"See that one? She is for you."
Gabriel Wilder glanced up, his gaze landing upon what appeared to be an almost ethereal figure standing in the doorway of the shop. Expression hesitant, she seemed unsure as she stepped inside, her big blue eyes scanning the room. Her pretty gaze landed upon him briefly before it skittered away. As if she didn't like what she'd seen.
Or more likely, he scared the hell out of her. A common reaction when women like her looked at a man like him.
"She's nothing special." He glanced away, watched out the window as the winter fog slowly rolled in. Another dark and gloomy night, the one difference being that there was an angel in their midst.
An angel who should run the hell out of there and never look back.
"Liar." Ryder Mendoza shook his head as he cleaned up his equipment. "Darla said she had a feeling it might happen tonight. She thought it was going to be me."
Gabe had no idea what Ryder was talking about. He studied the woman covertly out of the corner of his eye. Long, pin-straight blonde hair flowed down her back; a pert nose wrinkled as she stared at the myriad of sketches lining the wall.
Images flashed--the angel naked, on her knees, lips parted in preparation of him. Slowly he would sink himself between those lush lips, and she would take him. All of him, a little moan vibrating around his cock as if she enjoyed it. As if she'd been made for him.
Gabe shook his head, pushed the romantic thought from his mind. No woman was made for him; that point had already been driven home enough.
"She looks scared out of her mind. She doesn't belong here," he muttered, disgusted at his train of thought. At his wishful thinking.
Sweet little things didn't give him a second glance. He was too hard, too big, too damn scary, and he knew it.
It didn't stop him from lusting for them on occasion. He couldn't help himself. It was as if he was drawn to a certain type.
A certain type he could never have.
"Because she recognizes you even though she doesn't realize it. I bet that's why she's here. Trust me, brother. We've waited for this moment. I just never thought you'd be the first."
"And how the fuck do you know she's here for me?" More of the mystical shit, he was sure. Ryder had been playing the magic card for so long it had become a part of him.
Gabe wasn't a believer. It didn't matter that he worked at Tattoo Voodoo. He'd been told enough about his murky past, though he didn't quite understand it.
It didn't matter that his sister was the one who taught Ryder everything he knew. Darla focused on Ryder because he absorbed everything she said like a sponge. Gabe was the negative one. He always had been.
"She's looking at you right now."
The woman blinked; a long sweep of golden brown lashes lifted to reveal her gaze trained upon him. Her expression now open, inquisitive, with her head cocked to the side. Lips pursed, she took a step forward, then another, headed straight toward him. Until his sister interfered, stopping the young woman in her tracks with a greeting and a smile.
"She's pure. Untouched. She's perfect for you," Ryder murmured low, his gaze locked on her as well.
"I don't do virgins. And how the hell do you know she's pure?" As if he'd want a timid woman in his bed, scared witless and her legs clamped so tight it would take a crowbar to pry them apart. She'd cry when she saw him naked, she'd scream when he entered her, and yeah...
"I think you'd want with this one, Gabe. She's yours. You two belong together. She's why you're here."
"Don't you mean I'm why she's here?" He talked in circles, his friend, this man who was more like a brother, more like family. He only had Ryder and Darla. Gabe grunted and shook his head, disturbed by Ryder's words, irritated by the irrational emotion that swirled within him. Curiosity, lust, denial, all of it a potent mix that filled his head and made his temples ache.
All over a woman, a girl really, if what Ryder said was true. If she was as pure as his friend implied, she'd be too good for him.
The thought of that, of never sampling her because of her supposed purity, made him sick with disappointment. An edgy, almost indescribable anger filled him, and he shoved it away.
He never felt like this. Women came and went. And he was okay with that.
"I'm not interested." Gabe turned so his back faced her. He couldn't stand watching her any longer. His entire body was taut, and his hands clenched into fists. Overwhelming need pulsed through his blood, filling his cock, and he glanced down, caught sight of the slight bulge beneath the fly of his worn jeans.
Taking a deep breath, he thought of his older sister mere feet away. An instant deflator and just what he needed to forget the unwanted emotion curling through him.
"She's yours to claim, bro. If you don't want to take up the offer, then you're giving her away to someone else. Such a waste." Ryder shook his head; his mouth formed into a grim line.
"You talk crazy shit just like Darla," Gabe muttered, pissed that he wanted to believe it. That the pretty woman who lingered behind him, whose delicate scent reached his nostrils and made them twitch, was made for him. All the mystical fate crap drove him insane, especially because there wasn't any need for it, and there definitely wasn't any proof.
Many thought his sister a witch. The voodoo part in the name of the shop didn't help the rumors. She was strange, kept to herself, was overprotective to a fault of what she considered hers. She could slay him with a look, would probably kick his ass in a fight to the death. She'd also protect him to the bitter end if he found himself in danger.
Darla was tough. She scared the shit out of him when she was angry, and he was a big guy, a little over six feet and two hundred pounds. He didn't like messing with her, was all about keeping the peace.
Easier that way.
"Oh, Gabe." Her singsong voice washed over him, tensing his shoulders, and he stood straighter, afraid to turn around. Afraid of what he might find when he did. "Gabe, you have a customer, honey. She requested you specifically."
Darla never called him honey unless she was trying to impress. He had a strong feeling he knew whom she was trying to impress.
Slowly he turned to find his supposed angel standing next to Darla. A complete contrast, the two women were. Dark and light, innocence and skepticism, his sister had seen it all, and through narrowed dark eyes. The angel stood next to her, hands clutched together in front of her, pale blue eyes wide as she tried to look anywhere but at him.
It pissed him off, her reaction. If she was coming to a tattoo shop, then why the hell did she act as if he was some sort of thug? Not like their shop was in the best neighborhood in town. She knew what she was getting into by coming here.
"Hey," he greeted, giving the blonde a curt nod when she finally deigned to look at him. "You asked for me?"
She nodded, her gaze darting upward to stare into his eyes for the briefest moment before it skittered away. "I've heard you're the best."
"Oh, really?" Gabe crossed his arms in front of his chest, cocked a brow. He hoped Miss Innocence got the double entendre. "Where'd you hear that?"
"From the Internet." Her chin lifted, a defiant and surprising little gesture. The urge to turn her over his knee and give her a spanking was so strong he had to blink hard to force it away. "I saw your work, read all of the comments on the site. They all said you were the best."
"I am," he drawled. "You don't look like the type who'd want a tattoo, though."
"What's that supposed to mean?" The now defiant tone went up a notch, and his hands itched to grab her. Smooth his palms over what he imagined would be a pert ass right before he smacked it.
He'd always had a thing for naughty little girls. "You look a bit too pure for a place like this, darlin'. Why didn't you go to one of those trendy parlors downtown where they serve you tea and draw pretty daisies on your ankle?"
He leaned in close, his face practically in hers, and he silently marveled at her beauty, her utter calmness as he tried to intimidate her. Skin so creamy smooth it appeared velvety soft to the touch. He wanted to nuzzle his cheek against hers. Breathe in her softness, her sweetness.
As if she might cleanse his ugly, tattered soul.
"I don't want to go to those places. I want the best tattoo artist in town." She drew in a sharp breath, her exhalation drifting across his face just before he moved away from her. Sweet, minty breath that made him want to kiss her. Drink from her lips, take her mouth with a wild abandon that would leave them both breathless and weak.
Gabe ran a shaky hand through his hair, pushing it away from his forehead. It was too long, and it drove him bat-shit crazy. Her eyes watched his every move, a light shining in the blue depths that made him wonder.
Was she attracted to him? Did she feel the unmistakable pull between them as he did?
Fuck. He doubted it. His overactive imagination played games with him once again.
He hated his reaction to her. Why the trembling fingers? Why the incessant need pounding beneath his skin? It made no sense. He almost wished she'd leave. It would be easier, not having to face her, not having her so goddamn close.
"So you think I'm the best?" Pride surged through him despite his unease. He was pretty damn good, but he'd learned from a master, his sister. He picked up a few tips from another skilled artist, Ryder. Plus, he'd had plenty of freehand practice way back in the day.
A past he'd rather not remember. A time when he'd been good and before it all fell apart.
"Like I said, I did my research. I've seen your work. I know you're the best." She nodded, as if she'd just convinced herself. "I want you."
Gabe smiled. Sweeter words were never spoken.