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Cassie Alexander

Blood at Dusk: Dark Ink Tattoo Book 2 (Ebook)

Blood at Dusk: Dark Ink Tattoo Book 2 (Ebook)

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True Blood meets Sons of Anarchy

Menage, MM, MF, FF, etc

Vampire Romance

Werewolf romance

Fast burn, high heat, BĎSM

Las Vegas and everything that comes with it ;)

HEAs all around!

Synopsis

Jack wasn’t always a vampire, and Angela wasn’t always a werewolf—delve into the events that brought them together.

Angela: I thought my best friend Willa was crazy when she wanted us to flirt with the leader of a motorcycle gang but somehow, the three of us fell in love…at least that’s what I thought. Then I realized the horrific truth about Gray’s gang—everyone in it was a werewolf. Monsters were real. And suddenly, Willa and I were expendable, unless we became monsters, too.

Jack: I wasn’t expecting to see my high school crush at a strip club—but once I saw Thea spinning around a pole, I knew I’d gamble everything I owned for a night with her. Too bad in order to save her, I would have to make a deal with a vampire: become a monster, or watch Thea die.

She was a woman forced to sacrifice her humanity. He was a man risking everything for first love.

Read Chapter One

While your teenaged fantasies oftentimes involve bumping into teachers, former babysitters, and/or high-school head cheerleaders at the strip club, none of them—no matter how detailed—can prepare you for when it happens in real life. Which is why I was staring slack-jawed at Dorothy—Thea—as Bruce punched me in the arm.

“Jesus, when’s the last time you saw a naked girl, Jack?” 

I waved him away and kept staring. The runway was a long thing, phallically shaped, and we were at the tip of it while she was stage center near the pole, far enough away that it both could-and-couldn’t be her simultaneously, like some Schrodingerian dream.

Bruce grabbed my head and yanked it near so he wouldn’t have to shout over the music the club pumped in. “You’re embarrassing yourself—and me.”

She walked around the pole, looking out into likely darkness since all the lights were aimed at her, making all the sequins on her white bikini glint—it was like she was blindingly beautiful, too pretty to even see properly. Then she lunged forward and in, lifting herself up, long legs pointed in a dramatically suggestive V, ending in two glittering red platform heels, all the better to walk down a pornographic yellow brick road.

I turned toward him without taking my eyes off her. “I know her.”

“The fuck you do.” 

But I did. I had a sudden flash of smoke and damage, a crinkle of red metal peeled up like wrapping paper on both sides of a tree and me running down to rescue her from the passenger side of a BMW, as quarterback Duncan Beamm staggered out on the driver side to puke, from a likely BAL of 0.3 and a head contusion. 

Everything afterward…

“We’re in Vegas. Bet me,” I told Bruce, as she began a slow turn. 

“A hundred.”

“Done,” I said. “Go hit the ATM.” 

He snorted and didn’t move. Thea spun, the muscles of her arms, her stomach, the swing of her legs, making her swirl like a slow carousel. What was it like being up there with everyone watching? Rowdier groups of men waved fistfuls of cash, shouting lewd suggestions, and she ignored them, intent on her own internal metronome, letting the music move her. When it came time for her to take off her top it seemed natural and she swung down dramatically, one leg curving up to brace against the pole, the pink perfection of her nipples on display, swaying with the music like twin poppies. 

How many times in high school had I desperately wanted to see those breasts—to touch them? The closest I’d ever come was that day in the rain, holding her to my chest, blood streaming out of a small cut on her cheek. 

* * *

“Thea? Thea? Are you okay?”

I was the first on the scene—they’d slalomed past me in the rain for no reason, and fishtailed over the edge of the road. I’d called it in on my way down the hill, leaving my truck parked on the shoulder up above for the ambulance to see.

I heard the sound of another puke on Duncan’s side as Thea’s eyelids fluttered. She sat up and took everything in then looked up at me.

“He has scholarships,” she said, having done a mental calculation at the speed of light, far faster than I would’ve been able to. 

“So?” 

“Say I was driving.” 

“You weren’t. He was, and he’s an asshole.” There were beer cans on the floor of her car, I could see them through the open door, beneath the fluttering tatters of airbags.  

“Babe!” Duncan bellowed on the far side. “Babe, where’d you go?” 

Thea wriggled free and stood with me close behind. “I’m here, baby, hang on—" she shouted, then turned to me. “Please, Jack.” 

We’d been in a few classes together, on and off, a group project here or there, but we both knew where we belonged. I was with the kids the other kids hated, the ones that listened to the wrong music and couldn’t afford nice clothes, whereas Thea was some sort of angel, so light the rest of the cheerleading team picked her up to make her fly.

“Fuck his scholarships, Thea—he almost killed you.” 

She put her hands on my chest. “I know, okay? But it was an accident—and my dad’s gonna kill me over this already—there’s no reason to ruin his life too.”

I had no love for Duncan or anyone else on the football team. But for Thea? I’d spent four years watching her in the halls, loving the way her skirts grazed the edges of the dress code, the way the Texas sun brought out tank tops that sometimes slipped to reveal brightly colored bras. I knew all of her classes after lunch and could identify her laugh at a hundred paces. And while I knew I could never be with her—I knew how high school worked, and those of us on the outside of it had a very clear view of the inside—there was no way I could deny her now.

“Babe!” Duncan shouted, finally standing higher than the hood, holding one hand to his head, reaching out to her with the other. “Come here, get away from that loser—"

“Shut up Duncan!” she shouted back, looking at me with tears welling in her eyes. We heard a siren in the distance and I stepped away from her. 

“Only because you’re asking.” I jerked my chin at Duncan. “Fuck him.”

“Fuck you,” Duncan bellowed, charging two steps forward before toppling over. 

She ran to his side, kneeling down, and then looked up at me. “Thank you,” she whispered. I shrugged my shoulder like it didn’t matter. The second the cops got there, I told them my story and drove off.

The next two weeks of school held a strange kind of magic for me. I’d see her in the halls, and she wouldn’t look away. She gave me shy smiles, finally, at long last, noticing me—and making me feel that it was okay for me to notice her. She even came over and spoke to me at my locker, asking how I was doing, and we talked for long enough that one of my fellow ‘losers’ noticed and interrogated me afterwards. 

But the week after that, a mere month before graduation, Duncan started a rumor that I’d driven them off the road—all the better excuse for half the football team to viciously beat me. I didn’t dare go back to school, much less graduate—I left high school and that fucking small town and I never looked back. 

* * *

The tempo of the music changed as Thea took another turn. I didn’t know how to feel, watching her. My blood was rushing south but my mind was confused. We’d never talked again after I’d quit school—I heard she’d left town to go try to make it in LA. I never really knew if she’d egged Duncan on or if she’d told him the truth. 

When the song was finished she let herself down gracefully, one long leg after the next and stalked the perimeter of the stage, still topless. Unlike the girls who crawled up and down it, flapping their asses for cash, she didn’t seem to care if you paid her—she stared down shadowed men, daring them to have watched her without offering up money, like a goddess expecting tribute. 

And when she reached the end of the stage and us—I leaned forward into the light, holding a twenty. Seeing me, she jerked back in surprise as her face lit up with recognition. “Jack?”

“Hey—" I began, wanting to call her by her real name, but I stopped myself in time because I didn’t know if that was cool. 

She shook her head at my twenty, refusing it, then kept walking down the line, slightly faster.  

“That was Ruby! Let’s give Ruby a round of applause!” 

Applause smattered and then the cranking rhythm of the next dancer’s song overwhelmed it. 

* * *

“See?” I told Bruce, watching her walk away.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, grunting as he pushed himself away from his spot to get my hundred. He’d give me shit for it later but he was a man of his word. That’s why I worked for him, back in Dallas, in a small tattoo shop near Deep Ellum. We were in Las Vegas this week to mostly be in Vegas, vaguely attending a tattoo convention as an excuse to write off our vacation. 

This was our third night in town. We only had two left and I hadn’t really wanted to come here but Bruce had and now—Thea. I watched the place she’d walked off stage like a cat watched a mouse hole, willing her to return. If she did though, what would I say? Hey, remember that time I lied for you and then got three broken ribs for it? Did her parents know she was here? What about the rest of our classmates? We were only five years out of high school, but as big as Texas was, gossip still travelled fast. 

I was still staring at the stage door when a shy hand tapped my shoulder. “Jack?”

I turned and there she was. Her blonde hair cascaded in waves past her shoulders and black eye-liner winged out over each of her blue eyes. She was wearing a shiny white coat that matched the bikini underneath, and her lips looked like she’d kissed red glitter. “Thea—wow. I would’ve never guessed I’d run into you here.”

She laughed coyly, ducking her hair down to twirl a lock of it. “I know, right? Small world.”

“Definitely.” 

She looked me up and down from underneath impossibly long eyelashes. “You’ve filled out.”

I’d been a scrawny punk in high school—but time at the gym and a late hit from puberty had fixed that. “Yeah, and you got taller,” I teased, since her shoes added six inches to her, easy. She laughed—and I couldn’t stop looking at her. So much of her was on display, and the memory of her half-naked spinning, merging into all my other high school fantasies…. “You’re just as gorgeous as I remembered.”

Under the fake red light above I thought I saw a deeper flush. “Aw, thanks Jack.” 

“How did you get here? Last I heard you were moving to LA—can I get you a drink?” I knew strippers worked on some sort of drink system—I didn’t want my curiosity to cost her.

“You’re not…mad at me?”

She looked so fragile in that moment and whether it was for real or for show, I answered honestly. “No. Not anymore.”

Thea gave me a relieved smile, red lips stretched wide. “Then a Jack and Coke, please.” 

“Sure thing.”  

I left and returned with her drink, likely all Diet Coke since the bartenders were on the girls’ side, and my drink, definitely straight Coke—I’d already had enough to drink tonight. She was mirage-like enough, I didn’t want alcohol to make the memories fade. She was still standing, although there were a few empty tables, then I realized the problem. Strippers weren’t allowed to actually sit with customers—only sit on them. As I tried to figure out how to navigate that, Bruce returned with my hundred and gave us both a once-over.

“Do I give this to you or do I give it to her?” he asked with a sly grin.

Thea answered before I could. “Him. I might want the chance to earn it out of him later.”

“So be it,” he said, sliding the bill in-between my fingers and the sweating glass. “I’m old and poor and going to bed—unless you’ve got a sister?”

“Fresh out, I’m afraid,” Thea said with her slight Texan drawl. 

“Damn,” Bruce cursed, and then gave me a ‘Don’t screw this up’ clap on the shoulder before walking toward the door, leaving me alone with her.

“Is there somewhere…real we can go?” I asked.

Her red lips twisted, acknowledging how hard it was to get to reality from here. “Yeah. But I’m afraid I’m gonna need that hundred.”  

I gave it to her without thinking and let her lead me into the back.

* * *

Thea pulled me in, sauntering—I wondered if it was possible not to saunter in those heels—until we walked past a very large Samoan man and into a private room. It held a smaller central stage, but you could tuck into any of ten different booths along the walls here for private shows, each separated from the rest by glittering curtains providing the illusion of privacy. She drew me into one of these and ran back out, leaving me looking at an empty brass pole before darting back in. 

“Sorry—the cash—it was to bribe him not to bust us,” she said with a head tilt toward the muscle and then she sat beside me. 

“Then it was well spent.” I offered her her drink and she took it. “Soooo…” I began, drawing the word out.

“Soooo…” she said, mimicking me. “Are you okay? I—I always wanted to ask, but the longer I waited the harder it was and so I guess I just gave up.” Her shoulders slumped.

“You knew what happened?” I’d always wondered if she had—and if she was somehow on Duncan’s side.

She caught one of my hands with both her own. “I told him not to. I even broke up with him. But that just made him angrier and I didn’t know what to do.”

I looked down at the hand she held, the oddity of her unmarked flesh so close to mine. “I don’t think you could’ve changed anything, Thea. Besides, by then I was pretty used to getting beat up.” 

She winced. “I’m so sorry, Jack. If I’d known—"

“It’s fine.” I lifted my hand, breaking the contact between us. True, I’d been angry for a long time afterwards—but in the scope of things, it was just one more thing to add to my list. I’d been an angry kid. “How was LA?”

Thea brought her hands demurely back to one knee. “Hard. Harder than this, if you can believe that.” She recrossed her legs and I tried to ignore the way her coat rode up. “High school was such a breeze, I just thought I’d be able to go out there and conquer the world, you know? Waitress some, audition some, and then eventually someone would pick me.”

“How could they not?”

Jack,” she said. “Shush.” 

I inhaled to remind her of how locally famous she’d been, back in the day—and then realized it wasn’t likely to help anything, and actually might hurt her feelings. My defense mechanism had always been not to have dreams, all the better to never have them crushed—but she had, and they had been. 

She took a sip of her drink. “The only guys who wanted to take me seriously were the ones who wanted to sleep with me. At least out here I get paid if they think like that.”

“Yeah,” I said softly, agreeing, because I didn’t know what else to do. 

“What about you? What brings you here?” Her voice was perky again. I could feel her putting her sexy armor back on and would do just about anything for her not to.

“The usual. After high school my folks kicked me out and I made some bad decisions, until I wound up in Dallas and started working at Bruce’s shop.”

“Doing?”

“Tattoos.” I was wearing a long sleeved button down shirt and went for my throat, undoing the first few buttons quickly, revealing the head of the dragon that curled up from my chest and over my shoulder.

Thea looked amused. “That’s a change.”

“What is?”

“A guy taking off his clothes for me.”

I laughed. “What should I charge you?” I asked, flipping my collar back and forth dramatically. She giggled as I buttoned my shirt back up. “This is Bruce’s—kind of an initiation. He won’t let you tattoo anywhere on someone else that you don’t have one first. But I’ve done tons of them now—I’ve got pictures on my phone if you want to see.” Anything to keep talking to her.

“Sure,” she said, leaning in. 

I pulled my phone out and thumbed through them, telling her each one’s story—why the person had gotten it, what’d made it memorable or hard—tattoos I hadn’t quite talked people out of, the ones I actually had. 

“So you didn’t just take their money?”

“I did a few times. But if I’m not good at something—or if their urge to have all of their children’s faces inside a kaleidoscope on their navel is incurable—I send them elsewhere.”

“That’s good,” she said. “You’re a gentleman.”

“Heh.” With the thoughts I was having about her now, I wasn’t sure that I qualified. But I smiled down at her—now that we were seated, she was the height that I remembered—and she smiled back until she saw something that I didn’t see and leapt into my lap, startling me. 

The golden curtain parted and a beautiful dark-skinned woman leaned in. “Ruby?”

“Yes, Miss Rosalie?” Thea asked, twisting back toward her, while grinding against me. Her arms were in a tangle around my neck, and I could smell her so clearly, soap and a floral shampoo mixed with healthy sweat from dancing. 

The dark woman gave me a piercing look and spoke with a French accent. “Are you a satisfied customer?” she asked. Her words practically compelled an answer.

“Yes. Of course,” I answered honestly, then glanced at Thea. All her wriggling was making me hard—I hoped to hell she didn’t notice. An uncontrollable dick in high school was one thing, but now I was a grown man. “With her, who wouldn’t be?” 

Her lips pursed and she gave Thea a look. “Don’t take your job here for granted, just because of your connections.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” Thea said.

“You’d best not,” she said and pulled back, leaving the shimmering curtain shaking behind. I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. 

“How can someone so pretty be so frightening?” Thea wondered aloud.

I had so many answers for that right now, but she turned towards me before I could say anything. “Sorry, that was my boss,” she said, bouncing off of me to stand. 

As for me, it was too late. Despite all my best intentions and thinking of anything but her butt, she’d given me a raging hard on—and she knew it. She probably had a telepathic sense for them, a kind of professional ESP.

“Sorry. Not always such a gentleman,” I apologized.

The corners of her sparkling lips pulled up into a conquering smile. “A gentleman doesn’t have to be a saint.”

Before I could ask her what that meant—if anything—she took a step away. “Rosalie’s right—I’ve got to get back out there, you know how it is.”

“Yeah, totally.” I stood and nodded eagerly, taking my out. “It was good seeing you, Thea.”

“You too, Jack.” Her accent had been crawling back all evening, as if brought out by my own. “I miss Texas out here.”

“Hell, I’ve only been here for three days, and I miss it.”

“You won’t say, uh…” she said with a shrug, to indicate the rest of everything. 

“Not a word.” The few friends I’d stayed in touch with after high school, either they wouldn’t believe me or they didn’t deserve to know. I reached out and pulled the curtain aside, and she seemed surprised.

“Ladies first,” I explained.

“Thanks,” she said, giving me a genuine smile, then walked out back into the bar.

* * *

I inhaled deeply and followed her at a respectful distance. Who would’ve thought I’d have a more meaningful conversation with the object of my teenaged lust at a strip club than I’d managed through-out all of high school? And gotten a kind of closure for one of the worst periods in my life? That’d been a hundred dollars well spent. With the money I hadn’t given other strippers while talking to Thea, I had plenty left for a ride. As I neared the door I cast back one last look, hoping to see Thea there somewhere, even if it was with another guy—when a different girl teetered up. 

“I’m sorry, I’m leaving.” I held up my hands like she was a mugger. 

“I know—take this,” she said, handing me a slip of paper. I took it from her and walked out into the night, unfolding it under a sign with the club’s name: Vermillion. And just when I thought the night couldn’t get any more unbelievable, it did.

3346 Brandlin Way, Apt D, 5 AM—T

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