Manipulated: a Rockstar Romantic Comedy (Hammered Book 3), page 2
I waved a hand at the bed. “Wasn’t that what I was just doing? You know I’m trying to get back to boudoir photography, but it’s not an overnight thing.”
“No, but you’re good at other kinds of photography too.”
Yay, maybe there were more pets in my future. Though I couldn’t imagine any being at a Halloween party at the Houdini Estate, but you could never be sure. Rich people tended to be eccentric. Maybe someone had smuggled in a big cat or two.
Or a peacock. I’d actually photographed one of those before at the house of a Hollywood starlet, back before I’d completely given up on my “filthy little sideline” as Steven had once referred to it. Nothing like having the support of your husband.
Ex-husband, I reminded myself. Over and done.
I crossed my arms and attempted to look stern. “Such as?”
“Turns out I might just need a photog myself.” Ava grabbed my arm and hustled me over to my closet. “Let’s find you a sexy costume to wear, and then I’ll tell you all about your opportunity of a lifetime.”
My rings scraped against the wooden banister as I hurried down the stairs to the party, humming to myself. I paused on the first flight and uncapped the flask of whisky I’d tucked into my costume’s inside liner. God bless pirates and their gear.
Her laughter still rang in my ears, and witnessing the cartoon hearts filling Faith’s eyes was always a double edged sword. It was my favorite sight after all. Too bad the hearts were for a different man.
I hadn’t meant to fall for my best friend. I hadn’t even realized I’d done it really. Not until she turned those huge blue eyes on someone else.
Faith “Keys” Keystone was the linchpin in our band of idiots. She kept the fun blooming, the heart beating, the wildness at bay when we got too stupid for words. She kept us moving forward in so many damn ways.
I think we were all a little bit in love with our favorite sparrow. The problem was I’d done the unthinkable. I’d fallen past the entranced into the pit of despair. Loving a woman that would never be mine.
And I hadn’t even known to fight for it until Quinn had arrived on the scene. I’d never had to worry about Keys being interested in anyone else. She’d had a few flings over the years, but she always seemed impervious to the sins of the flesh.
Unlike me of course.
I’d plowed my way through a bevy of beauties for more years than I could count. My Irish accent was a lure that not many women could resist. And I admit I played it up most times. I’d lived in America for the better part of twenty years. Immigrant parents relocating to find the American dream. The whole deal. They were hard working Irish people that understood my need for song. My brethren loved their music, but for my da and ma it was meant for the pubs and parties, funerals and weddings.
It wasn’t for a job.
And they surely didn’t understand the circus that I lived with, I breathed with, and loved with all of my big bleeding heart.
But Keys did.
We’d bonded over a similar pair of parents.
And an undying love of games. I admit some of my games had a much more sexual flavor than the ones I played with my once innocent Faith.
But seeing her hurt at Hunter’s wedding had woken me up, and by then it had already been too late. The moment Quinn—her then bodyguard, now fiancé—had come into the picture she’d been lost to me. Not that she’d ever been close to mine anyway.
I took another swig from my flask and put it away. I cracked my knuckles and let the party vibes fill up my chest. Maybe, just maybe I could push out the heartsick parts and refill it with a bit of the Halloween horny.
Those bits I understood.
And the colorful wind of women in the party downstairs was a great place to start. The band had started the charity Halloween benefit five years ago. It had grown in size every year, and now boasted three hundred of the wealthiest rockstars and artists in the world in attendance.
Brocade ball gowns dominated the party this year thanks to the Houdini Theme as well as the resurgence of historical interest thanks to television shows like Outlander and my personal favorite, Another Period. One used drama, one used humor.
I smiled as I caught a fetching redhead in full Lillian Bellacourt gear. Even the ridiculous fox stole around her neck from the show. She was a lass that could make me forget about lost loves.
I was almost sure of it.
At the bottom of the stairs I quickly backed up a few steps as Reed Mason, the guitarist in my band, came careening around the corner in hot pursuit.
I peered down the hallway that lead to the huge front door. Sure enough the Grecian Whore herself was running across the wide Spanish tiles. Victoria Sheer, the bane of our existence, was of course wearing a white toga and gold winking from her wrists and ankles. “Dammit, Bats.”
He spun around, jogging backwards. He bumped into a sexy devil in black and red, and an angel who immediately twined her arms around his shoulders. “I’m trying, Owen.”
“Try harder, mate.”
Reed growled and extricated himself without even a fake smile. He pushed his way through the crowd. The front door was wide open with two men dressed as gladiators checking invitations at the door. He chased Victoria out the door and into the gardens.
Bloody chancer. None of us knew what the fuck Reed was doing with her and he wouldn’t talk to any of us about why he’d let that viper back into our lives. It had been bad enough when she’d been engaged to Hunter a few years ago.
We’d literally had a party the day they broke things off.
And now she was back, like the taxman with a list of grievances. Trouble was, we were all paying.
I shook off those dark thoughts and turned back to the crowd. The party was in full swing and still more guests were drifting in, but I’d lost sight of the lovely Lillian, dammit.
“Captain Blackwell, permission for a kiss?”
My face split into an instant smile as I looked down. “Anything for you Kenny, m’love.” I swooped her back in a bend and buried my face into her neck.
She screeched out a laugh. “Let me up.”
“I’m the only one that gets to dip my wife, Hook.”
I grinned up from Kennedy Jordan’s very pretty neck at Hunter Jordan, one of my best mates in all the world. He also happened to be the lead singer in my band. “Aye but she makes a lovely bit of executive pink. I might just kidnap her.” I swung her up and twirled her out.
Kennedy laughed and kicked up her skyscraper pink heel.
I frowned. Her look was very familiar, but I couldn’t place her costume. Especially with the blonde wig. “And who might you be?”
She curtsied with a little grin. “Elle Woods at your service.”
I laughed, glancing from her to Hunter. “Movie?”
“Oh, Owen. We’ll have to add a few movies onto the bus.”
I fiddled with my hook. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”
She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Legally Blonde of course.”
“And why would I know a chick flick?”
“Right there is why you don’t get enough call backs for a second date.”
My eyebrow rose. “Is that why? I thought it was because I stole away in the night to get to my ship before they could trap me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Some girl is going to change your mind when you least expect it.”
I forced my grin to stay on my face. The one I wanted was no longer available. I beefed up my pirate voice. “Aye, but the fun of the chase will keep my bed warm until then.” I gave her a sweeping bow and nodded to Hunter in full Dominic Toretto gear. “You keep Dom here out of trouble.”
Hunter swiped his hand over his newly shorn hair. “Go get your own wench.” He pulled Kennedy into his side. “We’re going to find a car to debauch later, right?”
Kenny flushed and punched him in the ribs. “Maybe.”
“Just make sure he’s not to
Hunter groaned. “Awful.”
I laughed. “Yeah it was.” I swiveled to take in the room. I lifted a hand to wave at Wyatt. He tipped up a bottle of beer and gave me a salute. He didn’t put much effort into his outfit, opting to wear his old Formula 1 racing days.
Didn’t stop the ladies from draping themselves all over him. Then again the ginger just had to walk in the room. He was usually a head taller than most. Now clad in white, red, and black with the top unzipped as if he’d just jumped out of his car, he was at the center of attention along the bar.
“Looks like everyone’s getting along.”
Hunter’s jaw flexed. “Mostly.”
I sighed. I was hoping he’d missed that. “Saw Victoria, then?”
Kenny laced her fingers with his. Hunter looked down at her and gave her a half smile. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. I saw her making a scene earlier. I don’t even know about what. A tray of glasses hit the tile though. Much green punch.”
Hunter’s rueful smile tipped up into a flashing grin. “Good word.”
“I saw Bats chasing her out the front.”
“Good,” Hunter muttered. “Maybe he took her the hell home.”
“I hope not.”
We both raised our brows at Kenny. “Beg pardon?” I asked.
“You guys have a photo op in front of the Houdini box. Our hour is at ten o’clock.” She nodded to the huge glass box replica of the one Houdini had used in one of his many illusions. Right now it was a flurry of green with bills flying around in an cyclone.
A blonde that I vaguely recognized was standing on the top of the stairwell to drop in a wad of cash. She flashed a wide smile at the crowd as it was sucked in and added to the purple hued storm. Purple numbers spun like a Vegas slot machine. A cackling screech flooded out and the goal total went up by ten thousand dollars.
“Who thought that up?” I asked.
Kenny beamed. “Keys.”
My stomach lurched. Of course it was Faith. She loved the dramatic way of making the donation into a fun game. One of the reasons I loved her. She got that ridiculous Game Show Network side of me.
“Sounds like her.”
“Your envelope is ready to drop in whenever you want.”
“Is that right?” I relieved a pretty waitress dressed in all black with a skeleton printed on every luscious inch of her. I grinned at her in thanks and sipped the frothy purple punch as she spun and smiled invitingly at me.
When I gathered my wits again, I laughed and shrugged at Kenny’s deadpan face. “What?”
I scratched my neck with my hook. “As if there was any doubt.”
Kenny rolled her eyes. “So go up there and put it in would you?”
“Must get my picture taken, right?” I frowned. “I donated with my banker, love.”
Kenny’s smile widened again, obviously pleased with herself. “A little inventive Monopoly money. Can’t have that kind of cash available. At least not with Quinn around. He nearly had a heart attack when I wanted to use real money.”
“He is a careful one.”
“You say it like that’s a bad thing.”
I swallowed down the green that had been flowing out my throat with too much whiskey and bubbles. “Someone has to keep us in line, right?”
I turned to the deep voice of the man in question. A red flush marched up his neck, but Quinn Alexander stared me down. I sucked back a guffaw of laughter. His eyes were smudged as if Nikki Sixx had taken a hand to his eyes. The bloody bastard could rock the leathers though.
He certainly had the surly rock god look down, though when it came to Quinn it was just his natural state of being. Surly that is. And honestly I just didn’t get it, because Keys was such a patch of sunshine.
But then Quinn glanced down at her, and his face softened. He ran a proprietary hand down her back as she curled into him.
And that was my cue. No way could I continue to watch that. A little too fresh on the personal pummeling thank you very little. I caught an angel in the crowd and let her lead me into the throng of people.
“Don’t forget to check in with the Houdini box!” Kennedy yelled after me.
I turned and waggled my eyebrows at her. “Yes, ma.”
She gave me a very unladylike gesture. Obviously she’d been spending far too much time with us animals.
I flitted from angel to devil, and then finally to Sinderella who definitely deserved the alternate spelling. My Disney movies never included that kind of dress.
Finally I climbed the stairs to the cage with the lights bleeding purple and white from the bottom. A delightfully wicked skull covered the banister railings at the bottom and top of the stairs. I trailed my fingers over the winding purple lights as I climbed.
I nodded to one of my label mates, Gray Duffy, who was lifting his wife to the cash box. The ever adorable Jazz Duffy was dressed as Tinkerbell. She was dumping her bit of money into the glittering Houdini box.
“This is freaking awesome,” she said with a grin over her shoulder. Her eyes widened when she saw me. “Oh, let me down!”
“Finish dumping the money in,” Gray said patiently.
“Oh, right.” Jazz stuffed in the rest of her money, then wiggled.
“All right. Lord, woman.”
She narrowed her eyes at Gray.
“You know that doesn’t really work when your eyes are more glitter than anything else.”
“The evil eye always works, buddy.” She hopped down and rushed over to me.
“I guess I can’t call you Purple Pixie tonight, hey?”
“Green Pixie thank you very much.” She laid a gentle hand at my shoulder and brushed a kiss over my cheek. “That was for the hand drawn art you sent me for the kids shirts we’ve been designing.”
I hugged her close. “How could I resist?” Jazz had been working on baby lines for food and clothing with her bandmate’s wife, Harper McCoy. When she’d asked me to draw ‘something Irish’ for her, I’d been happy to comply.
I had a stash of Irish knots for rings and it had been easy enough to doodle one up for her. Sitting on a plane or a bus with a bunch of animals left me plenty of time to sketch in my lyric book.
Keys had started coloring on the plane, and because wherever Keys was I tended to follow, I’d ended up playing with the manly colors to appease her.
She’d grown tired of the fad, but it had stuck for me.
Gray stepped off the stool and brushed his hands on his…skinny jeans? That didn’t seem like him. He tugged at a wig and I snickered. “How’s it hanging, Mick?”
Gray gave me a Mick Jagger snarl and draped an arm around Jazz’s shoulder. “Nice to see you again, Blackwell. Quite the party.”
I shrugged. “We like Halloween.” I turned to the room at large. Twirling dancers, a handful of photographers that Kennedy had vetted, and a whole lot of alcohol induced frivolity seemed to be a key factor to our annual charity Halloween party.
My gaze locked on a woman with high waisted black pants and a white shirt. Her black hair was coiled in the old pinup style. She raised a professional camera, but didn’t seem to be focused on us.
She scanned up and down the stairs, her quick fingers playing with dials as she crouched and twisted for whatever shot she deemed important.
I wasn’t sure why she’d stood out to me. Maybe it was that she was the exact opposite of the overdone and glammed up women in the room, or maybe it was the way she was utterly focused on her job.
Men approached her, but she didn’t seem to notice.
Jazz snapped her fingers in front of my face. “Hello in there.”
I blinked. “Sorry.”
Jazz looked down into the crowd. “Some saucy wench catch your eye, Hook?”
I laughed. “Many have tried to tonight. Before I let one
Her huge blue eyes sparkled. “You’re too stinkin’ adorable.”
“Not nearly as adorable as you, love.” I looked over my shoulder again, but she was gone. I gave my complete attention to Jazz and Gray, clasping each of their hands. “I saw many bills flying around in there. We appreciate the donation.”
Jazz shrugged. “For kids or animals, I’m always in.”
“If Hunter and Kenny had their way it would always be animals, but we went for kids this year.” I winked before climbing the stairs to the woman with the clipboard.
I glanced down to say my goodbyes but Jazz and Gray were already snuggled up against each other, intimate laughter drifting up to me. I pushed down the twinge of something that felt way too much like jealousy. A perpetual state for me tonight, evidently.
I turned my smile on the delicious belly dancer. “So, you’re the one that gets to give me a stack of play money to put into the box, then?”
She smiled. “And a very generous stack it is, Mr. Blackwell.” Her voice was a purr. And for a moment I utterly forgot about the green eyed monster that had been climbing up to nest in my chest.
I much preferred this.
Flirting and attraction was far easier to navigate.
“Then maybe you’ll need to help me out.” I scratched my neck with my hook. “I could use a hand.”
She nibbled on her lower lip, then put down her clipboard. “I can do that.”
“Much obliged.” I bowed low. And as expected she giggled and moved closer.
I’d keep laughing and smiling until the green monster was snuffed out, dammit.
“Opportunity of a lifetime, huh?” I slid a glance at my sister after we passed the gladiators blocking entry to the wide front doors of the Houdini Estate. “Does that include getting patted down by guys wearing fake tin?”
“It’s real tin, lady.” One of the gladiators thumped his breast plate and I rolled my eyes as Ava adjusted the press pass around her neck. She’d had it displayed before walking in, of course, but it had blocked some of her cleavage. Somehow she’d managed to drape it just below her twin peaks of glory.
TARYN ELLIOTT SERIES:
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