Striptease

By: Alison Kent
1



June…

MELANIE CRAINE ENTERED the sanctuary of the neighborhood church two blocks from the Hollisters’ home. Three quick steps into the air-conditioned interior and she thudded to a stop.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she muttered, knowing he wasn’t kidding her at all.What he was doing was ignoring every word of this morning’s phone conversation during which she’d told him—yet again—where she wanted the cameras located for tonight’s taping of Lauren and Anton’s wedding.

Melanie jammed her pocket PC’s stylus into its slot, then zipped the whole device into the pale yellow case at her waist. She was not about to let down the bride or the groom. Especially not after the honor of being asked to handle their wedding video details.

Setting her videographer on the straight and narrow had just become job one.

Her status as gIRL-gEAR’s resident geek gave Melanie the inside scoop on the city’s best in high-tech photographers and video firms. And Avatare Productions had been the obvious choice.

Or so she’d thought until she’d been stuck with the company’s hard-headed, opinionated and—yes, okay—admittedly hunky crew chief.

No doubt about it.

Jacob Faulkner had been put on this earth to ruin her life.

But she’d be damned if she’d let him ruin her day.

Marching down the aisle to the raised dais, she stood on the first step, watching him tilt one of the remote-controlled cameras he’d mounted on either end of the choir box railing.

“Back up about three steps,” he ordered her without looking up.

Melanie took three steps toward him instead. “What are you doing?”

“The job I’ve been hired to do.” Frowning at the camera’s LCD screen, he gestured to a point behind where she stood. “Not forward. Back. About six steps.”

She shoved hands to hips and dug in her heels. She so did not want to fight with this man. Not today. “I thought we agreed the planter boxes were situated in the best spot for filming the wedding party.”

Jacob continued to check the LCD image. “You suggested the planters.” He shrugged. “I considered the suggestion.”

Obviously for about as long as it had taken him to throw it away. She, on the other hand, had checked out the angle at least a dozen times and knew she was right. She tightened both hands into fists.

“Look, I know you’re doing your job, but the bride is one of my business partners and a very good friend. She and the groom have put their trust in me to make this work. I intend to see that it does.”

“The very reason I’m here, sweetheart.” Again he waved her back before bending to check hidden wires and connections. “Six steps is all I need. Think of it as earning that trust.”

Melanie pressed her lips together and held her tongue, an act that required more effort than she’d expected. Why were men so threatened by a strong woman’s input, forget ever taking one’s advice? No. They had to establish dominance and power and all other matters by penis size.

Frowning, Jacob straightened and resumed viewing the camera’s display. “How tall are you?”

“Five-eight, but what my height has to do with anything—”

“Same as the bride. Heels look to be about the same, too. Once you’re in place, I’ll have a better idea of what I’m working with here.”

Shoving a hand through hair that had to look like a mop by now, Melanie gritted her teeth. Compromises rubbed against her grain when it came to boys who thought they were the boss. But this wasn’t about her. This was about Lauren.

So Melanie offered the only concession she was willing to make. “I know you can control the zoom remotely, but I’m worried the cameras are too far off center.”

“They’re not.”

“So you say. I want to see exactly what you’re seeing. Then I’ll decide.”

Blowing out an aggravated breath, Jacob glanced halfway in her direction. “Look. You’ve got control issues. That’s cool. But could you save it for another guy? I’m not really into being whipped.”

Melanie sputtered. Control issues? Whipped?

He straightened suddenly and met her eyes. “Hey, sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Not “Hey, sorry, I didn’t mean that.” She crossed her arms and waited.

He gestured to his camera. “It’s just that there’s no way you can see what I’m seeing, even looking at the same view screen. We’d focus on different things.”

“And how do you know that?”

“I’ve been at this for a lot of years. Time and experience have changed what I see, what I look for,” he said. Then he added, “Besides, you’re a girl. And I’m a guy—a very intuitive type, mind you, but still a guy.”

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