He dressed me in beige slacks and a soft, knit, beige tank top that was nearly a match to his scarf. I fingered that scarf when it got within my reach.
He gave me a hot look. “I’m keeping the scarf. I have plans.”
“Of course you do,” I murmured back.
His eyes narrowed on me. “That look in your eyes is going to get you in trouble.”
I just stared at him, letting that ‘look’ do its worst.
He grinned. “Lucky for us both, you like to get into trouble.”
I felt my insides clench in a very good way, sure that meant he was going to do something, like now, but he just finished dressing me and stepped back.
“Wear the same red heels,” he said. I stepped into them, and he tugged me back out into the studio.
The shoot was both less and more awkward than I’d anticipated. On my end, posing was a breeze. All I had to do was stand behind him, arms wrapped around his middle, hands on his chest and abs. I tried not to let those hands wander, or caress, but it was a struggle. My face wasn’t really even visible, just the top of my head and my eyes peeking over his shoulder when I wasn’t laying my cheek against his lovely back. Posing was easy. Not getting wildly turned on was the hard part. I managed that part better than James, though that was only because his part was harder to control in general.
The director cleared her throat just a few shots in. “Um, so, is there anything you can do about that, Mr. Cavendish? This is not an X-rated publication…”
James, shameless bastard that he was, seemed completely unfazed. “You’ll just need to shoot me waist up. You were the one who wanted my girlfriend in the shot, putting her hands on me. What did you think was going to happen?”
“If we could shoot just waist up, that might not be a problem, but it seems to be a…bigger problem than that.”
I felt him shrug against my cheek and I just lost it. I started giggling and I couldn’t stop for a solid five minutes.
James turned around until our fronts were pressed together. He was smiling at me, laughter in his eyes. “I can’t think of a sound that I love to hear more than that one.”
It went better after I got that long giggling fit out of my system. James seemed to get a better handle on things as well, and they shot his back and front while I leaned against him. They stopped briefly to fix his hair, letting it hang loose, then tying it back again. The whole thing seemed kind of silly and frivolous to me, but what did I know about photo shoots? And I couldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy myself. Just the opposite; once I shook the nerves off, I had a really good time.
They did one more wardrobe change for James, and I was left out of that one. I didn’t mind.
They put him in nothing but low-slung athletic shorts and some running shoes. They didn’t give him socks, which seemed pretty impractical, but he did have sexy ankles, so I got why they’d done it.
They braided the longer pieces of his hair back, which I thought was weird, but it worked on him. He looked gorgeous, as usual.
They went through the standard poses that he’d been doing, then moved on to some action shots. These I watched with renewed fascination. They had him jump impressively high, do some push-ups, and then pull-ups. I had to contain a little smirk when they made him do curls.
He used more expression for these shots, even grinning into the camera for some of them. He hardly needed direction, going about the whole process like I imagined a professional model would.
Someone brought me a turkey sandwich, and I thanked them. I ate the entire thing, not taking my eyes off James for a second.
They took a few breaks to do what I thought was some very unnecessary oiling down. He tried to brush off the two women swarming him, shooting me a very uncomfortable look. I thought I read the look perfectly. He was worried I’d be upset at all of the hands trying to touch him, and he wanted it to stop.
They finally relented, but still insisted on doing his back. His jaw was clenched, and he looked positively agitated by the time they finished. I watched with no expression on my face, though I only felt the slightest twinge of annoyance. If I had been inclined to get upset about all of the touching, his reaction would have quickly cured me. He was far more upset about it than I was.
He approached me to chat during one of the short breaks, and one of the many assistants approached us, a sheepish look on her face. I saw that she was holding a rolled up magazine.
She unrolled it and held it out to him when she got close, a black permanent marker in her other hand. “Sorry to bug you, but would you mind signing this?” she asked.
James took the magazine without hesitation, signing the cover. I froze when I saw it. It was a picture him and Jules. I knew by their clothes that it was from the night I’d run from his apartment. He saw my expression as he handed the magazine back to the girl.
“Thanks so much,” she muttered, quickly moving away. She knew not to press her luck, I thought.
“You look upset,” James said quietly, studying me.
I gave him my little shrug, not wanting to talk about, but also not knowing if I could keep my mouth shut about it.
“That night,” I said finally, when he just kept watching me. “I know you said it wasn’t a date, but it hurt that you still went with her to that gala, after all that had happened.
His eyes widened. “No,” he said softly. “I didn’t. I wouldn’t. I went to that gala for thirty minutes, because I felt obligated to, for my mother’s sake. But I was miserable, and I went alone. Those pictures were typical Jules, crashing my obligatory press photos. The only time I even spoke to her was to tell her to leave me the hell alone. I swear it, Bianca. Once I saw how you felt, I wouldn’t have done that.”
I felt weak with relief. I hadn’t even known I was that bothered by it.
While I was humiliating myself, though, I had to clear it all up. “That collar she wore that night… Did you give it to her?”
He shook his head. “I’ve never given her a piece of jewelry.”
“She noticed my collar, and she implied that her own choker was something similar…”
He flushed. His hand made a cutting motion through the air. “She’s preoccupied with my personal life, and she’s a liar. I’m sorry you were bothered by this, but she was manipulating you. I didn’t give her that.”
I just nodded to show him that I’d heard him. They were already waving him back for the shoot.
“Are you okay? Do you have any other questions?”
I shook my head, meeting his gaze to show him I was fine. Reluctantly, he went back to finish up.
When all was said and done, the entire photo shoot took nearly four hours. I was surprised to notice what time it was when I checked my phone.
James was in the back changing as I saw that I’d missed several texts from Stephan.
Stephan: B, will you call me when you can?
Stephan: I’m heading back to the apartment. Please let me know when you’re free. I don’t want to be alone right now.
A little shiver of dread ran down my spine, and I felt instantly guilty for forgetting about my phone yet again. I tried to call him five times in a row, my heart pounding into overdrive when he didn’t answer.
His text about not wanting to be alone had really gotten to me. He shouldn’t have to be alone, not ever, not while I still breathed, because that was just how it worked with us, but he was obviously alone and hurting, and I needed to get to him.
I tried texting him, though I knew it was pointless if he wasn’t even answering his phone.
Bianca: Just saw your messages. Coming back to the apartment as fast as I can get there. Please tell me u r okay.
James was striding towards me when I looked up from my phone. He must have seen something on my face because his changed from smiling to alarmed between one step and the next.
“What is it?” he asked me quietly when he drew close.
“It’s Stephan. I need to get back to the apartment. He’s upset about something and he needs me.”
He nodded, shooting a quick glance to a spot behind me. He took my elbow and began to lead me out of the studio without further ado.
“Wait, Mr. Cavendish,” the director was saying. “We just need to conduct the interview portion. It won’t take more than thirty minutes.”
He didn’t even slow down. “Email the questions to me. We have some urgent business to attend to,” he said brusquely.
She didn’t protest. I doubted many would when he used such a Mr. Cavendish tone.
He wasted no time getting us into the car and traveling swiftly back to the apartment.
“Thank you,” I told him, my voice pitched very low, always conscious of the other people in the car. “I can’t bear the thought of him being alone and upset.”
He nodded and stroked a hand over my hair. “I know. We’ll be home in just a few minutes. Do you have any idea what happened?”
I gave my little shrug. “He and Javier were going out with some other flight attendants tonight. It was a crew that was friends with Javier, but not with Stephan. Something must have happened with them. He mentioned earlier that they were being openly hostile. I should have gone to him then. I feel terrible.”
“Did he ask you to come then?”
“Did he ask you to come now?” he asked.
“Yes, but that was almost an hour ago—“
“Quit beating yourself up. You know Stephan wouldn’t. We’re going to him now, and everything will be fine.”
I rushed into the apartment the second the elevator opened, moving towards the room the guys had been staying in. James was a silent presence—keeping pace at my back.
I only knew I was heading in the right direction by the raised voice echoing down the long hallway. I broke into a run.
Javier was yelling, his voice harsh and angry. It was so uncharacteristic for him that I stopped in the open doorway to their room.
“We will talk about it now,” Javier was saying in an awful voice. He was standing directly in front of Stephan, close enough to shout into his face. His tone and his demeanor instantly sparked my rare temper, but he wasn’t what made me lose it.
Stephan stood with his arms crossed in front of him, looking at the floor, his posture defeated. He had withdrawn from the confrontation, gone into that dark place in his mind where his family abused him and deserted him without looking back. I knew it at a glance. Something horrible had happened between the two men, something so bad that Stephan had checked out, and everything that Javier was doing was just making him go further into that dark place. That was what made me lose it.
I was moving to Stephan before my brain fully processed what was even going on, as though my body knew what to do before my brain did. I moved between the two men, and into Stephan, burying my face in his chest, my arms wrapping tight around his ribs.
He gasped as though he’d been holding his breath, hugging me back. Those were his only reactions. His face and posture didn’t change other than that. I knew it was a bad sign.
I turned my face just enough to glare at Javier. “You need to give him some space. Now.”