CHAPTER ONE- Sloane
“Ohmigod, I can’t believe you’re going through with this,” my best friend Sarah says as I pull open the glass door to the tattoo parlor.
Although I would never admit it to her, I actually get a little chill when I step over the threshold. I’ve never been into a tattoo shop before, so I don’t know what the others are like, but this one is pretty intimidating. The music is loud, the counter is black and every fixture in sight is chrome. I swallow my sudden burst of nerves and push myself forward.
It’s reassuring that this place, The Ink Stain, comes very highly recommended. And it’s easy to see why when I let my eyes run over the amazing art work that covers the walls.
Somebody’s got some talent!
“Are you sure you want to do this, Sloane? I mean, your dad will kick your ass if he finds out,” Sarah continues. When I stop suddenly to look back at her, she nearly runs into me. “Shit!” she exclaims, pulling up before we bump chests. She was busy examining the walls, too.
“Number one, Dad can’t kick my ass. As of …” I glance around the neon-lighted interior of the shop, looking for a clock. When I find one that’s in the shape of a skull with cross bones for hands, I squint to read what it says. “Seven minutes ago, I’m officially beyond the control of the thick-headed Locke men. And this is my first act of independence.”
“More like rebellion,” Sarah snorts.
“Semantics,” I say with a dismissive wave of my hand. “Either way, I’m getting this damn tattoo and nobody’s gonna stop me.”
“Are you sure it’s…safe? I mean…”
I see the concern in her eyes and I love her for it.
I give her my softest smile. “It’s fine, Sarah. Seriously.”
With one final, reassuring nod to her, I move forward to approach the shiny black counter. I ring the bell for assistance.
While we wait for someone to come to the front, I walk along the borders of the room, admiring the sketches on display. As someone with the heart of an artist, I can even better appreciate the skillful hand and eye behind the charcoal renderings.
A deep voice interrupts my study. “Can I help you?”
I turn toward it, ready to explain what it is that I want, but the words die on my tongue. Of all the works of art on the walls, none compares to the one I’m staring at now.
I see his features in separate bursts, like strobes of light striking the backs of my eyes. Angular, masculine features seem to be carved in stone—slashing brows; luminous eyes; high cheekbones; chiseled mouth. And it’s that mouth that I’m looking at when his lips curl up at the corners. I’m staring. I know it and he knows it. “See anything you like?”
My eyes fly to his. They’re dark and teasing, and I blush accordingly. “No,” I say automatically. When I see one pierced brow shoot up, I realize how my answer must’ve sounded. “I mean, I already know what I want.”
His other eyebrow rises to meet the first and I feel my cheeks burn. I have no doubt they’re the color of ripe apples by now.
“I love a woman who knows what she wants.”
My mouth drops open. No one has ever flirted with me. All the guys I’ve ever known have been terrified of my family, so I have no clue how to react to banter like this. Other than to blush, much to my dismay.
Obviously amused by my discombobulation, he chuckles. The sound is like black silk, sliding over my skin in one cool, smooth swipe.
More heat rushes to my face. I’m honestly afraid of what I must look like at the moment. I don’t know what to do other than look away, so that’s what I do. I glance down, breaking contact with his disconcerting eyes as I reach into my purse for my sketch. I take a deep breath, using the search as an excuse to regain some modicum of composure. When I locate the piece of paper I’m after, I walk wordlessly toward him and hand him the folded square.
He takes it from me, his eyes touching mine for a fraction of a second before he turns his attention to the paper. I watch as he unfolds it then studies it for a heartbeat before he notices that it’s upside down. After he rights it, he pulls it in for closer examination.
The overhead light shines down on his face, hiding much of his expression. His long, thick lashes cast a shadow over his eyes and his brow is puckered in concentration. I wait patiently for him to finish.
With a single nod of his head, he glances back up, his eyes clicking to a stop on mine. From across the room, I couldn’t see what color they were, only that they were dark and compelling. But now I can see them clearly. They are the deepest blue I’ve ever seen. They pierce me like steel and leave me as breathless as midnight.
“This is good. Who drew it?”
My heart swells and flutters around inside my rib cage. “I did.”
For an instant, I see appreciation flit over his face, but it disappears quickly as he fires off more questions. “Is this to scale? And are these the colors you’d like used?” he asks as he turns to walk back toward the shiny countertop. “I’m Hemi by the way.”
What an odd name. “Hemi? Isn’t that something on an engine?” I blurt.
When he glances back at me, I get the impression that he’s amused again. “Something like that.”
Hemi. Like a big engine. I can see that. He seems fast. And powerful.
“I’m Sloane. And yes, the sketch is to scale and in the colors I’d like used.”
Hemi nods again as he steps behind the counter, reaching beneath it for some papers. “And where did you want it?”
I don’t know why I feel like blushing again, but I do. “Ummm, I’d like to have the half-open oyster shell on my right hip, toward the back and have the butterflies coming out of it and flying up my side. Sort of around toward the front.”
He’s still nodding, but now frowning as well. “Hmmm,” he murmurs. “Let’s get these forms filled out and then I’ll take you back and have a look. I’m not working on anybody else right now.”
Hemi explains to me what I’m signing—waiver, release and consent to tattoo. It’s their way of saying, Hey, if we screw up, you’re screwed! You’re eighteen or over and have given us permission to permanently mark your body. If you don’t like it, tough shit. Thanks and have a nice day. But still, I don’t hesitate to sign them. I know what I’m doing. I experienced a little chill when I first walked in, but now, after meeting Hemi, I feel like I’m in good hands. Warm, capable hands.
Or maybe I’m just bedazzled.
Either way, I sign them quickly. I’m anxious to get to the next part.
I slide the papers back across the counter to Hemi and lay down the pen. He takes them, shuffles them into a neat pile and then sets them aside before he looks back up at me.
“Ready?” he asks. He might not know it, but that question holds so much more meaning than simply whether I’m ready to get a tattoo.
And so does my answer. With a single, emphatic nod, I reply, “Yes.”
He tips his head toward the doorway through which he came. “Then let’s do this thing.”
He starts toward the next room and I turn to grab Sarah’s hand. I meet with resistance.
“Oh, no, no, no! You’re not dragging me into this. I’ll pass out, sure as shit.”
“What? I’m the one getting poked with a needle a zillion times. Why would you pass out?”
“Sympathy. That’s why.”
I tilt my head to the side. “Sarah, don’t be ridiculous. I want you to come back with me while I do it.”
She twists her hand free of my grip. “I love you, Sloane, but this floor is probably the perfect place to get Hepatitis. You’ll be in the chair. I won’t. If I go down, it’ll be face first in someone else’s blood. So thanks, but no thanks.”
“Sarah, there’s no blood on the floor. It’s not like that.”
“How do you know? This is the first tattoo parlor you’ve ever been to.”
“So? Look at this place. It’s spotless. It even smells clean, and you know that can’t be easy with all the drunk, smelly people that no doubt come through here.”
“You’re just making my point for me. Nope. No way. I’ll be waiting for you right…” she says, backing away from me toward one of the chrome-and-leather chairs that line one small section of the wall. “Over…here.”
“Fine. Miss this significant life moment. It’s all right. I’ll still love you.”
With a heavy, loud-as-I-can-make-it sigh, I turn toward the door. Hemi has already disappeared into the next room, so I make my way slowly forward.
I hear a frustrated growl from behind me. “Fine.” The word is followed by the clomp clomp clomp of platform-shod feet stomping toward me. “So help me, if I pass out and get some sort of face fungus, you’re paying for all my doctor bills and any necessary plastic surgery.”
I smile broadly and loop my arm through hers when she stops at my side. “I won’t let your face touch the floor. I promise.”
“You don’t promise. You never promise,” she observes, eyeing me skeptically as we enter the next room.
“No, I just don’t make promises I can’t keep. This one, I can keep.”
We stop and look around the room. There are two other people getting tattoos. They both look up at us. They don’t look like they’re being tortured. In fact, one of them looks kind of sleepy. Or drunk. Either way, it makes me feel a little more at ease about the pain I just signed up for.
I tug Sarah forward and we make our way through the room. The overhead lights are still bright, but they are strategically placed over the three reclining tattoo chairs. It makes the rest of the space look intimately dim.
I walk toward Hemi where he’s standing at a little cubby against the back wall. It’s occupied by a small cabinet with a mirror over it, a rolling cart of some sort, and an empty tattoo chair.
I start to climb into it, but he stops me. “Wait. Show me exactly where you want the oyster shell before you sit down. I might have to put you on your stomach or your side, depending.”
Feeling heat rise to my face yet again, I turn my right hip toward Hemi and pat the place where I want the shell. “Here.”
Hemi squats beside me, reaches forward and raises the hem of my cami then drags his fingers up my side. “With the butterflies up through here?”
I feel chills break out behind the warm path of his touch and I bite my lip. When he looks up at me with those amazing blue eyes of his, I nod.
“Okay, then let’s start with you on your stomach,” he says, stepping on a pedal on the floor that raises the foot and lowers the back of the chair, making it flat enough to lie prone. “Hop up there and unbutton your shorts,” he says casually.
Hemi’s laughing eyes meet mine. “Which part didn’t you get?”
“You need me to take off my pants? In here?”
“No, I just need you to unbutton and unzip them a little. Just enough that I can comfortably get to the area you want inked.”
“Oh,” I say, feeling like an ass. “Okay.”
I climb up onto the flat surface and reach for my button and zipper. I loosen them and then turn to stretch out on my stomach. I feel like burying my face in my crossed arms, but I don’t. I stare straight ahead until I see Sarah enter my vision and plop down in the chair across from me, promptly ignoring me for the phone in her hands. I watch her for a few seconds, but I’m far too interested in who’s at the other end of me to pay her attention for long. Finally, I turn my head to look down at Hemi, resting my cheek against my folded arms. He’s sitting on a chair with wheels now, facing me at the level of my waist, with a long-necked lamp aimed at my lower body.
I catch and hold my breath when he reaches out and curls his fingers into the waistband of my shorts. Hemi tugs the material down, wiggling it over my hips and lowering it just enough that he can easily access the whole area. The only thing between him and my skin now is my underwear.
I watch as he slips a finger under the lacy elastic of my panties and pulls them down as well, leaving nothing between us but the heat of his hand. Slowly, he rubs his palm over my hip. Back and forth, he does this several times before he looks back at the sketch and then starts to trace one fingertip over my skin, as if he’s drawing it out in his head.
“You know,” he says, looking up at me, his palm coming to a rest, his thumb making an absent arc on my hip. “I think it would be better if we came up a little farther toward your waist with the shell and then let the butterflies spill out, curving to run up your side in a loose serpentine pattern, like this,” he says, moving his fingers up over my ribs in a languid snaking path. “I think it would look better than a straight line.”
In my head, I can see exactly what he’s saying. And I agree. It’s just that I’m having a hard time thinking and responding with his hands on me like they are.
“Sounds good. Whatever you think. You’re the expert.”
Hemi grins and winks at me. “Oh, I like the sound of that.” He reaches back to the table that sits behind him, grabs a little prep kit, a marker and my sketch. He lays the drawing up on my butt. “This is your first time, isn’t it?” He’s not watching me when he asks; therefore he can’t see the color that burns in my cheeks. He has no idea how right he is. In many ways. Being the daughter of a cop and the little sister to three more makes dating a challenge to say the least. Add to that all that happened when I was little, and you get a twenty-one year old virgin. To tattoos as well as most everything else, too.
“Yes,” I reply in a small voice.
At this, Hemi finally looks back up at me. “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of you.” And for some reason, I believe him. “We may have to break this up into two or three sessions, though. I don’t want to overwhelm you, and there’s quite a few butterflies to do. Plus, ribs can be a little more tender and tricky.”
“So you won’t do it all tonight?”
“I don’t think so. Let’s start with the shell and one or two butterflies, and see how you’re doing. Then we can go from there. We don’t want you in the chair too long. You can make an appointment to come back another time to get the rest.”
See him again? Yes, please.
Hemi pauses, with no grin on his lips and no teasing in his eyes. This time they seem just…warm. “Are you always this easy?”
Before I have to try to formulate some pithy or flirtatious (or stupid) reply, Sarah speaks up for the first time since I laid down. “Hell no! She’s stubborn as a mule.”
“So it’s just me then.” He stares at me for several seconds before his grin returns. “Just easy for me. I like that.”
The next thing I feel, aside from the damnable heat in my face, is the cool swipe of an alcohol pad as Hemi preps my skin for what’s to come. I barely notice the moisture. All my attention is riveted to the warm hand resting against my hip, holding me still. Keeping me steady.
Later on in the book, you'll learn why she chose butterflies and why they're such a theme for her. And you'll get why I put them on all the swag, like the t-shirts (and key chains and mugs and bracelets and necklaces... LOL)