Read an Excerpt
"Okay, move over. You're gonna hit bone, you keep digging at him like that." Jess Owen shoved the rookie aside and spun the chair around, straddling it as she sat. With gloved fingers, she lifted the tattoo gun and touched the three-needle shader to J.D.'s shoulder. "There are seven layers of skin. You don't want to go deeper than the fifth. Just a touch lighter."
Burly, with long side-burns and longer hair, J.D. relaxed in the padded chair as the Rolling Stones hammered on about having sympathy for the devil. Jess added red to the inked flames climbing his shoulder. He sighed in obvious relief. "After that butcher, this feels like heaven."
"Sorry, man." Trash, the rookie grinned, sounding not a bit apologetic. He sounded proud he'd made the big biker squirm. "But you volunteered."
"Not to be tortured." J.D. scowled. "Your hand's heavier than your foot."
Jess tossed her dark blonde ponytail back over her shoulder and leaned further to the right to give Trash a better view. She had given her first tattoo on her sixteenth birthday. Now, six and a half years later, she had earned her rep as the best tattooist in the parlor, and often had to turn away work.
"You should be grateful I bombed out," Trash said, his gaze fixed on her progress. "Jess don't do freebies."
"You didn't bomb out," Jess muttered, breathing carefully and moving her entire hand, not just her wrist, as she followed what remained of the transfer. J.D. was a bleeder and there wasn't much left of the pattern. "In fact, you can finish this."
"Really?" Trash asked, surprised.
She blotted the tattoo with a paper towel and handed the gun back to him."Yep. You saw how deep, right?" She stood, waiting for his nod as she stripped off the gloves and threw them in the garbage. "You got a steady hand. Go for it."
Jess stopped at the door to the eight-stall garage, the second half of Tattoos and Tails. "I'll be back to see how it's going later. Holler if you need anything."
"Yeah," J.D. said. "How about a tourniquet?"
"Sorry, fresh out." Jess chuckled. "Don't worry, if you lose too much blood, we can always squeeze some out of Trash."
"I heard that." Trash didn't turn. He was bent to his task, dark hair stuck to his sweaty, narrow forehead.
"Ouch, damn it, Trash." J.D. gave Jess a pleading look. "How about some whiskey then?"
"No way. The city would pull my license if they caught you with booze. Besides, it'll only make you puke, and you suck at mopping."
Before they could trap her into another discussion on the finer points of pain management, she escaped into the shadowy garage where they rebuilt and serviced Harley-Davidson motorcycles. No rice grinders allowed, as her father, Dirty Dan Owen called the Japanese-made crotch-rockets.
One vehicle parked out there wasn't a motorcycle, and she had been dying to get to her baby all morning. The fully restored, midnight blue, balls to the wall '67 Mustang was her most prized possession. The day couldn't be more tempting. Clear sky, balmy breeze, no humidity-perfect for a drive by the lake and a quick dip before business picked up for the night
Men's voices carried from the far end where a bay door stood open to the day. The gray in her dad's beard glinted white in the sunshine as he talked with a stranger, scrubbing a rag repeatedly over his rings. A nervous habit, something he did only when the city tried to dig up dirt on them or a routine investigation brought cops to their door.
Couldn't run a tattoo parlor and bike shop without the law thinking you were into everything from drugs to fencing stolen goods, which had been true before her father turned legit. Now, however, no thing or body could drag him back to that life.
After a closer look, she saw the stranger was far from a cop or a city inspector. Dirty Dan hit six feet and this guy had to be at least four inches taller. Large across the shoulders, narrow at the hips, he looked like one of those guys who pumped iron in the gym across from Rudy's Auto Parts. No beard, no mustache, and his close-cropped hair covered a well-tanned scalp. Okay, so not a drifter-too clean-cut, too athletic.
She heard the deep vibrato of his voice, but not the words. Running a hand along the curving flank of the Mustang, she found a better angle. He must have muscles on top of muscles under that leather coat. Who was he? A knee-breaker for the mob?
Sunglasses hid his eyes, but not the strong jaw or the mouth that looked as hard as the rest of him. His nose wasn't quite as crooked as J.D.'s, but it could have been broken more than once. Maybe a bouncer for one of the downtown clubs?
He spotted her, and she felt the intensity of his gaze behind those sunglasses. Startled to be caught staring, she lifted her chin and tried on a smile that felt as phony as Trash's old I.D. She joined them and gave her father a probing look. "Hey Dad, thought I'd come give you a hand."
He looked at the array of parts on the work bench, then raised a brow at her. "With spark plugs?"
She held back a groan. Like he needed help with spark plugs. "Well, y'know, whatever."