Midnight Madness

Chapter One

Snow may be beautiful to look at, but even inside a warm, cozy apartment it's enough to make someone cold. Devon watched the flakes float down in a swirling cloud, adding themselves to the mounds already covering the streets and sidewalks. The sight made her glad that classes were over for the semester, since she would have trudged through the mounds in order to get to school. Under ordinary circumstances she would have been out of college and into postgraduate work by now, but for her, circumstances hadn't been ordinary.

Devon sighed as she left the window, more than aware of the fact that she now thought of herself as Devon Grant. She'd been born Dorothy Gaithers, but fortunately or unfortunately she'd also been born beautiful. That fact had given her a career as a very successful model from the age of fourteen to twenty, and when she'd reached twenty she'd quit. Walked away from all the glamour - meaning hard, boring work - after having saved most of her money, and now she'd completed her first year and a half at college.

"And once I graduate, I'm going on to become a forensics expert," she murmured as she curled up in her favorite chair, a smile coming through the way it usually did. Many people had no idea what a forensics expert did, so she usually just shrugged and said, "Clues at crime scenes. You know, the one who picks up hairs and cigarette butts and puts them in plastic bags."

But forensics covered a lot more than that. It was an investigation in detail of the details, the tiny little things that let authorities catch the more clever murderers. And she would be the one who helped them do that, the one who made the world just a bit more safe for ordinary people everywhere…

Assuming she found it possible to get around her looks. Devon almost sighed again, but annoyance kept her from doing it. Instead she looked at the empty picture frame on the table next to her chair, kept there empty to remind her about the realities of life. That frame had held, one after the other, the pictures of three men, men she'd thought were different from all the others. It wasn't hard to understand and accept the fact that most men were attracted to her beauty, since that was the original purpose of beauty.

But once the beauty has done its job of attracting someone, shouldn't that someone then begin to look for what might lie underneath? Devon was the first to admit that a man's looks were what first took her notice, but after that she did try to find out about the man inside. What were his likes and dislikes, his beliefs, his value system? What did he consider important, and where did he draw his lines in life? In other words, what was the point beyond which, in any given situation, he would refuse to go?

She'd found out that the three men she'd considered different were just the same inside, that they were little boys rather than men and that they knew nothing about relationships. Their most important aim had been to get her into bed, as quickly as possible to begin with and as often as possible thereafter. Not one of them had considered her anything more than a toy and a possession, something to entertain them when they weren't doing anything more important, something to show off when they went out among their friends.

"A human being?" she murmured, quoting the last of them when she'd finally forced him to discuss the matter. "You want to be considered a human being like everyone else? But baby, you're not like everyone else, so why would you say something like that? You're a gorgeous hunk of woman and you're mine. What more can there be?"

At that point she'd thrown the fool out, and then had let her answering machine take all her calls. He'd tried twice to coax her back into their "relationship," and then he'd stopped calling. So much for the "eternal" nature of their pairing. At least the first two had tried half a dozen times each before giving up.

"It must be me," Devon muttered, turning the empty picture frame away from her chair. "Three tries and three strikeouts. What am I doing wrong?"

She'd asked herself that question before any number of times, so it wasn't surprising when her doorbell rang before she had an answer. At that point the answer was nowhere in sight - as usual - so she filed it away again and went to the door. The peephole showed her Lita Fellows standing outside in the hall, so she quickly opened the door.

"Lita, what's wrong?" Devon asked at once, now seeing the angry frustration on her friend's face a good deal more clearly. "You look as though you can't decide whether to kill someone or to just sit down and cry."

"If I had someone to kill, I'd be much happier doing that," Lita answered as she walked in, the annoyance also in her voice. She was a very pretty girl of eighteen, and was slowly coming into popularity as a model. "Right now it's fate doing me the dirty trick, but I've thought of a way around it - if you'll do me a very big favor. Do you have plans to go home for Christmas?"

"Not this year," Devon said with a shake of her head as she followed Lita into the living room. "My sister and brothers and I got together and arranged for a cruise for Mom and Dad as a Christmas present, so they'll be away for the holidays. But they'll be back before New Year's Day, so we'll go home and exchange the rest of the gifts then. What kind of favor are we talking about?"

"Then you've got more than ten days free," Lita exclaimed as she brightened, apparently ignoring Devon's question. "That's great, so let me start by explaining my problem. Have you heard about that new perfume, Midnight Madness? It's by Saint Regine, the people who brought out Midnight Fever."

"Actually, I heard about it from you," Devon reminded her, sitting back down in her chair after Lita had made herself comfortable on the couch. "Weren't you chosen as one of the background models for the planned ad campaign?"

"Exactly, one of the background models," Lita agreed with a grimace. "Maylin March and Victor Strong are the key models, with everyone else arranged behind them. They both have black hair, so the rest of us were chosen because we're blondes. We'll be lucky if our faces are in focus in any of the shots, but chances are they won't be. Except, possibly, for one, so we can add it to our portfolios."

"But you'll be very well paid and the shoot will only be for a week, so you were glad to accept," Devon said, again reminding Lita of what she'd said previously. "Has something about any of that changed?"

"Only the fact that I've just been offered the Macklin lipstick campaign," Lita returned, desperation showing in her lovely blue eyes. "It's scheduled to run all over the country and in Europe, and I'll have a contract naming me the Macklin girl. It's three times the money that Saint Regine offered, twice the exposure, and ten times better for my career. I'm already eighteen, Devon, so I don't have much more time to make it big. If I'm forced to pass up Macklin's offer, I may never get another one like it."

"I don't see the problem," Devon said, knowing exactly what Lita meant. The idea of being too old at twenty-five was one of the things which had made her quit modeling. "If the Macklin offer is better for you, tell the Saint Regine people to find another model for their background."

"It isn't quite that simple," Lita said with a deep sigh. "I signed a contract with Saint Regine, the only kind of contract they ever offer. If I simply try to walk out they'll send their lawyers to court, and I'll be barred from doing any modeling while the contract is in dispute. And they'll keep it in dispute until there's no chance left that I'll get what I'm trying to leave them for. The only chance I have is if I can provide an acceptable substitute - their definition of acceptable, not mine."

"Now I understand the favor," Devon said as she leaned back in her chair. "You want me to take your place, but I've been away from things for a year and a half. How do you know they'll agree to having me stand in for you?"

"I know because I've already asked," Lita admitted, looking as though she expected Devon to explode at her in anger. "They had no trouble remembering you, and since you're also a blonde - and haven't gained a pound since you retired - they'll accept you in my place. If you're willing to do it…"

"Stop waiting for me to scream and throw things," Devon said with a laugh for Lita's expression. "Have they changed their minds about doing the shoot on one of the islands in the Florida Keys? No? Then take a look out that window before you decide that you're talking to my evil twin rather than to me. I have no studying to do, I can't go home yet, and it's blizzarding out there. A week in the warmth and sunshine is exactly what I need, and the money won't be very hard to take either. As long as no one decides that I'm ready to be talked into coming back any more often than once as a favor."

"Oh, they won't, Devon, I promise they won't!" Lita exclaimed as she bounced off the couch in delight. "You're the best friend anyone ever had, and I'll love you forever! I'll call everyone right now and make all the arrangements. You'll be leaving tomorrow afternoon, after all, so there's no time to waste. And you won't be sorry, I promise you won't!"

Devon stood up and let Lita hug her, then she followed the girl to the door and closed it behind her whirlwind exit. Lita was still innocent enough to make Devon chuckle, and Devon hadn't been lying when she'd suggested that Lita was also doing her a favor. It would be nice to get away from the snow and cold for a while, an almost-vacation that would earn rather than cost her money. And since Devon had nothing better to do…

No, she thought as she went to look out at the snow again, I certainly will not be sorry I agreed…