I fell in love with Helena Hunting’s world of hot-as-sin tattoo artists in Clipped Wings and its sequel, Inked Armour, so returning to it has been an absolute delight. I am so excited to share with you an excerpt from Fractures in Ink, the story of Chris and Sarah, a book that can be either read on its own, or after the first two books in the series.
Strip clubs were like costume parties on Halloween—everyone dressed as the sluttiest version of themselves. Women in fetish outfits wasn’t what had drawn me to the club in the first place. It was that everyone there seemed the same as me. We were all damaged, and the girls who went to the private rooms and offered services were the most fragile of them all, even if they put on a good front.
I wasn’t a knight in shining armor coming to save them; I was a kinder, safer option than someone who would abuse them, because I knew what it was like. I wasn’t sure what kind of person that made me.
Sarah was different than those girls, and that had been clear from the beginning. I’d asked her out, fully expecting the no I got back. But I’d kept asking, and she’d kept saying no. And the more she said no, the more I wanted to make it happen.
I’d see her working the tables, smiling the way she was supposed to, shredding egos in that subtle way of hers where I couldn’t quite tell if she was joking or serious when she cut someone down. And when she thought no one was looking, I’d see that smile slip. Her sadness leached the warmth out of her gaze whenever she turned toward the stage to watch the girls strip down to thongs, offering the tiny straps for bills to be shoved in.
Her expression when she thought no one was watching made me re-evaluate my strategy. I wanted to understand why someone so well-spoken and gorgeous would choose to put herself in a position where she was regarded as a thing to be had and discarded.
After nearly two months of persistence, Sarah finally agreed to meet me at a juice bar. She’d driven herself and had been determined to hate me. I’d been determined to change her mind. I wanted to be someone better than I was. I hadn’t even tried to kiss her at the end. She’d been the one to lay one on me, and she’d looked pretty pissed about it. I’d called her an hour later and left a message asking to see her again. It took her two days to get back to me, but she’d agreed. That time she let me take her to dinner.
She’d been guarded at first, which was understandable. Her walls were like mine, which was another part of the allure. I understood walls. They’d kept me safe from people most of my life. Only my Inked Armor crew got past them, and even then, I only let them into the rooms I wanted to. There were locked closets no one but me could enter. But by keeping my walls in place with Sarah, I’d created a distance I didn’t know how to cross any more.
Part of me wanted to let her in, tell her all about my shitty childhood and the way I struggled with how to help my sister and mother with the poverty they couldn’t escape. I thought she’d understand, and maybe she’d empathize, and maybe she’d even give me some piece of her in return, but it was a dangerous slope. And it might tangle me deeper in something I wanted but couldn’t have. Not with any real permanence.
I finished folding the laundry, stuffing the nurse outfit under everything else. Then I went around turning off the lights. I stripped out of my shirt and pants, but left my boxers on.
Sarah was starfished on the bed. Most nights she’d roll over and give me space, not that her double bed had much to give. Tonight she burrowed through the covers, grumbling in her sleep. She did that sometimes when she was stressed. Xander’s name came up often. Tonight it was mine as she shimmied in closer.
“I’m glad you decided to stay,” she breathed. Her arm came around my waist, and she smoothed a hand up my chest, stopping on my left pec. I covered it with my own.
“I told you I would.”
“I thought maybe you’d change your mind.”
“Not a chance. I thought you were asleep.”
I smiled against her hair.
“I had to change the sheets today,” she muttered.
Now I knew she was only half awake. “Oh, yeah?”
“Uh-huh. I didn’t want to, but they’d lost your smell. Now I’ll get it back.”
“What do I smell like?”
I let the word sit, like oil floating on top of water; it didn’t mix with the answer I’d expected.
“I like that I can feel your heart,” Sarah whispered, her sleep-fuzzed mind drifting again.
She wasn’t really present in the moment. I knew that. So I said the thing I wanted to, but couldn’t when she was truly listening.
“It’s all yours, baby. All you have to do is want it enough to take it.”