My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I’m pretty new to this recent MC trend, and TBH, I’m not even sure I’m going to read the majority of the books out there. But somehow, Under Locke stood out to me in a way that I had to give it a try. I think it was the title, or what the title suggests... LOL Mariana Zapata was a new-to-me author and I loved her voice. It was honest and flowing, with a lot of dirty mouth of a sexy hunk to accompany it. Yep, I loved this story and a new fan of the author.
At the beginning, we meet Iris, the 20 something h who has arrived to her new job at a tattoo parlor called the Pins and Needles. She has been unemployed for a quite a while now. Iris has lost her mother to cancer and then, her grandmother, forcing her to face the reality very young, because by then, her seemingly loving, always-there father walked away from her and her younger brother, Will’s life as if vanishing into thin air. But the man didn’t vanish; he abandoned his family on purpose. Not that it’s anything new to him, he has already abandoned another family where he had a son, Sonny or Son, Iris’s much older half-brother. When her mother and grandmother passed, Iris had to take care of Will; to bring him up and earn their living. Son helped her out whenever he could, and he’s been a great elder brother ever since. Iris knew she can rely on Son, even more than Will. So when, finally, Will joined the army and left and she found herself without a job and any other option, Iris turned to Son for help...... And that, today, brought her to this tattoo parlor. Apparently, one of Son’s good friend, Mr. Dex Locke, runs this place.
Iris’s father used to be a member of this MC club, the Widowmakers. Son and Dex are also a part of the club as the sons to former members. Both share a lot in common, having a dysfunctional father being the top of it all. Dex himself hasn’t been a shy boy growing up. He’s been into trouble, has had anger management problems, been in and out of a correctional facility in his teens. Yet, he has turned out to be a fine man, running his business very successfully for the past couple of years. He’s also devoted to his family consisting of his mother and sisters, also their own families. Or so what Iris heard about her employer from Son. But she wasn’t ready to meet a very handsome tall, dark haired and blue-eyed guy waiting for her in front of the shop. Moreover, she could see various tattoos peeking from his form fitting shirt and jeans, which made Iris (and me, who doesn’t even like tattoos that much) go ‘hubba’! Something she never does. Me neither. Yah, go figure.
Iris and Dex’s first meeting was less than stellar, yet I felt that something real good is coming up. On the first glance, apart from Dex’s eye-dazzling good looks, the things that stand out are his foul mouth and very blunt and rude words. I’m not even going into his volatile temperament. He makes Iris feel like a dumb-nut on the first day as she spies on him talking to someone about her like she’s just that! Oh I was mad because Iris wasn’t at fault. Even if she could forgive him for not remembering her name correctly and calling her ‘Ritz’ instead of Iris, this was too much. It hurts Iris bad. She can’t even look at Dex whenever he’s near, because, honestly, what girl can stand such crap from a guy who makes her heart pump crazy each time she sees him? I could feel her predicament. It was not after her confiding in Son, who in turn busting Dex’s a$$, that this is sorted out but Iris keeps calling Dex in her favorite moniker ‘Dex the Dick’ for a long time. Umm, must day, he was a d!ck for a while, so suited me just fine.
When Dex hears of how Iris was affected by his dumba$$ move, he’s instantly apologetic. He was honestly having a bad day, which equals to bad temper, and though it’s a lame excuse, he knows he shouldn’t have said those stuff about her. He tries in his own way to make things up to Iris, confessing that it was something about his father who is currently in prison. It also gets to him that she wouldn’t look at him whenever he’s talking to her. But this incident sort of breaks the ice with Dex, and they begin forming quite an unexpected friendship. Their shared experience over an a-hole of a father beat everything. Iris is instantly sympathetic too. But that doesn’t mean she likes seeing him with random chicks (pass’em-on girls) from the club. I loved the way she’d convey her emotion cause those were exactly what I’d feel if I saw him coming out in the morning with one of those chicks, then confessing to Son, in front of her mind you, that it was a drunken night and he hardly remembers anything at all. Then, I also felt Dex’s budding attraction to Iris that he has been trying, quite unsuccessfully if I might add, to ignore. He knew Iris is off-limits being the sister of a Widow (as the club members are called), and Dex is certainly not looking for a serious relationship at the moment. Yet he’s quite uncomfortable to find Iris a witness to one of his f*cked up days… and action. It said a LOT to me.
On the course of the story, we find out about Iris being a cancer survivor in her early teens. It struck a chord in me cause I know exactly how it feels, even if I’m not all that familiar with the kind she had. Cancer was one of the things that made her childhood difficult; not only hers but also her mother’s, who, as I mentioned, passed away. I could totally understand her vulnerabilities, depression and the reclusive behavior. Some people did make a matter out of why she was still a virgin at 24. Guess what, life is not flowers and rainbows when you’re dealing with cancer! And losing your virginity is not the top-most important thing when you or one of your parents has cancer. Life can be really unfair to some people, regardless of what you believe in. Because of this, I connected with Iris on a personal level. It’s not every day that you read about a cancer survivor h or H. Though, I still wasn’t sure if Dex was the best thing for her... until I got to that part where Dex tries to make it up to Iris for his a$$hatty behavior. I absolutely loved the way he’d go all soft, saying ‘Ritz, look at me’ when an embarrassed Iris couldn’t meet his eyes.
Their less-than-perfect yet welcomed friendship continues through their journey to a tattoo convention where Iris becomes a last minute attendee. She has also made friends with other tattoo artists from Dex’s shop; the elderly, bald but laid back Blake, all ‘red’ and very friendly Slim, even with Blue, the only girl in the bunch who doesn’t like gossiping that much. In this convention, apart from Iris musing on Dex being a ‘vagina magnet’ (I laughed my a$$ off when I read it), there was this... er, scene that kinda... I don’t know what to think of it cause I’m pretty sure it was THE FIRST for me. Not at all sure how you’d take it if I start discussing on it, which I don’t plan on doing, but that scene sure was hilarious with Iris’s usual funny commentary.
Dex and Iris’s communications were a hoot. Especially Iris’s crazy commentary before or after. Sometimes along the way, Dex’s first name Charles became ‘Charlie’ to Iris who liked poking fun about it. And he, who never liked being called anything but Dex, took it in... even loved it. In the same way, ‘Ritz’ was becoming something unique for Iris because only Dex called her that. Though he had, initially, misheard her name from Son, now it meant something affectionate. I thought Dex calling Iris ‘babe’ since the first moment, when he never called any other girl that, was pretty hot.
The best thing though, as Iris begins finding out over and over again, had to be a smiling... no, make it a laughing Dex. The Kind Grump laughing with Iris’s jokes! Not only she was finding it irresistible to avoid his smiles but Dex was also very aware of the changes Iris wrought in him as a person. Mr. Tattoo Artist with the Sexy Smile is brilliant, even if he’s prone to quick temper. To me, someone being aware of their faults and trying their best to learn from those, are indeed the smarter people. It was very apparent that Dex cared what Iris thought of him when he never gave a sh!t about it before.
As the story progressed, Iris meets some more Widows in between, thanks to Son and Dex and them going to the club and introducing her around. People there are always interested in an offspring of a former member. Iris ends up forming a different kind of bond with them; not close family, yet they came close being one. Soon she and Son find themselves in trouble, thanks to their father and the club members are ready to help them. Son is beat up, Iris is threatened by a rival gang called the Reaper because the man owes them a big chunk of money. Time is running out but there’s no sign of their father anywhere. Son, with all his injuries, takes a fellow Widow and goes down the trail to track their father. Iris is worried for him, angry at their ‘sperm donor’ (as the siblings call him) for not being much of a ‘father’ to any of them. She’s worried of losing the job, she’s worried about Will, who is yet to contact with her from his station in Asia. But mostly, Iris finds herself worried over the fact that Dex Locke is becoming someone special to her, and she has no freakin’ idea about how to deal with this without having her heart broken.
After Son leaves, Dex volunteers to take Iris in for the time being. She’d go and live with him for safety purposes. Iris, again, feels ill at ease about sharing a house with a man she’s known for only couple of weeks. But she’s also thrilled cause watching Dex going about the mundane, everyday chores can be a feast for the eyes. Iris has already been introduced to his nipple piercings, also the big tattoos in his body… no, not the way you’re thinking but Iris was glad anyway cause she got to drool over those privately. Now she gets to see them everyday cause Dex is, let’s say, not shy about showing off his beautiful body. Then there was that ‘special’ piercing she has only heard of but hasn’t yet had the opportunity to ‘discover’ personally.......... damn! Iris was in a LOT of trouble. :p As for Dex, he was becoming rather mellow, giving us the hint that he loves having Iris around his house, even if it means regular hard-ons and blue balls. Loved, when at night, a few weeks together, he’d want to sleep with her just to cuddle. Dex is not at war with his temper constantly, laughs much more and likes staring at Iris; at home or at his shop. Even Blake or Slim, who have known Dex for long, notice this change and start cheering on, though Iris is not sure if... well, things haven’t been good for her so far, so will someone like Dex Locke be hers and hers only?
The news Son starts imparting from his travel hasn’t been good either. Their father is leaving trail but the man is not an easy one to catch as he runs as often. Iris’s only solace, amidst all the worries, is her time with Dex. He’s been so good to her this far, proving that he’s much more than what meets the eyes. He has taken her to outings, also to meet his mom and sisters. By now, definitely they’re more than just friends with a few kisses and hubba, hubba, some fondlings too. Made me squirm in a rather good way. ;) Both Dex and Iris know that Son probably won’t be happy about it cause Dex’s reputation with the ladies has not been picture perfect. Yet, this time, Dex knows his mind. And he knows Iris is the one. The problem is, he’s also not sure how to go about this, and so, you’d find him doing things for Iris and taking care of her the way someone should’ve done a long time ago. Seeing a jealous Dex Locke was as much fun as finding him trying to contain his sexual urges knowing Iris was inexperienced and that maybe, he should wait for the ‘right’ time.
And I bet you’d love his reaction when, for the first time, he learns about Iris’s cancer. Iris told the boys at the shop, yet kept off telling Dex cause she wasn’t sure how he’d react. I could so understand. You DON’T want people to look at you with pity. Iris certainly didn’t. Her cancer was in one of her arms, where the muscles have been severely operated on. That arm isn’t pleasing to the eyes any longer, which is why Iris is used to wearing long-sleeved clothing. Even at home with Dex she never let him see her arms. But when one of the guys kinda blurts this news out on an outing, Dex is stunned speechless. He’s not angry as Iris thought he’d be but hurt that she didn’t tell him before... and he’s hurting for Iris too, knowing how much she has suffered. Dex was already aware of her sh!t of a life and of course, the crappy never-there father but this was something that tore at his heart. This time though, Dex makes her promise that she’d never hide anything from him ever again. Now, everything that matters to her, matters to him too.
The moment I found tears in Dex’s eyes as they talk about this later, is the moment I knew I’d fall in love with this guy if I hadn’t already, if I was in Iris’s place. So no wonder she was already more than half-way in love with him. She loves everything about this man; his mind, his body, his smiles but above all, his unwavering loyalty to this family and friends. That he cares and he listens to her.
Along the way, Iris does some stupid things. Looked initially stupid but that led me to be introduced to the leader of the Reapers, Liam. He seemed threatening, very capable of murder and mayhem but I think, here too, something more going on than what meets the eyes. Funny thing was, this guy was instantly attracted to Iris. I’m not saying I liked the way he phrased his ‘interest’, which Iris immediately declined but I’m intrigued. I’d like to see if the author gives him a story of his own.
Though I was hooked in Under Locke since page 1 but I would agree that the story slowed down a little in the middle. Sex was pretty late, not until you reach the last third, that might be one of the reasons cause Iris and Dex’s chemistry was sizzling throughout. But I had no real cause for complaint as I was never bored. With Dex Locke, I don’t think you’ll ever be. And when they FINALLY got down to the business, Oh.My.Gawd! *drools* First, I was recovering from the description of his ‘special’ piercing (Iris, I don’t blame you one whit for fantasizing away). Then, we’re told how that can be used to... um, er........ you get the picture. I.Loved.that.Scene!!!! The author has a way of describing these things without being overly raunchy and that worked for me just fine. I think I even went as far as thinking that Dex just might have the most beautiful looking penis in the whole wide world........... Don’t judge me, it was the words. :p
Honestly, I still can’t adequately express just how much I loved this story, the storytelling and its characters. I can go on and on and on but the fun is in the reading of it. Under Locke is not only about love, hope and laughter but also pain and disappointment that life eventually brings. All blend into one page-turner. I was not ready to let go of either Iris or Dex or any other characters when it ended, so I’ll be eagerly waiting to see what the author has in store for us next.
4.5 stars. Absolutely recommended.
No, this is not how Dex’s tattoo looked but I love this one; tattoo, chest. All. By tattoo artist Tim Kern (thanks to this website).