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Authors: Julie Jaret

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Extreme Close-Up (Perspectives Book 1)

BOOK: Extreme Close-Up (Perspectives Book 1)
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Extreme Close-Up

 

 

by

Julie Jaret

 
 
 

He’s hot, young... and way off-limits
.

Dedications

 

To my long-suffering and ever-supportive husband: Thanks for always believing in me -- especially when I couldn’t believe in myself. You’re still a hottie after all these years.

 

To Jess: You’re the best sister in the world and I could never have done it without you. (How was that?)

Chapter One

 

“TOO DAMN HOT.” Lisa Taylor grumbled, stepping away from her camera. If she could have seen the little frown line crinkled above her dark brown eyes, she’d have smoothed it immediately. Not out of vanity, but because that’s what women of a certain age have to do. Especially those women whose stubborn last ten pounds of pregnancy weight settled in over the years, so when they look in the mirror they see their mother.

She nudged the box of paperclips a few degrees to the left. Shoving her wavy blonde hair out of the way, she checked the viewfinder again.

“Shit. Could we have
more
glare?” She rubbed her jaw, sore from hours of teeth-clenching.

“Somebody’s cheerful today.” She heard the clicking of heels on the concrete floor as her best friend, Natalie came around the corner with a greasy bag that smelled delicious.

The studio space Lisa shared in the artsy section of midtown Atlanta may have been an expensive noose around her neck, but the proximity to Nat’s law office had its advantages.

“The brainiacs in marketing redesigned all the boxes with a gloss finish that’s a bitch to light. They’re paperclips. Who gives a rat’s ass about the box?”

“Who gives a rat’s ass about paperclips?” Natalie unpacked cartons of Chinese take-out and a handful of little sauce packets.

“I do. Allegedly.” Lisa dug chopsticks into a box of lo mein. “I’m living the dream, taking pictures of thumbtacks and ballpoint pens.”

“So maybe it’s not always fulfilling. You’re still making a living doing what you love. How many people get to do that?” Nat challenged, dumping rice on her plate. “You shoot this crap to pay the bills so you can take the pictures you actually
want
to take.”

“Bills,” Lisa groaned through a mouthful of noodles. “Don’t get me started. They threatened to cut my rates again.”

When she had re-entered the job market after her divorce, Lisa was excited to build a career out of her longtime hobby. After a few weeks snapping portraits of screaming brats on Santa’s knee, she was even more determined. By the end of a brief stint shooting heavy farm equipment on location, she was desperate. When the big-box office supply chain hired her to shoot their catalogues, she knew she was damn lucky.

Three years later, she still knew she was lucky. And it was still boring as hell. Even worse, she hadn’t done any of her own photography in months because, after taking shot after shot of copiers and computers all week, who had the energy to be creative?

Natalie pointed her chopsticks at Lisa, “That reminds me -- my dad and the other partners are looking to get portraits taken for the lobby wall. I recommended you.”

“Crusty old lawyers?”

“Granted, they’re a little less interesting than the paperclips...”

Lisa crinkled her nose. “I’ve never shot people, but I guess I could shoot lawyers.”

“That’s the spirit.” Nat raised her egg roll in a toast.

“You don’t wanna hear it, so this is me not saying that it’s bullshit the ‘Wall of Partners’ won’t include you.”

“Thanks. I appreciate your not bringing it up.”

“Don’t mention it.”

After lunch and a soul-cleansing rant, Lisa cracked open her fortune cookie.

IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE.

Natalie looked over her shoulder. “In bed,” she added, opening her own cookie.

“Right. ‘Cause reading’s one of the two things I ever do in bed these days. What’s yours?”

Nat unfurled her own fortune and read, “‘Don’t forget to play.’”

“In bed,” she tacked on.

“With myself, I presume. Unless there’s a man in here...” Natalie said, shaking the cookie to no avail. The alarm on her phone bleeped and she shut it off. “Well, that’s time.” As usual, she had to rush back to work so as not to catch any shit for being gone too long.

As Lisa cleaned up, she admitted to herself that she really was thankful she could make her own hours and, to an extent, do her own thing professionally. The rest of the day, her mood was upbeat. She hardly even grumbled at all while shooting a series of pencil lead refills.

She was surprised when Natalie showed up again the next morning. “Hi, I’m the new intern!”

“Why aren’t you at the office? They’ll revoke your workaholic’s license,” she chuckled.

“No worries. I’ve got nepotism.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “A lot of good that’s done you.” She snapped one last shot of a tape dispenser and removed it from the light box.

“What do you want next?” Natalie perused the selection. “Ream of paper... two-hole punch... ooh, this is new!” She pushed a handsome, dark-haired man into the light box, which had inexplicably grown and morphed into a white-draped canopy bed. The lighting on the man’s chiseled jaw was perfect as he smiled at Lisa and took off his shirt.

“Too hot,” she murmured, finding herself beside the hunk on the bed. Then Natalie was gone, the camera was gone, and the god-damned office supplies were gone.

The man’s pants were gone, and he was working his way down Lisa’s chest, biting the buttons off her shirt as he went. She squirmed and dug her short nails into her palms.

“I don’t believe we’ve met. Do you work with Vance?”

“No. I don’t commune with selfish bastards.”

Every stitch of Lisa’s clothes melted away as the man’s mouth made a slow, meandering journey down her belly and beyond. He growled and his breath fanned her most neglected place. As his tongue inched ever closer to contact, his growl grew louder. Unpleasant. Ugly, even.

“Are you shitting me?”
Lisa punched her pillow. To someone who’d slept like crap the last few years -- and was just gypped out of an orgasm -- the lawnmower sounded like bottle caps in a blender. “Who the hell is mowing their lawn this early?” Her suburban Dunwoody neighborhood was hardly ever disturbed by lawn mowers on weekday mornings, when practically everyone was at work or yoga.

Hair matted from the restless night, she yanked at the twisted noose of her t-shirt, extricated herself from the snarled bedding and stumbled to the window. Pressing her face to the glass, she scowled out at the world in search of the inconsiderate jackass vying for yard of the month.

As her eyes adjusted to daylight, she caught a glimpse of someone pushing a lawnmower out of view. “What the-- Who the hell’s mowing my lawn?”

Cursing the sandman and whoever invented the lawnmower, she pulled on some ratty sweatpants and stomped outside where the fragrance of fresh-cut grass annoyed her even more. She didn’t know whose yard the guy was
supposed
to be mowing, but it wasn’t her screw-up and she did not have the money to pay some random lawn--

--
god.

Lisa stopped dead on the old stone path, perhaps subconsciously remembering it was the “safe zone” back in the days when the kids played tag in her yard. She rubbed her eyes and blinked at the approaching figure whose shirtless, sweat-slicked body made her recent dream man look dumpy.
I really hope I’m awake right now.

Mirrored sunglasses glinted back at her. The lawn god turned his baseball cap from back to front and shut off the mower.

Lisa braced for confrontation, holding her ground on the overgrown path.
The gorgeous young guy bearing down on her was undeterred by the invisible shield of the stones, so she held up a hand to stop him.

“Hey, uh, hate to tell you this, but you’re at the wrong house.”

“Sorry ma’am. I didn’t realize you were home,” he mumbled, and tugged off his cap to wipe his brow with a forearm.

She watched a bead of sweat land on his chest, where it slid past a delectably-tight nipple and continued south over the bronze moguls of his belly, disappearing into the waistband of his low-slung cargo shorts...

Jesus, Lisa, stop eye-fucking the kid.
She jerked her gaze back to the twin mirrors of his glasses, shielding her eyes as if she had been avoiding the sun’s glare just now, not ogling the nether-regions of a boy probably young enough to be her son.
Nice try. Maybe he won’t notice the sun is
behind
you
.

“What I’m saying is I didn’t hire you. You’re mowing the wrong lawn.”

“I don’t think so. I’ll finish up and get out of your way.”

“What do you--?” Then it hit her.

Vance
.

She could handle a kid who might be annoyed because he mowed the wrong yard and wouldn’t get paid, but she was too tired and cranky to deal with her ex-husband’s manipulative bullshit. So maybe the adrenaline roaring in her ears masked the sputtering sound of pipes coming to life, or maybe she was so pissed off she just ignored it.

Whatever the reason, she started in on the lawn god with, “Listen, I’m not gonna argue with you,” and by the time she demanded to see his work order, she was yelling over the sprinklers as they cycled through, drenching them both.

“I don’t actually have a work order, per se.”

Lisa couldn’t see the eyes behind his water-flecked sunglasses but she felt them, and was uncomfortably reminded that she was braless under the ancient Star Wars t-shirt she’d slept in. She crossed her arms and felt the scrape of chill-tightened nipples on her wrists.

Now waterlogged, the lawn god’s low-slung shorts slid lower and she had to force herself not to look directly at his deep V-cut abs, the likes of which she’d only seen on models and movie stars.

Her breathing was ragged. She felt a little lightheaded, and for a second she worried she might faint. Then she realized it was her libido dusting out the cobwebs and lighting up the “open” sign, and decided she would rather pass out. She wasn’t any good at this stuff when she was young and skinny, and she sure as hell wasn’t even gonna think about it, now.

Those mirrored lenses tilted up again as the spray came back around. “I see you got an irrigation system.”

“Nothing gets by you, huh?” Lisa blinked water out of her eyes and caught him stifling a grin. She scowled and trudged back toward the house, “Well I’ve got an unpleasant phone call to make, since my ex-husband apparently took it upon himself to hire your company.”

“No, wait. Ma’am, please.”

She plowed on. “So if you insist on mowing the rest of my yard--”

He jogged to catch up with her. “Please stop walking.”

“-- you can just tell them to send the bill to that son-of-a-bitch.”

“Ah, shit. Mrs. Taylor, wait.”

Chapter Two

 

THE LAWN GOD knew her name.

Lisa froze on the top step as she reached for the door handle. She turned and found herself eye level with his mirrored lenses. Standing this close, she could see burnished gold stubble on his angular jaw. A small, white scar on his chin. Full lips flushed a deep rose topped with a finely-sculpted cupid’s bow. Sandy hair overdue for a cut curled from under the faded ball cap. His Adam’s apple bobbed, a sign of nerves at odds with the well-muscled hunk of sun-kissed man-boy before her.

She squinted as the sun became too bright for her dilated pupils.

I’m so sex-starved, I could eat this kid alive.

Go for it -- he looks yummy.

Who am I, Mrs. Robinson?

Ignoring her bickering inner voices, she put her hands on her hips. “So, you do have a work order after all.”

“Not exactly.” His voice was warm and raspy and just as delicious as the rest of him. He reached up to rub his shoulder, bicep flexing across his hard chest. The braided leather around his wrist would’ve looked like a corny bohemian affectation on anyone else, but Lisa found it sexy as hell.

She caught herself staring. “Uh-huh. You want to tell me how you know my name?” She wracked her brain for any possible way she could have forgotten meeting this person.

“I’m not supposed to. How ‘bout I just leave and--”

“How ‘bout no?”

He chuckled and ran a hand over his jaw. “Didn’t really expect you to go for it.” Then he pulled off his glasses.

Those eyes.
Like the bottom of the ocean. Dark and deep, not quite green, not quite blue.

“Brady?”

His sheepish smile was familiarly crooked. “Sorry about the cloak and dagger.”

Lisa had a hard time reconciling the sexy man on her lawn with Brady Healey, the boy who had spent a good chunk of his childhood drinking iced tea at her kitchen table. He’d been like a big brother to her son, Jake, always there for him and frequently including him in social events, despite their eight-year age difference. When Jake was little, Brady was the only babysitter who could get him to brush his teeth and go to bed on time. Brady taught him how to swing a bat, helped with his math homework, and convinced Jake that eating broccoli wouldn’t kill him. Jake was fifteen now, but Lisa knew most of his fondest memories were from the summer vacations the two families would spend together at the old lake house.

But all that was years ago. After Brady got involved with football, he spent less and less time with Jake. Gorgeous and cocky, he had screwed his way through high school on good looks and quarterback cred. In his senior year, he became a local celebrity when ESPN featured him as an all-star college recruit. Lisa remembered how proud Jake was of Brady, even when he was lonely and missing him.

Lisa crossed her arms over her chest. “Does your mother know you’re here?” His mother, Elena had been Lisa’s best friend, back before shared family vacations became a thing of the dusty past.

“No.” He broke eye contact and shook his head, absently rubbing his shoulder again. Lisa remembered hearing he had injured it during a game earlier that year, shortly before he was to graduate from the University of Georgia. The rotator cuff tear was severe enough to end his professional football career before it ever began.

She nodded toward his shoulder. “I was sorry to hear about your injury.”

“It happens,” he shrugged.

“Yes, but I’m sorry it happened to
you
, Brady.”

“Thanks. And it’s ‘Braden’ these days, Mrs. Taylor,” he said with a man’s grin.

“It’s
Ms.
Taylor these days, Braden.” Lisa hated how bitter she sounded.

He nodded. “I’m sorry. About... everything.”

“It happens,” she shrugged with a ghost of a smile.

“Yeah, but it shouldn’t have happened to
you
.” His eyes went stormy and Lisa had to look away.

As a kid, Brady --
Braden
-- had had a belligerent streak that came out in defense of those he felt needed protection. Lisa remembered him arguing with his parents when he thought they’d unfairly grounded his older sister, Stephanie. He’d had angry words with Lisa’s ex-husband, Vance after hearing him call Jake an idiot for spilling a drink. And he always had zero tolerance for Vance’s casual disrespect of Lisa.

Lisa was fresh out of college when she met Vance. He was good-looking and gregarious, always the life of the party. He was only five years older than she, but his personality (and a great economy) had already made him a successful stockbroker. Lisa was proud of him and a few years later, proud of their little family. After earning a photography degree from a school full of art snobs she had learned not to take herself too seriously, so she didn’t mind the occasional jokes at her expense. At least, that’s what she told herself.

Once, at the lake house when Braden was about sixteen, he overheard Vance tell Lisa to get him a beer. As she walked to the fridge, Braden came in and let the screen door slam behind him.

“Mr. Taylor, I’m sure you didn’t mean to set a bad example for Jake and me,” Brady said with a muscle ticking in his jaw. “You meant to say ‘get me a beer...
what
?’”

“You’re right, kid,” Vance said, then hollered over his shoulder, “Get me a beer, bitch!”
Braden’s father, Chet, slapped Vance’s back and they laughed their asses off. Lisa thought Vance was about to get his teeth knocked in by the overgrown teenager, but Braden left before his temper -- or his dad -- could get the best of him. It embarrassed Lisa to remember how much shit she put up with from Vance, and how a kid like Brady --
Braden!
-- saw it long before she did.

Anxious to change the subject, she asked about his plans for summer, and busied herself plucking dead leaves from a blue hydrangea bush.

“I’m tending bar down at Sully’s and I might take a couple classes.”

“Didn’t you just graduate?”

Braden chuckled with uncharacteristic self-deprecation. “Yeah, but what are you gonna do with a bachelor’s in biology?” He had a lot to say about why his undergraduate degree was worthless, but Lisa couldn’t tell if he was trying to convince her or himself. Either way, he didn’t sound like the forward-thinking boy she used to have long talks with on the dock.

It annoyed her that she noticed.

It annoyed her even more to realize it bothered her. She wanted him gone.

“Do you still live on campus?”

“No, I had to move out of the football dorm. I’m crashing at my mom’s ‘til I find an apartment.”

There was an awkward silence as they both pictured Braden living in the house a few streets over with Elena and her new husband, Vance: Lisa’s former best friend and her ex-husband.

“So Vance
did
send you to do the lawn. In lieu of rent, knowing him.” He started to interject, but Lisa talked over him. “Well, you can tell him I don’t need his games or his charity or whatever the hell he’s-- Never mind, I’ll tell him myself.”

“Hang on,” Braden grabbed her wrist. “It wasn’t Vance. Just let me finish and we’ll forget it, okay?”

“No. Not okay.” She tried to tug her arm free, but his grip was like iron. “I realize I’m kinda hyper-focusing on the lawn-mowing, but he’s pulled this crap before, plus, I stayed home to take a mental health day which I
really
needed, and so far it’s having the total opposite effect!”

He let her arm drop. “It was Jake. Don’t tell him I told you. Please.”

“Jake? My son, Jake?”

“Yeah.”

“He’s away at baseball camp.”

“I know. He’s worried about you, but he’d be pissed if he knew I told you that. He asked me to sneak in while you’re at work and take care of your yard and stuff while he’s away.”

Lisa was stunned. “I didn’t know you guys were in touch.”

“We weren’t. It was a surprise when he called. A good surprise. I missed him.”

“He missed you, too.” Lisa’s eyes welled up and she couldn’t hold back a watery smile. “God, I love that little shit. I can’t believe he did that.”

“He’s a good kid. Best little brother a guy could ask for.” His smile fell. “You’re not gonna tell him about this conversation, are you?”

“No. I promise,” she said shaking her head. “And since we’ve established that Vance had nothing to do with it, I’m going to pay you for your work.”

He flashed a devastating grin. “No ma’am, you’re not.”

She tried to argue, but all he would accept from her was a glass of iced tea.

Back inside, Lisa went straight to the bathroom to peel off her wet clothes. She climbed into a steamy shower with a riot of thoughts.

Jake... such a sweetheart...

Acting like a high school girl, drooling over Brady Healey.

It’s Braden these days.

That body... good god.

She chuckled when she realized her bath puff had been working between her legs for quite a while.

Well, look who’s awake.

So this is “horny.” Yeah. I remember this.

I really need to get laid.

What if I’d hit on him before I knew who he was? Christ, Vance would’ve had a field day with that.

What if I’d hit on him and he took me up on it? Young guys like him are always horny...

Lisa wiped the fog from the glass shower door and frowned at her reflection in the mirror across the room.
I’d have died of embarrassment.
At forty-one years old, her no-longer-twenty-five-year-old body was still an unpleasant shock whenever she had the unfortunate occasion to get a glimpse of it.
Fuck.

Naturally blonde and petite, vanity had been a non-issue for most of her life -- a genetic luxury she appreciated more in retrospect. She still had gorgeous skin and wavy, shoulder-length hair of a hundred shades of blond. Even with the weight she’d put on since college, people always assumed she was five or ten years younger than she was.

Regardless, she avoided the mirror and would continue to do so. She wasn’t ready to look good for her age.

BOOK: Extreme Close-Up (Perspectives Book 1)
13.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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