Hope Donnigan is finally getting her life together. She's working a job she likes, has some amazing friends, and is steering clear of Mr. Wrong. Now if only she could get her mother to understand that. Maybe a hot tattoo artist from the other side town is just the ticket to teach her mom a lesson.
J.T. Webster fell for Hope months ago at his sister's wedding. So when she propositions him to be her fake boyfriend to get her mother off her back, he's all in. The only problem is J.T. had no idea their pretend relationship would be better than anything real he's ever had…
He froze for a moment, feeling déjà vu. He kept hearing Hope Donnigan’s voice in the weirdest places. Although she had actually been at his dad’s on Friday. He turned to see her standing by the wall-mounted screen to his right. Huh. She was really here.
She wore open toed sandals showing off dainty, blue painted toenails. Shapely legs disappeared under a knee-length, floral sun dress. A cropped sweater hid her shoulders. She looked like the essence of summer, and he wanted to kneel down in worship. Innocence radiated from her in waves, as if begging him to muss her a little and show her just what heels like those would look like on either side of his head.
He should have felt dirty for wanting to muddy that innocence. Instead, he grew more aroused. Hell.
“Hi.” She smiled at him.
His heart raced. Damn, that dimple slayed him every time.
“He says hi back,” Suke said dryly. “I’m Suke, one of the harder working artists around here. I take it you know J.T.?”
Hope nodded. “Great place. I hadn’t realized it was down here.”
As she and Suke spoke, he watched them interact. Hope didn’t seem to care that Suke had tattoos up and down her arms, piercings in her nose and lip, and spiked black hair in a dare-to-be punk style. Nor did she seem to mind the way Suke was eye-fucking her.
“Hey.” He growled; he minded.
Suke grinned. “I’m leaving for the day. You need me to stick around and lock up? Maybe walk Hope out to her car?”
Suke chuckled and left.
He laughed. “Suke? She busts our balls on a daily basis, but we love her. Now what brings you to the lion’s den?”
She grinned. “Is that what this is? The sign outside said Tull Paint & Body.”
“Yeah, a play on Auto Paint & Body, like a car paint shop. I worked for my dad before I opened the place, and some of him stuck.” Jesus, he was babbling.
He shrugged, searching for calm. “My dad was a Jethro Tull fan. Sounded cool when I was twenty-five.” He paused, shoving his hands in his pockets so he wouldn’t tuck a stray strand of her golden hair back behind her ear. “What’s up, Hope?”
She flushed, now looking uncomfortable. “Ah, this is kind of awkward. I have a favor to ask.” She didn’t say any more.
She looked so damn adorable. He couldn’t help himself. He had to mess with her. “Okay. So you want a baby without the commitment. I get it. You want to make one right here or in the back room? Do you have some paperwork for me to sign first? You know, about rights for the kid?”
“What? No.” She blinked at him. “Have you done that before?”
“Nah, but I can’t think of a more awkward conversation. So now that I know you’re not here to use me and abuse me, what can I do for you?”
“Ah, actually…” Her face turned bright red.
He gaped. “Shit. Really?” He took a step closer. “You want to abuse me? I’m game.”
“J.T.” She blew out a breath. “I have a problem. And I kind of dragged you into it.”
“Color me intrigued.” He led her to the high-backed purple leather chairs by a coffee table, on which a print portfolio of their work lay, along with some other tattoo mags.
“Sorry,” Hope apologized. She crossed her legs to sit demurely in the chair, and his heart threatened to leap from his chest. He wondered if she felt the same sexual chemistry he had since the first time he’d laid eyes on her.
Probably not, since she didn’t seem affected by him. She was shy, gorgeous, and could have any guy she wanted with the crook of her finger. He couldn’t imagine why she needed his help, but whatever. He was game. And truth be told, he felt protective of her. She was a weird extension of family his sister had married into.
“Hope? Just tell me.”
“It’s my mother. She’s such a pain.” Hope glared, and he was taken aback by the fierceness out of a woman he’d never seen be anything but pleasant. “She was on me about dating some rich guy. A doctor this time. Then she was riding me about my job, my lifestyle, being boring. You name it. She jumped on my nerves and ground them to nothing.”
“Ah, sorry.” He still didn’t see what part he had to play in this.
“So I mentioned I was dating someone. A tattoo artist who had baby mommas everywhere and had done time. Have you done time? Because that would be good.”
He blinked. “Huh?’
Like a steamroller, she continued, “I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend the next time I have to go to dinner at Mom and Dad’s. And you need to be awful.”
He didn’t like the tone of this drama. “What? Play the big bad black man to scare your lily-white mom?”
She snorted. “Please. If only it was that easy to scare Linda Donnigan.”
He relaxed, more than glad to know she couldn’t care less about his skin color. “Then what do you need, exactly?”
“My mother loves men and women of all races, genders, and sexualities. But she’s a snob. It’s all about money and success to her. If you’re not dying to be president, you’re nothing.”
“President as in…?”
“The top of whatever your career is, or the actual POTUS. With Linda, it could be either,” she said wryly. “I have no drive to be more than Cam’s assistant right now. I work at my cousin’s investment firm, and I’m basically a glorified secretary. But I’m okay with that.”
“You don’t sound okay.” She sounded frustrated.
“I am. Mostly.” She sighed. “Look, none of this is your fault. I needed someone I thought my mother wouldn’t like.”
“That hurts.” He wasn’t lying.
“It’s not personal. She doesn’t know you, J.T. But she’s not a fan of tattoos at all. And you look tough. So I thought, who do I know who would freak my mother out?”
“Yes.” She smiled. “I just need you to pretend to be my new boyfriend a few times. Then we can ‘break up’ and she’ll never know.”
“I have met your mom, you know. It was brief, at Del’s wedding. She might remember.” He frowned. “Then again, she was drinking that night.”
“She’s good like that.” Hope leaned closer and grabbed his hand.
The feel of her smaller palm against his had sweat break out on his forehead. He stared into her honey gold eyes and felt himself nodding.
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