Authors: Jessie Evans
Tags: #Contemporary Romance, #bad boy romance, #steamy romance, #sexy romance, #new adult romance, #sweet romance, #Jessie Evans, #small town romance
He could imagine how it would play out—he’d buy her a beer and apologize for being an asshole, she’d forgive him because she was a forgiving sort of person, and they would spent the rest of the night getting tipsy enough for him to forget all the reasons why he shouldn’t get close to her. Close enough to brush her honey colored hair over her shoulder, to gaze deep into those soulful brown eyes, to smell that honeysuckle perfume she wore and feel every tempting curve pressed against him until—
“Stop,” Nick said in a louder, firmer voice. He was pretty sure Melody was interested, but he wasn’t. He couldn’t afford to be.
“Stop what? Who are you talking to, man?” John’s voice came from the door at the back of the building.
Seconds later, John, in his typical uniform—faded jeans and a threadbare t-shirt with an obscure band logo on the front—eased through the archway into the main portion of the shop. He still hadn’t shaved the mangy beard he’d been growing for the past three days, and Nick wasn’t entirely sure John ever brushed his curly red-brown hair. Still, John had a lovable, ruddy-cheeked Irish guy thing going, and women couldn’t seem to get enough of him.
John’s nonchalant grooming habits would make Nick feel ridiculous about spending fifteen minutes on his hair every morning if he didn’t have a special, loving relationship with his hair that was immune to ridicule or shame.
“No one. What’s up brother,” Nick said, turning to greet his co-owner, relieved not to be alone with his thoughts anymore.
John was one of his oldest friends. They’d grown up drawing together and had dreamed of opening their own tattoo studio since they were seventeen. They’d lost touch after high school, but had run into each other again the first week after Nick had moved home from Atlanta.
John had recently moved back from North Carolina, where he’d been apprenticing with a tattoo artist, and had just signed the lease on the shop in Summerville. The two old friends had gone for a beer. About three in, John had confessed he was worried about being able to afford the lease on the store on his own. Within an hour, they’d decided to join forces and open
N&J’s Tattoo Emporium.
Nick thought “Emporium” sounded more civilized than “Parlor,” and that the more civilized they sounded, the better. In a small, conservative, sleepy bedroom town like Summerville, a tattoo shop was going to have to keep it classy if it wanted to survive.
“I came to check supplies before I called it a night,” John said, grabbing Nick’s outstretched hand and slapping him on the back before moving toward his station on the opposite side of the room. “I’m heading to Atlanta tomorrow. You need anything? Gloves? Ink?”
“No, I’m good,” Nick said. “I ordered gloves online and I’m set for ink.”
He did all the shopping he could online. He hated going to the tattoo supply store in Atlanta. The chances were too good that he’d run into Wyatt or Nelson, fellow tattoo artists and his old roommates, the same ones who had kicked him out of their shared apartment when he’d stayed drunk and disorderly for a few too many weeks after the last sweet, southern, good girl he’d dated had dumped him to go back to her ex-boyfriend.
. Just thinking her name was enough to make Nick’s jaw clench.
He’d known they were wrong for each other from the start—Nick was a night owl; Sarah Beth got up at five-thirty every morning to go to Zumba. Nick hadn’t darkened a church door since he was eighteen; Sarah was in a pew every time her church opened. Nick’s idea of a good time was a long day of rock-climbing followed by beers at a bar where they played the music too loud; Sarah Beth enjoyed antiquing and wine-tasting.
He’d known better, but he’d let Sarah Beth convince him that their differences didn’t matter, that a mutual love of Kettle Chips and being naked together was enough. He’d let down his guard and started to enjoy Sunday afternoons at the park with Sarah Beth and her roommates, rainy mornings lying in bed watching movies before he went to work and she went to class, and coming back to her place and eating supper at a decent hour for the first time since he’d left his mom and dad’s place years ago.
Sarah Beth took care of him. She brought some much-needed stability to his life, and made him wonder if he might be the settling down type after all. Six months in, he’d decided to ask her to be exclusive, and she’d agreed. Two days later, she had dumped him to get back together with her ex, a boy she’d known since high school who was already developing a middle-aged paunch at the age of twenty-one.
Nick knew that for a fact. He’d seen the pictures of “Trevor” that Sarah Beth kept hidden in her underwear drawer. Nick had been dumped for a cheesy looking guy with a gut and thinning brown hair who wore pleated khaki pants. What’s worse, Nick had been
of that guy. Jealous of a douche named “Trevor.”
The shame of it still made his gut feel full of acid, even two months later. He was over Sarah Beth—he hadn’t loved her nearly so much as he’d loved how easy it was to be with her—but he wasn’t over the sting of rejection. Nick had never been rejected before, he was the reject-or, not the reject-ee.
From here on out, he was going to stick with safe girls. Wild, fun-loving, free-spirited, liberated girls who couldn’t care less if he ever settled down. Those girls knew how to keep things light and simple. Those girls never made you wake up in the morning and feel like someone was punching you in the gut from the inside.
“You ready to hit it?” John asked, flipping off the lights.
“Yup.” Nick crossed to his station and snagged his keys. “You parked out back?”
“Yeah, but I was thinking about swinging into
,” John said. “I could go for a beer or two. You want to join me?”
Normally Nick would say “yes,” or even “hell yes.” Nothing helped him unwind and loosen up after a long day of hunching over the tattoo table like a beer. But Melody March was in
The Horse and Rider
, and no matter what that sexy dress and her impulsive behavior tonight might lead the untutored to believe, Nick knew she was the very opposite of the kind of girl he wanted in his life.
Melody was a Sarah Beth, but worse. Melody had a killer sense of humor he’d witnessed in action with her sisters, Melody was brave enough to stand up to disorderly wedding guests when they tried to reclaim their keys from the drunk hat, and Melody had a body that wouldn’t stop and a face like an angel and kissed like the devil’s concubine.
Nick hadn’t been able to get that kiss out of his mind. It had been a month now, and he still woke up from dreams starring Melody and that filmy skirt she’d had on that day, imagining the way it felt to have his hands sliding up her thighs.
“Nick?” John asked, proving Nick had stayed quiet too long. “You okay?”
“I’m not up for
tonight,” Nick said, wrinkling his forehead. “I’ve got a headache. Want to head somewhere a little quieter?”
Nick didn’t want to see Melody, but he didn’t want
to see Melody either. The men always outnumbered the women two-to-one at
The Horse and Rider
and Melody was definitely going to stand out from the crowd in that clingy purple dress. John would be all over her in ten minutes flat. John, who had brought home a different woman every weekend since they moved in together three weeks ago.
Nick had always gotten his share of girls, but lately John had the Midas touch when it came to women. Except instead of turning to gold, all the girls he went after woke up naked in his bed the next morning.
Nick didn’t want John anywhere near Melody. If he saw her stumble out of John’s bedroom tomorrow, he was pretty sure he’d have to punch his best friend in the face, which would likely result in Nick moving back into his parents’ house, aka the ninth circle of hell.
“Sure, that works. What are you thinking?” John asked as they headed for the back door. “
The Last Chance
? Or is that too far to drive?”
works for me,” Nick said, relief banishing the tension from his jaw. Melody was safe from John’s lady-magnet powers. For tonight, at least.
Now if only Nick could create a force field to protect Melody from all the other Johns of the world. When it came to the youngest March sister, Nick couldn’t allow himself to succumb to temptation, but he didn’t want anyone else succumbing either.
Don’t strain yourself resisting temptation, buddy. Melody may be infatuated with you now, but a girl like her will be off the market soon enough. If you don’t want to lose your chance, you’d better act fast, asshole.
Nick ignored the inner voice, but later that night, after he and John shut down
The Last Chance
and he was lying alone in his bed, he couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to have Melody lying next to him. The way her blond hair would spill across the pillow, how sweet she would look with her lips parted in sleep, and every soft, needy sound she would make as he kissed her awake and made love to her again and again, until they were both sweaty and sated and lying heavy in each other’s arms.
He went to sleep aching for her only to dream of a naked Melody with his phoenix tattooed down the side of her ribs and over one curvy hip. She sat on his bed in a shaft of morning sunlight, looking so perfect Nick wondered why he’d ever said ‘no’ to giving her the ink she wanted.
His tattoo belonged on her beautiful body.
“And you belong with me,” the dream Melody whispered, motioning for Nick to join her.
His dream self didn’t even try to resist. Seconds later he was naked, too, pushing her back onto the sun-warmed sheets, claiming her lips and urging her soft thighs apart with his knee until he—
The air horn alarm on Nick’s cell blared, wrenching him from his sleep.
He slapped at the phone with one hand until it finally fell silent, then squeezed his eyes shut and moaned, a sound of need and frustration and longing that was so pitiful it was almost funny. If he hadn’t been hard enough to drive nails with his cock, he might have been able to muster up a laugh at his own expense.
As things stood however…
Nick dragged his aching, frustrated body out of bed and limped toward the shower, but even after ten minutes under the lukewarm spray and a two-minute blast of cold at the very end, he still couldn’t completely banish the dream, or Melody March, from his mind. This was becoming more than attraction. He was getting obsessed with this girl.
He hadn’t had a crush like this since he was…
He couldn’t remember
having a crush like this. A crush so intense he sought out reasons to linger in the kitchen at work to listen to Melody chat with her sisters, so serious he got a weird happy/turned-on/anxious feeling every time their eyes met, so overwhelming he couldn’t bring himself to fantasize about anyone else when he was awake and dreamed only of Melody when he was asleep.
It made him wonder… Maybe this was more than a crush. Maybe this was what it felt like to fall for someone,
fall for them in a way he hadn’t before.
Dude, you’re twenty-two. You’re way too young for true love and hearts and flowers and all the rest of that crap. Snap out of it!
The inner voice was right. He wasn’t looking for love, and even if he were, falling for Melody wasn’t an option. He thrust the mushy thoughts from his mind like a live grenade. No more good girls, that was the rule. But if he wanted to keep his promise to himself, he needed to get Melody out of his head. Fast.
The second John stumbled out of his room, scratching his now even-mangier beard as he headed for the shower, Nick pounced.
“Hey, you want to close up early and hit
The Horse and Rider
tonight?” Nick asked. “Always more girls there on a Friday.”
John squinted at Nick, before nodding once and giving a sleepy thumbs-up.
“Cool.” Nick grinned as he snagged another cup of coffee, feeling his energy levels pick up even before his second dose of caffeine.
This Melody fixation was nothing a night with another beautiful woman couldn’t cure, and Nick intended to meet that woman tonight.
“Are you sure you haven’t lost your mind?” Lark asked, pulling the car to the side of the street a block from
The Horse and Rider
“Not totally sure.” Melody tried to pull in a deep breath, but failed. She was so nervous her chest felt like it was going to implode and her lips were going numb.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” she asked, turning to find her older sister watching her with a cautious expression. “Should I go scratch my name off the tryout list?”
“No, you have a beautiful voice, and I told you we could make it work with the catering schedule if you get the gig,” Lark said. “If this is something you want to do, then you should go for it. I just know I’d throw up if I had to stand up onstage and sing in front of a room full of people.”
“You used to sing solos at church.”
“Church is different,” Lark said, giving the entrance to the bar a wary look.
Lark was right; church was totally different. Melody had sung solos with the choir since she was seven years old, but she had never sung in public outside the halls of the United Methodist Church of Summerville. She didn’t know what had compelled her to sign up to audition to be the new lead singer of
The Horse and Rider’s
Ghost Town Double Wide,
the tequila or her frustration with Nick—but now she wished she and Kitty had gone for donuts and coffee, after all.
The crowd at the bar wasn’t as rough as she’d expected it to be, but most of the patrons were strangers, and strangers who didn’t look like they’d have mercy on a singer who froze in the middle of a set. If she got up there and forgot the words or sang off-key, she’d be booed offstage. She’d never be able to show her face on this side of Main Street again.
“Do you want me to call Mason and tell him I won’t be home tonight?” Lark asked, obviously reading the anxiety on her little sister’s face. “I could go in with you for moral support and sleep over at Mom and Dad’s after.”