Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre Yoooooooooooooou Readddddddddddddy???

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Apologies to Korn (oh…who I get to see later this month, by the way!!!).

Anyway, I wasn’t writing today’s post to brag about the next concert I’m going to.  Instead, I want to make sure you’re ready to snatch up your copy of Inked.  It’s an anthology that I’ve headed up, due to be released August 25.  We’re getting close, and I cannot wait for you to read it.  I’m excited for you to read all the stories, but I’m super excited for you to read Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed, my contribution to this collection.  I think you’re going to love it!

To whet your appetite, I want to give you a tiny taste.  Here’s chapter one of Kory and Stone’s story.  Sound like it might be something you want to read?

Punctured, Bruised, and Barely Tattooed

Chapter One

Kory McCallister sat on the brown vinyl couch in the air conditioned studio.  She pulled her thumb away from her lip once again, because that nail had already been chewed into oblivion.

So stupid.  Yeah, stupid that she was so nervous, but she couldn’t help it.  She was going to see Stone Bowman soon.  God, that man was her dream guy and he probably had no idea she even existed.

She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves.  No, she wasn’t nervous about getting pierced.  She’d done it plenty of times and, with her fear of needles, she was surprised that she’d been able to do it so many times, but it was because of Stone.  She’d entered this place two years ago and there he’d been—tall, dark, shoulder-length hair, scruff on his face, coal-dark eyes, and holy hell, more tattoos than her eyes could take in.  His neck, arms, chest (although his shirt covered most of it), and heaven knew what else.  His body was a living canvas, and Kory had fallen in love with the guy the first time she’d seen him.  He was a dream.  He was also a calming influence, part of why she thought she’d never be able to be pierced by anyone else on the planet, and she supposed that was why he was so good at his job.

He was also a hell of a tattoo artist, but Kory’s fear of needles had prevented her so many times from getting a tattoo.

No one would have ever guessed she was afraid of having a needle poke her because the girl was pierced all over—multiple eyebrow piercings, nose, lips, and her ears were pincushions.  She also had a belly ring.  She still had plenty of places to pierce, but she didn’t want to have Stone doing the honors on her nipple…not now, anyway.  She definitely didn’t want anyone else doing it, either.

She knew having Stone pierce her was a waste of his supreme talents as a tattoo artist, but he was co-owner of the shop.  She always requested him and he’d never refused.

Kory knew her friends thought she was crazy.  Earlier that day, they’d been shaking their heads at her, asking why another piercing?  Didn’t she have enough holes in her body?  And how would that work with her business major anyway?  They never listened to her counterarguments—that she could remove the piercings whenever she needed to, very little harm done, and it wasn’t like she was getting tattoos.

Of course, that was what she was working up to…but there was that fear of needles stopping her.

Silly, yes, because she was pierced.  A lot.

The needle was quick, though, and it wasn’t like getting a tattoo, where it would take hours of work with a vibrating gun.  No, instead, it was with a—well, yeah, that fucker was a big ass needle, but it was fast…at least the way Stone did it.

That was why she’d gone to get pierced in the first place—to get over that fear.  She had an irrational phobia about needles, and she was tired of saying she was a strong woman when she couldn’t even get her nose pierced.

She had thought about it for weeks and weeks and finally found the courage to march in to the shop called The Iron Maiden.  It was early evening, close to the time the shop was going to close, and she’d told the guy she wanted her nose pierced and wanted it done fast.  He had so many questions, though, and she couldn’t remember their conversation to this day.  All she could remember was his absolute beauty, inside and out, and she credited him with making needles a little less scary.

Since that day two years ago—during the summer after she graduated high school—she’d been back almost every month.  She doubted Stone even remembered who she was from one visit to the next, but his image in Kory’s head had kept her focused for years.

Truthfully, Kory knew she belonged more in that shop than she did in college, majoring in business.  With her background, she was surprised she wanted it too, but she never wanted to have to beg from anyone for anything.  When she left her foster parents’ house after graduation, she knew she had one of two paths—she could be the tough-as-nails, hard ass, bruised and destroyed burnout who worked shitty jobs or maybe became a stripper, but that would be following the path of her egg donor, and there was no way in hell she wanted to be like that woman.  The other path was the one untraveled by people of her kind.  She didn’t want to be beholden to the man, so she would become him.  She was smart enough—street smart, anyway—and her foster parents had helped her see that she had value.  She could learn whatever she needed to, so long as she applied herself.

She heard the door to the back part of the shop open.  They played the same music back there that they did in the front area where they sold the body jewelry and clothing, but hearing the music coming from that area wasn’t what tipped her off to the door opening.  No, it was Stone walking out with a satisfied customer.  Kory tried not to feel jealous, but that customer was tall, thin, and blonde, and Kory was pretty sure the woman had fake boobs to boot.

Stone was smiling and chatting with her as he led her to the counter while continuing to discuss aftercare.  She tittered, revealing overly white teeth, as she handed a silver toned credit card to the guy at the counter.  The guy—a kid named Richie—mentioned to Stone that he had another customer waiting.  Kory looked at her phone, hoping she looked distracted, as though she hadn’t a care in the world, because really she was on pins and needles waiting for him to get his ass over there.

God, he probably thought she just was a stupid kid.  She’d grown her dark hair out since the first time she’d seen him, and she knew she looked more like a woman today than she had back then.  Unlike the busty babe he’d just tatted, though, Kory’s breasts were small.  Of course, they matched her body.  She was small all over, and it just made her self-conscious.  She knew people dismissed her, so she had to make up for it with her voice and gestures.  The problem was that behavior was often at odds with how she felt inside.

She was a mess, a basket of contradictions.  That meant she’d never make a good girlfriend, would never be dating material, would—

“Hey.”  She heard Stone’s voice just a couple of feet away as her brain was considering an exit strategy.

Too late.  Besides, she could feel the butterflies freaking out in her tummy now as an eerie calm washed over her back.  “Hey.”  She looked in his eyes.  Wow.  Yeah.  This guy was the shit.

“Richie said you’re itching for another piercing.”

She swallowed.  “Uh, yeah.”  God, she felt like she could drown in his dark eyes.  She could—and she’d be content breathing in the water, filling her soul with his essence.  Kory so many times felt like she didn’t belong anywhere—nowhere on the planet—but she could see herself finding peace in his eyes.

Now, though, his gaze unnerved her.  It wasn’t like it was in her fantasies.  There they had an easy relationship.  In real life, though, he was just a hot guy and she was merely his customer.  His annoying punctured, slightly stalkerish customer who needed an excuse to be touched by him once more.

He tilted his head toward the door to the back, indicating that he was going to lead her behind the glass door.  She stood, her legs a little wobbly, and she couldn’t help but focus on his hand as he grabbed the handle.  Fuck.  Those tattoos all over his hand made her feel warm between her legs.  If he knew what seeing him did to her, he’d be kicking her ass out and filing a restraining order.

Jesus.

She was so absorbed in her warm thoughts that she almost missed what he asked.  She forced herself to focus so she could remember the words that had just come out of his mouth.  Oh, what she wanted pierced.  Yeah.  She gulped again, walking through the door toward the back while he held it open, and said, “Tragus.”

He half smiled and nodded.  “Right or left?”

She hadn’t thought about it, really.  No way would she get them both done—not now.  It would give her another excuse to visit if she only got one.  She turned around, pulling hair behind her ears on both sides.  “I don’t know.  What do you think?”

He shrugged.  “I think it would look okay on either side.”  They stopped near an alcove where a cushioned table butted up against a wall, almost like a doctor’s office.  She knew the drill and hopped up before Stone could say a word.  He opened a drawer and started getting out supplies and set them next to the piece of jewelry Kory had chosen long before he had been involved.  “Do you have a preference?”

No, not really.  She just wanted his hands on her again.  She would never say that, though.  “Hmm.  Maybe balance.  You know—even me out?”

He didn’t even look up from what he was doing.  “So on the right then?”

Wow.  He remembered that she had more holes on the left than the right.  Part of that was because of the industrial she had in the right ear, and she’d never bothered to put other piercings in the gap above where the bar went through.  That was good, though, because it gave her plenty of options for later…until he realized she had a problem and refused to continue piercing her.

She wasn’t a freak, though.  She knew plenty of people who were crazy pierced—the ones who had to have surgery to be pierced through bone, and even some of the extreme ear stretchers, something Kory couldn’t quite get into…those were the ones who had a problem.

Sure, she did too, but it had nothing to do with being addicted to body modification.  It was an addiction for the man doing the work.

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

He turned around and wiped with alcohol the tiny area where the tragus piercing would go.  She couldn’t help but look at his face.  He was right there and he was close, and it was at that moment that Kory realized that she probably trusted this man more than she trusted anyone else.  Why?  Because he had, multiple times, had her well being in his hands and, while piercings stung, he’d never injured her. 

God, he was gorgeous.  Kory loved how the colorful tattoos crept up his neck.  If he would have decided to grow out his beard, it would have covered the tops of them.  More than that, though, she loved the tattoos on his hands.  The ones on his arms crawled down the backs of his hands, and he also had letters on his fingers.  One hand had the letters P-A-I-N on the knuckles and the other had the letters F-U-C-K.  Kory was pretty sure it was a statement—fuck pain—which was appropriate for a guy who tattooed and pierced others for a living.  Kory knew he wasn’t pierced much, at least where her eyes could see.  He had slightly stretched piercings in his ears and Kory could tell he used to have snakebites that he had since allowed to close up.  She bet those had been sexy.

If Kory were the blushing kind, her cheeks would have turned pink when she started wondering if maybe he was pierced in places she could only imagine.

The alcohol felt cool against her skin and he turned away from her to grab his needle.  She bit her lip and looked ahead, swallowing.  “You gonna close your eyes?”

She grinned and glanced up at him.  That meant he did remember her, because she always had to close her eyes.  That was okay, though, because she could feel his body heat close to her, assuring her through the pain that it was going to be all right.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Wanna add the anthology to your Goodreads TBR?  You can here: Inked

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