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The elevator dinged, the doors slid open, and Rodney came striding out into the main lobby of Masculine&Virile magazine.

He bypassed the mini bullpen where the interns worked, the kitchenette with the big NO CITRUS sign posted on the fridge, and the conference table.

“What’s the name of that guy?” he asked, barely slowing down as he breezed past his assistant’s desk.

“Lucky Blue Smith,” Evan replied without looking up from his laptop.

“Right.”

Rodney went into his office and slammed the door closed behind him.

Running a multi-million-dollar media business was hard work. There were deals to be brokered, meetings and fundraisers to attend, magazine content to approve, personnel to evaluate…the list was endless. And yes, it was true he delegated as much as possible, but he had to put his hand in here and there so people didn’t forget who was in charge.

At precisely nine o’clock, Rodney came back out of his office to attend the daily staff meeting.

“Wait. Where are the donuts? Evan!”

Evan slid into the seat next to Rodney’s, bakery box in one hand and a cup of coffee from the shop downstairs in the other.

“They were all out of maple bacon,” he said apologetically.

Rodney sighed. Not a great start to the day. He consoled himself with a Bavarian cream.

“Let’s get started. I’m very busy.”

The daily meetings were attended by the department heads, who would take Rodney’s orders back to their people to carry out. He was the last word on all magazine content.

“Grodin. Go.”

Peter Grodin was the features editor, vaguely British – Rodney suspected this was an affectation, a way to pick up women – and a damn good writer in his own right.

“We’re working on a quiz. Find where you fall on the Ace spectrum. And we’re in the middle of a piece about gender roles in a changing world.”

Rodney nodded. “I hope you have a fresh take on the gender roles, because it’s been done to death. I think the quiz would be better at the end of a short article. Maybe profile guys on different ends of the spectrum.”

Peter dutifully made notes on his iPad.

“And the other thing?” Rodney asked.

“I was able to get a few more men to come forward and tell their stories, though one wants to stay anonymous. And I have an interview scheduled with a psychiatrist, Dr. Heightmeyer.”

Peter was writing a feature article about sexual assault on men, and how public perceptions needed to change so it would stop being treated as a joke and male victims could get the proper help they needed. For every goofy quiz, Peter also had an insightful article. It helped keep the magazine balanced.

“Let me know when you get the first draft done. Cadman. What do you have for me?”

Laura Cadman, photo editor and the only woman on senior staff, pulled two cover mock-ups out of a folder and pushed them across the table.

“Ronon’s photoshoot went super well. That guy is sex appeal all day long.”

Rodney studied both mock-ups. Ronon Dex, one of the most sought-after models of the day, was completely shirtless and oiled up in one, and had an unbuttoned white linen shirt framing his world-famous abs in the other. They were both good – Cadman was an up-and-coming photographer and would go far – but only one was right for the cover.

“This one,” he said, pushing back the photo of Ronon in the shirt. “Gives him a little softness. What else?”

“I’ve got a call in to O’Neill’s people. I think we’re close to inking a deal.”

“O’Neill? Really?” Peter asked, surprised. “How’d you manage that?”

Laura looked smug. “I have my wicked ways. He’s perfect cover material for our Silver Foxes issue.”

“If you can get him, I want the cover and a full inside spread,” Rodney said. “He hasn’t agreed to model for anyone in over a decade, and if you can land him, we need to make the most of it.”

“Gotcha, boss. I’ll lean on him with the hard sell.”

Laura was tenacious, so there was no doubt she’d get O’Neill. The editors of MVM’s competitor magazines would be frothing at the mouth at Rodney’s get. He made a mental note to give Laura a bonus.

The rest of the meeting went by pretty quickly. The fashion editor, digital editor, and advertising exec all weighed in with updates for the upcoming issue. Rodney hired intelligent, capable people, so they didn’t really need much direction. They just needed him to sign off on what they were doing.

“Okay, that’s it for today. Go be productive.” Rodney scooped up the box and whatever donuts were left in it. “Evan –”

“You have lunch scheduled with Weir, one o’clock at Le Petit Palais. I already called ahead to place your order and remind them about your allergy. At four, you’re meeting with the board. Dinner at Jeannie’s at six-thirty. Eat something before you go, it’s tofu tacos again.”

Rodney sighed. He’d never understand his sister’s insistence on eating something as bland and tasteless as tofu.

“Don’t forget –”

“I already ordered the flowers for your grandmother and booked you a flight out in two weeks for her birthday. First class, no layovers.”

Evan was worth every sent of the ridiculous salary Rodney paid him. The man was a born assistant – organized, able to anticipate, and completely confidential. Rodney wouldn’t know what to do without him.

“Anything else?”

Evan grinned, his dimples popping out. Laura had been begging him to come in for shoot because of those dimples.

“Maya Gallo keeps calling about the celebrity auction. And the blanket fort shoot is starting in ten minutes.”

“Oh, right.”

Evan deftly took the box of donuts out of Rodney’s hands. “I can put Maya off a little longer, but if you don’t send her something soon, she’s going to come down here in person.”

“Let’s avoid that eventuality if at all possible. Just put together that thing we talked about.”

“I’ll have it sent over by the end of the day,” Evan promised.

Rodney headed down the hallway where all the real work happened, each door representing a different department and hive of activity as another issue of MVM was put together. At the very end of the hall was the photo studio, where many a male model’s career had gotten started.

One corner of it had been transformed into a white-on-white blanket fort, big enough for a full-grown man to sit inside and still have head room. The mix of fabrics – sheer, flannel, fleece – would make it look layered and inviting in the photos, the perfect backdrop for the group of men getting photographed.

Rodney eyed the assembled models with a critical eye. At MVM, all body types were celebrated, not just Greek gods like Ronon Dex. The magazine was for and about all kinds of men, with all kinds of life experiences. With the right lighting, Laura could make anyone look good.

One of the models stood out from the others, though. He was tall and lean and dressed all in black, his hair styled to look like tousled bed head. Rodney walked over to him and immediately started unbuttoning the guy’s shirt.

“This is supposed to be casual,” he said. “Show a little chest hair.”

The guy took a step back, one eyebrow raised. “Excuse me?”

“The black might be a bit much,” Rodney mused. He reached over and pulled a dark blue shirt off the nearby rack of clothes. “This’ll still contrast well with the blankets, but it’ll add a bit more depth.”

Laura popped up behind Rodney. “He’s right, you know. That color would look great on you.”

“And the pants. Unbuttoned but not unzipped.” Rodney reached for the guy’s jeans, but the guy moved back again.

Laura snickered. “Rodney, this is John. The guest photographer we’re trying out?”

Rodney felt his face flushing, but the surprise was bigger than the embarrassment. “You’re not a model?”

“No.”

“Former model?”

“No.”

“How is that possible?”

Rodney remembered discussing bringing another photographer in, of course. Someone to handle location shoots, someone with an edgier style, so Laura could focus more on the in-house art and manage her department more effectively.

“I’m better behind the lens,” John said. “Trust me.”

“Too bad,” Rodney said. “You’d look great in the blanket fort.”

He could picture it clearly in his mind: John reclining, propped up on one elbow with his pouty lips open just a little, one eyebrow raised in challenge. Rodney wondered what his bare feet looked like. Stubby toes could make or break a shoot.

“What’s he doing?” John asked Laura.

“Probably picturing you naked. Are you ready to get started?”

Rodney hung around to watch and see how John interacted with the models, how he positioned them. He was very easy going, more laid back than Laura who could get a bit manic when she was working. The models seemed to enjoy working with him, staying loose and relaxed, smiling and laughing with each other even when they weren’t being photographed.

Evan would’ve said it was a –

“Nice vibe,” Evan said, startling Rodney. “How’s the new guy working out?”

“He’ll do,” Rodney replied.

John easily moved himself into various positions to get the best shot of each model. He was very limber. And seemingly unaware that Laura was shooting him while he shot the models. She had a good eye.

“Evan, can you –”

“I’ll reschedule your lunch with Weir. But you can’t skip the board meeting.”

“Keep the reservation,” Rodney instructed. “I don’t want to let a good duck go to waste.”

“The car will be waiting for you when you get downstairs,” Evan said, and then he was gone as quickly as he’d arrived.

Rodney waited until the photoshoot was over – the models dispersed, Laura scurrying off with the memory card from John’s camera to work her magic – before he approached John in the now-empty studio.

“You do nice work,” Rodney said, trying to sound casual.

John packed up his gear. “Can’t say that until you’ve seen the pictures.”

“I’ll just end up repeating myself.”

“Was there something you wanted?” John prompted, zipping up his camera bag. His shirt was still partially unbuttoned.

“Few things. But let’s start with lunch. I have a table at Le Petit Palais waiting.”

“Presumptuous of you,” John replied.

Rodney shrugged. “I didn’t get where I am today by being cautious.”

John gave him an obvious once-over before nodding. “I’ve got some time to kill. You’re paying.”

It wasn’t often that Rodney indulged with someone from his own line of work. A misinterpreted one-night stand or romance gone bad could foul a good working relationship, and the magazine was too important to risk it. Regardless of how many incredibly handsome men came through MVM’s doors.

But there was something about John that was especially appealing to Rodney. And he didn’t mind taking the time to figure out what that might be.

Later, After Lunch

Rodney was right. John looked amazing in the blanket fort, black shirt completely unbuttoned and the rest of him naked as the day he was born. He was still trying to get his breath back, his skin covered with a fine sheen of sweat. And other things.

“Hell of a call back,” John said.

Rodney sat up and stretched. “Just so we’re clear, you’ll be working directly for Laura. Nothing we do or don’t do will have any effect on your job.”

John grinned. “Noted. And just so we’re clear, I wouldn’t mind doing this again sometime. Unless this was only for interview purposes.”

Rodney leaned over and kissed John, lingering but not soft. “Not part of the interview process. And I’d appreciate your discretion.”

“No bending you over the conference table in the middle of the day. Got it.”

“Idiot.” Rodney could feel his face heating, but it was the good kind of embarrassed. He was glad John didn’t plan on being a one-off. He was sexy as hell, and they hadn’t even gotten to the really good stuff yet.

Something beeped in the pile of discarded clothes and Rodney had to crawl over John to paw through it until he found his phone.

“Damn. I have a meeting I need to get to.”

He pulled John to his feet, which led to more kissing, and then they squeezed into the small studio bathroom together to clean themselves up. Once they were dressed, John took Rodney’s phone and programmed his number in it.

“I’ll see you around,” he said, still with the smug and smirky expression on his face. He slung his camera bag over his shoulder, unlocked the studio door, and left.

Rodney was feeling pretty smug himself.

And he had a new appreciation for blanket forts.