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There was an incredible amount of awe and devotion on the face of the girl seated beside her but Richie didn’t spare her a glance, just as he hadn’t the others. Jaxxon murmured to her, “You should have worn your jeans.” Then she rose and made her way to Richie. “Hi.”

“Very nice to see you again, Jaxxon.” When she simply nodded rather than return the sentiment, he grinned. “I like that you don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. It’s very refreshing. Now, let me introduce you to my newest business partner, Oliver Miller.”

After a short elevator ride and a series of lefts and rights that made Jaxxon feel as though she was in a labyrinth, they finally reached a small, modern office. Ollie looked up from the computer as they entered. Up close he resembled Bob Hoskins. Used to Richie’s gentle, eloquent voice, it was slightly surprising to hear Ollie’s rough and deep cockney accent.

“Alright, luv, you must be Jaxxon.”

Unlike Richie who was all suited-up, Ollie was dressed in a pair of jeans and a thin jumper. Oh yes, she and him would get along just fine. “Yep.”

“Odd name,” he mused, “but I like it. Unique. Memorable. If someone was to refer to ‘the model, Jaxxon’, there wouldn’t be much mistaking who they were talking about.”

Richie and Jaxxon both took a seat opposite Ollie as he leant forward in his chair, fiddling with his pen. A lot of girls had walked through that door but none had done so without looking a bag of nerves. The one in front of him was as cool as a cucumber; someone who had nothing to lose. For her not to be twitchy and jittery at the thought of what she could gain she had obviously entered that door believing the answer was a resounding no. “So,” he finally said, “you want to be a model.”

“No,” she replied honestly. “What I want is a better job and better life than what I’ve already got so I can get out of where I’m living before I end up bashing my landlord’s head against the toilet that he denies needs fixing. Richie just happens to have come along at the right time. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if I’m not all that keen on the horse.”

Ollie smiled approvingly at her before looking at Richie. “You were right, she’s very different.”

“I’ll give you the same warning I gave Richie Rich,” said Jaxxon. “I’m not easy to have around, you’ll never find me full of the joys of spring, and I don’t mince my words.”

Ollie’s smile widened. “Then I think you’ll find that you and I have a lot in common. How old are you?”

“Twenty-two.”

“Older than I usually like, but not too old. Especially since you look around eighteen anyway and our range is aimed at young women. Ever done any modelling work before?”

Jaxxon shook her head. “In fact, I don’t really like cameras much.”

He laughed silently as he made his way around the table to stand in front of her. Just as he raised his hand to touch her face, Jaxxon reflexively raised her own to block his move.

“Jaxxon has a slight aversion to touch, especially when it comes to strangers,” explained Richie quickly.

Ollie supposed by the kind of background that she had that she hadn’t known much gentleness in her life and perhaps had also encountered much roughness. It would make any touch seem too intimate. Dropping his hand, he said, “Could you please slowly move your head from side to side for me. That’s it. Like that.”

Studying her face very closely, he was pleased to see that it was almost completely symmetrical. Not too long, not too round. Full, sensual lips. Well-proportioned nose. Perfect lashes and brows. No blemishes, moles or spots. Her skin was practically flawless and her bone structure made her a photographer’s dream. It was a wonder no one had snapped her up before now.

“Lovely. Now, what we’d like is to take you down to one of the studios for a few test shots. Richie told me that he explained to you that he and I have joined on a project together and are bringing out a whole new range of cosmetics. We intend to call the range Allure. If today goes well, it may be that your face will be what sells those products.”

Jaxxon couldn’t imagine her face inspiring anyone to buy anything, but let these poor sods figure that out for themselves after the test shots.

“So let’s get you down to make-up and then after that you’ll be brought to one of the studios where we’ll be waiting.”

It sounded so much like an order that she could only reply, “Copy that.”

After an hour of being handled by make-up artists, hairstylists and wardrobe assistants Jaxxon was ushered over to a mirror. She had expected to look extremely different, to not look at all like herself, but that wasn’t the effect at all. She was still in jeans and a t-shirt, although both were skin-tight and the t-shirt showed off her cl**vage. Her curls had been smoothed with some kind of serum which didn’t take the wildness away but hid the split ends and made it look as though it had been polished. Her face had been treated with a minimum amount of make-up apart from her eyes which had been mascaraed to death and her lips which had been heavily coated with a rich cherry gloss.

The studio she was then escorted to was not anything like she had pictured. It was massive and almost perfectly square. Everything in it was either black or white. The walls, floor, seats and even the small, simple kitchenette were white. The ceiling, cameras, lighting equipment, laptop, shelves and the mirror frames were all black. Weird, but not in a bad way.

Standing near the kitchenette was Richie, Ollie, a tall, shaggy-haired bloke and an equally shaggy-haired teenager. All turned and appraised her from head to toe and toe to head. “What?” she snapped, uncomfortable under their scrutiny.

“Perfect,” said Ollie. “It’s you, but with everything enhanced.” Seeing the surprise on her face he added, “I don’t want to turn you into someone else, Jaxxon. I want your identity just as much as I want your appearance to represent the new range. Now, meet Tony. You’ve probably worked out that he’s a photographer going by the fact that he’s holding a camera. He also has massive shares in Storm Cosmetics so he’s who I use. The young lad behind him is his son, Ant. He’s sort of like his apprentice.”

“Very intense,” commented Tony as he once again appraised her.

She was getting a little sick of being called that. “Can we get this over with? I’ve been pampered and groomed like a bloody poodle so I’m not in the best of moods.”

Richie smiled in amusement. “If you’re already frustrated this should make things go quite quickly and smoothly.”

As directed by Tony the pushy photographer – who she was pretty certain was instructed to purposely irritate her – Jaxxon stood on a small platform with her back straight, one shoulder slightly down, neck arched, head tilted to one side, lips parted, and glaring into the camera. He was talking at her, not to her, and it was cheesing her off. His barking earned him a lot of expletives from her, which seemed to amuse them all no end.

“Well as I live and breathe,” drawled Tony as the three blokes and the teenager examined the test shots. “Would you look at those eyes. The heat in them. It’s like the look of primal lust you see shooting out the eyes of like a jungle cat or something.”

Richie pointed at him, smiling. “Exactly. I couldn’t think of any words to describe it.”

“I’ve truly never seen anything like it.”

Ollie was shaking his head in disbelief. “The look shoots through you like a spear, doesn’t it.”

Tony nodded. “What’s amazing is that it’s all eyes. Her face is completely expressionless. She’s not scowling or snarling or even frowning, it’s all coming from the eyes.”

Jaxxon was getting rather sick of being spoken about like she wasn’t there. “Well?” she demanded, hands on hips. “Can I get down from this sodding platform now or what?”

“Congratulations,” said Ollie in a smooth voice as he shot her a wide, excited smile. “You are now the face of Allure Cosmetics.”

Two Months Later

At forty years of age and after twenty-four years in the cosmetics industry, Ollie was no stranger to campaign launches…but this was like no other. Oh everything was normal in terms of schedule: there had been no delays and the reporters were waiting patiently in the elegantly prepared convention room of the five-star-plus hotel for the speakers to introduce the face of Allure. Everything was normal in terms of the preparations; the presentation platform was all set up, the impeccably packaged Allure products were on display in a neat yet arty arrangement, everyone was where they were supposed to be, and everything was ready for the Launch Party that was due to start shortly in the ballroom of the hotel. But what he saw when he walked into the upstairs suite where Jaxxon was being ‘groomed’, as she called it, knocked him for six.

Usually he would have to make an entrance with a booming voice to attract the attention of all the people nervously fussing and busy-bodying around while obsessing over every little detail of the model – hair, make-up, clothes, posture – but in this suite was total silence. Not only that, but there weren’t make-up products lying here there and everywhere. Not one soul in the room was standing. His instinct was to seize up; something had to have gone wrong. But it wasn’t a mortified or nervous silence.

His eyes were drawn immediately to the stunning young woman perched on the arm of a bulky chair. She was dressed in the stylishly casual D & G outfit that was designed especially and exclusively for her: a pair of sea-blue, skin-tight jeans that were a kind of velvety denim, and a light-lemon V-neck top that casually drooped at one shoulder. They hadn’t wanted her in an extravagant dress; that just didn’t suit her character – which was just as well because she was refusing to ‘look like an ornament’ anyway. As casual as her outfit was designed to be, it was still chic and cutting-edge and it highlighted each of her sinful curves. That along with the subtle yet eye-catching use of Allure products on her face and Jaxxon looked as glamorous as all hell.

“You alright?” Jaxxon asked Ollie, who seemed a little odd at the minute.

“Just wondering why there’s a deathly silence in here.”

“I haven’t threatened them with the loss of important body parts if that’s what you’re wondering. They’re fine, watch.” Then she smiled as she sang the nursery rhyme words, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”

There was then laughter and clapping. Ollie could only shake his head and chuckle.

“She told us to put everything away,” said Louisa as she gazed at Jaxxon fondly.

Ollie found that he hadn’t been able to look at Louisa very long without laughing since Jaxxon had pointed out that she had a Morticia Addams vibe about her. Jaxxon hadn’t been poking fun or making an insult, it was purely an observation. Louisa even agreed with her. Oh Ollie did love her bluntness.

“Yes because there was a bloody self-correction epidemic going on,” said Jaxxon. “They were all done with the grooming ages ago but kept constantly coming back fixing what didn’t need to be fixed and seeing mistakes that weren’t even there. Then Louisa nearly had a panic attack when she discovered that I hadn’t been exaggerating when I said that no matter what brush or gel or spray she used these curls of mine always did their own thing.”

“That’s what I like about them. They’re wild like you and those eyes of yours.”

Just then Richie appeared behind Ollie and experienced the same confusion and panic. “Is something wrong?”

“Jaxxon insisted we pack up our stuff and just sit and relax,” said Kieran, the chief make-up artist. “We’ve been talking about that new soap on telly about Scousers. Did you watch the first episode last week?”

Richie stared at the young woman in awe. Dear God, he and Ollie in all their years had never mastered the art of calming the team. She had won people over so effortlessly, even the rather antisocial wardrobe assistant. “Who sent the flowers?”

“Oh they’re from Tony and his wife,” she said. On the day that Ollie and Richie had chosen her as the face of Allure, Tony had insisted on giving her a lift home after the photo-shoot – then he had seen the block of flats she lived in and turned right back around, refusing to let her go back there. After much disputing Tony apologised for his daddy approach and, in a much gentler tone, offered for her to rent – because she refused to stay there for free – the annexe of his house. Only when he agreed for her to bring Bronty was the deal sealed. Both he and his wife were trying to discourage her from getting an apartment and to stay in their annexe but Jaxxon had been looking forward to having something that was hers. Plus, as much as she adored Lily and Tony, they tried to baby her through the process of going from one lifestyle to another. The gentle approach wasn’t Jaxxon’s way. She wanted to face all the sudden changes head-on and find her own two feet.

“Now remember, Jaxxon,” said Ollie in a serious tone, “because your name was leaked to the tabloids they’ll have done some digging and will know a bit about you and there’s a good chance they’ll shoot some questions at you that you might find uncomfortable.”

“You mean about my past. Personal stuff.”

He nodded. “If there’s anything you don’t feel comfortable answering just signal to me by tucking your curls behind your ear and I’ll tackle the question for you.”

Richie shot her a reassuring look. “I’m sure you’ll be fine but I know this is all new to you so if at any time you feel overwhelmed just signal to me by joining your hands behind your back.”


Tags: Suzanne Wright Romance
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