When Steve returned to his studio after a location shoot, he was amused to find that Janet had left over twenty messages on his cell phone and the studio voicemail. But he worried when he heard the increasing desperation of her messages. So despite the late hour and that his day at the magazine shoot had gone on for over fourteen hours, he called her back.
“Oh finally. Thank god it’s you, Steve,” Janet said. “Look, I’m in a bad, bad spot. I have to get a portfolio of my work to the producers of this reality television show or I get dropped from consideration. They want only my new stuff and they want it like tomorrow.”
Janet was a long-time friend and Steve was familiar with her various projects, including her application to be on this fashion reality show which would review and critique her collections and give her advice on how to market her lines. He knew it was a unique opportunity for her. “I can clear some things off my calendar tomorrow afternoon. Would that work?”
“Yes, yes, yes, perfect! And I can send them the photos right from your studio.” Janet gave a sigh of relief.
“Anything you need for the shoot?”
“I can’t think of anything other than my clothes -- food, I’ll bring food. Something you like,” she said breathlessly, bringing a smile to Steve’s face. “Oh, and I’ll have a couple of models with me. You won’t believe it, but I got Tony Stark to model for me.”
Steve sucked in a breath at hearing Tony’s name. Tall, dark and hot Tony Stark was a much in-demand model these days. Steve had first seen him two years ago at the spring New York Fashion Week when Tony was just breaking into modeling. Steve had been a last-minute pool photographer, so he knew he was lucky to be there for what turned out to be Tony’s show. He thought he should be embarrassed he did not remember the designer Tony walked for, but it did not matter. From the second Tony Stark stepped on the catwalk, anyone could see that Tony had “it,” that hard-to-define perfect mix of gorgeous appearance, confident attitude and charisma that was the special province of all supermodels. Along with everyone else, Steve could not take his eyes off Tony as he rocked and strutted down the catwalk. At the end Tony took off his jacket with a flourish, hooked it over his shoulder with a casual shrug, and winked at the crowd, flashing his steel-blue eyes. With that gesture, Tony’s spectacular career as a supermodel was launched.
Captivated by the cocky, gorgeous model, Steve avidly followed Tony’s career. He studied the editorial photoshoots he appeared in, saw him in the news with an A-list actress or big name celebrity on his arm, watched him walk at all the fashion shows. But Steve knew it was never going to happen between them. Not only did Steve have no opportunity to meet him, Steve was a struggling fashion photographer beginning to make a name for himself as the go-to guy in a crisis, when an editor needed a quality photographer at the last minute or needed a guy to fix up the poor work of another photographer. But, really, he was a small fish in a very big and very competitive pond. A top-flight model like Tony did not work with the little guys like Steve. Or be likely to notice him.
Now that Steve was doing Janet’s photoshoot and would be in a room near Tony for hours, he could not make a move either. Steve had a steadfast rule to never mix work and romance. He had heard and seen enough to know that it was not a good idea to date anyone he worked with. And Steve was not going to mess up this opportunity for Janet by acting anything less than professionally with Tony. In fact, he wondered what favors Janet cashed in to even persuade Tony to model for her portfolio.
Once Janet confirmed the shoot with Steve, she abandoned her usual cool and became frantic to ensure everything would turn out perfectly. Steve fielded a dozen calls from her about the shoot, when she was sending her interns over with the clothes for the shoot, lighting questions, where the models could put on their makeup, whether she could set up a sewing machine for last minute fixes, when she could come over. Steve kept reassuring her each and every time that he was ready to do the shoot.
Late in the morning, Steve heard the doorbell ring and immediately thought it was the interns again dropping something off. But when he opened the door, he was not ready to see lean, gorgeous Tony lounging against his door jamb with a slight smirk on his lips. “Rogers?” he asked.
Steve ran his hand through his hair to gain valuable seconds to regain his composure. “Yep, Steve Rogers.” He grimaced briefly. “I thought you were Janet’s interns again.”
“Well, I did come bearing gifts,” Tony replied. He pointed at the bags at his feet. “From Janet.”
“Oh,” Steve said quizzically. “What did she send?” He could not imagine anything that Janet had left out.
Tony nonchalantly picked up the bags. “Shoes,” he answered as he pushed past Steve into the studio.
Steve breathed in Tony’s cologne and watched as Tony claimed a corner of the old leather couch in front of the windows. Tony stretched out like a cat, moving his body this way and that. He lifted a hand to push the bangs out of his eyes and left his arm resting casually on the back of the couch. Steve realized he was staring and was immediately embarrassed. He made a show of checking his watch. “I’m going to get ready for the shoot. I think Janet will be here shortly.”
Tony checked his phone. “She just texted that she’ll be here in a half-hour,” he said helpfully.
Steve had no idea what he was going to do while waiting for Janet with Tony in the same room. He felt very self-conscious as he checked over his equipment -- the filters, reflectors, camera batteries, and memory cards. He wondered if Tony was watching him. He fiddled and fussed far more than he usually did over checking the light levels in his studio.
“So, Pepper, about that paperwork?” Tony asked. Startled, Steve looked over at Tony on his cell phone with a tablet on his lap. Tony seemed miles away and not aware of Steve at all. “Good, good. Anything with that contract? Hmmm. Pep, it’s my patent and intellectual property, just remind them of that. Okay. I’m at a photoshoot for the afternoon, see you tomorrow.” Tony put the phone down.
Steve could not help but notice how striking Tony looked in his simple white button down, black tee, and jeans sitting on the brown couch, black hair cut very fashionably, his warm, olive skin a nice contrast with his blue eyes. The artist side of him itched to just start taking photographs. Maybe ask Tony to shift a little over there and stretch out a little more. The sun streaming through the windows was hitting him just right, highlighting more of Tony’s best features. But the business side held him back, reminding him that he needed to focus on the upcoming photoshoot intended to showcase Janet’s clothes, not Tony’s shoulders and lean body. “Was that your agent?” Steve asked in an attempt to break the ice while he recalibrated his light meter. He walked over to stand closer to the couch.
“Pepper does everything for me. I’m trying to launch a business right now so she’s doing the incorporation paperwork.”
“Business?” Steve asked, intrigued.
“Stark Enterprises at your service. Got to plan for when I’m not so beautiful,” Tony replied with a wry laugh. He lifted a binder from the coffee table and started to leaf through it. “Wow, this is really great work.”
Steve blushed at the compliment. “Examples of my recent work.”
“Janet said that you had an exhibit recently.”
“It was just a small show at one of the colleges in the city,” Steve replied. He glanced over at Tony and met his eyes, brimming with unexpected intelligence. He also wondered if he imagined a flicker of interest in those beautiful steel-blue eyes.
Then Tony’s phone rang. “Hey, Janet. No, Jessica’s not here yet. Just me and Steve.” Tony smiled up at Steve. God, Steve thought, his smile is dazzling. “Okay. When she gets here, we’ll call.”
Before Steve could say anything his own phone rang. “Cap Studios, Steve here.” It was not Janet. Instead it was a magazine editor wanting him for a location shoot. Steve nodded to Tony and went to his office to take down the details of the job and discuss rates and compensation. Once the call was over, it occurred to Steve that Janet was clearly close enough with Tony to ask him to bring shoes and call him about the photoshoot. He would have to ask her how she knew Tony.
After his brief call, Steve returned to the main room to see that Janet had arrived and was in deep conversation with Tony over by the rack of clothes. Steve hung back a moment as a spike of fear struck him as he watched them standing close together. Maybe Jan and Tony were more than just acquaintances. Maybe even more than friends? Jan noticed Steve and waved him over.
“So, this is what I was thinking for the shoot,” Jan said. She went through the rack, explaining to Steve what the portfolio needed to show, and telling Tony how she wanted him to wear the clothes. Exuding frantic energy, she directed her interns, whom Steve had not noticed in the room, to dress Tony while she began to make last-minutes fixes to the clothes. As Steve set up the chairs according to Janet’s direction, he caught glimpses of Tony walking in Janet’s clothes as she made alterations. Tony treated the whole exercise as if he were modeling in Paris or Milan. He moved with sinuous grace, charisma in every line of his body as he moved. Steve’s mouth went dry as he watched the play of Tony’s lean muscles under the close-fitting clothes. The energy in the room ramped up even more when the other model, Jessica, finally arrived, apologizing for the delay, as Jan ushered her into the arms of an intern to get her dressed.
After a quick assessment of how ready Janet was, Steve did his final lighting adjustments. In some ways this was going to be harder than a standard fashion editorial photoshoot. He wanted to do a really good job for Janet as she was a good friend. The clothes were very on-point, and fashion trendy. The models were breathtaking and perfect. Now the burden was on the photographer to be up to the task.
For over an hour Steve took photographs of several different outfits. Janet was in constant movement, adjusting the clothes, touching up hair and fixing makeup. They had worked with Jessica before so Steve knew what she would do in front of the camera. He had to coax her not to go flat in front of the camera and to emote in the right way. Jessica soon warmed up to the camera and was on. Steve knew why Jan picked Jessica -- she looked exactly like the woman Janet had in mind to buy and wear her clothes: smart, sophisticated, body-conscious, ambitious and confident. He could tease all of that out of her in his photographs.
But it was a completely different story with Tony, who seemed to have an innate understanding of what was expected in front of the camera. He gave Steve new angles, different expressions, little shifts in posture without prompting from Steve. It was a pure joy to photograph him. Steve wished this was an editorial photoshoot because he started to have ideas of where he wanted to push Tony to go. Images of Tony posing filled Steve’s mind; he had never worked with a model this talented before and he might never have the opportunity again. But he glanced over at Janet standing pensively on the side. Steve had to regroup and stick to the project at hand. He asked Jan, “Got everything you wanted?”
“Can I see the photos?” Janet asked. “It’s probably enough. But you know …”
“Sure. Give me a few minutes and we can go over the photos.”
Steve stepped over to his workstation, set up specifically for him to go over a photoshoot with a client. He loaded up the shots from the entire shoot while Janet started to pack up and talk with the models and interns. Looking at the results of the shoot, as he suspected, Tony was spectacular, his personality and attitude just jumping up from the screen. He made Jessica look even better than usual. No wonder Tony was the toast of the fashion world right now.
Janet wandered over. “I’m sending everyone home now, Steve. But I’ll stick around to go through the photos. I ordered Chinese.”
Steve’s phone vibrated. “Excuse me, I have to get this,” he muttered, noticing the number of one of his best clients. He ducked into his office. When he came out after the long call, he saw Tony and Janet together at his workstation looking through the photos. Janet kept tugging at his shirt sleeve while Tony picked at his food and laughed. He overheard a little bit of the conversation. “It’s just Steve, Tony. Ask him.”
“Just Steve” was never the beginning of a promising anything. “Ask me what?” Steve asked as casually as he could, girding himself for disappointment.
Tony gave him a wide dazzling white smile.“I need to update my modeling portfolio. And these photos look great. So, I was wondering if you could help me out?”
As much as Steve wanted to photograph Tony, he had sinking feeling that Tony might want the work for free. He looked over at Janet, who narrowed her eyes, as if she was trying to send him a message. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the expectant Tony, who was beaming with encouragement. Steve knew this was a bad idea and his mind shrieked all sorts of excuses and reasons not to. But he heard himself saying, “Yeah, we could work something out. Probably will depend on your schedule though.”
Tony took out his phone. “I’m booked for the next two weeks. But I’ll send you some dates and we could schedule something, okay?”
Steve nodded. “Sure. We could do that.” He pulled up a chair and tucked into the food.
Janet got up and gathered her belongings. “I’ll see Tony out, Steve.”
“Okay,” Steve replied. He watched Tony and Janet giggle their way across the room, Tony’s arm around Janet’s shoulders. He suddenly envied Janet’s ease and her apparent close friendship with Tony. If that was all it was.
A few days later, Tony booked the appointment with Steve. Steve knew working with Tony meant that nothing could ever happen between them because of the strong line Steve drew between his personal and work life. And Tony was probably dating Janet, to boot. But Steve reminded himself how lucky he was to get a chance to work with Tony again, since the prospect of photographing Tony was unbelievably thrilling.
And that was all that mattered right now.