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YES, MASTER ...
By TAWNY TAYLOR ANNE RAINEY VONNA HARPER
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Check this out. It's the perfect job for you." My roommate, Jenn, tossed a copy of our school's newspaper at me from across the room. She was at the far end of our dorm room, which wasn't very far, boxing up her books and papers. She'd accumulated a lot of books and papers. She'd been boxing stuff up for days.
Me, I was pretty much done packing. I didn't own much. I liked to live light. No extra baggage.
Sitting at my desk, my back to her, I leaned to the side, out of the direct path of the flying missile. The folded paper smacked the wall in front of me and landed on top of my laptop.
"Thanks." I unfolded it, skimmed. At first glance, nothing stuck out. A few "opportunities" to make money from home, a job as a telemarketer, and another ad for models. "Which one?"
"The modeling one, of course."
Of course. At five-foot-nothing, I, Alice Barlow, was perfect modeling material.
I lobbed the paper back. "Ha, ha. Very funny. Next, you'll be telling me I should try out for a women's professional basketball team."
"No, silly. It's not a joke. You didn't read the ad. It's for an artist's model. Not a fashion model." Another box loaded, Jenn half-carried, half-dragged it to the mountain we were building next to the door. Moving day was going to be hell. We lived on the third floor of our dormitory, and there was no elevator. "Artists like to use models of all shapes and sizes. Not that you're fat. With your tight dancer's body, not to mention your flexibility, I bet they'd love you." She lifted the box about waist high, which was roughly three feet shy of getting it on top of the pile. She staggered.
"Are you sure you can't get rid of some of this stuff?" I asked, as I ran to her rescue.
"No, absolutely not."
I glanced in the gap between the flaps as I grabbed one end. "You're graduating with a communications degree. When are you going to need a book about global economics?"
"You never know. I might need something to fall back on," she reasoned between groans and grunts. Once we had the box on top of Mount Useless-Crap-More, she brushed her hands off, smoothed the blond flyaway hairs out of her face. "So, are you going to apply for the job?"
"Artist's model? Don't they pose nude?" I asked, retreating to my desk.
Jenn shrugged. "Sure. But I've seen you naked. You've got nothing to be ashamed of." She patted her nonexistent belly—the one she was always complaining about. "Unlike me." She turned sideways, rubbed her stomach like a pregnant woman. "Check out this gut."
"Shut up." I dismissed her ridiculous exaggeration with a toss of my hand. "You don't have a gut. Or thunder thighs. Or arm fat."
"Yes, I do." She waved, pointing at her triceps. "See the arm fat jiggle?" Nothing was moving. But we'd had this conversation before. At least a few hundred times since freshman year. We were now a few weeks away from moving out of the dorm and into our own apartment. Graduation was in a little over two weeks. I think we were both equally excited and scared. Excited to be finally heading out into the "real" world, getting our first full-time jobs. Scared because the economy was in the toilet, and jobs in our fields were scarce. Thus, the conversation about the modeling job in the first place.
"I can't model nude," I stated. I was feeling twitchy just thinking about it. Naked? Me? In front of a stranger?
"How do you know you can't? Have you ever tried?" Jenn asked as she dumped a load of notebooks, textbooks, and miscellaneous crap in another empty box.
"Did you see what they're paying? It's not a bad deal."
I hadn't gotten that far. The second I read the word model, I stopped. The paper was sitting right there, next to my computer. But I didn't bother looking. The point was moot. "If it's such a great opportunity, why aren't you applying?" I volleyed back.
My jaw dropped.
I gaped some more.
"What?" Jenn narrowed her big blue eyes to itty-bitty slits. "Close your mouth."
I shut my mouth.
Then I opened it, to speak. "You're a born-again, Bible-touting Christian who's taken a vow of celibacy."
Jenn sighed. "I'm posing for a professional artist. Posing. Not having sex. Not posing for Playboy. Not posing for a horny college guy who is pretending to be a serious photographer."
"What if your parents find out?"
She shrugged again. "So what? I'm an adult now. They can't punish me." She tossed the teddy bear she'd had since she was five into the box.
"True, they can't punish you," I said.
"It'll be temporary, a way to get some income started. Once Channel Two hires me to anchor the six o'clock news, I'll retire. Then again, maybe I won't." She shut the flaps of the box and gave me a come-hither look. "Help me?"
"Sure." I hustled over and took one end of the box. Together, we added more useless junk to the mountain.
"We make a good team," she pointed out as she headed back to the stash of empty boxes. "We'll be okay."
"I hope you're right. I'm a little scared," I admitted. I knew we both were nervous. But until now, neither of us had admitted it.
"Me too, I'm scared. To be honest, that's the only reason why I'm even considering the modeling thing." She folded her arms over her chest, as if she were trying to hide herself. "I'm not crazy about getting naked in front of anyone except my husband someday."
Now, with that admission, I felt a little guilty. Here my best friend was willing to risk humiliation and shame so we could eat. I should be willing to do the same. "I'll put in an application too. But only if I don't hear back by the end of the week from the other companies I applied with."
"Thank you." Jenn hugged me. "We're smart, we're resourceful. We're going to be okay, one way or another. It won't be so bad. I promise."
"I hope you're right about that."
* * *
A week later, I was about to find out if it would be so bad. Unlike my other job applications, which had led me nowhere fast, I'd received a call back almost immediately after applying online. And that phone call had been from a woman. A very friendly but professional-sounding woman. She informed me there was no interview process; I would come in for my first session and if things worked out well, I would be asked to return.
Thus, I was on my way to the studio.
Yes, I was a wreck.
If only I'd received a call back on any of those other jobs. Even the part-time gig at J. C. Penney. But nope, nothing.
Just think about the money.
The drive wasn't long. My insides churned the whole way. I parked in the small parking lot in front of the huge industrial-looking structure, cut off the engine, and talked myself into getting out.
I felt sick.
The money. We need the money.
My legs felt heavy as I walked across the parking lot. I felt hot, nauseous.
I can't do this.
By some miracle, I made it to the door. I pulled it open, stepped inside. I was standing in a lobby, a very nice one, full of polished, gleaming wood and marble. Directly in front of me was a desk. It was curved like a smile. The girl sitting at it was smiling too.
"May I help you?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm here to see ... unit 700."
She stood. "Follow me." Walking on shoes that made me wince, she click-clacked to a bank of elevators. We went to the last one. She slid a key into a lock located just above the CALL button, then hit the button. The elevator chimed right away, the door whooshed open, and I reluctantly stepped inside.
The ride up was slow and a little herky-jerky. That did nothing to settle my herky-jerky nerves. When it finally stopped, and I was safe and sound on the seventh floor, I breathed a little sigh of relief.
I exited into a small foyer area that wasn't much bigger than the elevator. Directly in front of me was one set of glossy black-painted double doors.
Almost immediately, the door swung open, and I was face-to-face with a man, roughly in his midtwenties; short, stocky build; with very dark, curly hair, deeply tanned skin, and clothes spattered with paint.
"Hello, I'm Alice. Alice Barlow. I'm the model."
"I'm Estefan. The artist." Estefan gave my hand a good, hard shake and waved me inside. "Welcome. Thank you for coming. I was just getting set up." As he pushed the door shut behind me, he asked, "Have you worked as an artist's model before?" He spoke with a heavy accent. Spanish, I guessed.
His gaze flicked to my hands. Mine did too. I was wringing them, I realized. I let them fall to my sides.
"You're nervous," he said, hurrying toward the easel set up nearby.
"Very," I admitted as I glanced around. This place was huge and much of it wide open. The ceilings were high, as I would expect in a loft. The walls brick. The floor polished concrete. Gray and shiny. Not far from the easel was a raised, white-painted wooden dais with a white wooden chair and some of those photography umbrella lights circling it. I assumed that was where he wanted me. Behind the chair hung a crisp white curtain backdrop. The rest of the space was loaded with art stuff. Stacks of metal pieces, wood pallets, and towering metal industrial shelves loaded with other materials lined the two long walls flanking the model stand.
"If you're uncomfortable at any time, just speak up," Estefan said as he hurried around, gathering stuff.
Not even looking my way—he was gathering some pencils from one of the shelves—he said, "I'm a professional. If it makes you feel any better, when I'm sketching, I am studying the angles of your body, the curves. I don't really see you like I would if I were looking at you in another setting."
I went back to wringing my hands. "I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse."
He turned to me, grinned. His smile was charming. Sweet. It made me feel better ... a little. "I'm going to finish getting set up. You can change in there." He pointed at a closed door not far from the main entry.
"Sure. Okay." I hurried into the changing room, which was the size of a closet. It was a small, tight space, but I didn't mind. At the moment, small, tight, and private was exactly what I needed. With shaking hands, I shucked my clothes and folded them into a neat stack. I pulled on the little robe Jenn had told me to bring, took a look in the mirror, and just about passed out.
I couldn't do this. No way.
I called Jenn. She answered on the third ring. "I did it. You can too." No hello. No how are you doing.
I swallowed my lunch for the second time. "I can't."
"You can. Just sit there and imagine you're lounging by the pool in our new clubhouse when we move—"
"Nobody's ever seen me naked. Not since I was ... I can't remember how old." I knotted the belt on my robe super-tight. "Not since my mother stopped giving me baths."
"What?" Jenn said, sounding completely shocked.
"I know what you said. But what about ... sex? What did you do when you and Brad had sex? Turn off all the lights? Keep your clothes on?"
I sat on the stool and grabbed my jeans off the floor. To hell with this. I couldn't do it. No way. "We didn't have sex. I lied."
"You lied to me?"
"I was embarrassed to admit the truth." I looked at my jeans, dropped them on the floor again, and closed my eyes. I knew what she was thinking. She was disappointed I couldn't go through with this when she had. But she was more hurt about the lie than anything else. "I'm sorry I lied to you."
Jenn didn't speak for at least ten minutes. At least that's how long it felt. I was just about ready to hang up when she said, "I'm really hurt you lied, but whatever. If you can't do this, don't. You can find another job. I'll help you."
She would. She always did.
Just like she had forked over half her bank account last year so I could eat too.
Just like she had "loaned" me the money to buy my books the year before that, and had never, not once asked me when I would pay her back.
And she'd stripped naked and let Estefan sketch her, so she could earn her half of our down payment on the apartment we both loved.
After all she'd done for me, how could I not at least give this a try?
"Alice? Did you hang up on me?"
"No, I'm here," I said, staring at the back of the door I would have to open soon. "I was just thinking."
"I'm going to give the modeling a shot."
"You don't have to." Her voice was apologetic. "I'm not trying to force you to do something you can't do."
"I swear it's not that bad. Estefan doesn't say much. He just works. That makes it easier to focus on something besides him."
"Focus on what?" I asked, still staring at the door. Could I really go out there? Could I really do this?
"For starters, he warms up by doing fast sketches. You hold a pose for a couple of minutes and then change. It's tough, coming up with new poses, so I spent those two minutes thinking about what I'd do next."
"Okay." I lifted my chin, took a deep breath. "I'll call you when I'm done."
"Good luck. Not that you'll need it."
"Bye." I clicked the button, dropped my phone into my purse, and, before I had another panic attack, opened the door. If I was expecting Estefan to notice I'd come out, I would have been disappointed. He was busy at work, drawing something on his easel.
I padded up to the raised platform, untied my robe's belt, and started easing it off my shoulders.
"Keep it on," he said. "You don't have to take it off until you're ready."
"O-okay." I watched him for a moment, thinking he'd look my way. He didn't.
He said, "I always start out doing some quick sketching exercises. I need you to hold a pose for about two to five minutes. Then change positions. The more interesting and unique, the better."
"Sure." Interesting and unique, I could do. I stretched one arm up over my head, lengthened one leg behind me, and looked up at the ceiling.
"Nice! But are you sure you can hold that position for five minutes?"
"I took dance for fifteen years," I told him.
"Good. Now, don't move until I tell you to."
I did just as Jenn suggested, and while I waited for his cue, I brainstormed the next pose.
"Good, now change," he said.
Had that even been two minutes? I took my second pose. My robe fell open. I didn't close it back up. A little tingle of exhilaration jolted through my body.
"Love this one. Most models need some coaching. You're doing great."
"Thanks," I said to the back wall. I couldn't look at him. If I did, I just knew I'd start hyperventilating again.
Before I realized it, I'd gone through at least a half-dozen poses. And my robe was lying on the floor. I hadn't looked at Estefan. Not once.
"Okay. That's it for the warm-up," he said. "Did you need a break before we begin the longer part of the session?"
"How long will that be?" I asked as I stretched to loosen my arms, legs, and neck.
"A half hour."
"No, I'm good." Better to get the session done and over with.
"Great. Then let's begin." He flipped his page in his sketchbook. "This time, I need you to take a pose you can hold for longer. You don't have to stand. You can sit or lie down."
"Okay." I sat on the floor, took a pose that I hoped would be interesting, back arched, head tipped back like I was leaping through the air, and just for kicks, I wrapped the belt of my robe around my wrists. I asked, "How's this?"
I stared up at the high loft ceiling, following the grid of iron beams holding it up, wondering how old the building was, what it might have been when it was first built. A door squeaked. My first instinct was to turn my head to see if someone had come in. I didn't. But I did slant my eyes in that direction.
And I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Who is that?
My whole body went warm.
Then it went cold.
My heart hopped once, twice, as soft footsteps tap, tap, tapped across the polished concrete floor.
A man who looked like a god was coming my way. His gaze flicked to me for an instant, then jerked back to Estefan. He went to Estefan, whispered something to him, Estefan responded, then the god glanced at me again. This time his gaze was a little longer.
Once more I felt my skin warm, little prickles tingled all over, my stomach, my arms, my back. His lips pursed ever so slightly then he focused on the exit and started walking. I lost sight of him just before he reached the door. I didn't hear him leave. I didn't hear the door open or the echo of it slamming shut. Had he left? Or was he watching? Was that gorgeous man looking at me? Naked me?
My heart thundered in my chest.
Who was he?
"Would you like some music?" Estefan asked, his voice startling me a little.
Excerpted from YES, MASTER ... by TAWNY TAYLOR ANNE RAINEY VONNA HARPER Copyright © 2013 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of APHRODISIA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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