First Comes Like (Modern Love #3) by Alisha Rai



Chapter One


JIA AHMED knew how to make herself look good. Angles, lighting, makeup, clothes, poses, postproduction editing. She could manipulate eternal factors to the point where cameras caught only the best parts of her, the funny, charming, clever, beautiful parts.

They didn’t catch the parts like now, when she was so anxious and insecure she was hiding in a bar’s bathroom and applying and reapplying her lipstick ten times.

She carefully traced her lips with the pink liquid. It’s perfect.

Except for the bow of her upper lip, which was blobby. Blast it. Her hands were getting more shaky, not less.

Leave the blob. Leave it!

Like she wasn’t a perfectionist when she wasn’t meeting a potential love interest. She pulled out yet another makeup wipe and swiped the pink off.

She needed to chill. No need to be nervous, couples met on apps and then in real life all the time. True, this was a little different, given that she was crashing a party to get face time with the man who had slid into her DMs.

What was a girl supposed to do! It had made sense to only talk via text when they’d first started chatting over a year ago, given he lived so far, and they were rarely awake at the same time. Though she’d been smitten, without physical interaction, the conversation had fizzled out after six weeks.

She’d been so busy with everything going on in her life and exploding career, she hadn’t really spared him much thought until she got sick a couple months ago. She was recovering, he was across the world; she’d accepted that he wanted to see her face for the first time in person.

But he’d been in America for a week now, within driving distance of her. She’d pressed to see him, but there was always some reason he couldn’t.

Do you want to get dinner?

How’s life in America treating you? Want to get a drink?

Do you like bowling?

And his responses:

I’d love to, but am tied up with work this week.

We can meet once I get adjusted.

Jet-lagged right now. Rain check?

So she’d done what any normal red-blooded woman would do. She’d used her frightening Google skills to track down where the cast for his new show was having a little party, scored an invitation through her various influencer connections, et voilà. Here she was.

Jia leaned closer to the mirror and applied the lippie again, going slow and steady. Finally, no blobby blobs. She critically inspected the rest of her face for any other possible flaws. She’d gone with a smoky eye for the evening and paired it with a light bronzer and nude lip. Her God-given cheekbones didn’t require much contouring, but she’d done a heavy beat tonight regardless. One of her sisters had once accused Jia of using makeup as a shield, but it wasn’t that deep. Art had always been her favorite class.

The bathroom door opened and a beautiful redhead walked in. She came to stand next to Jia at the sink, her own compact in hand. Jia gave her a smile and dropped her lipstick in her purse. She washed her hands again, though she’d already done it. One could never wash their hands enough. Plus, it would delay her having to leave the bathroom and put on her big-girl pants. Metaphorically speaking, since she was wearing a dress.

Jia caught the sideways glance the woman gave her, and then the double take. “Hey, do I know you from somewhere?”

A little thrill ran through her, the same thrill she always felt when she was recognized in L.A., a city where half the population was vaguely familiar. Internet famous was a weird thing, one where it was easy to forget that people might recognize her. She spent most of her time filming on her own or with a single cameraperson. There were modeling gigs and sponsorships, but those had dried up lately.

Part of her wished she could feel weary about attention—that was how humble people reacted to that sort of thing, right? But she loved attention, especially now. It was a nice reassurance that her recent mandatory illness-induced social media absence hadn’t totally tanked her career.

“You might.” Jia used a napkin from the classy stack on the counter to wipe her hands. “Are you plugged into the beauty side of social media?”

The woman brightened. “You do makeup tutorials! You’re that model!”

That model, which was better than oh you! or is that a real job? “That’s me.”

“So cool. You’re not as tall as I thought you’d be.”

Jia resisted the urge to straighten up. When one was five foot nothing in an industry where height was a conventional beauty standard, one grew accustomed to such comments. “Uh, thanks.”