When Ally descended the stairs carefully on spiky heels,ready to go to the fashion show that night, Jack forgot to breathe. He’d never seen her look like that. Her moss-green dress wrapped around her, hugging her slender curves, a V-neckline revealing tempting cleavage. He gulped.
The luxury hotel in Beverly Hills had donated the use of their ballroom as their contribution to the event. The not-lavish but tasteful decorations gave the ballroom a gala air, chairs arranged around a catwalk, many of them already full. Other people mingled near the door, trying to talk over the music blaring from huge speakers.
“I need to go back and see how things are going,” Ally told Jack. “Come on.”
His mind jumped to the possibility of naked models and he followed Ally. Backstage there was no nudity, just controlled chaos as a whole lot of women had their hair and makeup done.
They all greeted Ally like a long lost friend. One woman even jumped out of the chair where a stylist painstakingly flat-ironed her hair and ran over to hug her.
“I’m so glad you came!” she bubbled.
Ally hugged her back, then studied her. “Of course I came,” she said with a smile. “Toya, you look gorgeous.” Skilfully applied make-up highlighted the woman’s smooth, dark skin, beautiful chocolate eyes and full lips. Her ebony hair curved smoothly to her shoulders.
“I’m so nervous!” Toya’s dark eyes flashed.
“You know you can do anything,” Ally reminded her, looking serious. She shook both of Toya’s hands gently. “You have to know that now, after what you’ve been through. Walking out there on that stage is nothing compared to what you’ve accomplished.”
“I know, I know,” Toya replied, visibly calming.
“We’re all shaking in our boots!” called out another woman, her hair being removed from rollers. The others all shouted out agreement and nervous laughter.
“Who’s the hunk, Ally?” another model called out. Ally turned pink.
“This is my friend Jack,” she introduced him. He grinned and lifted a hand. “Jack, this is everyone.”
“Oooh, Ally, he’s hot,” cried another voice. Jack’s grin widened and Ally’s cheeks got pinker.
“Okay, let’s go,” Ally muttered, turning. “Good luck!” she called, with a wave. “Break a leg!”
They groaned as Jack followed her out and back to their seats, bemused by Ally’s interactions with the women.
“My friend Kim’s here,” Ally said, leading him over to a tiny woman with short spiky blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Ally introduced him again after greeting Kim with a hug. They took their seats, Ally between Kim and Jack.
“Did Ally tell you any of their stories?” Kim asked Jack, leaning forward to see him around Ally.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “In fact, she didn’t tell me that she even knew all those women.” He glanced reprovingly at Ally. She looked down at her hands in her lap.
“Ally volunteers at Freedom House,” Kim said. “You didn’t know that either?”
Kim nodded enthusiastically. “We both do. Ally got involved about a year ago after she did a story on us for LA Life. I’ve been volunteering there for a little longer.”
“The story I did was one of my less fluffy pieces.” Ally smiled wryly. “Something I was actually proud of.”
Hey, what did that mean? She should be proud of all her writing.
“I was so impressed with the strength of some of the women who stayed there, and with the dedication of the volunteers, I got involved myself,” she continued. “Doing what?”
“I work with any women who have literacy issues. And I do some writing for their website - articles about success stories and the like. Stories to motivate women who need the services, and also about volunteers who donate time and money.”
“You teach them to read?”
“Toya had a grade five reading level when she came here,” she told him. “She was addicted to crack and had three kids who had been taken away because she couldn’t care for them. I wasn’t the only one who worked with her, but she and I worked on learning to read.” She shook her head. “It’s a long haul for them. Some don’t make it. But she was tough. She hung in there, persevered. Now she’s clean, she has a good job and she’s gotten her kids back. And you saw her...she’s gorgeous.”
He nodded, something squeezing inside him. “I bet you saw how gorgeous she was right at the beginning.”
She looked at him. “Huh?”
“I know what he means,” Kim said to Ally. “You always know what to focus on with the ladies. You knew right away Toya was smart and loved animals. So you worked on reading with her, stories about animals and veterinarians, and steered her in the direction of working as a vet’s assistant.”
Ally nodded. “Well, yes.”
“You have an ability to see the best in people and bring that out of them.” Jack looked at her, pride and admiration swelling inside him. She met his eyes then looked quickly away, down at her hands. Damn, he’d made her uncomfortable. He felt her moving beside him, her slim shoulder brushing against his. Then she lifted a hand to push her hair back and her warm, flowery scent tempted his nostrils. When the lights dimmed, he barely noticed, so focused was he on the woman beside him, a woman who amazed him, captivated him.
Extreme Close Up Chapter 13