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Home > Avoiding Intimacy (Avoiding #2.5)

Avoiding Intimacy (Avoiding #2.5)
Author: K.A. Linde

CHAPTER 1

PRESENT

Chyna lounged back in her chaise, soaking up the remaining afternoon rays from the hot Italian sun. Her olive-toned skin was at home in its natural habitat and had darkened considerably over the course of the last month and a half. Milan had treated her well, and she adored it here. She had grown up in New York City —fashion week, the MET, the Upper East Side, Central Park—but even she had to admit that as much as she loved the city, Milan was just something else.

Her Italian tour was nearing an end, and soon the designer label she had been modeling for all summer would no longer need her services. She was reluctant to move from the penthouse they had provided overlooking the Via Montenapoleone, Milan’s most illustrious shopping district. She would miss the private beach in Genoa where she would take jaunts to the coast with Giovanna, Ravenna, and Brigitte. Most of all, what really surprised her was that she would miss the work.

Modeling ran through her veins. Most believed that all you needed were long legs and a pretty face to be an effective model, but there was so much more to it than that. It was truly an art form that she had mastered. Who knew all those years of getting plastered at her mother’s shoots would pay off in the long run?

“Chyna, the sun is almost down,”

Brigitte whined.

So, maybe she wouldn’t miss her.

“I know, Bridge.” Chyna used the nickname just to annoy her. She was so French sometimes.

Brigitte wrinkled up her tiny nose at the comment and swung her honey blonde hair over her shoulder. “Fine. You do your own hair and makeup for the Glam Ball. Marco will not be kept waiting.”

Chyna sighed as Brigitte walked away.

Marco was yet another reason she should stay in Italy, and he was also the biggest reason to leave. Marco was…everything.

As the head proprietor of Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the nonprofit organization in charge of Milan Fashion Week, he practically owned the city, which meant that he owned her, too.

Stretching out her long lean legs, Chyna picked up her dirty martini and downed the remaining contents. She plucked the string of olives out of the glass and carried them with her to the exit.

Tonight was going to be an interesting night to say the least.

*** Glam Ball was an annual event for Milan’s high-end fashion clientele, and Marco had played host to the event for the past four years. As his lucky number five rolled around, in true Marco fashion, he had way overdone himself. Chyna had stumbled across a bill for the French- imported champagne alone and had cringed. The number had actually made her cringe.

The pièce de résistance of the entire glorious occasion though had to be utter perfection. He needed something better and more spectacular than he had ever had before. And, he had never had Chyna before.

When she had found out that Marco was using her, an American, as the centerpiece for the ball, she could barely contain her excitement. She had never wanted anything more in her life. He had picked her out single-handedly in front of the entire group of exhibition models, and it had taken all of her self-control to not burst into tears right there in front of him.

She hadn’t had the same self-control when she had returned to the penthouse. After only two weeks of modeling for him, he had chosen her. It had almost seemed too good to be true. Almost.

She and Marco began private lessons and photo shoots shortly thereafter. The amount of time she put into her modeling that next month would have made her mother proud, if she did that sort of thing.

Chyna didn’t care about the other girls’ jealousy. The business wasn’t built on friendship; it was built on taking advantage of the opportunity that lay in front of you.

So, she spent hour after hour locked in a room with him, his camera, and his favorite piano composition. She practiced pouting her lips just so, making her eyes give off five-hundred different meanings with a glance, swishing her hips, adjusting her hands to perfection, fluffing and blowing out her long black hair. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to extract it out of her through the camera lens.

She should have expected the turn it took. She should have seen it all for what it really was.

Chyna shook her head as she entered her closet and stripped down out of her bathing suit. It hardly mattered what she wore to the Ball itself. The models would change at the venue into the handcrafted outfits designed for the event. A limo would be here soon enough to whisk them to La Scala Theatre, the world-renowned opera house in the heart of Milan. Chyna didn’t even want to know the lengths he had gone to in order to acquire the sixteenth-century Italian theatre for the evening.

“Chyna,” Giovanna cooed in her thick Italian accent, “the limo has arrived.”

Chyna certainly wouldn’t miss this about Milan. She had never had a roommate in her life and certainly not three. The fact that they could just waltz into her room at any given time—like right now when she was completely nak*d— irritated the shit out of her. Didn’t they have any common decency? As it turned out, no, they didn’t. Apparently, walking around nude was commonplace for models, especially European models. She didn’t particularly have anything against it, but she preferred to choose when people saw her nak*d.

“Coming,” Chyna told her. She picked out a pair of fit dark-wash jeans and a plain, white, V-cut T-shirt with four-inch pumps. She would be dolled up soon enough.

Giovanna was the polar opposite of Chyna. She was blonde, blue-eyed, and pale with the quintessential sweet and innocent vibe. She did, however, manage to look like a complete and total hooker any time she dressed herself. She wore a pleated miniskirt that failed to cover her ass, a black lace bustier, and six-inch heeled booties. A white blazer hung from her finger, but Chyna knew she would never cover herself up that much.

Brigitte had gone for simple as well with a white tank tucked into high-waist shorts and Hermès sandals. It had been rumored that she would be the spokesmodel for their next collection.

On the other hand, Ravenna just looked fierce no matter what she wore. As much as Chyna liked Ravenna, she was a certified bitch, who was technically too big to be one of Marco’s girls. But, she had been a favorite two years ago, and she was so spectacular on camera. With her fiery, dark red hair, deep compelling eyes, and uncontrollable curves, it was hard to resist her.

The foursome exited the penthouse, and they were whisked away in the black stretch limo. As they approached La Scala Theatre, Chyna realized how much she was dreading the coming evening. She had wanted to be the centerpiece of the show so desperately, and now that it was here, she was reconsidering. She wasn’t nervous exactly, but everything had evolved so quickly that it was completely out of her control. She wasn’t sure how to get it all back without doing something drastic, and that wasn’t a particularly appealing option.

The drive was shorter than she would have liked, and soon, they were before the grand structure. Chyna had been here once before as a child. Her parents had been together then, and the ballet had been stunning. She had tried her hand at ballet when she returned home, but she became easily bored when she didn’t look like the prima ballerinas overnight. Staring up at the gorgeous castle-like building, her memories made her wish that she had stuck with it.

Chyna followed the other girls out of the limo, and in an instant, Giselle, Marco’s personal assistant, was before them. She was all legs with sky-high heels and a too short dress accentuating her very best feature.

Diamonds glittered everywhere on her—strings of them around her neck, giant round ones in her ears, rings covering her fingers, and some even peeked out of her hair piece that was placed carefully in her dark brown hair. It appeared diamonds had actually been sewn into the glittering bodice of her dress. The rules about moderation had never applied to her.

“Come along. Come along,” she said, not halting to see if they followed.

The girls kept up with her easy pace, following her to an enormous door leading into the building. A flurry of activity was already underway when they found the dressing area.

Two dozen models were being fit into an array of clothing sets for the fashion show. A few models were walking around in flowing designer gowns. Several were wearing glittering lingerie, tastefully constructed for the evening. Still others were helped into animal print bodysuits and barely there bathing suits. Makeup artists were painting faces to match, accent, and highlight the garments. Blow dryers went off around the room as hairstylists brushed and sprayed their locks into submission. If Chyna didn’t know better, she would have thought it was all chaos.

“Brigitte, Ravenna, Giovanna, go to hair and makeup,” Giselle snapped.

“Chyna, Marco would like to see you in his office.”

The girls were already eyeing her suspiciously, but Chyna ignored them and followed Giselle. It wasn’t uncommon for her to be called into private sessions with Marco, and they knew it. Still, after three weeks of one-on-one attention, her stomach still clenched at the possibilities.

Powerful men hardly unnerved her—she had grown up with one after all—but Marco was different somehow. He had the authority to give her everything she wanted, but more importantly, he had the power to take it all away.

“Marco has had your costume moved back here,” Giselle explained as soon as they were out of earshot.

“Wonderful,” she said dryly.

“Are you not grateful?” Giselle snapped.

Chyna should have known better than to act like this around Giselle. She would have killed for the opportunity to model for Marco, but Giselle just didn’t have it.

“More than grateful,” Chyna said, keeping the lilt out of her voice.

Giselle sneered anyway.

Chyna wanted to tell her how unattractive that was. She would have been able to do that if it had been Alexa.

“Shit,” she muttered under her breath.

“Yes?” Giselle asked, raising her eyebrows at the profanity.

“Nothing.”

Chyna hadn’t called Alexa in over a week. What a shitty best friend . She had been so wrapped up in her modeling and Milan and Marco that it had slipped her mind. She would be sure to call her soon.

What was the time difference to Atlanta again? She scrunched up her nose. She was bad at these kinds of things.

Whatever. She would make it work.

“Hey, do I have time for a phone call?”

“What?” Giselle demanded.

“Do I have time?”

“Certainly not. You’re late as it is.”

Chyna sighed. Another time then . She felt bad, but she pushed the thoughts aside.

She would call her when she could. Alexa had never expected more than that. Plus, she was probably in a la-la land with her Ramsey. She just hoped that Alexa was avoiding his bitch sister and Jack—well, that was a given. Though, at least Chyna understood that maddening obsession… kind of.

“Here you are, darling,” Giselle said, pointing at a door labeled Director.

“Grazie.”

Chyna thanked her gratefully.

Giselle’s smile quirked at Chyna’s clipped Italian accent, but she acknowledged her no less before departing. “Prego.”

Chyna turned toward the rustic door with a solid gold placard and knocked.

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