“Jesus, you’re making this sound like a covert operation,” said Jaxxon, which received plenty of chuckles. “I take it you’re here to take me down now.” She would never have admitted it, but she was so nervous she was close to shaking.
“Indeed we are,” confirmed Richie, ushering her out of the room. He waited while everyone from the team wished her good luck and told her how amazing she looked, something he very much agreed with. Something that he was sure the entire world would agree with.
Once they reached the convention room, Ollie – as Chairman of the cosmetics house – and Richie – as vice president of it – took their places on the presentation podium, keeping Jaxxon hidden behind the curtains at the rear of it. The two men each made a speech about the innovative and stylish Allure products themselves and revealed that the release date was exactly three weeks from this day. Then, after indicating the free samples around the reporters, Ollie introduced ‘the face of Allure’.
He watched as Jaxxon – in that natural catlike grace that she had – came to join them at the front of the podium. She was as breath-taking and mesmerising as always and received a massive, welcoming applause. She didn’t smile and pose for the flashing cameras, just as he knew she wouldn’t. But she wasn’t distancing herself from these reporters, it wasn’t an act of ignorance. She somehow managed to make eye contact with each person in the room, as if she was acknowledging them. Didn’t everyone enjoy the idea of being acknowledged by a woman so entrancing and captivating? More amazingly, all this was done on a subconscious level on her part. She clearly had no idea of the kind of effect she had on others around her.
It wasn’t long before questions were being shot at her from all angles. The first few were benign and related to the campaign and her contract and what was happening next and the designer of her outfit. Then, of course, the subject of her past was brought up. First it was relatively simple questions such as where she grew up, but then a particular question made Ollie tense even though he had been expecting it.
“Is it true, Jaxxon, that you spent the majority of your childhood in foster care?” one reporter asked.
“Yes,” Jaxxon answered simply and clearly. There was no shame or discomfort in her tone, and she noticed that that seemed to have surprised people. Why should she be embarrassed?
“And is it true that your mother committed suicide?” the same reported asked.
“Yes,” she said just as clearly and, still, with no shame or embarrassment.
Then a question was fired at Richie from a different reporter: “The rumour, Mr Moore, is that you discovered Jaxxon when she was working in a run-down pub.”
Richie smiled. “It’s always a surprise when a rumour is true. In this case, yes.”
After another series of questions at Richie a new male reporter: “Did it not concern you that her poor upbringing might make it extremely difficult for her to deal with a lifestyle that is at the other end of the spectrum? That perhaps she might find the pressures hard to bear?”
“You know, I really don’t like it when people talk like I’m not there,” said Jaxxon with a sigh. “Here’s something for you all to jot down on your little pads: a crap upbringing doesn’t make someone weak, it makes them strong or how else could they get through it? I’ve never liked that people seem to think that anyone who’s been brought up in care are destined to lead a life of poverty and crime. It’s postcode lottery.”
“I hope this shows those prejudiced people and those who are brought up in care that it doesn’t always have to work that way,” said Richie.
“That they can find themselves a fairy Godmother” – the reporter gestured at Richie, smiling – “and have a happy ending.”
“Oh no,” Jaxxon quickly objected as she heard the reference to Cinderella. “If you were hoping to find that despite my background I’m some kind of lovely young lady who birds tweet at, prepare to be disappointed. I’m a moody cow and I know it. This isn’t a Cinderella story, this is more like Harry Potter and the Gob of Ire.”
Ollie had to admire her straightforwardness; and it seemed like everyone else did as well. They chuckled and smiled and were totally taken in by her and how refreshing she was. More questions were fired at her but she handled them all with the same ease and bluntness as the others. Oh he could see she was still frustrated. The trouble was that her frustration only seemed to please the reporters, bringing that feral gleam to her eyes. He was truly proud of her and also relieved to see that she might just be able to handle how being the face of Allure was about to catapult her to the peak of success.
He hadn’t mentioned to Jaxxon that he was a little concerned about how some might treat her at the Launch Party. There were some guests he knew of who would enjoy flinging a few degrading insults at her, things aimed to eat at her confidence or belittle her or test her responses; jealousy and prejudice, of course, being the main motives. He couldn’t visualise her crumbling, but he had to remind himself that this young woman came from nothing and was about to enter a world where people competed over who had the biggest yacht or wore pearls and sapphires. He wondered if Jaxxon had any real concept of how famous this was all going to make her. As from tomorrow, her life was going to be dramatically different.
“One last question,” a reporter quickly shouted as the presentation ended.
Jaxxon groaned internally. This was something like the sixth time someone had launched a ‘last question’ while they were trying to leave and she was getting cheesed off now.
“We’ve noticed that haircare products are included in the beauty range, which isn’t usual. Any comments on that?”
“Yeah,” answered Jaxxon snappily. “Lather, rinse, repeat.”
Connor McKenzie stood in the living room of his London apartment, can of beer in hand, wondering if all blokes had this much trouble getting a woman to listen up when he said no he did not intend to marry her. He’d left L.A to get some space when it seemed that he couldn’t shake her off, and what did she do? Flew all the way to London to have the exact same conversation they’d had a dozen times before.
Oh she could hear him alright when he said no. Plain as day. He’d learned over the past three months that her hearing was selective. Oh that wasn’t all. He’d also learned that she had planned to accidentally-on-purpose become pregnant. What exactly did she think that was going to achieve? That it would trap him into a committed relationship? He might not want kids but although he’d have played some part in the kid’s life, no way would he have walked down a bloody aisle.
Another thing he’d learned about this woman was that it was her who had been spreading rumours to the tabloids that he had proposed to her and that they were getting married in eight months’ time. His best mate, Dane, had showed him one of the cheesy headlines: Anita Donovan is the formula that tamed the womanising Formula One driver Connor McKenzie.
He would never fully understand women. He knew how to make them crave him. He knew how to make them lose themselves and come like crazy but without losing control of himself – he would never give a woman that much power over him. What he didn’t know, and would possibly never know, was how to make them understand that if he f**ked them it did not mean that he cared about them. That sex and love were two different things and it was possible to have one without the other.
It was well-known that he’d never had a committed relationship and didn’t want one. It didn’t seem to matter that he was honest with every woman from the start. For some unknown reason they all got this daft idea that they would be the one to change him. Hence, why there was a very disappointed American woman behind him who was trying to pluck at heartstrings that he didn’t have to manipulate him into giving her what she wanted.
“Connor,” she intoned. “Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves, after everything we’ve shared, to give it another shot?”
Owe it to themselves? Everything they’d shared? They had only being seeing each other on-and-off for a few months for nothing more than shagging. Where did she come up with this dramatic tripe? It sounded like something right out of a corny romantic film. It probably was, actually; she’d starred in enough of them.
“Connor, talk to me.” Anita was close to snapping; she felt helpless for the first time in her life. Since the day she was born she was granted practically whatever she wanted. Having famous parents, both actors, meant that her acting career was given a huge jumpstart and things had always come easy to her. Connor was the only thing she had ever had to truly work for. He hadn’t fawned all over her or been anything like the respectful guys that she was used to who showered her with affection and gifts – which was why she had wanted him so badly. What she hadn’t banked on was that once she had him she would have to work to keep him. Three months she had lasted…and now she was about to lose him. She was about to know the feeling of failure.
She had to make him realise how good they looked together. They were so different that it was laughable, but that was what made them fit. She had had the sheltered, silver spoon lifestyle whereas Connor had spent his childhood in foster care in London. Yet two years ago, at just the age of twenty-two, he had become the youngest Formula One driver in the world.
Where she was blonde and pale and blue-eyed, he had coal-black hair and the darkest eyes. The tabloids had long ago dubbed her ‘angel face’ due to her innocent features and small, delicate build. Nothing angelic about Connor; he wore either a frown or a cocky smirk and was anything but delicate with his athletic build and those muscles that were so defined they rippled beneath his clothing as he moved. The tabloids loved her ‘sweet disposition’ and her apparent vulnerability and that unworldly smile she was a master at showing the cameras. Connor, on the other hand, had a raw, animal magnetism about him. He oozed power, strength and danger; making him just as intimidating as he was sensual. It was as though he had been created purposely to seduce. And seduce he did, though he didn’t have to invest much effort into it. How many women had she had to fight off during the last few months? God they even flirted with him in front of her as though she wasn’t even there.
It was those contrasts between them that made them perfect for each other: they balanced each other out. Why couldn’t he see that? Okay so they might not love each other, but he didn’t want love anyway. Maybe he had a point when he said that he wasn’t a fashion accessory for her to hang off her arm, but lots of famous people married to keep the tabloids talking about them. “Okay, Connor, if you need some more time before we get married then we’ll wait.”
“Anita, Anita, Anita.” He swerved to face her. “I need you to listen very carefully because repeating myself over and over isn’t something I enjoy. Are you listening? I. Have. No. Intention. Of. Ever. Getting. Married. Ever. Did you hear that? Let the words settle in your brain. Absorb the information. Accept it. Go home.”
“Maybe in time you’ll change your -”
“Oh for Christ’s sake.”
She shook her head, panicking now. “Connor, honey, listen: I’m sorry if it seems like I’ve been pushing you, it’s just that I love you -”
“- but if marriage really isn’t what you want it doesn’t mean we have to split up, we can still be together.” And then I can wear you down with time.
“Anita...” It was a warning.
Desperation flooded her veins. She was not only going to lose him, but her pride. Everyone expected them to get married after the rumours she’d spread; her parents, the media, her fans. She had even been in touch with the personal assistant of fashion designer Donna Karan about a dress and chosen her Maid of Honour who had excitedly accepted the position. God how embarrassing was it going to be when everyone heard about this! She didn’t even have time to buy; Connor would still go to that stupid charity event in a week’s time and he wouldn’t go alone. Once the paparazzi saw him with another woman the whole world would know about their separation. Why couldn’t he see how good they looked beside each other?
Seeing her magazine on the table next to her bag, she quickly snatched it and opened it on a particular page then slapped him in the chest with it. “Look.”
Humouring her, Connor glanced down to see a photograph of the two of them together outside a restaurant. “And the significance of this is…?”
“We look perfect together! Everybody says so!”
“I don’t care what anyone else thinks.” With that he flung the magazine at her feet and gave her his back as he began to walk away.
Then he froze, his body having caught up with his brain. Slowly he turned and looked down at the magazine on the floor, convinced that he couldn’t have seen what he thought he saw. He was aware that Anita was still rambling on but her words didn’t register. Tentatively he picked up the magazine and flipped it over to look again at the front cover that only seconds ago he’d had a fleeting glimpse of.
And there she was. Looking back at him with an intensity that reached out and plucked at his soul. Those eyes, they had always gotten to him. They had a way of entrancing you, imploring you, making you a willing captive.
His chest tightened and his lungs burnt. Suddenly the magazine felt like an extension of his hand. He honestly didn’t know how he was going to put it down. He found himself rubbing those lips of hers with his thumb, remembering the one time he’d kissed her. How her mouth had tasted. How he had wanted to do so much more to her but had stopped himself because of her age. She might not have looked or behaved or thought anything like a fourteen year old girl, but that was what she’d been, and he’d been sixteen.