From the New York Times bestselling author of On Dublin Street comes a seductive story of forgiving the past and making up for lost time....
Shannon MacLeod has always gone for the wrong type of man. After she drifted from one toxic relationship to the next, her last boyfriend gave her a wake-up call in the worst possible way. With her world shattered, she’s sworn off men—especially those of the bad-boy variety.
Cole Walker is exactly the sort that Shannon wants to avoid—gorgeous, tattooed, charming, and cocky. But his rough exterior hides a good man who’s ready to find “the one.” He’s determined to pull Shannon from her self-imposed solitude to win her heart.
As Shannon opens up in the face of Cole’s steady devotion, the passion between them ignites to blazing levels. But when Shannon’s past comes back to haunt her, her fears may destroy the trust Cole has built between them—and tear them apart for good....
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Samantha Young is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series, including Fall from India Place, Before Jamaica Lane, Down London Road, and On Dublin Street. She resides in Scotland.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF SAMANTHA YOUNG
ALSO BY SAMANTHA YOUNG
I think I’d worn Gran out with my music and my yapping on and on about Ewan. Her eyes kept fluttering closed and popping open and she’d mutter, “Oh dear,” every once in a while. My boyfriend, the aforementioned Ewan, would be in Edinburgh soon to pick me up, so I saw no harm in waiting out on Gran’s front stoop and letting her take a much-needed nap.
When I kissed her papery cheek and said good-bye, Gran offered me a warm smile, her lids already drooping. Letting myself out of the large house, I hesitated a moment in the spacious hallway. Her house hadn’t seemed so big when Granddad was alive, but ever since he’d passed away three years ago, the house magically grew bigger and colder. Whenever I could, as I had done last night, I’d travel from my parents’ house in our small town to stay with Gran for the night, sometimes even the whole weekend. Since Gran’s house had always felt more like home than my parents’ did, I took any opportunity I could to stay with her.
However, I couldn’t stay the whole weekend because Ewan’s band was playing a gig tonight and he wanted me there. He was the band’s bassist. I was really excited to see him play, although I wasn’t much looking forward to girls trying to chat him up after the show, like my friend Caro warned me would probably happen.
Shutting Gran’s door, I turned and walked down a few steps to stand near the bottom of the stoop so Ewan could see me. He was seventeen, a few years older than me, and had just gotten his driver’s license. He liked any old excuse to drive his wee, banged-up Punto, so I didn’t feel bad about dragging his arse all the way to Edinburgh to come get me.
Digging through my bag for my phone and headphones so I could pass the time listening to music, I heard what sounded like a foot sliding along concrete behind me and I jerked around in surprise.
My eyes instantly collided with those of a boy.
He stood on the stoop of the house next door, a few steps farther up than me, and he was regarding me with something akin to shock. As I took him in, I felt my heart rate start to pick up.
His strawberry blond hair was slightly too long and disheveled, but he worked it because . . . I sucked in a breath, suddenly feeling a flutter of nerves in my stomach. The boy was utterly gorgeous. They didn’t grow them like him at my school. As he stepped slowly down the stoop, the startlingly light green color of his eyes became clearer. They were “wow” eyes that I felt like I could drown in, and it occurred to me that perhaps I just might. When our eye contact finally broke, it was only because he was distracted by my hair.
Self-conscious, I tucked a strand behind my ear. The boy’s eyes followed the movement. I’d been mocked for my hair for a long time when I was little, but as I got older I started to get compliments on it. This meant I was really unsure about other people’s reaction to my hair, but I refused to change it. I’d inherited my hair from my mum. It was like the one thing we had in common.
It hung down to just above my bottom in soft waves and natural ringlets. Not ginger, not strawberry blond. It was closer to auburn, but even then it was just a hint too red to be auburn. When the sun or artificial light hit my hair, Gran said it was like a halo of fire around my head.
The boy’s eyes returned to mine.
A really awkward length of time passed as we continued to stare at each other, and I could feel myself begin to squirm under the surprising tension that had sprung up between this stranger and me.
Searching for a way out, I dropped my gaze to his black T-shirt. It was a The Airborne Toxic Event shirt and I felt my lips curling into a pleased smile. TATE was one of my favorite bands. “Have you seen them live?” I asked more than a little enviously.
The boy glanced down at his shirt as though he’d forgotten what he was wearing. When he looked back at me, his mouth kicked up at the corner. “I wish.”
I felt a rush of excitement at the sound of his voice and unconsciously stepped a little closer to the wrought-iron fence that separated us from each other’s stoop. “I’d love to see them live.”
He moved closer and I tilted my head back. He was tall. I was a small five foot three and the boy was almost a foot taller than me. My gaze wandered, no longer under my control, taking in his broad shoulders, down his lean, muscular arms to the big hand he had wrapped around one of the wrought-iron spearheads that embellished the fence. I felt a flip in my belly at the thought of being touched by one of those hands. They were masculine but graceful and long-fingered.
I flushed, thinking about what Ewan had done to me last week, except suddenly imagining this boy in his place. Guiltily, I chewed on my lower lip as I looked back up at the boy.
He didn’t seem to notice that my thoughts had meandered into the indecent. “You’re a fan of TATE?”
I nodded, feeling suddenly shy of this person who had elicited such a strong reaction in me.
“They’re my favorite band.” He gave me a small grin and I instantly wanted to know what he looked like when he laughed.
“One of mine too.”
“Yeah?” He leaned in a little closer, his eyes searching my face as though I was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen. “What other bands do you like?”
The thrill of having his attention broke through the uncharacteristic shyness and I rattled off all the bands I could think of that I’d been listening to lately.
When I was done he rewarded me with a smile, and that smile winded me it was so good. There was something flirtatious there but at the same time boyish, charmingly boyish and utterly endearing. It was a great smile. A really, really great smile.
I sighed inwardly and leaned farther into the fence.
“What’s your name?” he asked me, his voice low because we were so close now we could whisper and we’d hear each other. I could actually feel the heat from his body, and realizing we were standing quite intimately made me hugely aware of my own body as well as his. I flushed inwardly again, thankful I wasn’t a typical redhead with blush-prone skin.
“Shannon,” I replied, sure there was a hush in the air between us and afraid to break whatever it was by being too loud. “Yours?”
“Cole,” he said. “Cole Walker.”
That made me smile. It fit him perfectly. “You sound like a hero.”
Cole grinned. “A hero?”
“Yeah. Like if there was a zombie apocalypse, the hero who tries to save everyone would have a name like Cole Walker.”
His chuckle warmed me through and through, as did the way his eyes brightened with amusement. “Zombie apocalypse?”
“It could happen,” I insisted because I never liked to rule out any eventuality in life.
“You don’t seem all that worried that it could.”
That was because I wasn’t. I shrugged. “I’ve just never understood why people are afraid of zombies. They move really slowly and are brain-dead.”
Cole snorted. “Two very fair points.”
I smiled. “So, are you a hero, Cole Walker?”
He scratched the side of his chin, looking off into the distance. “What is a hero, really?”
Surprised by the deep and apparently serious question, I shrugged. “I suppose it’s someone that saves people.”
His eyes flicked back to me. “Yeah, I suppose it is.”
Trying to lighten the mood, I gave him a flirty smile. “So, do you save people?”
Cole laughed. “I’m only fifteen. Give me a chance.”
We were the same age, then. I was surprised. He could pass for eighteen. “You are really tall for fifteen.”
His eyes drifted over me, a small smile playing on his lips. “A lot of people must seem tall to you.”
“Are you calling me short?”
“Are you saying you’re not short?”
I wrinkled my nose. “I’m not delusional. It’s just not polite to comment on a girl’s shortness. For all you know I’m really mad at the world because I’m vertically challenged.”
“Maybe I’m really mad at the world because I’m tall.”
I gave him a look that said as if and he burst out laughing.
“Okay, I’m not mad at being tall. But you shouldn’t be mad about your height.”
“I’m not,” I hurried to assure him. “I was just making a point.”
“A pointless point.”
I giggled, thinking over our bizarre conversation. “Yeah.”
Cole smiled, and I felt myself go all hot inside again at the way he was looking at me. “I doubt anyone notices your height anyway. You’ve got all that great hair and those amazing eyes to distract them.” As soon as he said it he flushed and ran a hand through his own hair, as if embarrassed he’d complimented me out loud.
My cheeks burned with pleasure. “You’ve got amazing eyes too.”
His momentary shyness instantly disappeared at my compliment. Cole leaned forward over the fence. “Please tell me you live here.”
Before I could answer, a loud honk shattered the intensity between us and I jerked my head up to see Ewan approaching in his old Punto. Reality came crashing back down around me, and for some reason I felt a weird sense of loss when I looked back at Cole. “I live in Glasgow,” I told him regretfully. I gestured to the car. “My boyfriend’s here to pick me up.”
Disappointment flashed in Cole’s eyes. “Boyfriend?” His gaze flew toward the car and I watched his face fall.
My heart sank in my chest. “Sorry,” I whispered, not really sure what I was apologizing for.
“Me too,” he murmured.
Ewan honked the horn again and I blanched, moving down the steps, my eyes still on Cole. We held each other’s gaze as I walked over to the car and slowly, reluctantly, got into it.
“Hey, baby,” Ewan said, finally causing me to break my connection with Cole.
I gave my boyfriend a tremulous smile. “Hi.”
He leaned over and kissed me before settling back into his seat to drive away.
Panicked, I turned back to my window to find Cole, but the stoop where he’d stood was now empty. A heavy feeling settled over me.
“Who was that?” Ewan asked.
“The guy on the stairs.”
“I don’t know.” But I hope I get to find out.
Ewan started chattering on about the band, not bothering to ask me how my night had been or how Gran had seemed even though I’d told him I was worried about her. As the old car took me away from Scotland Street amid his incessant chatter, I felt like fate had just handed me two cups and I’d stupidly drunk from the wrong one.
Nine years later
I stared up at the sign above the tattoo studio on Leith Walk, worrying my lip between my teeth. There was nothing for it. I had to open the doors and step inside.
I blew out a deep breath until my lips formed a disgruntled pout. The sign for INKarnate was painted in bold font across a long panel of glass above its door. The two large panels of glass on either side of the glossy black door were covered in pictures of tattooed limbs, artwork, and bold red-and-purple signs that screamed TATTOOS, PIERCINGS, TATTOO REMOVALS at the passing public. In the center of the panel farthest away from me were two large white signs that proclaimed proudly SCOTLAND’S #1 TATTOO STUDIO and MULTI-AWARD WINNER.
Even I, who had no tattoos to speak of, had heard of INKarnate.
Okay, true, I’d dated quite a few blokes with tattoos, but that wasn’t the reason I’d heard of Stu Motherwell’s tattoo studio. I’d heard of it because his signs didn’t lie and he’d even been on television a few times over the past few years. Stu had owned INKarnate for about thirty years now. He was an extremely talented and ambitious artist and was purported to only hire fantastic artists to work alongside him.
You’d think I’d be absolutely over-the-moon to get an interview for the admin assistant/reception position they needed to fill. However, INKarnate embodied everything I was running from at the moment. Everything that was bad for me.
I’d only applied for the job because admin jobs were scarce.
Ironic that this should be the only application that had produced a response.
What could I do, though? I crossed my arms over my chest, my eyes glued to the sign TATTOOS. I’d had to get away from Glasgow, and I had nowhere to go—Edinburgh was the only place I knew well enough to feel comfortable moving to, and it was expensive as heck. The hotel I was staying in was really a hostel and I couldn’t afford to stay even there that much longer. Although I had enough in my savings for two months’ rent on a really crappy flat, I wouldn’t get a lease until I found a job.
I needed to eat and I needed a roof over my head.
As Gran used to say, beggars can’t be choosers.
Letting my hands fall to my sides (defensive posture wasn’t really a good way to start an interview), I waited for a woman with her pram to pass by the studio before striding up to the door and pushing inside. An old-fashioned bell at odds with the rest of the decor jingled above the door as I entered.
My low-heeled boots sounded loud on the expensive-looking white-tiled flooring. It was shot through with chips of silver mosaic pieces and was more elegant than I would have expected for a tattoo studio.
For a few moments I eyed the rest of the interior. It was like a typical tattoo studio but less . . . grungy. The main room was large and spacious. A small curved black marble counter sat to my left, and on it was a shiny iMac I would have given my eyeteeth for. Behind the counter was a massive closet I couldn’t miss because its door was open, revealing a chaotic mass of files on the shelves inside. Opposite the counter on the other side of the room was a huge, well-worn black leather L-shaped sofa that looked really comfy. A glass coffee table was positioned in front of it, with a scatter of magazines on it and what looked like a bowl of shiny-wrapped toffees. Directly ahead of me was a mini gallery of sorts. The walls were white and nearly every inch of them was covered in tattoo concepts. The only walls that had been left bare were the partition walls placed here and there throughout the space. On them were television screens where indie and rock music played softly as a sound track to snapshots and video footage of the artists’ portfolios.
It was all about art here.
But where were the artists?
I stared around at the emptiness, my eyes eventually coming to a stop on a door near the back left-hand corner. I could hear the buzz of a tattoo needle. The workshops must be back there.
Should I venture in?
I hesitated only to be shuffled forward by someone attempting to open the entrance door. Moving out of the way, I gave the young man an apologetic smile.
“All right?” He nodded at me in greeting before swaggering over to the counter. He hit an old-fashioned bell a few times.
A few seconds later a figure appeared in the doorway at the back. A huge, hulking beast of a figure. I stared openmouthed as he moved toward us, and slowly recognition hit me.
The graying beard and long wiry hair, the jolly grin and crinkles around the blue eyes. No, not Santa Claus.
He approached the counter in slow, measured steps and I noted that the black motorcycle boots he was wearing had definitely seen their best day a long, long time ago. The buzz of a tattoo needle continued from the room beyond, so I guessed there was at least one other tattooist back there.
“Hi, son,” h...
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