Shy, awkward Sophia Cruz has a hard time telling her vivacious identical twin "no." But when her sister begs her to swap places for a modeling shoot, she caves
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"No." Sophia Cruz lifted her coffee mug to her lips, took a sip of air, and frowned down into the empty cup. When had she drunk the last of Puerto Rico's Greatest Gift to Mankind — otherwise known as Alto Grande Super Premium coffee?
Shoving back from her desk, she ignored her twin sister, who was perched on the end of the furniture giving Sophia her best puppy dog eyes, complete with slightly quivering bottom lip. "And you know that"— she drew a circle in the air in front of Giovanna's face as she passed by her toward the one-cup coffee maker —"isn't going to work on me. I taught you that trick."
Giovanna sighed, losing the woe-is-me expression. "Fine," she huffed, flipping her long, dark brown hair over a bare shoulder. "But, Fi, I seriously need your help. Pretty please?"
"Umm, hell to the no," Sophia reiterated. A press of the button, and the brew started streaming out of the machine with a hiss. The strong, heady aroma of ground coffee beans drifted upward, and she shamelessly — and noisily — inhaled. Damn, that smelled good.
"Fi, this is more important than your next caffeine hit. God, can you at least pay attention?" Exasperation dripped from Giovanna's voice, but Sophia didn't turn to face her sister until the last drop hit the cup. Molding her fingers around the ceramic, she turned, and arching an eyebrow, peered at her identical twin over the rim.
They might share the same Puerto Rican heritage, eye and hair color, facial structure, height, and body type, but that's where the similarities between them came to a screeching, skid-marked halt. Giovanna was all elegance and sophistication, with her expertly applied makeup, perfectly styled hair that framed her face and flowed over her shoulders, and an emerald romper that seemed to glow against her honey-toned skin and display her long, slim legs. As opposed to Sophia's cosmetic-free appearance, blue-tipped dark hair snatched up in a haphazard top knot, and the white wifebeater and ripped jeans she might have also worn yesterday.
Giovanna wore rings on her fingers and toes, and Sophia wore them in her eyebrow, bottom lip, and, uh, other body parts.
Her twin preferred art on her apartment walls; Sophia loved it inked into her skin.
Nope. It wasn't hard to guess which twin was the model and which sat at a computer developing apps at FamFit for a living.
And yet, for all their dissimilarities, Sophia loved Giovanna, and there was no one closer to her in the world. For twenty-four years — literally, since the womb — Giovanna had been her best friend. Didn't mean her younger sister by three minutes didn't ride her damn nerves like Lance Armstrong on a Trek mountain bike.
"Fi, this is for the House of Bianchi. The House of Bianchi. One of the hottest designers on the planet. And they want me to walk in their show. I can't turn this down. It's the most important job of my career so far."
Sophia shrugged. "So go."
Giovanna released a loud, long sigh that translated to God, please give me the patience not to strangle this bitch. Twin speak. A wonderful thing. "As I've been trying to explain, I already have a previously scheduled shoot with Sports Unlimited a day after I'm supposed to fly out to Milan. I can't be in two places at once."
"Not unless you want to dissolve into a gelatinous glob of goo before bursting into tiny particles." Sophia sipped her coffee, then frowned. "No, wait. That's only if you occupy the same space and time. My bad."
"I'm not going to comment on your obvious lack of understanding of the space-time continuum this one time because I need you. But fair warning, if I didn't, I would definitely advise you on the nil-to-none odds of you ever getting laid if you insist on spouting the flawed issues of the paradox in time travel."
Sophia gasped. "You bitch. You've been watching Back to the Future and Time Cop without me!" she accused.
The two of them might not agree on piercings, tattoos, or who was the hottest member of the Avengers — Iron Man, of course, although Thor ran a close second — but they shared the same obsession with eighties movies.
Giovanna rolled her eyes. "There was a marathon on TV the other night. I wasn't going to miss Marty McFly trying to avoid sexing his mother for you."
"Eew." Sophia screwed up her face.
Her twin sighed. "Focus for a minute. Please? Back to me."
"Nope." Sophia shook her head. "I don't want to focus, because my answer is still no. Uh-uh. Forget it, chica. Not gonna happen. And, for when you get to Milan, I believe 'no' is the same in Italian."
"Fi ..." her sister whined, but Sophia cut her off with another, firmer shake.
"No way. What you're suggesting is ridiculous. Just cancel the other shoot if the one in Italy is so damn important."
"I can't," Giovanna said, pushing herself off the desk. She paced the width of Sophia's small home office. Even frustrated, she still maintained the sultry prowl that had captured the notice and representation of her New York agency. Sophia couldn't imitate that strut, not even if Steve Jobs' ghost pulled a Jacob Marley and returned from the dead to offer her the corner office at Apple. "I committed to the Sports Unlimited shoot a year ago. It's their annual sexiest athletes edition, and not only is it too short notice to notify them, but it would be unprofessional to bail at the last minute. It only takes one mistake to be blackballed in this field, Fi. I've worked so hard to get where I'm actually requested by clients and photographers, but I'm not Gisele Bundchen. I can't afford to screw up either of these opportunities. Which means I have to make both of them."
"Damn it, Vanna," Sophia growled, setting the mug down behind her. She swept her hand over her hair, fingers bumping the topknot.
No one more than she knew how much Giovanna had worked in her chosen career. Some people might think being a model was frivolous or shallow, but since Giovanna was thirteen, she'd set her heart on being the next Adriana Lima or Arlenis Sosa. And Giovanna had directed her single-minded and sometimes intimidating focus toward her goal. In the last two years, she'd started to gain fame in the United States, booking more jobs, appearing on more covers, walking in more runway shows. Sophia admired her sister's grind and determination, celebrated her success. And she would do anything to support her, but this ...
"I can't just take a day off work. You know Brian is on me twenty-four seven. He's just looking for another reason to write me up." Another reason besides her objecting to him claiming credit for her work, refusing to kiss his ass, and being a woman. Her supervisor was a real charmer. But if she ever wanted to open her own app development company one day, she had to deal with the bullshit at FamFit. At least until she earned enough money — and nerve — to strike out on her own.
"The shoot is in a week. If you ask for a vacation day now, even he can't say no," Giovanna countered.
Sophia groaned. "What you're asking is impossible."
Like a predator sensing the weakening struggle in its prey, Giovanna drew to a halt mid-pace and rushed over to Sophia. "No, it's not. We're identical twins, for chrissakes. No one would be able to tell the difference."
"Are you serious?" Sophia scoffed. "You're" — she waved a hand down her sister's elegant figure — "you. And I'm ... me." She didn't go into further detail, because hell, there wasn't any need. Some things were just self-explanatory. Still, she tried. "Anyone would take a look at you — perfect hair, perfect figure — and immediately tell I'm not you. Supermodel Joan Smalls." She pointed at her twin then jabbed a thumb toward herself. "Igor."
"Oh please." Giovanna flicked a hand as if swatting away her words. "Put on some makeup, remove that hardware from your face, and add hairstyling ..." Her eyes narrowed on the thick mass on top of Sophia's head.
"Hell no," she objected, grabbing the loose bun as if she could protect the strands from her sister. "I'm not getting rid of the blue. Not even for you. I might even love it more than you."
Giovanna smiled, and Sophia smacked her palm to her forehead. If she was already talking in terms of what she wouldn't do, then she was already halfway to relenting. And from the satisfaction in Giovanna's grin that could only be described as cat-who-ate-the-whole-damn-aviary, not just the canary, her twin had caught the slip.
"Oh, I'm sure we could make it work," she purred.
"Oh shit," Sophia muttered, closing her eyes. She'd just capitulated without even a valiant fight. "Just ... shit. Okay, fine," she surrendered on a low groan. "I'll take your place on the sports shoot."
"Fi, thank you, thank you," Giovanna squealed. "And it won't be that bad, I promise. It's not until next week, so I'll give you a crash course on what you need to know. Hell, you might find you enjoy it." Giovanna hugged her tight, squeezing the breath from her. "Thank you," she whispered. "So much. I owe you one."
"Oh shut up," Sophia grumbled, returning the embrace.
Good God in heaven.
What the hell had she just agreed to?
One week later, sitting in a director's chair while a woman with hair the color of a sunset caked what felt like a shitload of foundation on her face, Sophia repeated the same question to herself.
What the hell have I agreed to?
It was four o'clock in the afternoon. She should still be in her office at FamFit, working on their latest fitness app they hoped would give Fitbit a run for its money. Instead, she'd been in this Belltown photography studio since two in the afternoon, submitting to the handling of makeup artists, nail technicians, and hair and clothes stylists. Maybe most women would call this pampering, but not her. Torture. Enduring the slow dripping of water on top of her head might be worse than this ... but not by much.
Christ. How had she let her sister convince her to do this? It's a simple shoot for Sports Unlimited's annual sexiest athletes edition, Giovanna said. You'll be great, Giovanna said. This was crazy. Beyond crazy. Complete lunacy worthy of a stay in Arkham Asylum.
"I don't know what made you decide to color your tips blue, but I love it," Delia, the hairstylist, praised as she wound another lock of hair around the wide barrel of ceramic curlers. "They will look fabulous against the jersey."
"And the tattoo," Mona added, glossing Sophia's cheekbones with a big brush. "What happened, sweetie? Man trouble?" She shook her head, the huge auburn and gold afro quivering around her pretty face. "I almost covered it up, but then I thought it will look gorgeous with the outfit."
Sophia heard the rest of their conversation as if through a thick layer of cotton. Holy shit. Since the peacock tattoo wrapped low around her left hip bone, what the hell kind of outfit did Sheila have planned? When she'd gotten the ink two years ago, it'd been for her, not a man. The peacock had seemed the obvious choice. Vision, guidance ... protection.
The purpose hadn't been to flaunt it in front of God and country.
Ohhhh Jesus, this was a mistake.
"Just a few more touches ..." Mona murmured. A very short time later, she stepped back, surveying her handiwork. A wide smile stretched her vibrantly painted mouth. "Beautiful."
"I'm just about done, too," Delia announced, carefully setting the curlers on the stand next to them. She ran her fingers through Sophia's hair, twisting here, tucking there, before finally cupping her shoulders and turning her toward the lighted mirror.
Sophia sucked in a breath.
The woman who stared wide-eyed back at her was ...stunning.
Big, loose waves tumbled around her face, emphasizing brown eyes that had always seemed average. Now, rimmed in black eyeliner and gold eyeshadow, they appeared darker, mysterious. She suddenly had cheekbones that would've made Kerry Washington grind her teeth in jealousy. And a dark red tint added a lushness to her mouth that almost embarrassed her. This was the mouth of a woman who owned her sensuality, reveled in it.
And liked to be kissed ... a lot.
"Speechless." Delia snickered. "We must be damn good at our jobs."
Yeah, they deserved medals of valor. Because for the first time in her twenty-four years of being Giovanna Cruz's twin, Sophia actually felt as beautiful as her flawless sister.
"Here we go." Sheila, the clothes stylist, materialized behind them, holding up a child-size blue, white, and black jersey with the number 88 emblazoned on the front and ... and ...
She stared at the tiny piece of black cloth that could have generously been called shorts. Very generously.
I'm going to kill you, Giovanna.
"C'mon, hon," Sheila urged, gripping her elbow and propelling her out of the chair. "We don't have a lot of time."
Standing on rubbery legs, she moved behind a partition and wriggled into the shiny booty shorts, muttering under her breath.
And swallowed a groan.
The black, clingy material rode low on her hips, and the colorful bird rose above the band like a vibrant painting. But the hem of the shorts barely cleared the bottom of her ass. If she bent over, everyone would be a season ticketholder to her See You Next Tuesday.
Oh sweet baby Jesus.
Shaking her head, she reached for the jersey. Held up the cropped top.
"Umm." She peeked around the edge of the partition, careful to keep her bared torso hidden. "Is something supposed to go underneath this jersey?" Like a turtleneck.
"Of course," Sheila said, tsking. "I totally forgot." The stylist snatched a hanger off the rack and handed it to Sophia. "Here you go."
Dumbfounded, she stared at the black bra-style garment. The Oh, hell no quivered on her tongue like a notched arrow ready to fly. Giovanna wouldn't have a problem wearing this. And for today, you're Giovanna. And sex sells. The reminder didn't erase the first razor-tipped nails of panic from clawing at her throat.
In that moment, she was transported back years ago to a high-school girls' locker room where, naked and humiliated, she'd gathered her soaked clothes from the shower floor as a group of girls taunted her about her fat ass and dimpled thighs. The shame and helplessness swamped her. And for a long second, she froze, powerless against the ferocity of that memory, once more the heavier, uglier Cruz twin. That time in the shower, surrounded by jeering, snickering mean girls, had also been the last time she'd been naked in front of anyone. Even during sex, she wore a T-shirt or insisted on the dark.
And for all the skin the midriff-baring jersey and brief shorts revealed, she might as well be naked.
God. Briefly closing her eyes, she shuddered. She hadn't been prepared for this emotional backlash when she agreed to her sister's charade.
Man up, girlfriend. You're not that awkward teen anymore. They didn't break you then, and this skimpy outfit won't today.
Minutes later, jersey on, she inhaled a deep breath, pressed her palms to her belly, and straightened her shoulders. Ordinarily she wasn't a praying girl — Easter and Christmas Eve mass was more her speed — but today, she sent up a quick Our Father and followed up with a Hail Mary just to cover all bases.
The cool air of the studio brushed over her skin, raising goose bumps over her arms and legs. The squirming in her stomach hadn't ceased, but she smoothed her face into an impenetrable mask — another inheritance from high school — and followed Sheila down a short flight of stairs and into the main part of the studio.
Huge floor-to-ceiling windows took up one wall, and the afternoon light bathed the wide, open space. Her bare feet slid across the cool, smooth hardwood floors, and she ordered herself not to wrap her arms around herself. WWGD? What Would Giovanna Do? That was her mantra for the day.
Cameras, tripods, chairs, laptops, people — how many did it require to take pictures? — and huge white umbrella-looking stands littered the area. Carefully, she picked her way through the maze of cables, extension cords, and power strips as if they were a nest of reptiles ready to strike at her ankles.
Sheila paused at the edge of the organized chaos, and Sophia followed suit, mentally flipping through the poses her twin had taught her in a modeling crash course. Hips tucked. Back arched. Smize. She absently glanced at the huge backdrop dominating the wall ...
Excerpted from "Scoring with the Wrong Twin"
Copyright © 2018 Naima Simone.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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