Holly McCarty stood on the street outside the tattoo shop, trying not to be intimidated by the graffiti on the walls or the fact it wasn’t exactly located in the nicest part of London. This place, Carved in Ink, had come recommended to her by a friend, and, when Holly had posted about it on a local forum, asking for people’s experiences, she’d received nothing but positive comments.
This would be her first tattoo. She’d wanted one for years now, but her ex had told her how cheap he thought they made women look. She’d agreed with him, not wanting to start another fight, while all the while coveting the styles of those funky young women with the sleeve tattoos and the cool hairstyles.
But she was thirty-two now and thought she was past all of that, but a discreet tat that meant something to her didn’t seem like such a big deal.
She’d already made the appointment ahead of time, had emailed the artist the picture she wanted. Still she hesitated, nerves churning her stomach. She was excited too, though. This marked a new chapter in her life. A way of drawing a line under the past and moving forward.
Plus, it would mean her ex wouldn’t come near her again. It would be good to have something permanently on her body that he hated. A kind of fuck you in ink. He wouldn’t be able to come back again if she had a tattoo.
A group of lads, in their late teens she reckoned, swaggered towards her on the pavement. They’d already noticed her just standing there, and she didn’t want them to walk past, intimidating her. They were probably harmless, but she couldn’t help feeling self-conscious.
Holly forced her brain to switch off and took a couple of hurried steps towards the shop before the young men reached her. She pushed open the door to a tinkle of a bell. Rock music was playing from speakers embedded in the walls, no doubt controlled by something technical she didn’t understand—Bluetooth or whatever it was called—but it wasn’t deafeningly loud.
A young woman with shiny brown hair and large dark eyes sat on the other side of the counter. She’d been scrolling through something out of sight on the computer in front of her but clicked it off when she noticed Holly had walked in. The sight of the other woman made something inside Holly relax. She knew three guys worked here and was glad to see it wasn’t a fully male environment.
“Hey,” said the woman, and Holly noted the accent, American maybe, or possibly Canadian. She’d always struggled to tell the difference. It was the same with the Australians and New Zealanders, though she’d never admit it to anyone. “What can we do for you today?”
Holly smiled back, nerves still knotting her stomach. “I have an appointment for eleven. Holly McCarty?” She said her name as though it was a question.
The woman’s smile widened. “Sure, Holly. Take a seat. You’re booked in with Kane. You already know what you’re having?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been emailing Kane, and he’s got the picture.”
Tattoos climbed up the woman’s wrist and inner arm. Holly figured you couldn’t work in a tattoo shop without acquiring some yourself. But then she realised the tattoos hid something beneath and found herself staring too long, trying to figure out what she was looking at. Scars. The tattoos were covering a number of scars carved into the other woman’s arm.
Holly’s cheeks flamed with heat, and she averted her eyes, understanding that she’d unwittingly uncovered something private about the brunette. She flicked her gaze back up to the woman’s face and smiled again, trying to hide her awkwardness.
The other woman didn’t seem to have noticed, or, if she had, didn’t appear to be bothered by Holly’s scrutiny. “Cool.” She nodded over to the few chairs pushed up against one of the walls. A coffee table with magazines was positioned in front of the chair, and a water cooler was in the corner. “Take a seat. Kane won’t be long.”
Holly did as instructed and sat with her bag clutched on her lap, trying to stop her feet tapping up and down with nerves. She really wanted this, but still the worries that this is permanent and what if I end up hating it, went through her head. No, she needed to focus on her reasons for wanting the tattoo—how it was her way of reclaiming her body again. No one else got to have a say in what she did to her own skin. Anyway, the tattoo, though detailed, was only a few inches long and would be easily hidden in her chosen spot on her hip.
One of the adjoining doors opened, and Holly sat up straight, her heart lurching.
A man stepped out. “Holly?”
She jumped to her feet to face him, and only then did her nerves allow her a moment to assess the man who’d be permanently inking her skin. Her stomach flipped, sparks lighting her nerve endings, her breath catching.
This was exactly the type of guy her seventeen-year-old self would have gone crazy over. He was a little less than six feet tall and well built. Blond hair hung to his squared jaw, which was peppered with stubble a couple of shades darker. His cut-off t-shirt exposed muscular bare biceps that were scrawled in tattoos. But his eyes were the most gorgeous part of him—green, with flecks of gold that you could only see when you were up this close, and with him staring into your eyes as deeply as you were staring into his...
The realisation that they were staring at each other seemed to hit them at the same time, and they both glanced away, Holly’s cheeks burning hot for the second time in a matter of minutes.
She was not that seventeen-year-old girl anymore. She was thirty-two, mature, and with responsibilities. This guy probably wasn’t even thirty yet. Far too young for her, and not her type in the slightest now. She thought of her ex-husband, of the expensive suits he wore to work and the flash new car he drove. He’d told her when they’d first met that he’d take care of her and she didn’t need to work, but she was thankful every day that she’d laughed at his offer and continued in her job in Human Resources anyway. It allowed her that little bit of independence now, though she was in no way living in the kind of luxury he’d afforded her. Not that Holly cared about that. She’d have rather lived in the gutter than spend another day under the same roof as him.