Blurb: When 23 year-old Jeremy Trask wanders into Martin Lewis’ photography studio one bleak October day and requests photos for a modeling portfolio, neither man is prepared for the immediate and intense attraction between them. What follows is a series of progressively intimate encounters that leads them on a scintillating erotic journey together. But Jeremy has a secret. Will his revelation destroy the burgeoning intimacy between them? Or will Martin rise to the challenge of loving a ‘less than perfect’ man?
Exposure is the excellent debut from author Elizabeth Lister, a sensual and thoroughly seductive novella narrated by Martin Lewis, a thirty-two year old photographer who has a one o’clock appointment with destiny.
~ Top2Bottom Reviews, 2011
Fuck, what a morning. Sometimes I seriously questioned the way I made a living.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at my little kitchen table. I had hastily eaten a turkey sandwich and now my stomach felt upset-from the stress. Coffee was probably a bad idea but I needed it. I still had the afternoon to get through.
Family portraits were difficult, especially with a baby or toddler involved. Trying to get a group shot with them all smiling or even looking somewhat cheerful could be a goddamn nightmare. But I did it finally. They were pleased with the result and ordered a large batch of prints and a CD. So it was worth it. I guess.
But now my head throbbed and the caffeine did nothing to appease it. I had another appointment in fifteen minutes. I needed a cigarette. I got up and found the pack of Dumauriers that I kept in the fridge, took one out and replaced the pack. I lit the cigarette and took a long hungry drag. I intended to quit. Really, I did. But a morning like this one gave me two choices: smoking a cigarette or calling my doctor for a prescription for antidepressants. An occasional cigarette seemed like the more expedient alternative.
I grabbed my empty plate and put it in the sink, then picked up my coffee. As I carried it through the small, shabbily furnished living room to the front window, I caught my reflection in the big mirror that leaned against the wall in an attempt at chic decorating. My sister had recommended it; it made the room look bigger and gave it some drama. Apparently.
I looked like an average thirty-two-year-old man. Not unattractive, but relatively unremarkable. My faded and wrinkled khaki pants had seen better days, and my black button-up shirt showed wear as well. I didn’t usually pay that much attention to the way I dressed. I kept fit, but just barely. I walked and lifted hand weights a few times a week to keep my arms and shoulders looking good. I lifted up the shirt to look at my belly then dropped it down again, the state of my abs a disappointment. If you could even call them abs. At least no one could call me fat. A little out of shape maybe and starting to show my age. My dirty blond hair, a little on the long side, looked good in a messy, carefree way. Or so I imagined. My blue eyes, often complimented by others, stared back at me with evident fatigue.
I sipped my coffee and walked to the window ledge, looking down on McLeod Street. As per usual, cars were parked all along the road by people who didn’t want to pay the fees at the newly renovated Museum of Nature or, at this time of day, patrons of the numerous eateries on Elgin Street. I took a drag off my cigarette. On this cold, gray October day, multicolored leaves covered the ground; the tree branches almost totally bare. The usual bleak November that occurred annually in Ottawa was fast approaching; rainy, cold, and devoid of any beauty. Until snow fell in December, things looked pretty barren.
As I stared out at the dismal day, a person turned the corner from Elgin and walked down McLeod Street in my direction. It appeared to be a young man from the way he was dressed; black skinny jeans, running shoes, leather jacket, small black knit hat. He strode purposefully in my direction. The closer he got the more alert I became. I don’t know what it was, except that he appeared to be quite good looking. Still, I couldn’t really tell. This part of town was frequented by hip young men. What was special about this one? When he made a beeline for my place from across the street I realized he was probably my one o’clock.
I stubbed my cigarette, finished my coffee, and headed downstairs, unwrapping a piece of gum and popping it into my mouth on the way.
Sure enough, the bell rang just as I reached the bottom step. I paused for a moment and checked my hair again in the hall mirror. Meh. It didn’t look great but there was nothing much I could do except run my hand through it a couple of times. I opened the door.
“Hi,” I said with a smile.
“Hi,” he smiled and looked uncertain. “Is this Martin Lewis Photography? I have an appointment at one.”
Fuck me, he was gorgeous up close. I nodded.
He gave me a bigger smile and held out his hand. “Then you must be Martin?”
I nodded again and shook his hand, hoping that the power of speech would return to me soon. It was warm and strong. I shook it quickly and let go because I really didn’t want to let go at all. His deep brown eyes gazed into mine, reminding me of melted chocolate. His auburn hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in days, adding to his youthful appearance.
“Jeremy.” He said.
“Come on inside,” I managed and backed up as he entered the cramped hallway. He took off his hat and opened his jacket. His eyes roamed over me quickly, like he didn’t want me to notice him checking me out. But his smile widened and he said, “Do you want me to take my shoes off?”
I shook my head. “Just wipe them on the mat, please. The studio’s just in here.” I led him into my photo studio, which pretty much took up the entire ground floor of the old house where I lived and worked. Inwardly I thought, if I wanted you to take something off it wouldn’t be your shoes. God, I’m a sleazy whore. Or maybe it was just that I hadn’t had any action for a long time. I mean, a damn long time. We’re talking more than a year-pitiful.
He took off his jacket and was about to lay it on the antique green chaise by the wall when he picked up something off the seat. He held it out to me. “Um, I think a previous client must have left this?”
In his hand was a baby’s pacifier. I remembered the mother from this morning having several. I took it from him and realized I hadn’t tidied up much from my morning session. Puppets and little toys lay all over the place as the result of my many attempts at amusing the two children. I hurriedly began tidying up. “I’m sorry, my morning session ran a bit late. Family portraits can be tricky when they involve young children.”
He grinned and helped me gather toys and put them in the bin in the corner. He shook his head. “Sounds like a nightmare.”
I met his gaze. “It can be a bit much sometimes.” I watched him lean over to grab a toy dinosaur from the floor and my mouth actually went dry. His ass in those jeans… I felt a tightening in my own pants. Then he straightened and said, “Well, I promise to behave myself,” and tossed the toy into the bin.
I felt the breath leave my lungs as I tried to think of something to say.
“So, where do you want me?” he asked, and for a moment I forgot why he was here.
“What?” I said stupidly.
He stared at me expectantly. “I’m not really sure what I’m doing, so I’m going to need your input.” He hesitated. “I’ve never done this before.”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, “what exactly are we doing?”
He sat down on the edge of the chaise. “Well, I need a modeling portfolio.”
Of course. Hell, he was born to model.
Suddenly, my lack of preparation for this session became stunningly apparent. He must think I’m an idiot. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t have a chance to review my book.” I put a hand to my forehead and rubbed gently. “It’s been a shit day.”
He looked at me curiously. “I guess I could come another time, if this isn’t-”
I shook my head and smiled to reassure him. “No, no, it’s fine. It’s great actually. Much, much easier than all that.” I gestured toward the toy bin. “As long as you can take direction,” I joked.
He looked down and then grinned up at me shyly. “Oh, yes. I’m very good at doing what I’m told.”
Oh God. Don’t even think it. That’s not what he means.
I started fiddling with the camera and trying to divert my mind from its lascivious wanderings. The man needed a quality portfolio. “Do you want just standing poses? Or a combination of poses?”
He put his head in his hands and looked up. The slight blush on his face surprised me. “Oh man, this is so embarrassing.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, I’m kind of doing this on a dare.”
I swallowed. “Your girlfriend?”
“Huh? No,” he shook his head. “My asshole roommates.” He paused and looked me in the eyes for a moment. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
I couldn’t help smiling. He shrugged. “Anyway, what the hell, right? I’ll send out some applications and see what happens. I sure could use some extra money.” He looked doubtful. “Or maybe I’m kidding myself?”
Jesus. Did he seriously doubt his modeling potential? I pulled a dark blue background down over top of the white one I had been using. “Well,” I said, “We’ll have to see what the camera thinks of you, of course. But you’ve got the looks, Jeremy.” Fucking understatement of the year.
“You think so?”
I stared at him. “You’re extremely good looking.” Where was this confidence coming from?Suddenly, he seemed like the nervous one. I had switched over to work mode and blocked my inappropriate thoughts; successfully, for the moment. “Let’s do some standing poses first, just to get an idea,” I suggested, adjusting the lamps.
“Okay.” He stood and walked over to stand in front of the blue background. His gray plaid flannel shirt and white t-shirt looked good against the dark blue. So did his auburn hair and pale skin.
I took up my post behind the camera and started shooting and giving him directions. I wanted to stay focused and busy so my mind wouldn’t wander. “Just look as natural as you can,” I said. He laughed because of the unnatural situation, and I got some good shots of that.
“Can I talk?”
I nodded. “Sure, if it helps you stay relaxed.”
“So, how long have you been a photographer?” he asked, hooking his thumbs in his back pockets and shifting his weight.
I clicked away as I answered. “I started doing it professionally about six years ago. I have a fine arts degree, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure it’s about as useful as my BA in English Lit. University’s such a crock these days. It’s so damn expensive and then doesn’t get you anywhere unless you do your Masters or PhD. And who’s got the money or the commitment for that?”
I smiled. “Not me. This is the only thing I’ve ever committed to.”
“You’re not married? I didn’t notice a ring but that’s not really a reliable sign.”
I shook my head. “No. I’m not married. I’m not really-never mind.” Shit! I’d almost told him I was gay. Christ, I’d only just met him. How did I know what his reaction would be to that little tidbit? Yes, hi, I’m gay and I think you’re incredibly hot and I’ll be taking pictures of you…
“You’re not really, what?”
“Um,” I focused on taking the photos and tried to think of something. “I’m not really sure I want to get married. Ever.” Well, that was true at least. Not to a woman, anyway.
He grinned. “You like your freedom.”
I nodded. “Something like that.” Yeah, the freedom to sleep with men. I didn’t even do much of that these days. “How old are you, Jeremy?”
“Twenty-three. How old are you?”
He didn’t say much for a while. I got him into some typical catalogue poses and clicked away for several minutes.
Then he said, “Maybe we should get some with just my t-shirt?”
“Um, sure.” Yes please. I tried to look noncommittal. Apparently I did a good job.
He stopped unbuttoning his plaid shirt. “Or not…”
He thought I didn’t want him to. “No! I mean, yes, take it off.” Dear Lord, he was killing me. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
Too late. He shrugged out of the flannel shirt and tossed it to the side. “Phew, it gets pretty hot under these lights.”
You are not kidding. I stared at him in just the white t-shirt, black skinny jeans, and running shoes. Shit, if he wasn’t a thirty-two-year-old gay man’s wet dream, I didn’t know what was. I cleared my throat and tore my eyes away. But it was torture not looking at him. Luckily, I had an excuse to watch him. “Um, why don’t you lift your arms up over your head like you’re stretching?” I suggested.
“Like this?” He did as I asked. The t-shirt rode up, revealing a perfectly toned abdomen with a tantalizing trail of light brown hair leading right down to…
“Jesus Christ,” I murmured before I could stop myself.
I froze, staring at him. Shit, shit, shit! “I just remembered I left my stove on.”
I left the room and ran up the steps two at a time, as if I really had left my stove on and wasn’t trying to hide a sudden raging hard-on. Fuck fuck fuck. What is wrong with me? Well, besides the fact that I hadn’t touched another man in a year and a half.
I wandered around my apartment, keeping up the faÃ§ade of attending to my oven and berating myself for being unable to maintain control. I had to go back down there. My hard-on diminished a bit from the stress of not knowing what to do, but it wouldn’t take much to jack it up again.
I took a deep breath and headed downstairs.
When I turned into the studio, I saw Jeremy standing behind the camera, presumably scrolling through the shots I’d taken. He looked up when he heard me.
“Everything okay up there?”
“I hope you don’t mind,” he continued,” I wanted to see what you’d got so far.”
“I don’t mind,” I said, “How are they?”
“Fucking amazing. Come see.”
Something about his voice did crazy things to me. The sound of it was like velvet. Or chocolate. He was smiling and excited and beckoning me over and fuck me if I didn’t want to grab him and stick my tongue down his throat. Instead I carefully approached him, repeating the mantra “I will not touch him” over and over in my head.
He moved aside and let me look. I didn’t touch him, but I was so close I could smell him and feel him there beside me. I tried to concentrate on the pictures as I scrolled through. He was right. They looked fantastic. Obviously the camera loved him.
“Do I really look like that?” he said. I couldn’t help the sound that came out of my mouth. But I covered it with a fake cough.
I stared at him. “You look better in person, actually.” What am I doing? He looked at me for a long moment and something passed between us, and it became apparent that he knew I wanted him.
He blushed and ran a hand through his auburn hair. “But the pictures are great, right?”
I nodded. “Do you want to see them on the computer or should we take some more?”
He looked at his watch. “Actually, I have to go to work. My shift starts in half an hour.”
I nodded, trying to hide my disappointment. “Okay.”
“But I can come back tomorrow and see them. And we can shoot some more?”
“That’s fine. About one o’clock again?”
He grabbed his shirt and put it on, quickly buttoning it up and grabbing his jacket. “How much do I owe you, Martin?”
I shook my head. “We’ll settle up tomorrow.”
He nodded and held out his hand. “Thank you. That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.” I wondered if the look he gave me held a hidden meaning or if I just imagined it? I shook his hand and walked him to the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Jeremy.” I watched him take long strides down the path and along the sidewalk. I closed the door and leaned my head against it. I suddenly realized my headache was gone. Of course, I felt another painful ache in its place, a little lower down.