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“You’re sure you don’t want me to try to cover the scar instead of going parallel to it?” he asked. “It’d be difficult to get rid of it entirely but I could cover it pretty significantly.”

“No.” She held up a hand when he turned his tat gun on again. “Not yet!”

He blew out a sigh and leaned back to give her a longer break, handing over a bag of Gummy Bears—was he a good friend or what?

“It’s not that painful,” he said. “And piercings are worse, and you’ve willingly pierced just about everything on your body.”

“A very long time ago,” she pointed out and tore into the bag. “When I was young and stupid.” She’d long since taken out most of the piercings, way too much upkeep. “And I was intoxicated for all of them.”

“You went through how many surgeries?”

“Those don’t count, either,” she said, painstakingly pulling out the green Gummy Bears for consumption first since they were her faves. She’d eat the reds next and then the whites. She didn’t acknowledge the yellows because they tasted like furniture cleaner, though in a pinch she’d eat them anyway. “I was under anesthesia so they didn’t hurt at all.”

“Recovery hurt,” he said. “PT hurt. Having your parents not even come home from Somalia to see you in the hospital hurt.”

Okay, so maybe that had hurt. Though it really shouldn’t have. She’d long ago gotten used to being an afterthought, a throwaway. “I had my brother and sister,” she said. “And you.”

Their gazes met. They’d been friends for years, though they’d only recently connected again, ever since she’d found herself grounded in Sunshine for the past eleven months.

Xander had grown up here. After high school he’d backpacked through Europe before returning to his roots to take over his father’s tattoo business.

Darcy’s roots weren’t connected to a place but to Wyatt and Zoe. And Xander, too, even though he’d been looking at her lately with much more than sibling-like feelings. Oddly enough, neither of them had ever acted on that, though most people in town thought otherwise. But she’d not been feeling well enough, and anyway, Xander almost always had a woman hanging around. Or several. Except, come to think of it, he hadn’t had anyone around lately.

He was a damn good-looking guy, all long and lanky and lean, and badass, too, with all the tats and leather and shitkickers. So yeah, maybe she could see why people had assumed she’d dipped her toes in those waters.

But she wasn’t ready.

“Why not?” he asked, voice low and a little rough, making her realize she’d spoken out loud.

She sucked in a breath. “Well, for starters,” she said, her voice low, too, “my body still looks like Frankenstein’s monster.”

To his credit, his gaze didn’t sweep downward to look, but instead remained on her eyes. “Your body is perfect,” he said with nothing but sweet sincerity.

It wasn’t often he did sweet, and that moved her. But she shook her head. “Okay, so I feel like Frankenstein’s monster,” she said. “I can’t control much—”

He shook his head. “Excuses.”

True enough. They both knew she wasn’t embarrassed in the least by her scars. In fact, it was the opposite really. Her scars represented something to her. They represented her change. BS—before scars—she hadn’t cared for herself all that much. She never gave her safety, or her future for that matter, any thought at all. She’d not had a death wish or been depressed, but she hadn’t really seen herself getting old. She’d lived in the moment, always. Sometimes the moment had involved hanging off a mountain by a rope covering some new adventure for Nat Geo. And sometimes that moment had meant swimming with sharks off a South Pacific reef for the Travel Channel.

But something weird happened to a person when they nearly bought the farm. Turned out your life really did flash before your eyes. And in her case, all her adventures had as well. That’s when she’d realized—almost all of those adventures had been experienced alone.

When she’d opened her eyes in the hospital, and then had faced all those long months of staring up at the ceiling while her body healed, she’d decided she had things to work on. Things that included learning to not only like herself, but to love herself as well.

She’d been working on the like thing, and was starting to have some success. But the love thing … that was taking a little bit longer. Hence the real reason she wasn’t sleeping with Xander. In her heart of hearts she knew he was falling for her and she refused to hurt him unless she knew she could fall for him back.

As for the new tattoo … No, she wasn’t being selfdestructive. Nor would she ever cover her surgical scars. Instead she wanted to complement it with her tattoo, which read in small, beautiful script: I am the hero of my story, I don’t need to be saved.

She wanted to remember that every single day.

Xander was still just looking at her, clearly waiting for her to say something he’d actually understand, so she took his hand and brought it to her heart. “You’re a good guy, Xander.”

He stared at her. “Ah, fuck.” He dropped his head to his chest on a low laugh. “The good guy speech.” He lifted his head again. “If your next line is that I have a good personality, just kill me now.”

“You do have a good personality,” she insisted.