I heard an engine turn the corner, startled, and the MMA fighter I was touching up a truly regrettable tribal tattoo on yelped.
“Sorry. Spine,” I apologized, peeking over his hulking shoulder to see Jack Stone arrive on time for work, possibly for the first time ever while in my employ. His black 1963 Lincoln Continental swooped through Dark Ink’s parking lot like a hearse.
Just Jack. I knew what his car sounded like. Even though our shifts didn’t overlap often – I’d heard it often enough to know it wasn’t a bike. And still….
I sprayed my client’s shoulder with cool water and wiped the blood away, trying to ignore the slight jitter in my hand. This was my job – this was my tattoo-shop – and I’d been doing tats for the past seven years in peace. I breathed deep and willed myself calm. I wasn’t scared and I hadn’t lost control, and if I kept telling myself that long enough eventually I might believe it.
I put the heel of my hand on the fighter’s back to steady it and stepped on the pedal to get the gun roaring again, starting where I’d left off, cleaning up some cheaper artist’s shoddy job. In no other profession was the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ so true.
This time, the fighter twitched, not me. No way not to hit nerves when you were tattooing someone over bone. Tattoos on top of bone felt like you were getting stabbed.
A lot like getting menacing letters from your ex in prison.
Five minutes later, Jack was leaning over from the wrong side of the counter, purring my name. “Angela.”
I didn’t turn around. I knew where he was, of course, I’d just made it a habit to ignore him. Mostly.
“Hey, boss-lady, I’m on time, just like you asked,” he tried again. I snorted, stopped working, and looked up.
A gaggle of barely-old-enough-to-be-in-the-shop girls flocked behind him, flipping through flash displays, clearly whispering to themselves about him. He was stare-worthy. If you were into tall, lean but muscular men, black hair, brown eyes, and full sleeve tattoos, Jack was your kind of guy. When our shifts overlapped I had to remind myself he was off limits the same way that ex-smokers have to remind themselves to forget about cigarettes. I knew it was for my own good – I’d quit men that were bad for me a long time ago – but that didn’t make it any less hard.
It was also why I tried to ignore him. It was good for him sometimes.
“On time for once,” I corrected him.
“It’s winter,” he said, like that was an explanation.
I saw the post office truck pull into the parking lot behind him and my stomach clenched. “Yeah, of course,” I said without thinking, standing and pulling my gloves off. “Wrap him up, will you?” I said, sidling towards the hip-high swinging saloon door that divided our half of the shop from the client’s.
“My pleasure,” Jack said, setting his ass down on the piercing display case and spinning his legs over to switch sides. Normally I’d yell at him about that, but – I reached the door just as the postman did, opening it up to take our letters from him.
Junk mail, tattoo convention flyers, the electricity bill and – something stamped ‘Approved by the LVMPD’.
I bit my lips and ran for the office. I stopped myself from slamming the door, just barely, instead whirling to place my back against it, like that would help keep all the monsters at bay, and slowly sank to the floor.
I threw the rest of the mail to the ground and opened up Gray’s letter.
Funny how it only took two words to blow my life apart. I bit the side of my hand to stop from screaming – but somewhere on the inside, a hidden part of me howled.
I tore his letter up – same as I’d torn the other three I’d gotten, starting two weeks ago, and threw the pieces of it into the trash. If only escaping Gray were so easy. I should’ve left years ago – given myself and Rabbit a head start – but then what? Keep running forever? When I knew Gray and the Pack would always be able to find us? No, instead I’d pretended that I’d had a normal life – that I was normal. I’d rolled the dice, praying that someone meaner and nastier than Gray would take him out in prison.
I should’ve known that no such person existed.
I’d lived in Vegas my whole life – you’d think by now I’d be a better gambler.