Jennifer Pilato catches up with Avery Aster as she launches the second book in her The Manhattanites series, Unscrupulous…
Where did the idea for this series come from? How do you keep a series fresh and where do storyline inspirations come from?
Most of my characters are loosely based on friends that run in my social circle via Manhattan and the Hamptons. They find it amusing. Always a friend who everyone seems to tell everything to, I’d like to assume that I’m a great listener and a loyal secret-keeper.
My clique trusts me implicitly with the most shocking information. My novels are a grand venue to be able to turn their stories into fictional tales that readers enjoy.
As far as fresh, I try not to write what’s out there. So there are no vampires, rock stars, shapeshifters, Billionaire Doms, sex contract or virgins who are a looking for submission. Basically I avoid cliché at all costs.
It seems erotic fiction is becoming more and more popular, how do you keep that momentum going as more people come forward with these kinds of novels? Why do you think erotic fiction has become more mainstream?
Really? I think the erotic romance crowd has fled over to New Adult, don’t you? The Manhattanites isn’t typical erotic fiction or erotic romance, it’s more of an erotic soap opera. I think erotica has become more popular because people have always wanted to read what goes in the bedroom. Who doesn’t? TV shows and movies are more graphic sexually today than in years past, so it would make sense that novels would be also.
What can we expect from this series going forward? What can readers look forward to?
The series started with Undressed (Lex and Massimo) then Unscrupulous (Taddy and Warner) was a prequel and took place a few months before Undressed. Next is Unsaid (Blake and Miguel) and picks up eighteen months after Undressed left off. Readers will see Lex and Massimo have a six-month-old son, but haven’t married — yet. Lex’s fashion company Easton Essentials has skyrocketed as the largest in the world. She’s struggling with motherhood and managing her business. Their wedding is a subplot in the book. The main romance for book three is between Blake and Miguel and it’s very dirty! *wink*
Her Measurements 36C-25-35
Fifteen Years Ago
Upper West Side, New York City
Tabitha Adelaide Brillford stood back from her bedroom wall where she’d measured her height with yellow tape then marked it in pencil. “How tall is seventy-two inches?” she asked her best friend, Lex Easton, who sat on her pink canopy bed.
Lex put down the latest Manhattanite Times issue she was reading and replied, “About six feet.”
“Holy shiiit! Mommy and Daddy are both under five ten. What other measurements did I give you?”
Her friend grabbed the Hello Kitty notepad off the pillow and read, “Thirty-six C, twenty-five, thirty-five.”
A few weeks shy of starting the seventh grade, Tabitha had blossomed over the summer into a woman.
“Remember when my Mom took us to Milan to see her friend’s spring show?” Lex’s mother, Birdie Easton, a rock-n-roll legend received invitations year after year to the best parties, extravaganzas, and fashion shows in the world.
“Valentine?” She puffed on a cigarette. Unable to inhale yet, Tabitha exhaled from her mouth.
“Valentino,” Lex corrected. “Anyways—there’s a resemblance between Elle Macpherson, the model who wore the red dress, and you.” She held Vogue’s fall issue up. Macpherson graced the cover. The season’s periodicals were spread out on Tabitha’s bed. At twelve, Lex was already a slave to fashion, especially couture.
“Red is my favorite color, it goes with my look.” Tabitha laughed. She happened to be the only redhead in her class, let alone the only girl rich enough to furnish a complete wardrobe from Yves Saint Laurent. “Why do you read those crummy gossip rags? You know our folks told us not to pay the press any attention.” Since her parents announced their trial separation a few weeks ago, she’d stopped looking at the tabloids.
“They also told us not to smoke.” Lex’s face sobered as she shoved a Swedish fish in her mouth. She chewed the candy, swallowed, and announced, “There’s an article in here titled, ‘High Society Marriages Headed for Ruin.’”
“I bet my parents are featured.” Tabitha didn’t have to ask. She took the page from Lex’s sticky hands and glanced at the exposé. It shed light on America’s most prominent family—hers. Considered fierce academics, the Brillfords remained regular art patrons and noble philanthropists. With five generations celebrated in their community, they were the town’s toast and invited to all social events, but not in recent weeks. No, they’d become outcasts. “This is why my parents have been fighting all summer.”
She’d heard her parent’s hoarse voices ringing through their eight-thousand-square-foot residence pretty much night and day.
“When my parents argue, Dad sleeps in the guest room. Yours?”
“Daddy moved his stuff into the east wing.” Tabitha frowned. Countess Irma, Taddy’s mother had remained in the west quarters.
Lex shifted on the bed. “I saw it mentions why your mom spent time in the hospital. Didn’t you wonder?”
“Yes, Daddy wouldn’t tell me.” Tabitha focused on the article, reading closely and hanging on every word. “Says here, after one knock-down, drag-out fight my Mom flew headfirst over a spiral staircase with a pair of shears in her hands. That’s when the NYPD arrived.” Tabitha recalled the incident where Irma had lost her little finger after a botched effort to cut her husband’s penis off.
“Why didn’t your dad press charges?”
“Daddy knows better.” Jesus. I can’t believe this is in the paper about my parents.
“Keep reading,” Lex bossed.
“Says the fight started after Daddy filled her lingerie chest with South American killer insects, whoa!”
”Do they exist?” she asked Lex hoping this wasn’t true. However, she remembered her mother being in the hospital. This made perfect sense.
Her friend rolled her eyes. “If you’d come to biology class, you’d learn from Mr. Kauffman there are many insect species known to harm animals—and humans. They live in South America. So, what brought on the bug attack?”
“Mom tried to run his ass over with her car.”
“While Daddy was jogging alongside the West Side Highway.”
“Get outta here!” Lex shouted.
“Her car flew off Pier 92.” In horror, Tabitha held up the paper showing Lex the photo of Irma’s Rolls-Royce being pulled out of the Hudson River. “They’re going to kill each other.” She threw the paper in the trashcan next to her desk. “This started when my daddy ordered that test.”
“What test?” Lex asked as she switched her attention to Marie Claire. Lex’s own family life equated to heavy metal groupie hell, but she escaped into the glossy fashion magazine pictures. Her favorite designer, Donna Karan, lived in their building.
“The parent test.”
“Don’t you mean the paternity test?” Lex popped another candy and continued with a mouthful, “Explains my mom’s call with yours a few days ago. She blabbed on and on about some test results.”
“Right.” Tabitha wished Lex would ease up on the candy. The boys in class already tormented her over her weight. It seemed the more they teased, the more Lex ate. “You better quit with the sugar. Birdie will lock the fridge again.” Lex’s mother believed starvation preserved one’s figure.
“Tabitha Adelaide.” Knocking and a voice came from her bedroom door’s other side.
“One sec.” She extinguished the cigarette in Lex’s grape soda can.
Lex scrambled and threw everything under the bed. In her jersey knit sweats with honey blonde hair pulled back by a headband, Lex knew the drill. She ran for the window and climbed out onto the fire escape. Sticking her head back in, she whispered, “Call me after dinner. Mom passes out by eight. She mentioned some gibberish about having a serious talk about school tonight.”
“Where’s Eddie singing this week?”
“What’s today’s date?” Lex asked.
“Dad is in Finland. Tomorrow his band goes off to Norway.” Eddie Easton’s Headbanger Glam Metal Show toured as the longest running concert to come from one studio album in music history. On his fifth year, he’d come home to see Lex and Birdie—twice.
Lex slammed the window shut, and, in her bare feet, climbed the fire escape to her own apartment.
“Coming.” Tabitha sprayed air freshener, hit the ceiling fan and lit a vanilla scented candle. After unlocking the door, she jumped on the bed and shouted, “Come in.” She turned to see Mr. Constance, her family’s butler who’d lived with them for as long as she could remember.
“Your parents request your presence in the study.” He wiped his eyes when he stepped into her room and picked her jeans off the floor.
“Are you crying?” she asked and sat her Seventeen magazine down. Mr. Constance was never seen upset, at least not in front of her. “You okay?” Tabitha reached out to give him a hug.
He shook his head to reassure her. “Go see your folks, right this instant.”
“Yes, sir.” Lately, she’d grown to hate any interaction with her family. This month they’d gone cuckoo, similar to Lex’s mother, Birdie, and they didn’t make much sense. Her mother had hit the gin, and in return her father had hit his wife.
At her parents’ request, she came off the landing on the second floor and walked into the study. Her mother sat on the sofa, unable to make eye contact with her. Weirdo.
“Tabitha Adelaide, take a seat.” Her father greeted her with an unrecognizable, icy expression from the room’s far side.
She stepped closer and tried to forget the article she’d read upstairs. “Hey, Daddy. Hi, Mommy.” Tabitha sat opposite her mother on the sofa in a comfy chair. The blue fabric warmed her bare legs. She used to sit in the same place as a little girl when her father rehearsed his lectures. “You wanted to see me?”
“Honey, your father has decided—”
“We!!! We decided,” he corrected her mother.
“Your father and I think it would be best if you—attend boarding school this fall while we sort things out at home.”
“The Avon Porter Academy.”
“It’s in Cheshire, Connecticut,” her mother reassured her as if she’d come visit on the weekends. Could Irma make the trip? Lately, the woman couldn’t wash yesterday’s makeup off her face, let alone navigate herself down one city’s block.
“Why?” Tabitha searched her mother’s eyes for cause. “I didn’t do anything wrong…” She observed the frown, which had set into her dad’s face weeks ago, deepen.
Lost in a trance, Countess Irma stared at the silk fringes on the rug. Her mother held the tumbler she’d sipped booze in up to her thin lips and emptied the remains down her throat.
“Daddy?” Fear twisted inside her and demanded a reason. “I’m your girl. You promised you’d never send me away to school.”
“You’ll leave in a week.”
“For how long?” Her world felt destroyed.
Her parents ignored the question. She realized they meant for good. “The Eastons are sending Lex this fall. You two will attend school together.” His voice became a gnat in her ear. “Go into the kitchen and help Mr. Constance with dinner.”
Barely able to stand, she bit the inside of her cheek to still her lips from a scream. She ran from the room and slammed the heavy door behind her. Tabitha put her ear against the entrance and listened as she always did.
“You could still act as if she’s your daughter,” her mother cried.
“She’s not.” His voice sounded weird. Tabitha never heard these words come from him.
What were they talking about?
“You can still love her, Joseph.”
“Our daughter is from your affair. I always knew you and Birdie Easton shared a lot in common—pill popping and booze. Who knew you both fucked the same—”
“I don’t want you listening.” Mr. Constance came up behind Tabitha and pulled her away from the doorway. “Come, help me with supper.”
* * * * *
Tabitha caught on quick to toughen up to what life threw her way. When her parents never came to visit her at boarding school, she didn’t get upset. No, she knew she wasn’t wanted. She’d gone through her entire childhood and never heard, “I love you.”
Nor did Tabitha become shocked when she spent Christmas and Easter with Mrs. Pringle, her gym teacher. And she wasn’t discouraged at eighteen when her Aunt Muffie came to her graduation and told her the college trust fund she’d counted on for Columbia University was empty.
Birdie gave her centerfold contacts for Playboy. At eighteen, Tabitha became Playmate of the Year. She secured a spokes-model gig for a pushup bra and soon realized two things. One, women should never push up anything. And two, bunny ears didn’t look good on her. Tabitha preferred to be behind the scenes, where she could retain more control over what the press would write instead of being just another pretty faced model. This insight motivated her during her junior year in college to create Brill, Inc., her own public relations firm, and specialize in all things glamorous. She did whatever was required to make it in New York City.
With no shame, driven by determination, she wouldn’t be defeated by her parents’ wrongdoings.
Her walls remained up.
Tabitha grew tough and was deemed unscrupulous by her actions to get ahead. Some identified her as a bitch. Those who worked at her media company called her Miss Taddy Brill.
At thirty-three, Warner Truman is one of the richest men on the planet, a spa mogul who buys and sells resorts at will. He holds powerful executives’ careers in his well-groomed hands. Nothing is beyond Warner’s reach…until he meets her. Stunning, tantalizing and perverse, Taddy Brill captivates Warner’s carnal desire like no woman he’s ever met. A self-made millionaire, Taddy is tougher than steel, more brilliant than diamonds and, at twenty-seven, she’s never depended on a man for anything…until she meets him. The more Taddy plays with Warner’s affections, driving him to erotic heights, the more she is confronted by a dark past. Before she can love him, Taddy must meet her worst fears head-on or risk losing it all, including herself.
Avery Aster pens erotic romance for Ellora’s Cave. As a resident of New York’s Upper East Side and a graduate from New York University, Avery gives readers an inside look at the city’s glitzy nightlife, socialite sexcapades and tall tales of the über-rich and ultra-famous.