Home > The Hot Shot (Game On #4)(7)

The Hot Shot (Game On #4)(7)
Author: Kristen Callihan

There’s a tattoo down his right side. But he’s facing me and the angle is wrong to fully view it. His right elbow is scraped and a few bruises pepper his forearm.

He walks farther into the room with a stiff and halting gait. By the scowl on his face, I’m thinking this is due to him not wanting to be here rather than from pain. But who knows?

Getting back to business, I outright study him, and his eyes narrow in irritation.

“The hair is too tidy,” I tell James. “I can see the comb tracks in it. Can you fix that, please?”

“The man attached to the hair can fix it himself,” Mannus says tightly.

“I’m sure you can,” I tell him. “However, James is the stylist, so let’s let him do his job.”

Mannus doesn’t look away from me. “You like busting balls in general, or just mine?”

“Since you’re about to be standing balls out in front of me, I’d be careful, Mr. Mannus.”

The corner of his mouth quirks, but the smile doesn’t reach his eyes. And, when he speaks, his voice is strained. “Thinking about them already, are we, Ms. Copper?”

“Not really. I’ve seen three other sets today, so my mind is a bit full at the moment.”

The smug expression falls from his face.

At his side, James snickers. “I think she just said her mind is full of balls,” he says in a sotto whisper to Mannus. “Not that I blame her. Let’s get you ready and you can give her another eye-full, eh?”

Mannus pales. “Already?”

He sounds surprised, which is odd, given that he’s wearing nothing more than a towel.

“Er… That’s the idea.” James makes a move to muss Mannus’s honey brown locks, and the quarterback rears like a skittish horse. James freezes, glancing at me with wide, “what the fuck” eyes.

I am thinking the same. “Do we have a problem, Mr. Mannus?”

He flinches, his gaze snapping between me and James, and his jaw goes tighter.

Anger swells hot in my chest. And when he doesn’t answer, I push harder. “Do you have an issue with James touching you?”

As soon as I say it, I’m sorry. I never throw James under the bus. And it is absolute shitty of me to do it now. But, damn if this guy isn’t messing with my head.

Mannus frowns so hard, his brows almost touch. “What? My masseuse touches me all the time and he’s a guy. Why the hell should I care as long as he does his job?” He glances at James. “Why is she asking me that?”

James clearly fights a smile. “I’m thinking it’s because you’re flinching like you’re about to fly out of your skin.”

Mannus’s cheeks flush. “What?”

He looks so genuinely distracted and flustered, I pause and really study him. Sweat beads at his temples, and his pulse beats a fast tattoo at the base of his strong throat. Hands low on his slim hips, his knuckles are white along the edges where he’s digging his fingers into the towel.

My heart gives a guilty lurch and then promptly goes soft along its hardened walls. He might have been an asshole with that One-Eyed Willie comment earlier, but he’s still my client, and I’m not doing my job well if he’s this unsettled.

I catch James’s eye. “Can you get me a coffee?” I don’t need one; it’s our agreed upon signal for James to clear out whenever we’re dealing with a panicky client.

“Sure,” he says, easily. “You want anything, Mr. Mannus?”

Finn shakes his head once. “No, thanks.”

“Help me out, will you, Maeve?” James says. Maeve knows the drill as well, and they both quietly leave.

Alone with Finn, the studio space becomes unnaturally quiet, and I can hear the conversations ebbing and flowing in the kitchen. I need to put the client at ease. Usually, I can do this without any problem. But that hasn’t been the case here. Finn Mannus is surprisingly hard to read.

Setting my camera down, I move to the iPad that has my music setup.

Finn watches me with a guarded expression. “Please, not the music. I will lose it if you expect me to go all Zoolander.”

He sounds weary to the core, and I give him a small smile. “I’m not expecting Blue Steel from you, don’t worry. And no fast beats, I promise.” I glance toward the kitchen and then incline my head as if I’m confessing a secret. “It’s just, I have a headache.” Which is true; it’s been building all day and is finally here to fuck with me. “Playing some low, easy music helps to drown out all the background noise.”

Also true. But it will hopefully relax Finn as well. I select a slow song by Lana Del Ray.

The hard set of those broad shoulders eases a touch, and he nods shortly. “Half my life is fighting headaches. You have my full sympathy.”

Looking at Mannus, it’s easy to forget that he’s more than a pretty face, that he uses his body as a tool, battering it and stretching it to the limit for a living. I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of pain. But he does. They all do. It’s that strength and vulnerability that I want to capture.

He turns more my way. “Is it bad? I have some ibuprofen in my bag.”

Of course he does. I don’t know how to deal with nice Finn. But I try. “I took something before you came in. But thanks.”

He nods again, still uneasy, but focused on me, at least. “Should we reschedule this?”

So hopeful.

It’s like kicking a puppy to have to say no. “I think it would be best for both of us if we just get through this, don’t you?”

His deep blue gaze darts over my face, every muscle in his body going so tense, they stand out in perfect, glorious relief. Then he sighs and his hard stance sags in defeat. “Yeah. It would.”

But he doesn’t move.

“You can keep the towel on,” I say in the awkward silence. “We can do a torso shot.”

That gets his attention. His brows snap together, and I’m treated to a focus that is laser sharp. This guy, I can see leading a team down field. This guy is intimidating without even trying. “It isn’t that,” he says, deeper now. More in charge.

“Look, I know we got off on a bad foot, but—”

“I hate photoshoots,” he cuts, color flooding the high crests of his cheeks. “All right? I don’t know why. I just do. I know it’s a part of my job, but it never gets easier. There’s something about them that makes me feel…” His shoulders lift in a helpless gesture.

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