Erin was deliberately fifteen minutes late for the meeting at Kai's studio. But when Kai opened the door, his surprise was evident. “Erin! I didn’t know you were coming tonight.”
“Neither did I. But what the boss says, goes.”
John was nowhere to be seen. He should have already arrived and explained that Erin was coming, paving the way for her to slip in while the photography session was going on.
“I guess John is late, too,” she said.
“That’s fine. I’ve got nothing planned for this evening.” Kai grinned. “Or tomorrow evening either.”
So he had been putting Allison off. “You know, you shouldn’t make Allison mad,” Erin told him. “She could make things really tough on you.”
“She could try. I don’t like petty dictators in the workplace. She’s not ordering me around.”
Erin assumed he was judging her for knuckling under to Allison. “You only have to work with her for a couple of months. I’m in it for the long haul. As long as I have a job at BioEnd, I can put up with Allison Stern.”
“I bet you can.”
She gave Kai a quick look, wondering if he was being sarcastic. But no, he was looking at her with admiration and approval. It made her feel warm, and she was on the verge of flushing again.
Erin had deliberately dressed down for this meeting, having run home first to change into jeans and a washed-out gray T-shirt. It was funny because Kai was wearing almost exactly the same thing—a faded gray T-shirt and jeans—only his feet were bare. And very sexy, now that she got a good look at him. He had nice neat feet, like his hands.
He noticed her appraisal. “I’ve got a jacket I can put on for the photos, but it’s a little warm in here tonight.”
That wasn’t why she was looking at him, but it would do for an excuse. Erin moved over to the windows that were catching the slanted light. “John better get here soon.”
At that moment, the buzzer sounded.
John arrived with a whirl of energy and motion, setting up lights and big white diffusers. He rapped out commands in his blunt Norwegian-accented English, as he directed them both around. Erin was a little worried at first, after seeing how Kai had refused to bend to Allison. But Kai was smiling the whole time, comfortable in his own skin. Once they started shooting, John was in seventh heaven.
“Usually I photograph people in suits, talking heads,” John said. “I wish I could work with more artists like you. Yes, bend down more,” he said. “I want the shadow of the dial on your face. Allison sent me a billion texts this afternoon. She wants this, she wants that… why hire a professional if you can do it yourself?”
“Allison couldn’t make it this evening,” Hunter said solemnly.
“That’s what she says. But this is better. Can you adjust the screen, Erin? Yes, that way.” He titled his head at Kai, as if assessing the angles of his face. “Can you give a bad photograph, Kai? I don’t think so. Now come over here. I want a profile shot.”
“Allison said no profiles,” Erin quickly put in.
“Just for me. That’s it, that’s good. Now look this way… yes, there. Very good. That’s what we want. Sexy, with a bit of glamour. But happy, approachable. Allison says you have to be happy.”
Kai was down behind the sundial, the slant of the shadow across his cheek. He looked right at Erin over John shoulder. “If you want me to be sexy and happy, stop talking about Allison!”
Erin had to laugh. John was intent on his work, firing off shots, talking a lot more than she was used to seeing. He really had a rapport with Kai. It seemed as if Kai was able to create a connection with anyone.
They moved from the sundial to the bench. Kai looked yummy sitting on the round balls with the sun casting nice shadows, relaxed and talking to both of them.
“How long have you lived in the city?” Erin asked Kai.
“It’s been six years, now,” he said. “I moved here when I was nineteen. I had just finished my first commission, a sculpture for a prayer garden in Wycoff Hospital in Philadelphia. I thought I had it made. I was going to take over New York.”
John snorted. “Who isn’t? Why else do we put up with so much pain?”
“I meet a lot of artists and musicians living in Williamsburg.” Erin could have added that they all needed drastic help. Many were living off their parents’ monthly check. She had no respect for that. If she couldn’t make enough money to live, she’d be out working at a Starbucks to support herself, likely somewhere upstate where rents were cheaper.
“Aspiring artists,” Kai corrected. “There’s a lot of people who like the idea of being an artist, but who don’t work. John's a working artist. Now, with the BioEnd contract, I’m another one.”
“You’ve sold your work,” Erin said, thinking of his resume. He’d had shows in galleries every couple of years, and specialized in large art installations and public art.
“My last big piece was a pro-bono job for the park in Bed-Sty. It’s not easy making it as an artist. But I couldn’t do anything else.”
His passion was sexy as hell, but the instability of it was scary to Erin. She knew first-hand how badly financial chaos could affect a family. Her mom had worked at the same upstate college her whole life, but her dad had blithely changed careers like he changed his clothes. Whether they could afford to take a vacation depended on if he was painting houses or directing plays at a local community theatre that year. She had watched her mom struggle with bills as long as she could remember. Erin would never, ever ask them for money. She had to do it on her own.
Stability was really attractive quality in a man, one of most important things she looked for, which was probably why she wasn’t attracted to many guys her own age. But she didn’t like dating older men, either. She already had a dad—a wonderful, playful, engaging dad. She wasn’t looking for a husband who would try to mold her or make her fit into his life. That’s one reason she found it easy to turn down the guys she had met since arriving in the city.
Remembering that helped to center her mind for dealing with Kai. He was just another man who wasn’t right for her, even if she was attracted to him. He was a work colleague, nothing else. A fun, sexy coworker.
It wasn’t long before John got the shots he wanted. He clicked through the photos on his camera for both of them to see. There were plenty of good images for Allison to choose from.
Erin helped John pack up and when his phone buzzed, the photographer said, “That’s my car. It’s been real good, man. Don’t forget to call me about the casting. If I’m free, I’d love to get that shot you were talking about of the metal flowing into the mold.”
It took all three of them to carry everything down for John. When Erin and Kai were left standing in front of the building, Kai laughed. “I’m not going upstairs without you this time, Ms. Chandler. You might run off again.”
She had to smile. “Okay.”