“I am tired of trying to make you understand, Michael,” Mika Lucianne said in exasperation.
She stared at the designs laid out on the worktable in her office.
“Haute Couture will not increase Niad Fashion’s profits. I need you to design clothes for the fall ready-to-wear line. Can you do that?”
“I hate it when you do this to me,” Michael protested with a strained tone.
Mika looked at her eldest son. They were at their family home in Ginza, Japan. It was a Friday afternoon, and Michael had come to submit the designs she’d asked for the fall line. He was incredibly talented but he couldn’t seem to take criticism. Niad Fashion was on the brink of change, and they needed to make their mark in the industry with their new ready-to-wear line. However, Michael’s attitude was leaving them dead in the water.
Mika folded her arms against her chest and paced the length of her worktable. Of her three sons, Michael was the one who’d taken after her late husband. His looks favored his Italian father: from his hazel eyes, his black curly hair to the incredible talent for high fashion and creativity. Michael had even inherited his father’s temperament. So stubborn and unbending, it made him impossible to persuade.
“Michael,” Mika started, but he stopped her by standing and raising his hands up.
“Mum, I’m never going to be what you want me to be. Niad Fashion’s ready-to-wear line is not me, you need to take a step back, and focus on the right son.”
“Antonio deals with the financials, you deal with the design,” Mika said.
Her second born son did not have the design gene. Instead, Antonio had a brilliant mind for mathematics and ran the financial side of the company. It had been Antonio’s idea to venture into the ready-to-wear industry intensively. She sighed as she stared at their company’s head designer.
What was she to do with Michael?
“All I’m asking of you is to make a few concessions in your design style. How can you even suggest I ask Antonio?”
“I am not talking about Antonio,” Michael said. “And I’ve tried making concessions in my design, I always end up unhappy with the results. Don’t ask me to do that to myself.”
“Are you suggesting Cole?” Mika stopped pacing to look at her eldest son. “Cole is still in school. He is also in Italy, how do you suggest we have him focus on the business while he is so far away?”
“You need to check on your youngest son more,” Michael said with a chuckle. “And don’t take what he says at face value. He has been quite busy these past two years.”
“What do you mean?”
“Go visit him in Milan.” Michael advised. “And don’t act as though you’re there to convince him to come back here. You’ll lose him.”
“What don’t I know, Michael? Is Cole okay? Is he in trouble?” Mika asked, panic setting in.
Family always came first before business. She loved her sons so much; she’d do anything to make sure they were all right. Cole was in Italy because she’d felt that was the best place for him while she brought up the company. She called him regularly and visited him every month. He’d been too young when his father died. When Raphael’s parents had offered to look after Cole in Italy, she’d thought it a good idea in order to give Cole stability. Now to hear that something was up with him, she shook her head.
“Michael, don’t do this to your mother, tell me what’s wrong with Cole.”
“He’s not in school,” Michael said, giving her a wide smile. “I don’t think this should come from me, so go visit Cole. He moved out of Nonna and Grandpa’s house in Sicily. Go straight to Milan, he has an apartment there.”
Michael reached for his cell phone and sent her a message.
“That’s the address he gave me. Don’t tell him I sent you there. He won’t forgive me.”
Cole’s Fashion was having a show at the Sevilla Hotel. The three assistants who worked for Cole’s Fashion had spent the day before arranging the hall on the second floor for the runway show. They’d arrived at five o’clock in the morning to complete the arrangements as well as prepare gift bags for their guests and Milan’s top fashion critics. Attached to the main hall, was a preparation room filled with fourteen models, hairdressers, make-up artists, dressers and assistants.
Cole adjusted seams, arranged dresses, made sure that each design was sitting right. He worked around a make-up artist to adjust a collar on a white shirt.
Once done, he looked around the room searching. A frown creased his smooth forehead when he didn’t find.
Someone was missing.
He placed the tape he was holding on a table, and walked around the room looking for his boyfriend.
“Have you seen Danny?” he asked an assistant when he couldn’t locate him.
“He went into the little office you’re using across the hall.” She adjusted her clipboard. “Guests have started arriving. We’re showing them to their seats. I should also let you know that the press is insisting they want a look backstage.”
“Allow them in when we are three minutes to show time. We’re still in chaos right now,” Cole said.
She hurried away and Cole headed for the makeshift office. It was a good place to escape from the madness preparing a fashion show could be. He slipped into the little room and let out a sigh when he saw Danny leaning against the desk.
“What are you doing in here? The show is about to start soon, we should get you to makeup.”
“I don’t know if I can do this,” Danny said, his voice trembling. “All those people, Cole, I can’t do it.”
Cole sighed at the familiar words. He wished he could infuse his self-confidence into Danny. His boyfriend was shy and had such low self-esteem it was painful to watch him sometimes. He moved closer to Danny, stopping when he was standing inches away from the slender young man. He hooked a finger under Danny’s chin and tilted his beautiful face up so that he was looking into startling hazel eyes.
“Hey, you, where’s your smile?”
Cole pressed a chaste kiss on trembling lips.
“Cheer up. Do you know how sad you look right now? It’s depressing me. We are about to have a grand fashion show out there, you’re wearing the most fabulous summer clothes I’ve ever made, why are you moping?”
“Because, I might let you down,” Danny replied. “I don’t ever want to let you down, Cole.”
Cole wrapped his arms around Danny and rocked him gently, burying his face into Danny’s blonde hair. Slender arms tightened around his waist and he closed his eyes, pressing another kiss into Danny’s hair.
“I love you,” Cole said. “I love you and you don’t need to worry about letting me down, because it will never happen, Danny.”
“Are you sure?” Danny asked, clinging to Cole.
“I’m sure. Now, come on, we have to show off your awesome bod out there. You don’t need the makeup.”
“Hey,” Danny protested with a weak laugh. “Makeup makes the show.”
“Really,” Cole said, happy to hear that teasing note in Danny’s voice.
“That’s why you have me, so I can remind you of such things,” Danny replied, pressing his own kisses on Cole’s neck.
The feel of them made Cole’s heart soar. He loved it when Danny got affectionate. He pulled back slowly and took Danny’s lips in a full kiss, hoping to keep him in a happy mood. He smiled when Danny pressed closer rubbing against his arousal. They both groaned because they really didn’t have time to do more. Cole sucked on Danny’s tongue, savoring his taste, running his hands down Danny’s back and wished for more time.
He broke the kiss and touched the corner of Danny’s swollen lips with a finger. Danny met his gaze with dazed hazel eyes.
“You taste really good,” Cole whispered. “I can’t wait to do more of that after the show. I’ll let you have free reign too.”
“You’re such a tease.”
Danny sighed, his handsome face flushed with color. The melancholy look was gone and a glint shone in those eyes. Cole hurried him back to the dressing room where the makeup artist took over.
Cole hung around them for a moment keeping a close watch on Danny’s mood. When Danny started joking around with the makeup artist and one of the assistants, he moved away to attend to the rest of the models.
Things were running smoothly, no hassles yet.
It paid to plan, he thought as the fashion show producer started the show ten minutes later.
Cole stood in the wings of the runway inspecting each model before she or he got on the runway. The summer line was strong. He’d chosen to do shorts, light shirts and t-shirts. Bright colors to celebrate the summer weather, floating light fabrics garments to accommodate the sweltering heat of summer. He’d also added a unique cut he reserved for Cole’s Fashion Men.
He turned around when an arm wrapped around his waist. He smiled at the sight of Danny in the final piece. Danny’s make-up made his skin fairer, his hair pulled back from his face severely to fall down his back in wild spikes. Cole had no idea how the hairstylists did their work so fast. Danny smiled and the light caught at a silver strip under his left eye.
“You look gorgeous.” Cole praised, careful not to wrinkle the stark white shirt Danny wore. The collar on the shirt dramatically stood up in the back of the neck, making it look like a coat with sharp edges. The short sleeves garnished with silver buttons that shone in the light. The shirt was unbuttoned in order to show off gold-checked calf-length shorts. There was a silver chain hanging on Danny’s left hip with the standard Cole Fashion’s logo on it.
Cole adjusted the collar keeping a keen eye on the runway and the male model posed at the end.
“Papa called a few minutes ago.” Danny looked at him with a small smile. “He wants us to drop off wine crates tomorrow morning. I told him I’d do it. You’ll be swamped at the store tomorrow.”
“I don’t mind taking them. I’ll call in everyone to work.” Cole soothed as he thought about Danny’s dad. “What about your motorcycle? Did they fix it?”
“Yeah, I’ll pick it up in the morning.” Danny took in a deep breath as the music changed. “I’m next.”
Cole smiled and kissed Danny’s lips. “I’ll be right here when you’re done.”
Danny stepped on to the runway. His energy fierce as he walked down the white walkway, enthralling the audience to buy his clothes, it was always amazing to watch Danny work.
They made such an odd pair, Cole thought as Danny posed at the end of the runway. A flurry of cameras flashed when Danny pulled off the shirt and held it over his shoulder. Sexy, hot, stunning those were some of the words running through everyone’s head right now.
Cole could only think mine.
Danny was the main reason why he’d started his fashion house in Milan. He’d chosen a life here with Danny. He smiled as his lover turned and walked back. He didn’t want anything more than this.
Fashion and Danny, his life was full.
The models did a final lineup on the runway and then he was following them to thank the guests for coming. Cole hoped they’d give good reviews and buy his designs because he and Danny were in need of a vacation.
Mika Lucianne sat in the front row of the fashion show watching the designs on the runway with awe. Somewhere in the past five years, her twenty-two year old son had created a fashion house and turned it into a success in Milan. Cole’s Fashion had a strong following. The people seated around her were veterans of the line. Positive murmurs assured her the line would be an enormous success.
How could she be the last to know?
The male model wearing the final design appeared at the start of the runway. He was blonde, his hair a stunning mess of spikes at the back. He wore an elegant white shirt with an interesting collar cut. The back of the collar was up and the edges of the collar were tipped and opened at the neck, the shirt had short sleeves that spotted silver buttons. His gold-checkered knee length shorts had a dangling silver chain. Like all the other models, he had no shoes.
The look spoke of utter relaxation, and comfort in the coming heat. The model walked with confidence down the runway pausing at the end of the runway, he allowed a full view of his figure before he walked back and reappeared a moment later with Cole on his arm.
Mika couldn’t help smiling widely as her son was presented with a large bouquet of flowers. He bowed his thanks and waved at the clapping audience before he returned backstage. She wondered why Cole had felt he needed to lie about his success to her. It hurt to know that he had kept all this from her. It really hurt.
Cole stood in a corner talking to three of his models who were hoping to keep the pieces they were wearing. He thanked them for modelling his clothes and told them to come see him at the boutique the next day. He hoped he’d remember their faces in the morning as they hurried away.
Gods he was tired.
Cole leaned on the wall behind him. Sipping his champagne, he looked around wondering where Danny was, he really wanted to escape this after-party and take Danny out.
“You’ve been hiding something from me,” his mother’s voice cut into his thoughts.
Cole slapped his free hand to his mouth as he choked on his champagne. Wiping his mouth with his palm, he turned to find his mother standing a few feet away.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” Cole asked in shock.
It wasn’t the best question, but she was supposed to be in Tokyo running the family fashion house.
“Hello to you too,” Mika Lucianne said, with a wince. She looked around the busy room. “I thought I should see what my youngest son’s been up to.”
“Oh, Mum,” Cole said and moved to hug her tightly.
Now that the shock of seeing her was gone, it was so good to see her.
She looked so beautiful in an elegant sapphire dress that flared at her waist into a full-bodied skirt that stopped just above her knee. The straps on her shoulders were made of small shining blue beads that danced with the light. Her mink black hair cut shoulder length. A few years ago, she’d been taller than he was but now he towered over her.
“I’m happy to see you.”
Cole touched a dangling blue earring and smiled as it spun into motion.
“I’m happy to see you too, but am also very angry with you.” Mika pulled back, her gaze severe, as she demanded in a hurt tone. “How could you keep this from me?”
“I’m sorry,” Cole said. “It’s a very long story…which you want to hear.” Cole added when he saw the expression on Mika’s face.
Damn Michael for this, obviously, this was about Niad Fashions, the family business. He reached out to a passing waiter and swiped a full champagne glass. He handed the glass to his mother.
“Here, have a glass of champagne.”
“I know you, Cole,” she said after a moment of silence.
Cole wondered if she did. He hoped she did because the explanations she’d come for were going to disappoint her. He wasn’t returning to Japan. Mika sipped her drink.
“Don’t worry. I’m not here to talk about Niad Fashions.”
“Are you sure, Mum?” Cole asked with a frown.
Mika smiled as she met his gaze. She shrugged, an elegant movement that sent those straps at her shoulders glittering.
“I don’t want to talk about Niad. I want to talk about you and Cole’s Fashion. I’m so proud of you.”
Cole paused, giving her a skeptical look. Cole’s Fashion was probably killing her right now. She was probably raging inside about how he needed to go back to Japan and help with the family business. He hid a smile when she kept her silence.
“Are you really sure, Mum?”
Mika nodded and sipped her champagne looking around the festive room. She took another sip and smiled at him.
“Really, Cole,” she said. “You can even show me the girl you like. The one that made you move out of your grandparent’s house.”
Cole frowned. The crowd shifted and he caught a glimpse of Danny making his way toward him. Things were always better out in the open, taking in a deep breath, he said. “Actually, about that….