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By Jill Shalvis
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRAFE DELACANTRO WAS IN HELL and, as usual, it was a woman's fault.
The lush, vibrant green tropical forest of Kauai surrounded him. With the hanging vines and myriad trees and bushes, not to mention the buzz of strange and exotic insects and who knew what else, the place was a virtual paradise.
But all he felt was pent-up frustration and resentment, both of which he needed to get rid of in order to make this photo shoot work. It was his last photo shoot, at least for Hollywood, and he couldn't wait to get it done. For ten years he'd been snapping images of the rich and famous, the spoiled beauties, the upand-comers, working mostly in fashion and for magazines, making a name for himself as one of the best photographers. And it had been a good run. He was proud of all that he'd accomplished.
But at age thirty-two he was tired of the demands, of the games. Tired of being at the beck and call of people who had too much fame, too much money and not a clue as to what real life was about.
Rafe had a clue, and he wanted more of it.
Still, being a photographer defined him, so he wouldn't - couldn't - retire his camera entirely. After this last series of shoots, he'd use a camera for himself only, trying his hand at something other than people. Plants, landscapes, even animals - anything that couldn't talk back, argue or con. Yeah, his retirement was well earned and it would be amazing.
As soon as this job was done - this one last favor for a good friend. It was a calendar spread, twelve months of fantasies ... which, for Rafe, equaled twelve different, difficult shoots in various locales. They were working on the March page of the calendar today, and his crew stood by. The lighting seemed perfect at the moment, but given the rumbling in the sky, this would be temporary.
They really needed to get started right now, but they were missing one important, necessary element - the model.
Hence his frustration, resentment and seething temper.
Finally, just as the last of his patience vanished, she showed up, taking her sweet time sauntering through the muggy, steamy heat down the path toward the crew as if she had all day. Her eyes - a light amber color that matched her name - were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. Amber's hair tumbled past her shoulders free and unencumbered, as he'd requested. One thing going his way, at least. Her long, willowy body was covered by a wraparound skirt and a T-shirt, because he happened to be holding her costume in his hand. But he had no doubt that her mouthwatering form, the one that had graced many a B movie and more than her share of dubious-quality Web sites, would be perfect for what he had in mind.
He stood in the middle of the set that, thanks to the incredible beauty of the island, was comprised of a naturally mossy floor, a half circle of bushes and a hammock swinging gently between two trees. A gazebo completed the backdrop. It began to lightly rain and steam rose from everything, an effect that they couldn't have created anywhere but here on the island. Just out of the camera's range were the bulbs, the cords and the blocking required to capture the lighting just right - lighting they were losing as the fog lowered.
"About time," he said, knowing she'd lower her sunglasses and flash him her impetuous grin, not caring about anyone's schedule but her own.
Amber didn't care about much other than herself, a fact he'd learned five minutes into their one and only date a few years back. She had no interest in anything other than her own reflection in a mirror - though she'd been both shocked and infuriated when he hadn't wanted to continue seeing her.
They'd worked together occasionally since that disastrous date when she'd been late, needy, bitchy and pure trouble the entire night. And every single time since, she'd amused herself by messing with him on the sets in various annoying ways, so he expected no less today. But he'd promised Stone, his oldest friend and assistant, that he'd put both their names on this calendar because the studio behind it had promised to set Stone up for many more, launching his career as a photographer. So Rafe had to get past the urge to wrap his fingers around Amber's pretty neck.
It was just too bad that giving Stone a foot in the industry door left Rafe stuck dealing with Amber, as the calendar would feature her likeness in each of the twelve fantasies. They'd already completed two of the months and Amber had been a pain his ass for each - arriving late, griping about the accommodations, wanting special treatment at every turn. Stone figured she wasn't done torturing Rafe for not wanting to go out with her.
Rafe didn't care. All he cared about was getting done. And with the French maid fantasy - January - and the Amazon jungle fantasy - February - both under his belt now, he was on his way.
Two down, ten more to go ...
"Thank you for being only an hour late," he said. "We've nearly lost the light I want, so hustle." He tossed her the costume.
She caught it and looked down at the filmy white "virginal" negligee - with her dewy and unbelievably perfect skin, the images would be sexy, erotic. "What's this?"
"Your costume. Go change."
Amber held the two-piece outfit between long fingers. The bottoms were a couple of strips of white satin. The top had more material but in this case, "more" was relative. Basically she held a gauzy length of fabric that would be draped around her as she lounged on the hammock in that glorious Kauai setting.
As she stared at the costume, a few more raindrops started to fall. Big, fat ones. Damn it, he was not going to stay another day in paradise; he had his own paradise to get back to, his new house in the hills above L.A. "Hurry, Amber."
She looked at the sky. "The weather -"
"Yeah, but if you hurry, we might get this done before suffering electrocution by lightning." He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around, nudging her toward the makeshift change room - really nothing more than a few bamboo poles and some sheets - off to the side of the set. He watched her move woodenly toward it and narrowed his eyes.
Excerpted from Bared by Jill Shalvis Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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