Anything for the sake of the story. That explains why journalist Emma Gideon is participating in a large-scale nude photo shoot. Yeah, it's a stretch for a girl with an old-fashioned side. Worse, sporting only green body paint, she's on display for Kyle Hadleythe office flirt and her rival at the paper. These unique circumstances are creating a sizzling complication to their rivalry .
Despite her boss's rule of "no hanky-panky," Emma ends up in Kyle's shower with him! And that's hotter than she ever imagined. When he suggests a continuation, how can she refuse? But has Emma risked her career for a sexy new development or is this a severe case of overexposure?
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"So when do we get naked?"
Emma Gideon shot a look at her coworker Kyle Had-ley and tried not to hurt him. He didn't make it easy to refrain from violence, standing there looking all casual, ready to peel off his shirt at a single word. Nothing about this photo shoot intimidated him, whereas Emma wanted to crawl into a hole and bury herself under heavy fleece blankets at the thought of taking off her clothes in front of other people.
This was career dedication. But as she stood in the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse with two hundred other people prepared to strip down to their underwear, she wasn't sure securing an interview with the famed photographer Ian Bainbridge was worth this level of discomfort.
"If you do it too soon, the organizers will kick you out, so keep your pants on, please." Emma sidled a look at Kyle's jeans, as if she could tell anything other than that he was muscular. She already knew that. She'd noticed it every single day since he'd joined the newspaper staff twenty-three months and one week ago, three months and fifteen days after she had been hired. Not that she was counting. "Are you wearing boxers? You're supposed to wear underwear. If you're not, they'll kick you out." Aware of how nervous and frantic she sounded, she clapped her mouth shut.
"You're very concerned with me getting tossed out." He adjusted the baseball cap on his head. "I appreciate how badly you want me to stick around."
Emma rolled her eyes. The truth was she'd rather be sharing this story with a rabid dog than with Kyle. Though she wasn't convinced there was much difference between the two. Kyle just smiled more than a disease-ridden mutt. But "dog" definitely described him.
As if to prove her point, he smirked at her and pulled the waistband of his jeans down, revealing taut abdominal muscles and the elastic of his tight black briefs. "But yes, I'm wearing underwear, which I don't mind getting ruined with body paint, per the instructions. I can follow rules."
Somehow Emma doubted that. She had worked with Kyle at the newspaper since that fateful day her boss had hired him, and Kyle seemed to think that charm usurped rules on a regular basis. If he just smiled, it didn't matter if he turned his piece in three hours late. What burned her butt was that it seemed to work for him. She would have been fired five times over if she pulled the stunts he did.
Then again, she wasn't a hot guy who had all the women in the office drooling over him. Their editor was a divorced woman, and Kyle was single and always up for a good time. There was no getting around it, as much as Emma would like to pretend otherwise. Her own personal reaction to him was frustrating in the extreme. She liked to pride herself on her self-control and focus. She was a career woman, driven and sensible. Yet she was like any other female when Kyle walked into the roomweak in the knees and warm between the thighs. It was infuriating. She sympathized with every teenage boy who was at the mercy of his hormones because her reaction to Kyle was just ridiculous.
Now she was going to be mostly nude in a group photo shoot with him. Fabulous.
"I don't care if you stay or not," she told him, "but Claire won't be thrilled if you get tossed out on your ass." His very fine ass, which Emma was afraid she wouldn't be able to resist staring at once he removed his jeans. "I'd rather the focus of this story be my stellar reporting, not your antics."
She might be only a features writer for the Life & Style section of the Daily Journal, but she took it seriously. Working on a Sunday like this was a matter of course for her, though usually it wasn't under quite these unusual circumstances. But the only reason she was even joining the actual shoot was because otherwise reporters were restricted solely to the parking lot. Nor was anyone allowed access to the photographer, Ian Bainbridge, and Emma was determined to get at least a word or two with him.
Heralded as the next big thing in group nude photography, Ian was traveling from city to city shooting mass groups of volunteers who he arranged artistically to blend in to whatever environment he had chosen, in order to make a statement. For this particular shoot, he had landed in northeast Ohio and had chosen the crumbling warehouse. It figured. He couldn't choose somewhere attractive, like the lakeshore or the botanical gardens. But Emma reasoned that those places didn't resonate with angsty photographers quite the same way.
So far there hadn't been any sight of Ian, just a slew of security guards patrolling the perimeter and preventing outsiders from snapping pictures with their cell phones. A tent had been set up as a further barrier, and inside participants were being sprayed with body paint and then funneled directly into the dilapidated warehouse. It was actually wellorganized and efficient, which meant that any minute now Emma would in fact be forced to take off her jeans and T-shirt, which made her palms sweat. Naked alone, in the shower, was fine. Naked with a man was, well, necessary for the positive outcome that resulted from it. Naked with two hundred strangers? Not okay.
It wasn't that she was a prude. She was just modest. There was nothing wrong with that and Kyle wasn't going to make her feel bad about it.
"My antics? Gee, Mom, I'll be good, I promise. We'll have a swell time." He gave her a broad cheesy smile and swung his arms back and forth.
His sarcasm was not appreciated. Okay, so maybe she was a teeny bit prudish. Or maybe it was just irritating that Kyle hit on every woman between the ages of twenty-four and fifty in the office yet had never once flirted with her. Wasn't she flirtworthy? Not that she would ever consider dating him, not in a million, trillion years, but it would be nice if he tried.
Though why she was thinking about any of that was a mystery to her. She needed to focus on finding Ian. Not on Kyle.
"Besides, Claire won't care. She didn't want two of us on this story, anyway."
That was news to her. "Then why are you here?"
Kyle touched her elbow and directed her into the line outside the tent, where everyone was queuing to be processed. "I think we're supposed to be here. I've seen Ian Bainbridge's work before. I thought it would be cool to be a part of it. I like that he makes a bold statement." Kyle winked at her. "Besides, it's a chance to get naked in public and not get arrested. How often does an opportunity like that come up?"
Emma tossed her blond hair over her shoulder. It was too long and she needed a trim, but she had kept it out of a ponytail this morning because she had thought it would make her feel less naked having hair around her shoulders. The logic seemed flawed in retrospect since her breasts would be totally bare, but she was desperate, quaking in her ballet flats from fear. She wasn't sure what exactly she was afraid of, but she had been less uncomfortable getting a root canal. Maybe she needed anesthetic for this, too. Emma sighed.
"You're a freak," she told him. "People are not supposed to roll around naked together."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really? That's news to everyone I know who's having sex."
Okay, so that wasn't exactly what she had meant. Emma flushed, aware that the line they stood in was gradually moving closer and closer to the entrance of the tent. Where she would have to remove her clothes. Otherwise known as the Panic Room. There were only about eight people in front of her now. "You know what I meant! It's not normal to put two hundred naked people together in a warehouse."
"This isn't a mass orgy. It's art. Which is precisely why Bainbridge does itAmericans are both fascinated and made squeamish by nudity. That's the angle I'm taking on my piece. Claire said I could write a column about the oversexualization of commercial products like movies and advertising, in contrast to the moral restrictions on art that still exist."
Somehow, Kyle had managed to find an angle that was more in-depth than what Emma was planning while making her sound like a total wet blanket. She had been hoping to score an interview with the photographer himself and question him about his recent run-ins with a stalker. The identity of the person who had been vandalizing his shoot locations and causing damages and loss of time seemed to be personally targeting Ian for his art, and Emma was hoping for an angle that would tie his recent run-ins to the new anti-stalker laws. But that was a big fat if. Most likely in the end she would be doing a write-up of the actual event. While Kyle wrote a well-researched opinion article.
At that moment, Emma wasn't sure she could possibly dislike him more. "It sounds obvious," she sniffed. What else was she supposed to say? That he was smarter than she was? She would choke on those words before they came out of her mouth.
She worked her tail off at the paper, and had sacrificed the majority of her social life to get ahead, while Kyle did the minimum. Yet who got more bylines every week?
It wasn't fair.
She was more determined than ever to snag two minutes with Ian Bainbridge.
But first she had to get naked.
"Waiver," an older woman barked at her as they approached the entrance of the tent.
Pulling the model release out of her pocket, Emma handed it to her with sweaty hands, chewing on her bottom lip. She wondered if she could lose Kyle when they were getting their bodies painted. This day might be a lot less humiliating and awful if she didn't have to spend it with her confident, sexy coworker.
"Everything looks good," the woman said briskly, putting a plastic band around her wrist. "You're going to go in this line to the right. You'll be green."
"Green?" Emma looked suspiciously in the direction she'd been pointed to. There were five people in line, two peeling off their pants, two wearing nothing but underwear. The one woman's enormous breasts were just out there for anyone to see. The first person, an older man, was having his sagging belly spray-painted an emerald green.
"Green paint. You're going to be green. Get a move on. You're holding up the line." She gave Emma a look of impatience.
"What about me?" Kyle asked behind her. "Do I get green, too? I'm having an Incredible Hulk fantasy here. My childhood dreams come true."
The woman, who had just been brisk and unimpressed with Emma, now smiled and tittered in delight. "We're supposed to go every other person, but I suppose I could make an exception for you."
Emma rolled her eyes.
Kyle winked at the dragon masquerading as a volunteer. "Thanks, doll. I owe you."
Doll? Was he for real?
But then Emma's irritation at Kyle's powers of persuasion evaporated when the guy in front of her said, "Here's your bag for your clothes and your number so you can reclaim them. When you're ready, hand the bag to Jane here and get in the paint line."
Emma took the bag and number he shoved at her, but then she just stood stock-still, gulping. She couldn't do this. She couldn't take her clothes off with all these people milling around. Granted, no one was looking at her. No one cared. They were all treating their partially nude bodies like this was an everyday occurrence. Making her feel even more self-conscious that she was self-conscious. She stood, palms sweating, heart racing, breath coming in short, frantic bursts.
Suddenly Kyle touched her elbow. "Hey. You don't have to do this if you don't want to, you know. You can still write the story without actually participating."
Given that bile was doing an army crawl up her throat, Emma couldn't speak, but she nodded gratefully. Kyle's face was remarkably sympathetic, all traces of teasing gone from his voice. He was right. She didn't have to do this. If she wasn't comfortable getting her bare breasts sprayed the color of a leprechaun by a total stranger, that didn't make her a prude. It made her modest and meant she had chosen the correct career path. Stripper or Hooters waitress were not going to be successful ventures for her and she was okay with that. She would just do a nice feature on the photo shoot. Hell, maybe being clothed would actually give her better opportunities to spot the photographer. It wasn't like she could really interview him from within a sea of nude bodies. She'd seen enough to do a respectable write-up.
That settled, Emma sighed in relief. Kyle gave her a reassuring smile, then stepped forward, peeling his shirt off. She caught a close-up glimpse of his rippling back muscles and the sexy little divot in the small of his back before she turned, feeling voyeuristic and suddenly outrageously turned on. Time to look away from that.
Only to come face-to-face with a woman behind her who had already stripped down to a pair of white cotton bikini panties. Before she could avert her gaze, Emma saw that the woman had the scars of a double mastectomy on her chest. "Oh! Sorry," she said, mortified, feeling like she had been caught staring, when in reality it had been all of a three-second glance.
But the woman just gave her a warm smile. "You're fine. They have us crammed in here like sardines, but I imagine it's only about to get worse. Glad I remembered my deodorant this morning."
Emma smiled back weakly. "True. But I don't think I'm going to I think maybe I need to " She wasn't sure how to express her discomfort, nor was she entirely sure why she was so uncomfortable.
"Not your thing, huh?" Twisting her dark hair into a makeshift bun, the woman said, "I don't think this would have been something I would have done in my twenties, either. But now it's like what the hell. I like this photographer's messagethat we're people, not machines or corporations." She gestured to her chest. "Or pharmaceutical or insurance companies. Human beings, in imperfect packages."
Emma bit her lip. "You're right. I was just raised by a mother who emphasized modesty because my grandfather lived with us. It feels unnatural to me." She had often thought her mother was big on modesty, too, because she had been worried Emma would turn out the way she hadknocked up at eighteen, and a single parent by twenty. Whatever her reasons, the end result was they had kept it on in the Gideon household, and Emma was not comfortable with multiple people getting naked together.
Surely she wasn't the only one who felt that way, but she supposed all her comrades in covering up would naturally have stayed far away from this event.
"I totally understand," the woman said. "I was, too. But I think this illustrates that we're really run by our biology, aren't we? From hunger to sex to disease. We're already controlled by our bodies, so let's not let corporations control us, too. Let's liberate ourselves."
Emma had never really given much thought to her body and how it controlled her. She glanced over her shoulder to Kyle. Except when Kyle was around. Then it definitely controlled her. Her desire had a vicelike grip on her nipples while her lust lobbied between her legs for a free market.
"You're right," she told the woman, suddenly feeling energized and determined. "Thanks. I want to feel liberated." She no longer wanted to be the boring office workaholic who couldn't even get a second glance from Kyle, the serial flirt. She didn't want to be Corporate Emma, cell phone and sensible pumps included, all the time. Sometimes she wanted to be Easy Breezy Emma, who had a social life and got laid.
So she took a deep breath. And peeled off her T-shirt.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love Erin McCarthy but this just did not seem like her writing. it was a very quick read. There was a interesting storyline but it just seemed too quick, too easy, too predictable and then a tiny bit of angst thrown in. If you are looking for a quick stand alone book to read then this is for you. However, I would suggest her FAST TRACK series or her TRUE series for better reading. One series deals with all aspects of car racing and the other series is a NA genre series. I guess it is because it is written for Harlequin which was always a very tame publishing company for me growing up.