Tyler(Inked Brotherhood, #2)

By: Jo Raven

Part I

Four years earlier


A heavy snowfall fell last night and blanketed the world in white. I trudge through it on my way to catch the school bus. Even though today is my seventeenth birthday, my steps drag.

Things at home are iffy. Dad drinks. This is new. Since he gave up boxing two months ago, he’s been unhappy. Then again, the unhappy part is old. He’s always been unhappy with me. He hates my guts.

He always said I’m a bastard, but it’s only now I realize he means it. He’s convinced I’m not his son. I do my best to ignore it, swallow the anger and hurt and move on. Mom says not to mind him, that he has his moods and we should accept him as he is.

But when he’s drunk, he finds excuses to show me his displeasure in more tangible ways. The other day he shoved me into the wall so hard I hit my head and fell on top of Mom’s favorite crystal figurines. Cut my hand on the shards, and it’s still bandaged today. Then yesterday he pushed me into the kitchen counter. Now I have a bruise the size of Texas in my side.

I try to protect myself, fight back, but Dad’s almost a head taller than me and twice as wide. I don’t think I’ll ever be a match for him.

Thing is, I don’t look like Dad. I look way too much like a boxing buddy of his. So Dad went and beat the shit out of the guy, and as a result, the ring boss kicked Dad out, told him not to go back. So all this is my fault. For not being his. For being who I am.

Rubbing my hand over my face, I adjust the straps of my backpack and turn the corner, keeping my head down against the icy wind. The bus is coming, and I hurry to catch it. I climb inside and slide into my seat by the window, staring without seeing at the muted landscape—houses and trees.

As long as Dad doesn’t touch Ash or Mom, I don’t care. Let him vent his anger on me. I’m strong. I can take it.

The bus slows down as we reach the school, and I see someone waving at me—a slight figure with long, dark hair. My mood lightens and I grin.

Erin. I’ve watched her for the past year, as she turned from a wisp of a girl into a woman, but I was invisible to her until a few months ago. A stolen kiss in the locker room, a night at the movies, and she’s my girlfriend, the only bright spot in my life.

She smiles widely when I get off the bus and throws herself into my arms. I grab her and spin her around. She’s slight and pretty, funny and full of energy, like a spark. I love losing myself in her life, her arms, her body.

“Happy birthday,” she says breathlessly, and I take advantage to kiss her soft mouth. “Did you get many presents?”

I shrug, not wanting to think about it. Mom gave me some money. Dad didn’t even look my way when I crossed the kitchen to get some breakfast. Ash left home early with his friend Audrey to work on some project before school, and I’ll probably see him later.

Good. The more he keeps away from home, the less likely he is to see Dad roughing me up and ask why.

Dad thinks I’m not his, Ash. That we’re only half-brothers. Maybe I should get out of here, so Dad can be happy. So that I can keep you safe.

“Tyler.” Erin cups my face, her smile slipping. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I shake my head to dispel the dark thoughts. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“I got something for you,” she whispers, her breath forming white clouds in the air. She lifts her fist and uncurls her fingers. Something metallic glimmers in her palm. It’s a pendant.

“What is it?” I ask as she dangles it from its silver chain and passes it around my neck.

“A tree of life.”

I touch it where it rests, cold, against my collarbone. A smile tugs at my mouth. “Why?”

A rosy blush tinges her cheeks. “It stands for the center of the world. And you are…” She bites her lip, and it’s so sexy I kiss her again. “I just like it,” she mutters. “But if you don’t…?”

“It’s great.” I want to tell her how much it means to me, how much she means to me. “I’ll wear it,” I promise her. “Always.”

I’m never taking it off again, ever. She gave it to me, and I’ll keep it close to my heart forever.

Chapter One


The building is old and ugly, a dirty gray, with paint peeling off its walls. Rust stains run down the drainage pipes. A splash of red catches my attention. Someone has placed a pot of flowers on a sill of the second floor.

Incongruous. Out of place.

Like me.

I park my bike in the street, a black Ducati 999—the only thing of value I’ve inherited from Uncle Jerry. Then I sit back on the saddle and stare at the building entrance, a paper with the smudged-up address in my hand.

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