"You're not a virgin. Correct?" the dark-haired man asked the question with a straight face. His square jaw gave no suggestion of discomfort, though he did raise an eyebrow slightly.
Melissa Hopkins flipped her hair over her shoulder and tried to hide her annoyance. She wanted this job. She needed this job. And she understood why Harry Gage asked the question.
Who would want to hire a virgin to work developing instructional sex videos and DVDs? She frowned slightly. She probably wouldn't have found the courage to be sitting in his office if not for her aunt, who had worked for the Center for Sexuality and Sex Practices for decades before her death.
And Melissa wasn't the only aspiring artist in New York City willing to take extreme measures to support her dream.
She nodded at the unsmiling Gage. A sociologist, he'd told her he'd been with the Center his entire career. He appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties. That meant he must've known her aunt, but she wasn't ready to acknowledge that relationship. If she did get this job, she wanted to land it on her own. "That's correct. I'm not a virgin," she said, shrugging as if she were accustomed to conversing with strange men about her sexual status. "Haven't been for years."
The man smiled smugly. "Figured you weren't. We don't get many virgins applying for our jobs, but it's not uncommon for women and men to come here expecting to work through their own sexual hang-ups."
"I can assure you I'm not one of them."
He eyed her thoughtfully. His appraisal, while guarded, took in her whole being. She could see his mind rehashing her personal and professional data. He was trying to determine whether she was stable enough to be a part-time research associate at the Center. The bulk of her work would probably focus on interviewing individuals about their sexuality and sex lives. She'd be expected to help with editing brochures and catalogs, as well as organizing the Center's extensive archival collection. And she'd be part of a production team making instructional videos. She sat primly waiting for his next question, then thought better of it and slouched a little.
He probably didn't want his research associate to look too prim and proper.
"So tell me, Ms. Hopkins." He paused to scan the questionnaire she'd filled out about herself. "There is no current boyfriend or girlfriend?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Good. We often like to hire couples. They're more reliable."
Melissa sat straighter.
"But the Center is definitely attracting more single viewers, and they don't want to always be watching married couples. So we're mixing things up as much as we can."
"I see." Well, she didn't exactly see, but neither was she eager to risk asking--but then Mr. Gage didn't seem bothered by her reticence.
Again, he looked over her questionnaire. "So let's see, you seem familiar with most of the basic sex positions."
His dark brown eyes locked on hers. She made sure she wasn't blushing under his close scrutiny.
"It says here you haven't had sex with a woman."
"But you're willing to give it a try--to advance science and help besotted lovers out there looking for help?"
"You sound rather skeptical, Mr. Gage."
"Sorry," he said, not looking at all sorry. "It's my nature." He stared at her. "You didn't answer my question." He cocked his head to the side. "Having sex with a woman?"
She shrugged. "Shouldn't be too difficult."
He laughed. She was surprised by the sparkle in his eyes. "I didn't ask how onerous the task might be. I asked if you were willing."
Blinking, Melissa tried not to glance away from his steady gaze. "Yes, I'm willing."
"Good. I'd rather have you experienced, but I can't expect everything I want to find in one woman. Now, what is this little question mark doing by anal sex?"
She gasped. "I thought I erased that."
He squinted at the sheet. "You tried." He looked back up at her. "Have you or haven't you?"
She squared her shoulders and forged ahead. "If you must know, I'm not exactly sure what that entails."
"Entails ... Entails ... Oh, that is a good one." He laughed and then sobered. "But you're willing to give it a try?"
"If I must."
"You must if you want this job."
"Then I will."
"Good. You do have spunk, Ms. Hopkins."
Melissa felt herself relax a little.
"Your na´vetÚ in that area may actually appeal to viewers for whom this is a new if not slightly taboo area. So ... why don't you stand and take off your clothes so I can see what you've got?"
"What?" Melissa's hand flew to her throat before she could stop it. She was used to posing in studios for other artists, but in a job interview? "Here? Right now?"
"Melissa..." he began.
She wanted to throttle his condescending tone.
"How do you expect to have sex in front of cameras if you can't disrobe in front of me? Our actors and actresses seldom wear clothes."
"Oh," she sputtered.
Again, he tilted his head to the side. "I'm not going to hire you without seeing what I'm hiring."
"Oh, very well." Melissa rose to her feet, slipped out of her blouse, then unsnapped her black skirt and stepped out of it. She hoped he realized she wasn't doing anything to try to titillate him. She wasn't a stripper. Without any fanfare, she removed her bra and panties and stood before him with her shoulders slightly back and her hands relaxed at her sides.
If anything, he seemed surprised by her calm attitude. He probably hadn't read her resume carefully. If he had, he'd have known she'd modeled nude for fellow artists in her art department. She prided herself on being comfortable with her nudity--though Harry Gage's experienced eyes roving over her did kick into gear a goosebump or two. He was not evaluating her with an artist's eye.
Gage stood. Melissa used every ounce of strength not to step back from him. How far would this interview go? Did he have to sample everything she had to offer before making his decision?
But he was hiring her to have sex. Well, not with himself but ... he was more intimidating standing than when he'd been sitting. He had to be over six feet. His shoulders were square and thick, more characteristic of men who worked outside than those bent over a desk all day.
He had large hands. Not shrinking a bit, she watched one of those large hands cup her breast.
"Nice," he said, matter of factly. "Sizeable, firm. But not too sizeable or too firm."
"What?" The man was talking in code.
"You're attractive, Melissa. Curvy." He walked behind her and patted her rump. "Very nice ass." Standing in front of her he said, "We want our performers to be attractive, but not too attractive."
"Thanks," she said, with sarcasm. "I'm glad I'm not too gorgeous for this job."
"Now don't get huffy with me. You're a beautiful woman in your own right, but you're not so stacked that the average viewer, particularly a woman, can't identify with you. And you're all natural." He scowled at her. "Why else did you think I squeezed your breast? All of our women are natural."
She believed him. No doctor had examined her more clinically than this man was doing. If her nakedness turned him on in the slightest, he wasn't showing any effects. But then how many naked women had he been around?
Gage stepped back and gave her a last once-over. "You'll do."
"Except for that thick pelt you've got between your legs."
Her eyes followed his. Reflexively, she dropped her hands to her loins. She raised her chin. "What?"
Gage retreated to his chair and sat back down before answering. She remained frozen in place. "You're going to need a lot neater pussy than that before we put you in front of a camera."
"Your choice." He scowled. "You've got the job if that beaver pelt becomes history. Good God, that must chafe like hell in the summer. So do you still want the job?"
She nodded, trying to find her voice. "Does it have to be bare?"
"Nah, just neat and trim. We don't go out of our way to turn our viewers on, but we don't want to turn them off, either."
"I see," she said, retrieving her clothes. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Why are you willing to hire me?"
He smiled. "I wondered if you'd ask. As I said, you're not unattractive. Your inexperience may actually be a bonus at times. You've got guts to try some things beyond the usual and I like that. You have the capacity to work flexible hours, which is a must here. And," he eyed her carefully, "you project a dispassionate persona."
Melissa scowled and redid the last button on her blouse before sitting down across from Harry Gage. "What in the world do you mean by that?"
He chuckled. "I want a woman who can keep herself in check."
"You don't come every five minutes, do you, Ms. Hopkins?"
She shook her head.
"But you do come."
"When I want to."
"Exactly. When we're shooting, having a woman come every five minutes is a distraction and makes for too much downtime. That translates into lost dollars. You are self-possessed. I like your air of self-control. A little aloof. A little innocent. You should photograph quite nicely. Yet, I expect you're quite coachable. You are quite coachable, aren't you, Melissa?"
Melissa swallowed hard. "Yes, I believe I am."
"One more thing," he said, grabbing a contract from the corner of his messy desk and handing it to her. "What happens here at the Center stays here."
"Of course," she replied, reading over the rather straightforward contract. "I've never been into telling stories about work."
Gage nodded. "That, too. What I really meant, is this Center is about sex. It has been for decades. We have a fine reputation in the academic and in the therapeutic world."
"I know that, or I wouldn't have applied here."
"We aim to keep that reputation intact. There will be no outside liaisons with partners from the Center."
"That won't be a problem," Melissa said, reaching for the pen he offered. "I can assure you of that."
"Very good." Gage stood and retrieved the signed contract and his pen. "I expect to see you next Monday at eight thirty. Our shooting schedule changes often and quickly for lots of reasons. You may do library work for several days before having an opportunity to help us with a shoot." He gave her a crooked smile. "But I do expect you to be trimmed and ready by Monday."
"Do I report to your office and raise my skirt and drop my panties first?"
His laughter surprised her. It started deep in his diaphragm. "That won't be necessary. I trust you'll be ready, but do come to my office. I'll introduce you around and show you the ropes." He winked at her. "Actually, we don't use real ropes."
Her eyes shot wide and he laughed again. "Run along now, Melissa. Till Monday."