Intimately Inked

Emily Dominique

Plato Foster is known for many things: his artwork, his empathic abilities ... and his connection to an elite ring of assassins. Isolating himself from the hatred of others, he keeps everyone but his adopted daughter and his best friend at arm’s length. When Plato gets a new shop neighbor named Sebastian Keys with a child the same age as his, Plato isn’t sure what surprises him more—that someone actually likes him or that whenever he sets eyes on Sebastian he gets butterflies like a schoolboy. But with demons from his past clawing their way to the present, how could he possibly have a future with Sebastian?

Age Rating: 18+ (Assault, Child Abuse, Depression, Domestic Violence, Extreme Violence/Gore, Kidnapping, Self-Harm, Suicide, Torture)

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Intimately Inked - Book cover

Intimately Inked

Emily Dominique

Plato Foster is known for many things: his artwork, his empathic abilities ... and his connection to an elite ring of assassins. Isolating himself from the hatred of others, he keeps everyone but his adopted daughter and his best friend at arm’s length. When Plato gets a new shop neighbor named Sebastian Keys with a child the same age as his, Plato isn’t sure what surprises him more—that someone actually likes him or that whenever he sets eyes on Sebastian he gets butterflies like a schoolboy. But with demons from his past clawing their way to the present, how could he possibly have a future with Sebastian?

Age Rating: 18+ (Assault, Child Abuse, Depression, Domestic Violence, Extreme Violence/Gore, Kidnapping, Self-Harm, Suicide, Torture)

1: Chapter One

Silence filled the shop. Only one appointment left for the day, and walk-ins were rare.

I found myself sitting in my office-turned-studio, tongue stuck out the side of my mouth, brow furrowed in concentration as I lost myself in the lines of my latest drawing.

Soon, Blaine would get off the bus in front of the shop, waltz right in like she was the queen, and sit at the little desk I had brought in so she could draw or work on homework while she waited for me to finish for the evening.

Black lines swirled around the lavender page, resembling birds on a decrepit willow tree, matching the silky ink-colored hair that I kept in a loose bun while I worked.

My black, thick-framed glasses kept sliding down my nose.

I pushed them up with my free hand and bit my lip, working at the shading on the side of the tree. It was as thick and dark as the liner I’d traced around my amber eyes that morning.

I jumped when the front bell rang and cursed under my breath at the errant line that’d skittered across the page.

Rolling my eyes, I shoved the paper to the edge of the desk, stood up, and walked out of the studio.

The lobby right outside was covered in black marble with sharp white accents to spruce it up. But the furniture, decor, and frames around the artwork were an amalgamation of the entire color spectrum.

This was partly a result of my personal enjoyment in clashing absurd decor with the modern sleekness of the room—and partly from going along with my young daughter’s suggestions when I last renovated my shop.

Either way, I’d grown to love the contradiction of it. And slowly but surely, my clients had too.

On the other side of my obnoxiously violet desk stood a man with dirty-blond—almost brown—hair, who just barely reached my height.

He wore a pair of tight, black jeans and a gray sweatshirt with DANCE printed on it in cursive.

He smiled brightly, making eye contact with me. “Hi, I stopped by for an appointment.”

I blinked and glanced down at my sheet. Sebastian Keys…

I glanced back up at the man. He had light blue eyes, a dimple in his left cheek, and hair that looked like he’d rubbed gel into it every which way that morning.

“You must be Sebastian,” I said, smiling politely. “You’re here a bit earlier than I expected.”

“Sorry,” Sebastian said sheepishly, wrinkling his nose. It was cute. “I just finished unpacking, and I’m trying to kill some time before my daughter gets off the bus. Were you busy?”

“No, not really.” My shoulders tensed as I felt the discomfort radiating off Sebastian. But that was normal for an empath—what differentiated me from other empaths was that I was a people pleaser every chance I got.

I shrugged. “In fact, it works out perfectly that you’re here now. You were my last appointment for the day, so this means I can close up shop early.”

Blaine had been bugging me about going to see the new art exhibition at the museum downtown, so leaving early could give us enough time to do it.

Sebastian grinned. “Happy I could help then.”

“So, were you looking to get the tattoo done today, or did you just want the art consult?”

“Just the art for today. I don’t think my daughter can sit still long enough for me to get the piece too.”

I nodded. “How old is she?”

“Seven.”

“Great age. They’re finally starting to pick up sarcasm.” I smirked, thinking of how sassy Blaine had gotten over the last year and a half.

Sebastian snorted. “Tell me about it.”

“Well, Sebastian, if you’d like to step into my studio, we can start working on your sketch.” I gestured for him to follow me.

The studio was much smaller than the lobby, but it had a high ceiling that gave the illusion of being more spacious. Like the lobby it was sleek and black, but Blaine’s creative taste in decor had penetrated this room as well.

However, it had a touch more of my preferences in it since most of the artwork on the walls were my creations. Blaine had a small area around her desk to hang her own art.

I sat behind my desk and pulled over one of the spare chairs so Sebastian could sit next to me as I worked. As I opened my notepad, Sebastian took a seat.

“This is a gorgeous building,” he said.

“Thank you.”

“I’m your new neighbor, you know.”

I blinked, frowning as I glanced up from the computer. “What?”

“Shop neighbor,” he clarified, motioning toward the front door. “I moved into the shop across the street a couple weeks ago.”

“Oh.” I shook my head, chuckling at myself. “Sorry. Um, are you new to town?” That could be a good thing. Sebastian would be unaware of who I actually was.

Then again, I hadn’t picked up the judgmental, malicious vibes I got from everyone else who had walked through my door.

While they loved my work—anyone who came in here became a repeat customer—none of them particularly liked me. I couldn’t really blame them either. I didn’t like myself.

“Eh, kind of. I grew up here and moved away after school.”

“What brought you back here?” Blackwell Hollow was a nice little town. There were always things to do and new things to try, and it was incredibly artsy.

But it was far from being a city. Everything closed down by midnight. Despite being a town of immortals, it was like the entire place was made up of people somewhere between dead and dull.

“I’ve wanted to open my own dance studio for years, and I knew the rent was cheaper here than in a city.”

Sebastian shrugged. “Not to mention I know some of the property owners, so they’d cut me a deal on the lease. It just seemed like the perfect place.”

“So you’re opening a dance studio next door?” I’d noticed work being done on the shop across from mine but hadn’t paid enough attention to venture a guess.

Honestly, I hadn’t even realized my previous neighbor moved out.

While owners and staff from the surrounding shops came in for graphics, decor advice, and tattoos, none of them dropped by to chat or act neighborly.

And despite being one of the focal points on the strip, I didn’t get invited to local shop gatherings and didn’t make a habit of socializing with the other shop owners.

None of them particularly cared for my presence, so I kept to my corner.

Sebastian nodded. “Yep! I’m going to be offering classes as well.”

“Really? My daughter has been talking about trying dance.”

“How old is she?”

“She just turned eight two months ago.”

“Well, once things are up and running in the next couple of weeks, I’ll bring an information sheet by. You and your daughter can talk about signing up.”

“Thank you.” I looked back at the computer and opened a new file. “Okay, tattoo things… What are you looking to get?”

“I want to get something for my daughter. I’ve been trying to get it for years now, but no one has been able to capture how much I care about her and how special she is.”

I nodded, feeling Sebastian’s love for his daughter bloom inside my chest, warming it. It reminded me of how I felt about my own child.

I slipped a sheet of paper off the rack and grabbed my marker from earlier. “Tell me about what she likes or things that make you think of her.”

“She likes birds. Birds and dancing. She’s a very free spirit, kind, always happy to help others.”

Sebastian chuckled softly, and I felt his chest tighten, like he had too much emotion to know how to handle. “She’s the best thing in my life.”

“I’m sure you and your partner are lucky to have her.” I smiled as I glanced up from my sheet to type in some notes about what she liked.

The paper was just for sketching out any emotions I picked up on while Sebastian spoke, so I’d be able to weave it into the work.

That was why I had made such a name for myself in the tattoo industry, after all. As an empath, I could infuse emotions and passions into my art that other artists couldn’t.

I created art from the client’s emotions, making it a more individualized, personal experience for them. And not only did I enjoy doing it, my clients fucking loved it.

“I’m actually single,” Sebastian said. “Maggie’s mother was a soldier, and she was deployed not even six months after Maggie was born. She died in combat.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I noticed a slight shift in Sebastian’s emotions, but it wasn’t gut-wrenching, it wasn’t fresh. He’d healed since then.

“Thanks. That’s always the way she wanted to go though, so…” He shrugged, shaking his head. “Anyway…is it okay if I call you Plato?”

I nodded. “Absolutely. Just by being around me you’re subjecting yourself to having all of your emotions filtered, so formalities really have no place here.”

“Well, you can call me Seb. That’s what all my friends call me.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling more than awkward.

This was the first time in years anyone new had so much as alluded to me being their friend. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it, especially since Seb probably had no fucking idea who I was.

As I worked on a few more pieces of my sketch, I analyzed all the emotional waves I felt from Sebastian. Not once did I detect anything even slightly negative.

There were a few tinges of sadness—likely related to his old partner’s death—but overall, the feelings were warm and happy, full of love and care.

Even when the room grew quiet and I began losing myself in the sketch and Seb’s emotions, I didn’t notice any bumps, any sudden jolts of malice.

It was strange—and a testament to how irrevocably fucked-up I was—how fucking guilty I felt that Seb didn’t know, that he wasn’t just barely tolerating me long enough for me to do my work.

On the other hand, what a nice change of pace it was. Everyone except my daughter and best friend loathed me. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t doing enough, I was a selfish brat, I was stupid.

I used to be able to put faces to the phrases, but now? I’d felt each emotion, each thought, so fucking frequently that remembering anything else about myself was a challenge.

That was probably why I never bothered attempting to make friends: I knew I wouldn’t be able to.

And even if I could, they’d eventually think the same thing everyone else did, so there was no point in wasting my time trying.

“Oh gods, is that what time it is?” Seb asked suddenly, his chair scraping against the floor as he slid it back.

I glanced up at the clock. 2:30 p.m. The bus would be here soon. “Does your daughter get off at the stop here?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I figured since I’d be at the studio around this time most weekdays, it made more sense for her to come here after school.”

I stood from my desk and motioned for Seb to follow me out of the studio. “My daughter stops here too. We can wait for them outside if you’d like.”

“Yes, thank you. Since this is still so new for her, I worry about her remembering where to get off.”

We walked outside the shop and sat on the black bench right next to the road. I crossed my legs at the knee, propping my chin on my fist.

“I’ll work on the sketch and email a copy to you later tonight or tomorrow morning. Just let me know if you need any changes made or anything like that, and we can schedule another appointment from there.”

“Sounds good! Do you need me to pay you or—?”

“I don’t ask for payment until after you’ve been tattooed.”

“Don’t you worry about people coming in just to get your design, then going somewhere else to get it tattooed?”

“Not really. Just because an artist has my drawing doesn’t mean they’ll be able to completely replicate it.”

I shook my head. “Not to mention that several elements of the design usually contain magic, which can’t be traced like a sketch. That’s something only I can do.”

Seb nodded, eyebrows raised, looking impressed. “It’s no wonder you’re the first person people told me to go to when I talked about what sort of tattoo I wanted.”

I snorted. “I just hope that’s all they said about me.”

Before Seb had the chance to reply, the bus pulled up in front of the shop and several kids got off. The last two out were Blaine and a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, and a dimple in her cheek.

The girl followed Blaine over to the bench and went right up to Seb. She must’ve been his daughter.

“Dad, I made a new friend today!” Blaine said, amber eyes glowing. The afternoon sunlight made her hair look red instead of chestnut and her skin look like gold.

She tugged at the other girl’s hand. “This is Maggie!”

Maggie was looking at her father with the same level of excitement. “Daddy, this is Blaine! She’s in my class too, and she sat next to me, and played dragons with me at recess, and—”

“And we played astronauts too, and then we colored, and Mr. Fitz got mad ’cause we talked too much, and…”

At that point, both Blaine and Maggie were talking over one other, both going into detail about their day together, neither one of them syncing up with the other in their timelines.

I grinned and glanced over at Seb, who was just smiling away, glancing between the girls and nodding like he heard every word from each of them.

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I interjected. “It sounds like you both had a fun day.”

“We did!” Blaine beamed. “Oh, and Maggie’s dad is opening a dance place, and I wanna dance, so—”

“I actually met Maggie’s dad today, and we discussed signing you up for dance classes.” I gestured over to Seb, redirecting Blaine’s attention to him. “He’s going to let me know when I can and give us information for it.”

“Thank you so much, Maggie’s dad! You’re the best!”

Seb chuckled, his dimple more defined than when he smiled. “You’re very welcome, Blaine. I’ll be happy to have a friend of Maggie’s dancing with us.” He offered his hand to her. “You can call me Seb.”

“Hi, Seb.” She shook his hand.

“It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too!” Blaine looked over at her new friend. “Maggie, this is my dad!”

I grinned. “It’s nice to meet you, Maggie. My name’s Plato.”

“Hi, Plato,” she said.

“Well, as much as I’d like to stay and chat, I need to head back over to the studio to wrap up a few things,” Seb said, looking at me.

“No,” Maggie whined. “I wanna stay and play with Blaine.”

“Sorry, kiddo, but I need your help. Didn’t you want to put stickers on the kids’ cubbies?”

“Not now.”

I felt Maggie’s frustration build, as well as Seb’s panic. Most likely over having his child melt down in front of her new friend and his new neighbor.

“How about this,” I said. “We can schedule a day for you two to hang out and play. How does that sound?” I looked at Seb to gauge his reaction.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea. Saturday after lunchtime?”

I didn’t think I had any appointments on Saturday. “I’ll double-check my calendar, but I’m almost positive I’m free. I can email you—”

“Would you rather exchange numbers? It’ll be easier to text you.”

I agreed, rattling off my number once Seb fished his phone from his pocket.

“Great! I’ll text you later tonight about Saturday.” Seb looked at the girls. “Would that be okay with you two?”

Neither one of them seemed particularly pleased.

Blaine huffed. “I guess it’s okay, even though Saturday is forever away.”

“Today’s Wednesday,” I said, frowning at her.

“Yeah. It’s forever.”

Maggie nodded. “Forever and ever and ever.”

“Just think, you’ll get to see each other tomorrow at school. Doesn’t that help?” Seb said.

Maggie scrunched her nose. “I guess.”

Seb smiled and ruffled her hair. “Okay, let’s get back to the studio.” He stood from the bench and glanced back at me. “Text you tonight! It was good meeting you.”

“You too,” I said. Blaine popped up on the bench beside me, and as I watched Seb and his daughter cross the street, I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be just another shop neighbor or client.

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