Reid felt his phone buzz and expected to see his brother’s name flash across the screen. But he was pleasantly surprised when it was an unknown number, suggesting they meet up in a few days at the Rookery in the Loop so they could start scouting locations.
This is Cassie, by the way.
Reid felt himself smile, which he tried to tamp down into a smirk, but he knew he was grinning at his phone like some kind of giddy loser.
Reid: Does this mean you’re going to do the campaign?
Cassie: I suppose you’ll get to see me in caution tape lingerie after all.
He wondered what changed her mind. From what little he knew, Dana could be convincing, but he also suspected that Cassie knew an opportunity when she saw one, even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted.
And he’d be damned if he didn’t take the opportunity to work with Cassie, wearing next to nothing.
Knowing that James would tell him to keep his money if he tried to pay for the beer, Reid quickly finished his beer and left enough cash to cover the drink, a normal tip, and then some, and headed down the outdoor staircase that led to the street. Before unlocking his bike, Reid sent another text to Cassie, agreeing to meet her. He thought about sending something extra charming, but he didn’t want to push his luck with Cassie. Reid had a feeling she would be able to see through him a mile away.
A few days later, when they met outside the historic Rookery building in the Loop, Reid felt strangely nervous.
“Hey,” she said, walking up to him while he locked his bike.
“They’re setting up for a wedding tonight, but the event coordinator said we could look around as long as we don’t touch anything.”
Walking into the Rookery, with its signature Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, impressive winding staircases, and distinct windowpanes, Reid felt like he was transported into a crystal palace. He immediately understood why Cassie wanted to shoot part of Dreamland at this location. It was ethereal and full of shadowy pockets that would showcase the texture and design of the clothing . . . or lack thereof.
“I love right here,” Cassie said, gazing upward. They had walked through the building and up a short staircase. She stopped in front of a pretty famous spot where the grand staircases seemed to overlap, casting shadows and yet still leaving enough light to reveal or conceal just enough. “The evening light will be perfect.”
She was wearing that jean jacket again, and in the midday light, Reid could see it was authentically frayed, not manufactured to look that way. He wanted to take her picture just then, looking over the staircase, half of her face concealed in shadow. He imagined the jacket over lace and satin, not the green T-shirt and blue jeans she was wearing. Reid cleared his throat, trying to take his mind elsewhere.
“I had this idea for a silhouette shot. When it was Dana doing the modeling, I didn’t have a problem with it, but now that it’ll be me . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“What did you have in mind?”
“There’s a lace bra, completely sheer, and it looks like two hands covering up the . . . cups.”
Reid could see a flush start at the base of her neck and start to rise up.
“But with the right light, I think she could—”
“You mean, you could,” Reid said, walking closer to her.
“Yes, I could be facing toward the front, but holding the bra out, dangling from my fingertips. Provocative, but still showcasing the hand motif.”
“Very . . . provocative indeed,” Reid replied. They both avoided making eye contact. “The venue’s perfect.”
“I agree,” she said, walking toward the staircase. “It’s just . . . never mind.”
“What?” he asked as she shook her head and kept walking. “Look, we’re going to be working together, and it’s going to be pretty intimate, so you may as well say what’s on your mind.” Reid had trotted down the stairs in front of her, and turned around, stopping so Cassie was standing a couple of steps above him, making them the same height, and he could look her directly in the eyes to be as convincing as possible. “You can trust me.”
Cassie chuckled to herself. “It’s weird thinking about me as the model instead of Dana.”
“You think about Dana a lot.”
“She’s my best friend,” Cassie said, brow furrowing. “And I take her picture a lot. For as much as she claims that I’m her muse, she’s actually mine.”
“You definitely have muse potential.”
“What does that even mean?” Cassie said, putting her hands on her hips.
“That, right there. This power coming through. Don’t move,” he said, taking out his phone.
“Reid—” she started to protest, but he held up a hand and, surprisingly, she stood still.
“You’re pretty cute most of the time,” he said, moving around her. “Don’t move your head, just move your eyes.” He continued to move in a half circle, up a step, then back down. “But then there are these glimmers of pride and fury that come through in bursts. I’ve wanted to photograph those moments ever since we met at the studio. I might not be in charge of this shoot, and I’m just pushing a button . . . But you’re definitely a muse.” Reid slipped his phone back in his pocket.
“Amusing, maybe,” Cassie finally said, continuing to walk, navigating the bustling event setup.
“Call it what you want, but we could attempt to have a good time while we’re doing this,” he said, catching up to her. He watched Cassie’s gait slow down ever so slightly, as she did her best not to look at him. Her deliberate dismissiveness made Reid realize that charming Cassie was going to be harder than he thought, but keeping her happy would make the entire situation easier and hopefully move everything along quickly. “I’m starving. Lunch?”
It was his turn to lead the way, out of the Rookery and into the brisk October air. As he unlocked his bike, Reid suggested heading back to Simone’s. He knew Cassie’s studio was in the vicinity, so heading back near River North would also bring him closer to his apartment as well.
“You don’t have to go to lunch with me, you know,” she said to him as they walked toward the L station. “And the other places I wanted to check out are farther away, so we don’t have to go anywhere else. We can meet up again a different day.”
“And you should know, two new colleagues sharing a meal is acceptable,” Reid replied to Cassie’s indignance. “We can discuss other places you had in mind and when we can meet again to take a look at a few more spots.”
THE ACCIDENTAL PINUP by Danielle Jackson
Rival photographers are forced to collaborate on a body-positive lingerie campaign, but they might have to readjust their focus when sparks fly.
Photographer Cassie Harris loves her job--her company Buxom Boudoir makes people look beautiful and feel empowered with her modern twist on classic pinup photography. Cassie’s best friend, Dana, is about to launch her own dangerously dreamy lingerie line and wants Cassie to shoot and direct the career-changing national campaign. But company politics and Dana’s complicated pregnancy interfere, and Cassie finds herself--a proud plus size Black woman--not behind the camera but in front of it.
Though she’s never modeled herself, Cassie’s pretty sure she can handle the sheer underwear and caution tape bralettes. She’s not sure she can work so intimately with the chosen photographer, her long-time competitor in the Chicago photography scene, Reid Montgomery. Their chemistry is undeniable on set, however, and feelings can develop faster than film…
Romance Contemporary [Berkley, On Sale: July 19, 2022, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780593437339 / eISBN: 9780593437346]
Danielle Jackson is a contemporary romance author, avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher.
Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in the business as the Editorial Manager of FreshFiction.com and co-host of the Fresh Fiction podcast. Danielle also moderates industry panels, interviews authors, and hosts a romance book club.
Danielle lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @DJacksonBooks.
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