Manipulated a rockstar r.., p.20

Manipulated: a Rockstar Romantic Comedy (Hammered Book 3), page 20

 

Manipulated: a Rockstar Romantic Comedy (Hammered Book 3)
 


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  I hoped. I was almost positive he’d hear me out. Please God.

  The only way I could be certain that he’d have to talk to me at least for a minute after the way I’d closed down on him was because I still had his car. He only had two hundred of them, but I was rather certain he wouldn’t let me just toodle around in his Jag forever.

  A Jag. Good lord.

  Monday passed at about the speed of a turtle crawling backward up a hill. I was a hot mess by the time my meeting with Lila rolled around.

  Saying I was about to hyperventilate would not have been an overstatement by much.

  “Callie, thank you for contacting me.” Lila shut her office door and walked around her desk to take a seat. “I’m impressed you took the initiative after Saturday’s incident.”

  So she knew. Surprise—not.

  She spoke again before I could. “Before you say anything, I feel behooved to tell you that when I was caught in a similar situation, I was not nearly so proactive. I sneaked around and hid from Donovan until he confronted me. So your professionalism is to be commended.”

  “Lila, you don’t understand—” Her words finally sunk in. “What?”

  “You met my husband. We didn’t meet in church.”

  Her deadpan delivery made me snort. “I didn’t meet Owen in church either. But I’m pretty sure he used to go. Irish. Probably Catholic or Protestant.” I didn’t know, and that made a pang reverberate in my chest.

  There was so much I didn’t know about the man, and I wanted to. I wanted him to learn everything there was about me as well. I didn’t want to rush through a temporary relationship when I could have something more permanent.

  If that was what he wanted too. I wouldn’t know for sure until we talked after the concert tonight.

  I’d stocked mousse in a cooler in the trunk of the Jag just in case. I wasn’t above bribing the man with boobs if it got him to hear me out until I’d said my long overdue piece.

  “We don’t encourage fraternization at Ripper Records for obvious reasons. That said, we’re aware how the world works. Sometimes thing happen in spite of everyone’s best intentions. I’d certainly not be one to cast stones considering my background.”

  “You met Nick while he was in one of the bands you manage obviously. Since you still run herd on—” I cleared my throat. “Manage his band.”

  “Oh, run herd on would be an accurate description if you asked him. You’ve seen what bands are like behind closed doors. I work closely with all of the bands I manage. Oblivion was always special to me because they were one of my first big hits.”

  “And because of him?” I guessed.

  “Not for a very long time. He was the thorn under my skin. There was no love at first sight there, but once it hit, it was like a hurricane. Time only matters when you run out of it. Speaking of,” she glanced at her slim bangle watch, “I’m afraid I have another meeting in ten. I hate to rush you along, so maybe we can continue this another day?” She smiled. “Or perhaps we could have lunch sometime. Do you like sushi?”

  I rubbed the back of my neck. I was probably still asleep, and that was why this was going so well. Nothing went this well in my life. Ever.

  Maybe you need to stop saying that, huh? Since your life has been pretty damn awesome lately. And it might get even better if you stop holding yourself back.

  “I’m not certain you’re grasping what happened,” I said finally. “I’m in a relationship with Owen that people know about now, due to that photo—”

  “Are you his priest?”

  More church references. “Um, no. I’m not baptized anything.”

  “Are you his physician?”

  No, but that had some interesting ideas. “I failed high school science twice.”

  “What about his teacher? Possibly a blood relative?”

  “No, and ick, no.”

  “Then I’m sorry, I don’t see a crisis. Donovan on the other hand was concerned. He’d initially needed a bit of convincing to bring you on board, but with your past work and the Ava connection, we decided that—”

  “What about Ava? What does my sister have to do with me touring with the band?”

  At once, I knew. Ava had mentioned they’d courted her to write the coffee table book when we’d first discussed Donovan’s weird out of the blue call. All along, I’d wondered how my name had popped for them as a contender. I’d known Ava played in, of course, considering the conversation with the receptionist that day at Ripper. But playing in was a lot different than Ripper wooing me so they could get close to my sister.

  My sparkling, vivacious sister who never said the wrong thing or fled from awkward situations. She definitely didn’t doubt her worth, or allow people to use her as a stepping stone.

  I rose. “Lila, I like you, and I don’t blame you for your boss wanting to use me as a conduit. But I hate to tell you that Ava makes her own work schedule. She decides all on her own the projects she takes on. Even I put in a good word for Ripper and the coffee table book, she’d probably still say no. I just don’t have that kind of sway.”

  Not with her or probably not with Owen either. I might as well get a T-shirt that said Second Place Callie, because that was sure as hell what it felt like from where I was standing.

  Lila paled. “Callie, I think you’re misinterpreting what I said.”

  “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not. You have to realize I’ve been passed over in favor of my sister plenty of times. I don’t mind, because she’s incredible. But it’s time I shine on my own.”

  “You can’t quit.” Lila placed her hands flat on her desk and jerked to her feet. “You absolutely cannot. I won’t let you.”

  “Oh, I’m not quitting, and it’s not because you won’t let you. I’m going to show all of you that I was absolutely the best photographer for this job, and not because my sister is Ava Templeton. I’m worth it in my own right, and I’m going to prove it.” I slid my purse higher on my shoulder. “As for sushi—”

  “For what it’s worth,” Lila said, voice low, “I fought for you. Your work spoke for itself since day one. What you’ve turned in since that time and the proofs we’ve seen since have offered irrefutable evidence that you were the perfect choice.”

  “Thank you.” I truly appreciated her comments, but my spine was already stiff enough not to need her praise. The time had come for me to praise myself. “If I may respectfully say this—you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

  I made it to the door before she spoke again. “I have all the faith in the world in you, Callie. I’m glad to see that fire in your eyes now. It wasn’t nearly so strong during our first meeting, so this job has been good for you.”

  “Not all that’s been good for me,” I said under my breath, gripping the knob. “You had a job to do and you did it. So yes, we’ll go for sushi. I’ll call you. Thank you, Lila.”

  I walked out and texted my sister. I didn’t look at the messages that whizzed by on the screen. I didn’t want to see them right now. Not when I felt so raw and shaky. My bravado was strong, but so was the sting of never quite being first.

  CT: You were right they wanted you for the coffee table book. I was the way to connect them to you. But they didn’t realize I was the best photographer they could’ve gotten anyway.

  I sent the text and dumped my phone in my purse before I marched out to my car. Scratch that—Owen’s car. I was shaking, and it wasn’t because I was so sure that I was the hottest thing to ever hold a camera.

  Truth be told, I didn’t need to be the best. That was subjective and always changing. What I needed to be was myself. I needed to stand up and try my hardest to live a life I’d be proud to look back on when I was eighty. No regrets. No missed opportunities.

  This was my chance, and I was taking it.

  In every possible way.

  17

  Callie

  The crowd was screaming. I wasn’t joining in, but God, I wanted to.

  It was impossible not to be swept awa
y when a band was onstage, rocking out for all they were worth. This band? A whole different thing altogether.

  Hammered took the concert experience to the next level with their pyrotechnics and impressive playing. Hunter was a damn showman for the ages too. He strutted up there and commanded the mic as if he’d been born to entertain.

  Each one of them was talented in their own right. Together? They were a force that shook the damn performing arts center.

  I wasn’t an expert by any stretch, but I’d grown to enjoy Hammered’s music. Even love it. That was due in no small part to the man incapable of staying still as he worked his bass guitar as if the devil had come to take his payment for services rendered.

  That wasn’t that far from the truth, except it was my bill that had come due.

  Owen and I had made a deal to have sex. Temporary. Fun. A fling. Then with our itches scratched, we’d happily bop onto the next person. Well, he would. Me, I’d planned on bopping back to my elusive search for a G-spot orgasm.

  By the way, that wasn’t a factor anymore. Owen had given them to me with his tongue and fingers a couple of times, and I wasn’t going to think about that while I was standing in a crowd of shrieking fans.

  I had pictures to take. Spontaneous climaxes would have to wait until later.

  I prowled around the photo pit, switching lenses again as I crouched to get a shot of Hunter crooning into the mic. Blue light surrounded him and his voice shredded the crowd as ably as the slashing guitars. Bats and Reed were in fine form, dueling on their axes and heckling each other between songs. Keys was impeccable on the keyboard, standing up to wave at the crowd during one part of “Crossing My Line”.

  Wyatt was a ham as usual, doing all his tricks in between positively slamming the drums. His pace was frenetic but he never lost that boyish grin.

  And Owen. Owen was simply the most riveting performer I’d ever seen.

  His fingers were too fast for me to follow, but I tried. Capturing his genius in the book wasn’t just a want. It was an imperative.

  I moved back and forth, climbing the barrier, standing up on the rails to get a better angle. Tilting my head this way and that just to try to get the perfect angle to seize this moment and transmit it for everyone who couldn’t be there. To give them a slice of what I felt while sweat poured down me in rivulets and the pounding drums and colliding guitars soared around me.

  The first few notes of Hammered’s mega hit “Cathedrals” started and I couldn’t snap fast enough. They always brought their A-plus game on this song, and my pictures needed to reflect that.

  Then Owen looked my way as I was hanging halfway over a railing and I nearly lost my death-grip on my Nikon. My hands were slick with sweat from the blasting heat of the arena, but that wasn’t why I nearly dropped my precious equipment.

  That look? Those heavy-lidded blue eyes, centered right on me? Christ. His stare was lethal, and I wasn’t the only victim of its power. So was everyone else in this crowd. He performed for all of them, offering his soul and perspiration and talent for the price of a ticket, but he was singing the words to “Cathedrals” only to me.

  Somehow I continued taking pictures. My vision blurred and my hand cramped and my back and shoulders ached like a bitch. I didn’t stop, didn’t slow down, because they never did. They bled out on stage for their audience at every concert, and I’d be damned if I gave anything less than total effort.

  For them, and for me.

  They usually ended shows on this leg of the tour with “Cathedrals” but not tonight. I knew it as soon as the ending notes of the song faded and then bloomed right into another, one I didn’t recognize.

  Hunter stepped up to the microphone. “Changing things up for you guys tonight. You’re okay with that, right?”

  The enthusiastic shouts in return made Hunter grin and lift up his arms. “C’mon, give me more than that. Make this place tremble from the power of your voices.”

  As requested, the fans screamed and pumped their fists and stomped their feet. Even me. I only stomped and screamed because I didn’t have a hand free to wave, but I would’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of Owen’s secret smile.

  The one he saved for me when we were alone and naked. When he was between my legs, gazing up at me with a lifetime’s worth of want and a century’s worth of patience.

  I wasn’t as patient. Never would be. Especially not now that I’d finally tasted the good stuff.

  When Hunter was satisfied the crowd had given him what he’d asked for, he glanced over his shoulder. “Hey Wy, you gonna take us in?”

  Wyatt flipped his sticks behind his back and caught them one-handed. “You know it, brother.” But he didn’t go into his full throttle mode, just tapped low and easy while Hunter shifted his focus back to the audience.

  “This song here is one we’ve never played in public before.”

  The cheers were deafening. I would’ve plugged my ears, but the jubilance around me was intoxication. No way was I going to miss even a second.

  Plus, I had enough equipment hanging off me and in my hands to kill a small child. But you know, in theory if I’d had a finger to use to block out the sounds around me.

  “We’ve been working on this one for a while. Rehearsing it until it was perfect. What better place to perform it than San Jose? You guys know how to fucking rock.”

  More shouts and screams.

  Bats kicked in with a few licks on his guitar then backed off, waiting for Hunter to finish. This was some build-up, man. I had to wonder what they had in store.

  “My man Owen is going to tell you about ‘Strings’, our brand new song. And depending on the reception here tonight, it just might be the first single on our next album. So show Owen some love, would you?”

  I swayed and had to clutch my camera to my chest to keep from reaching out for the rail to steady myself. The heat must be getting to me. This had nothing to do with me, with us. That Owen was staring at me as if he could scorch the concrete beneath my feet with the intensity of his gaze was just a coincidence.

  “Evening, San Jose. How are you all feeling this fine evening?”

  Owen’s familiar accent washed over me like a warm wave. I wanted to soak it into every pore.

  He smiled at the eager response from the fans. “That good, is it? I have to say I’m not doing as well.”

  “Aww” rang out around the arena.

  “You see, I fell for this lovely lady, and she was dealing with some things from her past that made it hard for her to move on. That past consisted of a right bastard I’d love to introduce to my fists, but I can’t do that. She doesn’t believe in violence, and she’s handled her life exceptionally well in any case. But I still have these feelings.” He rubbed the heel of his hand over his chest and I swear, the heart in mine practically beat right through my flesh.

  He’d fallen for me. Just like I’d fallen for him. So damn hard.

  “So I wrote this song called ‘Strings’ because I’ve grown awfully fond of them in recent days. We’d like to play it for you, if you’re game?”

  This time, I screamed louder than anyone else. And Owen—my Owen—smiled at me as if we were alone in the arena.

  We might as well have been.

  The instant Owen went back to his bass and the first strums from Bats’ guitar echoed through the cavernous space, I started to snap pictures. One after another. Most were for the book. Some were for me, documenting the moment the man who loved me told me—and the world.

  I wasn’t afraid.

  All right, that was a lie. I was terrified. But I was ready to stop thinking about who might have come before me or could’ve been in my place if something had been different. What did it matter? Ifs meant less than nothing. If grandma had balls, she’d be grandpa.

  If, if, if. Screw that noise.

  Things were the way they were for a reason, and I was so fucking grateful.

  Owen stepped up to Hunter and together they sang into the microphone about getting all
tied up in strings you never thought you wanted, but turned out to be the best thing you could have ever dreamed.

  I never saw you coming

  Never heard your voice, or imagined your smile

  But your strings wound around me

  Spiderwebs tangling me up

  I’m caught by choice, and I never want to get free

  I was in tears halfway through. I barely could hear the words, or see clearly enough to take my pictures.

  This is your job. Focus. After, there will be time to say everything you have to say.

  I was so busy snapping and trying not to sob in between frames that I nearly missed the flash of white that scampered across the Technicolor screen behind the stage. They’d had a rotation of eye-popping content all night. Sometimes Hammered’s logo in neon, sometimes clips from their videos. But right now there was a white cottontail cartoon bunny…?

  I lifted my camera and adjusted the zoom until I had every detail. Holy crap, there was a bunny running across the screen. One with a camera around its neck and a bat stamped on its butt.

  Laughter burst from my throat, continuing with the tears that still streamed down my cheeks. And throughout, I snapped and snapped.

  Even when the song ended with a simple message on the screen.

  I love you, bunny.

  The show ended with a flurry of screams and shouts for more. The curtain came down and the audience waited with breathless anticipation to see if would rise again.

  It did, with the telltale slamming skins and hi-hats that led off “Pounded.” And the world went wild. Or maybe it only felt that way because I couldn’t breathe and my eyes felt too swollen for me to see.

  But see I did. I never paused in my shots. Never ceased. Because now I wasn’t only doing a job or fulfilling a calling. I was taking every picture for the man I loved.

  Backstage was madness. It felt like I flashed my credentials fifty times. No matter how I pushed and shoved, I still couldn’t get through the throng of people fast enough.

 
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