Read A Kept Man Online

Authors: Kerry Connor

A Kept Man (10 page)

He looked down at the top picture and smiled. Her heart did a little
hitch in her chest.

“Who’s this?” He flipped the photograph over so she
could see.

Seeing what he was looking at, she had to smile too. Hers, though,
was bittersweet. It was a picture of two small children with painted
faces and big smiles. “They’re members of a tribe I spent
some time with in the Amazon. They’re probably part of the last
generation to learn the old ways. The outside world is slowly
encroaching on their territory and they aren’t as isolated as
they used to be. It won’t be long before they’re
assimilated into modern life.”

She wouldn’t have expected it, but a flicker of sadness passed
over his features. “That’s too bad.”

“It really is. There were some anthropologists there studying
them while I was there, trying to preserve a record of their customs
before they’re gone forever. All of the tribes in that area
have some similar customs, but each also have some distinctive
traditions all their own. I tried to give people a sense of what made
these people unique in my story.”

“I’d love to read it sometime.”

Jess couldn’t help quirking a brow in amusement. “Not
exactly your usual reading material, is it?”

He hesitated for a split second, as though she’d caught him
off-guard. If she hadn’t been looking right at his face she
would have missed it. Then his expression cleared and he smiled. “For
you, I’ll make the effort.” He quickly flipped to the
next photograph. “What about this one? She looks like a
character.”

The attempt to distract her was so transparent she almost laughed.
She filed the moment away for future reference. Then she saw the
image he was holding and she smiled too. A flamboyant looking older
woman wearing a dramatic red gown and a bejeweled headpiece preened
for the camera. “That’s Fabiana Campos, or at least
that’s the name she goes by. It’s not her real one, I’m
sure. She makes Felicity look conservative in comparison. She owns a
nightclub in Brazil, and she used to be a dancer when she was
younger. Her old costumes are on display in the club and she wanted
to prove to us that she still fit in her old gowns.”

“Us?”

Her smile faded, the warmth of the memory dissipating. “The
photographer I was working with at the time.”

“He took this?”

“He took most of them.” That was part of the problem. Her
memories of her experiences in the field were so entwined with Trevor
that she couldn’t think about them without thinking about him.
He was the one who’d introduced her to Fabiana, an old friend
of his who he’d affectionately called “the old bird,”
because her extravagant costumes had made her look like some great
plumed bird. Fabiana was a firebrand and no one else would have dared
call her that, let alone gotten away with it. But that was Trevor.

He was with her when they covered the protests in Argentina and had
captured the image that lay further in the stack. He was by her side
when she traveled with a guerilla group, scoring an interview with
its reclusive leader. He’d photographed the children of the
Nakawi tribe. So many times during the last few years, he’d
been there.

Good old Trevor. Her friend who’d turned out to be a thief and
nearly taken her down with him.

“Sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

Jess realized she’d been doing it again, staring blindly at the
image of Fabiana, remembering. She blinked up to read the question in
his eyes. She didn’t even consider it. Shaking her head, she
pulled the photographs out of his hands and deposited them back on
the desk. “I’m sure. What is it you wanted anyway?”

He moved a few feet away, allowing her to finally take a breath, and
fell into a nearby chair. “I wanted to make sure you were okay
after last night. You left in such a hurry I wasn’t sure.”

Talk about things she didn’t want to think about. She offered
him a self-conscious smile. “I’m okay. More than okay,
really. I should be thanking you.”

“That’s not necessary. I didn’t do much.”

“False modesty doesn’t suit you. I have to admit, you’re
very good at what you do.”

His lips tilted in a grin. “Trust me, Jess. I haven’t
even begun to show you what I can do.”

“Nor will you,” she said firmly. “As nice as last
night was—”

“‘Nice?’”

“As
great
as last night was, that really isn’t
what I’m here for. I need to concentrate on my work.”

“You can’t work all the time, right?”

“I can try.”

“You’ll just burn yourself out that way. You need some
time to decompress so that when you’re in front of your
computer, you’re at your best.”

He said it in that eminently reasonable way of his. She almost felt
foolish for disagreeing. “You’re certainly persuasive,
I’ll give you that. You should have been a lawyer. Or a
politician.”

“I think we can agree the world has more than enough of both.”

“True.” She shook her head. “I just don’t get
you, Charlie.”

“You can get me anytime you want.”

She wasn’t going to dignify that with a response. “You
act like you want to come across like this dumb pretty boy, but
you’re obviously more than that. You’re way too fast on
your feet for one thing. What are you hiding?”

“What do you mean?”

“Somebody once told me that everyone in Los Angeles is
pretending to be something other than they really are. What are you
pretending not to be, Charlie?”

He chuckled, but she didn’t miss how forced it sounded. “Why
do I get the feeling you should be shining a bright light into my
eyes right now?”

She grimaced. “Sorry. I know I can come on strong at times.
Occupational hazard.”

“You can come on strong to me anytime.”

She shook a finger at him. “Nope. I’m not buying it.”

“You don’t have to, it’s free.”

“Hot air usually is.”

“Touché.”

Jess leaned back in her chair and surveyed him. “What does your
family think about what you do?”

She’d managed to catch him off-guard with the sudden change in
topic, exactly as she’d intended. “My family?”

“That’s right. What do they think about how you earn your
keep around here?”

He shrugged in that careless way of his. “They don’t
think anything of it.”

She couldn’t imagine even the most freewheeling of parents
being so open-minded. “They don’t know, do they?”

“No,” he admitted.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have any family.”

Boy, she’d stepped right into that one. But the way he said it
caught her by surprise more than the statement itself. It came out so
mild, so emotionless, he may as well have been talking about the
weather.

She’d been asking questions without really thinking, following
the logical line of inquiry. She hadn’t considered the
implications of his answers, and she wasn’t sure she liked
them. Knowing this much about Charlie made him more human, made him
more real.

It took her a moment to realize she was simply staring at him without
saying anything. When she opened her mouth, all that came out was an
ineffective, “I’m sorry.”

“No reason to be. I’ve had more than enough time to get
used to it.”

“What happened?”

He shrugged. “My parents died. No siblings. No other family.
It’s not such an unusual story.” He cracked a smile. “Any
more questions, detective?”

He’d managed to change the mood as effectively as if he’d
swept the tension from the room with a broom. She had to smile too.
“Nothing that can’t hold until later.”

“Good.” He pushed himself to his feet. “I have some
tanning to get to. Don’t you think I’m starting to look
pale?”

Beachgoers worldwide would kill to be the same burnished gold that he
was. “I think the sun is starting to fry your brain cells if
you think you’re anywhere close to being pale.”

“It’s never too soon to start worrying about it.”

“It’s never too soon to start worrying about skin cancer
either.”

“You worry too much.” He gestured toward the door. “Shall
we continue this by the pool? I could use some help spreading suntan
lotion on the places I can’t reach.”

That created a vivid image in her head of her doing exactly that.
Smoothing creamy white lotion down the length of his back. Kneading
it into his shoulder muscles. Having free reign to run her hands
wherever she wanted on his body.

She reached back, fumbling for the desktop, and tapped on the
surface. “I have to work.”

He gave an exaggerated sigh. “So be it. I’ll let you have
your days. As long as I get your nights.”

“Cute, Charlie.”

“I wasn’t kidding.”

She stopped smiling as soon as she saw that he really wasn’t.
There wasn’t a trace of humor on his face. Purpose gleamed in
his eyes.

“I’m not making any deals.”

“You will,” he said simply.

He was at the door when she found her voice. “I’m going
to figure you out, Charlie.”

He hesitated in the doorway, then glanced back over his shoulder at
her.

“For one month, I’m whatever you want me to be, Jess.
Nothing more, nothing less.”

Each word was like a promise, the seriousness of them silencing the
response that rose to her tongue.

He looked at her for a long moment, then stepped out of the room,
pulling the door shut behind himself.

Jess took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Nice line,
Charlie,” she muttered. He could toss off as many of them as he
liked, and mean them, but she was just as serious. When she caught
the scent of a good story, she never let it go until she got to the
bottom of it. And the more time she spent with Charlie, the more she
wanted to know about him.

He might not take her seriously, but she’d prove, current
writer’s block aside, just how good at her job she was.

Chapter
Seven

Jess didn’t reemerge from the office until late that night. She
hadn’t moved from her chair since noon, forcing herself to sit
there until she produced something. Anything to silence the flashing
cursor she was slowly becoming convinced was mocking her.

By the end of the day, her eyes ached and her shoulders felt as
though they were permanently hunched over. She stretched as she made
her way down to the kitchen, rolling her head back and forth to
loosen the stiffness in her neck. The intense day and sleepless night
were taking their toll on her. She was exhausted. All she wanted was
to crawl into bed. She was so tired she wouldn’t have to worry
about falling asleep tonight. But first, she might as well get
something in her stomach. She wasn’t hungry, but she couldn’t
afford to get sick.

But when she stopped at the bottom of the stairs, Jess saw Charlie
through the sliding glass doors.

He was sitting out by the pool, engrossed in a magazine. The faint
twinkling lights that lined the outdoor area illuminated his profile,
highlighting the sharp cheekbones and square jaw. And his strong,
sensual mouth. She found herself staring at his lips, remembering the
feel of them on her own.

His face was too perfect. It should have been off-putting. It was the
kind of face artists dreamed of sculpting or painting, a flawless
specimen that deserved to be captured for all eternity. No woman
wanted a man who was that beautiful. But there was nothing soft or
feminine about him. He was undeniably male.

And God, did she want him. Her entire body practically buzzed from
it.

She didn’t even realize she’d changed directions until
she was halfway across the room.

Charlie looked up as she pushed open the doors and stepped onto the
deck. His lips automatically curled into a smile. She could almost
believe he was genuinely happy to see her.

He set his magazine aside and pushed his legs over the side of his
chair. “You’ve surfaced. I wasn’t sure I’d
see you again today.”

You shouldn’t be
. “I decided to call it day before
I went insane.”
Too late.

He started to rise to his feet. “Sit. Let me get you something
to eat.”

She waved him back into his seat. “I’m not hungry.”

“I’m not going to watch you starve to death.”

“I don’t deserve food.”

“Not a productive day?”

“I finished a chapter.” And had nearly killed herself
eking out every single word. Slowly slicing off layers of skin would
have been easier.

“That’s good.”

“A chapter a day won’t get the book done in time. It’s
still very rough.”
As in “unreadable.”
“I’ll
need time to revise and edit and polish.” She started to sigh,
but the breath stuck in her throat, forming a hard lump. Frustrated
tears pricked at her eyes. Damn it, she’d never cried a day in
her life. She wasn’t going to start now. “It just seems
so hopeless.”

“Are you going to pull an all-nighter?”

“I would if I thought it would do any good.”

He shoved to his feet and motioned to the chair next to his. “Here.
Let me rub your shoulders.”

“Charlie, I’m really not in the mood.”

“Nothing sexual. It’s just that you look like you’re
forming a hump.”

That wasn’t too surprising. It felt like it too. “Oh.
That would be nice.”

“Sit,” he ordered again, his tone brooking no resistance.

She tried to convince herself all she wanted was a simple massage.

It didn’t work.

She sank onto the chair and leaned back against the padding, trying
to relax.

Then his hands were on her. A shock of awareness shot straight down
her spine. He had such large hands, his fingers and palms engulfing
her shoulders. He slowly kneaded his thumbs against the tense lines
at the base of her neck. Within seconds, the tension seemed to melt
from her back. She closed her eyes with a sigh. She was as pliable as
wet clay, willing to be molded into whatever he wanted.

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