Design and Scandal by Annabeth Leong
Costume designer Kahala Lin didn’t get into her line of work to make clothes for tiny models. She dreams of creating high-fashion masterpieces for BBWs such as herself. When she’s hired to work on costumes for the science fiction movie Laser Sentinel, she passes up the opportunity to dress the film’s heroine and ends up with the hardest job on set—pleasing the demanding and devastatingly handsome star, James Corwin.
James is one of Hollywood’s best known actors, but he’s in trouble when he’s forced into working on this dud of a movie. James can’t relax and enjoy the shoot on Hawaii’s black sand beaches. He needs to prevent this film from becoming an embarrassment, starting with making sure he’s not shot wearing nothing but spandex, a headdress and a ray gun. His collaboration with the new costume designer starts out promising, but soon he’s so busy taking off her clothes that he’s hardly thinking about what he’ll wear at all.
The press, however, discovers their relationship almost before it begins, and the resulting scandal threatens both their livelihoods and James’ chances with Kahala.
A Romantica® contemporary erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave
“Is James Corwin as hot in real life as he is onscreen?” Kahala Lin winced a little at the question, but couldn’t help herself. Apparently going to work on the set of an honest-to-God big budget film excited her more than she’d let on when Lani had first asked if she wanted the job.
Her friend Lani grinned, revealing a bit of the fangirl herself. “Hotter. I don’t think the camera captures exactly how beautiful his eyes are.”
Lani pulled her truck into the makeshift parking lot on the edge of the set, just out of sight of the black sand beach where the first two weeks of filming would take place. Kahala figured she’d better get the silliness out of her system now, so she could act professionally once she actually met her new colleagues and the contingent of movie stars.
Kahala winked. “Eyes. Not exactly the body part I was thinking about.”
Lani slapped her arm. “You are so bad.”
Kahala shrugged. A serious expression spread over Lani’s wide, friendly face. She narrowed her dark eyes and peered at Kahala. “They’re really strict about that, you know. They don’t want you bothering the stars.”
“I’m not going to embarrass you, Lani. Don’t worry.”
Lani rolled her eyes. “Sorry. I know you’re not a teenager. You nervous?”
“Nervous?” She shook her head firmly. “This is a fun job to me. I’m not looking for a career in the movies. Believe me, these aren’t the people I’m really hoping to dress. My designs are for women with meat on their bones, not size negative two like Madison Marin.”
Lani tapped her fingers against the steering wheel. “I hear what you’re saying. I appreciate it. You made me a gorgeous wedding dress, anyway.” She smiled, then paused. “I just don’t think you should dismiss the opportunity. You might make some good connections. The work you do here is going to be seen by millions of people. That has to be worth something, even if your clothes are on a skinnier girl than you’d like.”
Kahala looked out the window. The Big Island was prettier than she remembered, way less developed than Honolulu, where she lived. Here she could actually see glimpses of what the island must have looked like when her ancestors had lived there.
Lani took her hand. “What’s the matter, Kahala? Other than being excited to see James Corwin in person, you’re acting like you don’t want to be here.”
She summoned a smile. Her friend didn’t deserve to feel bad about this. “I’m really glad you set me up with this, Lani. Don’t get me wrong. I need seed money to get my design business into higher gear. It’s just that I swore I wasn’t ever going to make clothes for tiny girls.” She closed her eyes, remembering how she’d felt when she’d gone shopping back in high school, looking for knockoff versions of styles she’d seen in Vogue and W. “They didn’t even bother to make sizes larger than twelve for most of the clothes I wanted to wear when I was younger. When I started making my own stuff, I promised myself I wouldn’t make anything smaller than twelve. I want the skinny girls to wish they were bigger so they could wear my stuff.”
“This doesn’t take away from that,” Lani said. “Don’t worry about Madison Marin. You might not even end up working on stuff for her.” Lani lifted her shoulders and spread her hands wide. “You ready to do this, girl? For the next three months, we’re going to drink, breathe and eat this place. I hope you like coffee, because your next full night’s sleep won’t be until August.”
Kahala grinned. “You love this work.”
Lani smiled back. “Craft services is rewarding. Everyone’s so hungry and tired, they love everything we do. Believe me, I never felt so appreciated working in a restaurant kitchen.” She slapped the top of Kahala’s thigh. “Let’s go. This’ll be fun.”
Lani dropped Kahala off with Lawrence Marsh, head of costumes. His office was a trailer nestled under a stand of papaya trees. Whip-thin and more than six feet tall, the man’s pale skin shone bright and startling against the lush, tropical background. Kahala hadn’t known a person could be that color in Hawaii—even the whitest people typically had the grace to turn red. Lawrence wore a woman’s shirt, skinny jeans and more rings than a gypsy fortune teller. He greeted Kahala with a hug but broke it off to grab a papaya off the tree behind her.
Kahala smiled nervously while he produced a small knife from the back pocket of the skinny jeans and sliced the fruit open with surprising expertise. He ate a piece of juicy flesh off the point of the knife. He didn’t wait to finish chewing before speaking with a cultured British accent that, given his behavior, seemed incongruous. “Kahala Lin!” He sounded much more pleased to see her than she’d expected. “Lovely online portfolio. Very fresh.”
She started. “Thank you!” Lani had made it sound as if she’d pulled strings with the union to set Kahala up with this job. She hadn’t thought anyone would have paid attention to her work.
“I wish I had a star worthy of your talents,” Lawrence said, leading the way into his trailer. The inside looked like an exploded dress shop. Pieces of odd fabrics mingled with half-destroyed specimens of the latest designs from Fashion Week. A dressmaker’s form wore nothing but thin gold chains. Scissors and measuring tape tumbled off tables, and Lawrence possessed more sewing machines than one person could reasonably use. Tilted against the trailer’s AC unit, a laptop showed flashes of an odd shape rotating slowly in a computer-assisted design interface. “Don’t mind the mess,” Lawrence said, shrugging. “It’s my creative process. You understand. Pull up a chair.”
Kahala blinked. She couldn’t see a chair to pull up. The only thing around remotely resembling a seat looked about half as wide as she was. She stayed standing. “I’m really glad you liked the portfolio! What were you—”
Lawrence took another bite of papaya. “I loved it. Most designs for plus-sized women try to hide the body. You let the body do the work. You have a very nice eye for accentuating natural features. I can see it in the dress you’re wearing now.”
Was she blushing? “I did make it myself! How did you—”
“You couldn’t have bought a dress with that stitching for under three thousand these days.” He shuddered. “Machines are so much sloppier than most people realize.” He slapped the papaya down and took Kahala’s hand dramatically. She flinched but tried to roll with it. “I’m going to ask you to betray every instinct that makes your work special. Can you do it for me, Kahala?”
She blinked. “What are you talking about?”
“This is science fiction. The clothes need to do the work, not the body beneath them. Madison Marin’s got no body to speak of. You can’t rely on her shape. You have to give her a shape. Designers like bodies like hers because they can give them any shape they desire. I’m asking you to betray your obvious appreciation for the female form and work with the alien specimens we have here on this project—otherwise known as actresses.”
Kahala stared. “You’re assigning me to work with your female lead?”
“I believe in delegating.” Lawrence smiled tightly. “I’d planned to work with her myself, of course. I spent months drawing sketches for her. You’ll be following those, making adjustments as needed to the costumes I’ve started creating. I’d do it myself, gladly, but ever since I arrived on set I’ve had a certain problem that’s—James Corwin.”
“James Corwin?” Kahala echoed, confused. “That’s your problem?”
“Oh, James Corwin is about to be his problem, all right,” said a deep male voice behind her. Kahala jumped, turned, and found herself face to face with the screen idol himself, all six solid feet of him. James Corwin had played football in high school, and Kahala could see why. He had a linebacker’s build and muscle. He gripped the doorframe with big hands. His face wrinkled with distaste at the sight of Lawrence Marsh, but as his gaze settled on Kahala, his expression changed. His famous golden eyes focused on her and she caught the subtle flicks he used to check out her body below the neck. Kahala’s face heated and James smiled slowly, his nostrils flaring. His dark skin seemed much warmer in person than it did onscreen. The red tones in it caught the light so he almost gleamed.
“Hello,” James Corwin said, dragging the word out to two syllables and lifting his eyebrows with appreciation.
“Um, hi.” Kahala was relieved that her voice didn’t squeak.
Lawrence dropped a hand onto her shoulder. “I’m impressed again, Kahala. That’s the first civil word I’ve heard come out of this fellow’s mouth. Even if it reeks a bit of the chauvinist pig.”
James Corwin grinned. A slight gap between his front teeth marred his perfection just enough to make him convincingly real. He didn’t take his eyes off Kahala. “I can be nice if given reason.”
“Well I’m afraid I don’t have DD reasons,” Lawrence shot back.
Kahala bit her tongue before she could add that she wished they were just DD. Bra shopping would have been so much easier if Lawrence had been right about her size.
“Lawrence, that’s crass,” James said. He leaned in toward Kahala, his voice dropping and turning conspiratorial. “Don’t think I’m not a gentleman just because of the way I’m looking at you. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the full package, but I also enjoy learning about a beautiful woman’s personality.”
A thousand red flags went up in Kahala’s mind. This man was trouble. It couldn’t have been clearer if he’d tattooed the word on his forehead in capital letters and accentuated them with glitter. Unfortunately she could be as circumspect about this as she wanted inside the sanctuary of her own thoughts, but that didn’t help to control her glee at the movie star’s compliments. He’d still made her grin like a fool.
James winked, mischief pulling one side of his smile higher than the other. “Well? You didn’t sound shy when you were talking with just Lawrence a minute ago.”
“I’m not,” Kahala admitted. She saw his challenge and raised him. Surveying his body frankly, she allowed herself a wicked grin. “I can’t make a call on your full package yet. I haven’t seen enough of it.”
James liked that response, clearly. He moved even closer. His fingers twitched against the doorframe as if they wanted to move to Kahala’s frame instead.
Lawrence broke into the moment before she could see where it would lead. “Whoo!” He fanned himself and continued with high-pitched sounds of appreciation. “It’s gotten very, very hot in here. Almost as if you two are forgetting the full workday we have in front of us.”
Kahala blushed. She’d gotten so caught up in coming up with cool responses to James Corwin’s flirtation that she’d forgotten to act professionally. “Sorry.” Instinct told her to leave the two of them to their business, but she couldn’t see a graceful exit out of the cramped trailer. Whether she ducked left or right, any attempt to leave would involve an intense negotiation between her body and that of James Corwin. She stepped back instead, then looked to Lawrence for direction.
Lawrence drew himself up even taller, so his Adam’s apple poked prominently out of his long, thin neck. “Before you arrived, Mr. Corwin, I was in the middle of delegating loads of work to Kahala here. She’s going to take over dressing Miss Marin for me, all so I can devote the bulk of my time to satisfying your demanding self.” His words sounded light and irreverent, but Kahala caught a strain of sincere irritation running through them.
Corwin must have picked up on that too, because he scowled in response. “I don’t know if I want any more of your attention, Lawrence. That’s what I came to talk to you about.” He sighed. All the playfulness he’d shown with Kahala had gone out of him. He seemed tired and far less glamorous. “The studio’s leaning on me to be here, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’ll be professional, I’ll do as I’m told, but I won’t tolerate being made to look or behave like a fool.”
Annabeth Leong has written erotica of many flavors. She loves shoes, stockings, cooking and excellent bass lines. She always keeps a new e-book loaded on her phone and a paperback stashed in her purse, but her eyes are still bigger than her stomach whenever she visits a bookseller. She blogs at annabethleong.blogspot.com, and tweets @AnnabethLeong . Watch for her next contemporary erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave, Heated Leather Lover.