked again through the curtain at the handsome American. Besides the unzipped wetsuit jacket that did very nice things for his broad shoulders, he wore a tank top that fit just right over what she suspected was a beautifully muscled chest. And, naturellement, faded jeans. He was perfection.
By her educated guess, the jeans had not been stonewashed or artificially distressed in any way. No, they were molded to his muscular thighs and calves as if he had worn them for months on end in the California sun. Perhaps he was not only a surfer. That taut, sinewy build could just as well be that of a mountaineer.
He might be on his way to Alsace to climb-she could think of no reason for a beach god to be in Paris. Ah, there was another possibility. He could be a cyclist. That would explain the magnificent thighs.
She smiled to herself. An all-around, all-American athlete. Triple A. Exactly what a fling required. Here today and gone tomorrow, always chasing risky new experiences, in love with danger, free as the wind.
In quick succession, she envisioned him shooting the curl of an immense wave, then dangling from a rope in a climber's harness, and finally bent over the handles of a racing bike, legs pumping, his sun-warmed skin bared above the waist. No cologne was more intoxicating than that very masculine smell, as far as she was concerned.
Ah, the pleasures of having an overactive imagination. She felt rather warm herself.
His hair was thick and wavy, also kissed by the sun, its dark brown glinting with an occasional flash of gold under the catwalk's pulsing lights. Odette studied his face. High cheekbones, strong jaw, a deeply carved dimple that flashed when he smiled. And such eyes. Soulful. Expressive. Dark and shadowy. She would have to find a way to meet him somehow, and get a better look close up.
He sat with his legs well apart, and she could not help but notice the other very male characteristics he'd been blessed with under the worn denim. She looked her fill. She doubted that he was wearing underwear. What an animal. His hands were strong and veined, his fingers spread casually open over each solid thigh.
A sensual vision of him with his ragged fly unzipped and his hands around his erect cock came to her mind. She chided herself for having such wayward thoughts only minutes away from the opening of an important show, then forgave herself immediately.
Sexual fantasy was her business, after all. And she had been considering a line of men's underwear to complement the super-sexy lingerie she designed for famous beauties, rock stars, and movie goddesses. Her line had been wildly profitable from the very first year of its existence-of course, charging hundreds of dollars for a few scraps of material had helped. It was all about the image she was able to project, knowing precisely how to do so only too well, as a ex-model herself.
She'd been on countless covers and strutted the catwalk for every designer in Europe until she'd quit at the age of twenty-five and parlayed her saved income into millions. With the help of a wealthy backer, of course-her former lover, who'd noted her business acumen and obtained the necessary financing. She'd done so well in the previous quarter she would be able to donate her profits to charity after every last supplier and everyone on her staff was paid.
At the founding of her company, she'd vowed to do exactly that someday to honor her mother, an embroiderer and beader, one of the petite mains, the little hands, who did the fine sewing and finishing for the great couture houses, behind the scenes in workshops on quiet Parisian streets.
Odette Gaillard now employed several hundred people at her atelier and her showroom. Models flew in from all over the world to work in her dazzling shows, and the most successful men in the world vied for front row seats to watch them.
She smiled inwardly. Most models were too self-obsessed to pay attention to their status-seeking admirers-at least until they left the business, deciding they had a right to eat more than a few hundred grams of food a day.
After she'd quit modeling, Odette had indulged herself for weeks, eating napoleons two at a time and slices of cake to her heart's content, then quit that too, sick of sweets and happy to be done with both extremes. She didn't envy the models and didn't find the business of fashion all that glamorous anymore. But she worked hard.
Surely she was entitled to take a few moments for mental dalliance now and then. Who could he be? She could not remember ever seeing a man so naturally good-looking at one of her shows. Or anywhere else.
Odette watched as he rose to give his seat to Marie Arelquin's grandmother, an ancient but still chic relic of the glory days of French fashion. In the early 1960s, Madame Arelquin had been the most exclusive couturier in Paris, limiting her clients to a handful per year. Odette had read up on the period in her mother's books on fashion, and of course, had pored over Marie's family scrapbooks.
Madame Arelquin had been slim and straight as a reed then, with a matchless style that was all her own. She'd favored pencil-slim skirts topped with flyaway jackets cut very full in the sleeve, immense hats designed to cast an air of mystery, over-the-elbow gloves, and clutch purses.
The Arelquin house had presided over the last era of elegance. After that, it was Courrèges and then Carnaby Street mod and then hippies, until Yves St. Laurent took the look and invented the rich gypsy.
Madame Arelquin had chosen not to fade away, developing a line of facial rejuvenation creams that seemed to work, even though she'd announced in the notoriously catty fashion press that every woman had to choose between her face and her behind at some point. Madame had let the latter get big and round, so that the former would not look starved and sick.
The strategy had worked, Odette noticed. Madame Arelquin had to be over eighty, but she had very few lines on her face. She gave her granddaughter a double air-kiss, not wanting to disturb Marie's maquillage or her own carefully applied red lipstick. Odette smiled.
The young man managed a half-bow that was charming and not gauche in the least as he gave up his seat to the grande dame. So he had manners. That was a nice plus.
Odette found herself wondering who had taught him to be so respectful of women, and decided that his mother must have instructed him. Whoever she was, she had raised her son right.
Madame Arelquin gave him an imperious nod in return and seated herself next to Marie, crossing her legs elegantly at the ankle as she did.
Odette's other assistant bustled up and looked over her boss's shoulder at the restless crowd through the small opening in the curtain.
"See and be seen. It is always the same," Lucie murmured. "Ah, there is the winner of the raffle." She pointed the pink eraser end of her pencil at the man now standing behind the Arelquin women, then flipped through her seating chart and made a note on the front row using her own hieroglyphic.
Odette could not read it but it didn't matter. Lucie was a wizard of organization and good at seating the rich and the famous, who slept with each other somewhat indiscriminately. No one who had recently broken up could be put next to an ex, or there was sure to be a cat fight. Amusing, but not good for business.
"I was wondering who he was," Odette said.
"His name is Bryan Bachman. The story is that he spent his last euro on a raffle ticket for your charity and won that seat," Lucie replied.
"Is it true?"
"The reporter says it is." Lucie gave a very French shrug that communicated her doubt. "I am sure he has an ATM card somewhere in those jeans. It is all one needs these days."
"What interest does he have in fashion? Does he want to be a model?"
Lucie shook her head. "I overheard the reporter from Bonjour Paris interviewing him in the lobby before the show. Apparently not. He has a degree in science from a California university and is known in his field. Her poor little slave of an assistant went wi-fi and confirmed everything he said on her laptop-I looked over her shoulder while she was doing it. The article will be online in a few hours if you want to look at it."
Odette nodded. She didn't want to wait to read it. "Is he in Paris by himself?"
"I think that is what he said-"
"Where is he staying?" Odette asked, not caring how shamelessly interested she sounded.
"He didn't say, she didn't ask, but I don't think he will sleep on the streets," Lucie said dryly. "Not with that face and that body. He could have his pick of the women here, don't you think?"
"You ask too many rhetorical questions, Lucie. Let's stick to the facts," Odette said.
"I have told you what I know. I thought he looked like a cyclist or a climber, traveling through Europe before he returns to college." Lucie paused to look at him again. "So I was surprised when he said he had a degree. He seems too old to be a student. But he is certainly an athlete."
"I thought the same thing. And Marc did too." Lucie permitted herself a polite chuckle. "Marc can read the meaning of people's clothes like a detective."
Odette smiled. "Of course. He is a devotee of Hercule Poirot."
"Who is that?" Lucie turned her head in response to a softly voiced call for her assistance. "Zut. I am needed. Excuse me."
"Of course," Odette murmured. Every seat was now full, and more people had squeezed in along the walls in back.
Her bouncers were examining invitations and steering a few people who proffered faked ones to the exits. Other assistants scrambled to find folding chairs but inevitably some onlookers would remain standing.
The crowding added to the excitement. So it went. This was her fifth show in as many years. Each one had been more popular than the last.
Odette sighed inwardly as the house lights went down. The walls reflected a deep blue that suggested an undersea realm. She felt at the moment as if she were looking into an aquarium filled with colorful fish, very chic fish with rolling eyes and mouths that opened and closed as they moved about, sometimes in unison and sometimes wriggling frantically when they found themselves alone.
Bryan Bachman seemed out of place among them, but not at a loss. He was self-assured and confident, studying everything he saw with interest. A scientist, hmm? She would not have taken him for one, but she supposed California intellectuals dressed differently.
Excerpted from NIGHTS IN BLACK LACE by NOELLE MACK
Copyright © 2008 by Noelle Mack. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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