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Ink or Swim

Book 1

Closing her tattoo shop in the city to reopen it in a small town was just the change Dakota Maddison needed. Longing for a quieter life, she traded her sixth-floor apartment for a house with a porch and view of the beach.

While she was busy putting finishing touches on her shop for the grand opening, local law enforcement knocked on her door. Dakota expected a friendly welcome to the neighborhood but was instead met with a warning to not leave town.

A competitive swimmer's body had been found floating in the pool at the recreation center and Dakota was the prime suspect in the murder.

Already overwhelmed with needing to organize her home and shop, welcome her guest artists, and entertain her best friend, Declan, and his cat, Diesel, her desire for a calmer lifestyle was all but forgotten when she was forced to add sleuthing to the list. Every new piece of evidence pointed directly to her, and the town sheriff and many residents were determined to see her found guilty.

Will Dakota be able to find a way to clear her name, maintain her freedom, and keep her business afloat?

Chapter 1

Echoes of my own footsteps were all I could hear as I made my way down the hall. I took a deep breath and opened the door just wide enough so I could slip through. I was later than I intended to be, but it sounded like I had made it to the town hall meeting just in time. Despite the chill still present in the evenings, I shivered from the icy blast of the air conditioning vent directly above me. The hoodie and jeans I had on were no match for the arctic setting the system had been set to.

I had only been in town, officially, for two days and several people had already warned me about Annette. Rumor had it she was crass, the town gossip, and extremely averse to change. She was standing in the middle of the room, demanding attention. "All I'm saying is, we have two days left until this… shop… opens and we should be banding together to stop it before our town becomes overrun by hoodlums and motorcycle gangs. This is a peaceful area and we owe it to our residents and tourists to keep it crime free."

The heavy, wooden door behind me chose the most inopportune time to latch shut. Every attendee turned their head in my direction. I mumbled through gritted teeth. "Sorry."

Annette used my presence to her advantage even though the look on her face told me she was annoyed by the disruption. "Well, I don't know who you are but you're a perfect example." She turned toward the front of the room again. "See her? She's tiny. How is she supposed to protect herself from some biker?" She spat the last word out, conveying her disgust. "How are any of us supposed to defend ourselves against an entire gang?"

"They're clubs."

Seething from the second interruption, she spun around, crimson faced. "Excuse me?"

I stepped forward and raised my voice to ensure the entire room could hear me. "They're motorcycle clubs, not gangs."

Annette rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "You're arguing over my word choice? I'm… I'm sorry, but who are you? And why should I give a rat's tail what you think?"

I squared my shoulders and flashed a comically large smile. "I'm Dakota Maddison, owner of Satin Mystique Tattoo. I believe it's my friends you're trying to protect everyone from."

She put her hand over her heart and gasped. "You?" She let her mouth fall open for a moment. "You're the one who owns the tattoo shop?"

I smirked and nodded, watching as she tried to sort it out in her head. With my arms and legs covered, people could never guess what I did for a living. I had shoulder length, blonde hair, wore minimal makeup, and was able to cover all my tattoos if, and when, I wanted to. Tonight, was one such occasion.

Annette sat down quietly, embarrassed by her words, and didn't speak again for the remainder of the evening. Once the meeting ended, I made my way out to my car and had just reached it when I heard someone call out my name. I turned back to see a petite brunette walking briskly toward me.

"Hey. I just wanted to apologize for Annette. She's always quick to judge."

"It's not your job to apologize for her. People can have their own opinion, even when that opinion is based on bias rather than fact."

"Well, she can come across harshly at times. But she's also not wrong. No one in this town wants you or your criminal friends here."

"Huh. That's so weird because between myself and my guest artists, we have over fifty residents signed up to come in for tattoos during our grand opening weekend. Makes me think maybe some people do want me here." I reached forward and opened my car door.

"I'm not done talking to you." She raised her voice loud enough that a small group of people stopped to watch. "I want to know why you're here."

My heart was beginning to race and I could feel the flush crawling across my cheeks. I had to remind myself to keep my temper at bay. "I'm here because I want to be. I moved away from the city because I wanted a quieter life, a slower pace. My parents and I stayed here every year during the summers when I was growing up and I liked the town. Now, is that all or would you like to know what I had for breakfast as well?"

She rolled her eyes. "I just want to be clear. We don't want you here. I would recommend looking for another place to open your little shop before you embarrass yourself."

"I have no intention of doing either of those things, but I appreciate your concern." I got in my car and took a quick look around before slamming the door shut. It looked as though everyone from the meeting had formed a crowd around us. I wondered how many of those people felt the same way.