The Billionaire's Toy(6)

By: Penny Wylder

Never in my life have I looked this good, and when I tell the make-up artist, she laughs.

“I don’t know about that,” a deep voice says from behind me. “I imagine you look this good all the time.”

Andrew Xellum is standing in the doorway, that same hungry look on his face as he takes in my hair and make-up. He glances at my crew. “I need to show her the space.”

My make-up artist nods. “She’s ready; everything but touch-ups.”

“Excellent. Delia, if you’ll come with me please.”

I stand and follow him. We go down a narrow hallway and into a windowed space covered in curtains. I recognize it as the inside of the Prow Art Space, the tiny glass gallery on the very tip of the flatiron building. The ground is covered in gauze and fluffy fabric that makes it look like we’re walking on a cloud, and I imagine that it will look that way from the outside as well. Just like May described, there’s a circular platform. Andrew—can I call him Andrew if it’s only in my head?—holds out his hand. “Up here, please.”

An electric jolt goes through me as our skin makes contact. I can feel that touch through my entire body and damn, does it feel good. Suddenly I’m trying to remember the last time I was touched by a man, even casually. It’s been way too long if a touch on the hand is making my body feel this way. Or maybe it’s him. Holy shit, I’m staring at our joined hands and this is my new boss. I blush furiously and he gives me a smirk that makes it seem like he knows exactly what that skin-on-skin contact did to me.

“You’ll be up here the entire exhibition. You won’t have to move. The curtains will rise, and you’ll be in the first outfit. After 10 minutes, the crew will come in and convert the look from day to night. That will be in full view; it’s the whole point. The clothes are designed to change tone quickly, and you won’t ever be exposed. After the next ten minutes, the curtains fall and the crew will help you do a quick change before they rise again. Pretty simple.”

I clear my throat. “Do you want me to stand still? Change poses?”

It’s such a basic question, something a more experienced model should know, that I almost expect him to laugh. I’m desperate for any clue on how to do this and keep down the latte that I had earlier. But he doesn’t laugh. He considers, stepping back and taking me in, even though I’m only in my tank top and jeans. “You can move,” he says after a moment of silence. “Just not too fast. I’d say maybe two or three poses per look. That will give you time for a couple of revolutions for each pose.”

“Okay,” I nod. “I can do that.”

Andrew checks his watch. “Curtains go up in fifteen minutes,” he says with a little smile. “I’ll be watching.”

A shiver goes through me as he turns to leave, and my mouth opens before I can stop it. “Why me?” He turns back at the door. “You could have had so many models with more experience. Not someone who’s never modeled before. So why?”

Just like with my earlier question, I can see him consider his words carefully. “Most people in fashion are looking for something brand new. A look or a combination of features that they’ve never seen before. That’s not what I look for in a model. I want someone who makes me feel. When she walks down a runway or you see her in a photograph, she has a spark that connects with you.”

“So you’re saying you think that I have that spark?”

He smiles. “No. You don’t have the spark. You have the whole damn fire.”

And then he leaves me there gaping after him, my entire body tingling with his words.

One of the crew comes to get me, and while they dress me I’m in a daze. I don’t think I’ve ever made that kind of impression on anyone before. And the way he looks at me gives me shivers down my body that make me imagine darker, more intimate moments with just the two of us between a set of sheets.

I lock those thoughts down because this is a job, and he’s my boss and I can’t afford to think like that when I’m about to be stared at for four hours. I’m dressed in a pair of long bolero pants and a coral dress shirt, and my face and hair get tweaks as I’m guided down the narrow hallway again.

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