A barrage of random memories hit him. Her burying her face in his chest to hide how hard she was laughing when their drunken foster father slipped on the ice chasing after the dog that had snatched his last beer. Her trying to convince him not to hotwire another car and then purposely triggering the alarm when he ‘wouldn’t see reason’. Him teaching her self-defence moves after that gang of boys cornered her in the girls’ toilets at school – the same gang of boys he had later beat the crap out of. Her yelling at him to stop feeling sorry for himself or she’d squish his balls with her foot. Him sitting playing with that head of chocolate-brown ringlets while listening to her defend Leah for the umpteenth time instead of seeing the lying, attention-seeking bitch for what she was. He remembered exactly how her hair had felt between his fingers.
Christ, how had he subconsciously managed to train his brain not to let him think about her? Now that the dam had been broken, the memories and images of her pelted him. It was almost like his mind was punishing him for trying to box her away into a corner.
He suddenly became aware that Anita was tugging on his arm and barking his name. Screeching something about he’d regret this, and was the face of Allure about to be his next victim? He didn’t look at her. He couldn’t move his gaze from those brown, feral eyes. Nor did he want to. “Out,” he insisted in a calm yet lethal voice that no one had ever ignored. Except for Jaxx. She had snorted at his temper and flipped him off.
Making a hissing sound, Anita stomped toward the door. As she reached it she turned to scream an insult at him, thinking he would at least be watching her leave – hopefully having some regret shining from his eyes. But he was still staring at that photo of Jaxxon Carter; a model who in just the space of three months had become widely known and desired. And now she was her intended replacement. Not gonna happen.
Once Connor was finally alone, the slamming of the door echoing in his ears, he grabbed himself another beer and parked himself on the couch, all the while still holding that magazine while Jaxx’s eyes held his. It was only then that it occurred to him to wonder what the bloody hell she was doing in a magazine. No, not in a magazine, on the front cover. If there was one thing he would never in a million years have anticipated, it was Jaxx becoming a model. Oh she had the figure for it; she was even more stunning now than she’d been as a teenager. The early bloomer had obviously never stopped blooming. Christ, if his dick was twitching just from her picture, he had no damn doubt that it would harden to the point of pain if he saw her again in real life.
When, not ‘if’, a part of him insisted. Yeah, he had to see her again; had to see this woman who had seen good in him when he hadn’t seen it in himself, who had somehow burrowed her way into his soul without her even realising it.
But what if she thought his contacting her meant that he wanted some kind of relationship? He’d admitted to her before he left that he’d always cared about her so he wouldn’t blame her for thinking that he now wanted to act on that. He’d have to make sure she understood that it wouldn’t happen, he still had no intention of doing the whole kids and marriage thing and his career came before everything.
Who would have thought that his stealing a Ferrari one night would have led him on the path to be where he was now? Instead of prison, he had ended up in the Ferrari Young Driver Development Programme. It had been the first time that someone had ever offered him a chance to be more than what he was, and he had gripped that opportunity and latched on tight. Not once had his grip ever loosened, and he had all the trophies to prove it.
He reckoned that Jaxx would love to hear about the championships he had taken part in, would want every little detail. Would throw herself into his arms the minute she saw him. He wouldn’t mind finding out about her new life. Just a little get-together to catch up. Maybe they could then meet up now and again as mates. Yeah. He liked that idea.
“Oi, Jaxxon, have you seen this?” giggled Ollie as he chucked an open magazine at her.
Both her and the hairstylist, Louisa, glanced at the article that was actually an interview with the popular new London rapper, J.P. Included was a few photographs, one of which featured Jaxxon talking not so civilly to him at one of London’s most exclusive bars. Underneath the photograph was the quote: ‘Five seconds in her company and she told me to sod off or she’d shove my balls up my arse. I think I’m in love.’
Jaxxon sighed and threw the newspaper back at Ollie. “Another oddball,” she muttered.
“So what did he do that prompted you to threaten his livelihood?”
“He asked to buy me a drink.”
“And that was a problem, was it?”
“He didn’t ask me, he asked my br**sts then drooled on them – literally. That was just the last straw for me; he’d been horrible to Anna when she tried talking to him. Trust me when I say it had been in his very best interests to get out of my sight.”
Though Jaxxon had never been one to develop close friendships, she spent a lot of time with one of Richie’s models, Anna. The slender copped-haired girl was just eighteen but looked more like fifteen and was not even the slightest bit streetwise. She may as well have had a piece of paper attached to her back that said, ‘Bully me, it’s fine’. This wasn’t a good thing for a party animal, so Jaxxon often joined Anna when she went to clubbing to keep an eye on her. The girl was just so delicate and trusting that it was actually frightening.
“Very protective of Anna, aren’t you?”
She shot Ollie a pointed look. “Don’t pretend to be surprised by that. I knew what you and Richie were up to when you introduced me to her. The pair of you knew how much that girl liked going out to the clubs and bars, shaking her bloody shimmy, and you figured that she was a great way to get me out and about and under the watchful eye of the media.”
Ollie smiled in surprise; she was just too astute for her own good. “We’ve told you it’s important that the magazines and papers get glimpses of you. They’ll just make stuff up anyway if they don’t.”
“Is all that talk about you and that footballer true?” asked Louisa.
“Footballer?” Jaxx frowned.
“Yeah, Matt Watson.”
“What was said?” Jaxxon never read anything about herself, though Ollie and Richie tried to show her articles. It was just too weird seeing herself in magazines or papers. Surreal. She still hadn’t overcome getting a jolt of shock through her each time a picture of herself stared back at her. The biggest shock had been seeing herself on a billboard, especially since she hadn’t even noticed until a young bloke called out, ‘Oi, luv, is that you?’
A billboard. Her. Jaxxon from the dodgy part of London with her dodgy past. It hadn’t taken long for the tabloids to drench up said dodgy past but she wasn’t ashamed of it. She thought it was wrong that people would stand and sneer at those who had been brought up in the system but you didn’t see them getting together to come up with a better bloody system. She was just relieved the tabloids hadn’t been able to dig up all of it. There were some particular events that were better left buried.
Louisa’s words took Jaxxon from her thoughts. “It said in one of the papers that you two met in a bar one Friday night then left together and went straight to his apartment, and that you never resurfaced until Monday morning.”
Jaxxon groaned. “Who comes up with this crap? Matt approached me in a bar and we talked a bit, but I was mostly trying to stop a very plastered Anna from dancing on the table. I think I intimidated him because when he asked me if I’d be interested in going out with him one night his words came out in like a jumbled stuttering mess.”
Ollie smirked. “You intimidating? I can’t imagine anyone thinking that.”
“Aren’t you the funny one.”
“It’s those eyes of yours, they knock people off balance.”
“For God’s sake, they’re just eyes. Everyone’s got a pair.”
“We’ve all got a pair of legs too, but I don’t make money off mine the way Anna does hers.” Ollie looked at her through narrowed eyes. “Speaking of body parts, how’ve you been getting on with your fitness regime?”
“What about the diet?”
“I’ve already told you; I don’t do gyms and I don’t do diets.” Exercising had a way of boring the life out of her, and dieting just made her so miserable that she ended up craving comfort foods so it just seemed counterproductive to her.
“You don’t want to let yourself go, though, do you?”
“I’ve got a mind to get offended here. Are you saying I’m getting fat or something?”
“It’s just standard for models to keep in shape.”
“Then I’m not fit for model-hood. I don’t have the self-discipline for it, and, to be honest, I don’t want to have it. Chocolate is my only vice and I have no wish to give it up.”
“Ollie has a valid point though,” said a castigating voice slowly approaching. Richie.
Being ganged up on? Jaxxon scowled. “Who asked you, you poncey right twat?”
Richie laughed. “I do enjoy your insults. It’s a nice contrast from having someone trying to climb half way up my arse all morning.”
“Seriously, girl,” began Ollie as he gave her a speculative look, “have you been eating those vices of yours more than usual?”
If it wasn’t for the mischievous glint in Ollie’s eyes, Jaxxon would have undoubtedly emptied her entire glass of water over his head. “You two are just trying to get me all worked up for the photo-shoot,” she realised.
Ollie giggled. “Did it work?” She grunted. “Good. My work here is done.” He hopped off his seat. “Oh, wait, we were discussing your social activities, weren’t we. What I was going to suggest was that you take that footballer of yours to the charity event Saturday night.”
“He’s not my footballer.”
“Yeah, but there’s no reason why you can’t play up to the rumours.”
Louisa sighed dreamily. “That bloke is just yummy.”
“True,” allowed Jaxxon.
Ollie smiled. “So you’ll invite him?”
“Two reasons. One, I’ve already promised Anna I’d take her. Two, what I forgot to mention when I told you about Matt approaching me was that I’d turned him down.”
“Turned him down?” Louisa was horrified. “Why?”
“He seemed nice but I couldn’t be with someone who’s a nervous wreck around me.”
Richie sighed. “Well that limits your choice of blokes in general.”
Rubbing his stubbly chin, Ollie asked, “What about the rumours about you and Richie’s male model, Bruno?”
“Oh Anna told me about that article, it was a load of bleeding shite. There had been four of us sitting at that table; me, Anna, Bruno and that other model who’s his mate…Chris, is it? Anyway, whoever took the picture zoomed in on me and Bruno and made it look like we’d gone out on some intimate dinner as a couple.”
If she remembered rightly, the article had also stated that Bruno spent a lot of time at her apartment. As it happened, only three people other than her had ever been inside: Anna, Tony and Lily. Having grown up in a place where you had to be cautious of who you invited inside, it was a hard thing to snap out of. She still hadn’t given the place any real personality yet, unless you counted Bronty who had claimed the sofa. She simply wasn’t accustomed to having a ‘home’; a place she could relax, a place she could settle into, a place that wasn’t going to get ‘visits’ from her neighbours.
In fact, for the first week that she had had her new car – a yellow Audi convertible – she had been nervous as hell, convinced that it was going to get stolen. Anna had been delighted at the sight of the car, thinking that Jaxxon was now ready to fall into the glamorous lifestyle, but Jaxxon had no interest in trying to keep up with the Jones’. The only reason she had her Audi was because it was a car she had always said she would buy if she had the money. Anna was also disappointed that she couldn’t get Jaxxon to expand her new wardrobe with anything but casual wear. The fact was that Jaxxon loved her jeans and preferred to be comfortable, and she wasn’t going to apologise for it.
“So you’re set on taking Anna on Saturday?” said Richie.
“Yep. She’s actually dragging me shopping after this for something to wear for it. She’s so excited. You aren’t really going to suggest that I ruin her year by uninviting her are you?”
“Alright,” sighed Ollie. “I’ll send a limo to pick you both up from your apartment.”
She suddenly felt slightly uneasy and suspicious. He’d given in way too easily which was completely out of character for Ollie.
“Now, I really must be off. Enjoy the shoot, and be good for your Uncle Tony.”
She rolled her eyes. Ollie, Richie and Tony had all decided to elect themselves to be her honorary uncles – her input not important on the matter. Feeling sorry for her for being family-less, she guessed. “For God’s sake. Next you’ll be calling me Annie and asking me to sing the sun will come out tomorrow.”
“Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow,” sang Richie.
“There’ll be sun,” finished Ollie.
They then, swaying gently, sang the chorus in unison, which Jaxxon found quite disturbing on a number of levels. “Ollie, Rich,” she said awkwardly when they were done. “Have you two ever watched that film Brokeback Mountain?” Their scowls were priceless.