Live Without Regret (A Touch of Fate)

By: K.L. Grayson

To Liz.

Thank you for believing in me when I was struggling to believe in myself.

I push the door open and a small bell signals my entry. At best, InkSlingers is a complete dive, not near as sleek-looking as some of the newer tattoo parlors. But this place has one thing—one person, really—that sets them above all the rest.

Connor Jackson.

Not only is he one of the most highly recommended tattoo artists in the city, but two years ago he won top prize on the reality show Inked. If I recall, the grand prize was two hundred thousand dollars to be used toward the establishment of his own parlor. So why in the hell he works in this dinky building off the corner of Hampton and Third, I have no idea. And to be honest, I don’t really care.

“Hello?” I look around. The place is eerily quiet, not a soul in sight. Glancing down at my watch, I check the time. Sure enough, it’s fifteen minutes earlier than my scheduled appointment. That’s me…Miss Punctuality.

I spend the next five minutes pacing across the waiting room of the shop without seeing a single person, all the while wondering who in the hell leaves their shop unattended?

Just when I’m about ready to say screw it and walk out, the front door opens and once again the bell dings. I spin around on my heel, prepared to chew someone’s ass for making me wait, and then nearly trip over my own feet when I see the behemoth of a man standing in front of me.

Without permission, my eyes rake him over from head to toe. His dirty blond hair is shaggy and clearly hasn’t been trimmed for months. He could probably pull it into one of those man-bun things that seem to be all the rage, but instead it hangs loose with the stray strands tucked behind his ears.

My eyes travel south, taking in his plain black tee that stretches tight across his broad chest and even tighter around his biceps. A colorful sleeve of tattoos decorates his right arm, and as far as I can tell the left is completely bare. He’s sexy, in a rugged sort of way. He’s also the complete opposite of the guys I’m normally attracted to, yet I find myself enraptured.

The stranger clears his throat, and my eyes snap up to find piercing blue eyes staring back at me. When he cocks an eyebrow, I realize I’ve been caught checking him out. My first instinct is to avert my eyes and murmur an apology, but then I realize that’s what the old Brittany would do. And I dropped her off by the curb a long time ago.

“What?” I say, shrugging unapologetically.

“Were you checking me out?” The sound of his gravelly voice does things to me that a voice should never be able to do to another human being. I squeeze my thighs together to suppress the tingling it caused.

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?”

“Do you want me to check you out?” I ask.

He nods and moves past me, his shoulder grazing mine. “Bold. I like it. What can I do for you?”

Furrowing my brow, I tilt my head. I totally had him pegged for my next conquest—a.k.a. one-night stand—but I have a strange feeling he just brushed me off. I shake my head, trying to remember the question. Oh yeah. Connor. “I have a ten o’clock appointment with Connor. He’s late.”

The stranger looks down at his watch and then back at me. “He’s not late. It’s only nine fifty-five.”

I roll my eyes. “Okay, fine.” I walk over and plop down in a waiting room chair, then cross my legs, knee over knee. “Will you call him and see how much longer he’s going to be?”

“You in a hurry?” the guy asks.

Not really. No. “Maybe.”

He nods and sets his to-go coffee cup and brown paper bag on the front desk, then sits down and pulls out his phone. “He won’t be long.”

“Let’s hope,” I mumble, grabbing a Tattoo Weekly magazine off the table in front of me.

“Would you like a doughnut?” I glance up to see the man holding up a chocolate-covered doughnut. It looks delicious, and I’m two seconds away from accepting his offer when I remember my closet full of clothes that are becoming too tight. That one doughnut will easily take me hours at the gym to burn off.

“No, thank you.”

He shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

Smiling tightly, I look back at the magazine and spend the next several minutes absently thumbing through it. I skim a few articles then toss the magazine on the table and grab another, my frustration growing with each passing second.

“Are you ready?”

I glance up to find the sexy stranger standing in front of me. Putting the magazine back on the table, I look around. “Is Connor here?”

The man smiles, his full lips parting to reveal perfectly white teeth. There’s a smudge of chocolate near the corner of his mouth, and I briefly wonder what he would do if I stepped forward and licked it off.

“I’m Connor,” he says. His words catch me off guard and all thoughts of chocolate drift from my mind. My eyes roam his face, only this time I take a closer look.

“You’re Connor?” I ask incredulously.

“Wow,” he says, chuckling. “Don’t look so surprised. I take it I’m not what you expected.” His voice is clipped, and I instantly berate myself for the way that came out.

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