Read an Excerpt
"He's late." The tall attractive woman looked at her assistant with growing annoyance. Her brilliant brown eyes, surrounded by impossibly long lashes, surveyed the chaos around her. Her expression was serene, just like the face that had graced the cover of top magazines, and for the past three years, had been associated with Desire perfume. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail capped by a white pinwheel hat while large dangling gold hoop earrings hung from her ears, nearly reaching her shoulders.
"I'm sure he'll be here soon," her assistant, Gen Moser, replied. She looked at Mariella through almond-shaped brown eyes she had inherited from her Japanese mother while a rosy shade of pink touched her honey-colored skin reflecting her Ghanaian father's ancestry. Her exotic features had been all the rage years ago, but that hadn't lasted. She wore her wavy dark hair piled high, held in place with a finely decorated hair comb. A fitted blue silk blouse draped her tall, slender frame complemented by low-waist straight-leg jeans. Gen kept her voice soft, knowing that was the best way to handle Mariella when she was in one of her "moods."
Mariella rubbed the back of her neck trying to ease the tension gathering there. "Soon is not soon enough." She stifled a need to scream. She hated when things didn't go her way, but was very careful not to let that show. Mariella Duvall always looked ready for a camera. That was her trademark.
She had a long elegant neck that had been graced with diamonds and emeralds, dark flashing eyes that had tempted women to buy eyeliner and mascara; skin like polished oak that looked touchably soft, even in a flat two-dimensional form. She moved quicklybut as gracefully as a trained dancer, reflecting the years of dance lessons her parents had paid for. Unfortunately, she'd grown too tall to make dance her profession.
At all times, Mariella was careful to censor the type of expressions she allowed to cross her face. Right now a slight pursing of her lips displayed a mild irritation though her words had been spoken with a quiet anger that made her assistant cast an anxious sideward glance at her and inwardly tremble.
This delay was not in the budget or the schedule. She had planned everything to perfectiondown to the last detail, and now this! She and Gen had searched days for the perfect location for an important photography assignment. Her choice hadn't failed her. The summer day had brought cloudless skies and an even temperature of eighty degrees. A pristine blue sky embraced the manicured green grass of Woodland Park Botanical Gardens. The location was surrounded by tall birch and maple trees with a small brook that flowed under a stone bridge. Within the immediate enclosure, a gazebo sat serenely surrounded by an assortment of exotic and unusual plants and flowers. It was perfect.
In contrast, the shoot was anything but. Three gorgeous leggy models, dressed in wool coats and mufflers surrounded by fake snow, continued to loudly voice their complaints. The heat was getting to them, and they wanted to get on with the shoot. Damn, if the male model didn't show up, the shoot would be a bust and she'd have to reschedule. She knew her client, Bretton, wouldn't pay for additional time. Besides, she needed to get the shoot done today, in time for their winter issue.
For a moment, Mariella thought she probably shouldn't have taken the job. She should have just stayed with taking pictures of celebrities. That was what she was good at. But the Bretton shoot was an opportunity to expand her portfolio and put money in the bank, and in addition, get her work seen by new clientele. Messing this up would set her career back years. She'd fought to get the job. She took a deep breath and walked a few feet away from the scene assuring herself that this wouldn't be a catastrophe.
"Isn't that Mariella Duvall?" she heard a woman a few feet away whisper. She didn't turn her head, but out of the corner of her eye saw two women. One wore hot pink spandex and a sports bra and the other woman wore an overly large blue T-shirt sporting an enormous college logo across the front. Mariella was used to people whispering about her. In school they'd whispered about her being a snob. In college they'd whispered about her being dumb. After college they'd whispered about her parents' deaths and her family's financial difficulties. When she'd reached New York they'd whispered about her love life, her money, her face and whatever else became a topic of interest. She made sure never to let on that the whispering bothered her. "It sure looks like her," the woman in pink replied in more hushed tones. "But with that hat I can't be sure."
College T-shirt nodded with growing excitement. "Yes, yes. I think that's her."
Hot Pink nudged her. "Dora, lower your voice. She might hear you."
"She can't hear us, Trish. Wow, I wonder what she's doing here. I haven't seen her lately. She used to be everywhereTV, magazines."
"What do you think happened?"
To Mariella's annoyance Dora lowered her tone. She leaned closer to hear. "Oh yes. Now I remember. It was a big scandal. I heard she was having an affair with Jeremiah Cooper."
"The mysterious owner of Flash magazine?"
"No, you're thinking of Ian. His son. Jeremiah Cooper is the photographer."
"Oh yeah, I've seen his work. He's dead now, right?"
"Yes, they weren't together long, but I'm sure he was a bad influence."
"He may have been a bad influence, but everyone knows about her temper." Suddenly Trish's voice became excited. "Isn't that Lizbeth, the famous Nigerian model?" Both women got a glimpse of a tall dark model entering a white limousine.
"Yes, let's try to get a closer look." Their voices faded away. But they were too late, the car took off quickly and the windows were tinted. Lizbeth had arrived early to have several independent pictures taken with Mariella, and was off to yet another shoot.
Mariella sighed. She knew about the rumors and nasty headlines, which were mostly wrong or blown out of proportion. However, the media kept her in the spotlight and while she knew that everyone had misinterpreted her relationship with Jeremiah, she didn't mind the deception. Jeremiah Cooper had been her mentor and had introduced her to the right people and helped her new career at a time when she needed a change. She had met him at a reception for Desire's top models. He was an internationally known photographer, who was known for going through womenmodels in particularwith an unmatched ferocity. She remembered how he had approached her at the event. A tall, impeccably dressed figure in a crushed velvet blue jacket that made everyone else look dull in comparison.
"Are you as bored as I am?" he asked her.
"That depends on what's boring you."
He sent her a sly look and began to grin. Their host rushed up to them delighted. "Oh, you two have found each other. I wanted"
Jeremiah waved her away. "There's no need to introduce us. I know who she is and she should know who I am."
"Really?" Mariella said, amused by his bold statement.
"Yes, you strike me as an educated woman with incredible taste."
"And you strike me as a charming man of incredible discernment."
He took her arm and led her away. "Let's find out more about each other."
He didn't have to persuade her. Unlike many of the male suitors who had approached her that evening, he wasn't, or didn't appear to be, shaken by her beauty. The brief meeting had blossomed into a genuine friendship, and while she did not doubt his reputation with women, their relationship was one of friendship. Thankfully, with his help it hadn't hurt as much when Desire didn't renew her contract and modeling jobs became scarce.
Some had speculated that it was because she was over thirty, others because of her difficult reputation, while others just thought her time had passed. Fortunately, she'd moved on.
By that time, modeling had lost its joy for her. She had gotten weary of living out of a suitcase and traveling the globe. At first she had enjoyed the attention, the money, the glamour of meeting interesting people and many other perks. She had been invited to dine with some of the most eligible bachelors in the world, and none of them had been shy in expressing their adulation of her, and why they wanted her as their "catch." And Mariella had played along. She was used to it.
They showered her with gifts, jewelry, designer clothes (not that she really needed them), exotic trips and vacations, and yes, she'd had some very good lovers. But that was as far as it went. Lovers were manageable, boyfriends could be a hassle. Her mother's advice, to take what she could, when she could, was a constant reminder not to be bait in an industry full of sharks.
She remembered one photo shoot that nearly ended her life. In that particular situation, she was required to have a tiger lie beside her. She had been told that it was tame, but when a flash of light spooked it, the tiger became agitated and went after her. Luckily, the handlers were able to subdue the tiger before he could do extensive damage, although she had required hospitalization and had to have stitches in her leg. The injury required plastic surgery to get the scar cosmetically fixed. Then there was the photo shoot she did in Bermuda with a well-known photographer who tried to take advantage of her. She, in turn, left him with a nasty scar.
But those days were behind her. She now had a new career and would succeed at it. She would make Jeremiah proud.
Hillary, the makeup artist, tentatively approached her holding up an eyeliner pencil as though it were a sword. "Um I?"
Mariella held up a hand. "Do you have a problem?"
Hillary cowered as though expecting a blow. "Yes."
"Have you come up with ten solutions on your own that haven't worked?"
"Then come to me when you have."
"Okay," Hillary squeaked. She turned and walked a few feet then stopped and spun back.
"What?" Mariella snapped.
"Elena has fainted."
Mariella glanced up and saw one of the models spread out like a fallen scarecrow. "Then pick her up. She's not much use to us lying flat on her face, is she?" Hillary nodded, then dashed away.
Gen rushed up to Mariella, anxiety evident in her voice. "We could be dealing with heatstroke soon."
"No, we won't," Mariella said, as though she had the ability to prevent it.
Suddenly a loud scream cut through Gen's reply. The two women turned as another scream pierced the air.
Mariella spun around. "What the hell is that?" Gen sighed. "It's Damien."
She turned and saw her hairstylist, a grim little man with large hands, pacing back and forth.
Mariella walked up to him. "What is wrong with you?"
He looked up at her with tears swimming in his small green eyes. "I can't do this."
"Yes, you can."
"The sun is against me. Their hair is falling flat from the sweat. Their makeup is beginning to streak, and " His voice broke. "I can't take this anymore."
Mariella smiled her voice deceptively serene. "Yes, you can. Do you know why?"
He shook his head.
"Because I said so. You know how I feel about nervous breakdowns. "
He threw up his hands in despair. "But I can't. It's like trying to build a sundae in an oven."
"Do you remember Rome? And the fact that I saved your career?"
His eyes widened and color drained from his face. His green eyes brightened with fear.
Mariella nodded, pleased. "I see that you do. Good. Now, everything is going to be perfect, right?"
He swallowed, his Adam's apple quivering.
He wiped his brow then nodded.
"Great. You can go now."
He hurried away.