Love will always leave a mark, no matter how fleeting.
Tattoo artist Seth Baxter has had enough loss to last him a lifetime. Focused and driven, he channels his energy into making his store the best in the business. The one thing he can certainly do without is the return of his ex-girlfriend.
Bexley Way is lost. She runs back to the only person who can help her. She's willing to take Seth's hurt as long as he'll offer her the solace she craves. He needs her help in the store and she's desperate for his forgiveness, as well as his personal brand of security.
Secrets are kept by both of them, even when their old, unresolved feelings resurface. Each day spent in her presence is a step forward for Seth. Their relationship was never truly over to him. Yet Bexley keeps so much to herself. Protecting her heart. Protecting Seth.
But when Bexley is faced with the true horror of her situation, she has no choice but to reveal it all to Seth. However, the words barely leave her lips before it all takes a deadly turn, leaving behind more anguish than ever before.
Are Seth and Bexley strong enough to right a past wrong and give themselves a permanent future?
Read an Excerpt
Copyright © M.A. Stacie 2016. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.
If Seth Baxter had to tattoo another butterfly he’d scream. Either that or give the damn thing a rockin’ skull design. He needed something to break the monotony, and no matter how much he told himself that inking them was easy money, it was still a fucking butterfly.
“Dude, would you stop sighing? You’re clogging up the store with chick vibes.”
Seth glared over at his partner in crime, flipping him the bird at the same time. It was childish, but it was all he had at the moment. “The next butterfly is yours then, Skirt. All yours, along with the Hello Kitties and random cartoon teddy bears.”
Skirt chuckled, running his heavily tattooed hand along his Mohawk. Winking at Seth, he said, “If you got your finger out of your ass and hired another artist you wouldn’t need to bitch. You could also send the shit stuff their way.”
“I don’t have time to interview anyone, dumbass. I can’t be in two places at once.”
Seth began cleaning down his station after his last client, spraying the bench with antiseptic and wiping along the seat. He tried to ignore the laughter coming from his friend’s direction.
Skirt snorted as he checked himself out in the mirror. Every inch of the man’s arms, shoulders, chest and neck were tattooed. Intricate swirls, patterns and images climbed up his arms and converged at his throat. His earlobes were stretched, white disks filling the voids, and the piercings didn’t stop at his ears. His lip, eyebrows, nipples and much lower down all held steel jewelry.
Seth, on the other hand, was somewhat more sedate. His ears, though still stretched, were smaller, with an industrial bar pierced through his right one. They were the piercings people could see, anyway. Both of his arms were sleeved with ink. His right one held a large red dragon that wrapped his bicep and forearm. His left was adorned with a Japanese koi fish design.
In the last year, he’d added to his art once. Script on his neck. A reminder. Seth intended to have more, but since the opening of Inked Heart three years ago he hadn’t had time, and the one person he trusted to ink him was as busy as he was.
Hence the need for another artist.
“Maybe you should take an apprentice on?” Seth tried, knowing it was futile. “It’s time you did.”
“No way, no how. I keep my magic to myself. I won’t be sharing the skills, man.”
“You’re such an asshole.”
Skirt winked again, pointing over to the door as a couple of blonde-haired girls walked in. Seth groaned. Cheerleaders. They had to be. They oozed high-school drama with a dash of bitchy perfection. Thinking about it brought him out in hives.
“Ladies,” Seth greeted, eliciting a giggle from them as he walked closer. “What can I do for you?”
“We want tattoos,” they said in unison.
He blinked, their high-pitched squeaks almost making his eyes water. High-school girls annoyed the shit out of him. “Well you’re in the right place for one,” he replied. “But I’ll be needing some ID before that can happen.”
The shorter of the two toed the floor. The other twirled her hair while popping her gum. “Darcy said you’d hook us up. She had hers done here last week.”
Seth turned to Skirt, raising an eyebrow. Skirt shrugged, giving his head a quick shake before leaving through the door at the back of the store.
“Don’t know a Darcy. What did she get done?”
They mumbled to each other, their complexions growing flushed with embarrassment.
“It was a butterfly, and it wasn’t a guy who did it.”
The other one chimed in. “It was a girl.”
“Kit!” Seth bellowed, never breaking eye contact from the teenagers. They squirmed under his scrutiny, though stuck to their story.
A purple-streaked brunette raced into the room, steel clamp in her gloved hands. Her heavily lined eyes were wide in surprise. “Where’s the fire?”
“You tattoo anyone named Darcy?”
“Not inked anyone in about a month—I’m all about the piercing and you know it. Before that? Got no idea. Why?”
Seth glared at the girls, who were now not so sure of themselves. “So, that brings me back to my initial statement—I. Need. ID.” His tone was cold. It pissed him off that kids like this spread rumors about his store. His business was not a joke, nor was his reputation something to fuck with.
The girls shrank back, the taller one stuttering that they’d go home and return with it.
“You do that, then I’d be happy to mark you myself.”
They scuttled out of the store before he’d even finished the sentence. They wouldn’t be back.
“What the hell was that all about?” Kit asked.
Shaking his head in exasperation, he said, “Kids and their stupid-ass ideas. Are you piercing?”
“Yup, but I’ll need to change my gloves now.” She was trying to complain, but Kit came across as cute no matter what she said. The bull ring through her nose definitely gave her a harsh edge. However, five minutes in her company revealed the contradiction to anyone.
“Sorry,” he said, sitting back behind his desk and picking up a pencil. “I wanted them quaking in their shoes so much that they won’t come back here. Or fuck with my name.”
Kit spun, her high-tops squeaking on the floor as she returned to her client through the door marked ‘The Holey Order’. It left Seth alone in the store. He tried to focus on the sleeve design in front of him, however, his mind kept wandering. He’d been a moody bastard lately, so much so that it wouldn’t surprise him if he got his period. There was something messing with his control.
It could be the stress, but then that would bring him back to the topic of another artist and he wasn’t ready to admit why he was so reluctant to take one on. Having another artist in the store hadn’t gone so well before. Maybe what he needed was a hot tumble between the sheets to sort his head out. Fucking himself into oblivion had to help, right?
Laughter from the back room broke his musings. Kit escorted her client out of the store, both amused by Skirt. Nothing new with that scenario, he supposed. However, when Skirt stalked over to the window carrying a piece of paper, Seth began to feel nervous.
“Problem solved,” Skirt said, sticking the paper to the window.
“What did you do?” He turned to Kit. “What did he do?”
Shrugging, Kit lifted her denim jacket from a peg on the wall. “I’m out. I’ll be back in an hour to give someone a hole in their nipple. Want me to get your fix, Boss?”
Seth chuckled. His fix was coffee. Damn, he didn’t know how he’d get through a day without a decent dose of the black tar. There had been a time, a couple of years ago, when he’d tried to quit. He wasn’t being dramatic when he said it was the worst two weeks of his life.
Okay, maybe a little.
He raked his hand through his hair, sighing as he asked her to get his usual then turning his attention back to Skirt. “Are you planning on telling me what shitstorm you’re about to start? Or do I have to wait until the police come knocking?”
“Aw, man, come on! I wouldn’t do that to you.” Seth waited a heartbeat, two, before Skirt changed his mind. “Okay, so there was that one time but I’d never do it again. I promise this time there will be no police.”
“So what is it?” he asked impatiently, dropping his pencil as he scraped his chair back. Waiting.
“It’s our call for awesomeness.”
Jacking up his shorts, Skirt spoke slowly, making sure Seth understood. “I took the dog by his balls and put an advert out for your new artist or apprentice or whatever.”
Seth cringed, fighting to get a grip on his temper. “The saying is bull by the horns, and why the fuck would you do that?”
“Well, you weren’t going to. And the longer it takes for you to get one, the more Kit and I have to deal with your PMS.”
“It wasn’t your place to do that! The store is mine, so I deal with taking on anyone new. Besides you’re not sharing the skills.” He rushed to the window, intent on ripping the paper down. He never got that far. The door opened and a large man in a black leather jacket stepped inside.
“Saw the sign. Who do I need to talk to?”
Skirt’s grin spread across his face, oozing smug satisfaction. He didn’t have the chance the slap the smile from Skirt’s face because the moron’s next client came into the store. Not that Seth would have done it anyway—it would have wrecked his hand.
For the next two hours, he tried to calm down while he dealt with two possible artists. They’d walked in off the street after seeing Skirt’s sign, and Seth didn’t see any point in turning them away. One of them even had his portfolio of sketches with him, which had some great work. But not right for his shop.
Seth relied on his gut when it came to employing people. He’d known instantly that Kit was perfect, and eleven months later she was still here, proving him right. He’d never had to fire anyone, though right now, if he could, he’d kick Skirt’s ass right out onto the street.
By the time Seth’s five o’clock appointment walked in, his brain was fried, and three coffees hadn’t eased the tension. Tattooing would make him focus.
He checked the thin black outline on his client’s skin. Seth had inked it a month earlier and now began discussing the colors Kevin wanted. Recalling their previous chats about a vibrant design, he wheeled his stool across the floor, pulling down a few bottles of bright ink. He offered them to the client. “Thoughts?”
“Love the red and orange, but not gonna happen with the pink.”
Seth nodded and pointed to the end of his dragon’s tail on his own arm. “Pink’s not so bad.”
“Guess not.” Kevin grinned. “I trust you. I refuse to let anyone else near my skin.”
Seth began setting up his station, pouring the ink into the small cups and removing the needle from its sterile packet. Using his gloved finger, he stroked some salve across the area of skin, preparing it for tattooing. He started the tattoo machine, pressing the pedal with his boot and raising his eyebrows at his human canvas. “We ready?”
Holding his bottom lip between his teeth, Seth pulled the skin taut on Kevin’s shoulder and began to shade in a bold orange color. A calmness washed over him as he got lost in the tattoo. This was what he was good at. This was where he showed the world the type of artist he was. Inked Heart was his sanctuary and that was at the center of his reluctance to take on anyone new. He’d done that before and it had blown up in his face, leaving him with scars that wouldn’t heal. Allowing someone into his circle again meant change. He didn’t deal well with that.
The orange ink got changed to red, then pink with highlights of blue. The trash next to his foot filled with inked, bloody tissues as he swabbed the area clean. The skin beneath his fingers contracted, followed by a sharp hiss. Blinking, Seth checked his watch, not amazed to see he’d been shading the design for almost three hours. His back ached, his fingers tingling underneath the black latex gloves. “Have you reached your limit?”
The guy flinched when Seth cleaned the excess ink from his flesh, but he then hummed as the cool fluid from the antibacterial spray hit the inflamed area. “Yeah, I think that’s it. How much is left?”
Seth studied the man’s back. “Another two-hour sitting and that should be cool. Let me tape you up, and you’ll be good to go.”
Again Kevin winced while he laid film gently over the tender skin, taping it in place. “You know the aftercare drill.”
“Are you here on your own tonight?”
“Skirt had a date.” He rolled his eyes, knowing Kevin understood the irony of Skirt on a date. Dating was the last thing his friend would be doing. “And Kit’s last piercing was at four, I think. She has a shift at the bar down the street. What’s up, don’t you like my company?”
Seth snapped off his gloves. Kevin pulled off his T-shirt and replied, “Just wondered where your crew was.”
After Kevin settled the bill, Seth followed him to the door. It startled him to see the heavy rain outside. “Are you going to be okay out there?”
Kevin nodded, waving goodbye as he exited the store. The wind whipped across Seth’s face, pushing his dark hair into his eyes. He hadn’t even noticed the rain, that’s how absorbed he got in his work. His stomach growled, but no matter how hungry he was he needed to clean the shop.
Music. That’s what he needed.
He found something hard and raw, cranked up the volume and began to spray the chair with antiseptic. The lyrics left his lips, softly at first, but increasing into a bellow when the drums kicked in. There was even a little air guitar, though he’d admit that to no one.