Authors: Theresa Weir
Copyright © 1990, 2012 by Theresa Weir
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by anyelectronic, mechanical or other means, is forbidden without the permission of the author.
First Silhouette Books printing December 1990
A damp east coast wind bit across Doreen McDonald’s lined cheeks, creeping down the upturned collar of her jacket, penetrating all the way to her bones. She was pushing sixty—too old for these location shoots. Lord, how she wished the magazine hadn’t sent them to this godforsaken little island to do the layout. Her sinuses ached, and the joints in her fingers were stiff. She should have packed a winter coat, but who would have thought it could be so cold the end of April?
She muttered, cursing the wind that blew off the chill North Atlantic waters. She checked her light meter, readjusted the aperture setting, then made sure the tripod-steadied camera was still focused on Sonny Maxwell.
He was leaning negligently against one of the algae-covered boulders that littered the rocky point, hands jammed deep into the pockets of his leather flight jacket, facing the setting sun. If the earth were flat, they may have been able to see Long Island— Doreen’s home. Civilization. It lay approximately sixty miles west, over the curve of the water. But she could be almost certain Sonny wasn’t yearning for home. He hadn’t vocalized any opinion, but she sensed that he liked it here. And now he was watching the sun make a spectacle of itself, setting so gloriously out there in the icy North Atlantic. The wind tugged at his shaggy, sun-streaked mane, whipping the thick blunt ends against his white shirt collar. Below him, waves pounded smooth black rocks, spraying salt water on his faded jeans.
“Perfect,” Doreen said, squinting through the viewfinder. “I can just catch the lighthouse in the corner of the frame.”
Of course, any female over age twelve would tell you it wasn’t the lighthouse that mattered. It was Sonny Maxwell. And photographing Sonny Maxwell was pure pleasure, weather and location aside.
Doreen was one of the only photographers who preferred to work without a crew. Maybe that’s why she and Sonny got along so well. He was one of the only big names who didn’t travel with an entourage. Because of their compatibility, Doreen took all of his photos. And since he refused to have an agent or manager, she was also his unofficial advisor.
“Come on, Sonny!” She had to shout in order to be heard over the sound of the surf. “Let’s see that heartbreakingly aloof look you’re so famous for. The one that makes all those female knees turn to jelly and their little hearts go pitter-patter.”
Sonny’s head came around and he coolly eyed the camera.
Most models, even the biggest names, had a self-consciousness that could be picked up on film. The trick was to catch them in that fragment of a second when they forgot themselves, when something else flickered across their minds. Sonny was the only person Doreen had ever worked with who wasn’t intimidated by the camera lens. Not because he was so totally confident about his looks, but because he just didn’t give a damn.
Right now a mocking smile played about his sensuous mouth. “You know, Doreen, the shot would be better without the lighthouse in the background.”
His voice carried easily above the sound of crashing waves.
In all the years she’d known him, Doreen couldn’t remember hearing him raise his voice. He didn’t need to. It had a deep, resonant timbre that just kind of reverberated in your chest, around your heart. Made you melt a little inside.
“I’m the photographer,” she reminded him. “You’re the model, remember?”
“The lighthouse is too obvious. Move your frame to the left, catch the crag there.”
She knew he was goading her. One thing she couldn’t stand was being told how to set up a shot. “You should have gotten a haircut before coming to this godforsaken place,” she said. “I like your hair long, but it won’t appeal to everybody.”
Who was she kidding? She was old enough to be his mother—almost old enough to be his grandmother, if the truth was told—and everything about him appealed to her. Several years ago, when they’d first met and Doreen had had one too many cocktails at a photo showing, she’d invited him up to her apartment. He’d smoothly declined, saying he didn’t want to ruin a good working relationship. And strangely enough, they’d been friends ever since. If Sonny Maxwell called anybody his friend.
“And shave,” she said. “Tomorrow, shave.”
“Go to hell, Doreen.”
The shutter clicked. “I love you, too, sweetheart. The rugged look is great, but when we get home I want to have some wholesome shots.”
“I don’t do wholesome shots.”
How true. Sonny was what she thought of as a casualty of the industry. A fatherless child raised by a selfish, alcoholic mother. It made her heart ache, yet she knew he despised pity.
He smiled, and the reflection from the setting sun caught his eyes, making his face suddenly seem alive, eager, full of life. And Doreen was struck by the irony of it.
The shutter clicked again. And again.
“How about sitting on top of that rock. Look out at the ocean and brood, or I guess I should say act natural.”
With the sole of one booted foot, Sonny pushed himself away from the boulder to stand facing her, legs splayed. And now the sun no longer reflected in his eyes. They were the same calm gray they’d always been. “What do you say we wrap it up? Go get a drink?”
Sonny noticed little things. He was considerate. And now Doreen wondered if he’d noticed her teeth chattering a while ago, if that’s why he was suggesting they wrap up.
She focused and pressed the shutter release a few more times. “Yeah, maybe we should. The light’s getting weird.”
With one hand she pushed at her irritatingly straight bangs—the only part of her coarse salt-and-pepper hair that was over an inch long. “Lord, I’ll be glad to feel concrete under my feet again.” She unscrewed the lens from the camera and put it in the soft case, then removed the camera from the tripod. “Why the hell couldn’t the magazine have sent us to Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard, or some halfway civilized place with some sort of nightlife?”
Sonny laughed and Doreen shivered.
“Stop that,” she said.
“You know I hate it when you laugh like that.” His laugh contained so much bitterness and mockery. Almost as if he mocked life itself. And coming from such a face. Angels shouldn’t be bitter.
It was no accident that they were here in this remote fishing village. The advertising editor of the hip, music-oriented magazine had chosen the island because it was wild and forbidding. Isolated. “Like Sonny,” she’d said.
They were working on an advertising campaign for a line of expensive leather jackets. Leather jackets and Sonny were a powerful combination. Together they created an incredibly sexy image. And that’s what it was all about.
Sonny was a commodity. People used him, played his emotions, his face, his body, for all they were worth, wringing everything out of him until there was nothing left.
Yet he kept playing the game.
Doreen had once asked him why, and he’d gotten the strangest look on his face, then laughed his mocking laugh, saying that modeling clothes was what he did best.
He’d made a couple of movies, but the critics had torn him to ribbons. Directors said he was difficult to work with. They complained that he was too stiff, too controlled. He didn’t show enough emotion.
In a way she supposed it was true, what Sonny said about modeling being what he did best, because it was the frozen stills that captured his essence.
Sonny picked up the tripod. With sure, dexterous fingers, he loosened the legs and telescoped them away.
Something on the horizon caught his attention, the setting sun, perhaps. He stood there a moment, looking out past the breakers.
Watching him, Doreen thought again how strange it was for a model to have achieved such fame. He didn’t really fit the standard macho hunk image. He wasn’t big and muscular. But then, big, muscular men didn’t wear clothes well. Sonny wore clothes well. Very well. His body was lean and taut and well-honed. Perfect. And his hands. His hands made her think of a pianist’s, they were that long, that sensitive-looking. She wondered how many millions of women had dreamed of those hands.
But it wasn’t just his looks that had gotten him voted one of the world’s sexiest men for the last three years. Ironically enough, it was the emotions he thought he so carefully disguised that made his photos what they were. Because the camera was fast. It could see and record things undetectable to the human eye. And because of that, the camera was able to penetrate his skin, to probe the furthest reaches of his soul so it was exposed for all to see. The cynicism, the mockery, the calm acceptance. The pain. It was all there.
But perhaps the most compelling thing about him was the pure sensuality that was so frustratingly combined with the untouchableness.
And those eyes. Those eyes were really something special. They were heavy-lidded, which made him look a little sleepy—or made him look as if he’d just been making love to some lucky woman.
But sometimes Doreen caught herself reading something in them she didn’t want to see. Bleakness. Sonny was someone who’d seen the world as a stark place, a cruel place, and had accepted it as such. And who could really blame him?
He wasn’t materialistic. He’d driven the same jeep for years. He owned a cabin and a few acres of land somewhere in New York State. He didn’t allow anyone to go there. Doreen didn’t even know where it was. But when he wasn’t working, she imagined him living a back-to-basics, Walden Pond sort of existence.
Once when she’d asked him what he did with all the money he made, he’d shrugged and smiled, then said he blew it. Later, by accident, she’d found out that he’d used it to help add a children’s wing to a hospital. And though she didn’t know for certain, she suspected that he’d done more of the same.
Deep. You’re deep, my Sonny boy.
Standing next to him, almost brushing his shoulder, Doreen could feel Sonny’s isolation, like a wall. A wall constructed by chubby child hands that had eventually grown into sensitive adult hands. A wall painstakingly raised brick by brick, year by year, to finally stand a relic to a cold, loveless childhood.
With a graceful, fluid movement, Sonny bent and picked up the camera case. Then, side-by-side, they struck out toward the village.
Doreen liked to walk and the village was just the right distance away, no more than a quarter of a mile if they stayed on the winding path that cut through sand dunes topped by tufts of rustling grass. As they walked, Doreen’s circulation began to improve, the increase in blood flow bringing warmth to her toes and fingers.