Bitsy stepped aside and let Colin pass her and come into the staff room. He was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and a pair of dark jeans that did, indeed, show off that nice butt Bitsy had mentioned. I stood, one hand shutting the laptop, the other in the air to stop him.
“Let’s go out there,” I said, indicating the hall. I moved past him, trying not to notice his musky scent. He must have poured a whole bottle of cologne on himself. But instead of it being a turnoff, I liked it.
I was getting too desperate if I was caving in to a guy who dressed like a girl. I needed a date.
Bixby followed me into my room, where I indicated he should sit in the client chair. I grabbed a sketchbook off the shelf and picked up a pencil before settling onto my chair. I settled a little too fast, though, and it started to roll. I stuck a foot down to stop it, but my knee connected with Bixby’s, and he flashed his sexy smile at me.
I cleared my throat and pushed away, my pencil poised.
“So what is it you want?” I asked, realizing too late that it was a loaded question and could mean just about anything. “I mean, well, what sort of ink do you want? Something small? Since it’s your first one.” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my tone.
He frowned. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked.
I sighed. Might as well get this over with. I pointed to his long sleeve on his right arm. “Can you just pull that up? I want to see it.”
More frowning. “See what?”
I shook my head. “Just do it, okay?”
He actually looked puzzled, then unbuttoned the cuff and shoved the sleeve up.
I did a double take. Really.
There was nothing there.
I peered more closely, wondering whether he’d had it removed. But I didn’t see any signs of laser surgery.
“What’s this all about, Brett?” he asked, his tone frosty.
I bit my lip and shrugged. “I thought you already had a tattoo,” I said.
“I told you I didn’t. And I must really like you, because this isn’t something I’d do on the spur of the moment.”
He didn’t sound like he really liked me at the moment, but I was too busy trying to register what he was saying.
“But Jeff Coleman-” I thought about the folder at Murder Ink, how I’d seen the name Colin Bixby. I wasn’t going crazy; it was there in black and white.
“Who’s that?” he asked. “Is he your boyfriend?”
I snorted. “Absolutely not,” I said with more force than I intended. “He owns Murder Ink. He said you got a tattoo.”
Bixby’s eyebrows moved so close together, they looked like they’d become one. “I never had a tattoo. I told you that.” He looked at my tattoo machine on the counter and sighed. “I’m not thrilled about needles.”
“Yeah, yeah, you said that,” I said, mulling this new information. If Colin Bixby hadn’t been the one at Murder Ink with Wesley Lambert and Rusty Abbott, then who was it? Who was using his name? “You said, too, that you know Kyle Albrecht. Do you know Wesley Lambert, too? Shanda Leer,” I added, trying to hide my smirk.
“I do,” he said.
“Lambert and a guy named Rusty Abbott-”
He knew all the players. How was he involved in all this? Because even though he didn’t have a tattoo, it was all a little too close for comfort.
“That’s right. Rusty Abbott, Lester Fine’s assistant. How do you know him?”
“What about him?” He was evading my question. I’d have to get back to it.
“Well, Abbott and Lambert and another guy went to Murder Ink after that Queen of Hearts Ball last year and got queen-of-hearts playing cards inked on their inner right forearms. Jeff Coleman told me that the third guy’s name was Colin Bixby.” I leaned back a little, studying his face to see his reaction.
“Well, it wasn’t me,” he said loudly. “I have no idea who it was. And I’ve never gone to a tattoo parlor with anyone, anytime.” He paused. “Except right now.”
I had to ask. It was eating me up inside.
“How do you know Kyle and Wesley? Are you a drag queen, too?”
His eyes grew wide, shock crossing his face. “You think…” His voice trailed off into a sort of cough.
“I don’t know what to think,” I said.
Bixby took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Brett, I’m not a drag queen. I’m not gay. I know Kyle because he’s my cousin.”
“But why would someone use your name when getting a tattoo?”
He shrugged. “Who knows?” But his jaw had tensed, be-lying his nonchalant tone.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to say your name is John Smith or something?” I was talking off the top of my head now and didn’t exactly expect an answer.
“Rusty Abbott and I don’t get along very well. Maybe it was his idea of a joke.”
The mention of Abbott veered my thoughts onto another track. “So how do you know him? Is it through Lester Fine?”
I had another thought. “You called him Lester. That’s pretty familiar for someone it seemed like you met just yesterday at the hospital.”
Bixby bobbed his head a little in a sort of nod. “I know Lester. I don’t advertise it because he’s a celebrity and all, and I don’t want to come across as name-dropping or anything. But I met him several months back when he came into the hospital for a… well… a procedure.”
I grinned. “A face-lift?”
He shook his head.
He shook his head again. “I can’t tell you. HIPAA, you know.”
Yeah, I knew. “But you’re an ER doctor. Emergencies only. Do you do procedures?”
Bixby chuckled. “You can’t cut a guy a break, can you?”
“I just like to find out as much as I can about someone before I ink him.” I almost said “when I like him,” but managed not to slip up.
“Did you Google me yet?”
Hmmm. That was an idea. I was so wrapped up with Trevor and Lester Fine and Wesley Lambert that I didn’t think to Google Colin Bixby.
“Is that a no?” he asked.
I shook my head, happy I could be honest, although later I’d take a quick look. He seemed to know what I was thinking, and he leaned over and put his hand on my knee.
“I came here today because I like you,” he said softly.
I let myself get lost in his eyes for a second, and it was an extremely pleasant place to be. But then he sat back again, his eyes leaving mine and skipping all around my room. “Can we get this over with?” he asked.
“With that sort of attitude, I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” I said.
He flashed me a smile. “A Celtic knot. Small.” He unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt, and I tried not to catch my breath. He pointed just above his left nipple. “Here.”
I smiled back, despite myself. “You’ve been thinking about it.”
“I didn’t want to go someplace where I’d get hepatitis, or worse,” he said, waving his hand around to indicate my room. “This looks pretty good. I feel safe here.”
“I’m glad you feel safe,” I said, sketching out a Celtic knot on my pad. I could do one of these with my eyes closed. But I wasn’t going to tell him that. He might think I would actually close my eyes, and then he’d get spooked. “What about this?” I asked, showing him my sketch.
He nodded slowly. “That’s exactly right.”
“You can make an appointment with Bitsy and leave a deposit,” I said, standing.
Bixby reached out and caught my hand with his. “Now. It has to be now, or I might never come back.” He paused. “I took a Xanax.”
I laughed out loud. “Let me check with Bitsy, make sure I’m free for an hour. That should be all it’ll take. I need to make a stencil. I’ll be right back.”
I could still feel the pressure of his hand on mine as I scurried out to the front desk.
“Someone looks happy,” Bitsy teased.
“He wants me to do it now.”
“I like a man who’s decisive,” she said, looking at the book. “Go ahead. You don’t have anyone coming in for another couple hours.”
I had started back toward the staff room to make the stencil when I heard her say, “Oh, by the way, Jeff Coleman just called. He wants you to call him right away.”
“What did he want?”
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t say.” She rolled her eyes at me. “Maybe he wants to make an appointment, too.”
I made a face at her, and when I went into the staff room, I grabbed my cell phone out of my bag. I could multitask with the best of them, but I’d have to call Jeff before I started Bixby’s ink.
“Jeff? It’s Brett. What do you want?”
“No foreplay, Kavanaugh? You disappoint me.”
“What do you want?” I repeated. “I haven’t got all day.”
“You might want to make time for this. I made a few calls. About Charlotte. Asked what Homeland Security was investigating her for.”
My heart started to beat a little faster, and I put my sketch down. “What was it?”
“She’s not being investigated.”
I thought about what Tim had said. Was he wrong? “What do you mean?”
“She’s working for them. Undercover. Has been for almost a year now.”