We're less than a week away from the release of FALLEN INK by Carrie Ann Ryan - and you can read the first chapter now! Read it below!
About FALLEN INK
Releases April 17, 2018
The Montgomery Ink series continues with a spin-off in Colorado Springs, where a familiar Montgomery finds her place in a new tattoo shop, and in the arms of her best friend.
Mace Knight takes pride in two things: his art and his daughter. He knows he’s taking a risk by starting over in a new shop with the Montgomerys, but the stakes are even higher when he finds himself wanting Adrienne more than he thought possible.
The two fall fast and hard but they know the rules; they can’t risk their friendship, no matter how hot it is between the sheets and how many people try to stand in their way.
FALLEN INK releases April 17th, 2018 - preorder your copy now!
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Read the First Chapter of FALLEN INK
Adrienne Montgomery wasn’t going to throw up, but it would probably be a close call. It wasn’t that she was a nervous person, but today of all days was bound to test her patience and nerves, and she wasn’t sure if all those years of growing a spine of steel would be enough.
Maybe she should have worked on forming a steel-lined gut while she was at it—perhaps even a platinum one.
“You’re looking pretty pale over there,” Mace said, leaning down low to whisper in her ear.
She shivered involuntarily as his breath slid across her neck, and she looked up into her best friend’s hazel gaze. The damn man was far too handsome for his own good, and he knew she was ticklish, so he constantly spoke in her ear so she shivered like that.
She figured he’d gotten a haircut the day before because the sides were close-cut so you could see the white in his salt-and-pepper hair. He’d let the top grow out, and he had it brushed to the side so it actually looked a little fashionable rather than messy and just hanging in his eyes like most days. Knowing Mace, he’d done it by accident that morning, rather than making it a point to do so. Her best friend was around her age, in his thirties, but had gone salt-and-pepper in his late twenties. While some men might have started dying their hair, Mace had made it work with his ink and piercings—and the ladies liked it.
Well, at least that’s what Adrienne figured. It wasn’t as if she were one of his following. Not in that way, at least.
“Yo, Adrienne, you okay?”
She glowered, hearing the familiar refrain that had been the bane of her existence since she was in kindergarten and one of the fathers there had shouted it like the boxer from that movie she now hated.
“What did I say about using that phrase?” She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot. She was at least six inches shorter than her best friend, but since she was wearing her heeled boots, she could at least try to look intimidating.
Mace being Mace just shrugged and winked, giving her that smolder that he’d practiced in the mirror after seeing Tangled with her years ago. Yeah, he was that guy, the one who liked to make her smile and knew she had a crush on the animated Flynn Rider.
“You know you like it.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave her a tight squeeze. “Now, are you okay? Really? Because you honestly look like you’re about to throw up, and with the place all new and shiny, I don’t know if vomit really sets the tone.”
Thinking about the reason the place—her place—was all new and shiny sent her stomach into another roll, and she let out a long breath.
Mace just stared at her, and she kicked his shoe. Mature, that was her name. “Try it with a little more enthusiasm, because while I’d like to believe you, the panic in your eyes doesn’t really portray the right confidence.”
“I’ll be fine. How’s that?” she asked and gave him a wide smile. It must have looked a little manic, though, since he winced. But he gave her a thumbs up.
“Okay, then. Let’s get out of this office and go out into your brand new tattoo shop to meet the horde.”
There went her stomach again.
Her tattoo shop.
She couldn’t quite believe it. After years of working for others in Colorado Springs instead of going up north to Denver to work at her cousins’ shop, or even south to New Orleans and her brother’s former shop, she was now part-owner of Montgomery Ink Too, the first offshoot of the main shop in downtown Denver.
Yep, she was going to be sick.
“It’s mostly family. Not quite a horde.” Sort of, at least. Even three people felt like a lot at this point since they’d all be there…waiting for her to say something, do something, be someone. And that was enough of that, or she really wouldn’t make it out of the office that day.
“True, since most of your family didn’t come. The entire Montgomery clan would probably fill four buildings at this point.”
“You’re not wrong. Only Austin and Maya came down from Denver since Shep and I asked the others to stay home. It would be a little too much for our small building if everyone showed up.”
“But your sisters and parents are here, plus Shep and his wife, of course, and I’m pretty sure I saw their baby Livvy out there, too. And then Ryan, since you hired him.” Mace stuffed his hands into his pockets. “It’s one big, happy family, who happen to be waiting for you to go out there and possibly start a tattoo a bit later for your first client.”
After what had seemed like months of paperwork and construction, today was opening day for Montgomery Ink Too—MIT for short. Ryan and Mace had called it that one day, and the nickname had stuck. There was nothing she could do now but go with it, weirdness and all. There had been delays and weather issues, but finally, the shop was open. Now, she needed to be an adult and go out into the main room to socialize.
And there went her stomach again.
Mace’s strong arms came around her, and she rested her head on his chest, tucking herself under his chin. He had to lift his head a bit so she could fit since she wasn’t that short, but it was a familiar position for them. No matter what anyone said about Mace, he gave great hugs.
“You’re going to be fine.” His voice rumbled over her, and she could feel the vibrations through his chest and against her cheek.
“You say that now, but what if everything tumbles down and I end up with no clients and ruin the fact that Austin and Maya trusted me with their first satellite shop.”
Austin and Maya were two of her numerous Denver cousins. There were eight freaking siblings in that family, and all of them had married off—with Maya having two husbands even—so it added up to way too many people for her to count. Maya and Austin owned and operated Montgomery Ink in downtown Denver—what was now the flagship shop it seemed.
Her cousins had come to her over a year ago, saying they were interested in expanding the business. Since real estate was sparse off the 16th Street Mall where Montgomery Ink was located, they’d come up with the idea of opening a new tattoo shop in a different city. And wasn’t it nice that they had two other artists in the family so close? Well, Shep hadn’t actually been close at the time since he was still living in New Orleans where he’d met his wife and started his family, but now her big brother was back in Colorado Springs and was here to stay.
Maya and Austin were still the main owners of the business and CEOs of the corporation they’d formed in order to add on, but Shep and Adrienne had bought into the franchise and were now partial owners and managers of Montgomery Ink Too.
That was a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, but she knew she could do it. She just had to buck up and actually walk into the tattoo shop.
“Stop freaking out, Addi. I wouldn’t have come with you on this journey if I didn’t believe in you.” He pulled away and met her gaze, the intensity so great that she had to blink a few times so she could catch her breath.
He was right. He’d given up a lot for her. Though, in the end, the whole arrangement might work out better for him. Hopefully. He’d left a steady job at their old shop to come and work with her. The trust in that action was staggering, and it gave Adrienne the final bit of strength she needed to do this—whatever this was.
“Okay, let’s do this.”
He held out his hand, and she took it, giving it a squeeze before letting go. It wasn’t as if she needed to brace herself against him again or hold his hand as they made their way into the shop. Enough people already wondered just what went on behind closed doors between the two of them. She didn’t need to add fuel to the fire.
Mace was just her best friend, nothing more—though certainly nothing less.
He was at her back as she walked through her office door and into the main room, the heat of him keeping her steady. The shop in Colorado Springs matched the one up north in layout, with only a few minor changes. Each station had its own cubicle area, but once people made it past the front section of the shop where onlookers couldn’t peep in, it was almost all open. There were two private rooms in the back for those who wanted tattoos that required a little less clothing, as well as folding panels that could be placed in each of the artist’s areas so they could be sectioned off easily. Most people didn’t mind having other artists and clients watch them while they got a tattoo, and it usually added to the overall experience. As the licensed piercer in residence, Adrienne could do that part of her job in either of the rooms in the back, as well.
While some shops had closed-off rooms for each artist because the building was a converted home or office building, the Montgomerys hadn’t wanted that. There was privacy when needed and socialization when desired. It was a great setup, and one Adrienne had been jealous of when she was working at her old place on the other side of the city.
“About time you made your way back here,” Maya said dryly, her eyebrow ring glinting under the overhead light.
Adrienne flipped her cousin off then grinned as Maya did the same back. Of all her cousins, she and Maya looked the most alike. They each had long, dark hair, were average height, and had just the right amount of curves to make finding jeans difficult. Of course, Maya had birthed two kids, while Adrienne’s butt came from her love of cookies…but that was neither here nor there.
Everyone stood around talking to one another, cups of water or coffee or tea in their hands as they looked around the place. As they weren’t opening up for tattoos until later in the day, they were able to easily socialize in the main entry area. Their new hire, Ryan, stood off to the side, and Mace went over to him so they would be out of the way. They were really the only two non-Montgomerys, and she could only imagine how they felt.
“The location is pretty damn perfect,” Shep said with a grin. His wife Shea stood by his side, their daughter Livvy bouncing between them. How her niece had gotten so big, Adrienne had no idea. Apparently, time flew when you had your head down, working. “We’re the only tattoo shop around here, which will be good for business.” They were located in a strip mall off the busiest road in their area—other than I-25, of course. That’s how most of the businesses around were set up, with only the large market chains and restaurants having actual acreage behind them.
Adrienne nodded, though her stomach didn’t quite agree. Most of the shops like hers were farther south, near the older parts of downtown. There were trendier places there, and a lot more people who looked like they did with ink and piercings. Up north, on North Academy Blvd, every building was the same: cream or tan-colored, and fit in almost like a bedroom community around the Air Force Academy.
Shep and Adrienne wanted not only the cadets but also everyone who lived in the sprawling neighborhood who wanted ink to find them and come back for more. Beginning something new was always difficult, but starting something new in an area of town that, from the outside at least, didn’t look as if they’d fit in wouldn’t make it any easier.
She knew that a lot of the prejudices about tattoo shops had faded away over time as the art became far more popular and almost normal, but she could still feel people’s eyes on her when they noticed her ink.
“It’s right next to a tea shop, a deli, a spice shop, Thea’s bakery, and a few fancy shopping areas. I think you fit in nicely,” Austin said, his arms folded over his chest as he looked around the place. “You almost have a little version of what we have up north. You just need a bookstore and a café where you can hang out.”
“You’re just spoiled because you don’t even have to walk outside into the cold to get coffee or baked goods,” Adrienne said dryly.
“That is true,” Austin said with a laugh. “Adding in that side door that connects the two businesses was the best decision I ever made.”
“I’ll be sure to mention that to your wife,” Shep said and ducked as Austin’s arm shot out. The two men were nearly forty years old but fought like they were teens. Shea picked up Livvy and laughed before heading over to Maya. Adrienne didn’t actually know her sister-in-law all that well since she hadn’t seen her much, but now that the family had relocated, she knew that would change.
“They’re going to break something,” Thea said with a small laugh as she watched the two play-fight. She was the middle girl of the family but tended to act as if she were the eldest. When the retail spot three doors down from Thea’s bakery had opened up, her sister had stopped at nothing to make sure Adrienne could move in. That was Thea, taking care of her family no matter what.
“Then they’ll deserve it,” Roxie, Adrienne’s other sister said, shaking her head. “As long as they don’t ruin something in the shop, of course,” she added quickly after Adrienne shot her a look. “I meant break something on themselves.” Roxie was the youngest of their immediate family, and often the quietest. None of them were truly quiet since they were Montgomerys, but Roxie sometimes fit the bill.
“Thanks for thinking of my shop that hasn’t even had its first client yet.” Adrienne wrapped her arm around Roxie’s waist for a hug. “Where’s Carter? I thought he said he’d be here.”
Roxie and Carter had gotten married a few months ago, and Adrienne loved her brother-in-law, though she didn’t know him all that well either. He worked long hours, and the couple tended to be very insular since they were still newlyweds.
Roxie’s mouth twisted into a grimace before she schooled her features. “He couldn’t get off work. He tried, but two guys called in, and he was up to his neck in carburetors.”
Adrienne kissed her sister’s temple and squeezed her tightly. “It’s okay. It is the middle of the day, after all. I’m surprised any of you were able to take time off for this.”
Tears formed at the backs of her eyes at the fact that everyone had taken the time to be there for her and Shep. She blinked. She looked up from her sisters and tried not to let her emotions get to her, but then she met Mace’s eyes. He gave her a curious look, and she smiled at him, trying to let him know that she was okay—just a little overwhelmed. Mace had a way of knowing what she felt without her saying it, and she didn’t want him to worry. That’s what happened when you were friends with someone as long as they had been.
“I just wish he would have come,” Roxie said with a shrug. “It’s fine. Everything is fine.”
Adrienne met Thea’s gaze, but the two sisters didn’t say anything. If Roxie had something she wanted to share, she would. For now, everyone had other things on their minds. Namely, opening day.
“Shep punched Austin in the shoulder one more time before backing away and grinning. “Okay, okay, I’m too old for this shit.”
“True, you are too old.” Austin winked, and Adrienne pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Great way to show everyone that we’re all so professional and ready to lead with our own shop,” she said, no bite to her tone. This was her family, and she was used to it all. If they weren’t joking around and being loveable, adorable dorks, she’d have thought something was wrong.
“It’s sort of what we signed on for,” Ryan said with a wink. “Right, Mace? I mean, the legendary Montgomery antics are why any tattoo artist worth their salt wants to join up with them.”
Mace gave them all a solemn nod, laughter dancing in his eyes. “It wouldn’t be a Montgomery gathering without someone getting punched. Isn’t that what you taught me, Adrienne?”
She flipped him off, knowing that Livvy’s head was down so she wouldn’t see. She tried not to be too bad of an influence on her niece.
“Okay, party people. Finish your drinks and cake and then let’s clean up. We have three clients scheduled between one and two this afternoon, and Ryan is handling any walk-ins.” Though she wasn’t sure there would be any walk-ins since it was day one and they were doing a slow start. Some of their long-time clients had moved with them, and they already had a waiting list because of it, but that could change on “dime. Having word of mouth would be what made their shop a success, and that meant getting more clients in who weren’t just the same ones from before.
The door opened, and she held back her frown. They weren’t officially open yet, but it wasn’t as if she could tell a potential customer off. The door had been unlocked, after all.
As a man in a nicely cut suit with a frown on his face walked in, Adrienne had a feeling this wouldn’t be a client.
“Hi there, can I help you?” she asked, moving her way through the crowd. “We’re opening in an hour or so, but if you need any information, I’m here.”
The guy’s face pinched, and she was worried that if he kept it up, it would freeze like that. “I’m not here for whatever it is this establishment does.” His gaze traveled over her family’s and friend’s ink and clothing before it rested back on her. “I’m only here to tell you that you shouldn’t finish unpacking.”
“Excuse me?” Shep asked, his tone serious. The others stood back, letting Adrienne and Shep talk, but she knew they were all there if she needed them.
“You heard me.” The man adjusted his tie. “I don’t know how you got through the zoning board, but I can see they made a mistake. We don’t want your kind here in our nice city. We’re a growing community with families. Like I said, don’t unpack. You won’t be here long.”
Before she could say anything in response to the ridiculous statement, the man turned on his heel and walked out of her building, leaving her family and friends standing beside her, all of them with shocked looks on their faces.
“Well, shit,” Mace whispered then winced as he looked behind him to where Livvy was most likely with her mom.”
“We’ll figure out who that was. But, Adrienne, he won’t be able to shut us down or whatever the hell he wants.” Shep turned to her and gave her that big-brother stare. “Don’t stress about him. He means nothing.”
But she could tell from the look in his eyes, and the worried glances passing back and forth between her family members and friends that none of them quite believed that.
She had no idea who the man was, but she had a bad feeling about him. And every single warm feeling that had filled her at the sight of her family and friends coming together to celebrate the new shop fled, replaced by ice water in her veins.
So much for an easy opening day, she thought, and her stomach roiled again. Perhaps she would throw up because she just knew that wasn’t the last time they’d see that man. Not by a long shot.