Who is Marco Rios?
Most would say guys like him are only good at one thing… breaking hearts. By day he’s a tattoo artist who took the plunge and started his own business, but by night… he’ll be whoever you want him to be—a wet dream in the flesh.
Brynn Palmer was content, enjoying her low-key life, one that rarely sprouted surprises. That is, until she crossed paths with the force better known as Marco.
It was only one night, but that one night changed everything.
*To the guys, Indecent Exposure is more than just their place of business; it’s a place where they make women’s fantasies come true… and have a ton of fun doing it. “Marco” is the first standalone in “The Men of Indecent Exposure” series, so kick back and enjoy, but don’t get too comfortable. You never know when you’ll need to have your singles ready!*
Full-Length | No Cliffhanger | HEA
❤ Marco (The Men of Indecent Exposure, #1) ❤
I stared, hoping the letters on the test would magically rearrange themselves to spell something else, but….
With shaky hands, I tore open another box—a different brand this time. Following pretty much the same steps as with the last, I peed on the stick, and then waited.
Waited some more.
What felt like the longest two minutes of my life finally passed and I took slow steps to the edge of the sink. The “P” word stared back at me, confirming the same news as the first test, which made it official.
Bracing the edge of the counter, I felt my knees get weak. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Things were going really well and now… this.
What am I gonna do?
My face was wet with tears when I looked into the mirror, feeling sorry for myself despite this completely being my fault. I had to be dreaming, though.
Had to be.
“I’m so stupid.” It took everything in me not to curl up in a ball right there on the bathroom floor as my entire life came to a screeching halt.
Reaching for my cell, I scrolled down to a name in the contacts, one I’d never dialed before—Marco. I vaguely remembered him taking my phone to lock it in as we parted ways, but I’ve been asking myself for weeks why I didn’t just delete him. It wasn’t like I intended to call after that, after we hooked up, mostly because I was so embarrassed by my reckless behavior that night. I honestly just wanted to forget it ever happened. However, this test just made forgetting how impulsive I’d been impossible.
Slumping against the wall, I cradled my face in my hands. “Brynn, you’re a damn idiot.”
I couldn’t even remember this guy’s face really. We were both so drunk… so drunk and so stupid. All I had to go on were flashes of him that stuck with me—my hands roaming over the bronzed skin of his neck and arms, his slightly diluted, Hispanic accent as was prevalent here in Houston, the sweet taste of liquor on his breath when he kissed me, how his cologne made my mouth water…
Okay, so maybe I did know why I held on to his number.
The alarm on my phone let me know recess was just about over and I needed to head to the playground to pick up my students. Pushing off from the wall, I took a deep breath at the thought of having to call this guy. Even if we were virtually strangers, he deserved to know what was going on. After all, this was just as much his issue as it was mine.
As I took slow steps down the hallway, I also thought about having to break this news to my friends and family—my brother, Mona… Naseem.
I let out a deep breath filled equal parts ‘Oh my gosh!’ and ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ None of this was going to be easy. None of it, including having to confront this ‘Marco’ guy. He, too, was about to get the shock of his life, because I, Brynn Palmer… am having a baby.
Carlos grinned from the passenger seat. Aside from the hum of the engine, the only other sound to be heard was that of crisp five, ten, and twenty-dollar bills passing through our fingers.
Carlos finished counting and I caught a glimpse of him scowling when he realized I wasn’t done. This was his idea; counting to see how much we each made before leaving the lot. When I came out on my own, or when I was with one of the other guys, I typically waited until I got home to add it all up. However, Carlos never let it go down like that when we did events together. He was too damn competitive. Had been since we were kids.
The second we stepped foot outside the venue, this time and every other time before, he challenged me to pull out my stash to see who’d done better. $390 was what his tips totaled tonight, not including his half of our $600 charge just for showing up and committing a couple hours of our time. So, he ended up with $690 in all. Not bad considering these private gigs were just icing on the cake outside of our regular club hours.
No one to cut in on our earnings. No middle man. Just fast, easy money.
I continued to count—four twenty, four forty…
The truck swayed with Carlos’ movement when he shifted in his seat.
First, he shot me a cold stare, and then came the sound of his gruff voice when he questioned me, the words soaring from his mouth in Spanish like they usually did when he was pissed. It was like his filter malfunctioned at the first hint of anger and he suddenly forgot how to speak English.
“How the hell did you get so much more than me?”
All I could do was laugh at his reaction for now, not wanting to lose track of my number. Eventually, I finished, reaching a grand total of $980, including my half of the fixed fee.
The casual shrug I gave only pissed him off more. A breath of frustration hit the air and I was cracking up at the sound of it.
“You’re laughing, but I’m serious. We get out there, do practically the same thing, and somehow you always end up making more than me,” he complained. “Un-freaking-believable.”
Carlos’s eyes went to his slightly smaller stack of cash before stuffing it in the pocket of his dark hoodie. Little care was taken to conceal it safely in his wallet or bag because, in our business, cash tended to flow faster than we could catch it, which lessened its value for some of the guys. That wasn’t the case for me, though; my responsibilities made me less frivolous with mine. Honestly, the only reason he was even moaning about me making more tonight was because he couldn’t stand to come in second place. Not to anyone in any situation. As long as I’d known the guy, which was practically my whole life, he’d been the same old Carlos.
Tension was thick as his ego absorbed the blow. If I had to guess, he was probably replaying the last couple hours of work in his mind, wondering why he’d come up short. I managed to hold a laugh in as he damn-near pouted in my passenger seat, but eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. It slipped as we turned out of the lot and onto the street, headed toward his condo.
“I’m telling you; the ladies would love it if you broke out in one of your lil’ dances. For real.” He didn’t even bother answering, knowing I was just trying to get a rise out of him by suggesting it. “I’m telling you—walk in the room with one of those grass skirts on, oil up the tatts? Man! You’d be beating ‘em off you with a stick.”
“Shut the hell up,” he grumbled when I burst out laughing again. It was so easy to get under this dude’s skin.
While I was mostly kidding about him adding native dances to his routine, it was true that his particular ethnic blend made him a fan favorite—his mother being Puerto Rican, his father Samoan. Women loved him, loved the tribal tatts on his arms, and at least once every time he performed, some chick would manage to grab hold of his hair. When he wasn’t performing, he mostly kept it braided to the back, but he’d never consider cutting it. He wasn’t a fool. If the ladies loved the hair and if keeping it long made him more money, that was that. The hair stayed.
We all adhered to the same philosophy when it came to our appearance: we did whatever was best for business. This fact had turned those of us who worked for the club, Indecent Exposure, into gym-rats, always hitting the weights. Then there was the shaving and waxing. We were at the spa so often the lady who owned the place knew each of us by name. Did we like that part? Hell no—made us feel hella high-maintenance, even more than most women we knew. However, the truth of the matter was, our bodies were our livelihood and there was no getting around that.
Of the group, Carlos and I seemed to book the most private parties and events. Our similarities made it common for us to be requested as a pair—either by name or description. Women would contact the club or call my private line if they were referred or had been given one of my cards. They’d ask for the two Hispanic guys with the tattoos; nine times out of ten assuming we were brothers.
We neared Carlos’ place and only now did I realize how beat I was. After the adrenaline rush subsided, there was always this moment when reality hit and my body adjusted to the late hour. Already, it was almost midnight and I’d only get a few good hours of sleep before having to be up for a workout and then head to the shop to open in the morning. The vicious cycle was never ending.
I came to a stop at the front of the building and Carlos yawned about five seconds after I did.
“All right, man. Later.” He stepped out onto the sidewalk, shrugging his duffle bag onto his shoulder.
I nodded. “Yup. And don’t skip the gym like you did this morning, either. You know what tomorrow is,” I said through a wide grin.
Based on the heavy sigh and eye roll, it was clear he had, in fact, forgotten. Mumbling something to himself, he didn’t respond as he walked toward the building. He was the one guy who hated when we did All-In Saturdays—something the clubs’ new owner, Ivy, enacted when she came on the scene six months ago. Not only did we make an unholy amount of money just for agreeing to completely strip down on stage, but we only had to do them one night a month. Still, that was too often for Carlos.
My eyes drifted to the time and fatigue settled over my limbs like a heavy blanket, weighing me down every time I made a move. I honked my horn once and then pulled off. Ten minutes later, I was home, too, and already imagining the feel of my mattress against my back. I swear that’s the best part of my day.
I rolled into the driveway and hit the button on the opener for the garage, only then remembering that it slipped my mind to change the battery because the door didn’t rise. The night before, I’d done the same thing, but of course I forgot to take care of it. I was too tired then to walk all the way to the panel to punch in the code, and I was definitely too tired now. Instead, I shut off the engine and decided to just stay parked where I was.
The sound of my key disengaging the lock came with a sigh of relief. Days were long and nights somehow seemed even longer, but working like this was all I knew. By day, I nurtured my dream of being a business owner. About two years back, I bought the tattoo parlor I worked in part-time since I was nineteen. Running it wasn’t quite what I expected, but I did love the hands-on part. It was the management side I didn’t particularly care for, but for now, I had to wear two hats; one as the owner, one as an artist.
Then there was my night gig—dancing. Performing at private parties was just a once in a while thing, but I was at the club faithfully every week; Thursday through Saturday night.
The alarm chirped when I walked in and I disarmed it using the code, only to reset it again right after. I didn’t feel like bothering with lights, so I found my way up the stairs through the darkness. The only thing I let hold me up from getting in bed was the brief stop I made at my bedroom window to crack it. It was a good twenty degrees warmer inside than out, so I didn’t have much choice. After that, I pulled my shirt off and collapsed on top of the comforter, knowing I’d wake up regretting that I didn’t bother showering off the remnants of body oil tonight. But that was a risk I was willing to take. Right now, I had a one track mind and it was stuck on sleep.
My eyes were already shut and I’d just gotten fully relaxed when my damn phone sounded off, snatching me back from the brink of unconsciousness.
“…Ain’t this some—”
I caught myself, hearing my mother’s voice scold me when the curse almost left my mouth. She stayed on me about using foul language and I was conscious of it even when she wasn’t around.
Refusing to lift my head from the pillow as I patted both pockets of my jeans, I found my cell inside the left one.
“Yeah, hello?” I answered groggily, waiting for the person on the other end to respond. When whoever it was hesitated, my eyes popped open.
“Um… is this Marco?” she called out—soft, kinda nervous.
Her voice wasn’t immediately familiar, so I listened harder. “This is him.” More silence came after that, piquing my curiosity. “Hello?”
“I’m sorry to wake you. I mean, if I woke you,” she mumbled. “I know it’s late.”
Frowning, I turned my face toward the open window. “Don’t apologize, it’s cool. I was up.” Pulling the phone away from my face, I checked the number. I didn’t recognize it, nor was it programmed into my contacts. “Is there, uh… Is there something I can do for you, Miss? Are you calling about a booking?” I asked.
There was dead silence on the other end and my suspicions only deepened.
“A booking? No,” she said back, sounding confused. A heavy sigh preceded her next statement and she had my full attention. “Okay… you might not remember me, but my name’s Brynn. We met a couple months ago at The Alibi?” she added, forming the statement as a question, hoping to jog my memory. I knew the place, but I still wasn’t sure who I was on the line with.
I muffled a yawn and then answered. “I uh… I go there quite a bit.”
The Alibi was me and they guys’ go-to place for beer and good food. It was far enough outside the city that we could go there, eat in peace, and not have to worry about women recognizing one of us.
I also met a lot of ladies there; we all did, so I’d need more to go on than just a name.
“I was there with a group of women. It was the night before my best friend and brother’s wedding. We had her bachelorette party there.”
Still, I said nothing. I was lucky to leave that place remembering my own name most of the time. I stared into the darkness, lying there as I waited for something she said to help me remember.
“Okay, well… should I describe myself?” she asked, letting a nervous laugh slip, probably judging me pretty hard on the other end of the phone.
This is terrible. I must sound like such a dick. How bad is it that I clearly gave this woman my number and now have absolutely no idea who she was?
“No, it’s cool. I think I remember you,” I lied, for no other reason than to save face.
She blew out another breath. “Good… good. I um… this is kinda awkward, but… here goes.”
In the few seconds it took her to continue, I held my breath, thinking of all the things a girl I’d only met once could be calling me for now, months after our encounter. I was silent while awaiting the verdict.
And then it came.
Hard and swift.
Like a blow to the chest.
“I’m pregnant,” was all she had to say. In one forced breath, this woman had me wide awake again.
I sat straight up in bed and fumbled with the lamp. A chill ran up my back. “Repeat that? I think I misheard you.”
“I’m sorry to just spring it on you like this, but… I’m in shock, too,” she added, and I could hear that through the phone.
Dragging a hand down my face, I turned to hang my legs off the edge of my mattress. “Hold on… What’d you say your name was again?”
She hesitated a moment, but then answered my question. “Brynn. Brynn Palmer.”
For all I knew, this girl was crazy. Last year, a woman who’d seen me perform ended up with the number for my personal line and basically stalked me until I changed it. For that reason, I considered it a real possibility this time, too, but I didn’t reveal my suspicions.
“Pregnant? I mean… damn…” I sat there quiet for a few. In that time, I searched for more words, which wasn’t easy considering the blow this woman had just delivered. The first thing I thought to ask was: “How do you, uh… how do you even—”
“How do I know it’s yours?” she said, finishing my statement, but then she did something else; she corrected herself. “I mean… how do I know he or she is yours?” she asked, swapping out the word ‘it’. “Because, as hard as this may be to believe given our present circumstance, I’m a very careful person and the only time there’s even been a remote possibility that I wasn’t careful… was the night I met you,” she explained. “I don’t usually drink, but apparently, when I do it goes straight to my head.”
I had absolutely nothing to say. Nothing to add. None of this was registering inside my head yet. Pregnant? I couldn’t even tell you what this girl looked like if you paid me. All I knew was her name—Brynn.
“I know this all sounds crazy,” she admitted, taking the words right out of my mouth. “To be quite honest with you, Marco, I only remember you because I found your number in my phone the morning after. I can’t recall a whole lot of details either.”
This just kept getting better.
I felt a headache coming on and massaged my forehead. “So I… I don’t really know how these things are supposed to go.”
And I didn’t. Even with all the stupid, careless things I’d done over the years, this was by far the stupidest.
“Well, I was actually thinking we’d meet and… I don’t know… talk?” she suggested. “Whenever you have time, that is.”
There was no way I was gonna put this off. I needed answers now. The sooner we met up, the sooner I could discredit her story and put all of this drama to bed.
“You have anything going on tomorrow?” I asked, already thinking of how to rearrange my schedule so we could take care of this.
She seemed shocked that I answered so quickly. “Um… no, actually. Tomorrow’s good.”
“There’s a restaurant across the street from The Alibi,” I suggested, inwardly cussing myself out for this even being an issue.
“Would noon work for you?” she asked.
My chest felt tight, but I tried to keep my voice even. “That’s fine.”
She paused for a second, maybe just to see if I had anything to add, and then one awkward goodbye later, we were off the call.
I sat there for a long time, unable to move, definitely unable to sleep.
This news consumed me, although, I doubted it was legit. At twenty-six, I still wasn’t ready for a kid. My life was hella busy and this was just not in my plans—not for a good five years or so, anyway.
Of all the ways I imagined tonight ending, having this dropped in my lap was not one of them.
*****Thanks for checking out the first chapter of MARCO! The entire book will be released on April 25th, 2016, so be on the lookout! In the meantime, if you’d like to receive the first THREE chapters on March 26th, sign up for my newsletter today! 🙂
❤ Dates to Remember ❤
Cover Reveal: Friday, March 25th, 2016
First 3 chapters to newsletter subscribers: Saturday, March 26th, 2016
ARC distribution: Monday, April 11th, 2016 (tentative)
Release Day: Monday, April 25th, 2016