Hattie Bell is beautiful, brilliant and bigger than your average plus-sized model. For top fashion photographer Tom Metcalfe, Hattie is the muse he needs to help him break into the art world.
Working with Hattie is going to send his career rising into the stratosphere.
Falling in love with Hattie is going to bring his life crashing down around his feet.
The Photographer’s Irresistible Model is a 40,000 word novella previously sold as Flirting with the Camera.
The last of the models pulled on her jacket, slung her satchel over her shoulder and grunted in response to Tom’s automatic, ‘I’ll be in touch.’
It would be a no. He’d seen more than enough six-foot-tall sulky teenagers to know that wasn’t what he needed for this shoot. They might appear fragile with their stick-thin limbs and barely-formed features, but their eyes were hard as nails. They had to be, to survive in the fashion industry. Not all of them survived, of course.
He cut that thought off before it could take hold. Today wasn’t about Lianne. Today was about moving on. After fifteen years photographing girls who got younger and thinner each season, Tom Metcalfe knew exactly how to find the provocative glint in the eye of the dullest coat-hanger of a model. But this wasn’t a fashion shoot. He wasn’t taking pictures to sell clothes, or perfume, or make-up, or any other overpriced and unnecessary frippery. This time he was selling himself. His own vision of the world. He had no idea whether anyone would want to buy it.
The gallery for his first exhibition was already booked. Most of his portfolio was ready, but there was something missing. Initially, he had decided not to include any portraits. Everyone already knew he could shoot women. Where was the challenge in that? But when he had shown the preliminary portfolio to the gallery owner, she had skimmed through it and shaken her head.
‘It’s too pretty.’
‘Shallow. Decorative. Pretty. But there’s nothing of you in here, Tom. You can’t just be a spectator, dispassionately observing pretty bits of the world. Not for this kind of show.’
As soon as she said it, he knew she was right. He needed more depth, more emotion. For him, that meant people. Faces hiding feelings. Eyes telling stories.
That was the reason Tom preferred to be the spectator. He stayed behind the camera while the attention was on the girls in shot, and that was how he liked it. No one ever interviewed the photographer, asking awkward questions or intruding into matters he would much rather keep hidden. No one could see into his eyes and find out what he really was.There was no way he would be taking any self-portraits for his exhibition, but the world he was trying to portray needed to be more than pretty and shallow. It needed to show depth. Complexity. Humanity.
For that, he needed a model. He had to find someone with that depth and complexity in a way he could capture in a photograph. He’d advertised an open casting, hoping to find someone a bit different from the girls he usually worked with, but none of the models who’d turned up had caught his eye.
‘Am I too late?’
The woman who was leaning against the door of his studio was more than a bit different. Bright, dyed-red hair, heavy dark make-up, a scarlet jacket that swirled out around her hips. She grinned at him, her blue eyes twinkling in a way that made him suspect she wore coloured contact lenses.
‘I had to leave work early, but I still missed the bus. Isn’t it odd how the one you miss is always exactly on time, while the one you have to wait for is always running late?’
Tom nodded, though she didn’t pause long enough for him to speak. He watched her instead. She had a natural grace to her movements and a charm that would be a fun challenge to capture in her face. He’d take close-ups to catch the depth of expression in her eyes and the allure of that wide, mobile mouth.
‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘I’m Hattie Bell and I’m here about the modelling job. You said you were looking for someone out of the ordinary, so I thought it was worth a shot. You wouldn’t believe the amount of castings I’ve been to where they wouldn’t even let me through the door. And the samples!’ She threw up her hands in horror. ‘Made to fit a Barbie doll. No, that’s not right. Barbie dolls have breasts and hips. So do I.’ She gestured at her body.
‘I can see that.’ She had them in abundance, along with thighs, stomach and bum, in a gloriously voluptuous shape that invited further exploration. More than that, she had presence. Personality by the bucket load. He couldn’t tear his eyes away.
‘So, what do you think?’ Hattie gave him a twirl. ‘Have you already found someone? You have, haven’t you? Oh, well.’ She made as if to leave, disappointment written all over her expressive face.
‘I haven’t found anyone. Yet.’ He’d found her the moment Hattie had appeared at the studio door. But the cautious, professional side of him insisted that he needed to take her through the audition first, just to make sure. He hadn’t even seen her through the camera lens. He had to check that what he saw he could recreate for others.
‘Really? Well, great.’ She grinned at him and took off her jacket. ‘Where do you want me?’
Tom picked up his small camera and pointed to the backdrop. ‘This is just a test. To see how you look on film. Relax. Smile. Move around. Whatever you want.’
Under her jacket, Hattie was wearing a clingy floral top and a neat black skirt. She looked comfortable in front of the camera, smiling at Tom, blowing kisses and laughing as she posed in traditional – and some not-so-traditional – ways. He took shot after shot, entranced by her total lack of self-consciousness and her evident delight in the process.
Sex, he realised suddenly. That was what made her different. Hattie was sexy. She wasn’t a faux-innocent teenage Lolita. She was a grown woman; she was in tune with her body, and she was intensely sexy with it.
‘Turn your back to me and look over your shoulder,’ he suggested. ‘Yes, like that. Smile.’
She did more than smile. She winked. Then she laughed and tossed her head back, sending that extraordinary hair flying. Without thinking, Tom dropped his hand so that he could watch her without the filter of the lens. She was gorgeous. Sexy and alluring and incredibly sensual.
What would she be like in bed?
Come-to-bed eyes were such a cliché, and yet there was no other way to describe Hattie’s expression. She would only have to crook her finger and Tom would be there, kissing those luscious lips, ripping away her clothes, revelling in the generous curves of her body. It was clear that Hattie enjoyed sex as much as she was enjoying modelling for him now.
‘Are you just going to watch, or do you want to take more photos?’ Hattie confronted him with her hands on her hips. Tom stared down at the camera in his hand.
He swallowed, finding his mouth unexpectedly dry. ‘I, um, I need to find a new memory card.’
He turned back to his case, searching for the unnecessary memory card, while he took a moment to compose himself.
‘No problem. You know, if you’ve already decided you don’t want me, you only have to say so. No point wasting both our time.’
He fitted the new card and stood up. ‘I want you.’ He deliberately kept his voice calm. He wanted her more than he was prepared to admit.
‘Really?’ A huge smile spread over Hattie’s incredibly expressive face.
‘Really.’ Tom nodded. She wasn’t what he’d had in mind. She was better. Different, interesting, intelligent, unexpected. He would never have found her on a fashion shoot, but for what he was planning, Hattie was ideal.
She threw her arms around him. ‘Thank you! I was beginning to think no one would ever give me a chance. I mean, look at me.’ Hattie stepped back and waited until Tom did as she instructed. ‘Do I look like I should be working in an office all day?’
‘No, you don’t.’ Tom had limited experience of working in an office, but he couldn’t imagine colourful, vibrant Hattie in that kind of bland environment any more than he could stand it himself.
‘Exactly. I always knew I should be in front of a camera. But I can’t act to save my life. Or sing. So it had to be modelling.’
‘Right.’ He knew he was shaking his head. Her logic was incomprehensible.
‘I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I don’t have the figure for modelling.’
‘You could do plus-size modelling,’ he offered.
She shook her head. ‘Those castings I told you about? They were all for so-called plus-size models. When the fashion people say plus-size, they mean average in the real world. I’m too fat.’
Tom didn’t bother to contradict her. None of the plus-size models he’d worked with had breasts like Hattie’s. They didn’t have double chins, either, or fat which spilled over the top of their skirts. On the other hand, none of them had ever fizzed with energy the way Hattie did. And none of them had ever made him want to break through the invisible barrier of the camera lens to touch them. But now his fingers were curled into fists against their longing to stroke the ivory-pale skin exposed by the deep ‘V’ of Hattie’s neckline. She’d be soft and warm… And just that one, relatively innocent thought was enough to make him catch his breath.
He dragged his brain back to the conversation. ‘What about life modelling?’ She’d make an incredible model for an artist. Renoir or Rubens would have killed to have a Hattie as their inspiration. She could have been a Venus for Botticelli, or… Oh God, Titian would have made her his Eve, an irresistible temptation of red-gold hair and creamy skin, embodying all the pleasures of the flesh.
‘Done that. It’s not bad, though it doesn’t pay too well. I couldn’t make the rent. Besides, they don’t like you to talk while you’re doing it and I’m not very good at keeping quiet for hours on end.’
‘I can see that,’ he said wryly. A chattering Venus would ruin the image.
‘But I just knew that I would get a break eventually. And now I have.’ She beamed at him.
‘Look, Hattie.’ Tom ran a hand through his hair. ‘Don’t get too excited. I can only offer you a few days work. A week at the most.’
‘Brilliant. I’ve got some holiday left. Just let me know when. And with this on my CV, who knows what could come of it? I mean, you’re seriously famous, right? All the girls want to have a shoot with Tom Metcalfe. Vogue, Marie-Claire, Elle…’ She waved expansively. ‘The sky’s the limit.’
‘I’ll do you some portfolio shots, if you like,’ said Tom. ‘But this isn’t going to be a fashion shoot.’
‘What kind of shoot is it? The advert didn’t say.’
‘Art.’ Tom cringed inside as he said it. The decision to expand outside his commercial work had been a hard one and he still hadn’t quite got used to the idea of calling himself an artist.
‘Does that mean naked?’
‘No!’ Tom stared at Hattie, a vision of her naked form burning itself onto his brain. ‘No, it doesn’t. Probably not. It just means art. In an exhibition. At a gallery.’
‘Okay. But just so you know, if it did mean naked, that would be fine with me.’
‘Right.’ He took a deep breath and tried not to think of Hattie reclining on a couch, one arm flung back and the other pretending to cover her breasts but actually drawing the eye directly to them. She’d make men’s jaws drop and the rest of them rise to attention. ‘Right.’
‘I did life modelling, remember.’
‘So you did.’ Tom busied himself with packing his camera gear away. He wasn’t going to bother with any more shots today.
‘I’m not embarrassed by my body.’
‘Good to know.’ None of the models Tom worked with were. At least, not after their first shoot. It was hard to hold onto any modesty when make-up artists were brushing bronzer in every crevice of your body.
‘You know, you’re nothing like I was expecting.’
‘Uh huh.’ Neither was she.
‘Aren’t you going to ask what I was expecting?’
‘No.’ The deflection came instinctively after all these years. He didn’t get into conversations about himself.
Hattie laughed. ‘You don’t give a lot away, do you?’
‘There’s a reason I like to be behind the camera.’
She stepped closer, head tilted to one side, and examined him. ‘I wonder if you’ll ever tell me the reason, Tom Metcalfe.’
40,000 word category romance