Manipulated: a Rockstar Romantic Comedy (Hammered Book 3), p.1
Rockstar Romantic Comedy
Also by Cari & Taryn
Lost in Oblivion Series
About the Authors
eBooks are not transferable.
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
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MANIPULATED - Hammered Book 3
© 2016 Taryn Elliott & Cari Quinn
Cover design: LateNite Designs
All Rights Are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First ebook edition: August 2016
WORD WENCHES SHOUTOUT!
We love the girls in our reader group. We had a naming game for Lila & Nick Crandall’s twins.
Congrats to Jennifer Beck Miller & Jeannie Huffman for coming up with Charlotte, aka Charlie. As well as Shyla R. Wright for her offering, Avery.
Pretty names for two of the prettiest girls to come out of fiction. Nick’s already ordered their chastity belts.
For the creative types. We salute you.
It’s a bitch of a business.
A boudoir photographer and her loud, impatient, insanely beautiful younger sister walk into a bar…
Nope, scratch that, we were walking into a bedroom. My bedroom. The boudoir photographer’s. Or that was what I’d been once. Truthfully, I’m no longer one, at least if getting paid for a job is the litmus test for actually having it. I suppose I could be called an active hobbyist who was trying to get back to her former glory. Right now, I worked as a hostess at a martini bar and photographed landscapes and occasionally children for pay. Very occasionally. I’d debated getting into weddings—because weddings were where it was at in the money-soaked venues of Los Angeles—but that wasn’t my passion.
No, my passion was plumping up boobs while I frantically snapped to get the right shot as my luscious sister splayed across my queen bed and complained it was too small.
“How can it be too small? You’re five-foot nothing.”
“I know, but I feel like I’m not getting the extension I need.” Ava stretched her legs toward my headboard, thereby completely ruining my shot.
“You don’t need extension right now. Just plump your boobs again. I’m getting a shadow. And cross your legs at the ankle.”
She smirked and did the honors with her truly enviable rack before daintily crossing her ankles and inching up on her hip so her ass was properly displayed in the way I’d instructed earlier. “Aww, and here I so enjoyed having you feel me up.”
I sighed and moved back to adjust my ice light. Not that my sister needed a ton of light to look gorgeous. Basically, Ava breathing outshined half the women in LA. But it was heading toward evening, and I was losing the natural light in spite of the reflector I’d set up near the window to bounce the available sunshine toward Ava.
We’d probably have to suspend this session soon until later in the week. In a studio, working with artificial light was typical. In my small bedroom, I needed the daylight to offset my equipment. I simply didn’t have the storage room in my apartment to keep all the supplies I would need to outfit a real studio.
But someday. Someday I would.
“What was that sigh for? Is my butt floss showing crackage?” Ava reached back to adjust her gorgeous lacy lavender panties.
She wasn’t wearing a G-string, but her lingerie was definitely…edgy. Edgier than anything I would wear, but then again, I was a wuss. Though I’d once had an account with all the major lingerie shops, from La Perla to several fancy stores in Europe, I hadn’t typically bought things for myself. I’d started buying lingerie for my prop trunks at sixteen, and stopped shortly after my marriage at almost twenty.
God, I’d been a baby then. A baby who’d gotten married. And look how that had turned out.
Now I was twenty-nine, semi-newly divorced—well, I was a year-and-a-half past my divorce, but I damn sure was still navigating my way—and trying to pick up the pieces of the career I’d abandoned before it had ever really taken off.
“No, your ass is perfect. It’s just the light is proving problematic.” I adjusted the light again and checked out Ava through my viewfinder. Her cap of tousled orange hair tumbled over one eye, and she posed effortlessly, bracing the fingers of one hand on her shoulder to offer the perfect angle for her cleavage. Her butt was gorgeous too. Hell, every part of her was.
I wasn’t jealous. Much.
She’d done a little modeling as a teen for print, since she was way too short for runway, and she’d been one of my first victims to use for practice taking photos. Not that I’d started off with boudoir photos. I’d done the usual kids and faces for years, as soon as my small hands could hold my first Nikon. Eventually, I’d gotten braver. It had started with my best friend Raven in high school flopping on my bed. Her shirt had fallen down her shoulder, revealing a magenta bra strap. Something about the pose had made me grab my camera, and by the end of the session, she’d been down to her bra and panties. By the time my mom had opened my bedroom door two hours later, Raven had been sprawled on her back with a pillow between her legs and I’d been on a step stool above her, shooting pictures from every angle.
For about three months after that, my mom had asked me daily if “there was anything I needed to get off my chest.” Mainly, that I liked them. Chests, that is. Ones belonging to females.
She hadn’t truly believed me when I said I was simply capturing art until my wedding day to Steven. Maybe she still had some lingering doubts, I don’t know. My dating record of late probably wasn’t assuaging her concerns.
I had no dating record since my marriage had ended, and I liked it that way. Besides, that was what vibrators were for. Also for efficiency in power consumption, thanks to rechargeables.
“Whose fault is that? You were the one out shooting reptiles until most of the day bled away.”
I wasn’t about to explain to her the importance of my bearded dragon shoot. It paid actual cash money, therefore it was important to my current financial picture.
True, I hadn’t gotten into photography to do close-ups of amphibians for the grand opening circular for a pet store, but faces were faces. I just hoped I didn’t have nightmares about this particular bunch wearing tiny strapless bras and panties.
“I had work, Av. I couldn’t pass it up. You know how hard it is for me to get jobs nowadays. The market has changed.”
Ava broke pose and
I started to peek out from behind the safety of my camera, then caught a glimpse of my sister in the viewfinder. The anger and frustration on her face transformed her porcelain skin, making it glow from within. Her green eyes sparkled like wet grass in the morning sun.
“That’s it,” I said excitedly. “Don’t move. Stay just like that.”
Moving quickly, I swept around every side of the bed, capturing her from every angle. High, low, in front, behind. Ava sighed dramatically but she didn’t move. She knew when I was on the warpath for a shot.
“You look incredible. Damn, those calves.” I cocked my head and decided to quickly swap lenses. “Seriously hot. Spin class is so working for you.”
“I don’t do spin class for my calves. Try my ass. Wait, no, don’t try my ass. I’m not on some Flowers in The Attic trip. Just hurry up and finish so we can discuss something important.”
I braced my camera on my hip and frowned. “This is important. I thought you said you wanted new sexy shots for your website.”
“A sexy profile shot? Sure.” Ava broke pose entirely and climbed off the bed to grab my camera. I let her, but I immediately started chewing on my ragged thumbnail. That sucker cost a lot, and I didn’t exactly have the funds to replace my equipment if she dropped it and scratched a lens. “But I’m a blogger and esteemed magazine writer. You really think I should have my tits on display on—holy shit, my tits are amazing!”
I snorted. “Modesty, thy name is Ava.”
“No, no, it’s you. You have all these mad skills, and the world doesn’t know about them yet. Just me. But that’s going to change.” She set my camera down on the bed and gripped my shoulders. “Tonight is the start.”
Dividing my attention between my sister and my perilously balanced camera, I frowned. “Tonight is the night I watch Jason Meets Buffy Meets Freddie and eat caramel popcorn and congratulate myself for being smart enough not to go down into the basement unarmed when I hear a noise.”
“You don’t have a basement.”
“I know that. I’m just saying if I did.”
Ava rolled over me without blinking a starry blue eyelash. “And if you heard a noise, you’d call the police and probably numb your own arm off digging through all your clothes and crap to get to the Taser in your closet.”
“Props,” I said primly. “That crap, as you call it, are props for my shoots.”
“Whatever. I’m just saying you don’t need the subtle lesson from those gore porn movies you watch and besides, that can’t be a real movie title, can it?”
I shrugged. “What do you care? It’s only gore porn.” I made air quotes and she rolled her eyes at me.
“C’mon, you know you love Halloween. We should do something fun to celebrate it. More fun than watching canned cr—movies on TV,” she amended.
Already, I was suspicious. My sister’s idea of fun and mine rarely jived. “Like what?”
“Like going to an incredible party at the Houdini Estate.”
I eased out of my sister’s hold and picked up my camera. After tucking it away safely in its case, I turned to pack away the rest of my equipment. “I’m not in a party mood, sorry. I’ve been working all day.”
“Exactly why you need a party. Besides, you said if I let you take some boudoir shots for your portfolio, you’d do something for me.” Ava grabbed my comfortable well-worn floral robe and pulled it on, then grimaced. “Is this what you wear before bed? No wonder you can’t get laid.”
“Can’t is not the same as won’t.”
“If it’s a party, why do you need me there? You always have a date. Probably because you shun floral robes,” I said under my breath, folding down one of my lights. I didn’t have a studio, or even much of a dedicated working space in my cramped apartment, so I slid the light into the narrow area behind the headboard.
“I don’t have a date tonight. I’m doing the solo thang. I thought we could have a sisterly night together.”
Our sisterly nights together were few and far between, since we enjoyed absolutely none of the same things. She loved to shop; I loved to sip coffee and people watch. She watched rom coms and foreign films with subtitles and lots of crying; I watched horror movies and action flicks. Her idea of party wear was digging out a tiny little sequined flapper dress that showed approximately six miles of bare leg from the back of my closet; mine was not.
While I watched, she dropped the floral robe and shimmied into the dress. “I knew it would fit,” she said triumphantly, spinning to view her reflection in one of the many mirrors I had around the apartment. They were all different sizes and shapes, and I stashed them both as props for my shoots and because they created the illusion of space.
Ava had commented more than a few times that she’d like to bring whatever guy she was dating over for a night of fun in front of them, but I wasn’t about to leave my sister alone with a man, half a dozen antique mirrors and photographic equipment. She’d probably end up as an internet star in under a month, either accidentally or intentionally.
“You look great.” I moved up beside her in the mirror, focusing on my sister to avoid the inevitable comparisons I’d make in my head. “Tiny little waist,” I added as she turned this way and that, examining herself from all angles.
“I do. It just needs something.” Angling my head, I went back to rummage through one of my trunks. With the space problem in my apartment, I also used them as seating. Not that I had a lot of guests as a rule. Mostly just my sister and a couple of girlfriends, since the bulk of our family lived back east.
My lack of a date thing extended even to having male friends. I’d avoided the species as a whole since my divorce, probably due to my attorney’s insistence “we get to know each other better” as soon as the ink was signed. While he had his hand on my knee and his tongue in my ear.
After I kneed my lawyer due south of his belt buckle, I’d steered clear of anyone with a penis and a charming smile. They tended to lead to bad things for me.
I drew out a pair of elbow-length black silk gloves and passed them to my sister before moving to my jewelry case. I went right to the costume drawer and tugged out a long strand of fake pearls that could be knotted just below where Ava’s ample cleavage strained against the dress, drawing the eye.
Not that she needed any help there, but hell, might as well highlight your assets.
I only realized I’d spoken aloud when Ava sighed. “That applies to yourself too, you know. In case you’ve forgotten. Your assets gotta be feeling mighty neglected lately.”
Saying nothing, I looped the necklace over her head and adjusted it to fit the image in my mind. She’d already put on the gloves and waited while I fussed with her jewelry, and then her hair. All it needed was a quick tousle with some gel and she was in fine flapper style.
“Now, shoes.” I knew exactly which pair I wanted and retrieved the slinky black heels from the closet in a snap. Luckily, our feet were close to the same size, and I had a range of clothes sizes in my closet and in my trunks for shoots. Even after I’d stopped taking boudoir photos, I’d haunted thrift shops and lingerie sales out of habit. You never knew when you would happen upon the exact right thing.
On Ava, everything was right.
“Wait.” She took the shoes but she didn’t slip them on. Biting her lip, she studied her reflection. “Got any hooker hose? Fishnets,” she explained when my eyes widened.
“Oh yeah. Thigh highs.”
I pulled out an unopened
Once, I’d been concerned about her inability to settle down with one man. Now I was jealous. Because yes, I had needs just like everyone else, and one could only hibernate for so long before they started waving the little white flag of defeat.
I hadn’t reached that point yet, but parties were definitely a no fly zone in case my expiration date on celibacy came up before I was ready to acknowledge it.
She finished fussing with the hose and slid her feet into the shoes, making a bit of a face. So mine were a wee bit smaller than hers. She could crimp her toes. They matched the outfit perfectly.
“Hmm. You do have a way with this stuff.” She rubbed a hand over her hip before turning toward me with a bright smile. “Now let’s do you.”
“Uh-uh.” I shrank back and gripped the bedpost. “I told you, movie and couch for me tonight. I have a backache from shooting all day.” To add veracity to the story, I dug my knuckle into the slightly sore knots near my spine.
“Yeah, and you know what is better for aches and pains than anything? I’ll give you a hint. It begins with o and ends with m.”
“No. I self-assist there.”
She laughed. “Yeah, well, don’t we all, and however you choose to do your deal is your decision. But I actually wasn’t referring to that particular o and m combination, you dirty hussy.”
My face flamed hot. Damn pale skin, always turning traitor on me. “Then what do you mean?”
“Optimism.” She sounded out the word like she was a kindergarten teacher and I was her clueless student. “Something you’re in desperate need of, and it doesn’t come with batteries. You have to power it all on your own. So I figure one way to start you back down the road to being my annoyingly perky older sister again is to get you working on things that utilize your talents.”