“Oh.” Her shoulders dip a little and I mentally kick myself. “Thanks.”
No, I fucked up. I disappointed her. “Wait—”
“Can you give the pants to one of the interns so they can put it in a garment bag?” She’s already turning and pushing out of the room, but not before I see the sheen of moisture in her eyes. “See you downstairs.”
But she’s already gone.
The crowd loves Daws.
There is an audible gasp when he walks out onto the runway, looking incredible in the custom suit. He walks his usual way, like an irreverent off-duty bodyguard. Blisteringly sexy. The major magazine editor sitting in the front row nods her approval. And everyone goes bananas. Flashbulbs go off, people crane their necks to get a better look at him, applause breaks out.
A small laugh puffs from my mouth backstage. There’s a little pinwheel of jealousy whipping around in my belly, because I don’t like sharing him. He’s mine. He’s mine.
At least, I wish he was.
He doesn’t seem to return the feeling.
I swallow hard and send the next model down the runway, ordering myself to focus. I should be happy. The show is going amazingly well. And I no longer have to worry about the critics being unkind to this man I seem to have definitely, perhaps unwisely fallen in love with. He’s going to be the main thing everyone remembers from Fashion Week.
Jocelyn gives me a thumbs up from across the prep area.
“You’re a smash,” she mouths, smiling.
I am. The show is, rather.
I’m not a flash in the pan. I’m the real deal.
So why do I feel like crying?
Daws returns from his trip down the runway and his eyes are on me immediately. He doesn’t seem to give a shiny shoot that he just rocked Fashion Week and maybe even changed the entire industry. But it hurts to look at him when I love him and where we stand is so uncertain. So I focus on what I’m doing. Putting last-second touches on models and sending them out one by one. Maybe everything will be clear once I’m done with the show.
But when I look up again, Daws is surrounded by men and women in smart suits. They’re handing him business cards and peppering him with questions. He doesn’t seem to know how to respond, his hand rubbing awkwardly at the back of his neck.
“What’s going on over there?” I ask Jocelyn. “Is Daws okay?”
She snorts. “He’s great. Every modeling agency in attendance wants to sign him. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.”
My back goes up. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Jocelyn settles a firm hand on my shoulder. “It means he’s just another man riding on your coattails. Using you. Just like what happened on the reality show.”
My stomach drops. “What? No. Daws wouldn’t do that.”
She gives me a sympathetic head tilt. “Did you think the last guy would?”
No. No, I’d been so sure he was interested in me. Not my talent or how far I could get him in the competition. While all the time, he’d just been scheming. And Daws…
I watch him accept a business card and nod at whatever the man is saying to him.
I gave him every chance to ask me out. To confess his feelings. And he didn’t.
Did he see me as nothing more than a good opportunity?
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I went out and found him. Not the other way around.”
“Yeah, I’m shocked he agreed to help. Shocked, I tell you,” Jocelyn says, sarcasm lacing her tone. “You’re beautiful, Parker. There isn’t a guy alive who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be alone with you. Maybe he wasn’t using you for a modeling contract. Maybe he used you for sex instead. But the motivation is the same. Greed.” She nods at Daws and his bevy of admirers. “And whether or not he wanted a contract in the beginning, he looks like he’s happy to take it now.”
Was I just a hookup to him?
Men and women have sex all the time and don’t enter into a relationship.
What made me think we were different?
A sharp ache takes up residence in the center of my chest and I gulp a breath of air, rubbing at the painful spot. I think my heart is breaking.
“It’s your turn.” Jocelyn pushes me toward the stage entrance. “Go out and accept those accolades. We earned them!”
Having no choice, I walk out on stage to a standing ovation. And when I reach the end of the runway, I hop off the end and keep right on walking.
Where the hell is Parker?
These goddamn people won’t leave me alone and I don’t like how pale Parker turned when she was talking to her friend. There is something wrong and I need to find her, talk to her, tell her I love her. I’ve made a huge mistake by waiting. I know it in my bones.