Excerpt: Playing the Lines

Elliot wasn’t sure what bothered him the most about Cory. If he took the time to think about it—which he’d really rather not, if he were honest with himself—it was a combination of many things. The easiest to focus on right now was the ridiculous nickname that all the fashion magazines had given him.

Angel Eyes.

It was ridiculous for a grown man to be called that without any trace of derision or irony, yet somehow it was always mentioned at least once in every article that featured him. Elliot couldn’t even argue that the name didn’t fit, which made it more annoying than it already was.

“Cory. If you don’t mind, I would like to finish this shoot at a reasonable hour if at all possible.”

Cory turned his famous pale blue eyes in his direction lazily, as if it was too much work to turn his entire head and look right at him. He didn’t say anything to him directly but shooed the hovering makeup artists and fashion coordinators away with a lazy wave of one hand.

“Whatever you say, Posh Spice.”

“Thank you. If you’d just move a bit to your left, please. One hand on the middle button of your suit jacket.”

Elliot did his best to ignore Cory’s attempt at humor towards his country of birth, but his tone was terse anyway; he couldn’t help it. No matter where they were shooting, Cory always managed to delay things with his inability to do anything without flirting with someone. It also never seemed to matter if he spoke the same language as the person he was flirting with.

Like the time Elliot had forgotten his camera bag and returned to their rented studio just in time to walk in on Cory and three models during their shoot last year in Milan—or had it been four? There’d been so many limbs everywhere that he still wasn’t sure. It certainly hadn’t helped that he’d been given a rather glorious view of Cory’s ass, which he’d been a bit reluctant to try to forget, even if it was the right thing to do. He was only human, after all.

The fact that when Cory gave his full focus to a shoot he was an amazing model made it all the more irritating. There was a reason he was sought after in nearly every fashion-forward country. If only Cory could make a concentrated effort to keep his mind on the camera and out of the gutter for longer than five minutes at a time.

“You’re crankier than usual today,” Cory said after a few more shots had been taken. Elliot had paused in his shooting in order to direct him to sit on a dark wooden chair that he’d placed in the middle of a stark white backdrop, giving Cory a chance to speak. “Did you not get any last night?”

Cory’s slow Georgian drawl and deep voice managed to make those words sound more perverted than they already were. Elliot’s jaw clenched as he counted to ten slowly in his mind. He reminded himself that despite being in Norway and not the U.S., it would still be very illegal to throw Cory out of a fifth-story window.

Even if he chose to ignore that, it would be hell to try and replace him when they’d already finished nearly half of the two-day photo shoot. Elliot wasn’t sure what it said about his current state of mind that he was more worried about losing this contract than being publicly crucified and sent to jail should he toss one of the world’s most famous men out of a window.

“I’m cranky because we’ve been here for five hours already and we should have been at least close to done by now.” He did his best to keep both his irritation and his uncharitable thoughts out of his tone and off his face, but it wasn’t likely that he succeeded. He’d never been all that good at keeping a neutral expression.

Elliot knew he shouldn’t engage Cory in his verbal spars, though, not when he hadn’t won once in the years he’d known him. He just hadn’t ever been able to keep his thoughts to himself when Cory baited him, no matter how much he might have wanted to. It was a character defect, surely—one he needed to work harder on correcting. Elliot made a mental note to himself: refuse to be baited by gorgeous and annoying male models. He was sure could add that to his growing list of other failed resolutions.

Cory shifted as if to respond, and Elliot lifted his head just enough to glare at him from over the top of his camera, pausing only to swipe back an errant section of dark brown hair that was doing its best to get in his face. For once Cory accepted the silent reprimand, though his perfectly proportioned lips pulled into a brief pout.

“Please… if we could just finish, then you can go out and flirt with whomever you want to your heart’s content,” Elliot said, his expression and tone softening just a little bit. He hated that even he wasn’t completely immune to Cory’s charms. It was annoying how just one look from him could stop his irritation in its tracks, even when he had a valid enough reason to be upset with him.

“If you insist.”

Elliot would have been bothered by the huff that accompanied the words except he knew Cory was a hard worker—when he wanted to be. The problem was getting him to want to be when he was so easily distracted by what he considered much more enticing things.

To his relief, though, the rest of the shoot proceeded without any more interruptions or petulance on Cory’s part. Elliot would even go as far as to say that Cory had behaved impeccably—which was probably a first, though it was a pleasant first. It certainly wasn’t something he was going to argue with.

He was also reminded of why Cory was famous. Each pose seemed effortless and Elliot barely had to call out a direction before Cory complied.

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