Authors: Mariana Zapata
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
|Tags:||Literature & Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, Contemporary Fiction|
He was my boss, my brother’s friend, a Widow, an ex-felon, and a man I’d seen casually with a handful of women. But he was everything that gripped me, both the good and the bad. Worst case scenario if things turned awkward between us, I could go somewhere else. I’d gotten over epic heartbreak before, one more wouldn’t kill me.
After moving to Austin following six months of unemployment back home, Iris Taylor knows she should be glad to have landed a job so quickly... even if the business is owned by a member of the same motorcycle club her estranged father used to belong to. Except Dex Locke might just be the biggest jerk she’s ever met. He’s rude, impatient and doesn’t know how to tell time.
And the last thing they ever expected was each other.
But it was either the strip club or the tattoo shop.
… she should have chosen the strip club.
“Babe, I’ve handpicked everythin’ and everyone in here. I know what I want and I get what I want,” he breathed. “And I keep what’s mine.”
Under Locke © 2014 Mariana Zapata
All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the author is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the authors rights.
This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Book Cover Design by Jasmine Green
I know this doesn’t cut it,
but I hope you understand
that an infinite amount of gratitude still wouldn’t
Amanda, Grace, and Dell—thank you for putting up with me through this.
Pins and Needles.
The business sign loomed ahead of me. Ominous. Foreboding.
I was going to puke.
And it wasn't going to be a pretty puke like when you're a baby and even farting can be considered cute. It was going to be nasty. Nasty, projectile vomiting straight out of a horror movie.
And if that wasn
’t bad enough,
immediately after throwing up all over the dashboard of my t
-year-old Ford Focus, I was going to burst into tears. And exactly like my puking, it was going to be nasty. It wasn't going to be classy or snot-less, and I'd probably sound like a wheezing baboon.
The white number on my dashboard clicked to 3:55.
My stomach churned at the same time nervous tears threatened to well up in my eyes.
What in the hell were you thinking, Iris?
Leaving the only home I'd ever known. Moving to Austin. Staying with Sonny.
Being broke had made me desperate. The knowledge that my bank account was bleeding a slow death had wrung me dry. It'd stripped me of what made me up; pride, perseverance, and apparently, the ability to make good choices.
Because someone who made good choices wouldn't be taking a job from a man like Dex Locke.
3:56 flickered into place on the clock.
With trembling fingers, I took the keys out of the ignition and slipped out of my car. Luckily I'd found a spot in the lot adjacent to the trendy shopping center the business was found in. With its terra cotta roofing and white stonewashed walls, it seemed so at odds with the reputation a biker-owned tattoo shop should have, especially since it was located smack in the middle of a real estate agency and deli.
I mean, shouldn't it be right by a strip club and some massage place that promised a happy ending?
I shouldn't and couldn't complain. I knew that. There wasn't a reason why I should even think about being anything less than grateful that Sonny had found me this job when I'd gone more than six months unemployed. You had no idea what desperation was until there was less than a hundred bucks left in your bank account and no job prospects.
I guess that was the problem with an associate of arts degree in community college. Too educated for minimum wage and not educated enough for a good paying job unless you were lucky.
And lucky, I was not.
Crap luck was why I found myself hustling across the street to Pins and Needles, eyeing the satin black Harley Dyna parked directly in front of the shop. With the exception of the color, the frame was the exact same as Sonny's. A young cousin of the bike my dad had owned once upon a time.
Which was a route I wasn't going to go down. No, siree.
Big, classic bold font illustrated the name of the shop as I came up to the tinted glass door.
God, my mom would be rolling in her grave if she knew what the hell I was doing.
Sonny had called me two hours before, given me an address and told me to be there at four. I'd scraped through my suitcase looking for work clothes and grabbed the first shirt, pants, and cardigan I found that weren’t too wrinkled. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get to the business he was sending me to and getting places late was a huge pet peeve of mine, so I hurried the hell up to get ready. After slumming it for so long, I couldn't help but think his call was kind of a miracle.
Until he threw in Dex's name.
But what other choice did I have? This was why I'd come to Austin.
Now, I wasn’t expecting anything amazing and really, I didn’t need anything great from a job. I'd been perfectly happy answering phones all day and scheduling other people's dream vacations at the cruise line. It was slow but whatever. A very long time ago, I'd told myself that I wouldn't complain about inconsequential things and I wasn't planning on starting now.
I mean, boring and monotonous was safe.
I’d done boring and monotonous since the moment I turned sixteen by working at a real estate agency, then a discount bookstore, followed by sales for a weight loss pill, dog sitting, watching over kids at a daycare center, and filing at a medical practice. I did what I had to do to pay the bills. So as long as I wasn’t prostituting or having to make collection calls, I’d pretty much take whatever I could get.
Only I hadn't anticipated a job with the infamous Dex. A man that I'd heard enough of in
minutes to know that I wasn't exactly going to be working for the Pope.
Notorious, yes. Bad, yes. Reformed like they
made it seem
? I doubted it.
We'd thought my dad had been "reformed" and that didn't exactly work out.
Screw it. What was the worse that was going to happen? I'd grown up around a felon. A biker. I'd loved that felon biker for longer than he'd deserved.
My half-brother was a biker but not a felon. And I loved that moron, too.
I knew something much scarier than a big, bad biker with a record. A new job would be nothing in comparison, right?
ve said in terrible Greek-accented Spanish. So I pushed open that shiny heavy door, ready for whatever was waiting for me on the other side.
What hit me immediately inside was all the natural light in the place. The orange-yellow light streaming in set off the dozens of framed newspaper and magazine articles mounted on the tinted blue wall. One magazine article immediately caught my attention with its glassy, red font proclaiming “Ink of the Year.”
Two black leather love seats were angled against the entrance window with a black lacquered coffee table directly between them. Across from the seating was a flat, very long and modern looking desk that matched the coffee table with a computer in one corner. I’d barely started taking in two tattoo stations directly behind the waiting area when a male voice hollered, “Hold on a sec!"
I looked around as quickly as I could, noticing two more identical stations to the left.
Another article titled
"Up and Coming Sensations: Locke and Company,
was framed right in my peripheral vision.
Could I work at a tattoo parlor?
I thought for a second about the only other place I'd gotten an email back from and the cocktail waitress position at the strip club wasn't exactly appealing. I had a friend who had worked in a salon waxing people's private parts. What's been seen cannot be unseen, she'd told me once.
So, yeah. I could. I didn't have a choice.
?" the deep baritone voice asked from down the hall, in time with the low squeaking thud of boots on tile.
It kind of happened in slow motion. Turning around. Coming face to face with him.
~ * ~ *
It should be said that the first—and only—time I saw Dex Locke had been the week before at Mayhem.
Sonny had dragged me to the bar by sheer manipulation. I'd just gotten to Austin not even two hours before.
And it probably didn't help that I'd just kind of... dropped in.
It'd been a last minute trip. Up until the moment I turned in the keys to my apartment, I hadn't been
what exactly I was doing. Not that there were many options. I could either drive to Sonny's place in Texas or go up and crash on Lanie's couch in Cleveland. After living with Lanie for a year and knowing that I'd be staying with her and her parents, going to Sonny's hadn't really seemed like much of a decision.
It was inevitable.
But then again, Mom and Dad had kept me on the east coast for a reason. A reason I was clearly dumping into the garbage and possibly setting on fire.
"It'll be fun," he'd said at first.
"A lot of people remember you when you were a kid," he'd kept going, knowing I was a sucker for him.
Sonny wanted to make a point because he kept babbling. "Just
cause you lived in Florida doesn't mean you weren't born into this."
Like a fool, and because I loved Will and I loved Sonny
as much, even if he wasn't my full-blooded brother, I fell for it. We'd dragged ourselves to Mayhem so he could welcome me into my estranged family.
During the drive, all I thought of was my mom
. It was a blessing she wasn't around to strangle me with her bare hands, smiling throughout the process of her choking the life out of me.
urprisingly, it'd been fine.
Mayhem was smoky and smelled faintly of piss and not so faintly of beer. The place was old, with stained bars and scuffed hardwood floors that had seen better decades. Pool tables were set up on the far side of the bar that smelled like... yep, that was pot. I was pretty sure—only about ninety-nine percent sure—smoking was illegal inside but I definitely wasn't going to complain to the abundance of tattooed and leather-vested men that mobbed the floor.
Like a proud peacock, Sonny had walked me around the floor, through crowds of people that bordered on inebriation and did the splits on the ridiculous. Loud, outgoing, boisterous, young, old, hairy, not-so-hairy, tattooed, not-so-burly. The factors that made up the WMC members varied across the spectrum.
Having been steered toward a stool in the middle of the bar, Sonny and his very blonde, very flirtatious, very bearded friend, Trip, flanked me.
It was a little weird, I guess. Growing up, it'd just been Will and me. Being the oldest, I'd always been the one watching out for my younger brother; the person to threaten to rip organs out of orifices if he wasn't left alone. I'd been the protector. The one who cleaned his butt when he was too little to do it himself without smearing more poop than he actually wiped.
So having Sonny around, worrying about his friends getting too close or giving me looks that he didn't like, was strangely nice.
I'd barely been sitting there a minute, an entire, lonely, miniscule minute in a bar that had been so heavily smoked in over the years that the scent seeped from the wood like sweat on a professional athlete. A bar that was owned by a group of people that my parents hadn't wanted to raise me around. A total of sixty seconds before the noisy crowd burst into loud jeers right by the door.
Trip had groaned, shooting Sonny a side glance, shaking his head like whatever was going on was old news. "Somebody's
on his damn rag.
“Quit being all dramatic, he’s not always PMSing.” He cut me a glance. “No offense.”
I held up my hands and shrugged. “Eh.” I’d be a hypocrite if I said that I didn’t turn into a moody zombie on my period.
Trip rolled his eyes at my brother’s comment. “I”m just sayin’, Son, you’d figure he’d have his shit together by now. Don’t they teach better tips than counting to ten in those classes he had to take?” he snickered, glancing over my shoulder. “Dumbass.”
My inner nosey hooker perked up at all the clues they were dropping. Anger management classes? “What happened?” I asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
“It’s cool, Ris.” Sonny shot Trip an aggravated look. “He got in trouble for assault a long time ago. He’s fine now.”