Cole stood at the white board in one corner of the backstage hall staring at the lineup of the fifteen designs that were going to be on the runway in an hour and a half. Fifteen designs, and the design he’d thought would make the finale design was without a model. He moved the runner up to the last spot and took a step back.
“Her hair shouldn’t be a problem if the head hairstylist fixes it,” his mother said coming to stand beside him. “That dress can’t be cut out of the show.”
“I don’t want to refit it,” Cole said, staring at the board thoughtfully.
His mother was right, but it was always good to consider the possibility. He looked around the large room where models were already arriving and getting started on their preparations. The hair stylists were already hard at work at their station, glancing at them—, he frowned.
“He’s not here yet.”
“I called him,” Mika said. “Don’t start scowling yet, without Yui’s stupid decision making, we were going to be on time. I cleared the schedule with him yesterday.”
“Do you realize you spend ninety percent of the time making excuses for him?” Cole asked.
He refused to dwell on that particular explosive keg.
This show was purely to impress, and that was how he’d created the designs. Each of the fifteen dresses represented a jewelry company attending their event tonight. His older brother, Antonio, had come up with the idea in order to get more investments and increase popularity with high couture jewelers.
He’d characterized each of the models using the mythical goddesses the fifteen designs represented. He started ticking the names of those who didn’t have issues in the room. Iris, Rhea, Selene, Luna, Sol, Venus, Graces, Fates, Eos, Ceres, he paused when he got to Athena.
“She’s in the bathroom,” Mika said helpfully. “Her hair is done. She’s going to makeup next.”
“I have to choose between, Gaia, Aphrodite, and Flora, one of them will open the show, the other will close. Meanwhile, we need to figure out what to do about Hera. The Swarovski jewels are on that design.”
“Michael might be able to help with the fitting, he can loan us one of his lead models,” Mika suggested. “She will understand if we have to pin it on her, she’ll know how to walk.”
“I can’t believe we’re even contemplating this.” Cole dropped the marker he held on its holder. “What the fuck is wrong with Yui? Partying all night, and showing up with a sheered head.”
Just thinking about it made him shake with anger.
Rubbing his eyes, Cole groaned when his assistant came rushing holding out a cell phone and a clipboard full of papers.
“Antonio is on the phone. I don’t know who told him about Yui, but he’s panicking. He wants to talk to you,” Miaka said, handing the clip board to Mika.
“I’ll sort this out,” Mika promised Cole as he stared at the caller ID on his phone. “Tell Antonio everything is fine, Cole, and mean it.”
Cole grimaced, walking out of the hall to the corridor where he could gain some modicum of privacy. His eyes were gritty, and he still needed to change from the loose black shirt, and soft white pants he’d worn at six in the morning. He brought the phone to his ear.
“What’s up, Antonio?”
“I have plans riding on this fashion show, Cole. I can’t handle depressing news like I’m getting while watching these representatives taking seats, ready to watch their merchandise on your designs.”
“If this is your way of showing support, it sucks,” Cole replied. His gaze on his leather sandals, he leaned on the wall and tried to come up with a solution to Yui. “It’s a small staffing problem, Michael and I will fix it.”
“You’re including Michael,” Antonio said his tone rising.
Cole closed his eyes with a wince.
Maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned Michael was helping. Everyone tended to react the same way whenever Michael was included in a crisis.
“Antonio, please, I’m sure the bar is open next door. It’s still early, why don’t you get something to calm down and let me handle this side of things. Don’t you trust me?”
“You know I trust you, but—”
“But nothing,” Cole interrupted him. “The show will go on without a hitch. I’m hanging up now.”
Cole let out a long sigh and allowed his head to drop for a moment. His confidence was lagging today. Yui was murdering him. When she had walked in, her red locks butchered by some unknown hairdresser, he’d wanted to kill her. If there had been a gun close by, he might have shot her. He hadn’t even given her a chance to explain, he’d just kicked her out of the hall. To think he’d spent the past week fitting Hera’s dress on her, reaching a hand up to rub at the back of his neck. All that work for nothing, it burned.
The double doors at the end of the corridor opened and he glanced up in time to see Savan Bovian walk in from the lobby and he wasn’t alone. The sight of the woman walking behind him had Cole’s blood pressure sky rocketing to unheard of heights. It thundered in his ears as though he was going to have a heart attack in the next minute. Hours of work, the stress of dealing with Antonio and the darned investors, the fabric issues the production department had made him go through, all of it seemed to explode in that moment.
He couldn’t have stopped it if he wanted to. The bloody wardrobe disaster couldn’t walk in here hauling that woman as though she hadn’t just ruined his perfectly planned fashion show.
“Turn around and get her out of here,” Cole said, pushing off the wall.
Cole moved to stop their progress into the large dressing room. He couldn’t help noticing that Savan held Yui’s hand tightly, his body positioned to protect her in the case Cole was to lash out. Those slender fingers that teased hair into submission so easily clenched around Yui’s—
Cole stopped that thought.
“I won’t have her in my show and that is final.”
“I can fix it,” Savan said, not letting go of Yui’s hand.
She was clearly shaking as she tried to pull away from Savan’s hold, but the punk was not letting go. Cole wished he would.
“If you move, I’ll get started and the show can go on.”
“Who do you think you are? What can you do about a woman who has no hair? You were there during the production meeting, weren’t you? Or do you only have a pretty face and no brains?”
“Don’t go there.” Savan warned standing his ground. He handed his motorcycle helmet to Yui and moved a step closer to Cole. “I said I can fix her hair to fit the theme, but you need to move so that I can get started.”
“You’re not listening,” Cole replied, his hands clenched into fists as he stared down into cool dark onyx eyes. “She’s not modeling any clothes of mine.”
“Aren’t you overreacting here,” Savan asked with a frown.
Frustration mixed in with emotions already riding him hard as his eyes helplessly followed the dance of lines on Savan’s smooth forehead. The urge to reach out and move the blond fringe away from Savan’s forehead so that he could see more of that frown annoyed him.
Stepping back, Cole turned to Yui. Her eyes were red from crying. She lowered her gaze and he scoffed. Beautiful women and their weapons, of course Savan would fall for all those tears.
“We had a deal, Yui,” he said then. “Didn’t we?”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“Your hair was supposed to be kept long for the sake of this fashion show. I especially asked you to do so, and still, you broke the deal,” he said, with a shake of his head. “That dress was to be the finale, if you wear it now, you’re going to be in the middle of the lineup. You have no idea how much it pains me to say that. The offer to be the face of Niad is also off the table. Are you still willing to stand there?”
“She is,” Savan replied with a hard tone.
Cole couldn’t help returning his gaze to dark eyes. He’d never met someone so unsettling. Savan seemed like a man caught on the verge of an event at all times. He strove to remain untouched by people and situations yet, here he was fighting for a model that had screwed up.
What did he think he was doing? Why did he care what would happen to Yui?
Her reputation was already ruined. Cutting her hair before a show was going to cause trouble for her on any jobs she thought to take in the future. Savan had to know that.
Or maybe, Cole fought the ugly need to lash out as he finished his last thought.
Were they dating?
“I’m talking to Yui,” Cole said. “I don’t understand how your answers factor into anything she does.”
“I’ve made it my business,” Savan replied. “If she doesn’t care what her position in the lineup is, are you going to let me fix her hair?”
“I don’t understand you,” Cole exploded.
It would be a good thing if Savan could fix Yui’s hair but why did he need to fight for her so valiantly? Closing the distance between them, their noses practically touching, he could breathe in Savan’s scent. A maddening mixture of mint, lavender and vanilla filled his lungs. He closed his eyes as heat simmered deliciously, until he was fully erect. His trousers got too tight and the need to pull Savan closer rose.
“You’re invading my space,” Savan said coldly.
Blinking, Cole stepped back and let out a harsh breath. It had been so long since he’d reacted to anyone this way. It felt like a betrayal.
Cole bit his lip hard in punishment.
“Go on in, at least that solves one problem. As soon as you’re done with her hair, call me, she doesn’t go on unless I approve it.”
“Yes, master,” Savan said, his tone mocking.
Savan walked around him and into the large dressing room.
Yui hurried after her knight, and Cole stood in the hallway puzzled by his own behavior. He needed this show to end, things would go back to normal and he could concentrate on something more important than his carnal thoughts. It was bad enough that he was lusting after a punk with terrible fashion sense. He let out a sigh and decided that after the show tonight he was going to have to do better than his hand in the shower.
Savan could barely breathe, his steps faltered the moment they walked in to the large dressing room. He paused, let go of Yui’s hand and took in a deep gulp of air to calm down.
This was getting unreasonable, Cole was out of his mind. Did he have to be so forceful about everything?
“Thanks,” Yui said, looking at him as though he’d just saved her from the depths of hell. “I owe you fifty, Savan.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” he replied, looking around the room.
The rest of the models were giving Yui bad looks, no doubt because she was back after having committed such a faux pas.
Savan pointed to the hair and make-up area.
“Let’s go, we don’t have much time. I still think you should have called me last night instead of allowing your mother to do this to your hair.”
Yui sighed and followed him to the line of chairs set up with bright lights shining to allow perfect lighting. She slid into an empty chair and stared at her face in the mirror while Savan put away his helmet.
“I already told you, she gets that way. I have no way of controlling it. I wish I could explain it to you.”
Yui sighed and he glanced at her with concern.
Meeting his gaze, she blushed.
“Listen, we’re all not like you, Savan. Our lives aren’t as free as yours seems to be. I have a family who depends on me. Even though I’m a super model, people think I have it all, but it’s not easy watching my mother lose her mind. What could I do?”
“You could have called me,” Savan said quietly, wondering if he really did come off as being free.
Shying away from his own problems, he focused on Yui’s hair, running his fingers through it as he planned his design.
“She didn’t have to cut the hair off. You could have used a wig. I’ve shown you how to get one on really fast.”
“It was late, and I wasn’t in a position to save my hair,” she said, shaking her head.
Savan couldn’t help marveling that she still seemed taller than him even seated. Her beauty was classic: not too pretty, but ethereal enough to be stunning. She walked the runway as if she owned the entire world. Her confidence was inspiring, and if you didn’t know her past and her personal life, one might mistake Yui for having it all.
“Next time, call me before you go see her. You have my private number, don’t you?” Savan demanded, forgiving her.
To be truthful, he’d forgiven her the moment he’d driven up to Niad and found her crying seated on the curb. She’d looked so miserable, remembering his own issues earlier; he hadn’t had the heart to yell.
Picking up a wrap, he put it around her shoulders and pushed her chair closer to the mirrors and the counter of products put there by his assistants. Smiling at Yui, she let out a relieved sigh.
“You should have seen the monster’s face when I walked in. I thought I was done for.”
“What have I told you about playing with fire?” Savan asked.
The day before, he’d spent a considerable amount of time moisturizing her long hair before he’d turned it red for her role as Hera. Staring at the sheared locks now, he could hardly believe it was gone.
“I mourn your hair. It was beautiful.”
“Savan,” Yui said, looking at him through the mirrors. “Are you sure I can’t make you date me?”
Sinking his fingers into her hair, he wiggled them making her smile before he spoke.
“I’m as gay they come, my love, and proud of it. A hug and a night out getting stinking drunk is the best I can do for you. First, we have to get through the next two hours.”
Thankfully, he usually planned for most types of problems when taking a job like this. Glancing at his assistants, he was happy to see that only two models remained. His most talented stylist, a young man named Kaito was busy working on Gaia’s hair.
Her colors were all shades of green, her blond mane of hair tumbling down her back in large barrel curls. Kaito was weaving green pieces of fake human hair into the blond to compliment her makeup.
Sali, his other hairstylist, was busy fitting an intricate flower piece of daisies for Flora, the goddess of flowers. The other twelve models were done, and wearing their dresses. The excitement was intense as with each minute, the show drew near.
Dressers rushed from one model to another, the fashion producer was ordering his minions around, and there was Cole, juggling incessant questions from photographers, and dealing with issues on the dresses.
Happy that things were moving along, Savan got to work on Yui. He retrieved packages of fake red hair from a stash in a box. He laid the packages out on the table, and got to work, blocking out everyone else in the room. Using hair glue, he fixed the track lines in Yui’s hair. He worked steadily until he’d filled her whole head with red fake hair.
Running his fingers through the mass of hair that had accumulated down Yui’s back, Savan nodded his satisfaction.
Now that she had long hair again, they were going to get started on Hera’s hair design. Her crown was to be a pearlescent red crown that would fit at the top of her head.
Grabbing the red and gold glittering string that Kaito handed him, Savan started weaving it through some of the hair on her right side, while Kaito did the left. He took Kaito’s side holding them together on the back of Yui’s head and tied the glittering string around the twists. He reached for the crown made of scales polished to a red pearlescent shine and arranged it to fit in the twists so that there would be no chance of falling or slipping off. He used a roller to give her hair the barrel curls that everyone else wore.
“How much longer,” Mika asked as Savan did the last curls.
He turned off the roller and put it in its holder.
Mika moved around him to look at Yui and gasped.
Savan glanced at Yui’s reflection in the mirror and smiled in satisfaction. Forcing fake hair into compliance was easier than actual hair. The full-bodied barrel curls were perfect, and the color was a vibrant red that complimented her warm skin. She seemed out of this world. Yui moved closer to the mirror, and the lights captured the glittering string in her hair perfectly.
“Cole wanted to approve it,” Savan said, flexing his arms above his head.
He glanced around the room, noting that the models had moved to the waiting area where Cole was inspecting them. The make-up artists were making adjustments and the dressers were arranging fabric on the dresses. Catching the eye of one of the nicer ladies who did make up, Savan waved her over.
“I’ll get her dresser,” Mika said with a secret smile.
“Savan,” Yui said, when the make-up crew surrounded her.
He paused to look at her.
“No problem,” Savan waved at her and motioned for his crew to start packing up. Finding Mika at the clothing racks, he watched as she opened the bag holding Yui’s dress. “Do you need anything else from me?”
“Yui was last,” Mika answered.
She was staring at the dress, and frankly so was he. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. The crystals sewn into the bodice flashed in the light, like glittering ice on a bed of lush red silk.
“You won’t stay for the end?”
“I don’t need to. I’ll leave two stylists for later,” Savan replied.
“Fine,” Mika said, looking at him. “Thank you, I know it’s been trying dealing with my son. You did well.”
“I suppose,” Savan glanced at the tall man talking to a photographer.
One last look, before he walked away. Drinking in the sight of broad shoulders, encased in a pristine white shirt, slender hips that moved on to long legs in black slacks. That black curling hair that spoke of his Italian heritage. Cole laughed and Savan couldn’t help the twitch on his own lips. The man had an infectious beautiful laugh.
“Savan,” Mika cut into his thoughts and his gaze moved to her swiftly. “You were leaving.”
Her reminder sobered him.
He couldn’t lust after people he couldn’t have.
Nodding curtly, he turned and walked away from her, and him.
“Yui is closing,” Mika said, when she found Cole at the runway entrance.
Cole waved off the second last model, and turned to look at her puzzled.
“Gaia closes, we talked about this. If Yui is done, she should be right here.”
Cole turned to inspect the two models standing with him.
“Trust me, Cole,” Mika replied. “Yui will close.”
Not wanting to get into an argument, Cole frowned and was about to take his mother’s hand to pull her to the side, when Yui appeared. She was perfect. The dress and the hair were just as he’d imagined it on paper.
She stopped beside Mika, her left hand on her stomach. She was shaking with nerves. She glanced at him nervously, and he smiled.
“Yui goes last,” Cole said, knowing a good showstopper when he saw one. “Where is he?”
“He left,” Mika replied.
Cole frowned and watched as his mother walked away without further explanation.
What did she mean Savan had left?
“I know where he goes after work,” Yui said, her gaze repentant. “The least I can do is pay him back, right? I’ll give you the address when we’re done.”
“Give it to me now,” Cole said, handing her his cell phone.
He had a list of questions for his head hair stylist.
First on the list, was what kind of man left a job without a single word?