After ten years of blissful marriage, Navy Pilot Nate Chandler is divorcing his cheating husband. Single for the first time in years, Nate is numb to all emotion and kisses any chance of another relationship goodbye.
Not only is Nate struggling to get through this divorce, but his body is branded with a permanent reminder of his failed marriage: a matching tattoo with his ex. Searching for a place to cover up his old tattoo, Nate finds himself at the Skin Deep, Inc., where he meets the young and charming cover-up tattoo apprentice, Lucas Brandt.
From just flirty glances to steamy hot encounters, Nate and Lucas dive headfirst into a fling of hookups. But worried that he’ll forever be Nate’s “cover up” rebound relationship, Lucas fears that their love won’t be anything more than just skin deep. What was once just a casual attraction, Lucas now hopes to turn into a real relationship. But will he be able to convince the still tender-hearted Nate to fall in love again?
Third installment of L.A. Witt’s Skin Deep romance series, COVER UP is a story of passion, pleasure, and happily ever after.
About the Author
L.A. Witt is the author of Back Piece. She is a M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies.
Read an Excerpt
Nate Chandler's wedding band never looked better than it did somersaulting out of his hand and over the James River. The sun caught the gold and gave it a little glint, and then the ring hit the surface and disappeared with a quiet bloop.
From the river's edge, Nate watched with satisfaction as the ripples bloomed outward before disappearing into the otherwise calm surface. In less than a minute, there was no evidence he'd ever thrown anything into the water at all. The ripples were gone, and so was that damn ring.
"Feel better?" Jon Russell, his best friend and the pilot he'd flown with for years, stood beside him.
Nate considered the question for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. A little." He'd feel even better once the divorce was final, and he'd planned to chuck the ring after that, but when he'd seen Caleb at today's hearing, he'd decided it was time.
Jon had come along for moral support. Though he hadn't said it out loud, there was also a good possibility he'd wanted to make sure Nate didn't leap over a table and choke the ever-loving fuck out of his lying, cheating, not-quite-ex-husband. Which was kind of entertaining to think about, and Nate sometimes joked about it, especially after a few drinks. But seeing Caleb had hurt more than anything. Getting violent hadn't crossed his mind. Getting sick? Definitely. Breaking down? More than once. But despite all his snide comments about his ex, Nate's only violent streak had ever been the odd drunken fisticuff with equally shitfaced aviators in bars, and he hadn't done that in years.
Caleb ... he'd never lay a hand on Caleb. He didn't even want to grab him and shake him by the shoulders and ask why he'd pissed away a fucking decade together. He didn't want to know if that other guy had really been worth it.
Though considering the other guy had been waiting outside for Caleb after the hearing, looking more than a little pleased with himself, apparently the answer was yes.
And that had been the moment Nate made the decision to feed his ring to the James River today, instead of when the divorce was final. In his mind, it already was. Their marriage had crashed and burned, and there was nothing left to do but put out the flames and pick up the rubble.
So Jon had driven him down here, and now it was done. And yeah, Nate kind of felt better. It wasn't like he'd been wearing the ring, anyway. He'd taken it off the day he'd caught Caleb and whatshisname in their bed three months ago, and hadn't put it back on since.
Jon put a hand on Nate's shoulder. "Hey. You want to get out of here?"
Nate stared at the water in the general vicinity of where his ring had vanished. The river was continuing its lazy course toward the Chesapeake Bay, moving on from the eighteen-karat assault, and he decided it would be a good idea for him to do the same. So he nodded and turned to his friend. "Yeah. Is it too early to start drinking?"
A sympathetic grimace pulled at Jon's features. "I don't think there's such thing as too early on a day like today."
"Good. Let's go." Nate paused. "Hell, it isn't like I can go home — the Realtor's showing the house this afternoon." One more thing to break his heart. He loved that house. Couldn't Caleb have cheated in a goddamned hotel room like a normal sleazebag?
"All the more reason to go out and get started with the booze." Jon squeezed Nate's shoulder. "I'm sorry about all this, by the way. Matt and I both feel terrible about —"
"It's not your fault. I'd been getting suspicious for a while anyway. When you guys told me you noticed something was weird, it just confirmed what I already kind of knew."
"Still." Jon let his hand drop. "I think we were all hoping for a better ending to this."
"Yeah, well. It is what it is. Now I just want to put it all behind me and move the fuck on."
"Well, you could ..." Jon hesitated.
Jon glanced at him, then exhaled. "Look, I think we both know how I would cope in your shoes."
"Go screw anyone who'd let you?"
Nate managed to laugh but only for a second. Shaking his head, he slid his hands into his jacket pockets, fending off some late March briskness, and stared straight ahead. "I know that's exactly what you would do."
"And you're not wired for it."
"Nope. Not even now." Nate scowled. "In fact, I'm pretty sure my libido is as dead as my marriage."
Jon whistled. "That bad?"
"Yep. Hell, just thinking about sex makes me nauseous." It was having that effect now. His stomach roiled at the mere thought of looking at another man, let alone touching one. "I think I'd rather go drink myself stupid."
"I can definitely help you with that part."
"Matt doesn't mind?"
"Nope. He knows what's going on today."
Nate was surprised when Jon didn't add that Matt would join them. Sometimes he did, if he wasn't tied up at the tattoo shop until all hours of the night. And usually he was a welcome addition. Nate liked Matt. He would've even if Matt weren't Jon's boyfriend.
Today, though, he didn't need to be around a disgustingly happy couple. He was thrilled for them — and still amazed that Jon had ever settled down with anyone — and he hoped their relationship continued to be amazing.
If only for one day, though, he didn't want to see it.
They got into Jon's car, and as Jon started the engine, Nate questioned the wisdom of going out and getting shitfaced right now. He liked to drink and have a good time, but drinking while he was upset wasn't as fun. Chances were he'd wind up so depressed he couldn't move unless it was to throw up.
But right about then, that sounded a hell of a lot more appealing than staying sober enough to remember he'd ever been married to Caleb at all.
Jon didn't ask where to go. He was probably taking them to O'Leary's, their usual watering hole in Virginia Beach. They'd pass a hundred bars between here and there, and it would be a good half hour before he was finally drinking, but at least they'd be close to home when they were done. Never hurt to keep the cab fare to a minimum, especially since Nate was earmarked some money for a few things, and not just his eye-wateringly expensive divorce.
"By the way," he said, "once I've sobered up, I need to look into getting this fucking thing lasered off." He tapped his upper arm. He'd worn a dress shirt today, so he couldn't roll up the sleeve, but Jon would know what tattoo he was talking about. Sighing, Nate stared out the window. "Should've listened to you when you told us not to get matching ink."
Jon didn't respond right away. "You know ..." His thumbs thumped on the wheel. "That kid at Matt's shop is supposed to be a prodigy at cover-ups. I'll bet he could help you out."
"I don't know...."
"Trust me. He's an apprentice, but he's better than some of the artists who've been at it for years. Especially for cover-ups." Jon glanced at him from the driver's seat. "I've seen some of his work. Even Matt's blown away by it."
Well, that was impressive enough. Matt was an incredibly talented artist. If this apprentice's work could turn his head, then it must be good.
Nate chewed on the idea. "Okay. I guess it's worth a shot."
"Want to head up there? Or you still want to go get a drink?"
"I just had to watch my ex-husband stroll off with his arm around the guy he fucked in our bed. We're going to go get several drinks."
After work a couple of days later, Jon and Nate changed out of their flight suits and into civvies, and Nate followed him over to Skin Deep, Inc. It wasn't like he didn't know where the place was, but Jon's boyfriend worked here, so he was on his way anyhow.
As they walked in through the glass front door, Nate had a pang of nostalgia, remembering the night he and the rest of the squadron had brought Jon in here for his tattoo. They'd been drunk, flying high after a football victory and laughing their heads off at the thought of Jon getting any tattoo — in any location — they chose. That night had been fun. Ditto with when he'd come in here to provide "moral support" while Jon had actually gotten the tattoo in question on his right butt cheek.
No way either of them could've had a clue that six months later, Jon would be monogamously dating one of the artists and Nate would be single and coming in here to get rid of his own tattoo. The one he'd gotten because he and Caleb had been blissfully in it for the long haul.
In the shop, Matt came out of the back and gave Jon a quick kiss. Then, since he apparently knew why Nate had come in, he said, "Lucas is in the back. I'll go get him."
"You're not still making him do bitch work, are you?" Jon asked.
Matt smirked. "He's the apprentice. Of course we are."
Nate arched an eyebrow. He still wasn't entirely sold on the idea of letting an apprentice ink him.
Apparently his uneasiness was written across his face, because Matt smiled and added, "Trust me, the kid's good. Especially with cover-ups." He gestured at the ink peeking out from beneath Nate's sleeve. "If he can't cover that up without you getting at least some of it lasered off first, no one can."
Nate shuddered. "Well, you guys are the experts."
"I'll go get Lucas." Matt smiled, and he and Jon shared one of those long looks that made Nate want to gag. They were the perfect couple, and Nate was happy for them, but it still amused him to see them getting all googly-eyed over each other. For years, Jon had mercilessly ribbed Nate for being cutesy and affectionate with Caleb, while Nate had given Jon endless shit for being an unrepentant manwhore.
How the mighty have fallen.
A moment later, Matt reappeared from the back with — Nate assumed — Lucas on his heels.
And Nate just barely kept his mouth from falling open.
Oh, shit. God had spared no expense making this one cute. Big blue eyes. Full lips that were currently curved into a shy smile. A ridiculously sexy balance between a baby face and not. Like he was in that midtwenties stage, where the teenage years are still there but the thirties are closing in fast.
"This is Lucas Brandt," Matt said. "Matt, Jon's friend Nate."
They shook hands, and Nate's mouth went dry as he looked Lucas up and down. The artist was probably two or three inches shorter than Nate, and Nate didn't exactly have to duck to go through doorways. From what Nate had heard, the guys here were all regulars at the gym three doors down, and judging by the way that ragged Black Sabbath T-shirt sat on Lucas's torso, he was no exception.
His left arm was completely covered in elaborate, colorful designs, while his right was bare except for a bracelet of text — too small for Nate to make out — around his wrist. Nate would've bet money there was a lot more ink under his torn shirt, and the thought of seeing him without that shirt send a shiver through him.
Nate shook himself. He hadn't so much as looked at a guy since he'd kicked Caleb out. Well, technically it had been a lot longer than that. He'd been faithful to a fault, and he'd stopped feeling much desire for Caleb when things had started falling apart over that last year. But in the three months that he'd been single and free to ogle and fuck any man he wanted to, he just ... hadn't. He'd fully expected to be put off relationships for a while, but it had been a bit of a shock when his sex drive went MIA.
One look at Lucas, though ...
Nate cleared his throat. A moment too late, he realized Matt and Jon had slipped off to the back, probably so they could head out, since they had dinner plans. They might've even said goodbye, but Nate hadn't heard them. And now they'd left him and Lucas alone to stare at each other like idiots. Shit. "Uh, so you're —"
"Lucas." The kid looked down at his hands, which he was wiping on a shop towel. "I'd offer to shake hands, but ..."
"No, that's okay. I get it." And Nate wasn't so sure Lucas needed to feel how sweaty his palms were suddenly getting. "So I hear you're good at cover-ups."
Lucas blushed a little but nodded. "That's my specialty. Whatcha got?"
Nate rolled up his sleeve to reveal the prowling tiger but didn't look at the ink himself. He'd seen it enough times over the years — on his arm and his ex-husband's — and just wanted it gone, whether that meant lasered off or inked over. Or amputated if it came down to it.
Lucas studied it, and after a moment, he grimaced. "There's a lot of dark colors and really thick black lines." He came closer and scrutinized it. "I mean, it's not impossible. Do you know what you want to replace it with?"
Lucas's eyes flicked toward him. "I need to know what I'm going to be drawing over it so I have a place to start."
"Yeah, I gotcha. But, um, do you think you can cover it up? Or do I need to get it lasered?"
"Maybe?" Lucas shrugged again. "You might have to get at least some of the really dark lines removed, but depending on what's going over it, I might be able to work with this." Focused on the tattoo, he absently stroked his jaw with the backs of his fingers, and Nate caught himself wondering if the kid even had to shave more than once a week.
Abruptly, Lucas came back to life, and his eyes flicked toward Nate. "Well, I can at least trace it and see what I have to work with. Then we can talk designs to go over the top."
Nate nodded, hoping Lucas hadn't actually noticed he'd been staring.
"Okay." Lucas gave the tattoo another glance. "Let me put some clear plastic over it so I can trace the whole thing." He paused. "It'll take a while. Is that cool?"
Nate shrugged. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Okay." Lucas flashed a quick, cute smile. He gestured at the side room where Jon had gotten his ass tattooed a lifetime ago. "Have a seat on the table in there. I'll be right back."
Wordlessly, Nate went into the side room. The thought of having Lucas's hands on his skin — even through plastic — made his heart race. His stomach fluttered in ways he didn't think he'd ever felt before. It had been so long since he'd entertained any genuine lust for someone who wasn't Caleb, it was overwhelming. Or maybe Lucas was just that attractive.
So apparently, his libido wasn't dead. And the thought of sex wasn't forever tainted. Question was, did he have a shot with this guy?
Well, only one way to find out.
Nate sat on the table.
The second Lucas was in the back of the shop and presumably out of sight, he stopped in his tracks and finally let himself shiver. Jesus fuck, but that man was hot. Fit and ripped, clean-shaven with that neat but not severe military haircut that left just enough for a man to get a good grip. As if Lucas's concentration hadn't already been compromised for two damn weeks.
And it wasn't like a hot pilot — or copilot, or whatever — was any kind of rare thing here. There was always a steady stream of military men coming through the door, which was perfect, since he had a serious thing for guys in or out of uniform. That was half the reason he'd decided to come to this area to go to school, and he hadn't regretted that decision for a second.
It did, however, make it awfully tough to concentrate sometimes. Especially when someone like Nate showed up.
Colin, one of his two bosses, appeared beside him and gave his shoulder a friendly pat. "You got this one?"
Lucas nodded. A self-conscious knot wound itself in the pit of his stomach. "Just a sketch right now. So ..."
"So nothing written in blood, so to speak."
"You'll get your confidence back. Don't worry."
Lucas scowled. That was easy for Colin to say. Two weeks had gone by and Lucas still couldn't go a damned hour without thinking about the piece he'd fucked up. It didn't even matter that the client could have the bad part lasered off and redone. Or that, given the chance, Lucas could modify the design and seamlessly blend away the part he'd screwed up. The client had already said she'd never let him near her again, so that was moot.
He was mortified. Even if he could've fixed it, he didn't think he'd feel any better about it. From that day on, he'd second-guessed himself every time he'd even thought about putting the needle to someone else's skin. He'd made it through a number of tattoos and even had some custom designs in the works, but his confidence was shot. Which sucked, because prior to that catastrophe, he'd been this close to deciding he was ready to be more than an apprentice.
Nope. Training wheels were staying firmly in place for a while.
"I'm serious," Colin pressed. "You're excellent at what you do. Mistakes will happen. It's part of the job."
"I know. I'm just ..." Lucas sighed. There wasn't much point. They'd had this conversation seventeen times already, and they'd probably keep having it until he stopped being so gun-shy. "I'll get it together."
Excerpted from "Cover Up"
Copyright © 2017 L. A. Witt.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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