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Truth Or Dare
By Jo Leigh
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe model - Megan Hodges thought her name was Trisha - peeled off her shirt to reveal two large, gravity-defying, naked breasts perched on a body so slim one could play her ribs like a xylophone. She then picked up a pale blue, cashmere sweater, and slipped that on instead. The whole operation lasted about a minute, and would have been wholly unremarkable except for the fact that Trisha was smack-dab in the middle of thirty-seven strangers - men, women and a few who defied classification. No one gave the breasts a second glance.
While millions of pubescent males would have spiked granny's prune juice to get a load of those bare boobs, to Megan and her compatriots they were incidental. As interesting as the apples on the craft service table. Not worth mentioning unless they were actually in the shot. Even then, they weren't looked at as breasts. Nothing sexy or sensual or fun. They were as glamorous as teeth.
Such was the fashion business, and even Megan, who'd only been working for the House of Giselle for six months, was jaded to the point of boredom when it came to body parts. Other people's body parts, that is. Her body parts were an entirely different issue.
Megan had been in love with fashion forever. She'd drawn clothes from the moment she could hold a crayon. She'd read everything ever written about Coco Chanel, studied Vogue as if it were the Bible, dreamed glorious dreams of being the next Vera Wang, Versace or even Stella McCartney. Fashion design was her all, her reason, her passion.
The only drawback was that in order to pursue her dream of becoming a world famous designer, she had to actually work in the fashion industry.
And the fashion industry, Megan had realized as far back as freshman year at New York University, was about façades. That might have sounded obvious, but Megan had never viewed fashion that way. To her, clothing was an expression of self, a way of showing on the outside the truth of what was inside. Only, as far as she could tell, no one in the fashion industry had anything interesting on the inside, so there went her theory.
Okay, so maybe that wasn't fair. She had met a few people who actually bothered to scratch the surface, but they were young, like her. She had no doubt that by the time their various apprenticeships were over, they'd be as cynical and shallow as the designers they emulated. It would happen to her, too. Eventually.
Who was she kidding? There was no eventually. It was her second year as a design assistant, first year working for Damian Croft, the force behind Giselle, and she'd already succumbed to the awful, horrible, disgusting habit of dismissing the poorly dressed without so much as a how-do-you-do. Not all the time. But more often than she should.
She should know better, which was the understatement of the year. But she'd been seduced by the dark side. The photographers who bitched if the models had an ounce of flesh on their emaciated bodies. The designers who wanted hangers, not humans, to wear their creations. The models themselves who lived and died by the calorie. All of whom ignored her with an indifference perfected to an art form.
Megan leaned back on her director's chair and stretched her neck for a few moments while she waited for Damian to check the lighting. Her gaze fell to her pad where she'd been sketching a winter coat. She was supposed to be sketching random ideas flung out like chum on the water, that she would catch and make real via the magic of her charcoals. Only Damian hadn't had an idea all day, and she was bored beyond endurance.
The thought of walking out the door and never looking back caught her fancy, but only for a moment. Never one to be deterred by anything so mundane as reality, Megan was on a mission. She was going to change things. Not just with her designs but with her attitude.
Damian threw something small and hard, probably his lens, across the set and stormed off, probably to his trailer to do a few lines of coke. Which meant she wasn't going to be busy for at least another hour. Plenty of time to pull her laptop out of her backpack and check her e-mail. The girls at Eve's Apple, her online reading group, had been discussing Sex and the City, and while Megan wanted to be like Samantha, she was disarmingly like Charlotte. Actually, Charlotte was braver. More confident. Prettier by a mile.
Which didn't mean Megan hated everything about herself. She had great hair. Everyone said so, and even if they hadn't she would still have loved her hair. It was long, down past her shoulders, and brown, but with so much red it glistened. It was thick, too, and straight, but she could make it behave with her round brushes and hair dryer. One perk to working this job was that she had access to hair and makeup experts, and if they were sufficiently bored, they would give her hints and tips.
For the most part, she was satisfied with her body. She wasn't too skinny or too fat, she had pretty nice B-cups that didn't sag, and her ass wasn't grotesquely huge or anything. No, she'd have been really content with her looks if it wasn't for the leg.
The leg. The damn leg. The brace that looked like something from a medical horror movie. The atrophy which had made that leg so much thinner than the other, despite the exercises she did on a daily basis, which, by the way, hurt like a mother. The leg that made her limp, that forced her to wear long skirts and baggy slacks. The leg that made her different. Flawed. Other.
On good days, it didn't bother her at all. On bad days, it made her want to scream. The thing was, despite all the evidence of her own life, and everyone else's that she knew of personally, Megan still believed in the philosophy of fairness: if you work hard, you'll be rewarded. If you're nice, nice things will happen to you.
Only, the people she knew who truly were successful in this business weren't nice, didn't do nice things and they were rewarded up the ying-yang. And she knew way too many women who worked their tails off and still got a quarter of what they were worth.
As far as the leg and fairness went ... hell, there was no fairness at all.
She settled her laptop on her lap and turned it on, the familiar baritone voice announcing that she had mail. She deleted a ton of spam, then opened up the good stuff. As she read the letters from this group of bright women from all over the country, she relaxed more and more, until finally she felt comfortable in her chair, in the room. But one e-mail held her interest in a way none of the others had.
Denise, who had belonged to Eve's Apple longer than anyone except for Samantha, Erin and Tess, had written about a little experiment that the founding members had instituted. A little gem called Men To Do. Actually, the official title was Men to Do Before You Say I Do, but MTD was easier to type.
It was very simple, and quite clever. You find a guy you wouldn't marry, wouldn't even want to take home to mom and dad; the kind of guy you dream about when the night is too long and the bed too big. The kind of guy who was just scary enough, or just weird enough, or too good-looking to have any kind of manageable ego: movie stars, biker dudes, playboys, boy toys.
Excerpted from Truth Or Dare by Jo Leigh Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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