Excerpt

An Excerpt of The Accidental Pinup

Danielle Jackson’s saucy romance novel follows an unlikely flirtation between two rival photographers who must learn to work together.

The Accidental Pinup Excerpt

“This is going to be uncomfortable, but trust me, totally worth it.” Cassie coaxed Dana to arch her back higher, squeezing everything just so. “You look incredible.”

“It feels weird,” Dana said. “I’m starting to sweat.”

“Totally normal,” Cassie said. “Hold it, right there.” The angles were just right; the light streaming through the open windows cast just the right amount of shadows and ethereal glow. Dana’s naturally red curls glinted with gold undertones, and the lace chemise she wore was sheer enough to showcase the constellation of freckles across her unbelievably unblemished skin. Maybe it was the blush or the body shimmer placed just so, or the fact that Dana was sweating, but she was sparkling all over. A corny person would say she was glowing from within. And that’s exactly what Cassie wanted to capture.

She took in the entire scene for another moment, stepping back a few paces to admire her work. “We’re ready. You are ready. You’re a goddess.” The second she saw Dana’s eyes light up with the compliment she gave her—which Cassie genuinely meant—Cassie pressed the shutter release. “Bingo.”

They shot for another thirty minutes. A seasoned pro, Dana was able to twist and exaggerate her body in exactly the way Cassie had envisioned for this photo shoot. Starting a new series was always daunting, but it was the first time in a while that she had a project of her own to work on. Not that she could complain about her boudoir photo shoot business—Buxom Boudoir—but Cassie longed for more time to do whatever she wanted. She was lucky that Dana, a plus-size model, had a new line of pinup-inspired lingerie, and luckier still that Dana was her very best friend in the whole world. Because working on the national ad campaign for Dana’s collection of sexy underthings was exactly the type of thing Cassie wanted to work on, to take her career to the next level.

Beyond the pretty makeup and sexy lingerie, Cassie enjoyed her job the most when Dana stopped sucking everything in, exposing body rolls and dimpled legs, let out a sigh, and stuck out her tongue in exaggerated exhaustion. Cassie took a few more rapid shots until Dana flicked her off. And Cassie had a hunch that would be the shot they loved the most.

Cassie connected a USB cable from her trusty Canon EOS 5D camera to her laptop, giving the images a minute to upload. She gazed at Dana, who had pulled on a silky floral robe, the same one she and all the bridesmaids had worn the morning of Dana’s wedding. Cassie hadn’t seen Dana look so happy and relaxed and beautiful since that day until this photo shoot. Knowing she was going to be a part of her best friend’s biggest dream—starting an all-inclusive lingerie line that was smashing the patriarchy one thong at a time—was beyond fulfilling. The early online support from Dana’s announcement of her collaboration had been overwhelmingly positive, and Cassie knew her vision for her pinups with a twist would be well received.

“Jesus Christ, Dana,” Cassie said, focusing on the photos. “Your boobs are, quite frankly, the tits.”

Dana’s fair skin bloomed in a crimson flush. For someone who had spent most of her time in front of a camera scantily clad, she blushed so easily. “Thanks, doll face. I couldn’t have done half of that without you. Only you can get me in those positions.” She joined Cassie in front of the laptop screen as Cassie scrolled. Sure, there were a few duds here and there, but when the photos worked, they really worked. Cassie knew the angles of her best friend’s body better than anyone—except maybe Dana’s wife, Riki—and she knew the vibe she wanted to convey.

“Undies with caution tape emblazoned on the trim do require a certain panache,” Cassie teased. “And I think we got it. I cannot wait to see the underwear you designed on a model’s ass on the side of a bus.”

Dana’s collection, under the Luscious Lingerie brand, was called Dreamland. Everything was lacy and sheer, with gorgeous pastels and deep jewel tones, but just like in the middle of an incredible dream, there were random things that didn’t quite make sense—yellow caution tape trim, skulls and crossbones in the middle of lace patterns, hand outlines on the cups of bras. Not to mention the size range: everything from XXS to 6XL. Anyone and everyone who wanted pretty undergarments could find them in Dana’s Dreamland.

Dreamland came to Dana after she had spent years wearing plain, boring bras that offered the support her ample bosom needed, and she wanted to wear the sensationally sexy and vibrant designs she saw fellow lingerie models wearing regularly. While they got to wear lacy, sheer, strappy teddies and playsuits, Dana—and similarly, Cassie—was confined to blasé basics.

When Luscious Lingerie burst on to the scene a few years earlier, they had made their mission to create lingerie and undergarments that made everyone look and feel supported and sexy, no matter what. And Dana wanted to model and design lingerie that looked and fit like a dream.

Cassie had spent many a night creating vision boards and scrolling through Pinterest to define what it really meant when something “fit like a dream.” Dana wanted everything to fit perfectly but also be brashly sexy and fun . . . which lingerie could absolutely not be when a body didn’t fit into what “traditional” sizing deems appropriate. Dana’s Dreamland, and Luscious Lingerie, was taking the unconventional and necessary step to make garments that could appeal to anyone who wanted to wear something vivacious and pretty.

And with the help of the Lucious Lingerie designers, adding cheeky touches like mesh cutouts, bright patterns, and the aforementioned caution tape bands, Dana’s idea of a quirky, off-kilter lingerie dreamscape went to the next level. Dana’s Dreamland line ranged from supportive bras and sheer panties in a variety of cuts to relaxed bralettes and cozy boy shorts, from plush robes to gauzy chemises and supremely sexy teddies—all made to fit and feel great on different body types.

“You know, I designed the caution undies with you in mind,” Dana said, gently poking Cassie’s side, knowing it made her squirm. “When was the last time anyone has been down there?”

“Ha ha, thanks for that,” Cassie said, rolling her eyes and swaying her ample hips. “Admittedly, it’s been a while, but I’m okay with that. I’ve got a job to focus on and a few more projects in mind—plus BB is doing really well.”

“People love taking off their clothes and getting photographed,” Dana said, shimmying over to a privacy screen to change.

Buxom Boudoir, was Cassie’s dream come to life. A few years earlier, once Dana had started gaining traction through her social media following as a plus-size model and body-confidence advocate, she and Cassie had started their luxury boudoir/pinup photography studio in the heart of Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Cassie had photographed Dana for as long as she’d been interested in photography—they had been best friends since middle school. Initially bonding as the first two girls in class to get boobs and attracting all the attention from dumb preteen boys, Cassie and Dana were each other’s ride-or-die, BFF, sister from another mister, and so forth.

Starting her own photography business wasn’t exactly what Cassie had planned, however. She knew that she was a great photographer, she had an interesting point of view, and people would be interested in what she wanted to show. But more doors closed than opened when an inexperienced, Black female photographer came knocking. Cassie was tired of the rejection and decided to combine her love of all things vintage into a full-service boudoir photography studio. It took some convincing, but with her parents as early financial backers, her meager savings from the various photographer jobs she did land—including copious amounts of engagement photos, weddings, and family portraits—and Dana’s support as well, Buxom Boudoir (affectionately called BB) was born.

At first, it had been just Cassie and Dana—between the two of them, they could handle scheduling, styling, hair, makeup, set design, and, of course, the actual photography. But as clients started gravitating toward Cassie’s professional and easygoing demeanor and their following grew, they brought on Kit Featherton, a petite effervescent Brit who dressed entirely in prim pastels and barely wore any makeup herself, but she tackled makeup and hairstyles with gusto and flair. As whimsical as her name, Kit spent more time attending hair shows, beauty seminars, and practicing techniques on willing clients (and not-so-willing coworkers) than anything else. Cassie admired Kit’s devotion to learning as much as she could about how to care for and style a variety of different hair types, and she had become an indispensable part of the Buxom Boudoir team.

With the addition of Kit to the team, their popularity skyrocketed, and Cassie couldn’t be happier. BB started to get some recognition from local businesses to do photo shoots for social media content, small-scale ad campaigns, and marketing materials, and a Chicago bridal magazine had even hired the team a few times for editorial spreads. But best of all, BB was a boudoir studio run by a Black woman, with all-female employees, producing beautiful content that left their clients happy and empowered. Cassie was her own boss, had an incredible team, and wanted even more.

Bringing on Samantha Sawyer—a young, recently graduated marketing major with a photography minor—had been the icing on the cake. Sam’s business acumen, social media savvy, and ability to aptly assist with photography equipment made up for her grumpy disposition. Youngest of them all, always bored, prickly on her best days and seething on her worst—Sam was painfully blunt, took no shit, and made the BB team complete. With Sam in place to concentrate on scheduling, check clients in, make sure everything was in place, and help Cassie throughout shoots, Buxom Boudoir was a force to be reckoned with and Cassie had more time to take on freelance shoots and daydream about her own more conceptual projects.

Several months ago, Buxom Boudoir found its new home when they moved from a small storefront into a new, bigger loft space. On the top floor of an old warehouse that had been converted into workspaces, Cassie loved this studio because it had been a blank slate and they could do whatever they wanted to it. They had views of the skyline, natural light came in just right from virtually all sides, and there was enough room for everyone to have desks, a large area for shoots, and a spot they called the Glam Zone, which consisted of two salon chairs, mirrors for hair and makeup, and thrifted shelving repurposed for all of Kit’s beauty products, curling irons, and bobby pins. Dana had clothing racks lining the makeshift walls of her “office,” with options for all the different types of photo shoots they did—sultry and sexy or cheeky and cheery. Their studio had become Cassie’s sanctuary—she spent more time there than her own beloved apartment, which was within walking distance. She owned and ran a photography studio on her own terms, and she was finally saving money.

And yet, she still wanted more. Cassie had successfully carved out a niche in the boudoir scene, but she wanted to book national ad campaigns that were torn out of magazines to put on inspiration boards or were pinned thousands of times on Pinterest. She wanted the freedom to explore her own personal photography endeavors and work on high-concept artwork that she could show at galleries across the country. She wanted to use her platform and curate collections of artists she admired to boost up so they could find success, too. Which meant Cassie still had a long way to go, and art directing and photographing the campaign for Dana’s line would be a clutch gig for her.

“I can’t believe this is one of the last times I’ll be photographing you like this for a while,” Cassie said when Dana emerged from behind the partition. She looked gorgeously refreshed in a white bodycon dress that hugged every single curve, including the teeny tiny bump only someone who spent a ton of time taking pictures of Dana in minimal clothing would notice.

Dana smiled, her hand immediately cradling her belly. To anyone else, she looked like her normally curvaceous self, but Cassie’s best friend was finally, blissfully, eagerly on her way to motherhood. After years of trying to conceive and miscarrying until she was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix, a condition that prevented some women from carrying pregnancies beyond the first trimester, Dana and her debonair wife, Riki, were finally going to have the baby they so desperately wanted. This time around they were armed with the knowledge of what they needed to do to carry this pregnancy to term. They had also spent months searching for a sperm donor whose background matched Riki’s Japanese heritage, and they had recently found an anonymous donor through a local sperm bank.

But with her diagnosis, Dana would have to go on bed rest sooner than later, to keep that baby cooking for as long as possible. And as much as Dana wanted to star in her own lingerie line’s campaign, she also knew how important this line would be to so many people and that it needed to move forward, which meant someone else would model in the ad campaign. Their timing may have been less than ideal, but Dana was determined to have it all and make things work from the safety of her cozy bed.

Which is why it was integral to the success of Dreamland that Cassie was in charge of the campaign. She had been a part of the process since the concept initially creeped into Dana’s mind—ethereal lingerie with a twisted edge. Dana trusted Cassie with her work and her life, and Cassie was ready for this giant step, art directing a well-known lingerie brand on a hotly anticipated body-inclusive lingerie line.

Amply bosomed herself—36H, thank you very much—Cassie was full-figured and proud of it, but she understood the struggles of finding affordable, pretty, and fun lingerie. Dreamland was going to provide this to women of all sizes. Dana had worked countless hours on the prototypes, making sure someone with a negative A cup or an XXXL derriere could find the same negligee but cut to accommodate different body types.

“I’m just glad everything will be in your hands. But I will be watching,” Dana said, laughing a mock-evil laugh.

Cassie chuckled, knowing Dana would figure out some way to oversee every step of the process.

“The set I wore today is just the start and will be an awesome way to get my followers riled up. We should have samples of the full line soon, and once I approve those, we’ll be in full production, your shoots will be underway, and our campaign will finally happen.”

My shoots. Our campaign. Cassie’s chest swelled—she was proud and exhilarated to bring recognition and momentum to their career. Sam and Kit were also going to be on hand for styling and makeup, and their involvement with a national ad campaign for a popular lingerie brand would give them professional boosts, too.

“Have you heard from Luscious Lingerie lately?” Dana asked. “Rebecca something or another is handling all the marketing and should be in contact soon.”

“Aside from those initial emails you sent with me copied on them, I haven’t heard from her directly,” Cassie answered. “Anything I need to know before stuff ramps up?”

“Well, she mentioned having you come in and do a trial run at one of their studios. I guess the higher-ups want to see what you do with the prototypes and a model or two they had in mind for the full campaign.”

Dana’s fiery red hair was covering her face as she rummaged through junk mail on the front desk. Cassie knew she was avoiding her gaze for a reason. Her heart started pounding, as she dreaded whatever bomb Dana might drop next.

“You mean I have to go in and prove myself, don’t I?”

“No, Cassie. No. I told them, it’s you or no one at all.”

Cassie knew this was too good to be true, too easy. Every other step of the way to this point in her career had been a fight, and so was this. Except this time, Cassie was determined to make the most of it and come out of it with her goal in hand. More times than not, when she was up for a campaign on a larger scale or at the national level, Cassie was passed over for someone the company had worked with already. Having run her own business for close to five years now, she understood the appeal of going with an already trusted colleague and knowing what to expect in regard to their quality of work. But that didn’t mean that Cassie wasn’t willing to give people a chance or go out of her way to support other women and people of color who had been in her shoes, just starting out and looking for a break. Hell, Cassie was still at that point now—she knew the only reason she had this job was because her BFF was calling the shots. And she wasn’t going to let someone else walk in and take this away from her when it was so close.

“Out of curiosity, do they have another photographer in mind?”

Dana began shuffling through junk mail again, suddenly very interested in a local pizzeria’s menu, though Cassie knew she already had it memorized because they ordered from there pretty regularly.

“D?” Cassie asked, adding an edge to her tone. “Who is it?”

“Reid Montgomery,” Dana mumbled quickly. Cassie closed her eyes in frustration.

Reid Montgomery was like an eyelash that got stuck in Cassie’s eye right after she had just drawn a perfect cat-eye flick, so she couldn’t actually rub it out. She and Reid rarely ran into each other in person, but she knew his name well—they were constantly being compared. On a surface level, their aesthetics were alike—vintage, pinup, retro—and they often competed for similar jobs in the city. But Reid Montgomery utilized retro as a style, while Cassie made a point to use it with a wink and twist its message into something more powerful, or at least cheeky—Rosie the Riveter giving the middle finger instead of making a fist, a re-creation of Bye Bye Birdie’s iconic phone scene but with smartphones, or a hiked-up skirt revealing not lacy underwear but full leg tattoos instead.

But she had to admit that Reid had a good eye for angles, cropping, and composition. And he was a white dude, so everyone automatically took him more seriously. He’d been Luscious Lingerie’s go-to photographer for the last couple of years for virtually all of their major ad campaigns. They did editorial shoots throughout the year to include in catalogs and on their social media, and there were usually projects with special collections with other influencers and celebrities, like Dana’s Dreamland line.

And now he was more than likely going to take this job away from her if she didn’t perform to LL’s expectations.

No way, lady. Don’t count yourself out before it even starts, Cassie coached herself against that nagging, pessimistic voice in the back of her mind. Still, Reid Montgomery was the thorn in Cassie’s professional side. Two months ago, Cassie had been passed over by Chicago magazine to do a relatively straightforward and tame cover shoot with the new mayor. They went with Reid Montgomery, of course, who gave them a perfectly fine set of photographs that would probably be used for years to come. In that same issue, Cassie had done a great photojournalistic set on Le Diner en Blanc.

A year earlier, Cassie had all but secured taking new photos at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio for their brochures, online presence, and more, but at the last minute, they decided to go with, lo and behold, Reid Montgomery. Prior to all of that, when Cassie was still out there, submitting her work to agencies and applying for photographer positions day in and day out, she was constantly compared to Reid’s aesthetic, told they already had a guy who did this type of work, and she was rejected.

And now here he was again.

Except this time, Reid would be the one wondering why he was looked over for someone else, someone better.

“Well, whatever. It’s fine. Maybe he’s the guy they want, but I’m the woman they need to run this campaign smoothly and make sure your skivvies look the absolute best they can,” Cassie said, pepping herself up.

 Dana would usually chime in with either an unprecedented level of enthusiasm or a loud, ridiculous whoop, but when Cassie looked up from her laptop, Cassie saw Dana was standing stock-still.

“Hey, D, what’s going on?”

Dana suddenly hunched over, and a surprised groan erupted from her mouth. Cassie ran over to Dana as she slumped down, easing her to the nearby couch. Cassie put her hand on Dana’s, which had gone straight to her lower stomach.

“Cassie, call Riki. Something’s wrong.”


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The Accidental Pinup
By Danielle Jackson
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Reid Montgomery’s phone started vibrating as he pulled up to the State Street studio of a local TV news station. It wasn’t his usual clientele, but after he photographed the mayor in Chicago magazine earlier that year, he was suddenly the new guy all the local, straitlaced Chicago celebrities wanted to take their photos. Reid had made his mark in the photography world by mimicking poses and stylings of classic pinup photography. If he could spin something in a vintage way, he’d do it no matter what, even if the subject or model wasn’t even remotely interested in the pinup aesthetic. It was just what he did. There were other photographers out there who made a lot of money from specifically doing this sort of thing for regular, everyday people, but Reid had gone after national ad campaigns from the start and had been successful. And that had worked to his benefit, because now he was the go-to rockabilly photographer with a reputation for getting the job done above and beyond expectation.

Or so he told himself.

There were times when he wanted to walk around and take photos just to take photos, and he was lucky that he could afford to take days off here and there and do whatever he liked. Not every photographer could, and he knew it was a privilege to work on his own terms and his own time.

Things had changed for him after working with Luscious Lingerie, a Chicago-based undergarment company that was always in the fashion world news because of their support of the body-confidence movement. It gave Reid an opportunity to collaborate with big-name influencers, and other clothing brands had taken notice. Surprisingly, so had someone at the mayor’s office, because he was astounded when someone from Chicago magazine called him with a gig to photograph the city’s new Latina mayor, who was tenacious and took no BS from anyone. The magazine cover made the rounds from morning-news programs to prominent placement in convenience stores on every corner. Mayor Rodriguez looked powerful and charming and, most of all, important. Reid was still riding that high.

His buzzing phone brought Reid back to the present, standing outside the studio’s side entrance to be let in for the photo shoot, but he ignored it. He had a full day ahead of him and had called in a couple of favors with some art galleries he’d shown work in over the last year to bring in an office assistant and intern to help out. He mainly worked solo, but the various teams of newscasters from different times during the day made this shoot more complicated. Luckily, everyone was already in hair and makeup, since most of them either had been on air or would be later in the day.

From the beginning, Reid had always felt alone. His entire life, he knew the only person he could rely on was himself. His parents had been aloof at best. Once he hit elementary school, Reid knew independence was a survival skill in his family. His parents generally felt like they had better things to do, were sporadically at home because of odd jobs, or spent time with their skeezy friends, and Reid often preferred it that way.

But when Reid was almost eleven and his younger brother, Russell, was born, he suddenly had this other person he had to make sure survived. From the outside, it might look like Reid raised Russ, but really, he just made sure the kid didn’t kill himself on accident or get involved with something shady. Beyond that, Reid and Russ were never close.

His proclivity for solitude made it easy to focus on his career, get ahead in life, and save a ton of money. It also added to his overall bad-boy persona. He didn’t love being labeled a devious rockabilly in the Chicago art scene, but he liked that he had an image people noticed, and he kept to it. Reid’s perceived detachment kept expectations low, and since he was good at his job, his clients kept coming back.

After a couple of hours of cheesy group shots of local reporters (who would all likely need their heavy makeup retouched in editing), he decided to take some candid shots while they milled about. He winked at the meteorologist and watched their cheeks immediately flush red. Click. He saw the sports and special segment reporters laughing with a camera guy over something on one of their phones. Click. One of the lead anchors set to retire later that year sat off to the side by himself, looking over notes. Click. These were the moments he wanted to capture more than anything. More than the bright lights and overstylized pinups hiking up their legs, more than the power stances against city backdrops. These fleeting moments no one paid attention to—that’s what he wanted to see.

Scrolling through photos on his camera’s monitor, Reid felt his phone buzz yet again. Without looking at it, he knew it was a text from Russ, who’d been relentlessly texting him for the past few days. A week ago, Russ had called him saying he had gotten into some gambling debt due to a few terrible hands at an underground poker match in Colorado—whatever that meant; Reid tried not to get too involved—and needed Reid to wire him some money. Which he had, and Reid assumed that would be the end of it. If this text was any indication, Reid anticipated a frantic, pleading phone call from his younger brother soon, and as usual, Reid would send him funds.

Just as he was going to read Russ’s text, however, his phone genuinely rang. It was a call from Rebecca Barstow, the marketing manager for Luscious Lingerie. He had heard through the grapevine that a new special collection was coming soon, so he anticipated this call would be a new offer for a national ad campaign.

It was a hard job taking pictures of models in their underwear, but someone had to do it.

Ugh, he felt sleazy for even thinking it. To be honest, after spending a year as the lead photographer on many of LL’s ads and some of their product merchandising shots, Reid had seen just about everything when it came to lingerie photography, and it had become another part of the job.

“Bec,” he said, knowing she hated when he shortened her name. “How are you?”

“Reid, how many times do I have to ask you to call me Rebecca, my actual name?” she said. “What’s your schedule like later this week?”

“Nothing that can’t be rearranged for you, Rebecca.”

“Charming. Great. I need you to come do some test shots for a new line. Local influencer, size inclusive, yada yada, you get the idea.”

Reid could hear her typing on the other end of the call, like she was talking to him but was also doing three other things at the same time. Knowing Rebecca, she probably was.

“Cool, email me the details, and I’ll be there. Any reason why there are test shots and you aren’t just hiring me outright?”

“We have another photographer in the running, and she has ties to the designer. The execs would much rather go with you, but we’re saving face because this line could really be big for LL. She’s a model and influencer with a huge social media following and is exactly the type of creator we want in our special lineup.”

“As long as it’s my usual fee or higher, I’m game. I’ll see you later this week.”

“Sure thing. I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on with the other photographer, and we’ll go from there,” Rebecca responded, the clack of her keyboard going quiet. “Maybe we could get drinks after. . .”

Reid knew it would come up eventually. He and Rebecca had hooked up a few times post-photo shoot. He tried not to make a habit out of sleeping with clients, but they worked together regularly, she was his main contact at LL outside of their accounting department, and she was cute. But he wasn’t really looking for anything aside from the very, very casual, and Reid didn’t want things to get messy. Luckily for him, neither did Rebecca.

“Yeah, maybe, we’ll see,” he said, trying for coy and not outright dismissive. The last thing he needed was for something to jeopardize his cushioned working relationship with LL.

Plus, this job was probably in his best interest right now. Knowing his brother, Reid fully expected to eventually answer Russ’s call or text and hear a plea for some kind of financial support. A few months ago, Russ needed help when he was selling CBD oil while he was in Maine, and before that it was protein powder in Vegas, then came the gambling trouble in Colorado. This time, who knew? Melatonin bedtime chocolate treats in Seattle? Maybe this time Reid wouldn’t even ask. Maybe this time Reid wouldn’t even ask about whatever “quick moneymaking” scheme Russ was involved in; he’d just send the cash and get on with it. The last thing he needed right now was to get worked up or worse—actually worried.

When he ended the call with Rebecca, packed up his gear, and made the requisite rounds to everyone before he left for the day, he finally opened his messages on his phone and started to scroll through a litany of unclear, rambling texts from Russ. After his third reread, waiting for his rideshare, he finally gave up and called Russ.

“Hey, Reid, it’s about time.”

“What is it, Russ? What do you need now?”

“So, when was the last time you went to the house in Tinley Park?” Russ asked.

Reid hesitated; he couldn’t actually remember the last time he’d been home to the southern suburb they grew up in. Before he let guilt creep in, he answered, “It’s been a while, why do you ask?”

“It’s a complete shithole. The wallpaper is peeling, I’m pretty sure there’s water damage to the first-floor ceiling, and the basement smells like something died—”

“Russ, what are you talking about?” Reid was confused. Why did Russ care about the house? He was halfway across the country.

Unless . . .

“I’m home, big brother.”

“Why?” Reid blurted before he could stop himself. “How long have you been here? Does Dad know? Are either of them there?”

“Relax, Reid,” Russ said. “I’ve been here about a week, which you’d know if you’d respond to my texts or answered my calls.” He continued telling Reid about his journey from Denver and his lackluster welcome back to Illinois.

“So, Dad’s cool with you staying at his house?” Reid asked.

Their father wasn’t going to let Russ stay there without some kind of benefit for himself. He may have been an absent parent, but Robert Montgomery was always on the lookout for a hustle. And knowing how eager Russ was to please their parents because he never got much attention as a kid, Reid feared their dad would take advantage of this situation.

“Yeah, that’s the thing,” Russ said, hesitating a beat before launching into a long-winded explanation to justify whatever it was their father demanded. “With Mom gone, no one is really here to handle bills and all that. So he said if I want to stay, I have to pay. And you know I had to leave my last gig because of the whole poker thing, so . . .”

Reid rubbed between his eyebrows as Russ continued to come up with more reasons to drain his funds. Mortgage payments, utilities, food . . . The list of responsibilities their father had suddenly given his twenty-two-year-old brother seemed endless. And if the house was in such terrible disrepair after long stretches of vacancy, it probably needed work.

“Look, Russ, are you okay? You don’t have a bunch of hippie mobsters tracking you down, right?”

“Uh, I don’t think so.”

“All right, fine. And Dad is definitely down state on the farm?” Their father had left his “city living” and supposedly worked on his cousin’s soybean farm, making a decent living. Without his family. And this was just the sort of thing he’d insist on if Russ wanted to stay at the house. “Have you heard from Mom?”

“Dad says he’s not coming back anytime soon, and I haven’t heard from Mom for almost a year.”

God, what assholes. Reid let a few moments pass before he talked himself out of doing the right thing.

“All right, I’ll help you with bills at the house in Tinley, but you have to work. Once you’re on your feet, you take over paying for everything, or you can leave again,” Reid said, realizing that offering to pay for these things was going to cost him. The extra cash from this Luscious Lingering job would definitely help out.

“I can do that,” Russ said.

Reid knew he’d have to babysit him and make sure he was holding up his end of the bargain.

As Reid listened to Russ drone on and on about how he’d built tiny houses from old train cars, Reid checked his email with his brother on speakerphone. Looking at Rebecca’s email, his eyes stopped on one name in particular—the other photographer in consideration for this ad campaign.

Cassandra Harris.

Hers was a name he had seen and heard more and more lately. Apparently, they had similar styles with a vintage edge, and she ran some kind of boudoir business as her main gig. Boutique photography was cute, but it wasn’t exactly lucrative. What did he have to worry about?

Nothing, aside from his brother. Securing this LL job now would be ideal, knowing he’d have to clean up whatever his brother’s mess would be this time.

“Reid? Are you still there?”

Closing his email, Reid turned his focus back to his brother.

Excerpted from The Accidental Pinup by Danielle Jackson. Copyright © 2022 by Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.