The scuffling of feet on a tiled floor captures my attention from the half eaten corned beef sandwich in front of me. Even with requesting for them to hold on the relish, my hands are covered in the ghastly orange liquid that makes me gag just thinking about eating it. I lift my gaze from dissecting my half-eaten dinner to see Diesel leaning in the doorjamb of the back tea room. He has his extensively tattooed arms crossed in front of his broad chest, and a look of terror stretched across his face. I push back from the lunch table hidden out the back of the shop and dump my unsalvageable sandwich into the trash. Diesel is generally a cut throat take no shit from anyone type of guy, so I find it surprising his personality seems a little skew-whiff.
“What’s up, man?” I query, washing my hands in the kitchen sink while muttering a string of profanities under my breath. How the fuck can you mess up a corned beef and Philly cheese sandwich?
Diesel waits for me to snag a tea towel off the drying rack and dry my hands before he begins speaking. “Got a client out the front requesting to speak to the manager,” he says, his deep baritone voice rumbling in the quiet. My lips quirk when he air quotes the word ‘manager’ while using a snarky tone. Although I’ve held the title of manager for the past two years, it is rarely used by any of my crew.
I hang the tea towel on a hook attached to the microwave before gesturing for Diesel to lead the way. The buzzing of tattoo guns and a few groans from some idiot kids walking in the door the day they hit eighteen for their very first tat sounds through my ears as I stride through Inked Tattoo Shop. I run my fingers through my long hair when I spot Charity tattooing another Pokémon figure on a kid who looks barely old enough to drive, let alone permanently mark his skin with the latest fad. Little does that kid know, it’s going to take a tattoo four times that size to cover up Pikachu or whatever the fuck Pokémon character it is when the hype dies down. And by the look on the kids face, and the tears staining his cheeks, I’m certain having it covered isn’t going to be a walk in the park for neither him or the tattoo artist assigned to the job.
When we reach the foyer of the shop, I scan the area seeking the guy that felt the need to interrupt the manager during his measly half an hour lunch break. When I fail to locate the irate face I usually see when a client realizes their home-botched tattoo is going to cost over a grand to fix, I shift my eyes to Diesel.
“Where is he?” I ask, shrugging my shoulders.
Diesel smiles a grin I only see on his face when he is wrapping his arm around one of the bar bunnies at the end of a Saturday night shift. “It isn’t a he. It’s a she.” Still grinning, he points his index finger to the corner of the room.
I tilt my head to the side, clearing the vast girth of Johnny’s shoulders to catch the quickest flurry of blonde. My heart rate kicks up, as does the pulse in my cock when my eyes roam over the slender blonde sparring up against Johnny. Her platinum colored hair falls to her shoulders like a satin waterfall, and her expensive looking threads showcase every curve of her fit, petite body. Her face is fresh with a slight sprinkling of makeup, and every strand of hair on her head has been meticulously placed. Although I can’t hear a word she is speaking, I know she is giving Johnny as good as she is getting. If the crossed arms under her ample breasts and stiffened stance isn’t enough indication, her resting bitch face is a sure-fire sign. This woman is around two seconds from exploding.
Deciding I don’t need a time bomb detonated in the middle of the shop on a busy Saturday night, I pat Diesel on the shoulder and head towards the attractive blonde. A rich floral scent with the slight aroma of spices filters in my nose when I stand next to Johnny. I’m fairly sure the floral scent is coming from the cute blonde, but I can't one hundred percent testify to that. Johnny is very generous with the discount he offers his female clientele. If his discount is cut from his takings, I have no concerns about him accepting payments for services rendered in the form of extra-curriculum activities.
“I’m pretty sure you are sitting at around two seconds,” I interrupt when I overhear the blonde telling Johnny she is five seconds away from having his, “Moronic ass fired.”
“Great,” she sneers, her eyes snapping to mine. “Another beast added to the mix. What is this, a poorly scripted rendition of Beauty and the Beast?”
Her three friends standing behind her break into an ear-piercing drunken cackle. Surprisingly, the blonde holds my gaze. I’ll give it to her; I am impressed by her ability at maintaining my eye contact. Most women’s eyes roam over my face before dropping to sample the rest of the package. It doesn’t matter if they a screaming nothing but wealth like the princess standing before me, or they don’t have a nickel to their name, the routine never alters. So yeah, I’ll admit it, she gets creds where cred is due.
I prop my elbows on the counter and lean over the glass cabinet, bringing my six-foot-two height down to her I’d guess five-foot-seven stature. “What can I do you for, Princess? Unlike you, some of us have to work for a living.”
She rolls her eyes. “Not according to…” She stops talking and waves her hand to Johnny, sending a multihued of light across the glass cabinet from the large diamond tennis bracelet on her delicate wrist. “Him—”
“Johnny,” I interrupt.
She rolls her eyes again. “Whatever you call him. No one cares. I came here to get a tattoo.” She gestures her hand to the tube tattoo light hanging from the shop awning. “This is a tattoo parlor. But…” She turns her eyes back to Johnny. “He is refusing to serve me. I don’t know about you, but in any other industry, that would be a call for instant dismissal.” Her eyes narrow into thin slits as she snarls at Johnny.
I smirk. “Lucky for Johnny, we aren’t just any other industry,” I say, my tone having an edge of annoyance smeared in it. “If Johnny is refusing to tattoo you, it would have to be for a reason. So what is it?”
She digs her hand into the front pocket of her designer jeans that look like they cost more than my entire wardrobe. “Other than Johnny being a moron, I have no clue why he is refusing my request,” she snarls, unfolding a piece of paper.
I raise my hand into the air, cutting Johnny off. His ex-wife packed her bags and headed to Reno nine months ago, leaving him the sole guardian of their two small children. I know he wouldn’t have refused a chance of making a quick dollar without having a legitimate reason. Just by looking at the blonde’s overpriced shoes, designer handbag, and perfectly swept hair, I have no doubt Johnny could have charged her triple the regular hourly rate and she would have been none the wiser. He would never turn down a prime opportunity like this without a solid reason.
I swing my eyes to Johnny. “Why don’t you head out back and keep working on those sketches you started last week. I’ll man the counter. Next client who enters is yours,” I assure, easing the large indent of worry lining his forehead.
Johnny nods his head before sauntering to the manager’s office stationed next to his cubicle. Once he enters, I return my gaze to the blonde. She has a victorious look etched on her face, and the bitch pose she has already perfected escalates. I stand from my slouched pose before shooting my eyes to a sign attached to the side wall of the room.
“We refuse to tattoo people under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or peer pressure,” I quote, tapping my fingers on the big black letters scrawled across a sign at my side. Even someone with their eyes as thinly slit as hers would still be able to read it.
After scanning her eyes over the sign, she scoffs. "I am not drunk," she denies, crossing her arms over her chest and turning her eyes back to me.
I drag my eyes away from her impressive rack and peer past her shoulder to her intoxicated friends. The snarky beast comment the blonde made was over five minutes ago, and her friends are still cackling like a bunch of old chooks holding an annual meeting at a fancy free-range only country club. The curve of my brow enlarges when I see the only brunette in the trio is clasping an open bottle of champagne. Running my hand over my jaw housing a few days of stubble, I shift my eyes back to the blonde.
When I arch my brow at her, she releases a deep rustle of air from her nose before cranking her neck to peer at her friends. Even copping the wrath of her furious stink eye doesn’t dampen their laughter the slightest. If anything, it increases it. Realizing her friends aren’t helping her chances on me believing she isn’t under the influence of alcohol, she huffs loudly before gesturing for the trio to exit the premises. Just before she emerges onto the concrete footpath, she shifts her gaze back to me. I give her a cocky wink and a shit-eating grin, adding a small sprinkling of salt to her freshly opened wounds. When a black town car slides into the curb at the front of the shop, I swing my eyes to Diesel.
“What was so hard about that?” I ask, my tone dripping with cockiness. “You need to stop spending your days off entertaining bar bunnies and wrestle with a few rich chicks occasionally. They give a bit of lip, but it’s from the same mouth that will be screaming your name later that night.”
I lift my arms to protect my face before swinging a few rapid-fire jabs into Diesel’s t-shirt covered torso. A grin tugs on the corner of Diesel’s lips before he spars up, priming to go an impromptu round of boxing in the middle of the foyer. Usually, we would host these types of events in an old gym at the back of the shopping complex in Ravenshoe. It’s a rundown establishment, but the guy behind the outdated equipment is a brilliant trainer. In just a few short weeks Hank has dragged Diesel from the level of backyard brawler to a low-ranking fighter. Fighting is not something I’ve been interested in doing, but I turn up to show my moral support to Diesel. Although, I will say one thing, the increase in energy from going a few rounds in the ring with Diesel has aided with my bedroom antics.
My neck cranks to the side and the noise of my jaw popping sounds through my ears when Diesel plants a hard knock to the side of my chin, using my momentary distraction of the shop's bells above the door ringing to his advantage. Working my jaw side to side, I turn my furious eyes to Diesel. His pupils are wide, and he is holding his hands out in front of his chest.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, the shortness of his apology unable to hide the laughter in his tone.
Rubbing my hand along my now throbbing jaw, I drift my eyes from Diesel to the door.
“Welcome to Inked…” My words stop when I am confronted with the same pair of icy blue eyes that stormed out of here mere minutes ago. The bitch is back.
When the blonde finalizes her surveillance of the rest of my package, I issue her the same cocky wink I gave when she left. “Back for round two?”
My jeans tighten at the front when she laughs. It is a dainty little laugh full of poise and perfection - just like its owner.
“Unlikely,” she says, her words as icy as her eyes. “I don’t wrestle with netherdrenals.”
Ouch. If I didn’t have my ego stroked by a pretty blonde bunny out back thirty minutes ago—the same blonde who brought me my sandwich—this blonde’s little taunt may have bruised my ego. Luckily for me, I have a gigantic shield protecting my even bigger ego from spoilt little princesses and their vindictive tongues.
“Unless your daddy found a cure for drunkenness, your desires will not be granted in this fine establishment this evening,” I advise, returning her scornful stare.
Her eyes narrow at the mention of her father, exposing her first flaw of the night.
“I am not drunk,” she assures, the crispness of her words adding strength to her statement.
She holds my gaze while sauntering closer to me, allowing me to see the frankness in her eyes. It isn’t that her hardhearted eyes are truth-exposing, it is the fact there isn’t a single sign of life in her eyes, let alone the drunk shimmer most inebriated people get. Her eyes make it feel like I am looking into an empty pit. They are void of any type of soul.
“I adhered to your rules by requesting for my tipsy friends to leave, now your fine establishment has no reason not to serve me.” She tries to make her voice sound sincere. Her attempts are fruitless. I don’t think she has a sincere bone in her body.
Her eyes blaze into mine as she stands before me with her fists clenched at her side and a determined look on her face. I grit my teeth, loathing that I’m about to overrule one of my guys. But just from the take-no-shit stance the blonde is maintaining, I know she isn’t going to leave until she gets what she came here for.
“Do you have a design in mind or are we going into this agreement freestyle?” I ask, my voice brittle.
My dick strains against the zipper of my jeans when the blonde grins a traffic-stopping smile.
Yeah, not happening, buddy.
Her hand darts into her diamante encrusted jeans to pull out the sheet of paper she was clutching for dear life earlier as she paces to stand in front of me. I only just manage to hold in a swear word dying to break free from my lips when she hands me the sheet of paper. She wants a man’s name inked on her skin. Don’t ask me why, but the thought of tattooing any man’s name on her skin that isn’t mine pisses me off. And considering I’ve only just met her, and have spent most of our confrontation defusing her callousness, just having a thought like that pisses me off even more.
After running my eyes over the guy’s name in thick black ink in the middle of the intricate design, I drop them to the blonde’s left hand. Noticing it is void of any ring—engagement or wedding—I lock my eyes back with the blonde.
“Is this your father’s name?” I ask, nudging my head to the tattoo design in my hand.
A heavy line indents the middle of her forehead before she shakes her head.
“Your grandfather? Brother? Deceased uncle? Any type of male relation?” I query, staring into her narrowed eyes.
When she shakes her head again, I say, “Sorry, Princess, I can’t do your tattoo.”
Her eyes slit more with every syllable I speak. “You just agreed to do it five seconds ago.”
“Yeah, so?” I say with a shrug of my shoulders. “That was before you showed me the design.”
“What’s wrong with the design?” she asks, crossing her arms and arching her perfectly manicured brow. “Not tacky enough for you?”
"There is only one tacky person standing in this tattoo parlor, Princess. It ain’t me,” I retaliate, drawing out the word that is usually a term of endearment as if it is a derogative word.
She huffs, her irritation growing by the second. She isn’t the only one annoyed. The hardness of my cock hasn’t lessened any from her feistiness. If anything, it’s getting thicker with every snarl she does.
“Look. I want to get this tattoo done. You are a tattoo artist. Do whatever you need to do to make this happen,” she sneers.
I jerk my head down to the piece of paper in my hand. “You’re giving me permission to make any necessary alterations to this design as I see fit?”
“Yes!” she huffs, throwing her arms into the air. “Can we just get this done, then I can get back to–”
“Prince Charming waiting for you in a crystal palace?” I interrupt. I turn my eyes to the clock on the wall displaying it is 11.05 PM. “It’s okay, Princess, you still have a good fifty minutes before you get turned back into poor defenseless Cinderella.”
She glares at me, shock evident all over her face. Of course, a real-life princess wouldn’t understand a fairytale.
I head to the drawing board to transfer her design onto a piece of tracing paper while adding the adjustment I require to feel comfortable in tattooing a lifetime commitment to her no doubt virgin skin. She stands to the side, glaring at me while twisting her diamond tennis bracelet around her wrist with her perfectly manicured fingers.
Once I am happy with the design, I push off the desk and amble back to her. “I’ve altered the design–”
“Yes, yes, whatever,” she interrupts, her tone obnoxious and abrupt.
I place the tattoo contract and a copy of my newly designed trace onto the glass cabinet in front of her. “If you are happy with the design, sign here, here, and here,” I instruct, pointing to each section of the contract she is required to sign.
She snatches the pen out of my grasp and signs each section in a frenzied hurry. After storing the contract into the locked drawer under the cash register, I gesture for her to follow me. Her eyes bounce in all directions, strengthening my initial assessment that this is her first tattoo. The width of her pupils increase when we enter my private cubicle at the back of the shop. Her face whitens when her eyes zoom in on the tattoo gun sitting on the sterilized stainless steel table.
Closing the door behind me, I ask, “Where do you want your tattoo?”
A flash of heat creeps across her cheeks before she points to her lower right hipbone.
“Then you need to remove your jeans,” I advise, moving towards my station to set up my instruments.
When her eyes snap to mine, soundlessly demanding clarification to my request, I nod my head. I might be a fucking great tattoo artist, but I’m not a miracle worker. She hesitates for a moment before doing as instructed with a huff. I'm not at all surprised to discover she is wearing a pair of panties I've only seen in the Victoria Secret Catalogs Charity peruses during her lunch break.
After ensuring my gear is in order, I nudge my head to my tattooing chair, silently demanding for her to sit. I try to keep my eyes planted on her face as she saunters across the room. I miserably fail. Even with her bitch-odometer rocketing to the next galaxy, she has a tight and fit body that would only look better if she removed the massive chip off her shoulder.
Sitting in my swivel chair, I roll in close to her side. She stiffens when I lower the band of her panties to prep the area. When my eyes connect with hers, her stern mask falters for the snippiest second, exposing a side of her I’m confident even she hasn't seen in years.
“First time being tattooed?” I query, placing the used alcohol prep pads into the bin at my side.
When she fails to answer my question, I lift my eyes from the stencil I’ve placed on the creamy skin on her hip to her. Four simple words was all it took for her stern mask to slide firmly back into place.
“Do we have to do the small talk?” she sneers, glaring into my eyes.
“I’m just trying to be friendly.”
“Well, I would rather you didn’t. You are not my friend. You will never be my friend. So, I’d prefer if you stayed quiet and did the job I am paying you to do.”
My back molars smash together. “Then let’s do this, Princess.” Before you give me a mother-fucking-headache.
It takes all my strength not to dig the tattoo gun into her delicate skin deeper than necessary. The only thing stopping me is my professional obligation. As much as my client is a malicious cow, my name is forever going to be associated with this piece of artwork on her body, which ensures I tattoo nothing but the best, even if I want to send her out in the world with a stick figure of me flipping her the bird.
Due to the intricate swirl pattern of the design she selected, the tattoo takes a little over two hours to complete. Princess stuck-up didn’t speak a word the entire time. I’m not going to lie, I loved the way her knuckles went white from her death grip hold of the armrests when I tattooed the skin near her hip bone.
“While it heals it will itch like a bitch for a few days, but keep applying the ointment as per these instructions,” I advise, handing her a pamphlet on taking care of freshly inked skin.
When she snatches the leaflet out of my hand, I drop my eyes to inspect my newly created masterpiece. My lips purse. It is a pretty sleek design, feminine with the inclusion of a tiger lily, but not overly girlie. If it didn’t have a name smack bang in the middle of it, it would have been a nice tattoo. After wiping the excess ink off her hip, I wrap her tattoo with a protective case and assist the still unnamed blonde from the chair. A grin curls on my lips when a grimace crosses her face as she bends down to collect her handbag off the floor to retrieve her purse.
“Run that while I get dressed,” she instructs, wrapping the sheet I covered her bare legs with to protect her from the cold winter winds around her waist.
Heavy grooves indent my forehead when she hands me an American Express Centurion card. I've heard rumors that this card costs a quarter-of-a-mill a year just to have. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a woman who looks like she uses Benjamin Franklin’s as toilet paper.
“It’s a credit card. You have seen one before, haven’t you?” she snarls, her tone condescending.
“Yes, Madame,” I reply, fighting the urge to salute her pompous attitude with my middle finger.
I jerk my head to the bathroom attached to my cubicle. “There is a full-length mirror in there if you want to check out your new tattoo.” When she smirks a condescending grin, I mutter, “I hope you like your pretty new tattoo, Princess,” under my breath before slipping out the door.
I've only just run her credit card through the terminal and placed the credit of her sale into Johnny’s account when the blonde comes storming out of my cubicle. She barely notices the group of fraternity brothers getting matching frat tats wolf whistling and catcalling at her as she charges across the room wearing nothing but a meager pair of cream satin panties and a long sleeve shirt. Her face is red with anger, matching her vibrant painted lips, and her pupils are massive.
“You son of a bitch,” she yells, raising her hand into the air.
A chuckle topples from my lips when her wildly swung hand fails to connect with any portion of my face or body when I take a step backward, moving out of the firing zone.
I point to a sign hanging next to the one I indicated to her earlier this evening. “We also have the right to remove any clientele deemed to be abusive to our staff or other clients.” I quote, my tone as mocking as the expression on my face. “If you try to strike me again, I will have no other option than to place you on the curb." I lower my eyes to her scarcely covered body. “Panties and all.”
The anger lining her face increases. “Where is the sign that says you can tattoo whatever the hell you see fit onto a person’s body without first seeking their permission?” she snarls.
The grin tugging on my lips breaks free. “In the top drawer,” I say, pointing to the drawer I stored her contract in. “It’s on the same contract you signed stating the design of your tattoo was left at the discretion of your tattoo artist. AKA–me.”
I can see her scream working its way from her stomach to her lips. For every second that ticks by, the fury blackening her eyes grows significantly. After releasing a window-shattering scream, she storms back to my cubicle, rambling incessantly under her breath how she is going to sue me for every penny I have. If I was a good man, I could tell her I don’t have many pennies. Pity I’m not.
After re-dressing in her skintight designer jeans and four-inch-high stiletto boots, she saunters out of my cubicle, slamming the door behind her. Her nostrils flare as she snatches her credit card and receipt out of my hand and scrambles for the door.
“Have a wonderful day,” I farewell, laughter heard in my voice.
She slams the front glass door so harshly, it knocks the two signs I’d referenced to earlier off the wall. Hearing the commotion her abrupt exit caused, Ryder, the owner of Inked paces out of his office.
“Everything alright?” he queries, his eyes bouncing between the blonde standing at the curb shrieking into a cell phone and me.
I lift my chin. “It’s all good,” I assure, my voice slightly hesitant.
I really need to consider the consequences of my actions a little more diligently. If I knew I was going up against a woman who has more money than sense, I may have considered walking down a different route. Oh, who am I kidding? Nothing would have changed.
Ryder nudges his head to the door. “So what’s the go? She didn’t like the terms of your agreement?”
I laugh. “You know as well as I do, Elvis, nothing but money is exchanged for my services.”
Ryder’s heavy brow slants at my use of his infamous nickname. His son, Slater, let it slip a few months ago when he was here adding more ink to his already vast collection of tattoos. I’ve been keeping it up my sleeve waiting for a prime opportunity to use it. Tonight seemed like the ideal time.
When the blonde curls into a black town car that just pulled into the curb in front of her, I shift my eyes to Ryder. “I may or may not have changed her boyfriend’s name to princess,” I confess.
A lewd grin curves onto Ryder’s lips before he shakes his head in disbelief. “Did you get her to sign the contract?” he queries.
“Do you think I got this handsome by lining up for brains? I cut that queue and went straight back to the looks department. Who needs smarts when you look like this?” I run my hand down the front of me while smiling a shit-eating grin.
Any humor in Ryder’s face vanishes, replaced with nothing but pure anger.
“I’m joking, Ryder. Of course I got her to sign the contract. I even stenciled her tattoo with the name adjustment included,” I inform, rocking on my heels. “She signed that too.”
A chuckle escapes Ryder’s lips. “Then we are all good.”
"Yes, we are," I reply, grinning.
Although I have an inkling this won’t be the last I am going to be hearing from the fire-breathing princess.
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