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A man with sandy-blonde hair that fell to his chin and bright blue eyes sat in the corner, reading a GUNS AND AMMO magazine. The redhead’s eyes were closed, and King lightly tapped his foot to the Lynnyrd Skynnyrd song playing over the speakers.

Not knowing how King would feel about me watching him work, I turned to leave, but he stopped me. “Pup, I need more paper towels.”

I turned back around. The blonde’s eyes were on me immediately. The red head took out her ear buds, but King hadn’t looked up.

“Me?” I asked, unsure if King was talking to me or if he called everyone Pup.

“Yes, you. Unless I’m calling Jake pup now, and something tells me he wouldn’t like it all that much.”

The man in the corner stared at me straight-faced with no readable emotion. The girl offered me a knowing look before putting her ear buds back in and closing her eyes.

“On the counter,” King added impatiently.

I looked over to the corner of the room and spied the roll of paper towels. I grabbed them and walked over to King, setting them on the small table next to him. I was about to walk back out of the room when he spoke again.

“Stay,” he ordered. Unfolding a piece of towel, he sprayed the girl’s back with the liquid from a plastic water bottle and then wiped at the tattoo until he seemed satisfied. “I’m done here.” He wiped something from a jar onto her back then taped the edges of the plastic with gauze tape. King tapped on the girl’s shoulders and she again removed her ear buds. “You can take the plastic off tomorrow. Keep it clean.”

“Always do,” she said.

I hadn’t seen Jake stand up, but suddenly, he was next to the redhead, helping her up off the chair.

“My feet always fall asleep when I’m getting tattooed,” she explained to me. She leaned forward onto the blonde man for a few moments until she was able to stand up on her own.

I got a brief glimpse of the new ink on her back. It was a tree, a delicate yet bold orange tree at sunset. The leaves spelled out Georgia through the middle. The tattoo looked as if it were in motion, like oranges were falling from the branches.

It was heart-breakingly beautiful.

They both wore wedding bands, so I assumed Jake was her husband. When he saw me staring at her new art work, he reached behind her and released the clip that held up her shirt, rearranging it until she was covered.

“What do I owe you, brother?” he asked King.

“A favor,” King said. “Keep your phone on.”

“Done.” Jake held his wife close as they made their way to the door.

When they passed me, she turned to me. “Hi I’m Ab—”

“We were just leaving,” her husband interrupted, looking down at her as if to remind her of something she’d forgotten.

She nodded, and then flashed me a small smile before they left the room. I’d only been around them for ten minutes, but the guy seemed to be two different people. He sent out vibes of being anti-social and an asshole, but he looked at her like she was his most prized possession. But he didn’t own her. That much was obvious.

She owned him.

“Who was that?” I asked. I watched from the window as the couple climbed onto a shiny black motorcycle. Her husband helped her with her helmet before they rode off down the drive, disappearing under the trees.

“If they wanted you to know, they would’ve told you.”

“They’re in love.”

“I sure as shit hope so. They’re married. Got a kid, too.”

King took off his gloves and tossed them into a stainless steel bin beside his worktable. He stood and joined me at the window. I could feel the heat from his body radiating onto my back. He leaned over me, his cheek brushing up against my temple. I closed my eyes and tried not to allow his nearness to affect me.

I’m stronger than this.

“There are plenty of married people in the world, but it doesn’t mean all of them are in love. Not like that, anyway.”

“No,” King agreed. “It doesn’t.” He stepped away, leaving nothing but cold air in his place. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

“Do you want me to leave?” I asked, turning from the window. King was sitting on the couch with his phone in his hands.

“No, I have a lot of people coming tonight. You can help me.”

“You’re really talented,” I offered.

“You don’t have to say that,” King said, tapping away at the screen.

“I’m not trying to be nice. It’s true. Her tattoo was seriously amazing.”

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