It’s no wonder that I write about things I’m passionate about. Last year when Ellora’s Cave asked for books that featured tattoos, I knew it was right up my alley—but I never expected that seed of an idea to give birth to a whole series!
The So Inked series started with a germ of an idea. What if there was a tattoo shop of women, in Texas? Sort of like LA Ink, but with a whole lot more romance and a bit more drama. If you’re not familiar with the show, let’s just say a tattoo shop full of women is a little worse than what goes on at your nail salon. Tattoo artists have plenty of sharp, pointy objects after all.
One of the things I’ve loved most about writing The Harder He Falls is digging into the heroine’s preferred tattoo style. Did you know that though tattoo artists can ink just about anything in any style, they usually have a tattoo style they prefer? There are styles that are easy to identify because of time period, ethnic origins or popular fads. The heroine in The Harder He Falls specializes in Asian tattoos, specifically those in the Japanese tradition.
The cool thing about Japanese tattoos is that meanings can be layered depending on the elements selected, placement, design and color. I spent a good deal of time researching the most popular elements, and I’m fairly certain I only scratched the surface. There’s such a detailed, unique look to Japanese tattoos that makes them easy to pick out of a crowd if you know what to look for. Even a universal creature like the phoenix, which has roots in many cultures, can be identified in the Japanese vein.
It’s not always the subject that gives the design away, but the way it’s done. What is the phoenix paired with? How vivid are the colors? If it’s a phoenix and a dragon entwined, it’s certainly Japanese. The combination is a popular depiction of the yin and yang, feminine and masculine in balance. The phoenix can also be depicted with peonies or cherry blossoms, both very popular tattoo elements in Japan.
I think the hero and heroine in The Harder He Falls both share some of the traditional rebirth and transformation traits as the phoenix tattoo. Like the bird, they’re each facing a new phase in life, big choices, alterations to their lifestyle. The heroine is on the brink of making one of the biggest decisions in her life, and it will change everything. Similarly, the phoenix in full fledge, with feathers in vivid colors is full of life and promise. While the hero has made that change. He’s transformed his life, so he’s in the new, fledgling stages. The phoenix can be as unique as you or I, with all its stages and phases of life. It’s a beautiful tattoo that embodies the human life, the way we move from one place to another.
If you were to get a phoenix tattoo, would you want the fledgling, the bird in full feather or flaming?
It can never be said that Sidney Bristol has had a ‘normal’ life. She is a recovering roller derby queen, former missionary, and tattoo addict. She grew up in a motor-home on the US highways (with an occasional jaunt into Canada and Mexico), traveling the rodeo circuit with her parents. Sidney has lived abroad in both Russia and Thailand, working with children and teenagers. She now lives in Texas where she splits her time between a job she loves, writing, reading and belly dancing.
A woman who doesn’t have time for love…
A hot night full of hotel-destroying sex was all Kellie wanted from her client-turned-sex god. Between family and work, there isn’t room for love, just hot, sweaty lust. An arrangement for mutual gratification is exactly what Kellie wants, but every kiss, each mind-blowing orgasm twines her heart around a man she cannot have.
A man building a new life…
Quinton’s assumptions about the So Inked shop owner are turned on their head after one session under her tattoo machine. Kellie’s not the vandal he’s looking for, but she’s the woman he wants. In his bed, on the desk or under the stars, he’ll take her any way he can get her. But Quin has secrets and someone is out to destroy him. Someone who has their sights set on Kellie now.
Kellie shifted on the wooden bench, still restless. The evening breeze was cooler than normal thanks to a cold front blowing in. It was ridiculous that dropping into the nineties was considered a cool spell, but in the height of Texas summer, you took what you got. She swept her hair up into a knot and tipped her head back. The slight dampness of her skin, courtesy of the ever-present humidity, was a small price to pay for being able to sit outside. She’d shed the formfitting dress for jeans and a tank top and felt more like herself for it.
“How hot does it get here?” Quin plunked down their dinner and sat on his side of the picnic table. Behind him the food truck was starting to pack up.
“Can’t handle the heat?” It was too much to ask that the man be able to cope with everything. He’d sat through the tattoo yesterday without complaint, being a heat weenie wasn’t terrible.
His brilliant blue eyes stood out in the dim illumination of the parking lot light. “When you have A/C, why should you?”
“You do realize that it’s going to get at least ten degrees hotter and stay there, don’t you?” She unwrapped the tacos and inhaled the spicy aroma of peppers and onions mixed with tender beef.
Quin made a show of wiping his forehead with a napkin. “I’m going to melt.”
“Why the hell are you still here then?”
He hefted his burrito and wrapped the tortilla tighter. “Family.”
She nodded, understanding that reason above all others.
They descended into companionable silence while they ate. The garbled sounds of a Tejano station melded with the distant sounds of Highway 75 and the light street traffic up and down Greenville Avenue.
“What are you so wound up about, doll?”
Her head snapped around. Quin watched her with one brow arched.
“What?” she asked.
“Your knees are bouncing and you keep looking around. Are you expecting someone I don’t know about?” He glanced over each shoulder.
The bubble of anger swelling in her breast burst. It wasn’t Quin’s fault she was suffering from a case of bitchitis.
Instead of snapping at him, she put her taco down and massaged her temples. “No, I’m just sitting on too much energy and not enough time to expend it.”
“Ah.” He nodded as if he understood. “We used to call that the fight or fuck stage.”
It was her turn to quirk a brow at him. She shivered despite the heat. He had a point; one or the other would help. “Fight or fuck stage? What did you used to do?”
“First I was in the Marines, then I used to fight MMA, semipro.”
Her eyebrows crept upward. Mixed martial arts? She saw Quin in a whole new light, and when she looked at him in this proverbial light, he looked damn good. Fighters came with their own set of issues, but as an MMA hobbyist herself, Kellie had to admit that her bad boy draw was sitting across from her. Growing up around the gym meant she’d become more than competent in a few martial art forms. As an adult, branching out into the grappling, wrestling and more violent aspects had given her a much needed outlet.
Kellie grabbed her drink, the cup covered in condensation, and gulped it down to get moisture back in her dry mouth.
“Why’d you stop?”
“I got hurt. Fractured a few vertebrae. Everyone was amazed I could walk after that. Realized there was little to no chance of me coming back from the injury, so I switched over to training. I like it.”
“Do you train around here?” An invisible fist clenched her heart. There had been a time when she would have known the different gyms, who trained where, which ones were worth going to and so forth.
Quin didn’t answer immediately. He chewed his food without haste and took a drink before replying. “I’m transitioning locations. Parting with someone. It’s a little messy.”
Her nose wrinkled. “Yeah, I’ve been there. I’m lucky to have Mary as my co-owner. The guy I worked with before her was a man-child.”
He snorted. “Man-child?”
“Yeah, you know. Frat boy types.”
He tilted his head back and laughed. “That’s a good one, doll. Man-child. I’ll have to remember that.”
The pet name slid over her nerves as if it were sandpaper. “Do you have to call me that?”
“What?” He blinked as if he had no clue what she was talking about.
“Lay off the doll crap already.”
He shrugged. “You look like a doll.”
Her scalp itched and her hand balled into a fist. “You think I look like a whore?” she growled. Moments like these she felt as if she were a passenger in her own body. The urge to do something, or even the man across from her, had her muscles too tense and her nerves strung too tight.
Quin jerked his face away from his cup. “What? No. That’s not what I meant. You’re attractive and exotic-looking. You look more like a doll than a real person.”
Heat crawled up her neck and she was thankful the parking light was their only illumination. It was the most convoluted compliment anyone had ever paid her, and it turned her on even more. She folded her taco wrapper into a neat square.
“You realize the term china doll is what men called Asian prostitutes and war brides?”
“The fuck—no. No, that’s definitely not what I meant. Hey, guys probably hit on you all the time. I figured I had to be a little creative.”
She rolled her eyes. “At least you don’t talk to my boobs.”
His gaze dipped to her chest and her nipples perked up at his inspection. She squeezed her thighs together. This was ridiculous. She was not an animal in heat ready to throw herself at some random guy.
“Well, in their defense, most guys probably only come up to your chest, so it’s not entirely their fault.” One side of his mouth kicked up in a roguish smile.
She chuckled and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, blame it on me because I’m tall.”
“It’s not your fault you’re tall. It’s their fault they’re short.”
Her phone buzzed against her hip. Conversation forgotten, Kellie dug it out of her pocket and unlocked the screen. The home-care provider always texted her when Grandma finally went to bed. She breathed a sigh of relief when nothing else was mentioned, which meant the day had passed without incident. She had all night before she would need to go home and face those troubles. For now she was her own woman.
She glanced up from the phone. “Yeah.”
“So you moved here for family. Wife? Girlfriend?”
“None of the above.”
He was unattached and available. She went very still, the possibilities running through her head.
Quin cleared his throat. “My schedule right now doesn’t lend itself to dating.”
Even better. She laid her palms on the rough wooden surface of the table. “Neither does mine.”
His stillness echoed hers. A predatory awareness came over him, but she wasn’t prey. “That’s a shame.”
She looked him over, even as he did the same. He wouldn’t be the first client she slept with, she wasn’t a saint. But neither did she know him.
“Excuse me.” The food truck cook had walked up on them without either noticing. “I need to load the table, sorry.” He smiled and wiped his hands on the dirty apron.
Kellie swiped the napkin across her face. Had she really inhaled the burrito? Judging by the sad remnants left, yes she had.
“That’s fine. Thanks for the food.”
She rose, gathered up her trash and tossed it in a recycling bin, then leaned against the front of Quin’s truck, out of the way while Quin lent a hand to their cook and helped load the table. Too many thoughts spun around in her head, she needed a minute to get her head screwed on straight, but she wasted those watching Quin’s arms and the way his t-shirt stretched across his back. She pretended she hadn’t been staring when he headed for her, perching her elbows on the hood and leaning back. The truck’s grille pressed into her back but with her elbows perched on the edge, it thrust her breasts out. As if she needed to draw any more attention to them.
Quin’s gaze roved freely over her body and she could already anticipate his strong touch. He would be an energetic lover, but would he be gentle? Or rough? Did he always have to stay in control? Because sometimes she liked to put a man through his paces.
“I can’t tell what you’re thinking and I’m dying to know.” He stopped less than a foot away.
She smiled slowly, already having a pretty good idea what his answer to her question would be. “I was wondering if you would like to get a room?”