“Debby said she’d had a photographer call and book something I’d like. I’m guessing that’s it. Or they’re it. Mmmmm. It’s going to be a beautiful day.” Maryanne, Arturo Casarez’s assistant, sighed as she stared out at the grounds of the McNay. “I wonder if she knew they’d be wearing jocks and nothing more. I’d ask her but she started her vacation today. Bummer.”
“Jocks? As in jockstraps, or is this an actual porn shoot?” Irritated—in no small part because his stupid libido perked up—Arturo strode over to look outside and had to work to keep from gasping in surprise. “What the heck was Debby thinking? This can’t happen here.”
“Doubt she asked specifics,” Maryanne murmured. “She told me they were supposed to use the grounds almost two weeks ago, but the weather— Texas, got to love the unpredictable weather. Anyway, look at all that man candy.”
“Looks like porn in the making,” Arturo grumbled.
“You have porn on the mind for some reason?” Maryanne laughed. “I remember you were panicking as you tried to clear your web browser when Lola asked to use your laptop.”
One of the cons of having my best friend as my assistant. She knows too much about my past. “I was nineteen, she was seventeen and the last thing I wanted was to have my sister nosing around my browser history.”
“I still look at it and I’m over thirty, have three kids and one fine husband,” Maryanne countered. “You know I’m teasing you, just like you know this isn’t a porn shoot. We both know that the human body is beautiful, artistic. How can you be a curator here and be so prudish? Isn’t that, like, artistic heresy?”
Arturo was having trouble paying attention to Maryanne with all that perfect, almost-nude male flesh prancing around outside. Okay, not prancing, but Jesus. Most of those guys are living art, Maryanne is right about that. They were also violating decency laws, Arturo would bet. He remembered his sister fussing about not being allowed to wear a thong bathing suit on public beaches in Texas. If that were the case, then a dozen or so men in jockstraps running around in public had to be illegal.
“Debby told me her nephew is one of the models, some guy named Rogelio,” Maryanne continued. “She also said the people putting this charity calendar together need a break. It’s already going to be tough getting it done in time for next year, since there’s been a two-month delay. You heard about Marco, the famous photographer, being attacked and almost killed in a fire? It was arson and he almost died when he got an infection. Delayed the calendar shoot. I wonder if it’s cursed? But how could a photo shoot full of sexy men be cursed? That’s got to be a blessing.”
“We’re having two different junior high schools bringing students in today,” Arturo said as his brain kicked into gear, shoving aside his libido. “There is no way this”—he gestured at the photo shoot being set up—“can happen today. Or tomorrow, or any other day if those men are going to be wearing next to nothing. We have kids to think about, and decency laws. Just because this is an art museum doesn’t mean we are all”—Arturo gestured again, as he had a tendency to ‘speak with his hands’, as his mother called it—“bohemians.”
Maryanne snorted at that. “Bohemians? Arturo, you should maybe go on a date. Have you had a date in this decade? I bet that guy wearing purple would be perfect for you.”
Arturo made the mistake of looking at the man Maryanne was talking about. He was glorious, his toffee-colored skin gleaming as though he’d been oiled up. The man’s entire body was hairless. His waist was narrow, his chest broad, as were his shoulders. He had short-cropped dark hair. The cut accentuated his masculine features. Strong jaw, square chin, a full-lipped mouth that was proportionate to his face and his prominent nose. From this distance, his eyes appeared to be wide and thick-lashed.
“Could be makeup.”
“Nah, he’s just a stud,” Maryanne replied.
Arturo jolted and felt himself blush. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
“Well, you did say it out loud, and no wonder. Purple jock guy is the handsomest model out there. You should—”
“I’m going to tell them to clear out, that’s what I should and will do,” Arturo interrupted, striding for the door. “This is not appropriate. Wedding shoots, family pictures, yes, those are fine, but not this.”
“Can you hear how prudish you sound right now?” Maryanne asked. “But go on and chase off the eye candy.”
Arturo muttered, “It’s inappropriate because we have kids arriving soon.”
“The models could cover up or block off the shoot area,” Maryanne called out as Arturo opened the door. His pulse raced. Arturo didn’t know if that was from nerves, or a reaction to seeing all the sexy models standing a dozen yards away.
He began making his way to the photographer, whose name he couldn’t remember. He’d never met her. Scheduling times for people to take photos on the museum grounds wasn’t his job. Neither was running off almost-naked men, but he was going to do it.
A woman with blue and green hair was cursing as she tried to do something with the camera on the tripod in front of her. “Where the fuck are the directions for this thing? Ezra said he sent them!”
“He did, Perry. They’re right here.” A man wearing khakis, a white button-up, a bow tie and suspenders, handed Perry a small booklet. “I know you’re under a lot of pressure, but maybe take a minute or two and breathe?”
Perry huffed, hung her head then exhaled loud enough that Arturo had no problem hearing her. “Gods, Albert. I’m being a jerk. Dad didn’t sleep last night. He’s still not talking much at all about what happened. Evan is fighting for spousal support even though she’s about to be tried for attempted murder and a shit-ton of other charges. I’m exhausted, and if one more thing goes wrong with this calendar shoot, I might just scream. It’s been delayed for months now. Maybe I should quit and let someone else take this over. That, or move it to next year.”
“This is for a good cause, you know that,” Albert replied, resting one hand on Perry’s shoulder. “If you think it’s best to reschedule, or resign, that’s up to you, but the sooner the calendar is selling, the sooner the charity will get the money.”
“I know, I know,” Perry said, raising her head and looking at Albert.
Arturo felt like he was walking into the middle of a TV dramedy, except there wasn’t anything funny about raising money for a children’s cancer charity. He slowed his steps as he approached the shoot.
Albert slid his hand down and cupped Perry’s elbow. “Why don’t you take a few minutes and read the manual. I’ll read it with you. We’ll figure this camera out together, and if we can’t, we’ll make Ezra come out here and do it.”
“Ezra is with Dad.” Perry sighed. She zeroed in on Arturo. “You look like trouble. Are you trouble? I don’t need any more trouble today. It’s ten in the morning and I’ve had a week’s worth of it already. I’ve had a freakin’ decade’s worth since Dad took this project.”
After everything Arturo had overheard, his temper had cooled—but the issue of impropriety still remained. “I suppose I am trouble. I’m Arturo Casarez, and I’m a curator here.”
“Oh, do you curate studs like me? Tell me you do!”
Arturo turned to his left, half-hoping to see the man in the purple-colored jockstrap talking to him. Alas, my bad luck with men continues. A bleached-blond goat shifter was ogling him and smirking. “Er, no?” Arturo was confident in his job, in his work environment. He was safe there.
He didn’t know what in Hades to do with a flirting model.
“Make an exception?” The blond batted his eyelashes.
“James, chill out,” Albert ordered. “You’re making Arturo uncomfortable.” Albert cocked his head. “A fellow cat shifter. Cool.”
“Don’t even,” snapped Perry at James. “I can find another guy to be Mr. March in a second if you can’t watch your mouth.”
James stuck his tongue out at her before mouthing, “Call me,” to Arturo.
Arturo frowned. “I don’t even have his number. How would I call him?”
“Do you want to?” Albert asked. “I’m Albert, by the way, and this is Perry, the photographer and boss of the shoot.”
Arturo shook Perry’s hand, then Albert’s. “I overheard—your names, I mean.”
Albert nodded. “Feline hearing. Mine’s a little sharper than a human’s, but not exceptional.”
Arturo didn’t know what to say to that. His social skills sucked unless he was trying to procure objects for the museum.
“So what’s the problem, Trouble?” Perry waved the booklet at him. “Go ahead, ruin the rest of my day.”
Arturo hated being challenged, which was what it seemed like Perry was doing to him.
But he also hated being an asshole.
There are still kids to consider.
They took priority. “I’m afraid you can’t have your models wearing so little during the hours the museum is open. We have students—for the most part, junior and high school students—that will be arriving every day of the week. They don’t need to see—” Arturo glanced at a group of models. “That’s more skin than they need to see,” he finished with.
“Damn it,” Perry began, but someone stepped up beside Arturo.
Attraction, like a wave of heat, rolled through him as he saw the man standing next to him was wearing the purple-colored jock. The scent of dog shifter reached him and his inner cat hissed. Calm, kitty.
The man in him wasn’t so catty.
Arturo’s mind blanked as he jerked his gaze up to the stunning face he’d been admiring before he’d come outside. His eyes are hunter green, like the ceramic sculpture I got from Patagonia last month.
“He has a point,” the man said before addressing Arturo. “I’m Darin Winger. You’re a cat shifter. I’m a dog shifter. Malamute.”
Arturo realized he’d been staring. He shook Darin’s hand. “Arturo Casarez. Ragdoll.” He blushed as he always did when he admitted his breed. It just sounds so…not masculine. His sister would kick his ass for that thought.
“I’ll have to look that up.” Darin smiled and Arturo’s pulse raced.
“Darin is our Mr. February, in case you couldn’t tell by the purple jockstrap.” Perry shook her head. “Damn it. I didn’t think about kids. Why didn’t anyone mention that when we set up the times for the shoots here?”
Arturo forced himself to look away from Darin. “Did you mention how little the models would be wearing?”
“No. I did make sure they knew it was a male calendar, but—ugh!” Perry began doing something to the camera. “I can’t even argue, because yeah, men packing what these guys are packing in their jocks, and a lot of bare asses… I didn’t even think about kids showing up for field trips. I’ll have to find another location, and that’ll take who the fuck knows how long. I don’t think I’ll have any other option besides moving this entire project to next year.”
Arturo felt like the biggest jerk in the world, but he didn’t see how he could have stood aside and let the shoot go on.
“We’ll figure something out,” Darin said. “I took today off work so you could get my shots done. Instead, I can spend it helping you find an alternative spot to use.”
“I’ll help too,” Albert chimed in. “And I’ll ask Gregg if he has any ideas where—”
“My place.” Arturo couldn’t believe he’d blurted that out. His cheeks burned as he forced himself to continue, because he’d already put the offer out there. “I live close to Comfort, on a half-dozen acres. It’s not as well-sculpted as the grounds here, but I…” He glanced at Darin, then at Perry, who’d stopped doing whatever she’d been doing and was studying him. “I like to landscape in my spare time. It’s…pretty,” he added, for lack of a better word. He was too busy trying not to panic over the invitation he’d extended to focus on adjectives.
“Pretty like how? What’s it look like? What would you charge per day?” Perry spat out questions before Arturo could get a word in. “You know it’d be tax deductible if you let us use the land for free? I think it would be, right, Albert?”
Arturo took his cell phone from his vest pocket and pulled up the latest pictures he’d taken of his sprawling yard. “I installed the arches over the weekend, but I had the variegated ivy growing already so all I had to do was wind it around the wood slats. The climbing roses are home grown, too. And here”—he flicked to another image—“there’s the pond with the water lilies and koi.”
“How much and when can we start?” Perry asked.
Arturo found himself looking at Darin. “Free. It’s for a good cause, and you can start whenever it’s convenient for you. I can’t take you there today, but I can give you directions.”
“By the time we’d get set up today, I’d lose the light I wanted. We’ll be there bright-eyed and bitchy-as-hell in the morning, say, six?”
“Six is good.” Arturo glanced at her before returning his gaze to Darin. “I’ll have coffee waiting.” Oh no. I’m turning into a sociable being!
Darin smiled. “I’ll take off tomorrow so I can be there. Get my pics done then, Perry?”
“Sure, if you can arrange for another nurse to take your shift so you can model for me. Call me and let me know for certain. And thanks, Arturo. I still think you’re trouble, though.” Perry winked then removed the camera from the tripod.
“I like trouble,” Darin murmured. “The good kind of trouble. Bet that’s what you are.”
Arturo gulped. He’d either made a big mistake, or the best decision possible. “I-I have to work.” He spun around and all but jogged inside, wondering at the anticipation that outweighed the worry over his impulsive offer.