She could stab him. She really could. Ava clicked the pen in her hand and glanced around the lobby of Stark Ink as she sat in the receptionist’s chair. The place was empty except for the asshole standing in front of her. His mouth gaped as he offered her a sleazy smile. “My name? Well, my name is Donny, sweetheart. Donny the Dude.”
Ava tried not to roll her eyes. Donny watched far too much TV. “I need it for the appointment,” she grumbled as she scrawled into ledger that sat open in front of her. Like she really cared what this guy’s name was.
Donny the Douche, she wrote with a flourish. He couldn’t see it anyway. He was too busy craning his neck to look down the front of her black tank top.
Ava’s scowl deepened. Stabbing him would be bad for business, certainly. Plus, she’d get blood all over Adam’s beautiful black and white tile floor. She could fantasize, though. And, oh, she did.
“What’s your name?” Donny drawled. “I might could squeeze you in.” He grinned, a little too wide and slid one large arm across the counter casually. The ripped t-shirt revealed an assortment of ink in various shapes and colors. It ran from his wrist all the way up his arm and disappeared under the fraying hem of his sleeve. Ava was unimpressed. There was no flow, no cohesiveness to it. It was obvious they’d been done at random times, by different artists. Possibly even while ol’ Donny was under the influence, because though she’d never smoked it, Ava was pretty sure cannabis wasn’t spelled with a ‘u’. Poor Donny showed a lack of judgment in a lot of areas. Ava had taken more time with her ink, especially since Adam had made her wait so long.
Immediately after graduation, she’d made a beeline for the shop and gritted her teeth as Adam had outlined the sleeve on her arm. It had hurt like a bitch but it was so worth it. Like wearing your soul on the outside. Ava liked tattoos. God knew she had enough of them herself. Trouble was, she liked teeth, as well. And this guy was missing more than a few. He was also jawing on a particularly nasty wad of chew. His biceps were starting to sag and his belly was starting to protrude just a bit.
His cocky grin and confident swagger hinted that at one point, probably in high school, this guy had been hot shit. He’d probably had a muscle car and spent his free time lifting, with Skynyrd blaring in the background. But those days were obviously long gone. All that was left was for Donny to get the memo.
He leaned closer, hovering over the counter. Way too far into Ava’s personal space. “So,” he said with a grin. “What time do you get off?” He stressed the last two words just a little too hard, making Ava’s stomach turn.
Ava’s hand flexed on the pen again but she kept her cool. It was probably bad for business to stab customers. “Doesn’t matter,” she told him. “I’m not allowed to date the customers.”
Donny leaned back on his heels and jammed his thumbs into his sagging pants. “It’s a free country baby girl, you can saddle up and ride any stallion you want to. Not allowed? Who says?”
The voice came from behind Donny the Douche. Both Ava and Donny turned to look. Adam loomed in the doorway between his workroom and the lobby, looking particularly pissed off. “Unless you want to wake up with a pretty pink bow tatted on your fucking forehead, you’ll back up off my sister.”
Donny stepped back and held up his hands. “Oh, hey. Okay. It’s cool. I didn’t know. I had no idea she was your sister.”
Adam glared at him. “You knew she was a kid. That much is obvious.”
The guy grinned. Adam’s jaw clenched. Possibly this douche nozzle just couldn’t help himself. Possibly being a perv was in his genes. “She don’t look like a kid,” he countered.
Ava’s heart skipped a beat as Adam tore his gaze from The Douche to her. He frowned but said nothing. They’d talked before — or Adam had talked, anyway, for a very long time— about just how much skin he was comfortable with his baby sister showing in public, especially in the shop. Ava had listened, she really had, the trouble was her closet just happened to be full of items that Adam despised. She shrugged at her older brother. He rolled his eyes then turned back to The Douche.
“Did you make an appointment?” Adam demanded.
The Douche nodded. “Sure did. Just now. With her.”
“Cancel it,” Adam told Ava.
Ava clicked the would-be shiv and scratched out Donny The Douche in black ink.
“Hey!” The Douche protested.
Adam was nonplussed. He jerked his head toward the front door. “Get out.”
If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas, Ava thought as she watched Donny the Douche slink toward the door. A Pop-ism, the old man had an endless supply. Ava wasn’t entirely sure what that one meant, since they’d never received candy or nuts for Christmas.
“Candy and nuts,” Adam muttered under his breath and turned back to the workroom. “And change your shirt,” he called out over his shoulder.
Ava bristled. “I have boobs, Adam!”
“No, you don’t,” he replied without looking back. “You’re permanently six years old with pigtails and filthy knees.”
Ava snorted. Before graduation, she would’ve argued more. But since she’d been out of school, Adam’s rules had loosened considerably. Doubtless he’d realized she was 18 and he could no longer control her comings and goings. Though apparently his opinions on her wardrobe were less evolved.
The bell above the door jingled again and this time Jeannie, the shop’s other receptionist strode through the door. She had on thigh high black leather boots and a skirt that could double as a headband. Ava was willing to bet that her oldest brother never got on Jeannie’s case about her clothes.
“What’s up, girl?” Jeannie called out with a smile as her heels clicked sharply on the tile floor.
Ava grinned back. “Not much.”
Jeannie peeled off her leather jacket while balancing a coffee in one hand. Ava glanced at the clock on the wall behind her. Shift change. Ava’s eyes darted instinctively to the computer screen in front of her. Her fingers twitched with impatience as she waited for the older girl to settle in. As Jeannie slipped past her and into the storeroom to hang up her jacket, Ava quickly turned back to the reception desk. Her heartbeat sped up considerably as she punched the keyboard.
With a furtive glance toward Adam’s workroom, she waited for the screen to maximize. The file she was downloading before Donny the Douche walked in was now finished. Pulse roaring in her ears, she double clicked the map with the red pin marking a location to the east of Rapid City. Fingers flew furiously over the keys as she emailed a copy to her phone. Seconds before Jeannie emerged from the storeroom, Ava closed the window and deleted the browser history on the shop’s computer. With the tap of a final key, the innocent-looking logo of Stark Ink once again lit up the screen. She pushed the rolling chair back from the desk.
“Busy today?” Jeannie asked as she came up behind Ava.
“Steady,” Ava replied. “Almost booked solid for tonight.”
Jeannie nodded and glanced over the appointment ledger sitting on the desk. She frowned. “Cancellation?” she asked, tapping the black scratches covering Donny’s name.
Ava grinned. “Yep.”
“Okay,” Jeannie replied.
Ava liked the slightly older girl who also answered the phones for Adam. Jeannie’s short, spiky hair was always dyed some showstopping shade and apparently Jonah had gotten some practice in after Adam had hired him, because young Jeannie seemed to have quite a few more piercings than Ava remembered. They got along great, despite the close quarters, mostly because Ava and Jeannie’s taste in clothes were fairly similar and Jeannie had nothing but compliments about Ava’s personal style. The hair was a problem, though, Jeannie thought. She had been begging Ava to let her “go to town” on Ava’s long, blonde locks. Ava was tempted but showing up at the house with pink (or blue or purple or green) hair might give Pop a heart attack.
The old man had given in to the bike Ava had begged for when she approached him about selling Mom’s car and getting a bike instead. Considering that just a few months after Adam hire Jonah, Jonah had gotten his own Harley, it was hardly fair for Ava to be the only Stark without two-wheels. Pop had, reluctantly, agreed that Ava was the odd man out in that respect. And Pop also know how much Ava hated feeling anything less than a full-fledged Stark. Pop had almost changed his mind, though, when Ava took him to the dealer and instead of fingering a Harley for her first real ride, she’d sidled up to a Honda CB1000R. Pop’s jaw had clenched, his eyes had darkened.
The bike in question went right up to the line of being classified as a racer, but didn’t quite go over. “The first time you get a ticket Ava, the very first time, that bike is gone,” he’d sworn.
So, he’d caved on the bike as a graduation present to his only daughter. Ava thought rainbow hair might be pushing her luck. Technically, she was 18 an adult, but she still lived at home for the time being. And she’d never disrespect her Pop.
Cell phone safely stowed in an inside pocket, Ava retrieved her own leather jacket and zipped it up. The red leather gleamed and fit her like a glove. Her jeans were tight, as well. Adam couldn’t argue about it because she’d pleaded motorcycle safety. Baggy pants and bikes didn’t mix well. Ava’s calf-high boots had one an half inch treads which didn’t make her as tall as Jeannie in her stack heels, but gave Ava some height, none the less. Ava tucked her disappointingly blonde hair up into her helmet and with a flick of her wrist, brought the visor down.
No matter how many times everyone lectured her on the rules of the road, Ava always felt safe once she was fully clad in her leathers and helmet. She waved goodbye to Jeannie and headed, not out the front, but down the back hall. To her left were the wooden stairs that led up the small apartment Jonah was now occupying. Straight ahead was the back door. Stepping through it, Ava saw that the sun was only just setting. Her Honda looked almost dwarfed next to Jonah’s large soft tail Harley, but Ava didn’t care. The Honda was hers, her ride. And she adored it.
Hiking her leg up over the seat, she turned the key and the engine roared to life. Her gloved hands revved it just a bit as she enjoyed the feel of all those horses between her thighs. She had no time to waste, though, as it would be full-on night soon and she had somewhere to be. She left her phone tucked away as she’d already memorized tonight’s route. She pulled out of the back parking lot, headed down the alley, and signaled a turn onto the street that fronted the tattoo shop. As she waited at the light, a large Mustang pulled up beside her. Ava turned to look.
Apparently Donny had stop at the burger joint on the corner after Adam had tossed his ass out. Maybe he was soothing the sting with onions and ketchup. He jawed as enthusiastically on a patty as he had his tobacco. Ava’s stomach turned as she wondered if he’d even bothered to spit out the chew first. Donny took another bite, glanced over, and paused.
In her jacket and helmet, he couldn’t possibly recognize her as the receptionist from Stark Ink. In fact, unless they recognized the bike and helmet, it wasn’t unusual for Ava to be mistaken for just another teenage boy if you didn’t look too closely. Her boobs, sadly, were a tad on the smaller side and completely dwarfed in her jacket when it was zipped up. Donny had no clue who he was looking at.
He didn’t seem to care, though. He ditched his burger and laid on his accelerator. The Mustang’s engine roared loudly, muffled only somewhat by Ava’s fully enclosed helmet. She rolled her eyes. It wasn’t the first time. It wouldn’t be the last. There seemed to be some unspoken war between the good ol’ boys with their American muscle cars and the local kids with their crotch rockets. Racing was a bit of a problem in downtown Rapid City. Especially in the summer. Ava’s hand flexed on the grip of her bike. The hot June sun couldn’t disappear fast enough, as far as she was concerned. Donny revved his engine again. When she turned to him, he jerked his chin.
She should have ignored him. Street racing would eventually earn her a one-way ticket to walking everywhere she went. Pop would be livid. But the image of Donny the Douche slobbering over Ava’s B-cups as he made his tattoo appointment came unbidden into her mind. Donny was irritating and too full of himself. Plus, he was a Douche. And Ava could handle a douche like Donny.
She twisted back to her bike and squeezed the grips. She kept one foot on the pavement and the other jammed onto the peg. Ready, steady. The light on the cross street switched from green to yellow and Ava revved her bike. She let her back wheel spin a bit, kicking up some smoke as the rubber made contact with the blacktop. Not too much, though, she cautioned herself. She needed those tires for later.
Ava held the gas and the handbrake simultaneously as the cross light went red. One second later, her own light gave her (and Donny) the all-clear. Ava let go of the handbrake and the Honda leapt forward into the intersection. Donny’s own tires squealed almost gleefully as he rocketed past the crosswalk, which for their purposes, doubled as a starting line. They both made it through the intersection and down the street in seconds flat. The distance to the next light was actually slightly less than a quarter mile, which was better for Ava since her bike was more agile and faster off the start than the Mustang. As she was about to let off the gas, right after she won, she noticed dumbass Donny wasn’t conceding.
Well, of course he wasn’t. He was, after all, a Douche.
He maintained his excessive speed even as they approached the next intersection. Asshole, thought Ava. Everyone knew an impromptu race was only between crosswalks. “Sonofabitch,” she muttered. Her head told her to let go of the gas. Her pride wouldn’t let her lose that easily. “We can play this way,” she half-whispered as parked cars zipped past her peripheral vision, mere streaks of black, red, and gray. “You’re not gonna win.” She leaned forward, stabilizing her grip on the gas.
Few things were as pulse-pounding as barreling down a city street on two wheels. Except maybe crashing, which Ava realized she was about to do. She cursed. The epithet got lost in her helmet, never making its way to its intended target. The rear fender of Donny’s Mustang came within inches of her leg. She hit the handbrake and fell back, just behind the bumper of the car. Sixty feet, maybe a bit less, until the next light, so little and still so far with 2,000 pounds of Detroit steel blocking her.
Ava moved left along the guy’s rear, inching toward the double yellow. He tried to nudge over, box her out, but only just a bit of his left side tires crossed the line. A sedan screeched by going in the opposite direction, horn blaring. The Mustang jerked back toward the right. Ava smirked. He was afraid. She could sympathize. The paint job on the muscle car— flames licking everywhere, competing with the shiny chrome— must have cost about as much as Ava’s Honda.
But to win big you had to risk big. And even though there were no stakes in this particular race— just some asshole redneck who’d challenged her at the light— Ava took racing seriously. Any kind of racing, every kind. She’d only been doing it for three months, but it felt like longer.
She pulled left, way over the center line, and shifted into the next gear. Leaning over, back rigid, she gunned the Honda. Up ahead there was an SUV turning into the lane and another car approaching the intersection beyond that. The SUV’s headlights flashed in Ava’s eyes. The Mustang fishtailed a bit, as though the driver had panicked and hit the brakes too hard. The road was dry as a bone but at this speed, handling could still be an issue.
Ava turned in just a tiny bit, narrowly missing the SUV’s front bumper as it swung wide, too wide, to make such a simple turn. She caught a glimpse of long hair, hoop earrings, a gaping mouth red-ringed with lipstick. Women drivers, Ava huffed and shook her head. She kept on the gas and ducked back into her own lane, now ahead of the Mustang, and sailed under the traffic light just as it ticked from yellow to red. The Mustang was at a standstill in the intersection, rocking on its chassis.
In a fit of anger, he laid on the horn. The blast was high-pitched, almost whiny. Ava glanced back to see him giving her the finger. She laughed as she signaled her lane change and took the ramp for the interstate. Two minutes and two gears later, the lights of Rapid City fell away. Long shadows cast by the full moon fell across the hills and blotted out the silhouette of the trees in the distance.