Fiona changed assistants more often than most people changed their underwear. And after the debacle at her office the other day—mistakenly calling me in and then shattering that teacup—it was a shocker she was still employed. Not to mention she was cute. Another strike against her. Fiona liked to be the best-looking woman in the room and certainly wouldn’t have hired an attractive assistant, but then again, maybe she just didn’t see it. Fiona was buffed, waxed, manicured, and Botoxed, and Emmy was au naturel—makeup-free skin that let the pink of her cheeks show, and long, straight hair that looked touchably soft.
I chuckled softly to myself. No, I definitely hadn’t expected to see her again. But it was a nice surprise. Maybe this season would be interesting after all.
I dutifully kissed Fiona’s cheek good-bye and strolled out of the room. I found Emmy still standing in the hall. The back of her head rested against the wall. Her eyes were closed and she drew deep breaths, her breasts rising and falling with each inhale. There was nothing merely cute about this girl. She was beautiful. I had an insane urge to hold her, to comfort her. Instantly, I changed my mind.
I wondered how much she’d heard of the conversation between me and Fiona and what she’d made of it. I certainly wasn’t going to offer up any explanation. My relationship with Fiona was complicated, to say the least.
“Are you okay?” My voice startled her, and her eyes flew open and darted up to mine. She didn’t answer right away; she just continued watching me. I leaned against the wall beside her and crossed my feet at the ankles.
“I’m sorry.” She shook her head, looking down at the plush gold and burgundy carpeting lining the hallway. “I’m fine. I’m just overtired, hungry. . . .”
She didn’t elaborate, but she was also most likely confused about what she’d just heard transpire between me and Fiona, and embarrassed for being chastised in front of me. The last thing I wanted was her thinking that it was some lover’s quarrel between me and her boss.
She remained rooted in place, pulling deep breaths into her lungs, like she was fighting for control. I wanted to reach a hand out and soothe her, brush the loose hair back from her pretty face. I wondered if her hair felt as silky as it looked. Instead, I shoved my hands in my pockets.
She looked up, pushed her shoulders back, and struggled to appear put together. She fixed me with a determined gray stare. “I’m fine. I’ve got to go track down that missing bag of Fiona’s.”
She turned to leave when I reached out and caught her elbow. A flash of heat zipped up my arm at the contact. That was interesting.
His penetrating gaze held me immobile. “Don’t let her get to you.”
Her? Oh, Fiona.
“She’s only cranky because she just turned thirty-eight,” Ben said, still looking at me expectantly.
“I didn’t know it was Fiona’s birthday.”
“Yeah, last week. But she doesn’t like people to know.” His hand dropped from my elbow. It was probably clear I wasn’t going anywhere while this beautiful man was talking to me. “Plus, I think she’s pissed at me right now, so seriously, don’t worry. You’ll get the bag delivered, right?”
Oh yeah, the bag. God, Ben talking to me and looking like he was actually concerned was enough to send my brain straight to la-la land. I needed to remember I had a job to do. “Thanks. And yeah, I guess I better go track down that bag.”
He nodded and stepped back. I darted for the elevators on shaky legs. It was just jetlag. It had nothing to do with him. Yeah, right.
Once the precious bag had been located and delivered, I spent the afternoon coordinating details for the next day’s photo shoot. It would take place at a historic Paris hotel, and after confirming that the photographer, makeup artist, lighting techs, and catering would all be there, I then double-checked Fiona’s notes in the Post-it bible for anything I might have missed. I still needed to email the models to give them their call times. But first, I ordered room service. I was starved and I doubted there’d be an invite from Fiona for a nice dinner out, even though it was my first night in Paris. I’d considered trying to navigate the city and treating myself to a classy meal, but dismissed the idea. A hot shower, pajamas, and dinner in bed sounded like a much better way to end the long day I’d had.
After showering, I fell into the fluffy comforter covering the bed and situated my laptop on a pillow on my lap. I double-checked their call times and sent notes to the models for tomorrow. I wasn’t sure why, but the thought of emailing Ben was nerve-racking. My fingers trembled. I considered writing something funny and cute, maybe signing the note Blueberry Muffin Girl . . . but at the last second I chickened out and typed a brief, professionally worded email. No sense flirting with a model; I’d probably just end up looking like an idiot. Surely, hordes of girls threw themselves at him on a daily basis. Though a smiley face couldn’t hurt, could it?
From: Emerson Clarke
Subject: Photo Shoot Tomorrow
Date: May 8, 2013 19:05
To: Ben Shaw
Please arrive at 58 rue de Fleurus at 9 a.m. tomorrow. See you then.
Assistant to Fiona Stone, Status Model Management
Someone knocked on the door. Room service! My stomach grumbled loudly. After tipping the bellhop, I settled back into the pillows with my food and typed Ben’s name into my browser. Dinner and a show. What could be more perfect? Google Images was my entertainment for the night. Yes, I was developing a serious fetish for him. Sue me.
My email indicator flashed with a new message, and I silently cursed whoever was interrupting my sick little addiction. I opened my inbox.
Ben Shaw Re: Tomorrow
I laughed silently to myself, finding it cute that he both noticed my smiley face had its tongue sticking out and took the time to respond. I typed out a response.
Me: Always. :)
Oh. My. Gosh. This had to be sleep deprivation talking. Who did I think I was, flirting with a supermodel? But I didn’t have to wait long before my inbox informed me there was a new message.
Ben: Naughty little thing, aren’t you, Miss Clarke? I approve.
I read his reply twice, savoring the fact that he seemed to be flirting back. I didn’t care that I was probably living in an alternate universe. I didn’t want to come back down to earth. Chewing my lip, I hesitated with my fingers over the keyboard.
Did I ignore this message, or respond? That was the million-dollar question. Obviously, ignoring him was out of the question. Hello, nerves.
Me: Glad you approve.
I wished my mind was working properly so I could’ve written something witty and sexy. I hit send and took a bite. Before I could even swallow, he’d replied.
Ben: What are you doing?
I was currently stuffing my face with a delicious sandwich of French bread, butter, and ham, and was pretty sure I had butter smeared on my chin, but I wasn’t about to tell him that I was in bed with a sandwich, wearing my ratty sweatpants with my hair piled up in the world’s messiest bun. Wiping my mouth on a napkin, I swallowed the bite.
Me: In bed. Alone. What about you?
Ben: Alone? That’s no fun.
I giggled to myself. As I pondered what to write back, another message popped up.
Ben: I’m in bed, too. Just got back from dinner with Fiona.
Ugh. Her name was like a bucket of ice water on my rising temperature. Suddenly, my sandwich tasted like cardboard. Finding myself no longer quite so famished, I stood and moved the tray of food across the room, setting it on a table beside the door.
Me: Sounds like fun. Hopefully she’s not still mad about earlier.
A few seconds later, his message flashed in my inbox.
Ben: No, she was fine. That was my fault earlier. She was worried I was going to get sucked into a relationship and have no time for working 24/$7 like I usually do.
I couldn’t resist what I typed next. I was like a giddy high-schooler having an out-of-body experience. Yes, I was baiting him to get some much-needed intel. Evil. Little. Genius, right there. Ellie would be so proud.
Me: No offense, but I thought a lot of male models were gay.
I couldn’t help but grin.
Ben: Don’t worry. I like pussy.
Sweet baby Jesus, did he just use that word? He did. He really went there. My jaw dropped open. Suddenly the room felt much too hot and the sheets rubbed against my bare skin annoyingly. I clamped a pillow between my knees and whimpered. Ben had actually just used the p-word.
Me: Good to hear. ;)
He didn’t need to know I was a hot, whimpering mess.
Ben: Is that so?
Me: Umm . . . yes?
I squealed and hid my face in my hands for a minute. This couldn’t be happening.
Ben: It’s fucking delicious.
Oh. My. God. This information was not helping my growing crush on him. Not one bit.
Me: I feel the insane need to admit that I’m looking up pics of you online now.
I didn’t know why I told him that, but I liked this brutal honesty thing that was happening between us.
Ben: I need more shirtless pics.
Wait. Were we flirting? I didn’t know how to flirt. Did I? I heard Ellie’s voice inside my head. Step one: Remove his pants. I giggled and quickly typed out a response. I didn’t want him to think I was a total creeper; although to be fair, he did seem to be encouraging it.
Me: No, actually that’s not what I’m looking at. I like your lips and jaw.
Ben: You like them for what?
Me: Good for nibbling.
Ben: Mmm. I like sucking on lips.
My heartbeat drummed in my chest. Ben Shaw could suck on my lips anytime.
My only response was a smiley face, but damn. What did one say to that? There was no textbook, no manual for flirting with a highly unattainable model.
Ben: You like that, Miss Clarke?
Me: Very much, Mr. Shaw.
This wasn’t me. I didn’t engage in dirty talk or flirty banter with models. While they worked out and watched their diets, I ate ice cream in my sweats and slept till noon on Sundays. I pretended to go to the gym, but I really just circled the parking lot looking for a spot. But I liked this new me he was bringing out. I felt confident. Though probably just because I was hidden behind a screen where I could blush and giggle all I wanted.
Ben: Good girl. I’ll see you in the morning.
Me: Yes. You’d better get your beauty sleep for tomorrow. ;)
Ben: Done. ;)
I shut my laptop and rolled over in bed, the ridiculous-ass grin on my face refusing to fade.
I was up early and had already made three trips between the hotel and the shoot location before 7 a.m. Thank goodness for the easy-to-navigate Metro. And the strong European coffee I’d downed at breakfast. Emailing back and forth with Ben the night before still seemed like a dream. My body was hyperaware that he’d be arriving soon, and though I was trying to focus, I was incredibly distracted, watching the door every few seconds.
Thankfully, everything was running smoothly. Fiona had arrived fifteen minutes ago, the photographer and creative designer were discussing the set, and the makeup and hair people were setting up their stations. Our first model, Madeline, the girl Ben had gone out with the other night, was set to arrive soon. The shoot was for a magazine layout of a luxury brand of European clothing.
We were in the courtyard of a beautiful hotel. Big green hedges surrounded a lovely fountain and lush green grass had been spray-painted to ensure it looked perfect. The morning was brisk but the sun was already shining. It was going to be a perfect day, and the elegant grounds were well suited for the sophisticated fall wardrobe look Ben and Madeline would be wearing.
We also had reserved a meeting room inside the hotel, adjacent to the outdoor space. The doors had been propped open and people filtered in and out, arranging things and preparing for the shoot.
Ben’s headshot was posted next to a cluster of hangers holding dark gray trousers, a silk button-down shirt in charcoal, a woven black tie, and a deep burgundy blazer. Really, he could be wearing a burlap sack and look stunning, but these clothes were gorgeous. The shoes were classic and dressy, too—intricate brown leather lace-ups with burgundy soles. I had a feeling shoes like this would be in all the department stores next year.
Madeline’s digital photo was pinned next to a plaid wool skirt and navy blouse. In her photo, she was a plain-looking blonde with high cheekbones and a heart-shaped face. But when she arrived, I dropped the croissant I’d been nibbling into the wastebasket. Madeline was stunning. Statuesque and thin, she commanded the attention of everyone in the room. She had a handler with her, and I approached the girl to point them in the direction of hair and makeup.
Fiona found me beside the catering table and shoved a Post-it into my hands like we were passing a secret note. It said, Always bring me a spare pair of flats!
I looked down at her higher-than-high heels. Flats. Got it. I shoved the note in my pocket and nodded. “Madeline has arrived,” I said.
“Brilliant.” She smiled, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Slutty cow,” Fiona muttered under her breath.
Fiona’s attention turned from me to the spread of snacks laid out in front of her. I was proud of the array: fresh seasonal fruit, a selection of French cheeses, and the flakiest croissants I’d ever tasted. Plus, glass bottles of Perrier and various sodas.
Fiona plucked a bottle of Perrier from the stash. I sensed she was about to criticize something when our attention was captured by Ben and Gunnar entering the room. Gunnar headed to the makeup area, while Ben paused just inside the door, glancing around the courtyard. He spotted us and his eyes lingered on mine. He sized me up as he sauntered toward us. A little chill skittered down my spine. I felt hot under his gaze and the memories of his sexy words from last night. My face was flushed and my underarms felt damp. Maybe I had a fever.
I like pussy.
Okay . . . so maybe it was a Ben Shaw–induced fever.
I suppressed a shudder as Ben’s eyes drifted over me. His gaze flicked to Fiona, and he stopped in front of her to allow her to press a kiss to both cheeks. “You look dreadful, love.” Her hand captured his jaw to tilt his chin up. He had dark circles beneath his eyes.
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