• Second Skin: Valentine’s Day Excerpt

    As I draw, the design grows in my mind, until I can picture it fully formed on his right side. I slide into the zone I always wind up in when in my creative groove. The image unfolds beneath my fingers, a rendering of the Hermit tarot card in my own style, but featuring a woman in a long, clingy robe instead of a bearded man. Her body takes up the length of Sam’s ribcage and the lantern she holds aloft spans his pectoral, with the signature halo behind her head, but rather than inscribe vines as the frame around the image, I instead draw a symmetrical halo of tube-like tendrils. By the time the figure herself is finished, she resembles a Gorgon with glowing silver eyes.

    I’m about to add her staff down the center of his belly when he inhales, and I glance up to see cool gray eyes blinking drowsily back at me.

    “Hey, sleepy head,” I say, smiling up at him.

    His eyebrows arch and his lips quirk to one side as he peers down his chest. “You enjoying yourself?”

    “Just getting warmed up for a full day of tattooing. You should know by now that my mind goes into design mode the second I see a patch of empty skin.”

    “I do know this, actually. I guess this is what I get for sleeping without a shirt. At least you aren’t my brothers . . . they’d have drawn dicks all over my face.”

    I snicker at that and sit back on my heels. “I can stop.”

    “Hell no. You need to finish this thing. It’s only six a.m., so we don’t need to be anywhere for a while yet.”

    He raises both arms and twines his fingers behind his head. The movement makes every muscle in his torso flex, and the effect is mouth-watering.

    I steel myself and bend over his belly again, neck prickling with awareness of his eyes on me now. I don’t think I’ve ever been so self-conscious while inking another person before, but it hasn’t hit me until now that all I’m wearing is a snug black tank top and bright red boy shorts. I don’t even have on a bra, which is likely super evident considering my nipples are rock-hard.

    The best part is that I’m genuinely having fun, and my self-consciousness over being such a wreck that I begged him to hold me in the middle of the night is the last thing on my mind.

    I drag the tip of the marker down over the ridges of muscle near his navel and he chuckles, his belly quivering.

    “Tickles a little,” he says.

    “Almost done. I just need to do the bottom.” I reach for the puffy white pile of comforter draped across his hips so I can get to the last few inches of skin beneath his navel.

    “Toni, wait . . .” Sam starts to sit up, but stops cold when I toss the covers aside and am faced with an erection so epic it casts a shadow long enough to tell time by. His shorts still cover it, but they’re so taut they leave virtually nothing to the imagination.

    My cheeks heat and Sam slowly sits up, reaching for the covers. “You were not supposed to see that.” To his dick, he mutters, “Down, Hugo.”

    I recover my senses and grab his wrist, staring into his eyes. “Now hold on, I think we need to have a little talk. This seems to be a recurring theme with you, getting worked up around me.” I swallow and drop my gaze to his hard-on again. “This isn’t like Leo the other night, is it? I mean, sometimes the vibrations of the tattoo machine cause a reaction, so it’s not unusual for a guy to get aroused from that, especially since I was tattooing that idiot’s pelvis. I get that. But this is the second time this has happened to you, and I wasn’t close to touching, um . . . Hugo.” I smirk and return my gaze to his.

    Sam rolls his eyes and pulls his arm away from my grip, falling back onto his pillow. His cheeks are a deep pink, but he doesn’t avert his gaze. “It’s not a one-off, if that’s what you’re asking. You are pretty much the sexiest, most beautiful woman in the fucking world. It’s hard . . . um, difficult not to get turned on around you. Add actual contact, and all bets are off. I’m sorry.”

    I widen my eyes and stare for a second, then realize my mouth has fallen open. My entire body heats with awareness of the implications of his confession. He’s turned on because of me. Me the morning after a breakdown with zero makeup and not a hairbrush in sight.

    I know where the conversation should go right now. I should give him a lecture about maintaining the boundaries of a professional relationship. We fucking work together, after all. Hell, I just offered him a business partnership. Our friendship is one thing, but sex shouldn’t happen. I’m barely one step away from being his boss, so the power dynamic is far from ideal, not to mention the age difference.

    But we’re also both adults, and my God, I’m so curious about what’s under his shorts I can taste it. I’ve had one glimpse of his assets while he wasn’t aroused, and so far two while he was, but he’s been concealed both times.

    “Toni, just let me go take care of this. You can forget it happened,” he says in a defeated voice, moving to sit again.

    But I press my hand to the center of his chest and push him back down. “Not a chance, honey,” I say, not quite sure where this newfound assertiveness came from. Or rather, where the old me has been hiding all this time. “Be still.”

    I press the tip of the marker to his lower abdomen again and pick up where I left off, drawing a swirl of snaky vines around the feet of my hermit. The marker grazes over the ridge of his hip muscle and his erection visibly rises in his shorts. Holy fuck, it somehow managed to get even bigger.

    “So . . . Hugo, huh? That’s an appropriate choice.”

    “It doesn’t mean big, if that’s what you’re thinking. It means smart. It’s meant to be ironic. So are you deliberately trying to torture me now? Because it’s fucking working.”

    I snicker. “Hugo’s the brains. I get it. Clever.”

    “Hugo’s getting a beating if you ever let me go.”

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