Rating: 4.5 stars
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Tattoo artist Jon Park has just left Seattle for a new start on the East Coast. Jon fled a bad breakup with his ex boyfriend who also happened to own the shop where Jon worked as a tattoo artist. Now he has opened his own place, a tattoo and piercing parlor, with his college best friend in her hometown. But deciding to open Park Ink in the middle of winter in a small town in Upper New York might not have made the most sense. Business is scarce and the bills are barely getting paid, not a position Jon thought he would be in in his thirties.
Then Jon runs into a group of guys beating up on a young homeless man outside a bar and everything changes. Arthur is 22 years old and homeless. A product of the foster system since the age of 8, Arthur soon learned that lying and stealing were the quickest ways to get what he needed to survive and applied them often, gaining a dubious reputation in the bargain. But when Jon saves him from a beating, everything changes for Arthur. He sees the potential for change for himself and help for Jon, assistance that Jon is not even aware he needs.
Despite all objections and arguments from those around them, Jon and Arthur find themselves falling into love and a relationship. But both men’s pasts come forward to threaten their fragile relationship and Park Ink’s success. Jon and Arthur will have to summon their courage and face their opponents together or everything they have worked for and want will be lost.
Here is a story that charmed me utterly while introducing me to new aspects of the tattooing process. I was unfamiliar with Marie Lark but Indelible Ink will have me seeking out more of her stories because I enjoyed this book on many different levels, from plot to unusual characterizations.
Let’s start with her characters of Indelible Ink. Jon Park is unusual in so many ways. A 6’4″, long-legged and rangy, Jon is part Korean, part Hawaiian and on the cusp of 30 years old. Jon is a much softer individual than his size would indicate, preferring floral and more delicate tattoo designs to the more hard line and popular artwork, such as skulls and bones. I think artistic and gentle are the words I would use to best describe this unassuming man. Lark pulls us into the story on the strength of Jon Park alone because he is such a lovely and unexpected human being. Then the author adds Arthur, a troubled 22-year-old homeless young man with concealed strengths and artistry of his own. Arthur’s true character is slowly revealed over the length of the story as he learns to trust Jon and start to believe in a different future for himself. Arthur will grow on you at the same pace that Jon accepts him, a terrific strategy by Lark to help connect the reader with this struggling man with a pile of problems behind him. Lark also throws in several strong women characters to support Jon and Park Ink, from his best friend and business partner, piercing artist Val, to another local bar owner and her husband who welcome him to the neighborhood. Lark just fills her story with great characters, people you could see yourself spending the afternoon with, chatting about neighborhood politics while sipping coffee or getting a tattoo.
And that brings us to the tattoo element of this story. I have read quite a few stories that revolve around tattoo artists and their shops and in each one I learn something new. In Indelible Ink, Lark is able to bring alive the sensations of being tattooed by her intimate and detail-oriented scenes within Park Ink, including the high you feel under the needle and the almost out of body sensation towards the end. Here is an excerpt from the scene where Jon is starting to work on a tat he created for Arthur:
Arthur huffed a laugh and rolled his head to look over at his arm. “It looks great,” he said. “Yeah?”
Jon smiled down at his work and wiped away ink and a little blood with a damp paper towel. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Arthur said quickly. “Good—great, actually. I forgot how good it could feel when you don’t have a rank amateur digging into your flesh.”
“It’s definitely addicting,” Jon agreed, pressing on the foot pedal and starting the machine again. “Do you have any questions about what I’m doing? This is supposed to be a tattoo lesson.”
Arthur closed his eyes and slowly rocked his head back and forth against the chair. “Nah. I’m—curious about tension in your hand and how hard to press down but I probably just need to practice that myself.”
“Yeah, we’ll get you working on grapefruits and oranges this week if you want.”
“Awesome. We still get to eat them after though, right? Shit is expensive.”
Jon could hear the smile in Arthur’s voice even though he’d redirected his attention to Arthur’s arm.
“Definitely. The needle never goes below the dermis—if you go the whole way through a grapefruit rind, we need to seriously reevaluate your career choice.” Pausing to glance up at him, he saw Arthur’s mouth fall gently open and his eyes flutter behind closed lids. If he hadn’t suspected already, that expression confirmed it—Arthur was a tattoo junkie.
There was something about the kind of pain that came from a tattoo machine—the way it fired along nerve endings, the way it vibrated down to the bone and in the brain—that had people just like Arthur and just like Jon coming back for more whenever they had the itch and the cash. It’d been well over a year since Jon had gotten his last tattoo and knowing what the sensations were doing to Arthur brought the itch back in a rush.
Her vivid descriptions just bring alive that moment in the chair where you commit to a design and the reality of a tattoo. It’s sensational, emotional, and almost as addictive as getting a tattoo itself.
My only quibble with the story is that I felt the resolution and the ending arrived almost at the same time. It would have been nice to have shared in Jon and Arthur’s happiness for a moment before the book ends. But it just felt a bit rushed and not as satisfactory as the rest of the book. The other thing I wish to point out is that Indelible Ink is listed as part of the Boys Will Do Boys series, but that is a loosely connected group of stories with different authors and not a continuation of the characters and situations found inside Indelible Ink. So be aware if you are looking to purchase the others because you liked this story.
Small quibbles with the ending aside, I really recommend this story to all lovers of m/m romance and contemporary fiction. This is not a case of instant love, but a realistic, halting climb to trust and love with characters you will adore. I enjoyed Indelible Ink and think you will too.