“What’s your plan for the evening?” Mom called from the kitchen as I lounged on the couch, flicking through my message thread with Nutty, Troy, and Ali. We all worked for the same tattoo shop in Belton.
At the sound of dishes clinking together, I got from the couch, pushed my cell phone into my back pocket, and headed into the kitchen to help wash dishes. The shiny new dishwasher sat next to the sink, untouched. Dad bought the gift last year for Christmas. It hadn’t gone down too well, hence why it remained unused. Mom could hold a grudge for a very long time. Her argument was simple. Who got a loved one a house appliance as a gift?
The cozy kitchen smelled like home: baked bread and cookies. The table where I’d sat as a child doing homework under her watchful eye bore scratches, yet she wouldn’t part with it. The curtains, which she changed every six months, were currently red with white flowers. I missed these constants when I was back in Belton.
Picking up the dishcloth, I walked to the counter, grabbed one of the wet plates, and dried it.
She glanced sideways and aimed a bright smile in my direction. “Always the helpful one. I bet your brother has disappeared up to his bedroom.”
Jackson had moved back home six weeks earlier after splitting up with his girlfriend, and he was back in his old bedroom for the foreseeable future. “He’s got a hot date with… shit, I forget, but it ain’t the same one from two days ago.”
“That boy is always looking for a sweeter pot of honey. He’ll learn one day that he has to fill the pot himself if he wants to keep things sweet.”
Bubbles of laughter erupted out of me. Mom was always coming up with some analogy or another. “I’m gonna have to remember that one.”
Her blonde curls bounced as she shook her head. “You were never one to dip your wick into every boy you liked. You’ve always wanted more from a relationship.”
“Mom, seriously! Ick, that’s gross.” Although I didn’t argue with her, not when I was planning on meeting my best friend from school, Ink, because he had someone he thought I might be interested in getting to know in the biblical sense.
“It’s not like I don’t know what you get up to.” My eyes widened in horror at the idea, and I was glad she changed the subject before I had to. “You never said if you’re going out tonight? You seem to have spent nearly all your vacation hanging around the house.”
Placing the dry plate on the counter, I picked up the next one. “Hey, you saying you don’t want me here?” I added affront to my voice, holding back the grin.
A dripping, soapy finger pointed in my direction. “Stop being an idiot. You’re normally more social when you’re home, that’s all.”
I aimed a genuine smile at her to show I was fine. I’d come home for some downtime. “Was thinking of meeting Ink at Shorty’s. There’s a band playing tonight, and he’s been pestering me since I got home to catch up.” I didn’t add the possible hookup. Again, she did not need to know about that, or that it had been forever since I’d gotten a particular itch scratched. I’d let Ink persuade me to meet the guy he’d been talking up. “We’re slammed at work, and Linc has had a few issues he’s needed to work through.”
My family was aware I was a patched member of Dark Angels. They chose not to discuss what that meant, and if I was honest, I preferred not to talk about stuff that would worry them. I classed Linc and his daughter, River, as extended family, along with the members of Dark Angels. A fucked-up bitch had set Linc up and left him currently wading through a shit storm. None of which I could help with.
“You could always come home and go into business with Ink. He’s doin’ real well, I hear.”
It was a refrain I’d heard before. And as much as I loved Ink and my family, working in Linc’s tattoo shop pushed me to be a better artist. Linc was a phenomenal tattoo artist. A six-month waiting list to get an appointment spoke to the man and his talent. Irrespective of the fact he was president of Dark Angels, he encouraged others to find their potential. I’d grown as an artist, and he challenged me to expand my skills. He didn’t box me in, and it was why I’d never leave to come home. “Ma, you know I love working for Linc. He took me on when I was just starting out, and I get a lot out of working alongside him. He’s got a lot to teach me.”
“You’re an amazing artist in your own right.”
Before she could launch into the wasting talent speech, I slung my arm over her shoulders, giving her a half-hug. “I know, and I get to use that talent every day doing tattoos. Living pieces of artwork. A human canvas. There is no better way to honor what I love, Mom.” I kissed her cheek to take the sting out of my words. I understood she
wanted me close by, but Ink, though a great tattooist, had no desire to push himself, which was fine for him.
“I worry,” she said as she turned toward me. “And it would be great to have both my boys back under my roof.”
I hugged her a little closer and gave her a toothy grin. “You got a short memory, Mom. How many times did you complain about our bickerin’ at each other?”
She giggled, sounding young and carefree. “You got me there. The way you two were, I should be completely gray by now.”
Squinting at her head. “I think a see a few silver ones.”
She slapped my arm with her soapy hand, wetting my favorite band T-shirt. “Hey. How am I gonna wear this out tonight?”
“Hay is for horses,” she fired back like she’d done ever since I could remember. “And there’s a dryer not ten feet from you.” She went back to washing the pots, and the back-and-forth banter continued till we were done.
Thirty minutes later, I was heading out the door with my T-shirt a little more wrinkled but dry. I hadn’t bothered to change since Ink wouldn’t care what I had on with my Levi’s.
Shorty’s was a familiar hangout for folks that liked rock and were more gay than straight. It was where I’d met my first boyfriend. I’d been a late bloomer in figuring shit out. Ink and I had hung out here as far back as I could remember.
Swinging the door open, the blast of sound nearly deafened me, and the heat and scent of liquor were heady. The band on the stage was going hard, making it difficult to tell whether they were talented. I edged past several men to reach where I knew Ink preferred to stand. The spot was at the end of the bar, out of the way of foot traffic.
I lifted my hand to wave when his dark head moved away from the preppy-looking guy and he glanced in my direction after the dude nudged his shoulder. It would seem Ink had shown the guy my picture. From the curl of his lip after his gaze swept over me, he wasn’t impressed. I dialed up the smile I aimed at him by several notches. It stung to potentially get rejected before he’d even spoken to me. What was his deal?
Seeing this could head south pretty quickly, but not giving up just yet, I shouted to be heard over the din and pointed at the half-empty beer bottles in front of them. “Want a beer?”
Both men nodded, and I swung my gaze to the busy staff behind the bar. I held up my twenty and waited my turn, watching the dude with Ink from the corner of my eye. He
was cute, if not a little clean-cut for my tastes. His eyes were a delicate blue, and though his chin looked weak, I could see the potential.
Once I had the beers, I moved closer just in time to hear the dude say, “He’s so scruffy. What did he do, sleep in his T-shirt?”
Ink didn’t answer as he gave me an apologetic smile. It took effort to keep my own in place. “Nah, Mom soaked it messin’ around, so she put it in the dryer about twenty minutes ago.” I pointed at the creases from the high heat. “It got a little wrinkled, and I ran out of time to do anything about it. I thought it would be rude to show up late. Hi, I’m Kyle.” I placed the beers on the bar and offered him my hand, working on being friendly.
He eyed it for a long second before taking it. “Flynn.” He clasped my hand for the briefest of handshakes. Not that I’d call it a handshake, more a limp-wrist wriggle motion that was over before it started.
I shrugged off the weirdness of the moment and gave Ink a wide grin. “Hey, squirt.”
Red crept past the neck of Flynn’s pressed button-down as he snatched up his beer and took a drink, looking away. No apology for being rude was forthcoming.
Ink nudged my shoulder. “One time I squirted you with ink, and you ain’t never gonna let me live it down.”
Around the laughter, I shook my head. “Nope. It’s good to see ya, man. You’re looking good.” And he was. Someone had cut his dark hair since the last time I’d seen him. The layered cut highlighted his slashing cheekbones and hazel eyes. I picked up my bottle and pointed it at his neck. “You got a new tat. Who did it for you?”
Preppy Boy made a huffing sound, and I wondered why Ink had suggested I might be interested. He clearly wasn’t. And I was still smarting from the scruffy comment. It wasn’t like Ink and I dressed differently. We both liked band T-shirts and jeans, which made up most of my wardrobe. Was this why I wasn’t getting laid?
“Got a new trainee in the shop, and she’s got killer skills. You should pop by tomorrow before you head back to Belton so I can introduce you to her.” He carried on chatting and catching me up.
I made a concentrated effort not to be rude and act like I was interested in Flynn, but in my head, I was counting down the minutes until I could leave.
On my way to the restroom for a much-needed break from acting like a grinning fool, a large guy stepped into my path. The way he moved was all bad-boy swagger, something I’d seen a lot of in Dark Angels. Was he a biker? He wasn’t wearing any leather, but I got
the sense he wouldn’t look out of place in it. He was the type of guy who got my blood heating.
He glanced over my shoulder to where I’d left Ink and Flynn. One brow quirked up, and his massive shoulders moved, his thick biceps flexing in the well-fitting T-shirt. Was that disappointment I saw in his eyes?
Keeping it friendly, I smiled lazily. “Problem?”
Something about him seemed familiar when his gaze met mine. Yet, the eyes that would not easily be forgotten held my attention. The green was ringed with gray and held something similar to Linc’s, a weight from living a hard life. It left its mark and compelled me to look closer. He smelled of soap and musk. The combination did something for me that Preppy Boy’s expensive cologne hadn’t. Desire unfurled in the pit of my stomach as he held my gaze, unblinking. My heart bounded as time ticked by unnoticed.
When someone knocked against my side, it broke the spell. As I glanced toward the apologetic guy stumbling off, it gave the dude I’d been having an eye-fucking competition with a chance to turn and walk into the crowd. My gaze dipped to his ass, and I shook my head.
When I lost sight of him, I released a shuddery breath. What the fuck was that? I rubbed the center of my chest, feeling my heart battering against my hand.
In the restroom, I stared at myself in the mirror. The flush and excited light in my eyes had fuck-all to do with Flynn and everything to do with the silent encounter.
After peeing, I walked back into the bar, intent on searching out the other guy. Ten minutes later, after coming up empty, I sighed heavily and trudged back to Ink. One look at Flynn’s stony expression, and I figured it was time to leave.
I was out the door of Shorty’s five minutes later, with a plan to go to Ink’s the next day before heading back to Belton. I inhaled the fresh air, thinking about soap and musk. I walked toward home, the memory of a pair of green-gray eyes accompanying me.
Big fucking hairy balls!
Why couldn’t Ink have introduced me to tall, dark, and mysterious?
Dating fucking sucked!