Pins and Needles.
The business sign loomed ahead of me. Ominous. Foreboding.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I was going to puke.
And it wasn't going to be a pretty puke like when you're a baby and even farting can be considered cute. It was going to be nasty. Nasty, projectile vomiting straight out of a horror movie.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, immediately after throwing up all over the dashboard of my twelve-year-old Ford Focus, I was going to burst into tears. And exactly like my puking, it was going to be nasty. It wasn't going to be classy or snot-less, and I'd probably sound like a wheezing baboon.
The white number on my dashboard clicked to 3:55.
My stomach churned at the same time nervous tears threatened to well up in my eyes.
What in the hell were you thinking, Iris?
Leaving the only home I'd ever known. Moving to Austin. Staying with Sonny.
Being broke had made me desperate. The knowledge that my bank account was bleeding a slow death had wrung me dry. It'd stripped me of what made me up; pride, perseverance, and apparently, the ability to make good choices.
Because someone who made good choices wouldn't be taking a job from a man like Dex Locke.
3:56 flickered into place on the clock.
With trembling fingers, I took the keys out of the ignition and slipped out of my car. Luckily I'd found a spot in the lot adjacent to the trendy shopping center the business was found in. With its terra cotta roofing and white stonewashed walls, it seemed so at odds with the reputation a biker-owned tattoo shop should have, especially since it was located smack in the middle of a real estate agency and deli.
I mean, shouldn't it be right by a strip club and some massage place that promised a happy ending?
I shouldn't and couldn't complain. I knew that. There wasn't a reason why I should even think about being anything less than grateful that Sonny had found me this job when I'd gone more than six months unemployed. You had no idea what desperation was until there was less than a hundred bucks left in your bank account and no job prospects.
I guess that was the problem with an associate of arts degree in community college. Too educated for minimum wage and not educated enough for a good paying job unless you were lucky.
And lucky, I was not.
Crap luck was why I found myself hustling across the street to Pins and Needles, eyeing the satin black Harley Dyna parked directly in front of the shop. With the exception of the color, the frame was the exact same as Sonny's. A young cousin of the bike my dad had owned once upon a time.
Which was a route I wasn't going to go down. No, siree.
Big, classic bold font illustrated the name of the shop as I came up to the tinted glass door.
God, my mom would be rolling in her grave if she knew what the hell I was doing.
Sonny had called me two hours before, given me an address and told me to be there at four. I'd scraped through my suitcase looking for work clothes and grabbed the first shirt, pants, and cardigan I found that weren’t too wrinkled. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get to the business he was sending me to and getting places late was a huge pet peeve of mine, so I hurried the hell up to get ready. After slumming it for so long, I couldn't help but think his call was kind of a miracle.
Until he threw in Dex's name.
But what other choice did I have? This was why I'd come to Austin.
Now, I wasn’t expecting anything amazing and really, I didn’t need anything great from a job. I'd been perfectly happy answering phones all day and scheduling other people's dream vacations at the cruise line. It was slow but whatever. A very long time ago, I'd told myself that I wouldn't complain about inconsequential things and I wasn't planning on starting now.
I mean, boring and monotonous was safe.
I’d done boring and monotonous since the moment I turned sixteen by working at a real estate agency, then a discount bookstore, followed by sales for a weight loss pill, dog sitting, watching over kids at a daycare center, and filing at a medical practice. I did what I had to do to pay the bills. So as long as I wasn’t prostituting or having to make collection calls, I’d pretty much take whatever I could get.
Only I hadn't anticipated a job with the infamous Dex. A man that I'd heard enough of in ten minutes to know that I wasn't exactly going to be working for the Pope.
Notorious, yes. Bad, yes. Reformed like they made it seem? I doubted it.
We'd thought my dad had been "reformed" and that didn't exactly work out.
Screw it. What was the worse that was going to happen? I'd grown up around a felon. A biker. I'd loved that felon biker for longer than he'd deserved.
My half-brother was a biker but not a felon. And I loved that moron, too.
I knew something much scarier than a big, bad biker with a record. A new job would be nothing in comparison, right?
"Cajones, Iris," yia-yia would have said in terrible Greek-accented Spanish. So I pushed open that shiny heavy door, ready for whatever was waiting for me on the other side.
What hit me immediately inside was all the natural light in the place. The orange-yellow light streaming in set off the dozens of framed newspaper and magazine articles mounted on the tinted blue wall. One magazine article immediately caught my attention with its glassy, red font proclaiming “Ink of the Year.”
Two black leather love seats were angled against the entrance window with a black lacquered coffee table directly between them. Across from the seating was a flat, very long and modern looking desk that matched the coffee table with a computer in one corner. I’d barely started taking in two tattoo stations directly behind the waiting area when a male voice hollered, “Hold on a sec!"
I looked around as quickly as I could, noticing two more identical stations to the left.