"Cassie, where are you? All the girls are already here and in the make up room. You know Ellie. She doesn't tolerate tardiness!" His voice sounded distant over the hubbub of people in the background.
"I'm just on my way. Don't worry, I will be there on time."
"Alright. Be quick."
As the line went dead, another taxi came into my view.
Before the car could come near me, I jumped on its way.
Kicking on the break, the taxi screeched to a halt a feet away from me. With eyes filled with horror, the driver gaped at me.
Hesitantly, he nodded.
"Cool! Now let's go!"
Once I was inside the car, a sigh left me.
After nagging Chad for months, he finally managed to find a perfect event for me to show my modeling skills. A newbie fashion designer in the city was holding a fashion show to display her designs before the world. She was looking for investors or a deal to work with some top textile companies. Some shark investors would attend the event tonight. It was a big night for her career.
And mine too if I can impress her.
I had to. It was my dream to be a successful model. To have my face on one of those billboards and magazines. I had put my studies aside to concentrate on my dream for the last two years. Since I was sixteen.
Too young to ignore studies and choose modeling, I know.
But I didn't have any choice. I needed money. And fame would bring it. The money I needed so much to pay my so-called mother's debts and for my expenses. And also to fulfill my dreams.
And modeling was the only way I could achieve it. Chad, a close friend of mine, had introduced me to this world two years ago. Gradually, I fell in love with this profession.
And now, it has become my way to get what I wanted.
As soon as I reached the venue, Chad met me in the hallway.
"Finally! Come on, Ellie didn't come upstairs yet. Now let's go and get ready. You're already late!"
"Sorry, got stuck in traffic."
Liar. You left the bar late.
I didn't have any choice. I had to serve that old rich regular customer until he left. I couldn't complain though. He gave generous tips.
"No worries. Now get your ass ready on time. And mind it, you have to shine like a star tonight. I want everyone's eyes just on you out there. You know, especially those hot naughty business men?"
His pierced eyebrows wiggled at me, ushering me in the makeup room.
I nodded. "Oh yeah, I'm so ready to steal the show!" Except the business men part.
Calm down, Cassie! Over excitement always landed you in trouble.
At the sound of practiced laughter and chatters, I glanced around the huge makeup room. All the girls who were selected for the show were busy with their dresses and looks. Some were already working on their makeup, while some still checked out the gowns they were about to don.
All of them looked like the typical classy, nicely groomed models.
Looking down, I glanced at the heels in my hands, instead of my feet. The plain t-shirt and faded jeans. Not to forget the messy bun on the top of my head.
Well, in my defense, I was late and didn't have time to work on my appearance. And I couldn't run after those taxis with those heels on.
"Are you kidding me? Is she the barbie doll you were talking about, Chad?" A girl snorted from beside the rack of gowns. At her right, two more beauties stood.
The one in the middle, I recognized her. Charlotte. A rising face in the industry and Elezabeth's second cousin.
I kept a straight face as her blue eyes swept over me. Her too sharp nose scrunched.
"Yes, she is the one. Now why don't you shut up and do your own work?" Rolling his eyes, he took me to the gowns.
Working in this industry for years as a photographer and also as a hair stylist as his part time job, more like a hobby, he was acquainted with some well known faces. And Elizabeth just happened to be his good friend from college.
I was just lucky that even though he was four years older than me, we hit it off from the first day he came to the bar I worked at.
"Look, aren't they just gorgeous?" He showed me the dresses. The sparkle in his brown eyes told me he would love to try some. But unfortunately couldn't.
My own mouth parted at the view. Roaming my hand over one of them, I felt the material. It felt smooth against my palm. Some were sparkling with stones that looked like tiny diamonds where some were adorned with colorful mesh.
They were extraordinary. No doubt Elizabeth was going to be famous after tonight.
"Of course, she will. She is gifted, truly. If she wasn't with that hot temper, she would be the favorite person of mine," Chad said.
I blinked. I said that out loud?
"Thank God, she has a temper. Because I want that 'favorite' spot exclusively in your life forever."
At my wink, he chortled.
"Yeah. Though in my opinion, it would be really easy for her to grab some investors with loaded pockets. But she is focusing on grabbing De Sylvano's eye. And that, let me tell you, isn't an easy thing to do," the girl from earlier commented.
"Next to impossible. Ellie is good, but he only wants the best. Only a couple of the top designers in the country got the luck to work with him." The other chick beside Charlotte shook her head, twirling her red strand. "She got lucky that her father is a family friend of his and after requesting him for months, he agreed to attend the event tonight. But she shouldn't hold high hopes."
I noticed the sparkle in Charlotte's eyes at the mention of this Sylvano guy.
"But trust me, even if he doesn't hire her as one of his designers, his mere presence in the show would bring her huge limelight. After all, he is the shark of this industry. His companies are ruling the textile world. Only his name is enough to make one successful," Charlotte said, her tone sultry.
Whoever this guy was, she was definitely after him.
I nudged Chad. "Who is this shark guy?"
He let out a sigh.
"A man who can either make one's life or destroy it completely. Depends on people's luck and… his mood."
I frowned. "Mood?"
He waved me off. "Nothing. Let's not talk about that hot devil from hell. You better stay away from him seeing the way you attract trouble wherever you go. Now here is your dress, you're going to wear it tonight."
A person who ruined someone's life on the basis of his moods?
What kind of psychopath was he?
Blinking, I looked at the gown Chad handed me over.
A sleeveless blue mermaid gown.
I gasped. "It's beautiful, Chad!"
"I especially requested Ellie to select this one for you. Your honey blonde hair would look gorgeous with this dress! Just like Cinderella!"
My stomach did flip flops at the mere thought of doing the ramp walk wearing this gown.
"Now go and get changed into it! I will do your hair today!"
Nodding, as I was about to turn around with the heavy gown in my hand, it was suddenly snatched away from me.
Frowning, I turned to the person.
Blue eyes held my gaze.
"Charlotte, what are you doing?" asked Chad.
A nonchalant look laced on her features.
"I think this one would look better on me than her. So I'm taking this."
"But you were already given a gown. This is not for you."
Her gaze sent a look of disgust over my body again. "Unfortunately, our height and size are almost the same. But of course, you hold no chance before me in the looks category. So it doesn't matter. I like it more than the one they selected for me. So this is mine. You can choose something else."
My fists clenched. Was this bitch insulting me? Cassandra Brooks?
I might not be rich like her. But I didn't tolerate disrespect and ignorance.
"Listen you! You are not here to do shopping that you will get to take whatever the hell you want. We are all here to work. So act professionally and wear what you were given. Give me my gown back!" My tone came out as a snap.
All the eyes in the room were glued on us.
"Charlotte, you can't do this. Ellie wouldn't be happy…"
"Shopping or not, I take what I like. And I liked this one, so it's mine now. Sorry, you aren't getting it back, honey." She cut Chad off.
"I said give me that gown this Instant or else…"
As I went to advance her with my hands itching to scratch her plastic filled face off, Chad pulled me back.
"Cassie, no! Don't!"
"What's happening here?" A sharp voice took everyone's attention to the door.
With shoulder length brown hair and a petite body, Elezabeth had a crease between her perfectly arched brows.
"Uh, Ellie!" Charlotte started. Her tone came out sweet like honey. "Nothing, I chose a dress for myself and she…"
"A bitch is showing her bitchiness," I hissed out, glaring holes at her.
While Ellie, along with everyone else gaped at me, Chad's grip tightened on my arm.
"Watch your mouth, Cassie! Do you want to get yourself in trouble tonight?" Chad warned in my ear, before turning to Ellie. "Let me explain. Charlotte took Cassie's dress because she liked it more than the one she was given."
"More like snatched," I interrupted.
Chad's scowl soon landed on me.
"And when my friend here asked Charlotte to return it, she started to utter mean words to her. Now you tell me, what kind of behavior is that?"
I was surprised how calm he was. I should really learn this trait from him. But I knew, I couldn't even if I wanted to.
Letting out a sigh, Ellie rubbed her temple. "Char, you know you can't just do that. You have to follow the rules."
"And you know me. I liked this dress. So if you want me to be a part of your show, then don't ruin my mood, Ellie." Charlotte crossed her arms over her chest.
At her threat, her second cousin seemed to surrender. With slumped shoulders, she turned to Chad.
"I'm sorry, Chad. She isn't gonna listen. I can see their sizes are almost the same. Why don't you give your friend Char's gown? That one is also amazing."
She didn't even look at me. As if I didn't exist in the room.
With my enthusiasm dying, my temper was rising high. But I had to keep my lips sealed. I needed this show.
"I know. But the color of that one wouldn't go well with her amber eyes." Chad's lips pursed. "Do you mind if I get something for her from your collection from last month? The ones you couldn't display because of some issues? These are downstairs in your studio, right?"
She nodded. "Yes, of course. You can go and pick whichever you want."
Giving her assistant the key to her studio, she left to see the arrangements.
"Cassie, you wait here. Let me get a dress for you. And don't worry, you will have the best. I will make sure of it," he promised, turning around to follow the assistant. "And stay out of trouble!"
I rolled my eyes at his warning. But at the same time, I was grateful that he was doing this much for me.
When I looked back at Charlotte, she let out a scoff before walking away with my dream gown. Her minions trailed behind her.
How I wished I could wring her neck!
Calm down, Cassie! Take some deep breaths and focus on the show. Violation wouldn't take you anywhere.
A sigh left me.
I hoped tonight would go smoothly without any other drama.
"God, I knew you would look like a princess in this piece. It's bringing out the color of your eyes and hair so well," awed Chad, looking at me through the mirror.
His expression reflected on my face as I roamed my hands on the dress. The shimmery red princess gown that flowed beautifully down my waist to my toes. The sparkling stones and heavy boutique work over my chest and on the flare made it look like a piece from heaven.
It was a cold shoulder gown with a sweetheart neckline that showed the right amount of my cleavage.
Chad left my hair down with light curls at the end. And the dark red lipstick and nude makeup completed my look.
"No one would be able to look away from you tonight, my doll!"
I grinned at him, before wrapping my arms around his neck. "Thank you so much, Chad! You're truly the best. I don't know what I would do without you!"
Letting out a laugh, he patted my back. "Ok now. Don't get emotional and don't cling. I want you to be picture perfect."
Once he pulled away, the louds music began outside. The claps and distance hubbub of people followed behind.
"The show has started. Now hurry up! You're second last.
With my heart thumping wildly down my chest, I nodded and let him guide me to the back stage. Excitement rushed through my veins. But at the same time my hands and feet were cold out of nervousness.
My first ramp walk in a place filled with famous people.
I just hoped I wouldn't break my legs in those killer pencil heels.
As soon as I reached the backstage, I found Charlotte.
With a frown etched between her brows, she watched herself in a small mirror and cursed at her hair stylist for not curling her hair properly even though it looked perfect.
"I need to fix it!" Hissing out, just as she turned, she stopped in her tracks. Her eyes widened as they fell on me.
Soon, I could feel other's gazes on me as well.
"What? Want to take this one too?" I raised a brow.
Chad let out a snicker, as well as some other girls around us.
Anger flashed across her orbs while I held my chin high, challenging her.
Molding her features into a composed one, she then looked away and started to walk to head back to the make up room.
And as I thought to completely focus on the show, just when she was about to pass me, her shoulder bumped into mine with a force.
A force that threw me off balance.
But thankfully, I took the support of the wall beside us. The pain in my left ankle due to losing the balance made me press my lips tight.
"What the hell, Charlotte!" Chad snapped, coming to my side.
Before I could say anything to her, casting a smirk in my way, she walked away.
I gritted my teeth, standing straight.
Just let the night pass. I swear I would make her pay.
"Hey? You alright?"
I nodded at Chad, calming my breathing down.
Ellie rushed on the spot. "Are you guys ready? The ramp walk will start in a minute."
At positive responses, she let out a stressed smile.
"Alright. Just give your best. Remember tonight can make your entire career if you shine out there. There are hundreds of famous faces, billionaire investors who can also hire you as the face of their companies. And give me a break too." A chuckle. But soon seriousness took over her face. "Especially Mr. De Sylvano. He is going to be here anytime now. You guys don't know how lucky you are that he is going to be here and watch you."
I didn't know why, but a shiver ran down my spine as she uttered the word 'watch'.
From everyone's mouth, he seemed to be like a king of the city. And walking on the stage with him watching me sent unwanted nervous butterflies in my stomach.
Chad said he ruined people's career on the basis of his mood.
So what if he wouldn't like my ramp walk? What if…
I shook my head. There would be fifteen more girls out there on the stage. He wouldn't even notice you.
So don't think anything negative. Everything will be fine.
"Alright, Samantha? You ready?" asked Ellie.
Nodding, Samantha, who would be first to go out, straightened her posture, kept a hand on her waist and then walked out on the stage.
Loud applause rang across the place along with the loud music. And just like that, one after another went out and walked on the ramp with utmost confidence and poise.
Soon, it was my turn to go.
I gulped. My feet went cold. But I was ready to go.
"You ready, Cassie?"
The butterflies in my tummy and the slight pain in my ankle wouldn't be able to hold me back. Tonight was my night.
"Go and steal the show!" Chad exclaimed.
With my heart racing, I held my head. As new music started, I revealed myself before the uncountable pairs of eyes. While the cheering audience stayed in shadow, the spotlight was focused on me.
Come on, Cassie! Show your spark!
Spreading a smile on my dark red lips, I let myself walk ahead. The huge round of applause and cheering just raised my confidence higher.
Reaching the end of the ramp, I let myself twirl in the gorgeous gown. As the flashes of cameras fell on me, I felt I was on the top of the world.
Suddenly I felt something burning my skin. A weird sensation.
Every pair of eyes was on me, but still, I felt like I was being watched. Even though it didn't make any sense.
Roaming my eyes around the audience, I halted on a person. On the right side of the stage, in a secluded area, as if a VIP place, sat a man in the shadows. Some tall men stood straight beside him.
I could feel his unmoving gaze on me. The way he sat, it looked as if the whole world belonged to him. While the crowd was clapping, the music blared, a shiver ran down my spine.
Quickly removing my gaze, I turned around and walked back inside. And just the girl after me was done, I went out again as the models walked out one by one in a line. To do the ramp walk for one last time.
I didn't dare to look in that man's direction. For some reason, the aura around him, even in the shadows, made me nervous.
With the burning sensation still present there, I did my walk effortlessly.
Reaching the end again, the girls parted into two lines. Some walked back to the entrance from the right side of the stage, some went from the left edge. And as the girl before me went to the left, I took the right.
Each step I took was filled with confidence.
No one could make me stop tonight. Not even a VIP creepy man…
Suddenly something happened in my left heel, as if something moved from its place. And the next thing I knew was I lost my balance and with a shriek, I fell off the high stage.
Gasps from the crowd rang in the ambience.
One moment I was falling, and the next moment a pair of arms caught me in them. Strong ones.
My face collided against a chest as hard as steel. With my heart in my throat, my fists instinctively clutched the material of his coat and a heady masculine crisp cologne hit my nostrils, surrounding my senses.
The crowd suddenly went silent. Though the music didn't stop.
The show must go on.
Slowly leaning away from the warmth, I looked up.
My heart skipped as soon as my gaze met with a pair of icy blue eyes.
Due to the shadow, I couldn't make out his whole features. From the flashing lights on the stage, I could only see his left profile. Sharp angular jaw, strong nose and thick arched brows followed by that pair of icy blue eyes. They were so cold yet so intense that for a moment, I forgot to breathe.
With his rough hands holding me firmly against his chest, the way those dark gaze roamed my features slowly and steadily, I gulped. But for some reason, I couldn't tear my eyes off them either.
At Chad's voice, I blinked and turned away from those hypnotizing eyes. Oddly, his grip on me tightened, as if not liking the move.
"God! Are you alright?" Chad asked, rushing to the VIP area.
Wiggling in that man's arms, I stood on my feet and instantly made some distance from him.
Was he gonna hold me in his arms forever? Because it seemed like he wasn't in a mood to put me down.
"Yeah, I'm fine."
He let out a sigh of relief. "What happened? How did you fall?"
I shrugged, ignoring the way my skin burned under a certain person's stare. His eyes still watched me like a creep, without moving away.
My heart thumped down my chest. Blood rushed to my cheeks for some weird reasons.
"My left heel broke," I answered.
"But how?" he asked. "Anyways, let's go inside and talk." Wrapping his arms around my shoulders, he then turned to that man. "Thank you so much for saving my girl, Mr. De Sylvano. A-and I'm sorry for what happened. Hope you didn't mind."
My eyes widened.
My eyes snapped to him. And as expected, they were set on me.
No wonder he was in the VIP zone.
Before Chad could say anything else, Elizabeth rushed to the spot. And using the chance, Chad threw a polite nod towards Mr. De Sylvano, grabbed my hand and guided me away from him.
Away from his unmoving gaze.
Licking my lips, I let Chad drag me out of there.
I didn't dare to look back.
And throughout the whole time, I felt his gaze on me.
Did I just offend the psychopath royalty of the city?