First ink, p.1
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       First Ink, p.1

         Part #1 of Wicked Ink Chronicles series by Laura Wright
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First Ink
Chapter 1

 

  Addison

  "Oh my god," Lisa says, staring at the billboard covering one massive wall of the convention center. "He is the hottest thing that ever walked the earth. You should've warned me, Addy. "

  I don't say a thing. Just tear my gaze from the black and white photograph on the billboard and head for the virtual mosh pit of bodies stretching out in front of us. My heart is slamming furiously against my ribs as I push up on my tiptoes and try to see over the crowd, see the live version of what Lisa and I have been staring at for a good five minutes. But it's impossible. Inked bodies with stilettos and mohawks block my view of the man-the attraction-in the center. As I hear the buzzing sound of a tattoo needle at work, I suddenly wish I had worn heels and a color other than beige.

  "There must be five hundred people here," Lisa says, awe threading her voice. "Just to watch him work. Is he famous or something?"

  "Very," I say as we walk around the circle of spectators, trying to find a way in.

  Lisa is much more appropriately dressed than I am for a tattoo convention, in a pink miniskirt and tight black t-shirt that shows off her small but firm rack. More than a few guys have noticed her already, and maybe even a girl or two-something I know she loves probably more than she should. The girl is a terrible flirt, and really stands out with her long mane of nearly white blond hair and crystal blue eyes.

  "Does he tattoo celebrities and rockers and models and people like that?" she asks, searching the crowd for an opening.

  "That's what I hear," I say.

  I'm clearly offering as little information as possible on what I know about Rush's life. And the frown Lisa keeps throwing my way lets me know it's starting to piss her off. A fact I can live with as I'm really not up for telling her how closely I follow him.

  "This is bullshit. " She grabs my hand. "We're going to cut. "

  "Wait, Lis. " I don't want to cause a scene. Really don't want Rush to see me yet. Not when he can walk in the opposite direction.

  Lisa turns those pale blue eyes on me. The ones that say, 'Hey, girlie, I just drove six hours from L. A. to be here with you. We both know why. And I'm not hanging in the back when the action is up front. '

  This, of course, is all in my mind. What she actually says is, "This is it, Addy. You've been working this problem for five years now. Do you want to see him or not?"

  Just the thought of going face to face with Rush again makes me nauseated as hell. I fist my shaking hands and press them to my sides.

  "I know this can't be easy," Lisa continues. "But I'm with you a hundred percent, okay?"

  "Okay," I manage to get out before another wave of nausea hits me.

  "We have a plan," she says.

  "Absolutely. "

  "Tell me the plan, Addison. "

  Lisa is my best friend, and the one person on earth who has my back. And it's odd because we're complete opposites. We met the second week of classes our freshman year at UC Santa Barbara, and instantly clicked. Same English major, same desire to live off campus. This good girl from a wealthy family who wanted to be bad, and me, a girl who grew up with nothing, and was tossed around from place to place, but always dreamed of a different life. A stable life. A real life.

  "The plan is," I say, wetting my lips because they've gone so dry they hurt. "We go up to him after the demonstration. You chat up his handler, while I try and get him alone. "

  She cocks her head to the side. "Did the plan sound better in the car?"

  "Shut up!" I go off, half laughing.

  She grins. "Come on. "

  We try to move closer, deeper into the crowd, but before we make it to the third tier a couple of girls shoulder us back. They glare at us, copping some major attitude, thinking we're trying take their spot. Which we kind of are, so we back off again. I'm not nearly as badass as I used to be. Back in the day I probably would've gotten in their faces, shared some words.

  Further down, we spot a fissure in the throng and hurry toward it. Lisa heads in first, her body language all determined now, ready to take on any chick even if she has a legitimate reason to be pissed at us.

  "You can't get close to him without a special pass," I hear a girl say to her friend as we snake through. "But they say it's only for taking a picture with him. "

  "Are you serious?" the other girl says. "He's not doing any more ink today?"

  "Just this one piece. He normally doesn't go to conventions. "

  "Fuck," the girl said on a groan. "I've been on his waiting list for six months. I thought this would be my chance. "

  "Well, if you get to take a picture with him maybe you can convince him to get you in sooner. "

  The woman pressed her breasts together and grinned. "I do have two very powerful methods of persuasion. "

  Lisa leans in and whispers in my ear. "First of all, gross. Second, we need to get you a picture with him. "

  I shake my head. A picture is the last thing I want from Rush. I have plenty. Of him. Of us. What I want-what I need-is to be able to get a few minutes alone with him. To apologize for what I did five years ago. The concept sounded so simple, but so far he's rejected my every attempt. Calls, letters, even trying to get on the waiting list at his tattoo shop, Wicked Ink. He wants nothing to do with me. And I don't blame him.

  It was a complete fluke that someone at school was talking about the Las Vegas tattoo convention, and getting some ink done before graduation in six weeks. I didn't think Rush would be there. He seems to never work outside his shop. But when I heard he would be, I packed up the car, pretended I didn't have finals bearing down on me and convinced Lisa to ride shotgun.

  There's a sudden shift in the crowd, and Lisa and I bump into each other. Everyone seems to be moving forward like an ocean wave. Then I see a woman being helped up onto a chair. She's young, early twenties like me, really pretty, very tatted up and dressed like a 1950's pin-up girl. Her dark eyes scan the crowd and she brings a microphone to her cherry-red lips.

  "Okay, Assholes," she says in the sweetest of tones, her voice booming over the din of hard-driving music and buzzing needles. "He says he'll take one more. "

  Like a clap of thunder, the crowd goes nuts. My heart flies into my throat with the intensity. Hands shoot into the air, tickets clasped in their fingers, fluttering like a mass of yellow butterflies.

  The woman grins wickedly, and her diamond nose piercing flashes in the lights. She's got some serious charisma. Like the kind that not only brings guys to their knees, but makes them want to crawl around on the floor for a while.

  "But," she says real drawn out-like. "He wants a virgin. "

  The disappointment is instant. As I try to figure out what the girl is talking about, all around me, both men and women-but frankly, a lot more women-toss around the stink face and shake their heads.

  "So. . . " Ms. Pin-Up says. "Any ink virgins here today?"

  Three hands go up, and to my utter shock and horror, one of them is Lisa's. And though I'm relieved we're all talking about virginal tattoos here, my eyes cut to her instantly. "What are you doing?"

  "I don't know," she laughs, her face pink and excited.

  "Put your hand down," I hiss. "Before they-"

  "You!" Ms. Pin-Up calls out.

  Before I even turn back, I know the girl is pointing at Lisa. Eyes wide, my crazy-assed best friend bites her lip, then grabs my hand. "Come on. "

  "Don't do this," I said, my old nemesis nausea creeping back to stake claim to my stomach.

  "Too late, Addy. " She sounds completely giddy, like her brain has turned into Skittles. "Besides, here's your way in. "

  "This wasn't the plan," I argue.

  "Fuck the plan, Addy. Sometimes you just have
to jump. "

  I'm about to tell her that getting in the car and driving to Vegas, not telling anyone, no hotel room, is jumping, but Ms. Pin-Up is staring at us expectantly. Along with about a hundred other people.

  "Come on up here, sweetheart," she calls, motioning for Lisa to step forward.

  "Oh my god, oh my god," Lisa squeals softly, pulling me with her, squeezing my hand so hard I flinch.

  This time, instead of blocking our way, the crowd parts, Red Sea-style, and in seconds we're in the front of the pack. Lisa drops my hand and follows the woman, leaving me there in my conservative beige skirt and pale blue top to stare at the guy I haven't seen in five years. The guy who has never once left my thoughts, no matter how hard I've tried to push him out.

  My stomach rolls so painfully I feel like I might pass out. Back in high school, Rush Merrick was a shockingly good-looking kid. Tall, lean, badass attitude. Sexy brown hair, eyes so green they looked like leaves in the sun. But now he's something else. And frankly, the photograph on the wall behind me, the one Lisa had drooled over, doesn't do him justice. He's utterly and totally breath-stealing. And I get the crowd now. I get the women.

  As he speaks to Ms. Pin-Up, my eyes move over him, up and down. He's even taller now, still lean, but with cords and waves of muscle that make my hands twitch involuntarily. I fist them again, inviting carpal tunnel, trying to force away the impulse to touch him. But instead my mouth starts to water.

  He's wearing really simple clothes, but on him they're sexy as shit. A black tank top that shows off his ripped muscles and sleeves of vibrant tattoos, jeans that hang on his lean hips, black combat boots. And as I scale his hotness one more time it occurs to me that though he still has a boy's wicked grin, he's a man everywhere else.

  Lisa steps forward, her face as pink as her miniskirt. I've never seen her so timid and girlie, and I kind of want to slap her. 'What about the fucking plan?' I want to yell. Then I hear the voice that used to make my toes curl-and my heart beat twice as fast-rise above the din.

  "You my virgin skin?" he asks her, his eyes doing a sexy half-lidded thing that I remember was usually followed up by a bone-melting kiss.

  I roll my eyes at my resurrected eleventh grade self.

  "I may have virgin skin," Lisa tells him, her voice shaking slightly. "But that's the only virgin thing on me. "

  He laughs, a low rumble in his chest. And my breath is stuck inside my lungs-possibly permanently.

  Lisa grins really wide. "In fact, I think I might be pregnant. "

  My mouth falls open, and that hostage breath is released. Okay, slapping isn't going to cut it. Lisa is clearly having a Crazy Town moment that may require pills.

  "Sorry, doll," Rush says, glancing over at Ms. Pin-Up like maybe they should start screening the volunteer flesh. "We don't ink anyone who might be knocked up. "

  The crowd boos en masse, and in that moment I'm trying to figure out a way to get Lisa and sprint for the back of the convention center.

  "Looks like we need another virgin," Ms. Pin-Up calls. "And if you're a true virgin, even better. No one with a bun in the oven, people, okay?"

  "Wait," Lisa calls out. "My friend's a virgin. Hey, Addison, come here!"

  Heat slams into my body and I can't feel my limbs. Heads turn to me, eyes narrowed, and there's nothing I want more than to get the hell out of here and plan Lisa's very ugly, very painful demise.

  What about the fucking plan, whore?

  But then Rush turns, and his eyes lock to mine, and I'm rooted to the floor. Even if I wanted to move, I don't think I could. It's been so long, and he's so beautiful. His lips look dark and full, surrounded by a night or two's worth of stubble. And his hair is longer than I've ever seen it, the dark brown edges licking his hard jawline. But it's his eyes-always been his eyes-that make my insides tremble. They're so green and so filled with hostility as he stares at me.

  He wants me nowhere near him.

  Lisa's on her way over, her expression wary. "Okay, okay," she says when she reaches me. "I know you hate me right now, but that plan wouldn't have worked. I'll be right here. Watching you. "

  "Pregnant?" I grind out.

  She shrugs. "It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility. "

  "You're going to totally suck as a mother," I say halfheartedly as my feet are released from the invisible concrete and I walk past her, toward the guy I used to want more than I wanted a real family.

  He watches my every step, his eyes moving down my body, taking in my clothes, my shoes. I know exactly what he sees and what he's thinking. 'What the hell happened to you? Where's your boyfriend, Ken Doll? Why the fuck can't you take a hint and leave me alone?'

  And then we're face to face. I'm standing in front of him, and he smells so good and looks so fierce, and I think I might be dizzy because the last time it was like this, I betrayed and humiliated him in front of an entire room full of people. My best friend. My only friend.
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