Authors: Kathleen Brooks
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
An original work of Kathleen Brooks
Fashioned for Power
copyright @ 2015 by Kathleen Brooks
Cover art by Calista Taylor
So many wonderful people gave their time to talk to me and answer questions for this book. I would like to thank Miss C for her insightful knowledge of the fashion industry. I would also like to thank Don, a great friend of mine for over twenty-five years, who answered all my questions and only laughed at a couple of them. You’re a true friend. And to my dear daughter who has shown such interest and support in my writing… including helping me with names!
As always, the most important person to thank is you—the reader. Thank you for loving the Simpson family as much as I do.
Windsor Academy High School . . .
Allegra Simpson sat quietly in the back of homeroom. Her legs were crossed under the small, attached blue tabletop. Her fingers fidgeted with the dark blue plaid skirt of her private school uniform. Raven Eddie, her archrival, was standing in front of her laughing.
“Making your own prom dress,” Raven said rather than asked loud enough for the entire class to hear. “Daddy flew me to Paris to get mine, but you’re making yours from a tablecloth . . . or maybe the drapes?”
“I’m not making it,” Allegra said quietly. “It’s my sister’s, and I’m altering it.”
“Why bother? No one is going to go with you. You may as well stay at home.”
Allegra looked up at the queen bitch of her high school. Raven was anything but perfect. She just had big boobs and let the boys play with them. That’s the only reason she was popular. That, and her daddy bribed the kids in her class with lavish parties and weekends at their mansion on a nearby lake.
“I’m going with my friend. One who likes me regardless of what I am wearing or how much my daddy pays them.” Allegra felt her face flush. She wasn’t used to standing up for herself. Her older sister Bree had always protected her, but Bree was now away at college along with their eldest sister, Elle. Her brother, Reid, the oldest of the four Simpson children, was off discovering himself—whatever that meant. So here she was, after seventeen years of being the baby of the family, left to fend for herself.
Raven’s face turned almost purple in anger. Allegra thought it was more of a magenta color. It would make a lovely shade of ribbon for her prom dress. But then Mount Raven erupted.
“You’re nothing! I dare you to come to prom. I dare you. And you can stand by looking pathetic and watch all the boys dance with me in a dress I will wear only once while you stand against the wall in a dress your sisters all wore before you. Then we’ll see who has friends.” Raven tossed her dirty-blond hair and stormed to the front of the room as everyone laughed.
“Mom, it was no big deal,” Allegra said for the hundredth time as she bit off a length of thread with her teeth. She raised the bobbin and threaded the needle of her sewing machine. She’d discovered when she lost her temper she could be mean, and she had hated it. No matter what, Allegra Simpson would be the nice girl from now on, just like her mom had taught her.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie. You know how your father is with money. It doesn’t matter that we have a little of it now; he’s taken every nickel he earns and is paying for college, your schooling, and whatever we have left is going right back into the company. Just be nice. You’ll win her over in the end,” Margaret, Allegra’s mother, said apologetically.
“Really, Mom, it’s fine.” Allegra pressed her foot down on the pedal and the sewing machine came to life. She tuned out her mother and concentrated on moving the fabric slowly through the machine so her hem was straight.
“Are you listening to me?”
“No, Mom, I’m not. I’m busy.”
“Honey, I have an extra two hundred dollars I’ve been saving . . .”
Allegra finished off the hem, and with the snip of her scissors, pulled the dress free. She flicked it with her wrists and heard her mother gasp. “See, I told you I wouldn’t need a new dress.”
Her mother’s eyes grew large as she looked at the sea green dress. Gone were the wide straps and voluminous skirt. In its place was a soft sweetheart neckline to accentuate Allegra’s breasts. They weren’t as large as Raven’s, but they were supple and perky. The sides had been taken in to accent Allegra’s small waist, and those lines continued down the length of the dress to where the skirt tapered into a slender fit along her hips and long legs. Allegra had cut a long slit up one leg to show it off when she walked.
“That color is going to be breathtaking with your hair,” Margaret whispered as she eyed the dress.
Allegra had counted on it. While Elle had red hair like her mother, Allegra had blonde hair like Bree. So she’d asked Bree if she could have her old prom dress. The blue tint to the green caused her clear blue eyes to sparkle.
Allegra slid into the dress and turned her back for her mother to zip it up. It fit like a glove. Allegra smiled into the mirror. Clothes had a way of making her feel good about herself. It didn’t matter how much they cost or where they came from. It mattered how they fit, their color, and their personality. It was like they talked to her. She could be herself with them. And this dress was the real Allegra. Now she just had to have the courage to wear it out of the house.
* * *
The hotel ballroom was packed with sparkly dresses and boys in black tuxedos. It was a thrill for Allegra’s senses. She smiled as she saw dresses she’d love to make dance by her.
“Here goes nothing,” Nate Reece said as he held out his arm. Allegra smiled at her best friend and placed her arm on his. Nate and Allegra had been best friends since freshman year drama class. In a month he was heading to New York City, and she was going to design school in California.
Allegra and Nate made their way to the dance floor as people cast them surprised looks. Allegra had taken the liberty of adjusting Nate’s rental tux so it showed how good-looking he really was. Nate liked to hide behind baggy pants and layers of shirts. While he didn’t have the body of an athlete, it did hold promise, just like Nate himself did.
“I can’t wait to be out of this school,” Nate muttered as some of the dancers
around them started whispering. “At least it got me into that acting school.”
“Soon we can leave this all behind. I can get lost in the masses at college and you will be on stage performing in front of thousands of people. Promise you won’t forget me,” Allegra teased.
“I could never forget you. If it hadn’t been for you and your friendship, I would never have made it through all the snobbery. Speaking of which, here comes the queen bee.”
“I’m going to have to apologize. I was so mean to her this morning,” Allegra started to say before stopping to stare at a dress only an angel could have made.
“Raven,” Allegra whispered in a gasp. “That dress is amazing. Look at the way it’s made. And the layering. The texture!”
Allegra was so wrapped up in her lovefest with Raven’s dress she didn’t see the victorious look on Raven’s face.
With a smile of pure satisfaction, Raven did a quick spin in her dress. “Well, now that you know you can’t compete, I’m going to dance.”
“That dress is a work of art,” Allegra said wistfully as Raven sashayed toward her date.
“I can’t believe you.” Nate shook his dark brown hair as he slid his hand over her back and brought her back into the dance.
“You’re too nice.”
“Is there such a thing as too nice?”
“Yes. Your sisters taught me that. But I think you were too busy playing dress-up to hear their lessons. Raven will never respect you. She won. You practically orgasmed when you saw her dress.”
“It was a great dress, and it’s not like I’m getting any from anyone else. That dress is the thrill of my night,” Allegra joked.
Nate just shook his head. “Someday being nice won’t be enough. Mark my words. Someday you’ll get in trouble for being such a pushover.”
Twelve years later . . .
Allegra closed her eyes and savored the moment. The sounds of the band surrounded her along with the voices of happy conversation and laughter. Warm strong arms encircled her as she swayed side to side. She felt his muscular legs rub against her to the rhythm of the slow song. His hand tightened on her hip and pulled her closer to him. Heaven was being in Finn Williams’s embrace.
“Hey, Leggy. We’re out of here.” Her sister Bree laughed, calling Allegra by her childhood nickname.
Reluctantly Allegra lifted her head from Finn’s broad shoulder to smile at her sister. The wedding dress Allegra had made for Bree was nothing compared to the smile on her face. Allegra had gained another brother-in-law that evening. Elle, her oldest sister and CEO of Simpson Global, had married sexy tech genius Drake Charles last year. Now her other sister, Bree, had married the devastatingly handsome architect Logan Ward.
Allegra stepped away from Finn’s warmth to hug her sister and then Logan. They were so perfect together. Bree had always been the tough-as-nails sibling with a wild streak. That’s what it took to run a billion-dollar steel and construction company. But it seemed Logan’s steady nature had centered her. They were happy and clearly in love.
“Congratulations,” Allegra whispered to Bree as she hugged her tightly. She was feeling somewhat alone tonight—she and Reid were the only unmarried Simpsons.
Allegra was nothing like Bree. She lived in a world of beauty, not dirt. After their father died, the reins to the burgeoning company had been turned over to Elle, who had to fight off takeovers to grow the company into the multibillion-dollar global conglomerate it was today. After Allegra had finished college and design school, she had joined her brother at the company run by their two older sisters. They had given her the freedom to grow her love of fashion and design. Now Allegra ran one of the largest parent companies in the fashion world, on top of having her own small fashion house.
“Thank you, Leggy. For this dress and everything you did to set this wedding up—it is a dream come true,” Bree said with a tear in her eye that she quickly wiped away.
“David and Josh are so into dancing over there, I didn’t get a chance to thank them for making the tux for me. Please thank them for me,” Logan told her as he kissed her cheek and shook Finn’s hand.
Bree looked between them and then smiled. “Well, we’re jumping ship. Enjoy the privacy of the island. And Finn . . .”
“Take care of my sister, will ya?”
Finn’s deep brown eyes glowed with delight. He was just as quick as she at picking up her sister’s approval of them together. Allegra felt her heart plummet at the feel of her phone vibrating in her purse. The slow steady vibration brought her back to reality. She could never be with Finn. It didn’t matter that she was head over heels in love with him; she couldn’t share her heart right now.
“With pleasure.” Finn looked into her face and smiled.
Bree smiled again, and with a wave the newlyweds disappeared to the other end of the private island the Simpson family owned off the Connecticut coast.
“Oh, it was such a beautiful night,” her mother said as she clapped her hands. Margaret Simpson was the epitome of Southern class. She’d had it when they were dirt-poor, and she had it now that they were one of the richest families in the world. Margaret believed money was inconsequential to good manners.
“It was, without a doubt, Mrs. Simpson,” Finn said.
“Knock off that
stuff, Finn. We’re practically family.” With a wink to Finn, she hurried over to talk to Reid.
Finn slid his arm around Allegra’s waist and pulled her toward him again, but he’d lost her in that one split second. For a minute, he thought he had a chance with a girl like her. When she melted against his body and he had wrapped his arms around her, he thought she was showing him some interest. But now she was as stiff as a board in his arms.
With a sigh, Finn pulled away and looked at his dream woman. She was distracted and looking anywhere but at his face. “How about I get you a drink?”
Allegra jerked her head up and nodded absently before turning to pull her phone from her small purse.
Finn gave her one last wistful look before making his way through the crowd as he headed toward the bar. The night was clear and stars twinkled above the dance floor on the estate’s lawn. The clearing was surrounded by woods on one side and the ocean on the other. Strategically placed gas lanterns provided a warm glow, chasing the chill from the fall air. The walk to the bar gave him time to think about Allegra. His heart was already invested. He had fallen in love with her months ago and had done everything he could to be near her. Her positivity and sweetness were contagious. He found himself craving her smiles and the gentle ringing of her laughter. His six-foot-two-inch body could be brought to its knees by one of her smiles. But, he was receiving mixed messages.
Finn had made it a long way in his thirty-four years, but not far enough to be a part of this crowd. He knew the Simpsons had been poor once. But he doubted they had to fight the constant battle of drugs, alcohol, and the low expectations he had to confront growing up. But he had done it. His mother had scraped by on two jobs and made sure he went to school every day and that he was at the ball field for baseball practice every night.
It had paid off when he got a baseball scholarship to college. After two years, he was drafted and sent to a minor league team to scrape his way up to the big leagues. He was almost there. He was set to be called up. He knew it, and to show off he made a stupid decision. He tore every ligament in his knee as he tried to make an acrobatic catch on a routine pop-up. He lost everything in one second. Looking across the small dance floor, he saw Allegra’s back to him and knew in this one second he had just lost something more special to him than baseball had ever been.
Allegra’s hand shook as message after message came pouring onto the screen of her phone.
Whore. Whore. Whore.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as she fumbled with the phone to turn it off.
Whore. Whore. Whore.
“Allegra, are you all right?”
Allegra shoved the phone back into her purse and wiped her tears away before turning around to give a shaky smile to Elle and Drake. “Fine, why?” Oh God, don’t let them talk to me for long, Allegra wished.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Drake said as he looked around for Elle's former driver. “Did Finn do something to upset you?”
After being hurt in baseball, Finn had started driving a taxi. The night their father died, he’d picked up Elle and driven her to the hospital. He’d stayed outside waiting for her and driven Allegra’s distraught sister home afterward. Soon Elle had hired him to be her driver at Simpson Global, as well as paying for him to finish his degree at night school. After earning a bachelor’s degree, Finn went on to more night classes at law school. Once he’d passed the Bar, he approached Elle with the idea for Simpson Global to buy a failing sports management agency and turn it into an all-around entertainment agency. Elle looked over the proposal Allegra had helped Finn prepare and agreed. Finn was a ballplayer who turned into VP of Simpson Entertainment, and Allegra was in love with him.
“No!” Allegra said quickly, startling them both. Elle didn’t blink, but Drake raised a dark eyebrow at her. “Um, he’s just getting me a drink. I was lost in thought about Fashion Week. You know how crazy this time of year is for me.”
“Drake, can you get me a drink, too?” Elle asked sweetly. Oh, no. Allegra was about to get a lecture.
“Um, sure?” Drake answered and when his wife nodded he sauntered off to meet Finn at the bar.
“Okay, spill it.”
“Spill what?” Allegra asked innocently.
Elle rolled her green eyes at her. “You were the same way when Raven picked on you during high school, and you refused to tell us because you knew we’d chew you out for being too nice.”
“Sometimes it pays to be nice,” Allegra argued back.
“Sometimes, but not all the time. Who have you been too nice to now?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Allegra said, knowing full well what she meant.
“One,” Elle put up her finger, “Stephanie Manicheck, your college roommate who walked all over you and stole money from you. Yet, you refused to kick her out because you’re a pushover. Two,” Elle held up another finger, “Lewis Blackwater.”
“He was brokenhearted,” Allegra mumbled.
“You broke up with him by giving him flowers and telling him how wonderful his cheating ass was. Then he guilt-tripped you into paying for a trip to Vegas in order for him to get over you. While there, he knocked up a showgirl and asked you to make her wedding dress . . . which you did!”
“Fine,” Allegra said sharply. “I’m too nice. Is that what you want to hear?”
“No. I want you to stand up for yourself. And if you can’t, then at least have the courage to tell me or Bree so we can help.”
“So you can run my life, you mean. Take care of poor little Leggy.”
Elle crossed her arms over the chest Allegra wished she had and narrowed her eyes. “You know damn well that’s not what I am talking about. I’m worried about you. You’ve been acting strangely since you broke up with that loser, Harry, last year. You isolated yourself. I thought you were getting better and dating Finn, but you aren’t. Are you?”
Allegra looked away. Sometimes having sisters was hard. She wished they could all be as blissfully ignorant as Reid. Brothers . . . they never noticed anything. “No, I’m not dating Finn. Why is everyone pushing me to date him? Did it ever occur to any of you that I don’t want to date him?”
“Here’s your drink. I’m heading back home tonight. Sorry to have bothered you.” Allegra whirled around to see Finn and Drake standing behind her. Finn’s dark skin glowed a soft brown in the romantic lights, and his eyes were masked in shadows. He shoved the glass at her. The cold liquid splashed on her hand as he turned sharply on his heel and strode away from her.
“I always thought you were the nice one,” Drake said, his voice full of censure.
Allegra slammed the glass on the table. She noticed Reid and her mother look over with surprise. “What you don’t know is that I am being nice. I’m protecting Finn from nothing but trouble. Now, excuse me. I need to work on the after-party at Fashion Week.”
Allegra stormed into the woods. She felt the branches tear at the soft wispy dress she’d made, but she didn’t care. She kept going until she pushed through to the other side of the small island. Waves from the Long Island Sound slapped against the large rocks lining the island. She kicked off her heels and took a tentative step onto the closest rock. It was cold. It matched her heart. She carefully made it farther out so she could look directly down into the water. Wind whipped her hair as she took a seat on the massive rock. Waves splashed against the boulders and drops of water cascaded down onto her.
She looked out in the distance and refused to even blink. There. Two red taillights just appeared on the mainland. Finn. She watched him turn his car on and drive away. She didn’t move until they had turned so small she could no longer see them. Her hopes and dreams of a future—of love—just disappeared with Finn.
This was her life now—one of loneliness and sleepless nights. She’d done it to herself when she’d broken up with Harry. He’d tried to get back with her in person and when she rejected him, he started asking her out through anonymous texts and emails. When she rejected him again, politely, things changed. She felt him watching her on the streets; she felt him staring at her at the gym. But whenever she looked around, she never saw him. And the texts changed. He told her he knew she loved him and knew she wanted to be with him, but was a whore for seeing other people—Finn, her personal trainer, and the man at the coffee shop. Somehow she had to fix this herself. Allegra opened her purse and turned on her phone. Hundreds of text messages started pinging.
Whore. Whore. Whore. Whore. Whore.
Finn drove along the coast with the windows down. His hands gripped the wheel tightly as he let the cold fury overtake him. Getting angry was better than feeling the pain of his heart breaking. He shouldn’t be surprised though. He had known he wasn’t good enough for her. But he had prayed that Allegra was different. He had thought she didn’t care where he came from or how much money he had—or didn’t have. But he was wrong.
He didn’t know how long it took, but soon he was at the small private airfield. The Simpson jet stood by to carry partygoers home in the morning. Allegra would be with them, and he didn’t think he could see her right then.
“Finn? What are you doing here so late?”
Finn sighed with relief at the voice of the Simpson’s tough pilot. “Troy. Just the man I was looking for. An emergency has come up, and I need to get back to Atlanta.”
“Sure. Let me file the flight plan, and we can be on our way shortly. I’ll be back in plenty of time to pick the others up tomorrow.”
Finn followed Troy up the stairs of the private jet and sat down in the soft leather chair. Through the pain of the night, something else was bothering him. If he thought it through, then it might come to him. But as he opened the bar and poured a whiskey, he decided thinking was overrated.