Chapter One

 

 

“LOWER YOUR shoulder a bit. That’s it. Don’t look at me!”

Ted didn’t mind the flash of the lights every time a picture was taken. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the celebrity’s entourage wanting to check out what he was doing all the time, he’d be around Caz’s photo shoots permanently.

At home, in Caz’s West Hollywood studio, Ted had a room of his own, with a floor-to-ceiling window looking out over the area where Caz did his setups and a door that had a radio-controlled lock on it, giving only him and Caz access through a little gizmo they each had in their pocket. Not that he would show it, but it never ceased to amuse Ted when Caz walked into his office as if the door were unlocked and the manager/runner/celebrity hanger-on following him crashed into it with no hopes of gaining entrance. Caz’s apologetic shrug at the person on the other side of the door only added to Ted’s inner glee.

But here, on location in Atlanta, he had no such privacy. Here his only shield against the gawkers was a World of Warcraft screensaver that came on with a tap of a button to obscure the pictures he was editing and color correcting.

They were a team. Cazimir Palit and Edward Cleary. Caz and Ted for the insiders, Cleary Palit Productions for everyone else. But everyone always referred to Caz Palit and blissfully ignored Ted—and Ted liked it that way. Caz was the star. He spoke to people’s imaginations, and the celebrities fell over each other trying to get him to put them in front of his lens. “Both the up-and-coming and the has-beens want to be humiliated by Caz Palit’s camera because they know they’ll get attention for looking the best they’ve ever looked,” one critic once spouted, and Ted knew how true that was because he was the one to make them look wrinkle-and blemish-free. He was the one who finished the pictures and gave them the “Palit” look.

Over the years, they’d kept it a well-hidden secret that Caz barely knew how to use e-mail, let alone Photoshop. Ted organized it all. He kept their schedule, booked their airplane tickets, Twittered, Flickr’d, Tumblr’d, and Facebooked in Caz’s name and maintained their professional website. Luckily, Caz’s state-of-the-art cameras and the fact his smartphone was practically glued to his ear made him look less like the complete tech-dunce he was. Ted gladly kept Caz’s secret. It made him feel good to be needed, like he was a full member of the team, like he earned his half of the gross. Of course, Ted was the Photoshop wiz, and without him, Caz’s pictures wouldn’t look nearly as good as they did, but somehow that always felt more like a hobby gotten out of hand than an actual talent.

Ted looked up when he saw feet approaching. Caz handed him his state-of-the-art camera and smiled with more mischief than a kid who’d just raided the candy store. “Shoot done?” Ted asked.

Caz pursed his lips. “Probably not. Take a look.”

Ted clicked a few buttons on the camera and opened the shared folder on his computer. While they waited for the hi-res pictures to load, Ted followed Caz’s gaze toward the rally driver Caz had been photographing. He understood the amused grin. The guy was trussed up like a chicken and looked uncomfortable, to say the least.

“I thought about hanging him upside down next.” Caz leaned on the chair Ted was sitting in.

“Let’s look at these first.” Ted started a slideshow, giving every picture about a one second chance to make an impression. After a while, he stopped and reversed the order until he found the pictures that had caught his eye and then flicked through four of them slowly. “These look good. We can clean them up a bit; bring out the fear in his eyes more. Nothing like showing a fearless adrenaline junkie looking like he wants to run for the hills.”

Caz grunted like he didn’t agree.

“You want to torture him a bit more?”

Caz didn’t answer right away because a guy from the racer’s entourage was walking toward them.

“He’s uncomfortable, Mr. Palit. Can we take him down, please?”

Ted tried not to smile as Caz let the guy wait for his answer. Then he inhaled and shouted, “Jesse! Take him down.” The assistant nodded at Caz, looking grateful. “Just his legs,” Caz added. “We might need to try another position!” Caz took his camera from Ted and walked backward to the set, wiggling a little for Ted’s entertainment before turning around and becoming the consummate pro once again.

About twenty minutes later, Caz was back.

“Done?”

“Maybe,” Caz replied, flicking a few buttons on his camera. “Can we look at these new ones before I ask Jesse to completely untie our victim?”

Ted looked over at a very uncomfortable-looking pilot, who was being helped to drink Vitaminwater through a straw. “Did you take a lot more? We’ll need at least half an hour to review them, right?”

Caz smiled. “Teddy, you naughty boy.” He put his hand on the back of Ted’s neck as he looked at the computer screen to see the pictures downloading.

Ted tried not to lean into the touch and instead focused on his software. They went through the same routine, not stopping at any pictures until they drew their eye. This time it was an obliquely framed image of the racer looking especially uncomfortable. “This looks like a winner. I can definitely do something with this one.”

Caz leaned closer, letting his arm rest on Ted’s shoulder. Ted could smell the hint of citrusy cologne hanging on Caz, and for a moment he fantasized of putting his arm around Caz’s skinny waist and pulling him into his lap. Of course, he didn’t do that. Ted had long since accepted the part he played in Caz’s life. He contented himself with the fact that Jesse’s eyes were ejecting lightning bolts at him from across the studio floor. As far as Ted was concerned, the twink wasn’t nearly jealous enough.

“Think he’ll let me try yet another position?” Caz asked casually.

Ted moved his gaze to their victim. “Depends. Have you tortured him enough today to warrant at least one lament on Twitter?”

Caz smirked. “His girlfriend’s been giving the fans a blow-by-blow. They’re already full of sympathy. Jesse showed me.”

Ted’s smile waned. “Then you can probably call it a day. You taking Jesse out for dinner?”

“He’s already picked the place. You coming?”

Ted quickly shook his head. “This stuff will keep me busy for most of the night. You go and have fun. Your working day is over.”

Caz took a few steps away from him. “At least let us drop you off at the hotel. You’ll be more comfortable working there.”

Ted pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. “That would be great, Caz.” He looked at Caz to see if he noticed any of the pain seeping into his words, but Caz was the ray of sunshine he always was and seemed utterly oblivious.