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Cuffs
Author: Cara Lockwood

CHAPTER ONE


   MAGS MCHENRY MIGHT not believe in true love, but she sure as hell believed in hate at first sight. It was a cool autumn afternoon on the near west side of Chicago, when she saw the corporate suit who walked into her tattoo parlor and instantly fell into serious, heated hate. Sure, the man was good-looking: dark, wavy hair rolling back from his forehead, a chiseled chin that could cut glass and those vigilant green eyes. But him winning the genetic lottery only made her hate him more. Privilege and entitlement rolled off him from his expensive, custom-made suit and designer silk tie to his Italian leather lace-ups. His clothes screamed money made by soft hands.

   She watched him from the corner of her eye as she paused in her work, tattoo needle in midair above the shoulder of Angus, a big, beefy bar bouncer who lay reclined on the leather client chair, arm out, patiently waiting to have the outline of his eagle tattoo finished. Angus had his eyes closed and earbuds in, listening to whatever death metal he was following this week, and hadn’t noticed they had company.

   The suit meandered around the lobby of her joint as if he were measuring it for new carpet. She didn’t like the way he studied the wall of her tattoo art—her creations—and frowned at the line of skulls flanked with roses near the bottom row. He glanced at the expensive smart watch on his wrist, which irked. If he was going to judge her work and find it wanting, he ought to at least give it his full attention. Not that she cared for the skulls in particular, anyway. She far preferred to tattoo birds. Birds were her specialty: eagles, hawks, falcons—even sparrows. She’d been told more than once that her detail in the artwork made it look as if the bird were real, caught frozen in midflight.

   The suit’s pocket jangled an obnoxious ringtone, and he reached in for the brand-new, too-expensive-for-most-mortals phone and pressed it to his ear.

   “Quinn,” he said, briskly, all business. He listened a beat. “Look, you know we can handle seven figures,” the suit said, far too loudly, as if he wanted everyone to hear how important he was. “We can handle eight. Or nine, for that matter.”

   What the hell was nine figures, anyway? Mags hadn’t ever been more than a thousandaire. Money made people assholes, though. That was a fact she’d learned in her twenty-eight years on this planet. “We’re not your normal bank.”

   Bank, one of Mags’s trigger words. If possible, she fell into deeper hate. Figured he’d work for a bank. He looked like the type who didn’t mind foreclosing on single moms or wounded vets. Mags glanced around the front of the shop, ready to yell for her counter guy, John, to escort this guy out, but John was nowhere to be found. This was the second time her new hire had ducked out for a smoking break, and it was barely two in the afternoon. Good help was hard to find.

   Ignore the suit and he’ll go away, Mags thought as she refocused on the eagle tattoo in front of her, her attention entirely on the artwork she was creating on Angus’s shoulder. Angus lay on the leather recliner in the small alcove near the lobby of her shop, complete with a sink, fresh needles, and three walls for privacy with mirrors on each one, which came in handy now that she could keep an eye on the suit without turning. A wave of her own blue hair fell into her face, and she flipped it away with a twitch of her head. She needed to pay attention to Angus, one of her best customers. She’d covered his right arm in ink and now was busy working on making the left look the same.

   She heard the suit end his call and could feel his sharp gaze on her back. She wasn’t going to look up. She was going to ignore him. Except that he languidly paced the lobby of her shop, like a tiger in a cage, barely restrained power in each step. Why did he feel so predatory? She wondered. It couldn’t just be the tie. And why did she care? She was tracking him out of the corner of her eye, telling herself it was because she didn’t trust him. Not because she was just a little bit curious about why he’d come.

   Also, it seemed the suit was taking an interest in her. Staring, even, watching her closely. Why? Did he get off on watching tattoo artists work? She couldn’t imagine why else he seemed to be locked onto her. Ignore those intelligent green eyes, she told herself. Ignore that jawline so strong and chiseled it could probably whittle wood.

   “Excuse me?” The suit was talking. To her.

   Ignore him. She focused on the wing of the eagle as she saw him move behind her, his reflection in the mirror in front of her.

   “Excuse me?” His voice was rich, like chocolate—smooth, too. She felt the baritone in her toes. Also, since when were suits so...tall. Broad. Intimidating. “Sorry to bother you.”

   You’ll be sorrier if you keep trying.

   “I’m looking for Mags McHenry?”

   She let out a frustrated breath. He was just like the other strangers who came looking for her by name alone, surprised to find a blue-haired Asian woman named McHenry. It was her adopted name. She’d been taken in by a sweet old Scottish couple who’d been truer parents than her own, whom she’d never known.

   “I’m Mags.” She raised her rotary tattoo tool and glanced back at him just in time to see the bloom of surprise on his face that he quickly hid behind a brilliant white smile, perfect even teeth. Lord, she ought to just change her name to Chan or Ling. Then she wouldn’t have to explain. Of course, she kind of liked throwing people off. Liked it when they stumbled over themselves to apologize—or even better, when they argued with her. As if she wouldn’t know her own legal name.

   She inwardly dared the suit to start something. She almost wanted him to.

   But he didn’t argue. Didn’t push back. His sharp green eyes held something...dangerous. Intelligence? He wasn’t some empty suit. She got that impression right away. She ignored the warming sensation in her belly. So the man was good-looking. So he was tall and broad in the shoulders, but with a tapered waist that told her he was probably no stranger to the gym. Hell, he looked like he belonged on the cover of some damn men’s health magazine. She didn’t care. He wasn’t her type. Her type was bad boys in leather jackets covered in tattoos, with or without hair, and fists crisscrossed with the scars they bore from their share of scrapes. She preferred men who didn’t own a tie, much less know how to knot one.

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