I have been sleeping like hell since Sunday night and can’t get the brothers out of my mind; couldn’t get Dash out of my mind in particular. I hadn’t heard a thing from either of them all week and Dash hadn’t darkened the doors of Midnight Ink yet. I thought for sure he’d be in sooner rather than later as he seemed to get tattoos when he was having a bad day and if he was feeling anything like I was, he was definitely having bad days, yet he still hadn’t been in.
Kristina noticed too because she walked up to me and asked. “What the hell did you do to them? Dash hasn’t been in all week! That’s so unlike him. Wait...did you kill them?”
I laughed. “I definitely didn’t do that. We all just ended things between us. I’m sure he’ll be in after he licks his wounds.” I knew he was the one who ended things between all of us but I couldn’t ignore that last look he gave me, a look of regret, and I knew then that he was fighting bigger things inside himself and would eventually be back in the shop and back in my life.
“Damn, I figured they’d keep you around a bit longer than a few days. Those boys don’t normally hit ’em and quit ’em if you know what I mean,” Kristina added.
Then it hit me that Kristina knew more about the brothers than I had ever admitted before. And now I wanted some answers.
“So you know about their lifestyle?” I asked, starting off subtly.
Kristina laughed and nodded. “Everyone does. Hell, most of the women that hire them are just hoping they’ll choose her for their next rendezvous. Shit, even I hired them once to see if I could be in their beds, but they kept it strictly professional.”
This surprised me. The brothers weren’t her normal type of guy so it was hard to think of Kristina going after them. She was usually into guys with too many piercings and more tattooed skin than clean skin and who sported a different shade of the rainbow in his hair each week.
“Something must have gone down for them to dump you to the curb so quickly though. You didn’t mention a relationship with them did you?” Kristina looked horrified.
I laughed again. “I most certainly did not do that. A relationship is the last thing I need...you know that.” I sighed. “I think I was delving into their past too much. Dash didn’t seem happy when I asked about their childhood. Must have hit a nerve...”
Then the bell above the door dinged and both of us looked up front to find none other than Dane McCarthy standing in the lobby.
“Well, I’ll be damned. One of them still wants you and he’s the one with all the pretty skin. Never thought I’d see the day when that brother entered a tattoo parlor. I better go see if he’s lost.” I laughed as I watched Kristina walk towards the front, but my stomach was full of butterflies. What was he doing here and what did he want?
I watched the two converse silently from my spot in the back as Kristina threw her head back and laughed, looking like they were old friends. Then I watched as the curtain slid open and Kristina pointed in my direction. And then I felt nervous as I watched Dane nod and step behind the curtain towards me, my stomach doing flips.
Then he was standing right in front of me. “Hey there, beautiful.” He greeted me with a soft voice and a shy smile
“Hi, Dane.” I greeted, trying to sound cold but failing miserably. “What can I do for you? Looking to get some ink?”
Dane threw his head back and laughed. “Not in this lifetime, but if I ever change my mind, I know a good artist.” He winked at me and then his face became serious. “No, I came to see how you were doing...”
I took a deep breath and stood up from my chair to face him. “I’m doing fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Dane shrugged, running his hand through his hair. “We ended things badly... well...Dash ended things badly, and I wanted to swing by to see how you were.”
I thought back to that day in the truck and shivered. I hated how Dash ended things but I also didn’t blame him.
“It’s fine, Dane, really. I’m okay. It was only a matter of time before it ended, right?” I added with a shaky breath.
“Was it though? I feel like things could have been different with you. Like we all could have made it work,” he paused, studying my face. “Did you want that, Adrena? To make it work?”
I felt like I was being interrogated and I didn’t like it. Sure, I had thoughts of things working out between us, but they always ended with negative thoughts. I had a hard time making it work with one man, what makes me or him think I could with two men?
“I enjoyed our time together, Dane, but it wouldn’t have lasted. I, we,” I paused, trying to find the right words, “us three weren’t completely compatible, you know? Like, we had amazing sex, but beyond that... I only connected with one of you, so it wouldn’t be fair to the other one, you know?” I was nervous and hoped I was getting my point across.
Dane nodded. “It was Dash, wasn’t it? You connected with him well before I came into the picture, right?”
I bit my bottom lip, not sure how to answer because I didn’t want to hurt Dane’s feelings but I knew I had to be honest. So I simply just nodded.
“Figured. I can’t say that I’m not surprised because I am. And honestly, Adrena, you should tell him that.” Dane stated.
I shook my head though. “It’s over, Dane, he made that perfectly clear. Besides, I’m too much of a mess to have a man in my life right now and it’s clear that his life is just as messy.”
“I couldn’t agree more with you, but have you ever thought that maybe you two could fix each other? Like maybe, just maybe, you two need each other to heal each other?”
I snorted. “I don’t need a man to heal me, Dane. I do appreciate you stopping by though. Don’t be a stranger, okay?”
He stood still, staring at me, but didn’t pry anymore. He just nodded, kissed my cheek, and left the shop, leaving me more confused than ever as I scolded myself for not asking him how Dash was doing. I hadn’t heard a peep from either of them and really wanted to know how they were doing. Now that I got my answer about Dane, all I could think about now was how Dash was doing. And maybe I wasn’t meant to know.
“That was... interesting...” Kristina appeared out of no where and made me jump.
“You need to wear a fucking bell. Where the hell did you come from?” I took a deep breath and stepped up to my work station to do some new drawings. I had been working on a new piece for myself and wanted to get started on it soon, but not until I finalized the drawing first. It would be a big piece and I wanted to make sure it was perfect before making it permanent.
Kristina laughed at her. “Relax, jumpy, I was coming back to get something and I overheard you two talking.” I cocked an eyebrow as Kristina held up her hand. “Alright, fine, I was ease-dropping, but that’s beside the point. He’s right you know... you should go talk to Dash, tell him how you feel.”
I shook her head. “I don’t feel any particular way, Kristina. It was just super hot sex. Yeah, sure, I connected with Dash far more than I ever thought I could with a man, but that’s over and now I’m free to move on with my life, end of story. I turned over that leaf; I’m done.”
Kristina sighed and studied my face. “What happened to you back in Texas?” I felt uncomfortable under her glare as I fidgeted with the pencil in my hand and looked away from her.
Then the bell above the door rang and thankfully Kristina ended the conversation for now and left me to my own thoughts, which were fighting with me at the moment, and got back to drawing my new tattoo idea.
But then I froze, my blood felt like ice and the hairs on the black of my neck stood straight up when I heard my name from a voice I hoped to never hear again.
I almost panicked but stayed where I was, knowing he couldn’t see me from upfront if I stayed close to my workbench. The music started a slower paced song, which gave me the advantage of listening to the conversation upfront.
“Look, Kristina, I know she’s been here. You’re her only family left, she had no place else to go. If you see her, tell her to come home. I miss her and really want to know she’s okay. I, I love her.”
Bile rose up in the back of my throat and I felt the rage boiling in my stomach. Karl didn’t love me. He was incapable of loving anyone. No, he used me.
“Listen... Karl... if I hear from her I’ll pass on the message but don’t count on it. I haven’t heard from her in years and I certainly haven’t heard about you.” Kristina was dishing an attitude right back at him and I knew that if they weren’t in a public place that Karl would show her with force how much he hated women talking back to him.
Then the bell above the door dinged again and he was gone. I was shaking as I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and sank down on my chair.
Kristina had appeared by then and did not look happy. “Okay, toots, start talking. Who was that guy?” And it was clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to brush my cousin’s questions under the rug any longer, I had to tell her the truth.
“That’s my boyfriend, Karl. Well, ex-boyfriend if you call running away from him three weeks ago with no word, breaking up.” I nervously laughed, trying to lighten the mood but it clearly wasn’t working because Kristina just cocked an eyebrow and put her hands on her hips.
“Seriously, Adrena, what is going on? Why would you run from your boyfriend? Why are you hiding out here? Why would you be with a guy like that anyway?!” Kristina was scolding me and she was doing a good job making me feel like I was a child.
Sighing, I replied, “Remember when nana died?” Kristina nodded as I continued, “Well, I was fifteen. I had run away because I didn’t want to be put into the foster system, so I fled to El Paso, lied about my age, and got a job at a bar downtown, making decent money might I add, and tried to take care of myself. But I was fifteen... then Karl came in one night and he swept me off my feet. It was clear that he had money, was well connected, and seemed solid. So I did what any scared fifteen year old would do and I fell under his spell. He kept me warm and safe; gave me a place to stay. But the longer I stayed there the more I knew it was a prison and I was better off alone and living out of my car than living with Karl. But by then it was too late and I was too far into Karl’s life, he was never going to let me go...”
“Adrena...” Kristina whispered, trying to soothe me but I wasn’t finished yet; not even close.
“It gets worse, Kris, you don’t even know the half of it... but the one situation that made up my mind and made me run from him three weeks ago tops the cake...” I took a deep breath and then continued when I found my strength. “He was beginning to screw over a bunch of people and he was losing money left and right. One month we couldn’t pay the electric bill and he flipped out. Nobody was buying from him and we were broke, like really broke. So he put me in his truck, drove us downtown and sold me off to whoever wanted a good time...and apparently lots of men were looking for a good time that night...” My voice cracked as I felt hot tears slide down my face. Bringing up these memories was a nightmare and I hated remembering them but Kristina needed to know how big of a monster Karl is.
“My God...” Kristina gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. “How did you not kill that son of a bitch?!”
I laughed through my tears. “And have every drug dealer and seller on the streets of El Paso after me? No thanks... I took my chances when I ran away. He can’t ever find me, Kris. He’ll fucking kill me if he finds me... I... I stole a bunch of money from him when I left.”
“How much money? Maybe you can pay it back nonchalantly and he’ll leave you alone... that’s why he’s here right? For the money?” Kristina was now sounding freaked and desperate, mirroring my emotions.
“$20,000,” I answered softly.
“What?!” Kristina shrieked. “Oh my god...he really is going to kill you.”
I looked down at my hands then and whispered, mostly to myself, “I don’t even know how he got his hands on that much money. If he had that... why did he make me...?”
Kristina grabbed my shoulders and shook me slightly. “No, don’t think about that. He’s a sick bastard, that’s why he made you do that. You deserve that money for what you’ve been through, hell you deserve way more than that, but... for now you need to stay hidden.”
“How am I supposed to do that? I have no where to go. I can’t stay with you, he’ll be watching your place like a hawk, He’ll for sure find out where I live, if he hasn’t already, and will he’ll be watching. I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten his hands on me yet.” I stood up and started packing my art stuff up in a feverish pace. “I have to leave again. I’ll find a place where he can’t ever find me.” I was packing so quickly that things were falling more onto the floor than they were making it into my bag.
Then Kristina grabbed me. “No. You’re not running again. Don’t let him control you like this anymore, Adrena. We’ll hide you out someplace until we figure out what to do about Karl; or how to send him on his way. Okay?”
I nodded, not sure what else to say, as I shook in her embrace. “Thank you, Kris... for everything.”
“That’s what family is for, babe. Now let’s put our brains together and figure out where to hide you.” Kristina let go of me and stood back, studying my face.
I only knew a few people in town, my cousin being one of them, so I honestly had no idea where I could stay where Karl wouldn’t find me. That was, until the McCarthy brother's faces popped into my head. They lived out of town and had no neighbors from what I could see. Now the hurdle I had to jump was figuring out how to get back into their lives without telling them too much about my past.
I glared at Kristina, “I think I know where I can stay. I don’t know if it will work, but I have to try...”
“I don’t like the look you’re giving me. Where are you thinking, Adrena?”
I sighed. “The McCarthy brothers...”
Kristina gave me a huge grin and clapped her hands. “I was hoping you’d come to that conclusion on your own instead of me.”
“Don’t look at me like that. This is strictly for my safety. I’m not getting back into bed with them.” I scolded my cousin.
The bell above the door rang and both of us whipped our heads in that direction. Then Kristina smirked. “Are you sure about that?”
My heart started pounding when I saw Dash’s form through the curtain. He was unmistakable and all I could do was stare at him. I hadn’t heard from him all week and he just so happens to show up when my life is hanging on by a thread? If this wasn’t a sign, I didn’t know what would be at this point.
The curtain moved aside as Dash walked back, heading in my direction. I couldn’t help but notice the tiredness in his eyes and the sharp lines of stress around his mouth as he scowled, staring me dead in the eyes as he came closer.
“Hi,” I greeted with a shaky breath and tried to sound as cordial as possible.
But it was clear he wasn’t up for friendly talk as he stepped up to the chair, sat down with a thud, and glared up at me. “I need some new ink. This is what I was thinking.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper and handed it to me.
I thought it was strange that he produced his own drawing, as it seemed to me that he always wanted his artist to have free reign. But when I grabbed the paper and looked down at it my heart fell into my stomach and I felt tears building behind my eyes. There was a heart in the middle of the paper, but it wasn’t a normal heart, it looked old and decrepit and looked like it was dying, and to top it all off, there was a dagger stabbed right in the middle of it.
I looked at him over the top of the paper and squinted my eyes at him, but he wouldn’t look at me.
“You sure this is what you want? It doesn’t really.... seem like something you’d have on your collage...” I stopped talking immediately when he glared up at me, his eyes piercing my soul like the dagger stabbed into the heart in my hand.
“Last time I checked, I didn’t need your permission on what I want tattooed. Can you do it or not?” His jaw flexed and I couldn’t help the feeling of wanting to soothe him in any way that I could, but I also had a feeling that he didn’t want to be touched right now, or to even talk about it.
“I can do it,” I whispered, setting the paper down on my drawing table and taking a seat in front of it. “But you have to do something for me in exchange.”
He laughed lightly. “I’m paying you for this, there is nothing to exchange but ink in my skin and bills in your hand.”
“Fine, it’s not an exchange, but more like a favor?” I asked the last part, hoping to gauge his curiosity and it must have worked because he whipped his head in my direction and cocked an eyebrow, so I continued, “I have a small bag taped to the inside of the toilet tank in my apartment. I need you to get it for me and bring it back here. I can’t... I can’t get over there today and need that bag.” I was trying so hard to stay nonchalant and hoped it was working.
“What’s in this bag? Drugs?” He didn’t sound pleased at all and I didn’t blame him.
“No. Money.” I wasn’t going to lie to him, but I also wasn’t going to tell him the entire story. At least not yet. “Can you do that for me?”
He eyed me with skepticism for a moment but then finally nodded. I let out a breath and nodded back at him.
“Thank you,” I whispered before turning to the table to start drawing up the tattoo design onto the proper paper so I could transfer it to his skin.
“What are you going to do for me if I do this favor for you?” Dash’s voice was raspy and filled with a challenge.
I stopped drawing and spun towards him, cocking an eyebrow at him. “What do you want?”
He gave me a half grin and I would have missed it if I weren’t looking at his mouth. I watched him look down at my chest that was showing a bit more cleavage than normal today. His desirous gaze sent chills over my skin and a familiar ache between my legs, and I wondered if he would always affect me like this or if we would go back to being strangers like nothing happened. Obviously I was crazy if I thought we would ever go back to how things were before we slept together. The sexual tension between us before was much more torturous than the sexual tension we shared now.
When he didn’t say or do anything, I took it upon myself to push him just a little bit and rolled my chair closer to him, placing myself between his legs. I looked up at him through hooded, seductive eyes and licked my lips. I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and let my hand trail down my neck, over my collar bone, and over my cleavage.
“This what you want?” I whispered.
It was clear that I was affecting him while he couldn’t peel his eyes from me and his face was flushed.
And as much as I wanted him to touch me again, to be claimed by him again, I couldn’t help but feel a bit used. Here I was asking for a favor and he wanted one in return, a favor that involved my body; memories of Karl and my past invaded my mind as tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever do that again, no matter who it was with.
I rolled away from him, grabbed his drawing, and threw it at him.
“Find yourself a new artist and get the fuck out of my chair.” I kept my back to him, afraid my tears would leak down my face if I looked at him.
“Are you serious right now? What the fuck?” He sounded confused and a bit pissed, but I didn’t care. He completely just made me feel like I was a random piece of ass and not the girl he used to look at, who he really saw, and it hurt me deeply.
“Forget about the favor, I’ll have someone else do it.” I continued to keep my back to him and tried to keep my hands busy.
“Adrena,” his voice was softer and sounded a bit wounded, “look at me.”
I shook my head. “Please just leave, Dash.” I had to bite my bottom lip to prevent myself from letting out a small sob. I was fighting back the tears so hard right now and if he didn’t leave soon I was going to burst and I didn’t want him or anyone to see that.
“What did I do?” He asked, the anger coming back to his voice.
I stood from my chair and headed towards the bathroom across from my work station. I seriously needed to get away from him before I made a fool of myself and where I’d have to explain the entire situation to him, even the memories from my past, and I wasn’t ready for that. Telling Kristina today about my past was all I could handle right now.
“Hey.” He called after me but I kept walking towards the bathroom. And when I went to shut the door behind me, I saw Dash push his way in and slam the door behind us before grabbing my arm and spinning me towards him.
“Dash! Get out!” I whined, pulling my arm from his embrace, all while trying to hold my composure for just a bit longer.
“No. Not until you talk to me.” He had lowered his voice, glaring into my soul, but I turned my head away from him.
“I can’t do this right now. I seriously need you to get the fuck out.” I gripped the edge of the sink and looked down, trying so hard not to reveal my emotions to this man.
“Adrena,” he whispered as he walked right up behind me and lightly touched my waist, “talk to me...”
The softness of his voice and the tender way he was touching me completely busted through the wall I was building around myself. I let the tears come as a small sob escaped my lips, but I recovered quickly, wiped my face, and moved away from him.
“I’m just having a rough day is all.” I lied, still keeping my gaze away from him. “Lacy is really good with her needle, hit her up before you leave.” Then I walked around him and opened the door, walking out. And then I realized my plan to stay with the brothers was now shot to hell and I had to come up with another plan.Great!