The Purest Hook (Second Circle Tattoos #3)(3) by Scarlett Cole

“Look.” Sam closed the file and rubbed his eyes. “The label wants me to maximize your exposure. They’re nervous, uncertain how well received your next album will be. I’m trying to make you guys as much money as I can, so you are set if it all ends tomorrow.”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility?” Nikan asked.

“There are bands who don’t have the same . . . limitations.” Sam looked toward Lennon, eyes closed while tapping on the table to the beats pounding through his headphones, and Jordan, who’d completely checked out of the conversation. “Those bands are willing to work harder. Go farther. Take more risks.”

“Our last two albums went multi-fucking-platinum. The North American leg of the tour sold out in two hours. What more can we do?” Dred slammed his hand down on the table.

“I’m just the messenger, Dred.”

Damn, Sam was right. “Sorry.”

Nikan left his spot and went to talk to Elliot. It was one of the perks of travelling on a private jet, the freedom to move around and still work. As lead and rhythm guitarists, they often collaborated, and had brought their guitars on board.

“If you don’t like that news,” Sam said, “you are really going to hate this. You may need to do a DNA test.”

There was only one reason he could think of why a DNA test would be necessary, but he asked the question anyway. “Why?”

“A woman has come forward claiming she had your baby at St. Joseph’s Hospital yesterday.”

“What the fuck?” Dred leaned forward.

The baby couldn’t be his. He always wrapped it up. There was no way in hell he was bringing a kid into the world. Not until he was totally established and the band was at a point in its career where they could slow down. That was if he had any children at all. His childhood had been a series of rotating doors to flophouses, shelters, basement apartments, and foster homes. What kind of parent would he be to a child?

“She had details of your encounter that line up with the days you were in Toronto in the spring.”

“Sam. You know me. I always take precautions. Carry my own wherever I go. This has to be bullshit.”

“Okay. I’ll go back to them and say that we need a lot more information before you’ll consent.”

Shit. It couldn’t be his. Because if he ever did have kids, it would be with a woman who was in love with the guy dropped off at the group home.

Not the rock star.

Chapter Two

Pixie studied the chaos unfolding in the studio and decided to make some tough decisions. Most tattoo artists wanted to avoid clients who couldn’t take the pain, so the screamer in Cujo’s chair was driving everyone crazy. Eric had ended up with a guy who refused to admit his low tolerance for needles going in and out of his skin. Instead, he asked for a ten-minute break every half hour. Lia’s client kept adding on, and adding on, and adding on. As a result, they were running about an hour behind schedule.

Trent had lucked out. A regular from New York had swung by to get some work done on his chest piece and was taking the ink work like a pro.

Pixie looked at the booked clients and the walk-in list and knew something had to give. Collecting a couple of twenty-dollar gift cards, she approached the last two walk-ins she’d accepted. Without too much fuss, she was able to reschedule them for the next day.

Pixie wandered over to Cujo’s client, Michelle, who was having an ill-advised ribcage tattoo as her first-ever ink. It was too big, and the area too sensitive, for an ink virgin. Cujo had been straight with her about the scale and placement, but Michelle had been adamant.

“The good news is we have a bunch of options,” Pixie overheard Cujo say to her. “We can stop, and you can come back another time to get it finished, or we can change the design to make it smaller by removing these details.” Cujo pointed to parts of the sketch he’d drawn up for her.

“If you decide to stick it out,” Pixie added, joining the conversation, “you can move into the private room at the back.”

“I think I bit off more than I can chew. And I know you warned me, Cujo,” Michelle said tearily.

“Why don’t we do a mix of everything suggested? Why don’t I make the design smaller so that you leave today with a complete tattoo? Then if you decide to come back, we can finish it, or, if you decide you’re never having another needle touch this skin, it will still look cool. And we’ll move into the back to make it easier on you.”

Michelle agreed. Pixie led her away to allow Cujo time to gather his gear. Once Michelle was settled on the long black table, Pixie returned to the main room. It was getting warmer in the studio, so she walked toward the door to open it.

“Thanks for helping out, Pix. Can you find out if eardrum replacement surgery is a thing?” Cujo whispered as she walked by.

She reached for the door handle at the same time she turned to laugh at his joke and walked straight into a broad chest. Strong arms grabbed her and she looked up into Dred’s dark brown eyes, the gold flecks in them sparkling. Every time he touched her, her world tilted. She could feel the heat of his fingers against her skin. He continued to stare at her, the air hanging expectantly between them.

“Hey, Pixie.” Then he winked at her. Not just any wink. No, that was his rock star wink. The one that caused panties to drop and heartbeats to race on a global scale.

Pixie jumped out of reach. “Dred.” She stumbled backward, but he stalked closer with every retreating step she took.

“Did you miss me?” he asked huskily.

“What . . . what do you mean?”

“Not a trick question, Pix.” He grinned. “What do you think I mean?”

“Nothing . . . yes . . . no . . . I mean, sure. It’s good to see you.” He’s turning me into a complete flake.

“Really? You don’t seem so sure.” He reached out and touched the ends of her hair.

She shivered in response. It would be so easy to cave, to fall into him, but the few times Pixie had ever come close to that with anybody else it had ended miserably. No, she couldn’t humiliate herself that way.

“Step away from the staff,” Trent said with a laugh as he interrupted them. “What’s up, bro?”

Pixie hustled quickly around to the other side of the desk and immersed herself in refilling the stapler, anything to avoid the whiskey-and-smoke sound of his voice and the dark woodsy smell of him.

“Give me twenty minutes to finish up, and I’ll be right with you,” she heard Trent say.

Damn it. She turned to face Dred. His long dark hair fell dishevelled around his shoulders, framing a strong chin and cheekbones she’d kill for. His soft smile weakened her resolve.

“Hey, Pix, I was wondering—”

“Hey, man. You’re Dred Zander, right?” A man cut him off and stepped between the two of them, shaking Dred’s hand furiously. “I’m Bill from Boise. Screwed is my all-time favorite album. I love ‘Dog Boy.’ Will you play it tonight?”

Dred shook his head, “Sorry. We won’t. But it’s an epic set. “

Gone were the seductive grin and the brightness in his eyes. Sure, he smiled, looked friendly even, but Pixie could see it was an act.

“Why not? You guys never play it. You wrote the sickest lyrics, man.”