Colin Spencer is a tattoo artist with a past he’d prefer to keep a secret. Actually, he has a few secrets that he’d rather people didn’t know about, which is why Colin doesn’t do commitment. But when a shy sailor approaches him at the gym, Colin finds this guy pushing all his buttons.
Growing up in a conservative family, then escaping with the Navy, Daniel Moore is an unsure virgin who feels like he can’t share his true self with anyone. Seeing Colin—and his tattoos—at the gym are the sign Daniel needs to finally get those tattoos he’s always wanted, and maybe try his hand at flirting.
As Colin and Daniel spend more time together, their awkward hesitations turn into a deep passion neither expected. But with both men harboring secrets, will their relationship be able to survive their insecurities and become something beautiful?
Back Piece by L.A. Witt is a sexy, emotional journey of two people learning to love and finding acceptance for who they really are.
L.A. Witt also writes under the name Lauren Gallagher.
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By L. A. Witt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 L. A. Witt
All rights reserved.
When Colin Spencer walked into Seaside Barbell on Wednesday night, he stopped so sharply his sneaker squeaked on the tile floor.
It wasn't the ever-present smell of rubber, sweat, and metal. It wasn't the godawful grunge playing over thegrunts, clanks, and conversation. He was used to the way this place smelled and sounded.
No, what stopped him in his tracks was the scenery, which had noticeably changed. Specifically, the new arrivals.
By the counter, holding clipboards and filling out membership forms, were five gorgeous men with high-and-tight haircuts and matching yellow NAVY T-shirts. They all looked a little younger than him — midtwenties, give or take — and ... wow. Either they all had especially incredible genes, or they weren't starting at the gym after months of being couch potatoes. They were all tan, all fit, all just mouthwatering.
Two of them glanced his way, probably wondering why he'd stopped and what the fuck he was staring at. He shook himself, adjusted his bag on his shoulder, and continued past them to the locker room.
As he changed into his workout clothes, his brain was firmly focused on the beautiful men he'd just seen. Apparently Seaside Barbell's owners hadn't been joking about poaching from the base gyms and somehow advertising to the sailors on the ship that had just come back from deployment. The owners were both retired Navy, so they had ample access to all the bases, and they were determined to pull in as many new members as possible from Norfolk, Little Creek, and nearby Naval Air Station Oceana. Which meant this place would soon be teeming with fit young men lifting, running, squatting ...
Colin shivered, making a mental note to shake the owners' hands.
You boys are doing God's work. Keep it up.
After he'd changed into his workout clothes, he sat on the bench and leaned down to tie his sneakers. The locker room door opened, letting in the noise from the gym. Without thinking about it, he glanced up.
Just in time to see those beautiful men come walking in.
His hands stopped. His jaw dropped.
And bending down like this was about to get really uncomfortable, so he quickly turned his attention back to tying his shoes.
What the hell, anyway? It wasn't like he didn't get to see hot military men on the regular. This was Virginia Beach. Navy guys were everywhere. Half of them wanted tattoos, so they were constantly in his shop with his hands on them. Hell, once in a while he even got lucky and tattooed a hot, wild-eyed SEAL. In one particularly memorable case, a hot, wild-eyed SEAL who turned out to be a power top with an oral fixation.
Colin shook himself.
I really need to get laid, don't I?
As he stood, casually adjusting the front of his shorts to be absolutely sure nothing incriminated him, he stole another glance at them ... just in time to bust one giving his arms an appreciative look. He was exceptionally cute — kind of a baby face, even with the military haircut, and no ink that Colin could see.
And Colin hadn't met too many straight men who'd watch another man in the locker room. At least not quite so intently.
The sailor's eyes flicked up and met Colin's, and he jumped. Turning bright red, he cleared his throat and looked away.
Colin's mouth went dry. Either that kid was gay, or he had a serious appreciation for ink, or both.
Shaking himself again, Colin headed for the door. He didn't allow himself to turn around and see if the guy was checking out his ass. He didn't have to — the mirror gave him an unobstructed view of a not-so-sneaky glance from that blushing sailor.
Colin chuckled. Busted.
And yep, I definitely need to get laid.
At the front counter, Amanda, his ponytailed trainer, waited for him, her usual flowery smile belying the sadistic beast in hot pink yoga pants she really was. "You ready?"
"Ready when you are."
"Good." She tucked her clipboard under her arm. "Food log?"
He cringed. "Damn it."
"Locker or shop?"
"Locker." He pointed over his shoulder.
"I'll, uh ... I'll go grab it."
She quirked her lips and nodded in true Amanda damn right you will fashion.
He jogged back to the locker room, pulled open the door, and walked in just in time to catch his red-faced ogler peeling off his track pants to reveal a pair of snug blue NAVY shorts underneath. Colin nearly stumbled for the second time since he'd arrived, but he recovered, and hurried to his locker.
As he dialed in the combo, he fought the temptation to steal another glance at the sailors. Especially one in particular. There'd be ample opportunity, he reminded himself, since it looked like they were all getting ready for a workout session. God help him if they decided today was leg day.
"Hey, um." A quiet, almost shy voice came from behind him. "That's some really cool ink."
"Thanks." Colin's lock opened. He turned, and nearly jumped out of his skin. Oh, hello. "I ... yeah. Thanks."
The kid struggled to hold eye contact, but his smile was friendly. "Did you get those locally?" He paused, then quickly added, "I'm asking because I'm looking to get a tattoo."
"Oh really?" Colin pulled his food log out of his locker and shut the door again. "I'm actually a tattoo artist."
The sailor's eyes lit up. "Are you?"
"Yeah. In fact, my shop is two doors over." He gestured in its general direction as if that made any difference whatsoever. There were five businesses in the strip mall — his wouldn't be difficult to find.
"Oh. Wow. Um." The kid glanced at his friends, then cleared his throat. "Do you have a card?" He grimaced. "I mean, that's stupid. It's two doors down, so ..." He put his shoulders back, and shook his head. "Anyway. If I wanted to talk to you about some work, do I just drop in?" Sweetheart, you can drop in anytime you want to talk about anything.
"Yeah, yeah." Colin smiled, trying like hell to play it cool. "I'm there until ten most nights. In fact, I'll be there tonight after my session here. Which ..." He held up the food log as if it meant a damn thing to anyone but him. "I should get in there or my trainer will make me suffer for making her wait."
The kid laughed, and good God, that was almost worth staying in here and risking Amanda's wrath. "All right. Um. My session's right now, too. So, uh, I'll come by afterward?"
"Sure. Yeah. Looking forward to it."
They exchanged smiles — is this as awkward and embarrassing for you as it is for me? — and then went their separate ways.
Back out in the gym, Amanda tapped her watch. "Couldn't remember your combo?"
"Uh." Colin handed her the tattered black journal. "Just got a little distracted."
She snickered. "Can't imagine why."
"Baby, I know you, and I saw them go in there." She arched a pencil-thin eyebrow. "I'll let it slide this time."
She must've been in a good mood. Normally she'd tack on a dozen or so burpees or send him on a run around the parking lot just for the hell of it. Mercy was a rare thing when Amanda was involved.
She thumbed through his journal to the most recent pages, and looked them over. Colin's throat tightened as he waited for her to comment. This was his least favorite part of his workout. Even the burpees and that stupid rowing machine had nothing on the weirdly raw, vulnerable feeling of having his eating habits scrutinized.
When the military guys, including the kid who wanted some ink, came out of the locker room, he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. They couldn't have known what she was looking at or why she required him to keep it in the first place, but he still hated even the possibility of someone catching on. Especially someone he was hoping to get naked.
"Okay." She closed the journal, pulling his attention away from the new guys. "I want to see a few more carbs, and that should take care of you getting dizzy during cardio. And I'm not kidding — more fat."
He gritted his teeth. "Okay. Okay."
"I mean it." Her forehead creased. "You're not doing yourself any favors by going too lean. We've been through this."
He nodded, trying to ignore the knot of shame coiling in the pit of his stomach. She was right. They both knew she was right. She'd gone to school for this — he'd hit the jackpot with a trainer who was also a nutritionist. In the long run, he'd reap the benefits of listening to her, no matter how much of a battle it was with his own damn psyche.
"All right." She grinned. "Shall we get started?"
Colin exhaled. "Let the torture begin."CHAPTER 2
Every gym was full of hot men. That was a given, and exactly why Daniel had jumped at the offer to join Seaside Barbell. The base gym had been a smorgasbord of eye candy, especially when the Marines came over from Little Creek, but a place full of competitive weightlifters and bodybuilders had some serious potential. Worth checking out, definitely.
So, since his buddies from the ship were giving this place a try, and they'd all gotten a good deal on a trial membership — trainer included — he'd decided what the hell. He'd tagged along tonight, they'd had a tour of the place, and then suddenly ... that guy.
Inked all over, from his full sleeves to a few tattoos creeping up the sides of his neck, he was not hard on the eyes at all. Definitely civilian, too. The Navy had loosened their regs on tattoos, but not that much, and some of those neck and forearm tats looked like they'd been there since well before the regs had changed.
And hell, even without the ink, he'd have been insanely hot. Not that Daniel was a sucker for guys who knew their way around a weight room or anything. The way the tattoo artist's black T-shirt pulled tight over his powerful shoulders and sculpted arms was jaw-dropping. He wasn't one of those idiots who skipped leg day, either. His lower body looked like he could get some serious leverage if he —
"Hey." Reuben elbowed him. "You're up, Moore."
Daniel pulled his gaze away from the tattoo artist.
Eric, their new trainer, pointed with his pen at the loaded barbell. "One set of eight curls."
He picked up the bar and did as he was told. As he put it down again, he shrugged. "Not too hard."
Big mistake. Eric grinned. "It's your first day, man. I'm just seeing where y'all's baselines are." He winked. "Trust me — you'll be lifting more next time."
Daniel groaned. Well, he hadn't come here to slack off. The whole point of having a trainer was to push his limits and make him stronger. And if this guy was anything like the one he'd worked with while he was in Pensacola, he was going to be miserable for a few weeks.
While the other guys went through another set of curls — with more weight this time, of course — Daniel looked around the gym. Naturally, it took like two seconds for him to zero in on the tattoo artist. He kind of stood out since he had as much ink as everyone in the room combined, but in the twenty minutes since they'd crossed paths for the first time, Daniel swore the artist's location had been hardwired into his brain.
"Keep ogling him," Reuben said under his breath, "and we'll all go over there and ask him out for you."
Daniel's head snapped toward his friend. "What? No! Don't you fucking dare."
"I'm kidding!" His buddy rolled his eyes and slugged him playfully. "He's probably going to do the job for us anyway."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
Reuben's eyes darted toward the tattoo artist. Then he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "When you do your next set? Take a look in the mirror."
"Shut up." Daniel elbowed him. Still, he was curious, so when it was his turn to lift again, he picked up the bar and, as Reuben had suggested, stole a glance in the mirror.
And holy shit.
One, two, three seconds before the guy looked away.
What the —
Daniel nearly dropped the barbell, but recovered enough to finish his set.
Reuben laughed and clapped Daniel's shoulder. "Told you."
Daniel chuckled, but his heart was going a million miles an hour, and not because of the set he'd just finished.
"Go for it, man," Reuben whispered.
"Shut up," Daniel hissed.
"Oh, come on. He's practically waving a green flag."
"And since when are you an expert on how gay men —"
"Hey. Hey." Reuben showed his palms. "I'm just saying."
"Yeah, well." Daniel glared at him. "How about ..." In the mirror beyond Reuben, he caught sight of the tattoo artist doing a squat with a barbell across his powerful shoulders. "Uh ..."
Reuben just snickered.
Daniel was annoyed, not to mention scared shitless that one of the guys might actually approach the tattoo artist, but it could've been worse. He was lucky to have shipmates who weren't homophobic at all, let alone the type who could be menacing or dangerous. Quite the opposite, in fact — mostly, they just tried to get him laid. Maybe not very skillfully, but they tried.
Stay back, boys. Don't fuck this one up for me.
* * *
Reuben gave him shit for the rest of their training session, and by the end, the other guys had gotten on board, too. Fortunately, they were relatively discreet, though Daniel was pretty sure it wasn't because of any effort to not embarrass the fuck out of him. They were all new to this gym, and there was no telling how the other lifters would feel about a gay man in their midst. Two gay guys openly trying to hook up? That could be at best awkward, at worst a disaster.
Daniel's shipmates were straight as the day was long — though the jury was still out on Potter — but they knew when not to broadcast his sexuality.
Still, they'd all been trying to hook him up for the last few months. Ever since he'd "broken up" with his "boyfriend back home." They probably wouldn't quit until they had a sworn statement from someone who'd shared his bed with Daniel.
The thought made Daniel squirm. He wondered if that eventual someone would be willing to massage his sworn statement and leave out the "clueless virgin" part.
When the weightlifting session was over, their trainer scheduled them for their next sessions, then cut them loose. In the locker room, Daniel was tempted to rush back out, but it wasn't like the artist was going to disappear on him. The dude's shop was in the same building. If he'd already gone back to work, Daniel could just walk over there. No big deal.
So he forced himself to slow down and not be a desperate idiot. He grabbed a quick shower, then changed into jeans and a clean T-shirt and, as casually as possible, hung around while the other guys put on their shoes.
"You coming back with us, Moore?" Reuben asked.
"No, I ..." Daniel cleared his throat, knowing damn well he was as red as the locker he was leaning against. "I'm going to go talk to that guy about a tattoo."
They all snickered and chuckled, but no one said anything. Again, probably because this was a new environment. Virginia wasn't the most liberal place on the planet, and it was entirely possible that one of the other guys here could be a card-carrying, gun-toting homophobe. He wouldn't be the first bigot to cross paths with Daniel — there was a reason Daniel and his buddies didn't go to certain bars in the area anymore.
"You assholes ready to go?" Potter hoisted his gym bag onto his shoulder.
"Almost." Reuben sat on the bench to put on his shoes. "Hold your horses."
Potter sighed dramatically. "At least tell me you can put on your makeup in the car."
Reuben motioned like he was going to throw his shoe at Potter's head, and they both laughed.
Daniel zipped up his bag, trying not to let it show that he was in a hell of a hurry. "All right. I'll see you guys on the boat."
"See ya, man," Potter said.
Reuben smirked. "Good luck."
When Daniel emerged from the locker room, the tattoo artist was still there. He'd changed back into street clothes, and was leaning on the counter chatting with some employees. Daniel approached cautiously, not sure why he was so freaked out. After all, he was going to give this dude money for a tattoo. That had to earn him some kind of leeway in the if you say something dumb, he'll up and vanish department.
The artist turned, and he looked right at Daniel as if he, too, had developed some weird sixth sense about the other's presence. Clearing his throat, he pushed himself away from the counter. "Have a good workout?"
"Yeah." Daniel smiled, hoping he didn't seem too awkward. "First time with a new trainer. I'm sure the next time will be brutal."
"You're right about that," Eric said from behind him. He clapped Daniel's shoulder.
"Friday's gonna suck for you."
"Great," Daniel said, and his trainer walked away chuckling.
The artist laughed. "Could be worse. Eric's rough, but that one?" He nodded toward his own trainer, whose back was turned. "She'll rip you to pieces."
Excerpted from Back Piece by L. A. Witt. Copyright © 2017 L. A. Witt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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