Monday, September 21, 2015
America's Next Top Shifter
Robbie stared down at the human woman before him for a full half a minute before he even bothered to glance at the business card she’d thrust into his hand. He stared at the card for the rest of the minute. Alessandra Moore—Fashion Photography and a cell phone number. When he looked back at her, his heart had filled with dread. The word fashion filled his head, flashing neon red like an alarm.
Her apparent tender age was the only ray of hope here. She didn’t appear much older than he was. Odds were good she’d never heard of his mother. But she was still a photographer. That was almost as bad as a reporter, or a blogger who thought they were a reporter.
He handed the card back, with some reluctance. She was cute for a human, once you got past the fashion photographer thing. Dark brown hair, wide blue eyes, round face. Her outfit was a sweater matched with a patterned skirt that shouldn’t have worked together but did. She knew how to style herself. Robbie could easily imagine them sharing a cup of coffee up at Java Joe’s, maybe a conversation sprinkled with easy laughter, maybe something beyond that. But not at the cost of his mother’s hard-won anonymity.
“Sorry,” he said, and was mildly surprised to realize he meant it. “I don’t do modeling. I didn’t even like getting my picture taken for my driver’s license. I have to get back to work.” He stepped away.
Or tried to. The woman latched onto his arm. Cripes. She had a grip like a python. Robbie sensed determination and froze. Humans were at their most dangerous when they got determined.
“You’ve got a commercial look,” she insisted. “Not the walk so much, but that’s okay. Would you mind if I took a couple of shots? When you’re not working, of course.”
“Look, Ms. Moore—”
“Call me Less. Moore or Less.” She shrugged and grinned. It must be her standard joke. “Really, you’ve got a face that begs to be photographed. And those legs. And that—”
She must have suddenly realized what their height difference put her on eye level with. She blushed furiously.
Robbie took advantage and pried his arm free. “Thanks but no thanks. I really gotta go.”
“I’ll pay you,” she blurted.
That stopped him. Robbie had his eye on a hot used car, and a life outside of Talbot’s Peak. Every dollar counted toward his future. A couple of bucks for a couple of snapshots. What would that hurt? Mom didn’t have to know. And Moore or Less didn’t need to know about his mom.
“I don’t have to get naked, do I?” he asked.
That seemed to trigger something. He saw alarm flare up in her eyes. “You’re over eighteen, right?” she demanded.
Moment of truth time. He knew his face could still pass for a teenager’s. One word and he could dodge this whole thing. He knew what Mom would want him to say. Thoughts of that car kept the single word locked behind his lips. And damn, but this woman was fine, even for a human. Even with the short legs and neck. She smelled like she ate meat, but that was okay with Robbie. Predators didn’t shake him. Just the opposite.
“I’m twenty,” he said truthfully. “Two years out of high school. I’m taking college courses on line.”
“Moore or Less” visibly relaxed. “I just want a couple of fashion shots for my portfolio,” she said. “No nudity. Maybe shirtless, but that’s as far as I go. I’m staying here at the motel. How about if I come back when you get off work? We can work out the details.”
“I can do you one better. You gonna be in town awhile? My family knows this guy who’s a photographer. He might let you use his studio. Lemme talk to him and I’ll get back to you.”
“Then you’ll do it?”
“For pay, yeah. I wanna buy a car—”
“Say no more.” The woman grinned. “I understand completely. You’ll need this.” She returned her business card to his hand. This time she didn’t press. Her touch had gone professional. Damn. Yeah well. But if he could get her up to Talbot’s Peak, they might still get that coffee at Java Joe’s when the shoot was done. After that, who knows?
“Wait,” he said, before she turned away. “You’re gonna need my name.” He ripped a check off his order pad and scribbled on the back. “I really gotta get back to work. Thanks.” He flashed a smile. “See you around.”
Unless Mom found out. Then she’d trample him. Well, Mom just couldn’t find out. Getting Ed to keep his mouth shut, that was the big problem now. Heck, he had all night to think of something.
# # #
Less watched the waiter gallop away on those mile-long legs. He shouldn’t be that graceful, but he was. His unusual gate was starting to grow on her. And now that she knew he was legal …
No. This wasn’t about a casual hookup. This was about her career. Maybe a career for him too. Forget about those long-lashed eyes and how badly she wanted to test the implied mobility of his lips. She’d be out of here and on her way to LA in two days tops anyway. Less sighed. Better keep it business.
She left the restaurant for the motel lobby, and only then looked at the name and phone number her fresh new model had scribbled on the back of the check. Robbie Dhobai. And he already knew a photographer with a studio. How lucky was that?
Robbie Dhobai. The name nagged at her for some reason. She was back at her room before it hit her. She stopped dead right outside her door and stared at the flimsy piece of paper in her hand, now weighted down with mystery. As a follower of fashion, Less knew her history. She knew the designers, past and present, and the models who became famous for wearing them. She knew the name Nola Dhobai. The woman had come out of some remote village in Africa with legs that stretched to the Equator and a face made to fill a camera lens. Already over six feet while still a teenager, she’d taken the European fashion world by storm. For five years she and her fabulous legs had ruled runways from London to Paris to Hong Kong.
And then she’d disappeared completely. Where or why, nobody knew.
That had been twenty-five years ago, before Less was born. She’d seen videos of Nola’s work on YouTube. Those legs. That patrician face. That slender neck. That oddly-graceful bobbing walk.
Now here was Robbie Dhobai, out in the middle of Nowhere, Montana, with a long-vanished fashion model’s legs and neck and signature runway walk. Who just happened to know a photographer. Twenty years old, was he?
Excitement flared in Less’s gut as she realized she might have stumbled onto more than just a pretty face. Here was a chance to make a career with more than a couple of photos. All she had to do was play it right.