Fugly (Fugly #1)

by Mimi Jean Pamfiloff

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And while I can’t argue with that, I can say the same holds true for ugly. Especially in my case.

I used to think I was beautiful—on the inside, anyway—and he was the monster. A horrible, unscrupulous, arrogant prick hiding behind the face of a bona fide, modern-day sex god. CEO, model, a man who had everything.

I was wrong. About both of us. And my blindness has led us to the edge. A pivotal cluster fuck.

My name is Lily Snow. I am twenty-five years old, five foot six, weigh one hundred and twenty pounds, and I have just fucked up my life. Along with his.

Good God, I never should have put him in a position like this. But what else could I do? I’m just an ugly girl in love with a beautiful man.

I’m so sorry, Max. I’m so, so sorry.

~~~

Two months earlier.

Do not be afraid. He’s just a person. Do not be afraid. He’s just a person. As I fidgeted on the white couch in the middle of the minimally decorated lobby—bright white walls, floors, and furniture with a few oversized photos of red juicy lips on the walls—I quietly prepared for the most important interview of my life: a role as junior sales manager at Cole Cosmetics—aka C.C.—in Chicago where I now lived. Getting this job would symbolize walking through a door people said would never be open to someone like me. And once I got in, it would serve as a stepping-stone for everything I wanted in life, mainly starting my own cosmetics company.

Someday.

In the meantime, I needed this—the experience, the prestige—and to prove to myself I had what it took to work at the world’s most edgy, glamorous cosmetics company that had set every trend for the last six years. One whisper from C.C., and the stylish masses of A-list actresses, pop divas, and fashion designers scrambled to catch up. This summer, sea-foam-green eyeshadow and orange lips were God, but I didn’t dare wear anything so bold. Calling attention to my face was not a smart move.

“Lily Snow?” I heard a woman call my name.

I looked over at the slender, gorgeous redhead, not much older than me, wearing a fitted blue dress and strappy blue heels. Her smoky, mascara-caked eyes scanned the nearly empty lobby, looking right over my head.

“Hi. I’m Lily Snow.”

Her eyes fell on my face with a spark of shock she quickly tried to conceal. “You’re…Miss Snow?”

I gave her a quick nod.

“Oh,” she said stiffly. “Don’t you have lovely hair.”

Her comment was what I liked to call a “conscience clearer.” It was when someone realized they just acted like a coldhearted ass and then quickly tried to make it up to me with a compliment. Usually about my long, wavy blonde hair or my “cute little body.”

I stood from my chair and extended my hand. “Thanks. I’ll trade my hair for your shoes. Your Manolos are to die for.” They were a limited release made just for Oscar season. Very expensive.

My shoes, for the record, were Franco Sarto heels I’d found on clearance at The Rack, black and simple, just like my pencil skirt and blouse. I would’ve loved to wear something more expensive, but the job I’d been in—a one-year consulting project at B&H Cosmetics—was for the experience rather than a big paycheck. I could’ve done better, but I’d had my sights on C.C., and I knew Mr. Cole, the owner, worked at B&H right after college.

I’m on your heels, big man.

A little smile popped on the redhead’s face. “My boyfriend got them for me,” she said, doing a little pivot to show off the shoes. “He works for Babs Levine.”

Uh. Wow. Babs was the world’s top formal dress designer, who once worked for some of the biggest names in fashion before going out on her own. She practically owned the red carpet this last season.

“Well,” I smiled, “if you ever get tired of your boyfriend, I’m single.”

She laughed so loud her voice echoed off the sterile-looking walls of the lobby. “I don’t think so.”

I wasn’t sure if she’d meant she’d never give the guy up or that he’d never go for me in a million years.

Both. Definitely both. I didn’t take offense, though. I’d made the comment to break the ice, and it worked. She introduced herself as Keri and became all smiles and warm chatter on the elevator ride up. I liked her immediately.

“So what’s it like having Maxwell Cole as your boss?” I asked.

The stainless steel doors slid open, and we entered the executive lobby on the top floor of the Chicago high-rise. Holycrap. Everything had an epic, larger-than-life feel—the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, sleek black furniture, and five pairs of red lips with the C.C. logo etched onto the cement floor. I half expected angels to come fluttering from the walls, blowing their horns. It’s like meeting a real live god.

And a god I would meet.

Maxwell Cole, the founder and CEO, was thirty-three, a marketing genius, Stanford grad, and handsome as hell. And he had morals. No, I’d never met the man, but I did my thesis on his company’s business model, and he was the heart and soul of the place, which was why he handpicked his corporate office salespeople even if they’d report to someone else. Which I would. Something like three levels down.

Still, I wanted to know everything about working for the man. I was ready to please him, bow to him, and make little origami shrines at his feet while he sat in meetings. The chance to work with a legend like this, even from afar, was a dream come true. And exactly what I needed if I were to run my own cosmetics company—one that I’d dedicate to making women feel beautiful and special no matter what they looked like.

Someday.

Keri’s smile melted away into something I’d describe as a polite smirk—like she knew something I didn’t. “Working for Mr. Cole is…great. Demanding, but great.”

For some reason, the only part of her comment I bought was the word “demanding.” I found that strange.

She added, “But you’ll get to see for yourself in two minutes.” She showed me into a small conference room in the corner, just big enough to seat four around the tiny orange table. The room, though it had an amazing view of Chicago and Lake Michigan, felt far too cozy and instantly put me on edge. I realized how close I’d have to sit to Maxwell Cole. And while I wasn’t ashamed of myself, I wanted him to focus on my words and my résumé, not on my face.