THE STRONGEST STEEL – Scarlett Cole
Second Circle Tattoos Series, Book 1
St. Martin's Paperbacks eBook only
Miami, Florida – Present Day
Trent Andrews is a talented tattoo artist in Miami, which has become a hotbed for new tattoo shops. He and his best friend, Cujo, opened Second Circle and business has been booming, and even Trent acknowledges he is a master (not shy at all). Their shop is named after the Second Circle in Dante's Divine Comedy , being lust, and something surprising happens there every day. Known for his work on burn victims or other scarred people, he is surprised when a timid lady comes into his shop one day. Shy and scared out of her mind, fingers twitching constantly, Harper Connelly shows up at his shop at one in the morning with a request to cover her scars. Revealed is a horribly scarred back with the words “My Bitch” cut in it with a knife. Though she doesn't share her story, Trent is overwhelmed by this woman and her request; she wants a sword being forged in flames, showing she is stronger than what happened to her. Trent knows this woman and this tattoo is the start of something special in his life.
Four years earlier, Harper's fiancé, Nathan, was getting involved more and more with drinking and cocaine, and when she found out he had other women, she was packing to leave when he came home unexpectedly. After breaking her jaw, a rib, tying her to the bed and getting a kitchen knife and cutting her back, he went to prison for eight years; however she just got word he is having a probation hearing. He vowed to kill her, and that is enough to keep her from going back to the city she ran from after the trial. She changed her name, moved to Miami, and went from a high school teacher to working in a coffee shop. She must write a victim impact statement for the parole board, since there is no way she can face him again in person at the hearing. Harper is still afraid to be touched, afraid someone will see her back, and now worried about the release of her attacker. Her bravest move is to go see if a tattoo can cover the scars, and start what will be several sessions of intense pain while it is done. Soon she feels safe with Trent, and they develop a relationship; yet it is a relationship where Harper gives very little of the story of her life, and Trent must struggle to help her from ghosts he cannot fight.
As Harper starts on her odyssey of the tattoo, she becomes friends with Cujo and the other workers at the studio. Trent slowly wears her down with his kindness and consideration, and helps her in many different ways. But as the hearing goes forward, she knows if Nathan gets out of prison, he will go after her. Does she have the courage to again leave like she did last time, and tear her heart out at leaving the generous and loving man she has just let into her life?
This is Scarlett Cole's debut novel, and wow, is it full of tension, drama and a desperation born of Harper trying to make herself normal again. Because of the trial, her brother, Nathan's best friend, turned his back on her, accidents to her and her family were ignored by the police who were friends with Nathan's father, an attorney, and she left everything behind. Her only friend now is Drea, whom she works with, and she is living a secluded life, still trying to come to terms with what happened. Trent is riding high on his shop and his reputation, and maybe even being a judge on a tattoo reality program. Yet he has great tenderness and compassion for Harper and treats her with kid gloves until she shyly opens up to him. Despite each of them keeping secrets from the other, their relationship blossoms into a thing of beauty.
Secondary characters are both protective, funny, and entertaining. There's Cujo, Trent's best friend and fellow tattoo artist at Second Circle, Harper's best friend, Drea, and the other employees at Second Circle who soon have her back. Nathan is Harper's ex, up for parole, who's scaring her to death.
THE STRONGEST STEEL is one of the strongest and most exceptional books I have read recently. Harper has been dealing with her trauma for four years, but until she takes the step to deal with the scars, she is not really moving on. Trent is one of the most patient of guys, trying his best to help Harper deal with everything in her life. Absolute trust and love is needed between them as they fight to keep her safe. With intense drama and tender passion, THE STRONGEST STEEL is a great debut by its author. The next book in the series is THE FRACTURED HEART featuring Drea and Cujo, and then THE PUREST HOOK and one more, publishing dates not given. Interesting characters and pain and survival are the key to Scarlett Cole's writing. Give it a shot!