The Darkest Ink

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Sometimes, it takes more than leaving prison to make you free.

Barista. Cat owner. Friendly neighbor. That’s Reese Thompson, and he doesn’t want anybody to look behind this façade. Trapped in a body heavily inked with the shame of his past, Reese’s self-loathing keeps him from fully embracing his freedom after six years of prison—until a man walks into the café where Reese works and changes the course of both their lives.

Charlie Chen is a geeky accountant who has a soft spot for the wounded worrier stereotype he sees in Reese. He flirts his way into the reluctant Reese’s life, fascinated by the danger surrounding Reese as well as his inner gentleness. So what if the guy never takes off his clothes when they’re together?

Charlie’s love and trust are tested to the limits when the true reason behind Reese’s secrecy is finally revealed.

 

Excerpt

By noon, Reese was ready to kill someone.

Jen snickered when a persistent customer kept batting her lashes at him. Reese shook his head as he worked on the woman’s coffee.

Placing the to-go cup on the counter, Reese heard Jenny’s usual line of, “What’s your name, hon?” They wrote them on the cups during lunch rush to prevent mix-ups.

“Charlie.”

Reese tensed.

His skin goose bumped.

The sweetest, most melodic voice he’d ever heard wormed its way through Reese’s brain and belly, only to coil in his groin.

Hot damn. Men like this Charlie fellow could make a fortune in audio books. His voice was light and as smooth as chocolate mousse. Reese felt himself getting hard and thanked café policy for his long apron.

Looking up to check out the face belonging to the divine voice, Reese felt his world tilt dangerously.

Holy. Fucking. Shit. I should’ve known something like that would happen one day.

Light gray-blue eyes peered at Reese through hip glasses with a thick, square black rim. Gray-blue, although Charlie was obviously of Asian heritage with his black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and pale skin.

And damn if he wasn’t the sexiest guy Reese had seen in a long time.

Charlie wore his straight hair chin-long with a closed cropped section on the right side that ended above his ear. His clothes were…odd. Over a lavender button-down shirt, he wore a gray argyle cardigan. Maroon slacks and a leather messenger bag completed the outfit. Charlie was the whole damn package, gift-wrapped in a geeky box. He also seemed way younger than Reese’s thirty-two years.

Still, Reese wanted to lick him from head to toe and every delicious inch between.

Not that it’d ever happen—because Reese didn’t do dates—but a guy could dream and fantasize. Oh, and jack off in the privacy of his apartment after work.

“Reese.” Jenny sounded amused, as though it hadn’t been the first time she’d said his name. “I need a cranberry latte.”

Reese ended his visual worship of sexy Charlie. He felt his cheeks flush hot as he silently cursed himself for his embarrassing reaction. Just like dates, he didn’t do blushes either.

Every day hot guys bustled through the café. Never before had Reese felt so enraptured by one of them. He hooked up anonymously at clubs—after all, a man needed some loving. Anyway, he did not ogle nice, wide-eyed, geeky college guys.

It took some effort, but Reese peeled his gaze off Charlie and concentrated on the kid’s coffee to keep from drooling all over the counter. A hygienic catastrophe.

“With cream?” Reese asked, his voice a bit husky and not its usual grumpy self.

He got a cheery, “Sure! Make it double. And add some chocolate sprinkles, please.”

“A man after my own heart,” he muttered. As soon as the words were out, Reese frowned. He couldn’t believe he’d said that out loud. Thank god Charlie only grinned and didn’t seem offended.

“I so shouldn’t. But who can resist chocolate sprinkles?” Charlie patted his flat belly. He didn’t look as though he indulged in double cream and chocolate sprinkles too often.

Reese grunted, grabbing the shaker. “There’s nothing worse than spending an obnoxious amount of money on coffee, only to ruin said coffee with the words soy, decaf, low-fat, and no cream.” He shot Charlie a look from underneath his lashes when the guy snorted.

“So true.”

Reese devoured his new obsession with another once-over while he finished the coffee. He guessed Charlie stood about six feet. He was fit but slender, with nice shoulders and a defined chest under his ugly argyle cardigan. A typical runner’s build and exactly Reese type.

“This is a nice café.” Charlie blushed, looking around. “Much cozier than the huge chains. A colleague told me about it.”

Reese held Charlie’s cup poised over the counter and hesitated. Usually he ignored the chattier customers. Now he found he wasn’t enough of an asshole to ignore Charlie. Somehow, the thought of being rude to this wonderful epitome of male, geeky handsomeness didn’t sit right with him. Odd. He and social skills rarely met.

“Uh…yeah. You’re welcome. Your cup?” Reese witnessed confusion knitting Charlie’s fine black brows. Way to go, dumbass.

“Can you recommend a pastry to go with my drink? Suddenly I feel hungry.” Charlie trained his gaze to the glass display and drew circles on his belly with slender yet strong fingers. The move drew Reese’s gaze down to Charlie’s package. Crap.

“Ah…the customers have to order the snacks right with the drinks. Jenny handles them while I do the coffee.” Okay, now he sounded like an asshole.

Reese staying behind his coffee maker was essential for the café’s financial success—mostly because it prevented him from actively talking with the customers and pissing them off.

His interaction with Charlie was proof enough how much he sucked at small talk.

Charlie cocked his head, looking at him questioningly. He seemed concerned for whatever reason. “Shit, sorry. Should I return to the line to order?” He waved his hand. “Of course you’re the coffee guy,” he muttered under his breath. “I didn’t mean to bother—”

“No,” Reese said, a bit too loud if Jenny’s surprised look was anything to go by. “It’s okay, I’ll get it for you.” He gazed toward Jen and the already glaring woman at the counter.

To hell with her.

“How about a pecan caramel roll? They’re soft and melt in your mouth.”

Charlie nodded, giving him another blinding smile.

“That’s three dollars, then.”

Reese ignored Jenny’s knowing smirk, as well as the woman complaining she was late for work already. Honestly, he had no idea what the hell was wrong with him. He wasn’t normally flustered when a sexy guy smiled at him. But there was something about Charlie that had him acting like a fool. At the ripe age of thirty-two!

After he’d bagged Charlie’s lunch, he handed it over the counter with a rare smile. It felt a bit rusty and he hoped he didn’t look like a buffoon.

Charlie placed the money on the counter, then took the bag. He held up both the cup and the bag with a grateful smile. His gaze flicked toward the name tag pinned to Reese’s shirt before meeting Reese’s again.

“Thanks, Reese. See you tomorrow.” He turned and left the café with a visible swish to his hips.

Damn, what a man. And what a cute, fuckable bubble butt.

Reese stared after him for a little longer, until Jenny poked him the side.

“Sorry. I don’t know what the hell just happened.”

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