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Jasper Lebec watched every model stride onto the catwalk and heard the gratifying applause as they emerged. That didn't guarantee anything, of course; the crowd would have applauded if he'd sent them out in bin liners. They'd applauded just as much for his last couture collection, and that had been a bust.
A setback like that had to be expected after the unprecedented success of his house. Not many designers set up their own houses anymore; it was less risky to take a post as head of an established house, but Jasper thrived on risk.
Susan Armstrong brushed past him with an intimate smile and a waft of Topaz Delirium, his new perfume. He didn't return the smile. The woman wanted to get back into his bed, but he'd had enough of her. She took too much for granted, used their affair to encroach on his business, and even used it as an excuse for her constant unpunctuality and increasing unreliability. He'd warned her today that he wouldn't tolerate her drug taking before a show, but he knew she'd had something because of widely dilated eyes. He slipped into her mind, into the forefront all Talents kept open as a courtesy to other Talents, and found bliss there. Cocaine, her drug of choice, and something else he couldn't define.
Fuck, he'd have to fire her. He could choose to ignore it, but she'd only take that as acceptance and continue taking the drugs. As a vampire, Susan could shake off the effects at sunset, when her vampire powers came upon her, but she was pushing that more and more lately. He was worried about her. Not enough to let her near him again, but enough to monitor her when she wouldn't notice him.
"Where's the veil?"
Madame Morel's sharplysnapped-out command alerted him to the tableau under the lights. His principal model and muse, Topaz, otherwise known as Svetlana Yevchenko, stood completely still, suffering the ministrations of his second in command, Madame Morel. The show was drawing to its grand finale. Time to adorn the bride. He took a moment to study her before he crossed the room.
From here, she looked like Cinderella, or a fairy princess. The gown he'd designed swelled around her willowy form like whipped cream, shades of apricot and ivory swirling in preordained drapery, the colors blending with her creamy skin and fiery hair, currently caught up behind her head in loops and artfully arranged ringlets. As he watched, a dresser brought the veil, carrying it more carefully than he would a piece of spun sugar. Svetlana turned her head to look at it, and the beautiful piece glimmered under the lights. Svetlana hadn't yet appeared on the catwalk, and the crowd was getting restless, wondering if the maestro and Topaz had fallen out, if their notoriously platonic relationship was at an end.
His mouth firmed when he remembered the platonic part. That was how it had to be. He'd wanted Svetlana the minute he'd seen her, but he knew with her there would never be any halfways. It would be all the way, and he couldn't risk that. Wouldn't, not with her life at stake. For the first time, he understood why his ancestors had avoided the fate until it was forced on them. It wasn't their own safety they worried about at all; it was the fate of the women they loved.
Not fair, but when was life ever fair?
Svetlana turned back to face forward, so Madame Morel could ascend the metal stepladder erected behind her and pin the veil in place. Madame's black-clad form crept up behind Topaz like some giant beetle ready to pounce on its prey. Appearances were deceptive. Svetlana was the strong one, not Madame. Like Jasper, Svetlana was a Talent, a shape-shifting, glorious firebird he'd never been able to properly depict in his shows. That was why she was his muse, not because of the attraction between them that drew him like a magnet. Or so he repeatedly told himself.
When she moved, she saw him watching her, so he stepped forward and assumed his usual pose of concentration, one finger touching his lips. Lips that trembled to touch her, kiss her, but as usual, he put the thought away and ruthlessly tamped it down.
When he slipped into her mind, he didn't find the arrogant, ethereal creature she presented in public, but someone exhausted by the frantic activity that was Paris Fashion Week, her body scratched and abused by the creations of the designers. Svetlana was close to collapse. The gown, so beautiful on the outside, was an instrument of torture, the boning scratching her skin, the tight lacing making it difficult for her to breathe, the drapery weighing her down and making it impossible to walk without thinking about the placement of the foot for the next step. Just as well it was a wedding gown because a woman wouldn't want to wear it for very long. Perhaps he'd sell it to a sadomasochist fetishist. There were some very wealthy ones around. They'd have to be, to buy the dress that was presently torturing Svetlana.
And he was about to ask more of her. His heart sank, but he needed her. Not as supermodel, not even as a lover, but in her other capacity as agent for Department 57. She deserved to rest, but she was one of his top agents, and he needed her skills. He'd worked to get Hugo Berthier close to her, now he needed her to sweeten the trap and gain entry where he could not. Rapidly, he went through his list of other agents, to see if there was another he could use. There were a few, but not one with her access and her skill, and none Hugo Berthier panted for as much. Jasper decided he would try to make it as fast as possible and insist she rest afterward. He had a farmhouse in the South of France; he could lend that to her. Even considering, that showed how much she'd gotten under his skin. Nobody knew about that farmhouse except for the other Department heads and the woman who looked after it for him when he wasn't there. Even she didn't know who he really was. He'd wanted a retreat, a place where he could be totally alone, and that farmhouse gave it to him. That he'd consider sharing it with her came as a revelation to him. An unpleasant shock.
Svetlana's bravery and her startlingly perceptive intelligence attracted him more than her beauty. Everyone was beautiful; it went with the job, but Svetlana sparkled like the central diamond in a well-crafted setting.
Which reminded him--he lifted a finger to summon the burly security guards patiently waiting for his signal.
A hush fell over the small crowd as they watched Jasper open the black jewelry case and lift out the item he'd designed. Plus its addition. One of the treasures of France. Worn by Marie Antoinette, the Empress Josephine, and the Empress Eugenie and now by Svetlana Yevchenko--the Désespoir diamond. Svetlana moved her hand; the large marquise diamond on her ring finger caught the light, and when she lifted her eyes, their gazes locked and held for a bare moment that made the day come alive. He broke the contact by walking around her to fix the collar around her neck. The stones felt heavy in his hands, and he regretted adding to her burden. His fingers lingered for a second at the back of her neck, relishing the touch. Then he stepped back around to study the effect.
Stunning. He expected no less, but to see her gowned like this made him realize how wrong he was about his designs. He needed to rethink his path, but at the moment he was too tired to analyze the uneasiness that swam through his head.
"It's missing something."
It. He heard the word from her mind as if she'd spoken it. Svetlana stared at him, silent as she had been all through this ordeal, straight and proud as any Russian princess.
His black jacket rustled in the sudden, brief silence as the music changed, signaling the start of the evening wear section of the show. He took a step forward, then another, pushing her skirts away with his foot, ignoring the gasp from the onlookers who had watched Madame spend fully a quarter hour getting the drape right.
But Jasper Lebec could do whatever he wanted here, and he did. He asserted his presence now, certain what he was about to do was right.
Seizing her around her waist, he dragged her close. "Look at me."
He gazed at her, losing himself in her amber eyes before he kissed her. Her mouth opened, and he lost himself in her, tasting her as he'd longed to do ever since she'd walked through the door in her prosaic jeans and tee.
The warmth of his mouth surged into hers. A hum emerged from the onlookers. Or was it in his mind? He shoved her lips apart with one ruthless thrust of his tongue and took possession, owning her. Svetlana gasped into his mouth but responded, ready with her own passion. Her hands gripped his arms as he slid his arms around her waist. She lifted one hand to touch him, smoothing his hair caught back tightly behind his head. Lost in her, needing her, Jasper forgot why he was here, what he meant to do with her. He wanted to throw her to the floor and drive his cock into her body in a primitive act of possession.
His was the kiss of a savage, claiming what already belonged to him. Her awareness of him, her desire for him teased his senses before she snatched it back and locked it away. His senses cried out to the heavens in triumph. She wanted him.
Posted May 27, 2011
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Posted August 13, 2011
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