“Couldn’t sleep,” he murmured, then his gaze danced over to mine.
Shit. No way. I couldn’t be responsible for ruining his first shoot in Paris because I kept him up last night. They had concealer for that, right?
His gaze roamed my jeans-clad h*ps unapologetically, but he still hadn’t greeted me. His gaze lifted, sliding over my chest and making my br**sts ache before landing on my eyes. “Tennessee. Sleep okay?”
So we’d moved on from Blueberry Muffin Girl to Tennessee? At least it wasn’t hurled like an insult the way it was when Fiona said it. I suddenly found myself wondering where he was from originally.
“I slept well. You?”
“It was an interesting night.” He laughed softly, the sound rumbling against my skin, causing it to prickle with goose bumps. “Very interesting.”
“Well, I’ve got your cure. Come on.” Fiona set off across the room, heading for the makeup area. She directed Ben to have a seat at one of the makeup stations and pulled a plastic bottle from her purse, handing it to him. It was filled with some sort of green goo. Fiona produced a straw and then gave him a handful of pills. Vitamins and minerals, I presumed. I had figured the models would eat the catering I’d ordered. I’d imagined Ben praising my choice of cheeses and exotic fruits. But I should have known Fiona was staking her claim, fawning all over him as usual.
He uncapped the drink and stuck in the straw, grimacing as he took a large sip. The concoction looked brutal, whatever it was. The thick green liquid disappeared slowly as Ben continued to suck it down, stopping only to pop pills in his mouth between gulps.
My stomach twisted in revolt just watching him drink that nasty stuff. I guess being beautiful took work.
Gunnar was chatting with the makeup artist beside us, handing her various bottles of skincare products. “He breaks out with anything oil-based. I’m having him try this new organic line. It’s f**king fabulous.”
The makeup artist accepted the bottles and added them to the heap of products covering her workstation. Her expression was aloof—very much, Let me do my damn job. Gunnar smiled sweetly and sauntered away.
I left Ben and Madeline to check on the set. I knew Fiona would need a chair brought out to watch from, if those pumps were any indication. After dragging a stool outside for her, everything was ready.
With only two models in the shoot day, the atmosphere seemed low key and low stress. Once Ben and Madeline had finished with makeup and hair, they talked with the photographer, getting comfortable with the backdrop and each other. Both models looked impeccable. Madeline’s hair floated across her shoulders in a huge, wavy mass of curls, and her makeup appeared dewy and fresh with a pop of bright fuchsia lip stain. I couldn’t even tell that Ben wore any makeup—probably the point—because he just looked beyond gorgeous. His hair had been smoothed down, parted to one side, and slicked with pomade. The style worked quite well for him. And the growing moisture in my panties was a clear indication of how well. All the clothes seemed to hang off their bodies in a simply stunning way. Ben exuded cool sophistication and classic handsomeness in his tailored suit. The man just oozed sexy.
“He’s almost too pretty, huh?”
I hadn’t noticed Gunnar slide up beside me. “Oh, what?”
His eyes tracked Ben’s movements. “Don’t you dare pretend you didn’t notice.” His lips puckered in the most mocking way.
“Yeah, he’s attractive; of course he is,” I stammered.
Gunnar sighed dramatically. “Don’t let those good looks fool you. That boy would be a hot mess without me, Fiona, and a pile of pills.”
I had no idea what to make of his pill comment, but now wasn’t the time to ask because Fiona was on a rampage, complaining loudly that Ben’s shoes didn’t fit. He needed a 12 and they’d brought an 11. I rushed to calm the situation, but before I could intervene Ben was at her side, speaking in hushed tones to soothe her.
He’d stuffed his feet into the shoes and pleaded with her, his arms out to his sides. “See. I’ll survive for an hour.”
Apparently mollified, Fiona merely nodded, and I released a deep exhale.
The photo shoot began, and watching Ben work was wonderful. He made it look so easy. It was clear that both he and Madeline were experienced professionals. They worked well together, posing, moving against each other to create interesting angles as the photographer clicked away.
I’d never get tired of looking at him. My body exploded as awareness, endorphins, and desire flooded my system. Remembering our secret conversation last night made it even hotter. His intense gaze landed on mine as he continued to pose for the photographer, and I swear, the look in his smoldering gaze was pure sex. Good Lord, I was going to need to change my panties soon. Note to self: At the next photo shoot, pack Fiona flats and an extra pair of panties for me.
When the shoot wrapped, Madeline immediately disappeared with her handler, and Ben and Fiona wandered back into the dressing area, seemingly in the middle of an intense conversation. I wondered what they could be discussing that was so serious, since his performance today seemed impeccable.
I busied myself packing everything up and even helped the photographer carry equipment to his car, but I could linger for only so long. Not to mention I was beginning to feel like an idiot for thinking that Ben and I actually shared something the previous night. He’d been bored, tired, drunk, or jetlagged—who knows, maybe all of the above. I hated how desperate I was to get another look at him and made myself move on. Big-girl panties, Em.
I decided to walk back rather than take the Metro so that I could find a cute little sidewalk café at which to treat myself. Two glasses of red wine and one delicious tarte au chocolat later, I was en route to the hotel, stumbling against the uneven cobblestone streets, delightfully buzzed and carefree. Ben who? I could take on the world right now. Or just master this archaic elevator to get to my room. Either way, I was counting tonight as a win.
When I reached my hotel room I was lightheaded and buzzed—from the wine, the sugar, my beautiful surroundings, or probably all three, but I wasn’t tired. After changing into my PJs, I fell into bed with my laptop. Perhaps some further stalking of Ben would relax me.
But before I could even open my browser, my inbox showed I had one new message.
The sender was Benjamin Riley Shaw.
My heart fluttered like a little idiot inside my chest as I waited for the message to load.
Ben: You disappeared today, Tennessee. Make it back to the hotel okay?
I hit reply, my breathing coming in fast pants.
Me: Back safe and sound. You looked great today, BTW.
The email notification blinked within seconds. So he was awake and at his computer, too, it seemed. My heartbeat thumped unevenly in my chest.
Ben: Thank you. It was fun today. I worked out after so I should be tired, but I’m not.
I worried why he seemed to have trouble sleeping. Perhaps it was the time zone change? And what about Gunnar’s comments today? Another message popped up before I could respond.
Ben: Want to entertain me?
Holy shit. How did he make four little words sound so f**king hot? Especially since I heard his deep, masculine voice in my head as I read them. I took my time, thinking of a cheeky response before I replied.
Me: Hmm. What does that involve, Mr. Shaw? I should probably behave myself.
Ben: You don’t have to behave.
If that wasn’t an open invitation to flirt with him, I didn’t know what was. I giggled to myself in the otherwise-silent room, wondering how to respond, when he sent another message through.
Ben: You want to text instead?
And by yes, I meant, God Bless America.
His phone number appeared in my inbox: 917 area code. How very New York City of him.
I crossed the room and grabbed my phone, typing in his number to compose a new text. One word—simple. It was my attempt at keeping things casual so I could see where he wanted to take this.
His response came almost immediately.
Ben: Hi darlin’
Me: How do I know this isn’t someone pretending to be you? I’m slightly worried I could be talking to a forty-year-old overweight creeper. 😉
Ben was silent for a moment. Then my phone blinked at me, informing me I had a new photo message. It took my trembling fingers three attempts to tap the correct button on the screen to open it.
Ben was leaning against the headboard wearing a white V-neck T-shirt. His hair, though still shiny and full of pomade from earlier, had been fussed with, like he’d run his hands through it several times, giving it a messy just-been-fucked look. He wasn’t smiling, but he looked sexy as hell gazing thoughtfully into the camera. My heart pounded painfully hard. Seeing his photo made this all the more real.
Ben: Here’s your 40-year-old creeper 😉
Ben: Send me one of you.
I scrolled through the photos I already had on my phone. Crap. All of these were either me with Ellie, or with our dog Buck back home. I ran to the mirror, added some lip gloss, and fluffed my flat hair. I didn’t want him to think I was taking too long or overthinking this, so I snapped a quick selfie and hit send. It wasn’t my best picture, but it wasn’t horrible either. The lighting in my room was soft and lent a sort of romantic feel to it.
Ben: You look like a girl I f**ked once.
Holy crap! He did not just say that to me. His responses floored me. He seemed so polite and well mannered one minute and then BAM! Filthy mouthed the next. I’d honestly wondered what he thought of my looks, and his comment, however crass, told me that perhaps I did measure up.
My phone pinged with a new message. That little ping was the sweetest sound.
Ben: What kind of panties are you wearing?
My pulse sped up. I wore full-bottomed undies, none of those damn dental-floss impersonating G-strings, thank you very much. Those blasted things felt like they were chaffing your ass like a piece of sandpaper. But dear Ben didn’t need to know all that information. I thoughtfully typed out my response.
Me: Depends on the day’s outfit. Right now I’m in pink lacy boy shorts.
Ben: It’d be better if they were around your ankles, but I approve.
Holy. Crap. Moisture dampened my panties. I fought to keep my thoughts under control and jumping into the gutter. I ran through a mental list of nonsexy things: his schedule this week, the location of his next photo shoot, what he smelled like, his dick size. Gah! Where did that come from? I bit my lip. I knew I should keep it clean, but being naughty sounded like so much more fun. He was proving to be a terrible influence on me.
Me: Eager tonight, aren’t we, Mr. Shaw?
Ben: Always, doll.
Me: Do you always text like this with Fiona’s assistants?
Ben: No. They’re usually men. And I told you, I like p**sy.
God, anytime he used the p-word, I swear my lady parts clenched. Who knew I was such a glutton for a little dirty talk?
Me: How could I forget? You worded that so eloquently. Fine then, do you text like this w/ other girls often?
Ben: Depends on if I want to play with them or not.
I took a moment to compose myself and tried to decipher his words. He didn’t deny it. But did that mean he was playing with me? Or that I was special because I was one of the few he wanted to play with? I felt a wine headache coming on and typed out the first thing I could think of.
Me: Are you seeing anyone right now?
After I hit send, I silently cursed myself. I didn’t want to seem overly interested. He was probably just messing with me, anyway. Just bored and killing time. He couldn’t really be interested in me. Could he?
Ben: I don’t really date.
I could see that, I suppose. Being a model with a hectic travel schedule, it was probably hard for him to meet people, let alone quality women. My phone pinged again.
Ben: I don’t like to be tied down.
Ha! So much for giving him the benefit of the doubt. He was practically admitting to being a player. Summoning my courage, I typed a response back.
Me: Spoken like a true manwhore.
Take that! That would put him in his place. There was a subtle difference between being flirty and being a bitch, and I wanted to stay on the correct side of it. But sheesh, someone had to call him out.
Ben: Not a manwhore, babe. Only three girls have gotten it.
It. My mouth went instantly dry. He was an exquisitely handsome man, quite obviously women threw themselves at him, yet only three lucky ladies had gotten the goods. That was rather curious information, if he was telling the truth. Maybe he had more restraint than I gave him credit for. Or maybe he’d had a long-term girlfriend somewhere along the way.
I wanted to type back and ask him why he was flirting with me when he could get anyone he wanted. I wondered if he even found me attractive. But of course I didn’t write any of that. I needed to play it cool.
Wow. I liked that he used my real first name more than was even remotely normal. Breathe, Emmy. Breathe.
Ben: Do you have plans for tomorrow?
Breathing became secondary as I took a moment to squeal like a giddy schoolgirl. There wasn’t a shoot tomorrow, and it would be one of the few days we had off, so Gunnar and I had planned to go to the Louvre.
Me: Not really. Probably going to do some sightseeing.
I was sooo canceling on Gunnar if the opportunity called for it. He would just have to deal with it. Our plans weren’t set in stone, anyway.
Ben: I have plans with Fiona during the day, but if you want to meet up for a drink later.
• • •
His friendship with Fiona still confused me, but maybe that was one of the things I could ask him about tomorrow. Perhaps she wasn’t such a fire-breathing dragon once you got to know her. Who knew? And maybe I could discreetly pump Gunnar for information.
Me: Sure. I can meet you later.
Ben: Meet me in the lobby at eight. We can walk to the place I have in mind for drinks.
Me: Great. See you then.
And just like that, I had a date with Ben Freaking Shaw.