(Style Series, #1)
Publication date: April 21st 2022
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+, Romance
My own fashion label. The shiny new sign above the door means everything. My dream. My life. Worth every gruelling hour I’ve spent making it happen. Nothing can stop me now. Not the fear. Not the nightmares. Not my sad excuse for a love life. And certainly not Beckett Northcott, the sexy English professor who wouldn’t know a fitted shirt if it slapped him in the face and who has flannel down to an art form.
I don’t date for a very good reason, and yet Beck makes me want to break every damn one of my rules. But with my debut at Fashion Week looming, my business in trouble, and Beckett Northcott peeling open my terrified heart to a future I’ve never imagined, the threads of my carefully woven life are unravelling at the seams.
I could walk away. Or I could take a chance that Beck and I might just have what it takes to fashion a new life, together. A fresh design from a new cloth.
Shayne extolled the virtues of his lookbook in painful detail, careful to point out all the high-profile designers he’d modelled for. The message was clear. If I wanted Flare, my shiny new label, to succeed in its first appearance at Fashion Week, I needed him, front and centre. I didn’t even have an open call going. He’d just arrived on the doorstep of Flare and assumed I’d be interested, no, gagging to see him. I’d have choked on the sheer audacity if it wasn’t for the fact he had a point.
I did need something, but it certainly wasn’t his or anybody else’s bullshit.
My gaze flicked over his shoulder to where my shop assistant stood with his lips flattened against the glass, his tongue darting obscenely in and out. Kip made no bones about his gutter-dragging opinion of the excruciatingly beautiful but arrogant-as-fuck model, and I made a fair attempt at swallowing my laugh. But the resulting half snort almost blew the show.
Shayne spun in his seat, but you had to be quicker than that to catch Kip Grantham napping—his attention locked on his steamer as he pressed my new season feather-collared jackets fresh from my manufacturer. He gave Shayne a waggle of his fingers that got ten points for insolence but didn’t fool anyone.
Shayne turned back with his lip curled. Beauty never made up for a personality that verged on the nasty, which was only one of the reasons Shayne wouldn’t be gracing my runway anytime soon. The other reason being his tendency for drama with a capital D, and I prized composure as much as looks in the models I employed.
“All my slots are gone for this year, sorry,” I lied unapologetically, doing my best to ignore Kip thumbing his nose in the background.
“That’s not what I heard,” Shayne said tartly.
“I can wear anything well, and you know it.”
Which was unfortunately true, but beside the point. “I’m sure you’ll have a ton of designers clamouring to add you to their list once they know you’re back. I’ve already chosen the one pinch-hitter model I’m allowed from outside the casting call. You missed that day, right?” I couldn’t resist the dig.
He sniffed. “I was overseas. Miami. Stockholm.” He waved a hand in the air. “The casting agency contacted my agent, of course, but it couldn’t be helped.”
Behind Shayne, Kip gave an epic eye-roll that would’ve given the London Eye a run for its money.
Shayne studied his fingernails. “And yes, I’ve had a lot of requests since I returned. But I like your work, Rhys. It’s a little raw, but there’s a freshness to it—”
I imagined strangling the man by his Hermes scarf, knowing Kip would help me hide the body.
“—and since this is your debut year, I thought I’d give you first shot at me. I can help make that splash you need.”
Again, unfortunately true. But Jesus fucking Christ, he’d never speak like that to a seasoned designer. It was all I could do not to boot the arsehole from my office, but New Zealand fashion was a tiny industry, and the last thing I wanted was to earn a name for myself as a prima donna in my first year.
“I’m flattered you thought of me.” I almost choked on the words as Kip mimed hanging himself with his tie while walking downhill. “But not this time.” Read ever.
Shayne stared, bewildered, like I’d lost my ever-loving mind, and maybe I had. Then he shrugged. “Well, I hope you don’t come to regret your decision.” He shoved his lookbook in his fashionable Burberry satchel with an audible huff. “Young-gun invites only happen once, right?”
“Right.” I nodded sagely, wondering if it would be considered a service to humanity to throttle dickhead sanctimonious pricks on a Friday afternoon before they were let loose on an unsuspecting weekend. If it wasn’t, I was going to petition for a law change. “I guess I’ll have to rely on my actual designs, won’t I?”
He sent me a look that said he knew there was an insult in there somewhere, but I wasn’t worth the effort to search for it.
“I should be getting back to work.” I pushed to my feet and circled around the desk, making it clear the meeting was over.
Shayne gathered his coat and satchel and then stood. “I, um, ended things with Marc, in case you were wondering.”
I wasn’t and looked puzzled just to piss him off. “Marc?” I knew damn well who he was talking about.
He narrowed his gaze. “Marc Norman.”
“Oh. Shame.” I felt oddly relieved for Marc, who was in fact a lovely guy, if a bit . . . vacant.
Shayne ran his gaze slowly up my body and I suddenly needed a shower. “Maybe you and I could do . . . something?”
Not in a million years. “Thanks, but I’m too busy to date right now.”
He shot me a sly grin. “It wouldn’t have to be a date.”
And yeah, I might’ve thrown up in my mouth. “The answer’s still no.” I plastered a grin in place. “Sorry.”
A spark of annoyance flashed in his eyes, but he didn’t push.
“Let me walk you out.” I ushered Shayne past Kip, who discreetly stabbed a finger in and out of his mouth, and then out the front door of Flare and into the crisp June air laced with salt from the harbour beyond. As soon as the coast was clear, I spun back to my assistant, my mouth open in a silent scream. Kip raced to my side, and together we watched Shayne cross the road and disappear from view in a cloud of Yves St Laurent and pissy flounce.
“Oh. My. God. That man is a douchebag of the highest order.” Kip slipped his arm through mine and pulled me toward the service desk. “He’s always dropping into the shop looking for you. I put him off as often as I can, but he does actually spend money, so I don’t want to piss him off too much. I don’t know why he’s so fucking popular.”
I snorted a laugh. “You mean apart from his scorching angular waifish look and ability to have both men and women drooling over their credit cards as they rush to buy whatever the fuck he wears?”
Kip huffed. “People will follow any idiot off a cliff if they look like they know what they’re doing. Your clothes stand on their own, Rhys. They don’t need a pretty clothes horse.”
I shot him a look and he pulled a face.
“Okay, maybe one or two pretty clothes horses wouldn’t go amiss.
Heart, humour and keeping it real.
Jay is a 2020 Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Gay Romance and her book Off Balance was the 2021 New Zealand Romance Book of the Year.
She is a New Zealand author writing mm romance and romantic suspense, primarily set in New Zealand. She writes character driven romances with lots of humour, a good dose of reality and a splash of angst. She’s travelled extensively, lived in many countries, and in a past life she was a critical care nurse, nurse educator and counsellor. Jay is owned by a huge Maine Coon cat and a gorgeous Cocker Spaniel