Carolina Sullivan needed a man's body desperately.
She scanned the humming cruise ship, working a knot in her neck. "What about the muscular guy by the stairs?"
Her design assistant squinted into the streaming Caribbean sunlight, oblivious to the glories of St. Thomas rising in the distance. "Too pretty. He bloody well knows it, too."
"You're probably right." The wind ruffled Carly's short red hair as she studied the man in question. Neither the flawless sky nor the shimmering expanse of tropical ocean helped her relax. "What about the young Van Damme type lounging by the deck chairs?"
Young blond god.
Carly knew the code perfectly by now:
DDT: Drop dead thighs
CTDF: Chest to die for
HAA: Heart attack abs
"I saw him in GQ last month." Carly sighed. "We need someone completely fresh."
"So you keep telling me." Carly's assistant rolled her eyes. "In the last three hours we've covered every deck on this misbegotten boat."
"Ship," Carly corrected her absently.
"Whatever. If we don't find a man here, we're sunk." A former model with impeccable taste, Daphne Brandon was also Carly's dearest friend, and she had happily agreed to pinch-hit for Carly's regular assistant, who was enjoying her honeymoon in Tahiti. In the past five years Carly and Daphne had become deeply involved in their own pursuits, forced to maintain their friendship via cell phone and E-mail, and it had been a happy coincidence that Carly's assistant had gotten married just when Daphne had some free time. In the early days of her career, Carly had honed her photographic skills with the help of Daphne's practical experience on the other side of the camera, and being teamed up again now was a dream come true. If it weren't for Carly's current problem, the assignment would have been sheer pleasure.
Instead of absolute agony.
Daphne stared at the crowded deck. "When I agreed to stand in for your regular assistant, I had no idea you'd have me checking out half-naked male bodies."
"Is that a complaint?"
Daphne grinned. "Not a chance." She scanned a circle of young athletic types engaged in a noisy game of volleyball. "What about one of them? There's not an inch of flab in sight."
Carly wrinkled her nose. "No, something's missing. We need someone special, someone who projects complete control. At the same time he has to emanate brooding power, ready to explode under the right conditions."
"Yum yum," Daphne murmured.
A ball hurtled past and dropped into the pool, splattering Carly's legs. "Great. There go my snakeskin sandals. I'm glad they're only fakes."
Daphne didn't answer. She pointed across the deck to a tall, beautifully muscled man climbing the ladder from the pool. Water skimmed down his rigid abs and dotted his powerful shoulders. Every movement he made was smooth, every inch of his body a testament to controlled power.
Carly felt a little punch of heat in her stomach.
This was the one, she thought, mesmerized by those lean, rippling muscles.
"Ground control to lunar lander."
Carly didn't answer. She was too busy imagining that lean body silhouetted against the warm golden glow of the sunset. She gave a soundless whistle when he tossed a towel over one shoulder, resulting in another display of rock-hard muscles.
"Definitely HAA," Daphne whispered. "I'd say he's your man."
After her years as a model, Daphne wasn't easily impressed, but this man could inspire awe in the most jaded female heart. His abs were beyond stellar. In fact, his whole body was just shy of illegal.
Carly dragged a hand through her hair. Experience had taught her that sheer looks weren't enough for a successful photo campaign. "I suppose he might work."
"Might?" Daphne whispered. "If you don't take him, I will. Be still, my beating glands."
"Heart," Carly corrected fondly. "And you're married, remember?"
"Engaged. And just barely."
"The last I heard, your wedding dress was being designed in Paris."
"All of which might change any second." Daphne gave a long sigh. "Just kidding. My misspent youth is behind me, I'm glad to say." She stared at Carly impatiently. "What are you waiting for?"
"He's got the body, there's no doubt about that." Carly nodded slowly. "He's got the walk, too. Quiet, with utter focus." Carly raised her digital camera, framed a test shot, and captured her subject drying his extraordinary shoulders. The image in her viewer made her pulse spike. The man photographed even better than he looked, which was saying something.
She rested her camera on her arm, frowning. "What do you think he does for a living?"
"A man who looks like that doesn't have to do anything but stand there."
"Be serious, Daphne. My whole project is at stake here. I need a completely fresh look for this set of commercials. The cruise people made that crystal clear before we left Miami."
Daphne clicked her tongue. "Too bad the original model they sent you didn't pan out."
Carly snorted at the thought of the well-coiffed California actor who had been booked for the commercials. Unfortunately, his body had turned out to be less than impressive, and Carly found out that his portfolio photos had been retouched with a blowtorch. She'd immediately launched her search for a temporary stand-in, all too aware that the close-up shooting had to start immediately if she was to meet the tight deadline. Until now she'd had no luck.
She fingered her camera, studying the man across the deck. "He doesn't look like your usual cruise type. He looks too focused, not like someone who's here for idle pleasure."
"With a body like that, the pleasure would be anything but idle." Daphne sighed. "The guy has to work out big-time. I'd say he owns a chain of upscale fitness clubs. Something sleek, all teakwood and mirrors. Hot, hot music."
"If he's that successful, he won't be interested. He would hardly need the money."
"Then forget money and appeal to his ego. Gush over his amazing body." Daphne gave another appreciative glance. "It's certainly worth gushing over."
"I don't gush," Carly said irritably, snapping two more quick shots that turned out even better than the first. Did the man ever take a bad picture? "I especially don't gush over men."
"No, you never did that," her friend said thoughtfully. "I was always the one going overboard, gaga over some poet or bullfighter. It took me a few years, but at least I worked it out of my system in time to find my wonderful David." Daphne smiled wickedly. "Looks as if it's your turn. That man is the answer to all your dreams. You'd be a fool to let him go."
She was right. Carly knew she had to bag this prospect. Every photographic instinct was on red alert, screaming that he would bring her elegant, atmospheric theme to life.
Now all she had to do was drop the bait and reel him in.