“You have got to be fucking kidding me!”
Art Fletcher threw the letter onto the counter of his tattoo shop and scowled at it as though the piece of paper could absorb his fury and make the person behind the words feel his rage.
“What’s going on, boss?”
Art turned his attention to his two employees, who had both stopped their work at his outburst. Kane was the one who had spoken, and now frowned at him, his green eyes narrowing, his long blond hair falling into his face. His other employee, Rocco, sported a similar expression. Rocco lifted his hand to smooth his fingers down his goatee, as he tended to do when he was distracted.
Art struggled to school his features into a civilised expression. “The shop’s changed hands. Seems the old lady who owned the premises has kicked the bucket, and this place has been left to her niece. She’s not only thinking about putting the rent up on us, we’re also getting tenants.”
Like everyone who worked at his tattoo studio, Carved in Ink, Art was covered in tattoos. Complex sleeves ran down both of his arms, ink traversed up his neck, and across his knuckles. He was an artist at heart, and loved to work in black and white. Though happy sketching portraits using pencil, it was when he worked in ink that his passion truly came to life.
“Tenants?” asked Rocco. “What kind of tenants?”
Art shrugged. “Some stuck up American who’s inherited the shop. She’s the one who’s jacking the rent up on us, as well.” He’d only met the original owner of the shop a handful of times. She’d been in her seventies and hadn’t had much to do with the place. As long as Art paid the rent on time—which he always did—they were left to get on with things. Admittedly, the rent he’d been paying had stayed the same for the past eight years, and in this part of London was a ridiculously low price, but that didn’t mean he was able to pay a huge amount more.
In truth, it was the thought of having tenants that bothered him more than the hike in rent. He liked to work late into the night, with heavy metal music blaring. Sometimes, the crew would just hang out, drinking beer and messing around until the early hours. Having someone above them was bound to cause trouble. There would be complaints, he had no doubt.
Art glowered at the thought. Fuck it. Served them right if they were kept awake until the early hours. What else did they expect if they moved in above a tattoo shop?
Boards with artwork covered the walls, allowing prospective customers to browse. There were also folders containing even more pictures of tattoos—dragons, roses, skulls—anything a person could ever wish for. Art, however, preferred it when people came in with their own original ideas. Black and white portraits were his speciality, but anything where someone came in with a concept and allowed him to use his creativity and talent to produce something that would be a one-of-a-kind piece was his favourite. It was an honour to be asked to not only draw something personal to an individual, but to then ink it on their skin, so it would be with them for the rest of their life.
“Your first client will be here in ten,” called out Rocco. “I’ve got your ink ready for you.”
“Cheers. It’s the cover-up for that guy with the crappy British Bulldog.”
Rocco groaned. “You mean the one he got when he was pissed in Magaluf?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. What are you up to today?”
“I’m working on the girl who’s having the black wings on both shoulders. I’ve completed the outline already, so now I’m filling in.”
“That’s a big piece. How’s she taking it?”
He shrugged. “Like a pro. I swear women have higher pain thresholds then us guys. I’ve had men cry like little babies over the smallest of tats, while the women just clench their teeth and bear it.”
Art chuckled. “I hope you’re not implying we’re the weaker species.”
“Ha!” He snorted. “Only when it comes to pain. We’ve got the balls for the rest of it.” He grabbed his crotch to make his point, and Art shook his head in amusement. He wasn’t so sure about that, but he knew he was going to need some over the next few months. It said in the letter his new tenant would also be his new landlady and he could see some heads were going to be butted. But he had a big set of balls and he intended on using them. He’d been here for eight years now, and he didn’t plan on being dictated to by some jumped up foreigner who just happened to be lucky enough to have this property land in her lap.
Art liked this being a guy’s place. The other men who worked here were all of a similar personality type to him—tough, say-it-like-it-is, men’s-men. They got on well, for the most part. Sure, they had their arguments, but it wasn’t anything a fight, followed by a few beers, couldn’t solve. Even the women who came here to be tattooed seemed to like the all male atmosphere. They were able to joke and flirt with the men while they were being given their body art, and left feeling upbeat and sexy. It wasn’t unheard of for one of the guys to hook up with a client from time to time either. Art had had his fair share of one time hook ups, but that was all they’d ever be. He had two rules when it came to women —no relationships with clients, as relationships always ended up messy. Plus, he always made sure the woman knew exactly how things worked. It was nothing more than a hook-up, a one time thing. It was always made clear from the start, and that way he didn’t need to worry about rule number one not being followed.
The idea of having some chick living upstairs depressed him. It would be some uptight middle aged woman who would think she ruled the roost. All the guys who worked here were all in their twenties, and, being older, she’d probably try to mother them. If that didn’t work, she’d lay down the law, knowing she owned the place and at the end of the day she could end the lease if she wanted to. It would be a struggle to find the extra cash for the rent, but it was the loss of the flat above the shop that was causing Art the real headache, for more reasons than one.
Still, he’d have to figure things out. He’d worked his whole adult life to build this place, and he wasn’t about to have some bird walk in and ruin it all.