Page 42 of Buying the Bride

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Nerves crawl in my gut. “So I’ll be just standing there with people looking at me?” I guess that’s what modeling is, but doing it in a window somehow seems really different than walking down a runway.

“Yes, that’s the idea. A living mannequin who can change her pose and make the clothes come to life. And you’ll be modeling day and evening counterparts. Convertible clothes that a woman can spend the whole day in.” She leads me inside. “Oh, and before I forget, here’s your pay rate. I’ll need your bank details for direct deposit.”

I look down at the piece of paper that she’s handed me. I struggle to keep my jaw from dropping. “Are you serious?” To a lot of people, three thousand dollars might not seem like a lot of money, but it’s going to save my ass. I’ll be able to pay my rent and my bills.

May laughs, “Yes, we’re serious. If Mr. Xellum likes your performance, I’m sure you’ll be up for more jobs. Once he takes a liking to someone, there’s always work.” She pushes me into the make-up chair with a firm hand on my shoulder.

“If that’s true, then why was he looking for someone new?”

She smiles. “Mr. Xellum can be a bit…avant-grade with his shows. Not everyone is up for it. This one is tame by his usual standards.”

I nod, making a note to look up his other work when I get home this evening. I was too nervous to look at much last night because I would imagine myself doing those crazy things and it didn’t help my nerves. I send up a prayer that the things he has planned aren’t too out there for me. If the money is this good for every job, it could really change my life.

May rushes away, and I’m left in the room with a bunch of strangers. A bunch of strangers whose job it is to make me perfect for this exhibition. The make-up artist goes to work on me, and over the next thirty minutes, I transform from someone ordinary into a dark-eyed woman with sexy, curly hair and shiny lips.

Never in my life have I looked this good, and when I tell the make-up artist, she laughs.

“I don’t know about that,” a deep voice says from behind me. “I imagine you look this good all the time.”

Andrew Xellum is standing in the doorway, that same hungry look on his face as he takes in my hair and make-up. He glances at my crew. “I need to show her the space.”

My make-up artist nods. “She’s ready; everything but touch-ups.”

“Excellent. Delia, if you’ll come with me please.”

I stand and follow him. We go down a narrow hallway and into a windowed space covered in curtains. I recognize it as the inside of the Prow Art Space, the tiny glass gallery on the very tip of the flatiron building. The ground is covered in gauze and fluffy fabric that makes it look like we’re walking on a cloud, and I imagine that it will look that way from the outside as well. Just like May described, there’s a circular platform. Andrew—can I call him Andrew if it’s only in my head?—holds out his hand. “Up here, please.”

An electric jolt goes through me as our skin makes contact. I can feel that touch through my entire body and damn, does it feel good. Suddenly I’m trying to remember the last time I was touched by a man, even casually. It’s been way too long if a touch on the hand is making my body feel this way. Or maybe it’s him. Holy shit, I’m staring at our joined hands and this is my new boss. I blush furiously and he gives me a smirk that makes it seem like he knows exactly what that skin-on-skin contact did to me.

“You’ll be up here the entire exhibition. You won’t have to move. The curtains will rise, and you’ll be in the first outfit. After 10 minutes, the crew will come in and convert the look from day to night. That will be in full view; it’s the whole point. The clothes are designed to change tone quickly, and you won’t ever be exposed. After the next ten minutes, the curtains fall and the crew will help you do a quick change before they rise again. Pretty simple.”

I clear my throat. “Do you want me to stand still? Change poses?”

It’s such a basic question, something a more experienced model should know, that I almost expect him to laugh. I’m desperate for any clue on how to do this and keep down the latte that I had earlier. But he doesn’t laugh. He considers, stepping back and taking me in, even though I’m only in my tank top and jeans. “You can move,” he says after a moment of silence. “Just not too fast. I’d say maybe two or three poses per look. That will give you time for a couple of revolutions for each pose.”

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