THE FIRST STANDALONE ROMANCE IN THE SWEETEST TABOO SERIES BY USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR NAIMA SIMONE.
There’s sin, and then there’s literally going-straight-to-hell sin…
Being in lust with my dead brother’s wife pretty much guarantees that one day I’ll be the devil’s bitch. But Eden Gordon works with me, so it’s getting harder and harder to stay away. I promised my family—and him—I would, though.
My days as an MMA champion are behind me. But whenever I see her, with those wicked curves and soft mouth created for dirty deeds, it’s a knock-down fight to just maintain my distance. “Hard Knox” becomes more than just the name of my tattoo shop. However, surrendering to the forbidden might be worth losing everything…
About the Book
Sin & Ink
by Naima Simone
Sweetest Taboo Book One
October 15, 2018
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Several sins could send a man to hell.
Lusting after your dead brother’s wife, especially when you were responsible for his death, might not top blasphemy, but it must be on the list.
Which means I have a one-way ticket to hell with my dick riding shotgun.
“It’s pretty. You did good,” my own living, breathing mortal sin praises over my shoulder. Eden Gordon, my sister-in-law—or former sister-in-law. Shit, I don’t know how that works—straightens, and thank God. I can breathe again. With her leaning over me, I drag her scent into my lungs. Like peaches left out under a summer sun—warm, sweet, sultry, and fucking edible.
I bend closer to the young woman in my chair and finish up the last of the color and shading on her shoulder. Not because I’ve suddenly developed a Mr. Magoo case of nearsightedness, but to insert even a little more distance between Eden and me. When it comes to her, distance is good.
Sitting up, I shut off the tattoo machine and spray the tat with tincture of green soap and water, washing off the excess ink and blood from her shoulder. Eden’s right. The butterfly is beautiful—3D turquoise, purple, and black art that appears to lift from the woman’s skin.
And if I have to ink one more goddamn butterfly on another coed, I’m going to junk-punch myself. There are tens of thousands of students enrolled in Chicago’s “Loop U,” and I swear, it seems as if every female student who enters Hard Knox Ink looking to get her tattoo virginity popped, wants a butterfly.
At least from her squeals and twisting and turning in the mirror, it appears this Loyola student likes it. There’s a warm satisfaction in seeing her pleasure—or any client’s joy in one of my tattoos—that’s incomparable to anything.
“I. Love. It.” She whirls around, wearing a huge grin.
“I’ll go ring her up,” Eden says, laying a hand on my back. Fuck. I briefly close my eyes, that simple, small touch like a blowtorch to my insides. There should be branded flesh under her palm because, I swear, the heat burrows past skin and muscle. And I want it. I hunger for the burn.
Nodding, I bend my head on the pretense of removing my gloves and dumping the extra caps of ink. My jaw is clenched so tight, I’m surprised something doesn’t snap.
Eden’s a toucher; she hugs everyone, sweeps gentle strokes over cheeks, hair, and arms. Affection—and showing it—comes easy to her. Her caring, friendly caresses are every championship win, orgasm, and Christmas morning wrapped into one shiny package. They’re also every hell.
And I crave each one, hoarding it like I need an intervention on one of those A&E TV shows.
A greedy, goddamn masochist. That’s me.
“Thank you. It’s just what I wanted,” the brunette continues to gush as she turns back to the mirror for another peek at her new ink.
With her long, shiny hair, jeans with rips that were obviously done at the hands of a manufacturer, and the necklace with its single diamond resting against her collarbone, she looks like one of those girls from the Gold Coast. Or from a North Shore suburb with its mansions, golf courses, and country clubs.
Do her parents even know she’s slumming it in a Ukrainian Village neighborhood tattoo shop owned by a former MMA fighter? Highly doubtful. If so, they’d probably be shitting bricks—gold bricks.
“Let me bandage it up for you.” I stow the bottles of ink and pull open the second drawer of my work station, removing the roll of gauze and tape.
“A couple of my friends came in a few weeks ago,” she says, crossing the room and giving me her back. “They told me you were the best.” She glances over her shoulder. Smiles a smile that has my inner Oh-shit-o-meter pinging like a ten-alarm fire. From her driver’s license, I know she’s twenty, but that curve of her mouth and the DTF gleam in her eyes tells me this girl has been around a few suburban blocks. “Now I know they weren’t lying. You’re great,” she damn near purrs.
“Thanks. I’m glad you like it.” I cut off a piece of gauze and carefully place it over her skin, taping it down on either side. “Leave that on for at least an hour.”
“I will,” she promises, turning around to face me. “Is it true you were an MMA fighter?”
I toss the gauze and tape back in the drawer. “Yeah.”
Most people would’ve taken the short, “drop it” tone for what it was and gotten the hell up out of the room, but not her. She trails her fingers over the tats on my forearm that are exposed by the pushed-up sleeve of my black Henley, tracing the trunk of the family tree inked there. Stroking the faded, brown leaf falling from the branch…
Controlling the urge to flinch, I deliberately move my arm, but she just shifts her hand to my stomach, flattening her palm against the muscle there. That hand slowly slides down, bumping over my belt, and lowering until it’s right over my cock. Her fingers curl around me through my jeans. And squeeze.
It’s not the first time a customer has come on to me, offered me pussy or head. Hell, it’s not even the first time one has grabbed my junk like it was their own personal joystick. And yet, a bolt of surprise still wings through me. A little flirtation, yeah, I’d kind of expected that. But I’d underestimated this girl.
“Another thing my friends weren’t lying about. You’re hot as hell,” she murmurs, lust darkening her blue eyes.
I know what she sees when she looks at me. A big, tatted motherfucker who could be either a fighter or an ex-con. Maybe both. She sees a man who would shut the door, push her up against the wall, and fuck her six ways to Sunday right next to the framed black and white photograph of a woman with my art on her back.
She’s not wrong. On either of those. In my twenty-nine years, I’ve been in the ring and on both sides of the law. And after a match, with the adrenaline still raging through my veins, I had no problem finding a woman at the club, bar, or even around the ring willing to let me pound out the rest of my energy in her body. Even now, I’m far from a saint or a monk. Sex is still an outlet—maybe even more than it used to be since I don’t have fighting anymore.
But too bad for her, I don’t fuck clients. Or employees. I never shit where I eat. That’s just begging for trouble.
Not that I’d take her up on the invitation in her stroking hand anyway. She’s too goddamned young.
She’s only a couple years younger than Eden.
Yeah, and Eden is even more off-limits than this coed.
Gripping her wrist in a gentle but firm hold, I pry her hand off my junk.
“Thanks,” I reply to her earlier compliment. “You can pay up front.”
I half expect her to storm out of here, hissing asshole or something, along with a dramatic exit. Instead, her lips curl into a wicked smile that probably has those frat boys at Loyola coming in their khakis.
Damn, I almost feel a flicker of sympathy for her parents. No doubt, they’re hosting fancy dinner parties up in their big-ass, gated home, blissfully ignorant, thinking their precious, beautiful daughter is at her school studying and doing sorority girl shit. When, little do they know, she’s at a tattoo shop, attempting to give a hand job to an ex-fighter in a neighborhood that would send them into heart palpitations.
This is just one of the reasons I don’t plan on having kids.
They never fail to break your fucking hearts.
I should know since I’ve cracked my parents’ hearts into so many fragments, they resemble jigsaw puzzles. With a few missing pieces.
The familiar, corrosive burn of guilt scalds my chest like acid, even more painful because it is familiar.
“I’ll see you out there,” she says, sauntering out the room, the fragrance of her floral perfume trailing behind her. Hell, it smells like it cost a bill. But it still can’t compete with the summer and peaches scent that I could identify in a damn perfume factory full of open bottles.
Shaking my head, I grab the bottle of disinfectant. For the next few minutes, I spray and clean the black leather seat and arm cushions on the massage chair I use for shoulder and back tattoos. Collapsing the equipment, I stow it along the wall and head out.
Stepping into the main part of the shop, the loud, grinding mix of metal, electronic, and classical music that is Igorrr’s hit song ieuD blasts out of the state-of-the-art sound system, one of the first things I had installed after I bought the shop three years ago. The drone of tattoo machines and the hum of voices buzz beneath the pounding heavy metal.
This is home. A home I created for me with the family of my choosing, if not birth.
Pride swells inside me, pressing against my chest wall, as it does whenever I walk in and stop to think how lucky I am to do something I love. The big storefront window still looks out on busy N. Western Avenue and its bars and cafes. Exposed brick still covers one wall, and cubicles dot the wide, open floor plan. Art decorates the walls, along with the hanging portfolios containing stencils, drawings, and pictures of past tattoos.
In front of the long desk stands a couple of glass cabinets stocked with Hard Knox Ink merchandise—shirts, hats, chains, jewelry. That had been Eden’s idea. After retiring from the Bellum Fighter Championship, or the BFC, I’d wanted to completely separate myself from that part of my life. Hell, I’d named the shop after my fighting name only at my brothers’ insistence. That had been as much as I’d been willing to concede.
But when I hired Eden a year ago as my receptionist and, later, office manager, she’d informed me I would be stupid not to capitalize on my career and reputation. After a lot of nagging, I caved. Honestly, I didn’t give a damn what brought people through the door. Every artist here, including me, can hold our own once we have the client in our chairs. Yeah, some people might walk through those doors to rubberneck and find out what happened to Hard Knox Gordon, former two-time BFC heavyweight champion. But most come because our tattoos are the best in Chicago.
“Hey, Knox. What the fuck is this, man?” Hakim Alston yells from his cubicle. The wheels of his stool roll over the tiled floor, and then he appears in the doorway, his long dreads held back from his face by a black bandana. “I mean, some of the shit your brother listens to I can tune out, but this? It’s weird even for him.”
“I’m sitting right here, asshole,” Jude calls from the space that adjoins Hakim’s. “And I’m just trying to expose you to different kinds of music, elevate your taste.”
“I got one thing that elevates, and I don’t need your help with that,” Hakim shoots back.
“Yeah.” My other artist, Heaven Travers—who refuses to answer to anything but V—chimes in as she walks past us. “He handles that all by himself. Emphasis on ‘hand.’”
“Now, that’s just wrong,” Hakim grumbles. Then, as Taylor Swift replaces Igorrr, he shakes his head as V, the resident Swiftie, cackles from her cubicle. “And that’s worse. Really, Knox?” he continues. “Isn’t it some kind of cruel and unusual punishment to work under these circumstances?”
I snort. “File a complaint.” I happen to like Taylor’s latest CD and work out to it. Not that I’ll admit it to Hakim, or anyone else, for that matter. That kinda shit you take to the grave.
Pausing a moment before continuing to the counter, I peek into his space, checking out the piece he’s working on. Daenerys Targaryen and her three dragons cover a wide back from shoulder to waist. Eden is a Game of Thronesfanatic, which is the only reason I recognize the characters. Hakim has been working on this guy’s back piece for weeks now, between the outline and adding color. And even though it’s only the fifth session and about halfway done, it’s stunning. Each of us specializes in a certain style, and Hakim’s is realism. The tattoo could’ve been ripped from the pages of any graphic art book and superimposed on this guy’s back. That’s how detailed it is, with color that pops off the skin.
“Damn. That’s coming along good,” I murmur.
“I know.” The tattoo machine buzzes to life in Hakim’s hand, and he grins at me. “It’s what I do.”
Shaking my head, I turn toward the counter. And I brace myself.
Back in my private room, I’d forced myself not to turn around and look at Eden. But now, I don’t have a choice. And with her profile to me—and those dark, chocolate eyes not fixed on me—I don’t hold back.
I drop my gaze, starting at her booted feet, moving up and over the dark denim encasing her toned, slender thighs. She’s petite, no more than five-feet-four, but the curves on this woman. I lock down the growl rumbling in my chest and rolling up the back of my throat. She owns a round, firm ass, perfect for filling a man’s hands. The dip of her waist only emphasizes the feminine flare of her hips and the fullness of her breasts, which are a shade too large for her small stature and delicate build. In other words, goddamn flawless.
Dragging my starving scrutiny from her tits and up her elegant neck, I linger on the graceful line of her jaw. The sexual invitation that’s her mouth. The straight nose and slightly wide nostrils. The spatter of cinnamon-colored freckles across her cheek, nose, the slash of her cheekbone, and her forehead. They were an inheritance from her Polynesian grandmother, along with her golden, hot-sand-on-a-beach skin.
Long, thick, black-brown hair flows over her shoulders and down her back. The color reminds me of the bark on the trees in San Jose’s Japanese Friendship Garden. Deep. Rich. When I trained at a mixed martial arts school and gym out there years ago, I would go to that garden to think, to rest. That’s what Eden does to me. Her presence calms me even as she turns my body into a marble statue—hard as fuck.
Even now, I struggle to fight back the lust that’s always right under the surface, simmering, just waiting to be let loose like an inferno…or wild beast. Because that’s how I feel around her. Like a caged, hungry animal just waiting for one slip, anticipating that one time when the lock on its prison is left open so it can break free and feast.
She brushes her hair over her shoulder, revealing more of her profile. And like the animal I am, I watch her lips curve into her signature sweet smile as she slides the receipt across the counter for the coed to sign. All the while, I’m imagining those lush, sensual lips offering me that same innocent smile just before they part, giving way for my cock. Her mouth has always been my obsession. I want to take it, bruise it, corrupt it with mine, and with my dick. I want to come in it, watch her swallow every fucking drop of me, and then drag her back to her feet and taste us on her tongue.
Yeah, I’m a dirty motherfucker.
And the absolute lowest piece of shit walking to fantasize about my dead brother’s wife that way. Especially when partial blame for his death weighs on me like the world on Atlas’s shoulders. Connor had been the genius in our family—entering college at seventeen, graduating at twenty. We’d all expected him to be the first of us to get a job using his head instead of his hands or fists. Instead, he’d followed me into MMA. And eventually to his death.
The crushing, smothering guilt wouldn’t strangle me so tightly if all I wanted was to fuck Eden. To bury myself balls deep inside her. If that’s all I lusted after, then maybe the taint on my soul wouldn’t be as black.
But it’s not all I hunger for. I want it all. Her body, her affection… I want her to gaze at me the way she used to look at Connor. With that soft, secret gleam in her eyes that said they shared something that was completely mysterious to everyone else but them.
I want her. I have from the first moment I saw her five years ago—even after she met, fell in love with, and then married my brother.
And that makes my sin unforgivable.
I can never have Eden; I can never touch Connor’s wife. Because yeah, he’s gone, but she will always be his wife. And I am not worthy to breathe the same air, much less touch her. I know it. God knows it… My own mother knows it.
Women who know what’s up, who are willing to fuck or blow me in bathroom stalls or in the back room of a bar or club, those chicks are my speed. All I deserve. Quick, emotionless, nameless screws.
I made a promise to keep my hands off Eden. And after all the other things I’ve broken in my life and others’—hopes, dreams, hearts—this is a vow I refuse to break.
“Hey.” She glances at me, arching a dark eyebrow. “We’re just about done here.”
“Thanks.” Nodding, I grab the top sheet from a stack under the counter and hand it to my client. “Here’s your aftercare directions. Like I told you, remove the bandage in about an hour. Keep the tattoo moist. We have some ointment”—I dip my head in the direction of the merchandise cabinet—“but you can use any petroleum-based ointment or lotion. All the instructions are right there.” I tap the sheet. “You have any questions, you can call up here, but everything should be included on the list.”
The instructions roll easily off my tongue; I’ve said them hundreds of times over the years. Still, this is the other woman’s first tat. But she’s not listening. Instead, she snatches Eden’s pen off the counter, rips a corner off the paper, and scribbles on it. I don’t need a Magic 8-Ball or an all-seeing-third-eye to figure out what she’s writing.
“Thanks, Knox. Hope to see you soon.” She grins and pushes the scrap toward me. Both Eden and I watch her stride out of the shop.
“Let me guess,” Eden says, turning to me with a smirk. “She offered to give you more than a tip for your fantastic work.”
Shaking my head, I pick up the paper with the name and number scrawled on it and toss it in the garbage can. I’m not answering that one.
She snorts, opening the register and placing the credit card slip under the cash drawer. “Hey, can I talk to you?” she asks, dragging a hand over her hair, pulling the strands out of her face.
I narrow my eyes at her. Something’s up. Her tells are pathetically easy to catch. How she doesn’t quite meet your eyes, or pulls her shoulders back and thrusts her chest out as if daring you to call her on something. Or crosses one foot in front of the other and stands in an awkward ballet position. What is it? Third or fourth? My stepsister used to take ballet lessons, and Dan and Mom used to force all of us to go to her recitals. It was hell.
Right now, though, Eden’s giving me all three of those telltale gestures. Whatever she needs to speak with me about must be some serious shit.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Hey, Jude, watch the front for a few?”
My brother glances at me, his tattoo machine still buzzing as he hovers above his client. His eyes, the same green as mine—as our father’s—shift from me to Eden and back to me. Of my three brothers, Jude and I have always been the closest. Probably because we’re only two years apart. So, when I barely jerk my chin up, he gets it. Ask me later.
“Got it covered,” he says.
“Let’s go to the breakroom.” I head toward the back of the shop.
“Can we go to your space instead?” she asks from behind me, her fingers grazing my hip.
My gut clenches at the light touch, the muscles wrenching hard. What would she do if she guessed the extent of her effect on me? How would she react if she knew that every time I look at her, inhale her scent, hear her throaty, 1-800-Fuck-Me voice, I fight the urge to shove her against the nearest wall, bury myself inside her, and pound into her until her screams break around my ears and her nails leave dents in my skin?
Would she run from me? Glare at me with disgust? Make sure she was never alone with me?
Like she is now.
Yeah, if Eden had the faintest hint of how dirty I want to get with her, no way in hell would she be asking to see me behind a closed door, away from prying eyes.
But the truth is there’s no one she’s safer with than me. And not just because she’s Connor’s wife or I’m chained by a promise. It’s because Eden doesn’t want me. From the moment I laid eyes on her five years ago and craved her, she looked past me and only saw Connor.
Shaking my head against the memories and the old, acrid bitterness crawling into my chest, I enter my room and, crossing my arms, wait for her to close the door.
“What’s with all the secrecy?” I press, deliberately focusing on her face and each adorable freckle instead of the curves of her breasts beneath her form-fitting black sweater. Especially because she’s doing that shoulders-back, chest-out thing again. Sighing, I cock my head to the side. “What are you nervous about, Eden?”
She frowns as if I’ve offended her. I smother a snort. More like called her on her shit. “I’m not nervous,” she objects, moving farther into the room and closer to me. So close, I can easily catch her sunshine-and-fruit fragrance.
Would that scent be heavier, more saturated, like rain-soaked earth when she’s aroused? When she’s wet?
“What’s going on, then?” I demand, the warring need to get closer and need to escape roughening my voice. “Something has you wired.”
“Fine,” she grumbles and blows out a breath. “I checked your schedule, and you don’t have any appointments booked for the rest of the evening.”
“Okay.” Not surprising. It’s a Tuesday, and the beginning of the week is always slower. “So?”
“I—” She breaks off, drags her fingers through her hair, and looses a soft chuckle that slides over my skin like a silken caress. “I have no idea why this is so hard for me to say. I’m twenty-four, damn it, not four.” Her gaze locks with mine. “I want a tattoo.”
Surprise whips through me. Yeah, because I expected something more…I don’t know…cataclysmic, given her behavior. But also because Eden is a tattoo virgin. Even though she’s worked in my shop for the last year and has been surrounded by people who wear more ink than clothes, she hasn’t ever expressed a desire to change that status.
“And I want you to do it,” she adds. “Will you?”
Have my hands on her body? Skin to skin? Hell no. “Yeah.”
Relief crosses her face, and she nods. But there’s more; she’s not finished. I can tell by the ballet position. Unease curls inside me, squirming and coiling. I almost tell her “never mind.”
“I’m moving out of your parents’ house.”
I don’t know about cataclysmic, but shit’s definitely about to hit the fan.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of SIN & INK by Naima Simone, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 10/19/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Naima Simone
USA Today Bestselling author NAIME SIMONE’s love of romance was first stirred by Johanna Lindsey, Sandra Brown and Linda Howard many years ago. Well not that many. She is only eighteen…ish. Though her first attempt at a romance novel starring Ralph Tresvant from New Edition never saw the light of day, her love of romance, reading and writing has endured. Published since 2009, she spends her days—and nights— writing sizzling romances with a touch of humor and snark.
She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bullet proof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically-challenged bliss in the southern United States.
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