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Under Her Skin

By:Aria Cole

ONE

River

“So, my hands are in her hair, and I’m fucking close, man. I don’t know what I did to the bitch to make her pull the teeth out, but no shit, I think I almost lost my dick last night.”

The sound of a feminine someone clearing her voice turned both of our heads. Jericho shot up, hand outstretched and that weird half smile he only did for chicks he wanted to bang curling his face.

The guy was a fucking whore, and if I had to live through another one of his one-night stands rehashed, I’d throw my fist through his teeth. I’d already thought about breaking a finger, but fucker needed them if he was going to permanently lay artwork on someone’s body, and the guy had talent.

I’d hired him when he got to page three of his portfolio—a portrait of someone’s grandpa in a war uniform inked on the client’s bicep. The fucking most beautiful tattoo I’d ever seen in my life, and I knew I had to have Jericho in my shop.

Just a goddamn shame I had to put up with him every day.

“She’s a sweet one.” Jericho turned and winked. “And she’s looking for you. Told her I had more talented fingers, but she wasn’t buying it.”

I arched an eyebrow, irritation pulsing through my gut before I stood, plastering on a blank face for my new client.

I lived for tattooing and creating art. What I didn’t love was dealing with customers. Constantly. It was hard being an artist and not being able to control exactly how you would create on a canvas, since the canvas tended to belong to another human.

I’d learned to put on a reserved face over the years—I wasn’t one of those guys who chatted your goddamned ear off. I didn’t give two fucks about your life story or why this tattoo finally meant so much. In fact, half the struggle I’d had in the two years since I’d opened Aspen Ink was tuning out the dimwits so I could focus long enough to give them what they came for—a permanent piece of art on their skin.

Jericho and Dev busted my balls about my shitty chairside personality in the beginning, but it turns out customers don't give a shit about manners when you leave them with something they can't get anywhere else on their arm. I had plenty of repeat customers and was usually booked out months in advance. As a result, most of the clients I already knew, so the fact that I didn’t recognize the name on my schedule today had been a little odd, though not unheard of.

I pulled out a set of clean tools, giving a last glance over my sterile work area before heading to the front counter.

A small little thing, with golden blond hair cascading down to a tiny nipped-in waist, was waiting for me at the front desk. I frowned.

“Hi, I’m River Madden.” I came around the counter, touching her elbow.

She spun, that silky mass of waves brushing across my forearm and sending zaps of fire through my skin.

“I’m Sienna.” Indigo blue eyes nailed mine.

I shifted on my feet, throat already dry before I hooked a finger over my shoulder. “Follow me.”

Red lips pursed for a second, eyes narrowing before she nodded swiftly.

I gnashed down on my teeth, figuring I knew exactly what I was in for with this one. “Let me guess, cute little elephant tattoo on your ankle?”

I held a hand out, gesturing for her to sit in my tattoo chair.

“Not quite.” She plopped down, eyes connecting with mine again.

Fuck, what was it about those eyes? Like she couldn't keep herself from looking at me, staring into my soul or some shit. Weird as fuck and I hated every minute of it.

“Quote under your tit? That what the girls are getting these days, right?”

“I’m not a girl.” She crossed her arms. She certainly wasn’t. She might be small, but that fire burning in those ocean irises told me she wouldn’t hesitate to give a man hell. Fuck, why did that kinda make me smile?

“Well, safe to assume this is your first tattoo?” My eyes landed on her short denim cutoffs then crawled up her body to the long sleeves that covered her arms. This girl was A-1 vanilla, no doubt about it. I was good at reading people, and this one was just too sweet to have seen anything resembling a hard life.

“You know what they say about people who assume, right?” Her grin crooked to the side. “You make an ass—” she rolled up one sleeve, revealing dark slashes of purple and black ink “—out of mostly…you.”

“Impressive.” I moved closer. “I pegged you for a virgin.” I felt a shiver race through her when I cupped her arm in my palm, inspecting the work. “Where’d you go for this?”

“A few towns over. Got it a few months ago.” She pulled up her other sleeve, inked vines wrapping up her forearms to her elbow. “And this was my first, the day I turned eighteen.”

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