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King shook his head. “It’s a worst case scenario, and honestly, it’s going to be bad whether I decide to do it or not. I can’t win either way.”

“Tell me what exactly is it you’d have to do.”

“It’s a dark road to travel down, and I’m not sure it’s one I could ever come back from.” It was the lingering sadness in his voice that made my heart break for him and made me not want to press him further. “But it’s a worst case scenario, so I’ll cross that bridge when and if it comes down to it.” King looked at me thoughtfully. “For now, I’m going to kick the granny thing in high gear and see what we can come up with.”

“Let me know if you need my help. I’ll do anything.”

“I’ll remember you said that,” King said, pulling me onto his lap.

“I mean it.”

“So did I,” King replied, squeezing me tighter. He buried his nose in my neck. “I might need you to stay with Grace a while.”

“Why, is she okay? I mean…you know.” I stammered.

“Grace is fine for now, but we might have some shit going down here soon, and I need you far away from it.”

“The Isaac thing?” I asked.

“Yeah, the Isaac thing. But don’t worry about it. Just know that when I say you need to go to Grace’s that’s where you need to be. No questions asked. No arguing bullshit. You got me?”

“I got you.”

“Can we talk more later, Pup? I feel like a fucking chick right now, spilling my guts to you.” King laughed.

“Yeah, we can talk more later,” I said.

I wrapped my arms around King’s neck and looked over the water. The bird that was the inspiration for my sketch sat on top of a crab trap buoy in the middle of the bay. His beak was down, searching in the water for his next meal.

“So what now?” I asked, turning back to King.

“Now? Now, we need to go upstairs, and I need to get you in my bed because I’m not even fucking close to being done with you tonight.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

Doe

“Get up,” King said.

He took me by the hand and lifted me off the mattress. I was still half asleep. Knocked into a sex coma after King proved that when he said he wasn’t nearly done with me, he wasn’t lying.

Heat coursed from his hand into mine and shot directly into my erratically beating heart, causing my breath to hitch in my throat.

“Where are we going?” I managed to squeak out as I pulled on a tank top and my underwear.

Looking down into my eyes, King slowly tucked an unruly strand of hair behind my ear, allowing the very tips of his fingers to brush against my skin.

“Pup,” he said, his voice almost hoarse, “it’s time for you to stop living for who you might’ve been and start living for who you are now.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing,” I said with a yawn. King’s grip tightened around my palm. He dragged me down the hall into his tattoo studio and switched on the light.

“Sit,” he commanded, releasing my hand and gesturing to the chair in the middle of the room.

“Why?” I asked becoming more aware as I slowly woke up.

My palms started to sweat. “You want me in THAT chair?” I asked.

King walked over to the iPod docking station, and with his back to me, he flipped through the songs. After a few minutes, the sounds of Florida Georgia Line’s STAY filled the room.

When King turned back around and noticed I was still standing by the door, he narrowed his gaze and again pointed to the chair. “Sit, or I will come over there, pick you up, and toss you onto it.”

His tone did not imply that I had another option. I reluctantly moved over to the chair and tentatively perched myself on the edge.

“Take off your shirt.” His voice so suddenly strained, he had to clear his throat. King sat down on his rolling stool and opened the bottom drawer of his tool box. He started sorting out materials just as if he were getting ready to tattoo a client, just like I’d seen him do many times over the past few weeks.

“What? Why? What are you doing?” I asked, unable to hide the panic in my voice.

“Because, Pup, it will be very hard to do this fucking tattoo with your shirt on. So, take the goddamn thing off, yeah?” King was demanding, but his tone hinted at a softness that wasn’t there when I’d first met him.

“I already told you. I can’t,” I said. “You just don’t get it. I may want one, but I just can’t. I’ve told you this.” Then, another thought crossed my mind.

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