"I don’t get it," Penny said. "With your body and your looks, you should have men falling all over you."
Allison wanted to change the subject, but Penny wasn’t ready to talk about anything other than Allison’s miserable dating history. She gave her tips on how to attract a man while she trimmed her hair, and when she was done, she air-kissed Allison on both cheeks and sent her on her way. Penny didn’t notice the two men waiting in the parking lot.
The agents dropped Allison off at her apartment, and she decided to give herself some time to decompress. She was tired of worrying. She had spent far too much energy stressing over Bale and Will and Brett and Stiles and her aunt and uncle. She wasn’t going to worry about Liam, either, although that was easier said than done. She prided herself on not breaking down and crying, and once she was back in her living room she reached for her new laptop. There was only one problem. It was becoming more and more difficult to escape into her work. Liam kept getting in her way, and that infuriated her.
A day later Giovanni lifted her out of her pitiful mood. She couldn’t feel sorry for herself when she was with him. Even when he was barking orders, he was fun to be around. She loved him for a lot of reasons. He was kind and generous and honorable, and most of all she loved him because he really cared and watched out for her.
He was also quite a taskmaster. She was told to be in the suite at the Hamilton at exactly four o’clock, and she didn’t dare come late. Giovanni was fanatical about punctuality. Three designers were showing their work and donating substantial amounts to a children’s fund. Allison was one of five models for Giovanni.
The setup for the show had been carefully thought out. Each designer was assigned a section of a large ballroom with double doors that opened outside to a magnificent garden. The walkway had been built up a few feet above the audience and ran the length of the garden. There were rows of chairs on either side with cameras and lights positioned everywhere. Fortunately the weather was cooperating. It was going to be a beautiful, though somewhat humid, evening.
Giovanni had been alerted that Allison had arrived and rushed to greet her. Impeccably dressed in a dark suit, he looked more like a movie star than a designer. Tall and lean with an Adonis face and dark curly hair, he could have passed for thirty but was actually in his middle fifties. She kissed him on both cheeks and then hugged him.
He held both of her hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "How are you doing?" he asked.
"I’m good," she assured him.
"Are those ghouls leaving you alone?"
"I’m ignoring them."
"You’d tell me if there were any more problems, wouldn’t you?"
"Yes, I would."
"I love you like a daughter. You know that, don’t you?"
"I love you, too."
He let go of her and began giving orders. Allison changed into a wrap, sat in one of the makeup chairs, and waited while everyone scurried around her in a controlled panic. A curtain separated the different designers who were showing previews of next summer’s collections, and Giovanni’s assistant, Peter, was making certain no one got a peek at his creations.
Giovanni had requested to be last. Allison was scheduled to model three different outfits. According to Giovanni, the showstopper was the evening gown she would wear for the finale.
The show went off without a hitch. After walking the runway twice, oblivious of the crowd and the flashing lights, Allison returned to get ready for her last appearance. She sat in the chair, her posture ramrod straight, as Giovanni’s team worked their magic and transformed her into what they declared was their greatest achievement, a compliment that didn’t hold much weight since they told her that very thing every time they got her ready for a show. Her eye makeup was a smoky gray, and her hair was down, swaying below her shoulders except for one strand that had been twisted into a thin braid and pinned into a crown on top of her head.
Once she was made up, Peter slipped the gown over her head. It was virginal white with a beaded low V-neck top. The beading cascaded down onto the gathered diaphanous silk skirt. When she walked, the fabric flowed as though she were a Greek goddess floating on air. Her curves made the gown all the more provocative with each step she took.
At last she was ready for Giovanni’s approval. He finally appeared from behind the curtain and gave her the once-over. He seemed to be taken aback by the sight of her, and then he nodded.
She stood near the double doors ready to make her entrance. Instead of blocking out the audience, this time she peeked around to look over the crowd. She was surprised by the number. Only those benefactors who had paid a steep price for a ticket were allowed to attend, but obviously crashers had gotten in somehow. They were five deep behind the last rows.