The twisted and rusted iron gates of the ancient elevator clanged loudly together as the driver pulled them down, locking them in place. He hadn’t uttered a word other than, “You Mia?” when I came down the escalator at Seattle -Tacoma International Airport baggage claim. I figured it was safe to follow him since he had a sign with my full name on it, and Aunt Millie told me to expect a giant lumberjack of a man to drive me to my next client. The giant part was no joke, and it wasn’t his height. The guy stood only a couple inches taller than me, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in width. Reminded me of a pro wrestler or one of those beefy body builders.
Once the elevator made it to the tenth floor, it came to a screeching, grinding halt, jolting me into Paul Bunion ’s baby brother. He was a solid wall, didn’t even flinch when I bumped into him, just grunted like an animal. The giant doors opened and Bunion pulled open the gates and ushered me into what seemed to be an open warehouse. The rafters and piping were visible and no less than thirty feet above the concrete floor. People were milling around everywhere, half of them naked.
What the fuck did I get myself into?
Cameras were clicking, lighting units and reflectors were being moved around on wheeled carts as I stood in the entryway attempting to take it all in. Bunion set my bag off to a sidewall and pointed to a man crouched down, a camera glued to his face. “Mr. Dubois,” he grumbled, then abruptly turned around and entered the elevator we’d just exited leaving me to fend for myself.
“Man of few words.” I let a slow breath leave my too-full lungs. I didn’t know what to do. Should I sit off to the side and wait for someone to approach me—hopefully not the naked men and women scattered around—or should I bug the guy busily taking pictures of something I couldn’t quite see?
Instead of waiting, I decided to take better stock of my surroundings and walked around. The room was an open loft but not a home. Rickety windows lined the walls on the right, some opened from the bottom out, others were closed tight. It looked like it took a crank to open them, which I found incredibly cool and retro. Naked and half naked women passed by me, sizing me up as they moved in front of giant white canvases. They weren’t really modeling, they were just standing next to the canvases, each model loosely holding a pose while attendants, dressed in black, were perfecting the poses with subtle shifts of an elbow here or moving a foot there. Then the attendant would back up and take a single photo and start over again. Tiny movements again, then another picture. It was downright weird.
I moved over to another area where there was a naked couple lying on a huge white canvas that had to be at least ten by ten feet in size. One of the attendants climbed up a small ladder that had a platform directly over their bodies and methodically poured what looked to be bright blue paint over every inch of them. “Don’t move!” he screamed. “We’ll have to start all over, and Mr. Dubois won’t be pleased,” he added tightly. The couple stayed in a naked clinch, the female model’s hands wrapped around the male’s head as if she was about to kiss him. His arms were around her, one on her ass holding a leg over his hip, the other cupping the back of her head.
Paint dripped down their legs and fell into globs on the canvas. “Still,” the man warned. I was so fascinated by the inner workings of the odd scene in front of me that I didn’t hear a person walk up behind me until my hair was swept off my neck.
“Perfection,” I heard whispered against my ear before a soft kiss hit the bare skin at the curve where my shoulder and neck met.
I shuffled back, not looking where I was going, just trying to get away from the stranger touching me when I bumped into something behind me. Before I could turn, my boot caught the edge of the canvas, and I went toppling into the platform, which held the irritated guy with the paint. Then, utter chaos ensued. The man holding the bucket went tumbling forward, and blue, sticky paint flew out of the can into a fan of color before splashing down onto the canvas and tarp protecting the concrete.
The couple beneath must have seen the fall coming, because the man rolled the hot naked chick as if he’d been trained in combat services with the armed forces. He avoided the attendant, missed being doused with more paint, and narrowly escaped the platform that was about to fall on top of them.
I wasn’t so lucky.
When I fell backward, my other heel went through the thick canvas and stuck, and my body curved around in the opposite direction. I screamed out as my ankle twisted painfully, and I landed ass-over-tits into blue paint and torn canvas.
“Sweet Jesus!” The man I tried to get away from stepped into the mess and pulled me up by the armpits. His golden brown eyes were mesmerizing and worried. Small lines at the corners of each eye revealed he was probably a good decade older than I. Sandy brown hair with hints of russet gold and red streaked through in natural highlights was pulled tight into a small bun at the back of his head. A sculpted jaw and full lips were rimmed with perfectly trimmed facial hair. I’d never dated a man with a beard, but standing in front of this man, strong arms holding me close to a very tall and muscular frame, I couldn’t fathom why I never had. He was drop dead gorgeous. Reminded me of Ben Affleck only way hotter.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you. I saw you standing there, and your beauty was far beyond the likes of any mere model. I had to press my lips against your golden skin. You must be My Mia,” he said with admiration. His caramel gaze scanning my features from the tips of my hair down to my spike-heeled boots. I would be tossing those boots the minute I could remove them from my rapidly swelling ankle.
A quick test by placing the ball of my injured foot to the grou