Authors: Kristina Blake
THE TROUBLE WITH BODYGUARDS
Copyright © 2015
Published by: Rascal Hearts
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
“Seriously, you look bored. This is supposed to be a party; you’re supposed to be having fun. Instead you look like you’re waiting for a bus to stop and take you to a meeting with a tax accountant.”
Alex held her hand up, shading her eyes from the glaring afternoon sun. She hated this type of gig, a pile of irritating models, next to naked, all cranky, in need of a fucking cookie. Toddlers with lips full of collagen and boobs made of silicone, standing around a fountain in the middle of the city, attempting to look sexy in order to sell overpriced garbage that no one really needs. How had it come to this? When she had graduated from college, the bright light of her future as a professional photographer in her eyes, this was not what she had planned for. She lusted after edgy, artistic setups, shockingly beautiful images, haunting the viewer’s soul for weeks after viewing. Instead, she had spent the next two years dealing with bridezillas screaming at her, squeezing her body into wretchedly uncomfortable positions for twelve hours a day in an attempt to make the overweight bitch’s double chin magically disappear in at least one photo.
The edginess drained from her with each passing day. Her fires went out. No one appreciated her work; no one acknowledged the talent behind the lens. She felt like a machine, cranking out the same damned pictures day after day. It pained her, spending hours each night editing thousands of trite images, the cranky baby screaming for its mother, the cocky teenager attempting to look debonair through a thick layer of pimple cream, the “lovely” brides, stressed and anxious, glistening with a sheen of sweat, glaring at her from the screen of her laptop as she toiled late into the night.
Hate, disgust, and depression filled her days, and she often spent most of her evenings in her underwear, drowning her sorrows in a bottle of cheap wine in front of the television. This was not the life that she had had in mind, and so, she had changed it.
“I can’t do it,” Alex said, stomping into her boss’s office late that afternoon. “That kid will not stop screaming, and there is no way that I can get a decent shot off of him.”
“Did you shake the toys at him?” asked Lisa, sitting comfortably behind her wide, mahogany desk, impeccably dressed, a vanilla latte within reach at all times.
Alex hung her head. The asinine toys, tools of the trade when needing to distract a screaming brat long enough to get him or her to crack a smile. If you were lucky they went to sleep, piled up among the stupid props that the parents thought would make an “adorable” photo for them to spam email to all of their relatives. Everybody loves a sleeping baby; that shot will sell every time.
can’t do it,” she said again, lifting the camera from around her neck, setting it on the desk in front of Lisa. “I don’t care. I can’t deal with this garbage anymore. I wanted to make art. Something shockingly beautiful that would take people’s breaths away, my name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I want to show the world the beauty, and horror, that I see.”
She put her hands over her eyes, cradling her head, pulling the agony from her. “I do not see the beauty in what we do here. It’s the same crap, day after day, and I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. I hate them, I hate them all. I don't want to do this.”
“Is this your overly dramatic way of quitting?” asked Lisa, sipping at her latte, her phone ringing on her desk.
“Yes,” said Alex, setting her camera down on the desk. “I think it is. I quit.”
Walking out of the studio that day, into the blinding light of the summer sun, she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She didn’t need to sift through that garbage anymore. She could take her work in the direction that she had wanted it to go since the beginning, and she would create fantastic, artistic images. She would make a name for herself.
Starting into the world of artistic photography was more difficult than she thought, and she spent months exploring the art galleries around town, taking her portfolio with her, trying to talk one of them into giving her a show. After many interviews, and many evenings of soaking in the bathtub with a bottle of wine, wondering if she should have just stayed with the screaming babies, she had landed a show in a small gallery downtown.
Slipping into a gown that her mother had purchased several years before for a charity auction, Alex had readied herself for the fame, fortune, and notoriety that having her own show in a gallery could give her. This was what she wanted, she thought, walking through the place, the walls hung with her best pieces. This was what she had worked so hard for. She stood before her favorite, a woman, a drug addict, thin and sickly to the point that her ribs and her spinal column were visible. Alex had convinced her to sit for a shoot, offering her money and a hot meal in exchange for being able to capture the stark beauty of a broken human being and put it on display.
“It's interesting,” said a voice to her left.
“You think so?” she asked, turning to see who got it, who finally understood what she was trying to say. An older woman, her black pantsuit distinguished and stolid in this place frequented mostly by young hipsters trying to act as though they were the established elite.
“I think it's interesting that people still view this type of photo as shocking,” said the woman, sipping at her champagne glass. “Step into the modeling world,” she said, “and they all look like this. Starving themselves in the name of beauty. Women that look like this are a dime a dozen in that group. It's not shocking, it's the norm.”
She did step into the world of fashion photography. Her father had done some legal work for a well-known photographer in New York, and he gave her an opportunity to do some shooting in his studio. She hated using her father’s connections, avoided it if she could. Alex wanted to make her own way in life, be known for her accomplishments, not for being the daughter of one of the richest families in Virginia.
Stephan had loved her work, her play with light and shadow, the realism that she found in the gaping mouth of an underfed model. He invited her to design entire sessions, where she created dramatic scenes of pain and pleasure, and set them to print in some of the world’s most influential glossy magazines. Her pictures caught the eye of some of the more successful designers, and she soon found herself with a very lucrative portfolio. She was known.
Picking up contracts of her own, she rented a studio space in Manhattan, and set up shop. She loved it, but there were always, with any job, “those” days.
“Come on, Sasha,” she said, trying to rally these colorless slugs into something interesting. “What are you doing? Staring at your fingernails, great, I think we’re done here today.” She went to her table, dismissing them by turning her back, packing up her stuff to head back to the studio and see if she got any usable shots out of today, though she doubted it. The group had been lackluster, boring and without imagination. There had been no fire in these images, no spark. She sighed, packing her things. She should photograph fruit; it had more of a personality sometimes.
A brown, paper sack sitting next to her camera case on the edge of the table caught her eye. Somebody left their lunch with her stuff, she thought. She plucked up the bag, ready to lay claim to it, if it was something good. Lunch sounded like an awesome idea. It was in her area, so it was fair game. “Hey,” she called, holding the bag up toward the models, who were wrapping themselves against the slight breeze, ready to head back to wherever. “One of you girls brought me lunch, how sweet,” she said, chuckling at her own joke.
They all shook their heads, some plucking cigarettes from their pockets; they preferred to smoke their lunch.
“Huh,” Alex said, leaning against the side of the fountain, “C’est la vie. Guess it’s mine now.” She dug into the bag, hoping for a bagel, or a turkey sandwich or something. She was starving. Instead, she pulled a handful of Polaroid pictures from the bag, confused as she flipped through them. They were all images of her. Here she was, sipping a cup of coffee, her hand on her hip, staring off into the distance. She had been judging the light at this location, today, like three hours ago. Someone had been taking pictures of her, while her focus was on the models sprawled out around the fountain. She flipped to another photo of her kneeling before a bored-looking Sasha, camera held up before her face. From the angle of the photo, whoever it was that had been behind the lens had been over by the coffee stand, she thought, turning her eyes to the crowd of people passing by on the nearby sidewalk. A handful of people stood in line for their afternoon pick-me-up, none of them looking even the slightest bit familiar, let alone interested in her or what she was doing.
Weird, she thought, stuffing the pictures back into their paper bag and shoving the whole mess into her satchel before locking up her camera gear and chucking it into the back of her car.
She needed to get home, get showered, and make an attempt at making herself look presentable for a gala party that was being thrown at her father’s house that evening for his birthday. The governor was going to be in attendance, as well as hundreds of members of the city’s elite society. The jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers that were her daily uniform were not going to cut it; her father expected her to look the part at these functions.
Sliding behind the wheel of her car, she revved the engine and pulled away from the curb and into traffic, taking the expressway across town to her apartment. The bag full of Polaroids lay forgotten, tossed onto the back seat of the car.
Stepping out of the shower, Alex wrapped her long, red hair in a towel, twisting it up on the top of her head like a turban. Steam rolled along the ceiling, billowing around her as she pulled open drawer after drawer, extracting the tools needed to make herself presentable for an evening with her parents and their friends and coworkers.
The jangling melody of her cell phone beckoned from the other room, and Alex tramped through her apartment, toothbrush jammed in her mouth, naked other than the towel wrapped around her still-dripping hair. “Herro,” she mumbled, toothpaste foaming out from between her lips.
“Darling,” said her mother’s voice, harsh and judgmental even with only that one word. “You should not answer the phone while you have your mouth full of food.”
“No foo,” said Alex, bits of blue-green foam splattering from her open mouth, “oopaste.”
“Oh my lord,” said her mother.
Alex could see her, in her mind’s eye, her fingertips on her forehead as she hung her head, shaking it with shame. How had she, a proper lady, a member of an elite society, raised a daughter that had the atrocious manners of a common hooligan?
Walking into the kitchen, Alex spit the toothpaste into the sink, chuckling at her mother’s gasp of disapproval heard through the phone held near her cheek.
“Okay,” she said into the phone. “The mouth is now empty. Hi, Mom.”
“Jesus, Alexandra,” said her mother. “Why must you be like this?”
“It is what it is, Mom,” Alex said, walking through the apartment as she spoke. She still had a laundry list of things to do to her body before she could go over to her parents’ tonight. She had washed, conditioned, buffed, shaved, plucked, and lotioned every part of her body. Now she had to paint it, and put on layers of fancy attire. Ugh, she was already tired of all this, and the party didn’t start for two more hours.
Her mother sighed heavily, “Well, I was just calling to make sure that you are planning on attending the party this evening. Your father would be heartbroken if his little girl didn’t come to his big night.”
“I’ll be there,” said Alex, sliding open the door to her closet, flipping past all her comfortable clothes, in search of something acceptable for an evening with the rich and snooty.
“Good,” said her mother. “Now, I have purchased a gown for you.”
“You what?” said Alex, cutting her mother off. She was shocked that her mother trusted her so little as to pick out her clothes for her, as if she were still a child.
“Don’t interrupt, dear,” said her mother, “it’s rude. I said that I have purchased a dress for you to wear this evening; I’m having it delivered to your apartment. I wanted to make sure that you were going to be home. If it were to be left on the doorstep, somebody might steal it. You never know in that neighborhood.” Alex could hear the distaste in her mother’s tone, as if Alex’s apartment were in the slums, hobos and prostitutes hanging out on the steps of her building, waiting to break into her apartment and vandalize things at the first opportunity.
In reality, Alex’s apartment was in the arts district, historical buildings renovated into chic loft apartments for the creative types. Her neighbors were painters, their hands chronically spotted with magenta, crimson, and azure blue. A wild pack of musicians dwelled below her, filling many of her evenings with rhythm and melodies that caused her to dance around her kitchen while she cooked dinner for herself.
“It’s cool, Mom,” she said. “I’m here.”
“Good. It should be delivered anytime now. What time are you arriving?” she asked. Because Alex knew her mother, she knew that the woman was checking off things in her mental itinerary, putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together to create the perfect evening for her husband’s birthday. “Dinner is being served at eight, but there are drinks and appetizers to be served beforehand.”
“What time would you like me there, Mom?” asked Alex, pulling a robe around her nude body. If there was a guy coming to her home to deliver her uniform for the evening, it just wouldn’t do to answer the door in her birthday suit. She chuckled at the thought. The poor guy, most likely a young delivery boy from an upscale department store, would think that he had died and gone to bad porno heaven.
“Try and be here an hour before dinner, if you can,” said her mother. Alex looked at the clock. It was five now. She could finish getting ready for the party, drive across town to her parents’ house, and even with traffic she could be there in less than an hour. Maybe she’d sit down and flip through today’s shots, see if she got anything worthwhile out of the effort.
“Got it, I’ll be there at seven,” she said, leaning her head to prop the phone up on her shoulder, freeing her hands to unlock the camera case that she had put onto the kitchen counter when she got home from the shoot. Lifting the lid, she caught sight of the paper bag with the strange photographs of her wedged underneath her camera. Her mother babbled nonsense in her ear, still ticking items off her list in final preparation for the party, as Alex tipped the crumpled bag, letting the photos spill out onto the countertop before her. Her face, lit by the morning sun, disapproval painted in her expression. A close up, her body turned away, only the edge of her smile visible as she glanced behind her.
Who would have done this? Standing off in the sidelines, hidden among a sea of strangers, lost in the static crowd, only to catch these images of her without her knowledge? And why?
A soft knock at the door drew her attention away from the photos before her on the table.
“Mom,” she said, “I have to let you go. I think your delivery boy is here with my outfit.”
“Oh good,” her mother cooed on the other end of the line, audibly expelling a sigh of relief. At least this aspect of her plans was going as planned, and on schedule. “See you at seven, dear.”
Slipping the phone into the pocket of her robe, Alex made her way to the door as a second soft tap sounded. She unlocked the deadbolt, pulling the door open to reveal, just as she had expected, a young man, probably no more than twenty, in jeans and a sweatshirt, an oversized box held in his hands.
“I have a package for Alex Grimes,” he said, maintaining eye contact with her, a heroic effort to not notice that a beautiful woman was standing before him in only a pink bathrobe, her hair still damp from the shower.
“Thanks,” she said, holding out her hands to take the box from the kid. “Hang on just a second.” She should probably tip him, she thought, heading across the room to her purse, setting the box on the counter on top of the photos that were scattered there, forgotten for now. She could feel his eyes on her, taking in the shape of her body, the soft fabric of the robe contouring her hips, the belt cinched in at her narrow waist. She smiled. Perhaps this show was tip enough, probably made the kid's day, but she hauled a fiver out of her wallet, putting a sway in her hips as she sauntered in her bare feet back to the door to hand it to him.
“Here,” she said, “thanks again.” She smiled, leaning against the door frame, messing with him.
The young man sucked in a breath, trying to keep his composure. “Um,” he said, licking his lips, nervous lust obvious on his pale face. “There's another box out here, sitting next to your door.” He stooped, picking up a small box off the mat in front of her door and handing it to her.
“Thanks again,” Alex said, taking the box from him.
His lips curled in a weak smile. “Have a good day,” he said before heading back toward the stairwell and on his way. He paused, turning once more to catch a glimpse of her standing in the open doorway, and Alex chuckled as she shut the door between them.
That was an ego boost, she thought. Even in a robe, with no makeup on and her hair still wet and tangled, she could make young men weak in the knees. She laughed, imagining that kid going to tell all of his friends about the hot, mostly naked woman that had thrown herself at him when he knocked on her door. She was sure that he would embellish the story, perhaps turn it into a pornographic scene of lavish lovemaking on her kitchen counter. Oh well, let him have his fun.
She looked down at the small package in her hands. It was wrapped in brown paper, and had no label or store markings that she could see. Her mother had probably ordered her accessories to go with her gown for tonight, but strange that the delivery person from that store had not knocked or rung the bell. Perhaps she had been in the shower at the time, and had just not heard them when they arrived. She ripped away the paper, tossing it onto a chair in the living room, and flipped open the small, white box.
A paste jewel sparkled at the bottom of the box, nestled in black velvet. It was beautiful, catching the sunlight and transforming it into tiny rainbows that danced across its surface. She slipped her fingers under the delicate silver chain, lifting if from the box, and held it up before her eyes. It seemed to be alive, colors moving through the depths of the jewel. She loved it. Walking to the mirror in the entryway of her apartment, she held it up to her throat. It was the perfect length and size to snuggle itself safely between her breasts, shining like a star against her alabaster skin. She was amazed that her mother could have picked out something that she would enjoy so much; normally they didn't have even slightly similar tastes.
Setting the necklace on the counter, she lifted the cover off the box containing the dress. A simple but elegant gown, floor-length black satin, thin straps that wrapped around her neck, leaving her back exposed. She ran her fingertips along the fabric. The soft, slippery feel pleased her. It would feel fantastic against her skin. And with her natural red hair and pale skin, she would look ravishing in the stark black.
Nestled in the box with the dress was a pair of heels, three-inch stilettos with a shine all their own. This would do, she thought. It wasn't too terrible. She thought of the dresses that her mother had picked out for her when she was child, all ruffles and lace, acres of fabric piled up around her as she sat like a doll on display in one of her mother's cabinets. She was glad that her mother was finally starting to see her as an adult, as a woman.
His heart was hammering in his chest, his palms damp with sweat as he sat on the bench outside her apartment, trying to catch his breath. It had been risky, to go to her door like that, but he had wanted, needed her to have the beautiful gift that he had bought for her. She had rewarded him, displaying her body for him, dancing languidly in front of the open windows, showcasing her love for him as he gazed upon her beauty from stories below on the street.
He had loved her since the moment that he had laid eyes on her, outside the gallery downtown where her pictures were being shown. She took such wonderful photographs, capturing the beauty and pain that truly was life. No one appreciated her work, not like he did. No one saw the way that she toiled, day after day, night after night, attempting to create perfection. He saw it, he saw her efforts. He wanted to reward her, for everything that she did for him, and so he had gotten her the gift, left a treasure for her to find, letting her know that there was someone in this dark world who understood.
He wiped his palms on his jeans, still trying to calm himself after he had run into the delivery boy on his way up the stairs to her. His heart had stopped when he had made eye contact with the boy, stepping away from her door, where he had been resting his hands on the warm wood, feeling her presence resonating from the other side. He had darted down the stairs, leaping down the flights, escaping the eyes of someone who would not understand.
He had seen the boy come out of the building, lust and desire clear on his face, and he had wanted to attack him. What gave him the right to talk to her, to touch her? She should belong to him, he thought. He was the only one who deserved her. He had kept so close to her, for so long. He had given her so much of his time, of his heart: he was the only one who should be allowed to be near her.
Rage boiled in his chest as he watched the boy walk away, his lustful smile plastered on his face. He stood up, taking one last look up at her windows, longing to have the ability to go to her, to pull her into his arms, laying gentle kisses on her sweet face. But first he must take care of this boy, this little bastard, so smug and satisfied with himself. He would wipe the smile from his face.