Gage Jackelson decided he’d rather be in the middle of a fire fight on open water than standing in the front of a green screen in nothing more than his jeans, feeling like a hunk of meat on a slab.
What looked like a Gothic fairy—heavy on the black eye-liner and dyed hair and complete with what looked a pink tutu trimmed in more black—flitted about him, dusting powder on him and muttering about cheekbones.
This was ridiculous. He stood, arms folded, wondering how he could get out of this. But he couldn’t. He had to start thinking of this like a mission. So he let the fairy fuss.
The elevator pinged, and he hoped the photographer had finally arrived and he could wrap up this charade, get the intel they needed, and get his shirt back on. The things he’d do for a friend—even a dead one.
Hearing steps, he glanced over and watched a young woman walk into the studio—okay, warehouse was a better name for it. A loft with more ceiling space than floor space, white walls and photos hung on them. Dirt glazed the windows, but he had enough light on him that he kept breaking a light sweat.
The woman stepped in front of him, head cocked, and stared at him. He could feel his skin warm. He’d been on the other side of that kind of assessment—had been eyeing the girls just last week with Scotty making his usual crude remarks, and Spencer sipping his tequila. This woman would have rated a second look and one of Scotty’s terrible pick-up lines.
Eyes blue as the Mediterranean Sea fixed on him. Tight jeans encased long legs—he’d always been a leg man—and a white silk blouse said she had money enough to afford good clothes. Golden hair had been pulled back from a heart-shaped face. She didn’t wear much makeup that he could see, and he caught a flash of gold earrings. But those eyes kept pulling him back for another look. Who the hell was she? The photographer’s girlfriend?
Turning, she walked over to the camera—not a digital, but something big and old and also expensive-looking. She stared through the lens and then looked up at him. “Gage Jackelson,” she said the name as if she was thinking of something else. She propped a fist on one hip. “I keep wondering why’d a Navy SEAL agree to a cover shoot.” A guy could feel quite warm wrapped up in her sultry tone.
He lifted an eyebrow. “And you are?”
She stepped up and reached out to shake his hand. “Anna Middleton.”
Gage nodded. The photos on the walls all had Middleton signed to them. He was going to guess not the photographer’s wife—no ring on her finger. He fought the urge to hold her hand longer than he should, but he caught a flush of color in her cheeks. She tilted her head up to look at him and he could swear he caught a flash of surprise in those sea-blue eyes.
Pulling her hand back, he watched as she tucked it behind her back before turning to grab the camera off its stand.
“Did Linda explain how this works?”
Linda—the Gothic fairy—flashed a smile at him. She trailed a finger down his forearm. “You’ll do great. He’s set, Anna.” She ducked away.
Gage glanced at Anna and her camera. “How hard is it to smile for the camera?” Gage drawled. His fingers stopped tingling since he touched her, and he was itching to do so again. Or possibly run his fingers through that soft cloud of hair.
“You’d be surprised.” Her wide mouth twitched at the corners. “We’ll start without props, but Linda will bring a few in later.”
“Props?” Gage lifted both eyebrows.
Anna took a couple of shots, the camera clicking. “We use a green screen so we can drop in any background, but it’s easier to use anything that you will be touching in the actual photos.” Stepping back to the tripod, Anna set the camera on it. She looked through the camera lens, paused and looked back up at him. “Um, you’re looking a little stiff.”
Linda gave a snort of amusement, tried to hide it with a cough. Gage smiled, and Anna gave Linda a dirty look before turning back to Gage. “Any chance you can relax? Loosen up? Look less like you’re standing in front of a camera?”
Gage forced a smile. He was going to kill Scotty and Spencer for talking him into being the one to come to Coran Williams Publishing. This is for Nick, he told himself again. And they had damn little to go on right now—an encrypted flash drive and one personal photo that had been of Nick and Natalie. They hadn’t even found Nick’s awards and honors for service. But the photo had led them here.
Gage shook himself out of his mood—he’d been starting to frown. He had to watch that. They’d talked it over and all had agreed that busting in here with questions might not get them far. They needed intel, meaning they needed to get inside this place and poke around. Which was why he was here. With his shirt off.