Beautiful Mess - Kasey Lane(ang.)

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Story Transcript

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Copyright © 2017 by Kasey Lane Cover and internal design © 2017 by Sourcebooks, Inc. Cover art by Craig White Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems— except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410 (630) 961-3900 Fax: (630) 961-2168


Front Cover Title Page Copyright Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3

Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15

Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Epilogue Beautiful Mess Playlist Acknowledgments About the Author Back Cover

This book is for Niko’s family and for every person who has ever felt so frightened they couldn’t go on. You are not alone; stay alive. #longlivenikø

Chapter 1

A tattoo shop was exactly the kind of place Jami Dillon, a certifiable pearl-clutching, sensibleshoe-wearing attorney at law, didn’t belong. Anymore. Jami stood in front of the building, staring at the flashing neon sign that read “Tatuaggio” in the window, and realized her brother had lost his ever-loving mind. There was no other way to explain the downward spiral Mason had been on since he’d gone crazy for the tattooed, blue-haired, pierced pinup girl Kevan Landry. His epic pitch

off course had started with him quitting his job as CEO of one of the biggest entertainment marketing companies on the West Coast, and now Jami was chasing him into a trendy Hawthorne neighborhood tattoo parlor in Portland. She could deal with a little idiocy due to increased hormones—her brother was only a man, after all—but this was getting ridiculous. Time to put her foot down before it got too out of control, before everything he’d worked so hard for crumbled into nothing. If Jami didn’t get involved, he’d end up a pathetic midthirties hipster grasping for his missed youth through heavy-metal concerts, trophy girlfriends, and tattoos. She’d smack some sense into her Ivy League brother and drag him back to reality. If Mason Dillon was anything, he was logical and ambitious. Like Jami. Solid. Dependable. All business. Jami straightened her light-brown blazer, smoothed her matching skirt, and gathered her courage for the inevitable battle. It wasn’t like she disapproved of his new fiancée. No, just the

opposite. Jami liked Kevan very much. When you got past her colorful hair and clothes, and all those tattoos, it was easy to see how Mason had fallen in love with the quirky ball of energy. But he’d moved past the deep end and was currently treading water in a sea of crazy. It was one thing to fall for the girl from the other side of the tracks—it was a completely different thing to turn yourself into the guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Which is how she found herself stomping into the quaint ivy-covered brick building with the Italian word for “tattoo” flashing obnoxiously in the window like some tacky, overly obvious, inkdrenched disco ball. The moment she pushed through the glass door, she was assaulted by the music of her youth. Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” blared from multiple speakers mounted high throughout the open room. The sound almost drowned out the hum of several tattoo machines busy permanently etching color into the skins of their paying victims. The song momentarily stunned her. She froze as

images of another lifetime disinterred themselves from the graveyard of her past. A flash of a door slamming. Tears and crying. The screeching of tires and the sickening crunch of metal bending in unnatural ways. Then the heavy, suffocating darkness. And then nothing. No. Now was not the time for that. Not after all these years. The tinkling of the bells over the shop door snapped her back to the present. She took in the scene while a voice called out, “I’ll be right with you. Gimme a second.” It had been over five years since she’d heard that deep, playful sound, but she recognized it immediately. The familiar baritone sent unwelcome shivers down her neck that continued down her spine. Her body responded almost instinctually to the low timbre. Her nipples tightened and long-forgotten desire pooled in her belly. Then her stomach clutched and the room tilted. After all this time. He was right here in Portland.

Jackson Paige. Jami usually had a quick-witted response for about every imaginable situation. Every scenario except the one where she ran into her college fling in a tattoo shop while attempting to save her brother from impending doom. She glanced around the busy shop and pressed her lips together, quickly trying to assess her next move. Stay and continue with her plan to set her brother straight? Or slowly back out of the shop’s lobby and run like hell before she opened a new can of worms? Her gut ached as though someone had punched her. “Hey, Jami,” her brother bellowed across the loud open room and waved her over. Like it was normal for them to be hanging out in a place like Tatuaggio. “Come meet Jax.” Her huge brother was leaning over a black, vinyl-covered chair angled mostly away from her, except for his face. Tissue paper covered in purple lines was pressed to his otherwise bare back. Behind him sat the stillrecognizable form of his tattoo artist, Jackson freaking Paige.

The long, wide hands that had once so skillfully explored her willing body now smoothed the stencil across Mason’s shoulder blades. Jackson’s toned arms were covered in colorful tattoos that danced as he transferred the stencil to her brother’s torso and then pulled it cleanly off. The corded muscles in his forearms flexed like steel cables. His messy dark brown hair was styled loosely in a rockabilly curl up over his forehead, but one rebellious lock fell forward over his eye. She knew she should turn and walk—or more likely run—away. Get the hell out before he turned around. But maybe she’d get lucky and he wouldn’t recognize her. She’d changed a lot since law school. Maybe it wouldn’t matter either way, and his big gorgeous brown eyes wouldn’t affect her like they used to. Maybe she’d feel nothing, and the hurt from his disappearance would stay buried, compartmentalized and stored away like all the wreckage of her past. While she stood there debating the million different ways the scene could unfold, the truth was

she couldn’t look away, couldn’t give up one more chance to admire the way the man’s body unfurled —like a lazy but lethal predatory cat—as he stood from the stool and turned, an indolent grin painting his full mouth before he even looked up to see the shop’s visitor. And the way his smile froze and his eyes widened as they met hers. It would have been almost comical and she would have laughed—if the adrenaline in her body hadn’t picked that exact moment to dump into her bloodstream and increase her pulse to triple its normal rate. And right away, there it was: the electric connection that sparked the second their eyes met. It zipped down her spine and through her limbs. A real, tangible current that felt both sharp and heavy at the same time, making her feel lighter and needy. Despite his obvious shock, she had to give Jackson credit for how quickly he schooled his features. He would have made an excellent lawyer. Fleetingly, his eyes widened and his scruffy but irritatingly angular jaw dropped. Then a sexy smirk spread across his lips. Pausing for a second

before crumpling the stencil, he tossed it into the trash against the wall without looking to see where the basket was. He made it. Of course. He continued toward the glass counter, toward her, with the same old deliberate gait. Slow, determined. Most people made the mistake of underestimating Jackson’s easy, good-ol’-boy demeanor. But she knew better. He wasn’t slow or uninvolved at all. He was always watching, always observing, always waiting. Patient. Like a hunter hiding in his blind, waiting for the perfect moment to strike down his target. He stood directly in front of her, staring down with that teasing, quiet way he had. The way that made all her girl parts go tingly and her brain fuzzy. With only the glass counter and wooden swing door separating them, she felt too close, too exposed, and too damn raw. Dammit. It wasn’t the reaction she wanted or expected from herself. She was bigger than the nonsensical hormones that had ruled her life so many years ago, the stupid emotions the darkly handsome man staring at her

had threatened to unleash. Before he’d rocked her world with multiple orgasms and darkly sweet words, only to steal away into the morning without a word. Jerk. That’s what he was. “Well, well, well.” His deep voice rumbled over her skin and burrowed into her chest, sending little tremors through her body. “If it isn’t sweet little JamiLynn Dillon—queen of good manners and all things appropriate.” The air in the room felt stifling, thick, and steamy. Could he see her pulse pounding in her neck or the very unattractive bead of sweat forming on her forehead? Awesome, counselor. Some cool-under-pressure lawyer I am. “Jackson.” It was all she could say. For once, Jami was at...

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