Sins of the Flesh
Chapter One

You see the world and translate it as perfection through art. Each design, each well-placed stroke of a pencil, every detailed line when you move a tattoo machine over flesh. No one can compare to you or the beauty you create. Your body itself is a canvas, a sublime nirvana of refinement. My hands seek to explore your flawless skin, the art on it, and then, when the time comes, I will present your creative genius to the world.

Everything will fall into place. Your name, your pureness, will forever be preserved. The world will fawn over everything that you are, everything you have created. My excitement grows as the moment nears.

Sin, we will meet soon.

Cindy ‘Sin’ Masters crumpled the creepy ass note in her clenched fingers. It’d been left under the wiper on the front windshield of her old beat up, navy blue town car.

Three macabre letters ago, she hadn’t thought much of it. Someone playing a joke, maybe, or some kids trying to prank someone. She’d ignored it, tossed it in the back seat, and been on her way.

Now, her freak-the-fuck-out meter was on the rise. Unease settled, and anxiety swam around in her belly like it was a community pool. She dialed Noah, who usually helped her close up the tattoo shop at three a.m., but today he’d left town to take care of a family emergency.

“Sin?” His gruff voice held concern.

“He left another one.” A fourth actually, unless more had gotten lost in the mail.

Fuck, she hoped not.

Noah sucked in a breath. “Are you in the car?”

“About to be.”

The back parking lot of the strip mall sat deserted. The old building only had three other stores. The 90s era smoke shop closed at ten, the Chinese food place at eleven, and the thrift shop at six. Masters of Ink Tattoo, her shop, that she’d scrimped and saved for, stayed open till two in the morning. A lot of people came in for late night tattoos, but rarely ever was there an early bird, which was why the opening hour was noon. Closing at two left about an hour to clean up, cash out, and go home to either work on her canvas or sleep for the night, depending on her mood.

Biting the inside of her cheek, Sin pulled the keys out of her army-green cross-body satchel. She had various buttons from different tattoo conventions, along with some fun flash art along the front. She pressed the clicker, and the car unlocked with a loud beep that echoed off the building before bouncing out into the warm night. She slid into the driver’s side, on the black dragon-covered seat, and made sure to lock the doors before putting the key in the ignition and turning it.

Nothing happened. No grumble as the engine tried to turn over, no lights flashing on. Just silence.

“Shit!” She tossed the letter on the passenger seat and rested her head against the steering wheel. The stiff, flecked leather bit into her skin as she tried to calm her palpitating heart.

“What?” Noah asked, concern tinging the edge of the word.

“Stupid, crappy, can’t-ever-hold-a-friggin’-charge fuckin’ battery isn’t working.”

“Are you serious?”

She clenched her jaw. “No. I want to joke about it because sitting in a deserted parking lot after some creepy bastard left me an even creepier note is totally my idea of a fun time.”

“Yeah. Okay. First of all, I told you to get a new car. Second of all, I also told you to let Honey install the security system inside and out of the shop. You realize that the place isn’t in the most sunshiny of suburbs, right?”

Noah just seemed to think she shit turds of green dollar bills.

True, the area wasn’t the greatest. Not the worst, either. Besides, all that stuff was expensive. Sin didn’t have that kind of flow, not yet. Not for another week. If her art show went off without a hitch, her work would be recognized. She’d had small snippets and mentions in magazines, but after her debut, she would be on the cover. Masters of Ink Tattoo would be booming in business. Yeah, she was booked now, but with that kind of hype, she wouldn’t have to worry about her bills for a good long while.

The show director, Lucas, had set her up with a sweet showroom and had all sorts of people coming in. There’d be a few other artists in the exhibit. She didn’t have a big enough portfolio to do it herself, not for the size of the place he got, but she was the featured artist. Flash art, portfolio photos, paintings, and drawings. All of it would be on display.

“Honey needs to focus on her tattoos,” Sin said.

The newest addition only had two years of doing ink under her belt. Six months of that time was at Masters of Ink. She had walked in with a small portfolio, a peppy can-do attitude, and a smile that lit the place up. Kid had raw talent. Just needed to learn how to fine-tune it. A true enough excuse, and the only one Sin could think of as a rebuttal.

“Honey is the best computer and electronics whiz I’ve ever met,” Noah said. “She’d have that shit done in no time before being back on the machine.”

“Can we talk about this after I figure out how to get out of the dark, ominous parking lot without being kidnapped?” She sat up and let out a breath.

The streetlights only showed so much of the darkness beyond the lot. Wild grass and weeds bent in at odd angles from the wind. A little farther past that, a dented and lame looking chain-link fence sat as a weak safety precaution to keep people from stumbling around into the canal at night.

“Keep your ass in the car,” Noah said in a stern tone. “I’ll send someone out to get you.”

“What are you going to do? Call the cops?” She rolled her eyes at the thought. They’d tried that after the second letter arrived.

She’d taken them to the police station to file a report. The Sergeant behind the desk had taken one look at all the tattoos adorning her thin frame and turned his lip up in a sneer. The judgmental prick took his dear sweet time getting her to an actual detective. It’d been a long night—or rather, morning. After having a lengthy conversation with a stern beauty named Detective Wallace, Sin had been informed without an actual threat to her physical safety, they couldn’t really do anything. They kept the notes as a precaution. Just in case anything did happen to her. She confirmed with Wallace—once someone actually attacked her, then they could do something. Until then, she was S.O.L. Didn’t instill any sort of confidence in Sin about the situation. Per usual, she couldn’t count on the people who were supposed to keep her safe.

He scoffed. “No. A friend.”

“What friend? Ya know what? Doesn’t matter.” She threw her hand up in frustration. “I’m going inside. It’s hot as framunda the devil’s nut sack, and since my car won’t start, that means no AC, Einstein.”

Even at the three in the morning, the midsummer Florida heat bogged down every living creature. It clung to her skin and made her tongue pasty. During the day, she’d seen the moisture lingering in the air. In the wee hours of the morning, even though it wasn’t visible, it tried to make its presence known by thickening the oxygen and making her nearly breathe water.

“I’ll get a Pick-Me-Up Ride from the luxury of my cool office and have the car fixed tomorrow,” she said.

Noah grumbled something unintelligible as Sin grabbed her things and got out.

“Gripe all you want, but I’m tired and I want cool air, damn it.” She locked the Lincoln and walked toward the back door of the shop.

“Just hurry up, would ya?”

The sound of something like carnival music drifted in over the phone. She raised a brow. “Where are you, anyway? Is everything okay with whatever the emergency is?”

As she talked, Sin kept an eye out on the empty parking lot. Her shop was on the corner of the building, giving her a view off to the side of the road. A few cars drove past. Downtown Fort Lauderdale always had something going on. Even on a Thursday night.

“I’ve got things under control. Are you inside yet?”

She huffed. “Not yet, Dad—“

A hand closed around her mouth. Her eyes widened as the guy knocked the phone from her hand. Sheer terror turned her veins to ice. She thrashed and kicked out, arms and legs flailing. The attacker must not have been ready for that, because they jerked back and took several steps into the darkness. The street light glinted off something metal in his hand. Before Sin could run, a charge of electricity hummed and sparked. A barb shot out. With a shriek, she twisted, trying to shield herself. Something pinched her side, but the pain she expected to feel didn’t come. She looked down. One barb had caught her in the fleshy part of her stomach just above her hip, but the other one landed in the rough fabric of her bag, right next to a ‘I Dig Guys With Tattoos’ pin.

Sin didn’t know why she wasn’t being electrocuted, but she didn’t really care. Taking the moment of confusion, she let out a ferocious cry and kicked out. Her foot slammed into the guy’s stomach. He groaned and bent over, holding his belly, while Sin took the opportunity to shove her key into the door and dash inside. Her heart slammed against her ribs like a jackhammer, and her hands trembled as she locked the door from the inside. The attacker banged against the thick metal, and Sin whimpered a bit, pressing her body against the other side to make sure he didn’t break it down.

The building alarm screeched quietly, before turning into a high-pitched wail when Sin didn’t put in the code. The phone rang just as the pounding on the door stopped. She let it ring. They’d automatically send a unit when she didn’t answer—Noah may have already called the cops when the cell phone had been knocked out of her hand.

Body trembling, Sin slid down the door. She pulled her knees up to her chest, rocking back and forth. Tears burned her eyes, but she wasn’t going to cry. No way would she give into that. No more crying, no more being a victim. She breathed in deeply through her nose, and it came out of her mouth as a shuttering exhale.

A siren echoed through the sound of the alarm. Sin forced herself to stand, despite the wobbling of her knees. As much as she tried, she couldn’t still the trembling of her hands. Taking a slow breath, Sin did what she could. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. A pinch in her side made her look down. The barb still stuck out of her skin. She didn’t know how a stun gun worked, or if that was normal. The world spun for a moment, and Sin gripped the counter to steady herself. She could just pull it out, but it might be good for the cops to see it actually sticking into her skin. Maybe they could trace it back to the type of stun gun or something. Sin didn’t really know how all that worked, but either way, she’d wait and see what the paramedics said.

When everything stilled, she went to the front door and opened it for the responding units. Red and blue lights swirled in the inky blackness of the night. Several uniformed officials came running toward her.

She wondered if this counted as a threat of bodily harm.

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