An excerpt from the book
Kerrington Manley sipped her diet soda and glanced longingly across the table to where her stick-thin friend, Lisa, devoured a pineapple sundae. Kerri licked her lips, disappointed to only find a lingering trace of aspartame instead of the vanilla and whipped cream that she craved.
She propped her elbows on the table and continued eyeing Lisa's sundae. "The world is so unfair. I do nothing but guzzle diet drinks all day and I look like a hippo, while you eat everything in sight and could be the body double for Calista Flockhart."
Lisa took a bite of gooey pineapple and chewed thoughtfully. "I have a fast metabolism."
Kerri sighed enviously. "What I wouldn't give for one of those!" She slapped her thighs, wincing when they jiggled.
Lisa put down her spoon and folded her arms on top of the table. "You are not a hippo."
Kerri glanced down at her size eighteen body and coughed pointedly. "Uh, yeah, I am."
Lisa rolled her contact-tinted blue eyes and reached for a napkin. She blotted her lips before speaking. "You are pleasantly plump."
It was an expression she had heard several times before, but it never failed to make Kerri shudder. "That is just a euphemism for horribly obese."
Lisa opened her mouth to speak, but she was interrupted when a cute, college-aged guy stopped at their table and gawked. Lisa gave a practiced smile and tossed her long blond hair over one shoulder. "May I help you?"
The guy began stuttering. "Are you ... um, that is..." He took a breath and gathered his nerve. "Miss February?"
Kerri hid a smile behind one hand at the look that crossed Lisa's face. As a centerfold for a popular porn magazine, Lisa was used to gathering attention wherever she went.
"June, actually," Lisa corrected.
"Oh, yeah!" the guy said and slapped his forehead with one hand. "The spread in the barnyard. That's right." An earnest expression crossed his face. "I had your picture on my wall for months."
"That's nice," Lisa said, and reached for the pen she kept with her at all times. "Would you like an autograph?"
The guy looked disappointed. "Actually, I was wondering if I could take a picture with you."
Lisa glanced at Kerri, who merely shrugged.
"Why not?" Lisa said and stood. "Do you have a camera?"
"It's on my phone," the guy said, and thrust it at Kerri with barely a word. "Be sure to get my good side."
"Does he have one?" Kerri mumbled under her breath to Lisa as she tried to figure out how to work the camera phone.
"Sshh. He's a fan," Lisa whispered back. Her smile faded as the guy put his arm around her waist and pinched her ass. Kerri rushed to hurry the picture along. "Okay. Smile!"
Kerri took the picture and handed the phone back to the lust-ridden guy. When he was gone, Lisa sank into her seat and sighed dramatically. "The pressures of being a number one pinup."
Kerri laughed and managed to steal a bite of Lisa's melted sundae. "What? Life is not all roses being a porn star?"
Lisa straightened and gave Kerri a stern look. "I don't do porn." She pointed a finger at Kerri. "And I thought you were on a diet."
So much for pleasantly plump.
"I am always on a diet," Kerri moaned.
Lisa dragged a cherry through the whipped cream and popped it into her mouth. "Which one are you on now?"
"Atkins, the Zone. You name it, I am on it." She snuck another bite of sundae. "It's pretty much a lettuce and water diet."
"That is not healthy," Lisa lectured. "How many times do I have to tell you?"
"If it makes me lose weight, then it's healthy enough for me," Kerri fired back.
Lisa tried her best to look understanding. "Have you tried seeing a dietitian?"
"No, and I am not going to." Kerri abandoned the sundae and reached for her Diet Coke. "What can they tell me that I don't already know? I have a stack of self-help books at home that nearly reaches my ceiling. They were all written by dietitians and not a single one has helped yet."
"Are you still going to aerobics?"
Kerri cringed. She had hated being the only person in the class who wore a T-shirt and sweatpants rather than the cute workout clothes that all the skinny girls wore. "No, I quit."
They were interrupted again by the ringing of Lisa's cell phone. Lisa answered and motioned to Kerri that she was going to have to take it.
While Lisa argued with whoever it was on the other end, Kerri drained her Diet Coke and flagged down the waitress for another. As she did, a man sitting in the corner of the nearly deserted caf� caught her attention. He had on a scarf, which was odd since it was a moderately warm day. His thinning hair was perfectly styled and his clothes were obviously designer.
Kerri casually observed him. He was reading what looked to be yesterday's newspaper. Obviously an out-of-towner. He flipped the page and as if he sensed her gaze upon him, he glanced around. Kerri smiled in a friendly manner when his eyes met hers and tried to pretend like she hadn't been staring at him. He smiled back easily and his attention returned to the newspaper.
"Okay, bye!" Lisa ended her phone call and reached for her purse. "I hate to cut it short, but my agent needs me in New York like right this minute."
Kerri's face fell in disappointment. "Oh, no. Really?"
Lisa pulled out a couple of bills and tossed them on the table. "Yes. There's a flight leaving at three. If I hurry, I can make it."
Kerri reached into her own purse for money to pay her tab. "Do you need me to drive you to the airport?"
Lisa pushed a wispy strand of hair out of her face. "No. I'll catch a cab so you don't have to miss work." She rounded the table and blew several air kisses at Kerri. "Have fun, and for God's sake, eat something."
"I will," Kerri answered, shifting in her seat so that she could watch Lisa's departure. "Call me when you get to New York."
"All right," Lisa said, and waved as she rushed through the caf�'s doors to hail a cab. A man stopped to open the door for Lisa and Kerri watched with envy. What it must be like to be thin and beautiful. She wouldn't know, of course. She had been chunky all her life.
"Will you be needing anything else?"
Kerri glanced up at the waitress, who was looking at her like she expected her to order an entire pie. "No thanks. I'm finished." She handed over the money for the tab and glanced at her watch. It was time to get back to work.
She'd drunk too much soda, so first she needed to head to the bathroom. As she came out, she was surprised to see the man with the scarf propped against the opposite wall. She took a step back and mumbled hello.
"Hello," he said in a delightfully British voice. "Are you by any chance a model?"
"Excuse me?" Kerri said. "Did you just ask if I was model?"
"Yes," he answered. He took a step closer and seemed to be examining her. "You have a very intriguing face."
"Thank you, I think," Kerri said slowly. She had been called pretty often enough, but no one had ever said that her face was intriguing. This was just way too weird. She frowned and gave the man a questioning look. "Wait a minute. Is there a hidden camera somewhere?"
He looked puzzled. "No, I don't believe so. Why?"
Kerri put her hands on her hips and lifted an eyebrow. "Why would you, a complete stranger, come up to me and say that I have an intriguing face?"
The man laughed and reached into his pocket. She instinctively ducked. Who knew, it could be a pistol. He saw her reaction and he rushed to explain. "I want to give you one of my cards." He did so with a flourish. "I am Armand D'Sandro, owner of D'Sandro Clothing. I would like for you to be one of my models."
Kerri's mouth dropped open. "Armand D'Sandro? You have got to be kidding me!"
D'Sandro's was one of her favorite clothing stores, even if it was a tad expensive. The chain marketed toward plus-size women and offered a fashionable alternative to the unfashionable clothing usually made for larger sizes.
"No, I am not kidding," Armand said. "Are you interested?"
Kerri glanced down at the card and ran her finger across the silver-embossed writing. If this was all a dream, she didn't want to wake up. "If I was to model for you, what's in it for me?"
Armand began to count off on his fingers. "You will have to move to New York, but we furnish an apartment for you, of course. To begin with, you will be paid by the hour, but in a few months you will become salaried." He then named a figure, which caused Kerri's jaw to drop even further. "And," he finished with a winning smile, "all the free clothes you could want."
Kerri bit her lip with indecision. It all seemed too good to be true. "When do you need an answer?"
Armand tapped a finger against his lips thoughtfully. "Today, unfortunately. My flight leaves in just a couple of hours. Probably the same one as your friend who left in such a rush."
Kerri thought of all that she had now. A minimum wage job at the local mall. A rundown apartment on the bad side of town and a nonexistent social life. Why was she even wasting time thinking about this? She gave Armand a wide smile. "Okay, I'll do it." * * * *
"You are shitting me!"
Kerri gripped the phone against her ear and smiled at the sound of surprise in Lisa's voice. "No, I'm not."
Lisa whistled loudly. "I'm only gone for one day and look what happens! D'Sandro's is becoming one of the largest clothing chains in the nation. You will be famous."
"No, I won't. How many famous plus-sized models are there, after all?"
"Emme," Lisa answered. "Oh, and Liv Tyler's sister. I forget her name, though."
"Exactly," Kerri said. "Plus-sized models are totally forgettable. I will be lucky if anybody besides you even notices me."
"With your face," Lisa predicted, "you'll go far."
Kerri could not help glancing across the room at her reflection in the wall mirror. Her lips were well formed and naturally tinged a deep red. Her eyes were a pretty shade of violet. Other than dimples and a smattering of freckles, she didn't see what made her so special. If men drooled over her, it was usually because of her large breasts, not her pretty face.
"I'll be lucky if I make it into one magazine," Kerri said ominously.
Lisa huffed. "Girl, just wait and see. You'll be a cover model in no time."
After debating for several minutes the unlikely chance of her becoming famous, Kerri hung up and began packing for her trip to New York. She had already turned in her notice at the mall and weaseled her way out of the lease for her apartment. Besides finding a home for her fern, she was set to go.
She wondered if there was anybody in Atlanta that she should inform of her leaving. Sadly, there was no one. She had made few friends besides her coworkers. They would probably miss her, but she hadn't been in Atlanta long enough to put down true roots. Maybe her hairdresser would miss her? Probably not, Kerri decided, since she only came in a few times a year.
She finished packing and stood, surveying the almost empty room. The heavy boxes were being shipped by U-Haul, while her luggage would fly with her. Her car had pretty much been a clunker, so she had dropped it off at a used car lot and cashed in on a little extra spending money. There was not much else that needed to be done.
She put a hand against her back and massaged the ache that had settled there from lifting so many heavy objects. With a groan, she lowered herself onto the couch and let out a sigh. Thank heavens she'd rented a furnished apartment and wouldn't have to move anything into storage. Relief, she thought to herself, and reached for the remote. She flipped the television to the entertainment channel and propped a pillow behind her head. She soon became engrossed in the messy divorce of a popular sitcom star. Celebrity gossip had become her latest guilty pleasure.
"Too bad," Kerri said, tsking for the poor actor who would probably soon be losing a huge chunk of his millions. When the segment ended, she was about to change the channel when her attention was caught by a picture that flashed across the screen. Her finger paused on the remote and she gazed at the television in rapture.
"Griffin Davies, top male model, was in Cancun this weekend to host the annual search for the next superstar," the announcer droned in a nasal voice. "Surprisingly, his longtime girlfriend was absent. Is there trouble in paradise? Stay tuned."
During the commercial, Kerri raced to the fridge for some celery sticks and chewed them anxiously. She was dying to know if Griffin had broken up with the big-breasted whore of a soap opera star he had been dating.
When the program came back on, she drooled over the shirtless pics of Griffin romping on the beaches of Mexico sans girlfriend. When the announcer confirmed that the two were no longer an item, Kerri could have kissed the television. For years, Griffin Davies had been her celebrity crush, and she was glad that he had finally wised up and realized what a slut he had been dating.
Her phone began ringing and she reached for it without tearing her gaze away from the screen. "Hello?"
"Did you hear?" Lisa said without preamble.
"Yes," Kerri answered. "Isn't it wonderful?"
"Now that he's free, you two can hook up," Lisa teased. "You know models only date other models."
Kerri rolled her eyes, even though she knew Lisa couldn't see the gesture. "Yeah, right. The possibility of that happening is probably one in three billion."
"Why three billion?" Lisa asked.
"I don't know. Isn't that how many people live in New York?"
"Who knows? Stranger things have happened."
"Not that strange," Kerri said, and took an emphatic bite out of her celery. * * * *
The next week, Kerri sat waiting wide-eyed in the area outside Armand's office. He had arranged for a driver to pick her up at the airport and then deliver her straight to the offices of D'Sandro Enterprises. She had not had time to change and she was consciously aware of how out of place she looked. Her wavy brown hair was in a messy ponytail and her Braves jersey had seen better days. Her ratty tennis shoes and ripped jeans did not proclaim her to be one of D'Sandro's newest models, judging from the look of distaste on the face of Armand's receptionist.
"He will be with you in just a moment," the snotty receptionist said, and Kerri gave a short nod. She could be snotty too, she thought, with a lift of her chin.
Her gaze wandered over the framed portrait of the D'Sandro models. Some looked vaguely familiar, but she could not recall any names. They were of varying ages and sizes and Kerri was relieved to see she would not be the largest person modeling for D'Sandro.
"Kerri, how good to see you again! Come in."
She glanced up at the sound of Armand's voice and smiled. As she passed by the receptionist, she could not resist giving her a small smirk. The rude woman turned her nose up and pretended to be engrossed in studying her manicure.
Armand took his seat behind a massive mahogany desk and waved toward the chair in front. "Please, have a seat." He waited for her to do so before inquiring, "How was your flight?"
"A little bumpy. We hit some turbulence on the way up."
"That' together. "I have been giving this a lot of thought and I think I am going to feature you in our Look of Love campaign."
"Look of Love?" Kerri asked.
"We have teamed up with a male clothing company to feature a new line of clothing. We are marketing it especially for lovers. Coordinating shirts and pants, that sort of thing." He placed his hands on the table and tapped lightly. "We will be shooting in Vegas, so it should be an interesting first shoot for you."
"It sounds wonderful," Kerri answered honestly. "But which clothing line are you working with?"
Armand spoke as if it were no big deal. "Covington and Company."
Kerri's eyes widened. "Wow!"
Covington and Company was the biggest men's clothing line in the world. All of their models were movie star handsome and she had seen no less than half a dozen billboards covered with their brooding faces on the way in from the airport. It was also the company that first showcased Griffin Davies in his tighty whities.
She tried to look unimpressed by being chosen to launch a new line, but failed miserably. "When do we start?"
"Monday," Armand answered.
Kerri was taken aback. Today was Friday, so she would only spend one weekend in New York before leaving for the shoot. Armand explained a few more particulars to her before taking her on a short tour of the building. As they visited the many different departments, she noticed the odd looks that her coworkers were giving her. They probably wondered what Armand was doing escorting a virtual nobody when he must have had more important things to do.
Late in the afternoon, she finally made it to her new apartment. Armand had set it up so that her roommate would be Jacinda Oliver, another newcomer to the D'Sandro modeling team.
As she stood outside the high-rise gazing up at the place that was to be her home, Kerri could not hold in a wistful sigh. It all seemed so different from her mediocre life back in Georgia. The inside of the building was even more impressive than the outside. Everywhere she looked, gleaming marble and tile stared back at her. The bank of elevators was manned by an attendant who knew the floor of her apartment without even asking.
Armand had given her a key to her new home, but she hesitated to enter without first knocking. She heard the rustle of clothing and a voice calling that it would be just a moment. Seconds later, the door was thrown open and Kerri was enfolded in the pleasant aroma of cinnamon.
A stunning redhead tilted her head to one side, then gave her a broad grin. "You must be Kerrington."
Kerri released her grip on her wheeled suitcase and stuck out her hand. "Yes, but please call me Kerri. I'm very pleased to meet you."
Jacinda glanced at her hand apologetically. "I'm sorry. I would shake your hand, but I just painted my nails." She held up her fingers so that Kerri could see the bright red polish.
"Oh, I understand," Kerri said. Unsure what to do, she stood there awkwardly.
Realizing that Kerri was still in the hall, Jacinda jumped to the side. "I'm so sorry. How rude of me to keep you standing out there. Please come in."
Kerri dragged her suitcase after her and surveyed her new apartment. Framed prints of Jacinda covered one wall and the d�cor seemed to be animal print. It was not quite what Kerri was used to, but it had a very homey feel to it.
"You must be tired after your flight," Jacinda said.
"Just a little," Kerri admitted.
Jacinda reached for her suitcase and began wheeling it down a short hallway. "I saved the largest room for you. It faces east and I hate waking up with the sun in my eyes. I hope you don't mind."
"No, it's fine."
Jacinda deposited Kerri's luggage in the empty bedroom and turned to her with a smile. "I'll leave you to get settled in, but be quick. We're leaving in two hours."
"Where are we going?"
Jacinda winked at her mischievously. "Bar hopping, of course."