Author Spotlight Week with Isabella Starling | Day 3 | Exclusive Sneak Peek | Sicko Stalker

2020. november 11., szerda

Hey Lovelies!

Today, we share an EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK by Sicko Stalker. I'm very excited about this book and I know you will love that too!!!

Add to your TBR!

Chapter 1

I will never be as beautiful as I was before my face was ruined by a madman.
It's a hard truth, a bitter pill to swallow, but one that I've come to accept. My fingertips glide over the puckered scar. My reflection stares back, judging my appearance. I was pretty once. Years ago, before he cut me. I was pretty, careless, young, and stupid. I'm none of those things now.
"Dove, are you coming?"
"One second," I call out, untucking the dark strands of hair and allowing them to fall over my cheek, covering the scar. Like this, I look almost like I used to. I'm not the innocent nineteen-year-old I used to be. I'm twenty-seven now. I'm on a new path. I have a new life. A different kind of life. Sometimes I wonder if I would've been happier without the scar. But it's a dangerous path to go down. Better to focus on what I have than what could never be.
"Coming!" I peel myself away from the mirror, sighing as I tuck my hair behind my ear again. There's no point in hiding the scar. They all know it's there. It's the reason I got this job, after all.
I leave the bathroom, exiting into the studio where the bright lights blind me. I groan inwardly. Why the hell did I agree to do this again? Because of Robin, I remind myself. Because I'd do anything for my brother. He's all I have.
"Where do you want me?" I ask, standing awkwardly in the middle of the brightly lit space.
Raphael glances up from his camera, shooing his assistant. His brows knit together when he sees me. "You messed with your hair."
"I'm sorry," I mutter, fighting the urge to play with it again. "It was too perfect."
He approaches me, critically examining my features as he toys with the strands of hair framing my face. He doesn't touch or mention the scar, and I'm grateful for it. I know how hard it is to ignore.
"It looks better this way," he finally says, more to himself than me. "You'll have to take the robe off, though."
"Sure," I nod. "What am I wearing?"
Raphael returns to his setup, making sure his camera is connected to the computer screen. He doesn't look at me, fiddling with the cables as he says, "Nothing."
"Nothing?" Panic seizes my body in a deathly grip, my heart nearly jumping out of my chest at the thought. I do my best not to show it. I don't want to spoil this for myself. "What do you mean?"
Finally, Raphael glances up from the screen. "This is a nude shoot. Didn't I mention that?"
Wordlessly, I shake my head. The lump in my throat is getting bigger and bigger. What the hell did I get myself into? Damn Robin. He never mentioned this little detail. I wonder if he knew. My hands shake as I tug on the tie holding the black silk robe in place. I don't want to take it off, but what choice do I have? Raphael Santino is a world-renowned photographer. Booking this shoot was an honor. I can't let him down now.
"Sit on that chair," he says, staring through the lens of his camera as he points me underneath the bright lights. They all point at the chair, and I walk over there. It's hot under the lights, but not hot enough for me. I thrive in the heat. The cold always reaches my bones, making me feel more alone than ever. "Robe off, Dove."
I glance at everyone else in the room. There are two assistants, a lighting guy, as well as the makeup artist and hairstylist. I want to ask if they're all staying for the shoot, but I'm too embarrassed, not wanting to show just how inexperienced I am.
"Pronto, Dove," Raphael sighs, then follows my gaze to the rest of the people in the room. He seems to have picked up on my nervous energy. "Would you be more comfortable if we were alone?"
I contemplate his words. It would be easier to have just one judging pair of eyes on me instead of five. But out of all the people here, Raphael is the most intimidating by far. The Mexican photographer is gorgeous. Messy black hair, the most intense dark gaze and a body that looks like it’s carved from stone. I've seen his Instagram feed. Even his selfies look like works of art, and he has beautiful models throwing themselves at him all day long. So what the hell does it matter? It's not like the guy's interested in me, anyway. He doesn't care what I look like. I'm not his girlfriend – I'm just the inspiration of the day.
"Yes," I finally manage.
He clicks his fingers and my watchers file out of the studio while casting curious glances at me. I can tell the hairstylist, Jenna, is jealous. She was eating Raphael up with her eyes earlier. She must be hating this. The thought gives me a sick kind of satisfaction, yet I’m dreading what I’m about to do.
“When you’re ready,” Raphael says, returning his eye to behind the lens.
I get to my feet, the bright lights unforgiving, my hands trembling as I tug on the tie and the robe comes undone. I let it fall off my pale shoulders, gathering at my feet in a pool of silk. I can feel Raphael's gaze on me as he drinks in my body, and shame threatens to burn me up from the inside.
But the photographer doesn't mention any of my imperfections. Not the fact that I'm painfully thin, emaciated. Not the tiny cuts covering my body, scars from years ago and some as fresh as a few days back. He doesn't talk about my visible ribcage, or the hipbones painfully protruding through my pale skin. Doesn't mention the scabbed scars on my thighs. And it's a welcome relief.
This is who I am. This is what I look like. If he doesn't like me, that's fine – I just hope he's quick and as painless as possible when he turns me down. But the words never come. Instead, I'm blinded by the flash of light as he snaps a photo.
"Hermosa," he mutters, admiring his own work on the screen. "Just fucking beautiful."
It's been a long time since I've been called beautiful.
For the next three hours, I work hard as Raphael's muse. He positions me in different ways, neither of us stopping for a second. I'm naked for the entire shoot, but it doesn't feel icky like I feared when Raphael first mentioned it. He doesn't look at me like a sex object. He looks at me almost impersonally, as though I'm a work of art he's been sent to capture. Like a true artist.
By the time he finally announces we're finished, I'm feeling exhausted.
"Do you want to see the photos?" he asks as he stares intently at the computer screen, scrutinizing our hard work. "I think they came out –"
"No, that's okay," I cut him off. I don't want to hear the ending of that sentence. "As long as we're done here, I'd like to head back home."
"Of course." He gives me a curious glance. This time, he doesn't look at me like I’m an object. He looks at me as a woman, and his gaze lingers on my puckered nipples, on the black trail of hairs leading down to my neglected center. I flush, letting my hair fall over my face to hide the traitorous blush in my cheeks. Picking the black silk robe off the floor, I put it on as fast as I can. Once I'm covered by fabric again, I can finally breathe.
"Thank you for this opportunity," I say, my gaze meeting Raphael's. "I'm really grateful."
"Of course you are," he smirks. Cocky. But why wouldn't he be? "It was my pleasure, honestly, Dove. We have something amazing here. I'll be in touch in a few weeks with the final selection." 
His eyes drink me in again as I head to the clothing rack where the clothes I came in are still hanging. I rummage through my purse first, seeing a couple of missed calls from my brother. He's probably anxious to know how everything went. I didn't expect for the shoot to take this long. 
I smile to myself. Robin's way too protective, but I'm grateful for it. I can't trust my own judgement, never could. Robin makes sure I'm okay, and not getting into too much trouble.
"What?" I turn back to face Raphael who is still staring at me intently. "Unless what?"
"Unless you'd like to see me before then." He smirks. The cockiness would be unbearable on any other man, but Raphael has a certain kind of charm that makes it impossible to hate him for being so forward. "I like you, Dove. You're... different."
Not special. Not beautiful. Different.
But it's a compliment, nonetheless. I stare back into the photographer's gaze, pondering his words. There's no way I can live up to the flock of picture-perfect, barely legal models that decorate his arms at public functions. I'm not as pretty, and I'm too broken. But maybe that's exactly why he likes me.
"Are you asking me out?" I wonder out loud, and he laughs.
"You're really straightforward, aren't you?" he asks, and I shrug in response.
"No point in pretending. I am what I am," I reply.
"I like that." He sets his camera down, grinning at me. "I guess I am asking you out. Have dinner with me. Tonight."
"Tonight?" I shake my head. "No, I can't tonight."
"Got another hot date?"
I think of my plans. Dinner with Robin, then curling up in front of the TV, binging the same TV shows for the thousandth time. "You could say that."
"You're a popular girl, Dove Canterbury," Raphael smirks. "I'll settle for tomorrow then. And don't give me another excuse. I want to see you again, soon as I can."
I weigh up the pros and cons. The negatives by far outweigh the positives, but despite that, I find myself nodding in response to Raphael's question. I grab a pen from his desk and scribble my address on a pink Post-It note, handing it to him.
"Pick me up here. Eight p.m. tomorrow."
"Do I get your number too?" He raises his brows, obviously amused. I hesitate, but then scribble that down, too. "And your social media? Instagram? Facebook? Do you have Twitter?"
"No," I reply firmly. "I'm not on social media."
I neglect to mention my Instagram account, but I don't want him to know about that. Not even Robin does.
"You're an enigma, Dove Canterbury," he mutters. I ignore his words and change in the studio while his gaze swallows me up with curiosity. What's the point of hiding now? The guy's already seen me naked from every angle.
"Well, you got yourself a deal. I'll pick you up tomorrow. Say hi to your brother for me, alright?" Raphael says once I'm back in my baggy clothes that hide a multitude of sins.
"Sure." I smile awkwardly and grab my purse, hoisting it on my shoulder. "You have a good day."
I exit the studio into the office area. The hairstylist glares at me, but I ignore her, saying my goodbyes and heading outside while ordering an Uber on my phone.
I wait outside. It's warmer here than it was in the air-conditioned studio, but still not enough to warm my cold bones. Nothing can stop the cold spreading from the inside.
As I wait for my driver, I scan the passersby for any sign of trouble. But no one pays me much attention. I'm invisible like this, in my all-black, baggy clothes, natural makeup, and my hair covering half my face – the ruined half. 
But then a mother walks by, holding a little girl's hand, and my heart jumps. The girl is cute, wearing a pink tutu and light-up pink sneakers. She must be about four. Really freaking cute. I smile at her, and she gives me a curious look while her mother impatiently tugs on her hand.
Tucking my hair behind my ear absentmindedly, I push my tongue out and make a face at her.
Her eyes widen as she notices the scar on my cheek. I almost forgot about it. Almost.
But as the little girl's smile changes into a grimace, I know I can never forget.
I'm ruined. A monster. And nothing will ever change the fact that Parker Miller destroyed my life eight years ago. I hate the bastard.

© Isabella Starling, 2020

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