Fine Line, Inked Duet 1
“I’m not crying, you’re crying! Oh what a sweet story. With the sweetest hero ever!”Amy
“Fine Line is definitely a must read! Jonas is swoon worthy and Autumn is absolutely amazing!”Samantha
“Jonas is passionate, loving and totally book boyfriend material.”Darlene
“Absolutely, positively loved it! I had a very special spot in my heart for Jonas in the Click Duet and was beyond thrilled he got his own story.”Shelly
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My heart shattered the day my best friend married her soulmate. A man I will always envy.
Cora was never meant to be mine. But I never understood the reason why.
When I enter the tattoo shop, Autumn is the last person I expect. A woman who garners my attention.
A beaming star in my dark sky. A woman who soothes my soul and glues my broken pieces back together.
For the first time in years, I picture no one except Autumn in my arms. And I plan to make it a reality.
My heart learned envy on my friend’s wedding day. She married her soulmate, but also enraptured another man.
Not getting romantically involved with anyone is my fate. The hand life dealt me. A notion I came to terms with years ago.
But all that gets thrown to the wayside the day I meet him.
The night Jonas sits in my chair, I forget how to breathe. Forget how to do anything except smile.
He kickstarts my heart and teaches it a new rhythm. A rhythm I memorize and play on repeat.
For the first time in years, I throw all my reasons for staying single out the window. For once, I trust life has given me another chance at love.
…until the past comes knocking on my door.
Release date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Between Words Publishing LLC
Print pages: 316
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Behind the book
When I wrote the Click Duet (Through the Lens and Time Exposure), I slowly fell in love with Jonas. He pined for Cora in a way that melted my heart. And as I wrote Cora and Gavin's story, I knew Jonas's story would be next. He needed a happy ending more than ever.
Fine Line, Inked Duet 1
Fuck, she is beautiful.
My best friend. The woman I have loved for years. The woman walking down a sandy aisle in a stunning black lace wedding dress. To another man. A man she has been in love with since high school. A man I will never compare to in her eyes.
And although he broke her heart at sixteen, she never fell out of love with him. Gavin Hunt. The luckiest fucking man on the planet. The man at the end of the aisle holding his breath as she steps closer.
I close my eyes and duck my head. “Can’t watch this,” I whisper to myself. Because watching the woman I have loved for nearly ten years marry the love of her life is… painful. No, not painful. Debilitating. Excruciating. Crushing.
Fuck, I can’t breathe.
Don’t get me wrong, my heart holds so much happiness for Cora. Glad she reconnected with the one person who puts a permanent smile on her face. The person who constantly sparks her laughter. Who fulfills her in a way no one else has been capable of for years. As gut wrenching as it is to admit, Gavin is Cora’s soul mate. Her person.
Once upon a time, I filled the role. For a phase of her life, I was her person. Was the only guy she leaned on for comfort or support. The one person she laughed with and spilled her heart to.
Cora is my best friend.
But she isn’t mine.
And as much as it hurts, she never was.
I dreamed of the possibility, but she always tossed out those “you really are a great friend” lines with such ease. Every time she did, it twisted the knife in my heart a little more. Tore away another piece of my soul that I willingly handed her.
The day I met Gavin, the day we all hung out and I witnessed their chemistry for the first time, I threw in the towel. The energy in the room shifted and I witnessed it ebb and flow and magnetize them closer to each other. Cora and I have an undeniable bond, but it paled in comparison to the connection she and Gavin share.
In her own way, Cora loves me. Just not the way I love her.
But now, I have to let her go. Finally let go of the daydream. Let go of the possibility I stood a chance.
Snapping my attention back to my best friend, I memorize her happy, tear-stained face as she speaks her vows to Gavin. Tells him he was her first everything. Twist. Jokes how their middle names are similar—another sign they’re meant to be. Deeper. Twist. Explains how life isn’t worth living without him at her side. Shattered. Split in two.
I stop watching. Stop listening. My heart balls into a fist, clenches hard, and crumbles to ash beneath my ribcage.
Fuck, this hurts.
As badly as I want to rise from my seat and walk off, I won’t. I will not ruin my best friend’s wedding with my own selfishness. Won’t squash her happiness with my sorrow. I am not that guy. Not an asshole. Or a prick.
Everyone laughs and cheers. I follow suit, not knowing the reason. My laugh floats off with the Gulf breeze, hollow and empty. Like my heart.
I chance a glimpse at my best friend. Bad timing. The moment I choose to look up, Gavin envelops her in his arms and kisses her the way I have always imagined doing. The way that haunts my dreams often.
The next hour trickles by in a fog. Shelly and Erin hang out with me. I remember to smile and laugh and joke at the right times. I hide the fact I am a withering mess inside. People scurry into the reception hall and tell everyone to prepare for the newlyweds. Reminding us to hoot and holler as they enter the room.
I clutch my stomach. Think I am going to be sick.
Cora and Gavin enter the room and everyone erupts in cheers and wolf whistles. I mimic with an empty smile plastered on my face.
An emcee announces the newly married couple before soon inviting everyone to eat. I fall in line with Shelly and Erin. They must sense my mood. Neither of them has said a single word to me. Can’t blame them, I am shit company right now.
Shortly after everyone eats, Cora and Gavin share their first dance as husband and wife. I struggle to keep my meal down, but I do. I refuse to make a scene. Refuse to ruin this for her.
Shelly elbows me and I peer over at her. “What’s up, Shell?” But the moment I look up at her, I realize why she nudged me.
The most stunning bride I have laid eyes on is standing beside me with a glowing smile. “Hey you,” Cora says. She extends a hand out to me. “Will you dance with me?”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I swallow and work to dislodge the lump in my throat. “Yeah,” I choke out before coughing to clear my throat. “Yeah,” I repeat.
She smiles as I take her hand and follow her to the dance floor. At the center of the room, she spins around and holds me like we are at senior prom. All too briefly, serenity blankets me. Cora in my arms has always felt right.
But she isn’t mine. And I need to continue to remind myself of such facts.
“Are you okay?” she asks as we sway back and forth.
I won’t lie to her, but the truth hurts like a motherfucker.
“Not so much.” I lock eyes with her. “But I’m working on it. Promise.”
“Jonas…” Cora smiles, but it doesn’t touch her eyes. “Sorry. I wish…”
She doesn’t continue. The way she holds my gaze tells me everything she wants to say, but can’t articulate the words. How she wishes things could have been different. How she hopes I find happiness like she has. And how much she loves me. Like family.
I shake my head and close my eyes. “You have nothing to apologize for, Cora. Life has happened how it’s meant to. You’re my best friend,” I whisper the last line and she lays her head on my shoulder. Closing my eyes, I soak up her warmth and relish the moment. “And no matter what, that will never change.”
“Good.” She laughs, but it isn’t the unrestrained laughter I have heard countless times. “Because you’re stuck with me, mister.”
For the first time in months, a genuine smile stretches my cheeks and I chuckle. “Glad to hear it.” I take a deep breath and swallow my pride. “Sorry if I haven’t been the best party guest.”
She lifts her head from my shoulder and I hide the disappointment threatening to flash across my face. “Jonas, you’re here. That’s all I care about. I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. We’ve been through a lot over the years. If you’re sad” —she studies my eyes for a minute— “you’re entitled to feel how you feel. I’m sorry if this is hard for you. Being here.”
The song changes and we continue to sway around the dance floor. Her sparkly green eyes stay on my hazels. The sweet, earthy floral notes of her perfume float in my nose. I will miss this. Miss the little pieces of her I have familiarized myself with over the years. But I need to do right by her. I need to remove the guilt she holds captive because of our bond.
I need to let her go.
For her. For me. For our future friendship.
Swallowing down the pain, I vow to myself to never let her feel guilt or sadness because of me. If I can’t have her any way except for friendship, I need to accept it. Accept it and move on. Accept it and allow her to be happy.
“Cora…” I stroke my knuckles over her cheek and sigh when she closes her eyes. “It isn’t easy.” When I remove my hand, her eyes open and lock on mine again. “But I wouldn’t miss this day for anything. The day you told the world you found love and grabbed it by the horns.” She giggles and my pulse jump-starts. “Glad I could be here to witness this day. I will always be here. Even if we’re just friends.”
She lays her head on my shoulder again and snuggles closer to me. “My best friend,” she whispers. “I love you, Jonas.”
My eyes glaze over and I am damn glad she isn’t looking at me right now. Glad she won’t witness the dam of tears threatening to unleash. I hug her tight. “I love you, too,” I croak.
We dance for the rest of the song in silence. When it ends, Gavin walks over. “May I?” he asks. He fucking asks. If I were in his shoes, I would probably yank Cora out of my arms. But he doesn’t because he knows her heart. More than anyone.
I step back and smile. “Yeah, man.” I offer Cora’s hand to him. As she breaks from my embrace and glides easily into his, I take a deep breath and release her. “Congratulations. Not gonna lie, I’m envious as hell. But I’m happy for you both.”
Gavin glances down at Cora and the smile on his face tells me he knows he is a lucky son of a bitch. And he will never fuck this up with her. He faces me again. “Thanks, man. Means a lot. To me and Cora. Don’t give up.” I flinch for a second and he registers my confusion. “Hard as it is to believe right now, the right woman is out there waiting for you. You’re a good guy. Fate won’t fuck you over.”
Okay. Wasn’t expecting that. And I have no clue how to respond. So, I remain tight-lipped.
Cora lays her hand on my bicep. “How could no one love you.” She meant it as a rhetorical, so I don’t answer her. “I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll meet her soon.”
“Her?” I ask.
“Yeah. The one. The girl who will seal all the cracks and make you whole again.”
This conversation is one of the most awkward of my life. The woman I have loved for almost a decade, the woman I am trying desperately to let go of, is telling me I will soon find the love of my life. Which is supposedly not her.
I nod. “Hope so. I’m gonna head out.” I hug Cora and memorize her one last time. We will see each other again, but it won’t be the same. Then I extend my hand to Gavin. He shakes it, then surprises me when he pulls me in for a hug.
“Thanks for taking care of my girl when I didn’t,” he whispers in my ear. “Don’t give up, man. Your girl is out there, waiting.”
We break apart and I smile softly. “Congrats again.” I turn on my heel and head for the exit, keeping the torrent of emotions at bay.
Outside, I bend at the waist and slap my hands to my knees. “Your girl is out there, waiting.” Yeah, I don’t see how that’s possible. I hop in the Jeep, crank it to life, and let the tears fall.
I hope you’re right.
The flashing yellow arrow torments me as I patiently wait for a break in the oncoming traffic. With everyone and their mother out shopping, on the hunt for the deal of a lifetime, the roads are busier than usual.
Black Friday has never really been my thing. People swarming like agitated bees. Fighting over electronics and shoes and kitchen gadgets. Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping. Love buying cute new dresses, fun graphic tees, and endless accessories. But you will never find me throwing punches for things.
“Caution” by The Killers spills out the speakers as the traffic breaks. I turn onto the side street and hook a sharp right into the tattoo shop parking lot. Driving to the far rear corner, I back into a space, hop out, and enter through the back door.
“Hey, chicky. Busy?” I ask Penny as I wander over to my booth.
She smacks her strawberry bubble gum and shakes her head. “Nah. But it’ll pick up soon. You have a packed schedule today.”
Mentally, I throw devil’s horns with my hands. A busy schedule equals a kick-ass payday. “Awesome. Thanks, Pen.”
“Just doing my part,” she says as she ambles over to my booth. Penny gives me the rundown on my appointments as I resanitize my workspace. The distinct smell of disinfectant fills the air as I wipe everything down. For years now, this has been my favorite smell. Most of my appointments today are small jobs. A name here, a symbol there, and a couple photos to etch in ink.
“Well, I appreciate you.”
Penny curtsies, tilts her head, and smiles wickedly. She is a freaking nut, which is why we are such great friends—and roommates.
“How was the wedding?” Penny asks.
She met the bride and groom months back when they came in to get tattoos. When they invited me to their wedding, she frowned. Think she was a little butt hurt, especially when I didn’t RSVP with a plus-one. She will get over it.
“Gorgeous,” I say with a green man on my shoulder. “Lots of black.” I laugh. “But mostly beautiful. They’re so sweet together. I envy their connection.”
The green devil pops back up on my shoulder as I recall Cora dancing with a man other than Gavin. Remember the way he held her. The glints of his profile in the dim, shimmering lights. He held her closer than a typical friend. But the exchange didn’t faze Gavin whatsoever.
A balloon swells in my chest as I reminisce over the way he held her. I ache to be wrapped in someone’s arms like Cora was his. To feel wanted and loved without effort.
“Yeah, they seemed pretty inseparable when they came in. How does one nail down a guy like that?” Penny asks as she rests her thumb and forefinger against her chin, inquisitive.
“Not sure. If you figure it out, let me know.”
I finish organizing my booth and Penny goes back to her seat at reception. Soon, the bell hanging over the door chimes and the bodies flood in. Reznor strolls in and starts cleaning his booth after he throws me a wave. I toss one back before Penny hands me my first client’s paperwork.
Name—Sean. Age—eighteen. Tattoo—the name “Nina.” Placement—over his heart.
I avert my eyes to the floor and roll them. Kids… will they ever learn to not tattoo names on themselves? No. Fingers crossed Nina is his mom. But, deep down, I know it isn’t.
My guess? Nina is the bouncy girl on his right, gripping his hand like a vise. The girl smiles at Sean as if he is the reason she breathes. Hope she feels that way for many years to come. Him, too.
“Sean,” I call out as I wander over to the couches in reception.
He kisses her knuckles and hops up. “That’s me,” he says. “Can she watch?”
I nod. “Sure. Come on over.” I wave them over to my booth, then point at the chair. “Have a seat.” Scanning over the paperwork one last time, I review his tattoo with him and verify the placement. After he agrees on a font, I print “Nina” on the transfer paper, moisturize his young, hair-free chest, and apply the stencil.
The next hour is full of minor flinches and loud hisses. When I set the tattoo gun down, he sucks in a lungful of air. I spray a paper towel and wipe it across the fresh ink as I explain tattoo care to him. He nods at all the right times and smiles feverishly when I hand him a mirror and he stares at the tattoo for the first time.
When he rises from the chair, he wobbles in place. “Be sure to grab a bite to eat when you leave here.” I point to who I still assume is Nina. “Please don’t let him drive until he eats.” She nods and they head over to Penny to pay, leaving me a gracious tip.
The day trickles by much the same as usual.
My next appointment wants an old photo of her grandparents tattooed on her bicep with dates and the single word “forever” underneath. The memorialization is sweet, really. I press the pedal and the gun vibrates to life in my hand.
As I engrave her grandparents into her skin, the woman shares their story. How they met in a hospital during the Vietnam War and her grandmother nursed him back to life. How her grandfather could no longer fight on the front lines because he was too severely wounded to stand with his comrades. How pissed her grandfather was and how quickly he got over it because he saw a “pretty nurse lady” every day.
The way she conveys the love story of her grandparents, there was no doubt she heard their story firsthand hundreds of times.
Far too often, I dream of a love like theirs. One I hug close to my heart and brag to others about. Maybe one day, I mentally profess.
Halfway through, the woman closes her eyes with a smile on her face and remains silent for the rest of the session. While she zones out, so do I.
Every time a person sits in my chair or stretches out across my table, I mentally prepare for all or nothing. Clientele come in mixed bags. From nervous to somber to never-ending bursts of energy. Some talk your ear off for days. Others never speak a word. Then you get the ones who do a mix of both. Those who talk because they are nervous or shy, then quiet down once the initial buzz wears off.
I love it. Love my job. Love all the wonderful—and crazy—stories I hear. It’s kind of like reading a new book every couple of hours. Living in someone else’s shoes for a snippet of time.
When I finish up my second appointment, I clean and prep my station for the next—who Penny said is already here. After I wipe everything down, I pick up the clipboard with his paperwork and scan it.
Great. One of those. Lucky me (insert sarcasm anytime you would like).
My next client—male—wants the word “heaven” inked into his skin. No big deal, right? Sure, if he was getting it in any other location. I roll my eyes and lay out the narrow massage table in my booth. Because my next client is getting “heaven” tattooed an inch or two above the base of his penis.
Dumbass. Arrogant dumbass.
Penny waltzes over and sniggers as I lay paper gowns on the table. “Hope he’s hung, otherwise a lot of people will be disappointed when they don’t reach heaven as indicated.”
I slap her arm and laugh. “Shut. Up.” I shake my head. “How am I supposed to concentrate and act professional when you say shit like that?”
Penny shrugs, pops her pink bubblegum, and skips back to the reception area. Halfway across the store and I still hear her giggles.
Walking over to the waiting area, I retrieve Mr. Heaven and bring him to my booth. Without shame, I admit he is hot. Inches taller than me. Tan skin like he just left Clearwater Beach minutes ago. Bulky muscles showcasing his arms and legs.
But as I have learned, not all those qualities add up to “heaven” in the bedroom. I cough into my elbow to cover the laugh bubbling up my throat.
Get it together, Autumn.
“Any particular font you were looking for?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Maybe old English. Something masculine.”
I show him a few variations and he chooses one. Once I have the transfer paper ready, he shoves his sweatpants down until he exposes his hairless skin and I glimpse the base of his penis.
Ugh, this is going to be a long—ha ha—and awkward session.
Mr. Heaven raises his arms and tucks his hands under his head. He has the audacity to smirk at me. Cocky bastard. Can’t wait to wipe the smirk from his face when the gun bites his skin.
An hour and a half and an H-E-A-V later, Mr. Heaven isn’t as suave as he thought he was. Ha! Take that! A sick pleasure floats in my veins each time he jerks or flinches or hisses. Hope it is worth it, buddy.
As I am midway through the second E, the bell over the door jingles. When I lift the gun away from Mr. Heaven’s skin and wipe the excess ink away, I glance up and spot Penny chatting with the guy who walked in.
I stop breathing. Stop thinking. Stop everything.
“You good?” Mr. Heaven asks.
Snap out of it Autumn. “Yeah, sorry.” Mr. Heaven glances to the man up front. “Thought it was a friend of mine,” I say to cover up my flounder.
“No worries,” he says as I finish working on the end of his tattoo.
Every now and again, I peer up and see the man is still here. Currently, he sits on one of the couches as he flips through the artist’s albums. He studies the photos with obvious interest. From my vantage point, I sporadically—and, fingers crossed, inconspicuously—survey him.
He hunches over an album as he flips the pages. His milk chocolate hair sticks out in different directions on top of his head—the underside buzzed short. When he swaps albums, I spot some of the ink between the bottom of his shirt sleeve and his elbow. Sacred geometry. Interesting.
I focus on Mr. Heaven as I finish the last of the N. As soon as I set the gun down and glance over at Penny, album-flipping guy waves at her and walks out the door. All I got was his backside.
But what a glorious backside it was.
Mr. Heaven rises from the table and hobbles over to the floor-to-ceiling mirror and inspects his fresh ink. He smiles like the cocky bastard he is. Penny cashes him out and he tips me well.
“At least Mr. Heaven was good for something,” I say with a giggle as Penny heads my way.
“Yeah. But, girl, I’d climb that stairway to heaven.” As if on cue, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin plays through the shop’s speakers.
We both fall into a fit of laughter as I play slap her arm. “Shut up. You’re sick.” She shrugs without care. “Who was the guy?” I point to the door as if it explains who I am referencing.
When Penny deciphers who I am talking about, she smiles. “Your final on Wednesday. Hottie, huh?”
“Only saw the top of his head and a few inches of his bicep,” I fib and pray she doesn’t notice. Now is not the time for me to go into my starry-eyed moment. Fact is, I noticed so much more. But if Penny hears that, she will give me shit until Wednesday.
“Well, he’ll be the cherry on your hot fudge sundae.” Penny fans herself. “Let me just say it was hard not staring the entire time he was here.”
Tell me about it.
“Stop,” I tease. Couldn’t place it, but something felt oddly familiar about him. “What’s his name?”
Penny studies me a moment as I go through my usual sanitizing procedure. Spray. Wipe. Repeat. “Jonas. Why?”
I shake my head. “No reason. Just looked familiar. But I don’t know a Jonas.” I shrug and continue as if unfazed.
“You will,” she teases and walks off.
I will. But something tells me I already do.
My last client is quick and easy. A young woman. I tattoo the kanji symbol for fierce on the back of her neck. The entire time I have the gun in my hand, my mind wanders to the tall, chocolate-haired man. His stature and sullen demeanor. Somehow, someway, I know him. Just can’t place from where.
In my line of work, I see thousands of faces a year. Is there a possibility I inked his skin before? Maybe. But I would remember him. His broad shoulders and creamy brown locks. His long legs and strong hands. His stare-worthy ass as he strode out the door.
Don’t remember a Jonas. And I would definitely remember him.
When I finish cleaning up my booth for the night, I walk over to Penny. “See you at home. Drive safe.”
“You, too. Love you.”
“Love ya, chicky.”
I unlock my ’57 Bel Air, slip inside, and spark the engine to life. Scanning my music, I tap on a rock playlist and sing along as I roll out of the parking lot. The entire drive home, I sing the songs I have heard hundreds of times, but don’t hear now. Because my mind is stuck. Stuck on the future. On Wednesday, and a mysterious man named Jonas.
Consider me screwed.
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