*Warning: Intended for 18+ only. Contains graphic language and sex, as well as depictions of violence and sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers.*
Niall Donovan is a talented photographer. When it comes to women, he can have his pick and has. But beneath the flirtatious, joking smiles he's hiding long buried pain and traumatic memories. Memories that are breaking the surface once more. Memories that he’ll do anything to shut up. When suicide doesn’t work for him, he indulges in pills, drugs, and physical pain. They seem to help some, but they barely take the edge off.
London Black has been put through the wringer. Between a car accident that nearly killed her, months of physical therapy, and finding out the boyfriend she moved to Midtown for has been cheating all along, she’s done being the sweet wholesome girl everyone thinks she is. A one night stand with the sexy photographer she meets at a club is just the thing she needs to boost her ego. It does more than that when the explicit photos of them are the main exhibit at the local art gallery. Embarrassed, angry, and now without a prospective job, she confronts him on opening night. But when he offers her a generous deal with room and board in return for more photos, she accepts. Taking naked photos with him for a large sum of cash doesn’t seem like that horrible of an option, and besides they both intend to keep things completely professional.
When the shutter starts snapping, however, it’s hard for either to deny what's developing between them. Neither are in a good place and prefer those desires stay hidden in the dark, but the camera doesn’t lie. Baring it all may expose more than their bodies. But exposing their hearts may be more than Niall or London bargained for.
“Is this okay?” She asked, her fingers twisting around the fabric of her skirt. I nodded.
“Yeah. It looks pretty, and with that skirt it will be easier, ta…”
“Create the illusion?” She let out a nervous laugh.
“Yeah. Right.” I said, climbing off of the step stool and placing it on the other side of the room. I had a stereo in the corner and I picked up a joint that was sitting on top of it. “Is it okay if I have a little smoke before we start?” I didn’t want to admit I felt as nervous about this as she looked.
“Sure…can I have some?” She stepped closer to me, chewing at her lip, and I took a long hit. Yeah, this shoot was going to be a challenge for me, especially if she kept giving me looks like that. I handed it to her, slowly exhaling and reminding myself I was, in fact, a professional photographer. A professional photographer that slept with a lot of models. Wait, no that’s not helping at all.
“You okay?” London asked, bringing the joint to lightly glossed lips. I bit my own lip, nodding.
“Yep. I’m good. So, um…when we start, you’ll still be dressed, then I’ll take off yer sweater and bra, then yer panties, but we’ll leave on the skirt.”
“Uh huh.” She nodded, wide-eyed as smoke drifted from her open lips. A sliver of arousal ran through me but I forced it back. I could not afford to get turned on. Not when the only thing hiding it was a tiny-beige “cock-pouch”, as Kieran had called it when I’d bought it.
“I, um…usually put on music when I work, to set the mood, that okay?” She nodded, took another hit, and waved a hand toward the stereo. I pressed a button on the remote and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” blasted from the speakers. London choked and I switched it to a different CD. “Sorry, I thought it would be funny. Didn’t mean ta make ya choke.”
Her lips eased into a smile and she let out a soft, nervous laugh as she handed me the joint. I took one last hit before putting it down, feeling as relaxed as I could feel, given the situation. The Shins started playing and I nodded for her to follow me, gently grasping her elbow. I felt a small tremble when I touched her and guilt stung me.
“Ya sure this is okay?” I asked her as we stopped next to my camera. She nodded, and stepped forward, then turned to face the camera.
“Where do you want me?”
She had that bared look in her eyes again and I swallowed hard. Christ, this was going to be a testing shoot for me. “That’s perfect, actually. Just let me set the timer and we’ll get started.” Her head jerked with a nervous nod and she bit her lip again, cheeks growing pink. Feck. Did she have any idea what that did to me? I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. This is just a shoot. That’s all we’re doing here, I told myself.
“You okay? Didn’t smoke too much, did you?” London asked. I opened my eyes and pressed the button for the timer.
“I’m fine.” I said and stepped toward her. She took a step back, wide-eyed once again, but stopped herself from moving away. I put my hand on her cheek, and smiled at her, one I hoped was reassuring. “I’m goin’ ta kiss ya, and pull ya against me, okay? If ya need me to stop for a moment, just say it.”
She nodded, much more slowly, and I wrapped my other arm around her waist, drawing her closer. London closed her eyes, lips parted slightly and the sweet smell of her skin hit me. I took in another slow breath and closed my own eyes, brushing my lips against hers in a tentative kiss. I felt the soft gasp against my mouth and brought my lips down against hers, harder than I’d meant to. I flicked my tongue against hers and she reciprocated, hers lightly dragging against mine. She reached her arms up, wrapping them around my neck and I pulled her closer, one hand drifting to her thigh.
“Is that okay?” I whispered. She nodded, her lips still against mine, and I turned us around, pressing my back against the wall and cupping her ass in my hands as our mouths reconnected. “Pull my shirt off.” I said, my voice less steady than I would have liked. She slid her hands down my chest and tugged at the fabric, fingertips tickling my skin as she pulled it off of me. I bit my lip and swallowed hard, fighting another groan. No, this wasn’t good. I turned again, pressing her against the wall. She let out a soft whimper and a pulse of heat ran through me as I kissed her again. “I’m goin’ ta touch ya, then pull off yer sweater and bra. Okay?”
“Yeah.” She panted, her breath tickling my neck. I squeezed my eyes shut and kissed her collarbone. Maybe without her tongue teasing mine I could gain better control of myself. Her chest heaved under my touch and I cupped a breast as I pushed her sweater and bra up. I looked at her then as I slid the sweater over her head, and her eyes met mine as the fabric dropped from my hands. She instinctively crossed her arms over her chest, a panicked look in her eyes. I took a step back from her, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
Her eyes darted to me. “I, I was just thinking, people will see these…and I…”
“Yer scared?” I asked, brushing a few strands from her face. She nodded, her wide eyes baring everything to me. My heart twisted in my chest. London was a sweet girl, an innocent one. I’d already ruined things for her enough. I couldn’t force her to do this. “We don’t have ta.”
Her jaw tightened, and she shook her head. “No. I chose to do this, I just…” Absently she touched the scar on her side and I understood. I slid my hand over hers, stroking the jagged scar, the only marr against her pale, smooth flesh. At least in her eyes.
“You’re beautiful, London. I told ya before.”
A wry grin crossed her lips. “You were trying to get laid.”
I smiled. “I was, but that didn’t make it any less true.”
Her eyes darted to the camera, nervous, and I cupped her cheek, turning her attention back to me.
“Others saw yer beauty too. Why do ya think they want ta see more of ya? The only one who doesn’t see it is you.” I said, stroking her cheek.
J.A Howell is an office drone by day, and a writer by night. Her love of writing took off when she was eleven years old and decided to fill a composition notebook with stories to read to her friends. Many years (and notebooks) later, not much has changed. She still loves writing and sharing her works with others. When she isn’t writing, she can often be found trying her hand at whatever artistic pursuit strikes her fancy. J.A. Howell resides in Apopka, FL with her husband and their menagerie of animal children.