The Ruin (Convenience #3) - Stella Gray

Prologue

Luka

“So tell me about Monica Shore.” Guy eyes me with keen interest from across the booth.

We’re at my favorite sports bar on Chicago’s South Side, and after shooting the shit about the best local pizzerias, baseball, and DRM’s most promising new faces (and destroying most of a large pizza), the advertising head of Maxilene has relaxed considerably and even removed his tie.

“Monica. Right. Well, as you know, she’s a veteran in the industry,” I say carefully. “Definitely professional and easily recognizable. But probably not the ‘fresh face’ you said you’re looking for at the moment, unlike Brooklyn—”

“Sure sure,” he says, taking another swallow of his beer, a Goose Island IPA. “But there’s something to be said about that kind of longevity. Most models fizzle after a year or two, but Monica’s got serious staying power. It almost makes me wonder if a makeover—a full-on Maxilene makeover—could relaunch her and us, in one fell swoop.

“Get it? The message being that our cosmetics can refresh you, like a…like a reboot. You’re still the same person, but now you’re revamped.”

I can tell Guy is getting excited about this new line of thinking, and I know I have to do everything I can to steer him away from it. The goal is to get him invested in hiring Brooklyn, my wife. This Maxilene campaign has been her dream for ages, and on top of making her a household name, it’s exactly the kind of career move that will launch her into the big leagues. Plus, Monica is Brooklyn’s biggest competition. There’s no way they can hire her instead.

He adds, “I gotta tell you, it was a shock to hear that Monica left Elite Image. She’d been with them, what, seven years?”

“Just about,” I admit. “But she was ready for a change.” I take the opportunity to pivot. “And that’s what DRM is all about, as we discussed. Ushering in big changes, shaking things up, disrupting the industry. That’s a big reason why we launched our Curves division and signed models like Brooklyn—”

“Sure,” Guy agrees, eyeing the pizza stand in the middle of the table. “You mind if I take the last slice?”

“Please, go ahead.”

He picks it up and takes a huge bite, grinning around a mouthful of sausage and cheese.

I smile back, but I’m tense. I’ve been singing Brooklyn’s praises for the last half hour to convince Guy that she’s the perfect model for Maxilene’s new campaign. His sudden inquiry about Monica has taken me completely off guard.

“Look, Brooklyn is a shoo-in,” he says, and I relax a bit.

“That’s great news,” I tell him.

He goes on, “But I gotta go back to the execs in a few days and present them with different options. It’s not just about what I want, you know? And I’ll definitely mention that other woman with the roller skates. Tessa, you said her name was? Her too.”

“Sure, of course.” From what I gather, he’s already decided on Brooklyn. He just needs to go through the motions and pitch his bosses at Maxilene a variety of models so they feel like they’re making their own choices.

He shrugs, looking satisfied with himself. “Back to Monica, though. Just for the sake of argument, and given that she’s nearing icon status in the national scene, what do you think of her potential for this job? I gotta make my presentation to the bigwigs, right?”

Damn, he’s good.

I steeple my fingers and mull it over. “Well, I will say that Monica is a perfect example of a classic beauty. That’s what accounts for that staying power you mentioned. Her face alone is its own brand. But at the same time, it’s static. No matter how she’s styled, she gives off the same vibe in every shoot. That old Hollywood glamour thing. Not that I’m complaining.”

He laughs and I scramble to think of how to phrase this properly.

“From what you’ve told me, Guy, I’m not sure that residual essence is what this campaign needs. Maxilene would go much farther with an eye-catching, natural beauty, the type who goes from sultry fantasy girl to girl-next-door in the snap of your fingers. The type who appeals to the entire target demographic.”

Guy nods. “I see what you’re saying. And Brooklyn is all of that.”

“Exactly.” My wife has certainly painted the wholesome picture, thanks to my careful engineering of all of her photo shoots. She’s never liked it, but it might just pay off now.

His eyebrows arch and he taps his fingers together, slightly mimicking me. I hope that’s a good