Authors: Karen Booth
By Karen Booth
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living, or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
ROCK STARRED: LOVE MY WAY © 2015 by Karen Booth
Portions of this book were previously published by Ellora’s Cave under the title Love My Way. New material has been added to the 2015 release.
Published by Karen Booth. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.
Book Cover Design by Bronwyn Gruet
Rock Starred: Love My Way
I should've complained a second time to the building superintendent about the busted air conditioning. Really, I should have. But damn if the rock stars weren’t glistening so perfectly in eighty-plus degrees—especially Peter Barrett. Nobody would volunteer to have their photograph taken under these conditions. Sucked for them, happy accident for me.
"Guys, I know it's hot, but let's get a few more shots before we take a break and try a different set-up." I crouched below eye-level of the four members of Slump. Late afternoon sun filtered through the lead-paned windows of my warehouse photo studio, soft and golden. If I could've bottled the beauty of that light, especially as it graced the sweaty guys before me, I would have.
"It's freaking April in New York. It's not supposed to be so fucking hot. We're sorta dying here, Katie." Elliott, the singer, blew a fringe of sandy-blonde bangs from his forehead.
"Grow up," Peter chimed in. "Let her do her job."
"Just our luck with this freaky heat wave." I smiled and kept taking pictures. I photographed countless bands every year, and the ways in which they fought like siblings never failed to amuse me. Perhaps it was the product of being an only child. "The light is just so amazing right now." I held my breath when Peter unleashed a particularly penetrating stare. He was hot enough to make me drop my camera. And not just literally hot. "It'll be gone in a minute and there's no getting back good light."
I snapped the camera shutter like crazy. Sweat rolled down my back. My tank top clung to me. The hair I'd piled on top of my head in an effort to cool off threatened to topple. I kept moving though—side-to-side, up-and-down, capturing Slump from every angle.
As ordered, the guys followed me with their eyes. I wanted them to confront the camera. I wanted raw intensity. It was a perfect match for the grinding, guitar-driven sound of the band
had just dubbed, "Kings of the Universe".
It might've made me a bit self-conscious to be firmly planted beneath their unflinching stares, although I always used the camera as a bit of a shield, but it was obvious that most of them had something else on their minds.
Elliott, the singer, had been arguing with someone over his phone whenever we took a break. By the sound of it, I would've guessed he was in the midst of a break-up with a girlfriend, or he was at least trying to cut a woman loose. Mark, the bass player, was reportedly getting over a cold and very much seemed stuck in an antihistamine-induced haze. I sensed that the drummer, Tony—or as his bandmates called him, Stony—was in a different kind of haze, but he enjoyed having his picture taken and was a willing participant.
And then there was Peter—he wasn't merely following orders by keeping his eyes glued to me. Something else was going on. I felt it from five feet away. His brilliant blue was unusually intent, zeroed-in. Maybe he was just like that. Maybe he was fascinated by photography.
I hit the shutter a final time and rested the camera on my chin. "Let's take twenty. I'll see if we can find another fan and I'll call the building manager and find out when the air conditioning is supposed to be fixed."
All four guys broke free from each other, heading in opposite directions, Peter straight for me.
"How's everything looking?" he asked.
So that was it—he was worried about looking good in the photos. "I got some amazing stuff. You four are extremely photogenic. I think the heat will be worth it." I stepped over to the cameras and lenses littering the beat-up factory table I used for meetings.
Peter followed. "Photogenic? Have you looked at Elliot? He's ugly as sin. If we look good, I'm sure it's all your doing." He absentmindedly ran his hands through his messy and slightly damp, chocolate brown hair.
"That's nice of you to say. I'll try my best to get it right."
He cleared his throat. "You know, uh, I have to say that your work is really amazing." His voice was jumpy, which was ridiculously charming. "I don't want this to sound weird, but I've been a fan for a while now."
"Of me? You like looking at photos of other bands?"
Peter laughed and relaxed his stance, leaning back against the edge of the table. His slim-fitting black tee hitched up. The sliver of stomach above the waistband of his jeans could’ve distracted me for quite a while if the rest of him wasn’t so nice to look at. "No. Your other work. The black-and-whites, especially the urban stuff in New York is pretty amazing."
This was a first. No band member I'd photographed had ever taken note of my other work. Frankly, very few people paid attention to it. Those photos were about scratching my creative itch; it was the stuff for galleries, and only when I was lucky enough to find one to take me. "Where did you see my other photographs?"
"At a showing in LA. About six months ago. I bought one of the ones you took from under the Brooklyn Bridge."
"Really? Those are some of my favorites."
"It's in my place in Chicago." He held both hands out before him, splaying his fingers. "I hung it right above my bed."
I swallowed hard. Every new word out of his mouth held another humbling surprise. "Well, thank you. That's so flattering. I really appreciate it."
"Maybe we could go out for dinner tonight. You know, talk about your work, my work. Other things. Whatever comes up." He dropped his head to the side, asking for an answer. The electric flicker in his eyes suggested far more than sharing a meal.
I filed through the reasons I shouldn't say "yes", but none of them felt particularly compelling when confronted with Peter. He wasn't just pushing my lady buttons. He was pushing my photographer buttons, too.
But I had to be strong. Dinner with Peter would just mess me up. It didn't take much for me to get attached, especially to a guy as smart and smoking hot as him. "I'm sorry. I don't think it's a good idea." It physically hurt to say it.
My stomach sank at the mere mention of the word. "Nope."
"I don't see a ring."
Handling "boyfriend" was a breeze compared to the way "ring" made me feel. No, he definitely did not see a shiny platinum band with a 1.2 carat, ideal-cut diamond on my finger. Absolutely not. It no longer resided on my finger because I'd sold it and bought camera equipment to donate to a local high school. I'd considered throwing it in the East River, but in the end, I figured some good had to come from my misery.
"Nope. No ring either."
He smiled wide. "Perfect. You're unattached."
Unattached. That was such a simple way of looking at it. If only I was at a point where I could think of myself as one of two things—single or taken. "Peter, you seem like a great guy. I just try not to mix business and pleasure. Gets messy." I scrunched up my nose. My stupid excuse stunk.
"It's just dinner, and technically, if we go after you're done taking our picture, won't you be done with business for the day? We could forget work and focus on pleasure."
Why did everything have to sound so damn enticing coming out of his mouth? "Maybe the next time you come to New York."
That might buy me a few months. Maybe I'll be ready by then.
"If you're trying to blow me off, you should know I'm an incredibly persistent man."
I shook my head. "You can have your pick of women. Hell, there are about fifty hanging out in the alley behind my building waiting for you guys to finish up. Don't expend a bunch of energy on my account."
"Funny, but I don't tend to find the right women in alleys. I've tried, but it just never works out."
He had an answer for everything. That one even made me laugh. I'd had my fair share of come-ons from guys in his line of work, but none of them had come prepared the way he had, nor had any of them seemed so sincere. "I appreciate your effort to be outside the rock star mold."
He shrugged. "I'd rather spend time with a woman who's beautiful and smart and has a creative mind. I find that combination pretty damn hard to pass up. I'm curious to find out what makes you tick." He traced his finger in a circle on the tabletop. "Or purr, as the case may be."
For a good thirty seconds, I completely forgot how to breathe. Good God, I wanted to know what he was willing to do to make me purr. It'd been way too long since a man had made me feel like that.
My heart was heavy, looking at his sweet, puppy dog eyes. If only I could just tell him the reason why I kept guys in one of two categories—friends and the one-nighters. There was no being a member of both groups. Nothing ruined a friendship faster than sex. So where did that leave Peter? He was saying everything I wanted to hear, precisely the reason to keep him where he was—a friend. Nice guys deserved better.
I picked up my phone. "Give me your number. We'll stay in touch. Maybe I'll come see you guys play some time."
He fished his own out of his back pocket. "That would be great."
As soon as I finished entering Peter's info, I had a text from my best friend, Gwen.
I clamped my eyes shut. Talk about horrible timing.
was what Gwen and I had devised as shorthand for, "this is really fucking important so drop whatever you're doing and call me right now". Gwen generally used it when she had a fight with her boyfriend, Ted. I'd used it countless times during the events that eventually led to me selling my engagement ring.
"I'll be over in a few minutes so we can finish the shoot," I said. "I just need to make a quick phone call."
Peter nodded. "Of course." His voice was decidedly less enthusiastic now. I was probably insane for turning down a dinner date with him.
"Hey, honey. What's up?" I whispered, jamming a finger in my other ear and wandering off to a corner of the studio.
"I didn't want to have to tell you this over the phone, but I start my shift at the hospital in less than an hour. There's no time for me to come over and tell you in person."
"Tell me what? Did somebody die?" My stomach rolled with unease.
"Brad got married."
I heard the words. Brad. Got. Married. They didn't add up.
"To, you know, her," Gwen continued.
The steps I'd taken to distance myself from what happened with Brad were erased with a sentence from my best friend. With a rush, I was face-to-face with my nightmare all over again. "Married. To her." I choked on that last word, fighting images of him in a tux, the girl he'd cheated on me with in a wedding dress. I was supposed to be the girl in the wedding dress. I was supposed to have the happily ever after.
"Katie, if you need me now, I'll see if I can get somebody to cover for me. We'll talk about it and drink beer and eat ice cream."
"No. No. I'm okay." I glanced across the room. Peter smiled at me. For some reason, that only made me want to cry more. But there was no time for tears and work always distracted me from the bad things. "I'm actually in the middle of a photo shoot right now."
"Okay, good. Go take pictures. I know it helps."
"It does. It helps a lot."
"You're stronger than this. Remember that."
I nodded, sucking in a deep breath. Was I stronger than this? At that moment, I wasn't sure I was strong enough to make it through the next five minutes.
But I had to get through this, just like I'd gotten through every other miserable moment since Brad left that fucking note on the kitchen counter. I had to get through it because there was no other way. I just needed to keep myself on the path that had helped me through it, the path where I kept men at arms' length and focused on work. "I got it. I'm good. I promise."
"Okay, well, whatever you do, don't go on Facebook. You're still friends with his sister, right? She posted a zillion pictures."
"Yeah, I'm still friends with his sister. It's not her fault she has an asshole for a brother."