The Darkest Link (Second Circle Tattoos #4) - Scarlett Cole

CHAPTER ONE

“It isn’t your platform we’re worried about, Franklin. It’s the most solid agenda I’ve ever seen. True to the roots of the party, it will be well received. It’s your family’s image that concerns us.”

Julianna Carlisle inched closer to the large wooden door, slightly ajar, that stood as guardian to her father’s home office. She didn’t recognize the speaker’s voice. At twenty-nine years of age, she considered herself above eavesdropping, but the gruff mention of her family had caught her attention as she’d silently let herself into her parents’ home in the luxury gated community of Star Island, the crown of Miami real estate.

“It’s clear that my wife will require some training for the role.”

“Training might be too inadequate a word,” another voice added. “She’s no Barbara Bush, or Nancy Reagan. Heck, even Betty Ford, for all of her more social ideals.”

Lia shivered a little. The conversation confirmed her worst fears. Her father had danced on the edge of a full-blown push into politics for most of her life. He was a highly regarded defense attorney with an ego bolstered by his win rate, but it didn’t come close to quenching his ambition.

“And then there is your daughter . . .” The speaker let the words hang. Lia leaned into the doorway.

For a single heartbeat, Lia waited to hear her father defend her, to tell the asshole to watch what he said. But she knew he wouldn’t, just as surely as she’d never remove the tattoos he despised from her skin.

“I’m aware,” her father replied, just as she’d expected. “Julianna has always been . . . spirited. Believe me, I have every intention of bringing her to heel before my decision to run for governor is made public. We have some time before that has to happen.”

Her heart sank. After all these years, she should have been used to the perpetual feeling of parental disapproval. Her grip tightened on the small gift bag she carried.

“Yes and no,” the speaker replied. “You need to start lining up your sponsors now while the recent election loss is still raw.”

“Believe me, Charles,” her father replied crisply. “I know how to manage my family.”

“Very well, Carlisle. I will let the donors know. Please confirm when you have things in order,” the other person said resolutely.

Beneath her favorite vintage 1950s navy-blue halter-neck dress, her legs shook. Bring her to heel. Lord knew her father had been trying for years. They didn’t agree on a single aspect of her life. He hated that she was a tattoo artist most of all. Called tattoos a modern scourge. Every time a public health official set foot in Second Circle Tattoos, the Miami Beach studio where she worked, she was convinced it was her father’s doing. He knew all the right people to make her life miserable.

Shoring up her defenses, and taking care not to knock the Lalique Anemones Grand Vase off the small table behind her, she turned and hurried in the direction of the large sunroom at the back of the house that her mother had converted into a huge greenhouse. It would be a billion degrees in there, the late-August Miami sunshine all but baking the glass room where her mom nurtured all kinds of tropical plants. Though Lia joked that they were a replacement for her and her brother, Ben, an active-duty Navy SEAL, in truth her mother had always had a fascination with planting and grafting. Lia had been twelve when she’d realized it was the only place in the house her father didn’t visit.

“Mom,” she called out from the doorway. Unlike her father, Lia loved the scent and collision of color that clashed brilliantly with the classic taupe-and-white decor in the rest of the house, but the humidity would ruin the victory rolls she’d carefully pinned her hair into, and she wouldn’t have time to fix them before she hit the road for the tattoo expo.

“One moment, Julianna.” Her mother’s melodic voice sounded from the back of the room. She heard the clatter of tools and the hiss of the faucet and then Grace Carlisle appeared. She removed the perfectly fitted lab coat that she preferred to gardening overalls, revealing her usual twinset, a pale mocha this time to match the walls, and pearls. It was as if her mom were two different people. The one in the greenhouse, and the one everywhere else. “How are you?” she asked quietly, bussing the air in the general direction of Lia’s cheeks. It was as