Flawed, imperfect, tortured, impeccably developed characters are my undoing, but couple that with some pretty spectacular writing, and I find myself bursting at the seams from glee. When I started this book, I knew nothing about it, so everything I found caught me completely by surprise. I can only compare it to a blind date that ends up rocking your world, because in no time this book consumed my every thought. I became so addicted to its pages that I caught myself furtively reading it even when I knew too well that doing so wasn’t exactly considered socially acceptable. It was a sweet addiction, beginning to end, and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone seeking a competently written, carefully knitted tale that will somehow manage to make you sigh and fan yourself all at the same time, and make it so that you’ll never be able to look at another cupcake the same way.
“Everyone has scars, Tenley. If we’re lucky, they’re only on the outside.”
At face value, Tenley and Hayden couldn’t be more dissimilar if they tried. A timid bookworm, demure and guarded, would appear to be no match for the heavily inked and extensively pierced tattoo artist, but their supposed incompatibility is nothing more than a reflection of society’s prejudices and presumptions. From the moment they meet, their attraction is immediate, visceral, unexpected, their pull originating from the very places inside them that they desperately try to hide from the world. Their physical appearances might differ somewhat, but the pain they secretly carry in their hearts is the same.
“Maybe that was where the connection came from: we were linked through the pain of loss.”
As they spend long periods of time together while Hayden works on Tenley’s new tattoo, the heightened emotional intimacy stemming from those rather painful sessions is a catalyst of change for both of them, making them slowly open up to one another and free themselves from the burden of the secrets they carry. Hayden’s patience and gentleness overwhelm her, cracking her defensive armour and giving her the freedom to reach out for the only thing she ever truly wanted in her life. Tenley’s sense of guilt over one particularly traumatic event in her past has made her distance herself from everyone around her, believing herself undeserving of happiness, but the more she detaches herself from human contact, the more she craves a connection with someone.
“I hadn’t considered the possibility that I might find someone who would understand what I had endured and want me anyway, even though I wasn’t whole.”
While Hayden’s fearless personality and refusal to be confined by what society deems acceptable act as a trigger for Tenley, releasing all her inhibitions and giving her the freedom to be herself, free from judgement or expectations, Hayden hides his own demons behind his tattoos, his defiance of all conventions mirroring his suppressed anger and inability to deal with his own past. His character is so carefully woven, each layer of his broken self giving us further insight into one of the most tridimensional heroes I have ever come across.
“Hayden embodied everything I wasn’t but wanted to be. I spent my entire life trying to color inside the lines, only to wind up restrained by them.”
What starts as an exquisite game of stolen glances and subtle flirting, both grabbing any chance they get to talk to or spend time around each other, very soon escalates to an all-consuming physical relationship where being with one another becomes as essential as the air they breathe. Every touch they share shows the overwhelming urgency of their need for one another, for the growing closeness between them, showing them almost unable to get close enough to one another. Before they realise it is happening, they have become so crucial to each other’s happiness, that every attempt to preserve distance, both physical as well as emotional, proves to be futile.
“Everything about the life I had been living before her seemed like a wash of grays.”
But guilt can be a powerful foe, and while they can cover the scars marring their young bodies, letting go of that guilt proves to be the only obstacle standing in the way of their happily-ever-after. The very thing that initially brings them together—Tenley’s new tattoo—is the embodiment of the only thing that can pull them apart, its symbolism capable of either cathartically releasing her from the bounds of her own past, or giving her guilt the insurmountable power to lock her heart even further.
“My remorse over things that couldn’t be changed was like acid, burning through skin and bone, seeping into the heart of me.”
United by their desperate need for each other, this is a tale of two broken people whose connection is so primal and absolute, that they become one another’s only salvation and chance at happiness. But nothing in this story is hurried or instantaneous, and we are left at the end of this book with an incomplete storyline, its delicious conclusion given to us in the sequel, Inked Armor.
“All I know is that I want you, all the f*cking time, every day, endlessly.”