I push the door open and a small bell signals my entry. At best, InkSlingers is a complete dive, not near as sleek-looking as some of the newer tattoo parlors. But this place has one thing—one person, really—that sets them above all the rest.
Not only is he one of the most highly recommended tattoo artists in the city, but two years ago he won top prize on the reality show Inked. If I recall, the grand prize was two hundred thousand dollars to be used toward the establishment of his own parlor. So why in the hell he works in this dinky building off the corner of Hampton and Third, I have no idea. And to be honest, I don’t really care.
“Hello?” I look around. The place is eerily quiet, not a soul in sight. Glancing down at my watch, I check the time. Sure enough, it’s fifteen minutes earlier than my scheduled appointment. That’s me…Miss Punctuality.
I spend the next five minutes pacing across the waiting room of the shop without seeing a single person, all the while wondering who in the hell leaves their shop unattended?
Just when I’m about ready to say screw it and walk out, the front door opens and once again the bell dings. I spin around on my heel, prepared to chew someone’s ass for making me wait, and then nearly trip over my own feet when I see the behemoth of a man standing in front of me.
Without permission, my eyes rake him over from head to toe. His dirty blond hair is shaggy and clearly hasn’t been trimmed for months. He could probably pull it into one of those man-bun things that seem to be all the rage, but instead it hangs loose with the stray strands tucked behind his ears.
My eyes travel south, taking in his plain black tee that stretches tight across his broad chest and even tighter around his biceps. A colorful sleeve of tattoos decorates his right arm, and as far as I can tell the left is completely bare. He’s sexy, in a rugged sort of way. He’s also the complete opposite of the guys I’m normally attracted to, yet I find myself enraptured.
The stranger clears his throat, and my eyes snap up to find piercing blue eyes staring back at me. When he cocks an eyebrow, I realize I’ve been caught checking him out. My first instinct is to avert my eyes and murmur an apology, but then I realize that’s what the old Brittany would do. And I dropped her off by the curb a long time ago.
“What?” I say, shrugging unapologetically.
“Were you checking me out?” The sound of his gravelly voice does things to me that a voice should never be able to do to another human being. I squeeze my thighs together to suppress the tingling it caused.
“Well, that depends.”
“Do you want me to check you out?” I ask.
He nods and moves past me, his shoulder grazing mine. “Bold. I like it. What can I do for you?”
Furrowing my brow, I tilt my head. I totally had him pegged for my next conquest—a.k.a. one-night stand—but I have a strange feeling he just brushed me off. I shake my head, trying to remember the question. Oh yeah. Connor. “I have a ten o’clock appointment with Connor. He’s late.”
The stranger looks down at his watch and then back at me. “He’s not late. It’s only nine fifty-five.”
I roll my eyes. “Okay, fine.” I walk over and plop down in a waiting room chair, then cross my legs, knee over knee. “Will you call him and see how much longer he’s going to be?”
“You in a hurry?” the guy asks.
Not really. No. “Maybe.”
He nods and sets his to-go coffee cup and brown paper bag on the front desk, then sits down and pulls out his phone. “He won’t be long.”
“Let’s hope,” I mumble, grabbing a Tattoo Weekly magazine off the table in front of me.
“Would you like a doughnut?” I glance up to see the man holding up a chocolate-covered doughnut. It looks delicious, and I’m two seconds away from accepting his offer when I remember my closet full of clothes that are becoming too tight. That one doughnut will easily take me hours at the gym to burn off.
“No, thank you.”
He shrugs. “Suit yourself.”
Smiling tightly, I look back at the magazine and spend the next several minutes absently thumbing through it. I skim a few articles then toss the magazine on the table and grab another, my frustration growing with each passing second.
“Are you ready?”
I glance up to find the sexy stranger standing in front of me. Putting the magazine back on the table, I look around. “Is Connor here?”
The man smiles, his full lips parting to reveal perfectly white teeth. There’s a smudge of chocolate near the corner of his mouth, and I briefly wonder what he would do if I stepped forward and licked it off.
“I’m Connor,” he says. His words catch me off guard and all thoughts of chocolate drift from my mind. My eyes roam his face, only this time I take a closer look.
“You’re Connor?” I ask incredulously.
“Wow,” he says, chuckling. “Don’t look so surprised. I take it I’m not what you expected.” His voice is clipped, and I instantly berate myself for the way that came out.
“No.” I shake my head vehemently. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way. You’re an incredibly attractive man. It’s just that you look different from when you were on the show. You didn’t have the facial hair—or the long hair, for that matter—both of which I find unbelievably sexy.” Connor’s eyes widen and I realize what I said. “I can’t believe I just said that. Damn it,” I mumble, averting my eyes. This is what happens when I get nervous, and for some strange reason, Connor makes me nervous. Sighing, I decide to give up. “I’m sorry if I offended you.”
My eyes are trained on the floor as I contemplate leaving to avoid further embarrassment. I’m still undecided when a pair of Chuck T’s enters my line of sight. I smile because those are my favorite shoes. “So you like the beard?” he says suggestively, causing me to look up. His blue eyes are swirling with a mixture of amusement and lust.
“I like the beard.”
Connor grins as though he just found out he won a prize. Without saying a word, he steps away and I follow behind. Leading me into a small room in the back of the shop, he says, “Did you find something in the magazine that you want?”
“I actually have a picture of what I want.”
“Let’s see it.”
I walk toward him and hold out my phone. Connor takes the phone, examines the picture then looks up.
“Where do you want it?”
“Here.” Lifting my right arm, I tug my shirt up and point to the location along my rib cage, just under my breast.
“I like that,” he says, handing me my phone. “But what if we angled it just a bit like this…” Connor puts a finger at the top of my ribs and a tiny zap of electricity jolts through my body. He looks up, his eyes searching mine before he drags the tip of his index finger along my skin. His touch leaves a trail of goose bumps. My pulse quickens, and it takes everything I have not to beg him to keep touching me when he pulls away.
“What do you think?” he asks. His pupils are dilated, his breathing a bit faster, and I get the feeling he was as affected by that as I was.
“I”—my voice cracks and I flush with embarrassment—“I like it. Plus, you’re the expert so I’ll leave it completely up to you.”
Connor swallows hard and my eyes follow the movement. “Good choice.” He turns away. “All right, have a seat here,” he says, gesturing toward the reclined chair, and I sit down. “Turn this way.” He angles my body to the left. “Is that comfortable?”
“Good,” he mumbles, tugging my shirt up to expose my right side again.
The soft cotton slips down and he pushes it back up, only this time his hand brushes against my bra, grazing the outside of my breast. Another jolt passes through me, only this time it’s stronger. His eyes snap to mine, and I know—I know—that he felt that. As I bite down on my bottom lip, his sinful eyes flash with heat, and I watch him take a ragged breath before turning away.
“So…is, uh, is this your first tattoo?” he stammers, bringing his eyes back to mine.
“Nope. I have another one.”
“Good, so you know what to expect.” I nod, and then he smiles brightly before getting his equipment ready. “Okay,” he says. He rubs my skin with something cool and I presume he’s prepping it. “Let’s do this.”
The faint whir of the machine signals this is happening, and I squeeze my eyes shut as he gently pulls my skin taut. Okay, time to go to my happy place, which just so happens to feature none other than my sexy-as-hell tattoo artist.
My mind drifts into eroticland—as I like to call it—as I picture Connor sliding his hand up my bare thigh. He hooks a finger under the side of my panties, and with his wicked eyes on me he slips a finger in—
“I like the quote,” he says, pulling me from my fantasy.
“Do you know what it means?” I ask, opening my eyes and then quickly looking away. I’m a doctor, so you’d think the sight of blood wouldn’t bother me. And it doesn’t, as long as it isn’t my blood.
“I’ve put it on a few other people. Looked it up one time. It’s deep.”
“Yeah”—I take a big breath, holding it in for a few beats before letting it out—“well…” My words trail off because I don’t really know what else to say, and I sure as hell don’t want to talk about why this particular tattoo means so much to me.
Connor goes quiet, but I can feel his eyes burning a hole through my head. When I glance up, his eyes catch mine for a brief second before he looks back down. It was just enough time to tell me that he had my number.
“So it’s personal, huh?”
“What?” I scoff. “A girl can’t get a tattoo just to get a tattoo?”
“Of course she can, but you’re different. This is personal.” He cocks his head to the side, his hair falling in front of his face. I have to fist my hands together to keep from brushing it away so that I can see his face more clearly.
“Okay, fine, you’re right. It’s personal.”
“I’m always right,” he says, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. “It would be prudent of you to remember that.” I tilt my head to the side just as the machine turns off and Connor looks up. He has one hand settled at the base of my waist, the other holding the tattoo gun off to the side. His eyes are smoldering, pinning me in my seat.
My tongue darts out, running a slow path along my lower lip, and I watch as his eyes follow along. Oh yeah, this is happening. Not one to beat around the bush, I decide to go for it. It’s obvious we’re attracted to each other, so there’s no reason for this not to happen.
“What are you doing when you get off work?”
Connor’s eyebrows push into his hairline. “Are you asking me out on a date?” he asks.
My heart clenches inside my chest and I take a deep breath, because as much as I’d like to say yes, that just isn’t who I am anymore. “Nope,” I state impassively. “I gave up dating.”
“You don’t date?” he asks incredulously.
Lips parted, he nods slowly several times as though he’s processing what I just said—and deciding what he’s going to do about it.
“Well, that’s too bad, because I gave up fucking.”
His cheeks flush, probably because he realized what he just admitted to, and I can’t help but laugh. “So you don’t have sex?”
Connor rolls his eyes, and even though I’m not a fan of the gesture, he makes it look sexy. My guess is that he makes most things look sexy. “Of course I have sex, I just stopped fucking. I gave up the meaningless one-night stands.” He shrugs. “I want more.”
“Ahhh.” I nod. “Well, good luck with that.” Connor doesn’t say another word. He puts the tattoo gun down and then holds up a mirror so I can check out my new ink. “It’s perfect,” I state, my eyes roaming over the beautiful script.
“I’m glad you like it.” Connor puts the mirror down and slathers some Vaseline on my tattoo. He follows it up with a bandage, all the while rattling off the aftercare instructions.
“Are we done?” I ask, secretly hoping he’ll tell me no. At least then I’d have a reason to stay.
“We’re done.” I push up from the chair. Connor nods his head toward the front desk and I follow him up there to pay. We seem to have fallen into a comfortable silence, and his presence alone is calming in a way I can’t explain. I wish like hell that he would’ve taken me up on my offer, because I have no doubt that it would’ve been fucking fantastic.
Without a word, Connor swipes my card, then I sign the receipt and shove my wallet back in my purse. When I look up, Connor is watching me intently. “Thank you,” I murmur.
His blue eyes are two swirling pools of liquid heat, and what I wouldn’t give to dive in and beg him to change his rules for just one night. “Don’t thank me,” he says, shaking his head. “It was my pleasure.”
We stand there for several more seconds, the air crackling around us as I search for something to say. “I’m Brittany, by the way,” I say, somewhat awkwardly.
Connor grins. “I know.” I furrow my brow and he points to the desk. “You made an appointment.”
“Right.” My phone beeps in my purse, and I decide that’s my cue to leave. “Well, I better go.”
“When will I see you again?” he hollers as I walk toward the door.
Spinning around, I give him my best come-hither look. “When I decide to get another tattoo.”
“Or?” he asks, a grin splitting his ruggedly handsome face.
“When you decide to fuck.”
His jaw nearly hits the floor.
Brittany, one. Connor, zero.
I think I’m going to like playing this game.