Home > Black Hearts (Sins Duet #1)(3)

Black Hearts (Sins Duet #1)(3)
Author: Karina Halle

“He still overprotective?” she asks. “He knows by now you can defend yourself, right?”

I let out a soft laugh. “Honestly, I think he would be more worried for his friends.” I had way too much fun being the teasing, bratty younger sister to Ben while growing up.

Though he’s just four years older, Ben has always been overprotective of me, even though our father had us both in martial arts from an early age, who knows why. We were so young when we started karate and judo that it just became our thing. As we got older and were able to make our own decisions about sports and extracurricular activities, we decided to stick with it, albeit in different ways. I did some Capoeira during high school and still do kickboxing. Ben got into MMA when he was a teen and he’s still training, even competing in state fights.

I’m grateful for it though. While my friends were all forced to play the piano or football, my brother and I were out there after school, learning to kick ass. My dad’s in really good shape but when we press him about whether he did anything like MMA or some kind of fighting when he was younger, he says he was always a lover, not a fighter.

“It’s a good skill to have,” he would always say. “You never know when you’ll need to defend yourself.”

And he’s been right, unfortunately. It was only last year that I was attacked walking up our street, just around Buena Vista Park. It was some sketchy dude, high as a kite, trying to take my backpack, but I managed to deliver a kick to his face before I ran all the way home. At first I was too terrified to walk anywhere alone after that, but then I threw myself back into kickboxing and even had Ben train me in some MMA stuff. Now I feel ready for a fight, even though I hope the opportunity never arises again. It’s just good to feel confident that you can protect yourself.

“Well, maybe we should stop hanging out in the Castro,” Ginny muses, now moving on to babydoll lace camisoles and teddies. “You’re never gonna meet a straight guy at drag queen bingo.”

“Honestly, I’m fine being single,” I tell her, wanting to drop the subject. “I’ll live vicariously through you and Tamara.”

Ginny raises her brows to the heavens. “Like hell you will. Look at you, girl. You’re twenty, you’re stupidly pretty, you have amazing hair, and your thighs and booty make anyone with a pulse want to give them a good ol’ smack. You can have anyone you want. You just have to meet them. And you have to want them.”

“Suddenly I have the urge to get back outside and take some pictures,” I tell her. This sort of talk makes me uncomfortable.

But after Ginny is done with her shopping, she heads out to her apartment in Emeryville and I get on the bus heading home, my mind flipping back and forth between the idea of absolution and thought of never finding the right guy, two entirely different trains of thought that somehow feel the same.

I get off the bus on Haight, just before Ashbury, and my world is back to damp fog. I take my fringe scarf out of my messenger bag and quickly wrap it around my neck as I make my way toward my father’s tattoo parlor.

Sins & Needles is the reason we moved down from Gualala to the city back when I was twelve. My father used to have a successful shop by the same name in Palm Valley in SoCal, before I was born. I imagine he must have sold it for a pretty penny back then and let the stocks grow, because sometimes I wonder how on earth my parents could afford to not only buy a business on upper Haight but a house around the corner. San Francisco housing prices have been the highest in the country for decades now and I know my parents do okay for themselves with their businesses, but they’re still artists, not traders or lawyers.

The door chimes above me as I step inside the shop, my nose met with the familiar smells of antiseptic, ink, and incense from the hippie shop next door. Sometimes I can only stay inside the shop for a few minutes because the patchouli and sandalwood scent is too overpowering for me, but today it’s mild.

Lloyd is leaning against the glass counter, flipping through an old, faded magazine. He looks up at me, his long hair falling across his eyes, and smiles. Lloyd’s been working at the shop since the start and I’ve seen him go from a gangly and guileless twenty-something to an accomplished artist, taught by my father. What hasn’t changed is his awkward affection for me, whether he has a girlfriend or not.

“Hey,” I say, eyeing my father in the corner of the room where he’s diligently working on a client. My father eyes me briefly, his eyes crinkling warmly before going back to small talk. He’s working on a design on a guy’s shoulder, probably a new person since I’ve never seen that crazy green mohawk before.

“Hey yourself, cutie pie,” he says. Lloyd has called me cutie pie since I was twelve, and I have to be honest, I’m glad it hasn’t evolved into anything sexual, especially with my dad always within earshot. “How’s school so far?”

I sigh, plopping my camera bag on the counter. “Shitty. Feeling way over my head and totally overwhelmed.” I pause, knowing being overwhelmed is pretty much the status quo for me. “What else is new?”

“Give it some time, you just started a new year. Everyone is a little creaky when they’re getting used to something. Camden could tell you exactly how long it took for me to stop fucking up shade work.” I hear my dad grumble at that.

“Then it’s a good thing I didn’t let your needle touch me until you were a pro,” I tell him.

“How is your T-rex doing?”

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