Debt Inheritance Page 2

For the first time in my life, I’d felt the rush of power and need. This unknown man lusted for me. He’d replied based on what I’d sent. He’d been right about the blushing, but only because I was sheltered, not because I’d decided to dress in black and white garb for the rest of my life. I came from rainbow fabric; I drank textile ink as mothers’ milk. I learned to sew before I could walk. I could never become a nun, purely because of the boring fashion choices.

My fingers shook as I messaged him back.

Needle&Thread: I’m blushing but happen to be wearing something a lot more interesting than black and white or a boring shift.

I had no idea what made me reply. I’d never been so bold and he was taken—obviously. He’d been messaging a girl.

Kite007: Oh, see…you can’t say things like that to a complete stranger who mistakenly messaged a hot nun who doesn’t conform to the dress code picked out by God. Tell me.

Needle&Thread: Tell you what?

Kite007: What are you wearing?

And that was where I freaked. He could be a ninety-year-old pervert who’d tracked down my number from one of my runway shows to stalk me. Nothing was as it seemed in today’s world—I should know. I create clothing that stays together purely by a miracle.

Not to mention my father would kill whoever he was. He wasn’t exactly tolerant, my doting, dear ole’ dad.

Needle&Thread: I hope you find the person you were trying to contact. Enjoy your night of sexual torture. Goodbye.

I’d closed my phone and done exactly what I’d said. Microwaved a chocolate pudding and slid into a hot bath. Only to be interrupted by a reply.

And another.

And another.

I lost count of how many messages I received. I managed to ignore him for five hours, but then my innocent soul became corrupted by a man I’d never met.

“What do you say?” Vaughn pursed his lips, accenting his well-formed jaw and rounded cheekbones.

I blinked, shattering memories of phone flirting, dumping me back into the hot, stuffy venue of fashionistas.

“Huh?”

“Tonight. You. Me. A bottle of tequila and some bad decisions.” My brother rolled his eyes. “I’m not having you holed away in your hotel room on your own—not after a show like this.” Vaughn’s voice cajoled, his face—a cross between a cherub-faced youth and heartbreaker man—implored. I could never say no to him. Just like countless other women. It didn’t help he was heir to a textile business that’d been in our family since the fifteenth century and a seriously good catch.

We had pedigree.

History.

The bond between past and present. Dreams and requirements. Freedom and obligation. We had plenty of it, and the weight of what was expected of me hammered me further and further into the ground.

“No tequila. No night clubs. Let me unwind in peace. I need some quiet after the hectic day I’ve had.”

“All the more to get messy on a dance floor.” Vaughn grabbed my elbow, attempting to swing me around in a complicated dance move.

I stumbled. “Get your grubby hands off me, V.” Vaughn was the only one who didn’t inherit a nickname based on the industry that consumed not only our lives but our ancestors, too.

“That’s no way to speak to your brother, Threads.”

“What’s this? My two offspring fighting?”

I rolled my eyes as the distinguished silhouette of my father appeared from the crowd of buyers, designers, and movie starlets all there to witness the new season of fashion in Milan. His dark brown eyes crinkled as he smiled. “Congratulations, sweetheart.”

Vaughn let me go, relinquishing his sibling hug for a paternal squeeze. My arms slinked around the toned middle of my father. Archibald Weaver still had the Weaver signature thick black hair with a straight spine, sharp mind, and ruggedly handsome face. He only became more fetching the older he got.

“Hey. I didn’t think you’d arrive in time.” Pulling away, I inhaled his strong cologne. I wished mum was still around to see him evolve from distracted parent to fantastic support system. I never knew why we weren’t close when I was young. He’d been sour, grumpy, and…lost. But he’d never burdened Vaughn or me with what troubled him. He remained a strict single parent, raising us motherless from eleven years old.

“I managed to get an earlier flight. Couldn’t miss your headline show.”

Another message came through, the vibration particularly violent. I shuddered and blocked all thoughts of the nameless man trying to get my attention.

“I’m glad. However, all you’re going to see is your daughter shuffle down the runway, overshadowed by gorgeous models, and then trip off the end.”

My father laughed, his critical eye perusing my gown. “Corset, tulle, and the new midnight-galaxy material—I doubt anyone will overshadow you.”

“Help me convince her to join me tonight. We could all go out together,” Vaughn said.

Great. Another night with two men—neither of whom I can avoid to acquire a real relationship.

I often felt like a kitten brought up by two tigers. They never let me grow up. Never permitted my own claws to form or teeth to sharpen.

My father nodded. “Your brother is right. It’s been a few months since we were together. Let’s make a night of it. Some of your best work is on display. You’ve made me very proud, Nila, and it’s time to celebrate.”

I sighed. Looking over his shoulder, I saw the last model disappearing into the wings, her train of silver stars and organza looking as if she’d fallen from heaven.

That’s my cue.

“Fine. Sounds wonderful. I can never say no to my two favourite men. Let me wrap this up and then I’ll relax. Promise.” I reached up and kissed him on his papery cheek. “Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t trip and ruin my career.”

He grinned, slipping into the much loved and well known persona of Tex—short for Textile—a nickname he’d had all my life.

“You don’t need luck. Knock ‘em dead.” His brown eyes faded. The melancholy I was so used to seeing swallowed him whole, hiding his jovial spirit. It was his curse. Ours. All of us.

Ever since mum divorced him and disappeared we’d never been the same.

Vaughn pecked my cheek. “I’ll help you get through the crowd.”

I smiled at the two most important men in my life, before weaving through the crush of bodies to the small staircase at the side of the runway.

The organiser, with her headset, frantic blonde curls, and dog-eared notebook, squealed when her eyes landed on mine. “Ah! I’d sent out ninjas to find you. You’re up. Like right now.”

Vaughn chuckled. “I’ll wait here for you.” He faded into the living organism that was the fashion hungry crowd, leaving me at the mercy of Blonde Curls.

Bunching the overflowing train of my dress, I climbed the steps, hoping against all odds that I wouldn’t faint. “Yes. I know. That’s why I’m here.”

“Thank God. Okay, stand here.” She manhandled me until I stood just so. “I’ll give you the cue in thirty seconds.”

The girl couldn’t have been much younger than me. I’d just celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday, but after leaving school at sixteen to follow in my family’s footsteps and nurture my skills as a designer, I felt much older, grumpier, and less eager to please.

I love my job. I love my job.

And it was true. I did love my job. I loved transforming plain fabric, sourced by my father, into works of art thanks to the accessories, gems, silks, and diamantes my brother imported when he wasn’t modelling. We were a true family business. Which I loved and would never change.

It was the public eye I hated. I’d always been a homebody. Partly out of choice—partly because my father never let me date.

Talking of dates…

My fingers itched to grab my phone—to indulge in a fraction of flirtation.

The girl nodded, pressing her headset hard to her ear. “Gotcha. Sending on now.” Holding her hand out, she added, “Come. Your final model is ready. Get onto the runway.”

I nodded, gathering the thick black material of the feather and gemstone dress I wore. Completely impractical. Completely couture. A bloody nightmare to wear, but the effect of soft wispy feathers and the glint of black diamantes set my hair off better than any other colour.

Some said colour was what made your mood.

I said black protects.

It gave me strength and boldness where I had none. It granted sexuality to a woman who’d been sheltered all her life by a severely overprotective father and insanely possessive brother.

If it hadn’t been for Darren and the one night where I’d drunk too much, I would still be a virgin.

Taking my place in the middle of the runway, I smiled tightly at the model chosen to wear my centrepiece.

My heart fluttered, falling in love—just like I always did—with the garment I’d adoringly, intimately created. Wrapped around the girl’s zero-size frame and shimmering in the low lights of the packed room, the dress was revolutionary. My career would reach new heights. It wasn’t pride glowing in my heart—it was relief. Relief that I hadn’t let anyone down—including myself.

I’d done it.

Despite my nerves, I’d done what I’d always needed and carved a name for myself despite the huge inheritance of the Weaver name and empire.

My collection was mine.

Every item from handbags to shoes and scarfs was mine.

Nila.

Just my first name. I hadn’t wanted to use the power of our legacy. I hadn’t wanted to let anyone down in case I failed. But now I wanted to sequester my success and hoard it. Which was completely unfair because my father and brother were as much a part of my business as me.

The room hushed with anticipation as the music changed from Latin to symphony. A large spotlight drenched us in golden rays.

My heart rate exploded as I took the model’s hand, flashing her a quick smile. Her cascading blonde hair glittered with gold plaited in the strands.

We matched perfectly in height—deliberately placed together for ultimate impact. Gliding forward in thousand dollar shoes, we walked the final stretch.

My black ensemble set off the gold, yellow, and burnt orange of her layers upon layers. She looked like crackling embers and fire where I was the coal from which she sprang. We were the sunset of the show. The darlings of Milan.

Hushed silence. Bright lights. Immense concentration to stay on my feet.

The rest became a blur. There were no trips, or wobbles, or rushes of horror. Cameras clicked, praise murmured, and then it was over.

A year of hard work wrapped up in a two hour runway show.

The end of the platform became a sea of petals and strewn flowers full of accolades. Our coal and fire presence swallowed camera flashes, welcoming greedy eyes to stare.

Ten minutes I stood and drowned in praise. Vertigo hobbled my body as my gaze landed on my father and brother. They knew this part was the hardest for me. They knew my heart strummed fast and sickness rolled. Stress never sat well with my system.

Vertigo was hard to diagnose, but moments like these—where the madness of the past year culminated with yet more deadlines on the horizon—I recognised every symptom of wobbliness and fading vision. I felt drunk…I wanted to be drunk—even though I hadn’t had liquor in seven years.

Swallowing the lightheadedness, I waved and bowed and smiled before hitting my limit. Gritting my teeth, I almost fell down the steps at the front of the runway right into Vaughn’s arms.

He scooped me up, giving me a firm balanced form to clutch to. “Breathe through it. It’ll pass.”

Shaking my head, I blinked, chasing away the fear in my blood and weakness of an incurable illness. “I’m okay. Just let me go for a second.”

He did as I asked, giving me space. The crowd stayed behind their small barricade letting me suck in much needed oxygen. My phone buzzed again and this time…I couldn’t ignore it.

Pulling it from my ruffled, feathered cleavage, I unlocked the screen and indulged.

Kite007: Haven’t had a message from you in a couple of days. If you don’t send one immediately, I might have to track down your name and location and come and spank you.

My stomach flipped at the threat. He’d never insinuated a meeting…not after my bungle of asking him out and his blatant refusal.

Kite007: Still no reply. If threats of physical harm won’t make you respond, perhaps the mental visualisation of me stroking myself while reading some of your old messages will persuade you to.

My core clenched. He’d pleasured himself while thinking of me? A stranger touching himself shouldn’t give me such a thrill.

Kite007: My Naughty Nun, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’ve disgraced myself by coming all over my hand at the thought of you naked and smeared in chocolate. Hope you’re happy.

“What are you reading?” Vaughn peered over my shoulder.

My cheeks flamed and I wiped the screen of evidence that despite his and my father’s best intentions, I’d managed to find a man interested in talking sex with me. I couldn’t wait to be in private to respond. Kite seemed more…open. Maybe we could talk about real things and not just dirt.

“Nothing.”

Vaughn scowled, then a large grin brightened his face. “Guess how many orders?”

My brain couldn’t switch from wanting desperately to respond to Kite to normal conversation. “Orders?”

He threw his hands up. “Seriously! Your collection. Sometimes I worry about you, Threads.” Still grinning, he added, “Your Fire and Coal collection has orders from all major retail chains in Europe and America, and the couture line is currently in a bidding war for exclusivity between a London boutique and Paris.” He bounced with happiness—infecting me with energy. “I told you this was your break. You’ve cemented your name. Nila will be worn by celebrities around the world at their red-carpet premieres.”

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