Wild Beauty (Soul Sister #2) by Audrey Carlan

CHAPTER ONE



“Chin up, tits out, back straight, head held high. I’ve got this.” I coached myself and inhaled a hard and fast breath while staring at my image in the entryway mirror of my childhood home.

Kerrighan House.

A home for orphaned girls. Well, it used to be. Now it’s just home. The place each of us “sisters” visited on a regular basis just like any normal siblings would to see their parents. In our case, it was parent, singular. But the love Mama Kerri gave to each and every one of her girls was a thousand times that of any family I’d ever seen or stayed with before arriving here almost two decades ago. I was eight then, a frightened and scared little girl. At twenty-six now, I was back in my old bedroom and once again frightened and scared out of my mind.

“He’s dead,” I told my image while staring in the mirror. “He can’t get you.” I watched my reflection and forced myself to unlock my jaw, soften my appearance, and gaze into the mirror as though it were a camera. This was the same way I prepared for my photo shoots. As a model, I had to be a master at masking my feelings. And I used to be the best at it. But now, when I look in the mirror, I not only see the mass of scars running up and down the insides of my forearms, but also the fear I have yet to shake even after three months.

Parents I didn’t know and would never meet blessed me with medium brown hair with incredible natural auburn highlights that I grew to the middle of my back. Emerald green eyes with a hint of a blue sheen stared back at me. Plump lips on a heart-shaped face that women and men around the world adored. I ran my hands over my large breasts and down the sides of my waist to hips that were once very rounded. The hourglass shape I normally rocked was looking a little thin. I’d lost weight after the ordeal, but then I put some back on. My clientele preferred me to model their clothing, bathing suits, and especially lingerie when my body was between a size fourteen and sixteen. After three months of physical healing and mental hell, my size fourteens were a little loose. But I knew my body looked smokin’ hot, soft, and sensual at that size and larger. That didn’t mean I hated on women who were smaller than me. Every single one of my seven foster sisters weighed less than me, and all of them looked amazing in their own skin. Which is how I used to feel, until a portion of my skin was blistered and burned beyond recognition.

“Addy! Baby girl, you ready or what?” my foster sister and best friend Blessing asked while clomping down the stairs in her sky-high stilettos.

I glanced at my sad self in the mirror one last time hoping I could fulfill this new contract. It was going to set me up for a huge payday, not that I needed it. Still, I liked knowing I had a ridiculous amount of money saved in the event that me or one of my sisters needed to be bailed out. I’d lived my adolescent years prior to Kerrighan House uncertain where my next meal would come from, worrying whether or not I’d have to fight other hungry kids in one of the many foster homes I stayed. Until the day I walked into the open, loving arms of Mama Kerri and my new sisters. Once I was settled at Kerrighan House, I promised myself I’d become something amazing one day. Make enough money to take care of myself and everyone I loved. Which meant basically Mama Kerri, the world’s greatest foster mother of all time, and my seven foster sisters: Blessing, Sonia, Simone, Liliana, Genesis, Charlie, and the recently deceased Tabitha.

Tabby.

My eyes started to tear, and my heart pounded a loud bass drum beat against my chest as flashes of Tabby teasing me, of taking my picture, of her laughing sprinted across my mind.

“Girl, I said are you ready to hit it or what? These are huge clients of mine and now yours. They’d understand if it were too soon, but Boo, they’d have to hire another model. Now you know I prefer when you rock my clothing and lingerie, but this client has the power to get my designs into the regular box stores. We’re talking Macy’s, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and more. Right now, everything I sell is boutique and upscale, but I want to rake in the real cash. You know what I’m talkin’ about.”

I closed my eyes and swallowed as I nodded. “I do, Blessing. I understand and I’m ready. I swear I am. It’s just scary this first time out.”

Blessing wrapped a long arm around my shoulders and stared at the two of us in the mirror. Blessing was an inch shorter than me, but in heels, she towered over my five-foot, eleven-inch form. Her corkscrew ebony curls were bouncing all around her head in a perfectly stylized ’fro. Her black skin shone like silky smooth river rocks and felt just as soft. She smelled of her customary coconut oil mixed liberally with a light, breezy perfume that reminded me of Spring on the stony shores of Cannes, France. A place we’d visited many times together on different photoshoots.