Ink Exposed - Carrie Ann Ryan
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Ink Exposed

Book 6 in the Montgomery Ink Series
Special Edition

The Montgomery Ink series continues with the brother that deserves a second chance and the woman who has always loved him.
Alex Montgomery lost his first love and then proceeded to leave himself in the bottle. Only he and his ex-wife truly know why he fell so hard and so fast down a path he never thought he’d take. Now he’s clean, out of rehab, and learning how to be a Montgomery once again—a task that isn’t quite as easy as some of his family assumes.
Tabby Collins is an honorary Montgomery and the organizational mastermind behind Montgomery Inc., the family’s construction company. She loves her planners, friends, and a certain dark-haired man who’s never given her a second glance.
Alex is slowly immersing himself back into the world, but the demons he faced before aren’t done with him yet. When Alex discovers that Tabby’s life is in danger, he not only finds a way to help her but learns the true woman behind the soft smiles he’s always seen. Their romance won’t be an easy one, but nothing this passionate and heart-pounding ever is.

read an excerpt

Ink Exposed is Book 6 in the Montgomery Ink series

The story of Alexander Montgomery and Tabitha Collins continues in Montgomery Midnight Kisses.

Ink Exposed Characters Profiles

Ink Exposed

Chapter One

Alex Montgomery didn’t need a drink.

But he fucking craved one.

This feeling wasn’t new, of course. The craving was always there. It burned in his gut, spiraled up his spine, and parched his throat. It clawed at him, seduced him, rammed into him like it couldn’t help itself. It was like an angry linebacker, screaming in one ear while a seductive temptress whispered sexy innuendos in the other, both of them telling him to just take one drink.

It would only be one drink, they taunted. Just one.

Only it never ended at one drink.

Because Alex was an alcoholic. He hadn’t had a drink soothe his parched throat, or tried to drown his demons in over a year. He still couldn’t quite believe it sometimes, and yet, other times it felt as if it had been so much longer. Sixteen months sober, but an addict nonetheless. No matter how many days passed and how many drinks he didn’t imbibe, he’d always be an alcoholic. That was something he’d learned to face over the past few months, but sometimes knowing it didn’t make trying to live a normal life any easier.

“You’re here early,” Marie Montgomery said as she made her way to his side. He’d been standing outside even in the cold Denver air, but his mother had found him anyway. He loved the scent of mountains and comfort that seemed to permeate his childhood home, and just looking at the woman who’d raised him made him feel that much closer to what he’d lost…and that much farther away from where he’d started.

His mother had aged well, he thought. To the point he wasn’t sure she’d aged at all. If her genes were what the family could go by when they got older, then most of his siblings were going to look just fine as they entered their fifties and sixties. Alex had probably pickled his liver during his depression so he figured it probably wouldn’t be quite the same for him. He’d more than likely end up harder-edged than his already edgy siblings. But that had been his choice at one point, and then out of his hands after he’d fallen too hard. Now, he’d face the consequences of his decisions. And it was about time he faced the aftermath according to his sponsor and therapist.

His mother wrapped her arms around his waist and held on tightly. He ignored the way his stomach tightened, and hugged her back, the action almost rusty. It hadn’t been easy these past few months to remember how affectionate his family had once been with him. He’d pushed them all away over time, and he was just now learning how to come back—if there were a way to come back. When he closed his eyes and inhaled the scent that had once calmed him, he prayed that one day he’d find himself tranquil again.

He used to drink to forget, and then, because he didn’t know anything else, he’d kept drinking. But now, he needed to remember, damn it.

He kissed the top of his mother’s head since she was so much smaller than he was and took a step back. She was a few inches shorter than all of her sons and even a couple of inches shorter than her three daughters. How Marie Montgomery had been able to raise eight kids as well as all of their friends who’d come to their home day after day was beyond him.

“I’m glad you’re here, though.” She patted his chest and looked up at him with worried eyes. She always held that worry now; and he knew it was his fault that it was there.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” he said honestly. His mother’s eyes softened, and he figured he’d said the right thing. “I know the family dinner starts in a couple hours, but I wanted to come early and see if I could help.” Though their family was considered huge in this day and age, the immediate family members all lived within thirty minutes of each other in the Denver suburbs. Some of them had moved away for a year or two for school or life, but they’d all come back to Denver in the end. Once he’d gotten out of rehab, he’d considered moving away and starting over, but he’d just be hurting those who had loved him through all his crap. They’d stayed with him, pushed him toward the decision he’d had to make for himself, and now, he was glad he’d stayed in the city.

At least, that’s how he felt in that moment. With the way his mind kept going in a thousand different directions, he could change his mind again soon.

Since his parents were ecstatic that all of their babies were so close, they held family dinners twice a month. Sometimes, they made it happen more often; sometimes, they could only get everybody together once, but all of Alex’s siblings tried to make it when they could. Add in the fact that the rest of his family had been having children at an alarming rate recently, and their family dinners were always loud, full, and exhausting.

Once again, he ignored the tightening in his stomach.

I can do this, he told himself again.

He’d been normal once. He could try to at least play at being normal again.

“Anyway, you could have come right into the house, Alex,” his mother continued. “You didn’t have to come in through the backyard. You could have just come right in through the front door. No need to even knock since you’re one of my babies. Since the chemo and radiation treatments are over, your father wasn’t taking a nap like he used to.”

Alex’s father, Harry, had battled prostate cancer the year before when Alex had been going through his own self-induced downward spiral. Alex hadn’t been in any shape to be the kind of son Harry needed when he’d faced death and won. Thankfully, Alex had four other brothers who were far stronger than he was, and three sisters who kicked ass at anything they did.

“I wanted to walk the long way before I made it inside.” He shrugged, and she gave him a curious look. He sighed and pointed to one of the picnic tables on the large patio his father and his brother Austin had built over a decade ago. Austin was a few years older than Alex and had always been good with his hands. Yet it had been the next two siblings in the line, Wes and Storm, who had joined Harry in his construction company. While Austin had opened his own tattoo shop with their sister, Maya.

“I brought my camera in case you wanted photos or something and figured I’d see if anything caught my eye out here.” He didn’t look in her direction as he said it, suddenly self-conscious. He was a photographer and photojournalist by trade, but he’d lost many of his contacts when he found himself at the bottom of a bottle. He’d spent the past year trying to atone for his sins, making new connections and repairing the ones he’d broken, but he wasn’t quite there yet.

His mother put her hand on his forearm, and he looked down at her again. “I think that would be wonderful. Nothing formal I suppose since we didn’t warn anyone, but I’d love some shots of the family being who they are and just enjoying themselves. You were always talented at capturing that.” Tears filled her eyes, and she blinked them away, though not fast enough for him not to feel like a heel for putting them there. “I look forward to seeing what you come up with. You’re so talented.”

He nodded, swallowing hard. Maybe one day he wouldn’t feel like a stranger in the home he’d grown up in, but today wouldn’t be that day. Hell, he felt like a stranger in his own skin, let alone allowing space for anyone else to see who he was.

He didn’t even know who he was anymore.

“Mrs. Montgomery?”

Alex turned at the sound of the soft voice behind him, his heart suddenly beating just a bit faster, though he didn’t know why.

Tabitha moved toward them, a hesitant smile on her face as she studied him and his mom. She wore her light auburn hair up high in a ponytail, but he was pretty sure at one point she’d been blonde. Though it might have just been a trick of the light. If he were honest with himself, he couldn’t quite remember much of the past couple of years. She was a little above average height and all legs—legs he’d checked out more than once in the past year.

But he’d always pushed those thoughts aside, just as he would now. He was in recovery, damn it, and though he was past the year mark that most people suggested addicts wait to start a relationship, he knew that Tabitha wouldn’t be the woman he started up with once he was ready.

She worked with his brothers, Storm and Wes, at Montgomery Inc. She was the administrative assistant for the construction company his parents had started before he was born, and he was pretty sure she ran the company with utmost efficiency. Wes might be super organized and diligent, but Alex knew Wes and Storm wouldn’t be able to function without Tabitha.

“Tabby!” His mother moved forward and brought the other woman into her arms.

Tabitha smiled fondly, this time not as hesitantly, and hugged his mother back. “Hi, Mrs. Montgomery. I thought I’d come a bit early and see if you needed help cooking today. Mr. Montgomery let me in and I saw you guys out here through the window.”

Alex stuffed his hands into his pockets and watched the way his mother fawned over Tabitha. He couldn’t really blame her either. There wasn’t a bad bone in Tabitha’s body, and every time he saw her, she was always put together and helping someone. He didn’t know if she had anyone at home waiting for her or family around here, but he knew the Montgomerys had taken her in anyway. They tended to do that to anyone they liked and admired who came near enough to their web.

“How many times have I asked you to call me Marie, Tabby?” Marie held Tabitha’s hands and shook her head, though he could tell his mother was smiling.

“Every time I see you. But I have a bad habit I can’t seem to shake.” Tabitha looked up and over at Alex and smiled, though it wasn’t the same smile she’d given his mother, and he couldn’t quite read it. “Hi, Alexander.”

“Hi.” He always found it weird that they were the only ones who called each other by their full names but it had been one of those things that had stuck years ago, and he didn’t know how to change it. And frankly, he didn’t want to.

“Anyway, it’s Storm’s turn to help me in the kitchen if you want to join me,” Marie put in. “The rest of the kids and their babies will be here a bit later.” She looked over her shoulder. “Alex, honey, grab your camera and come inside. If you’re bored, you can help us start cooking.”

His stomach did that tightening thing again at the thought of being included, but this time, it didn’t hurt. No, it was more a warmth he couldn’t quite place. He kind of liked it.

“I can do that,” he said softly then went back to get his camera. He jogged to the picnic table and picked up his bag. His hands shook, and he forced himself to take a deep breath and count to ten.

“Are you okay?”

He turned on his heel, his eyes widening. He hadn’t heard Tabitha came up behind him, and he swallowed hard, his heart racing. “Yeah, just picking up my camera.”

She tilted her head, studying his face. “Okay. Your mom went into the kitchen to get her lists. Storm will be here in a few minutes, apparently. I hope you don’t mind that I came early to help out. I didn’t know you’d be here ahead of time, as well, and I didn’t mean to break up whatever you and your mom were planning.”

He quickly shook his head as he placed the strap of his bag on his shoulder. He kept fiddling with it since, for some reason, he wanted to reach out and touch her in order to reassure her. He didn’t need to be touching Tabitha in any way.

“You didn’t interrupt anything.” He gave a dry laugh, and she gave him a curious look. “You’re part of the family now, you know. If anything, I bet you’re more of a Montgomery than I am these days.” He hadn’t meant to say the latter, and could have kicked himself once the words were out. He hadn’t meant to open up like that.

She didn’t give him a pitying look, however. Instead, she narrowed her eyes. “You’re a Montgomery, even if you don’t think of it that way right now. You’ve always been a Montgomery and not just in name.” She let out a breath, and the two of them stood in an awkward silence. “Anyway, we should get going so we can help out.” She turned on her heel, and he let out a breath of his own before he followed her.

He didn’t know what it was about Tabitha Collins that had made him open up even that little bit just then, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to find out anytime soon.

When they got inside, Storm was just walking in through the front door, a large smile on his face. Storm and Wes were fraternal twins so they didn’t look exactly alike, but out of all the Montgomerys, they looked the most alike. All of them had dark hair and blue eyes, and most of them had ink and piercings, as well. Considering a couple of his siblings owned and operated a tattoo shop, it only made sense. They made for an eclectic bunch, but they were Montgomerys so that’s all that mattered.

Or, at least, that’s all that should have mattered until Alex kicked all of that to the curb.

He shook off those thoughts and went to greet Storm. The two of them did that man hug thing he never truly understood but did anyway before they headed into the kitchen. Storm hugged Tabitha close before kissing her on the top of the head and getting to work.

“Is that how you treat your staff at work, dear?” Marie asked with a twinkle in her eyes. Alex was pretty sure Marie wanted Tabitha married into the Montgomery clan, and figured either Wes or Storm would do.

Alex didn’t count, after all.

Storm winked and kissed his mother’s cheek. “Only outside of work, Mom. Don’t worry.”

Tabitha blushed and waved them off. “If they tried it at the office, I’d kick their butts. Don’t worry.”

“It’s true,” Storm said as he searched through the fridge. “She could take all of us.”

Alex raised a brow. “Good to know.”

If it were possible, Tabitha blushed even harder before going back to work. Alex held back a frown at the reaction and set down his camera case before his mother put him to work, as well. As long as he wasn’t at home sitting alone and trying to think of something to do, he’d take whatever came next.

It took a couple of hours, but they eventually had the meal ready to go. His mom had wanted to go Italian tonight so they had a couple of pans of lasagna, an Alfredo dish, as well as pasta with meatballs for the kids. They’d even made salads, side dishes, and antipasto. Since there were eight siblings, and most of them had significant others, as well as children and people like Tabitha who had been practically adopted in, that added up. There were a lot of mouths to feed. But the Montgomerys sure knew how to take care of each other even if they were only talking about their stomachs this time.

His mother had been in charge of desserts so he knew there would be tons of sweet goodness after the main meal, as well. He rubbed a hand over his stomach and sighed. He wasn’t sure he’d have room for dessert in the end, and he didn’t want to overindulge. He’d done that enough in his life.

As the rest of the family began to arrive, he pulled out his camera. This wasn’t his first family meal since he’d gotten out of rehab, but he still wasn’t up to the full strength needed to deal with the entire lot of them at once.

His family loved him. He knew that. They were the ones who’d forced him to look at himself and had been there to pick up the pieces when he’d fallen apart. He hadn’t been strong enough to do it alone, and while he didn’t resent them for it, he did resent himself.

It was easier to be behind the lens and take photos of his family interacting than it was to actually be part of it. While he was still there, he could step away and be an observer.

He focused on one side of the room, snapping a few photos as his sister Meghan threw her head back and laughed at something her husband Luc said. Luc held their daughter, Emma, in his arms. The little girl was about five months old now if he was counting right. In fact, his three sisters had each given birth to a child five months ago, which just went to show how close the Montgomerys were. They even bred on a similar schedule so their children could grow up together. Though he knew they hadn’t done it on purpose, it was still a little weird.

His other sister, Maya, leaned back against one of her husbands, Border, while their third, Jake, held their son, Noah. Beside them, Miranda, Alex’s final sister, held her son, Micah, while her husband, Decker, stood to the side of them, smiling like a proud papa.

Alex continued to take photos, ignoring the ache in his chest at the sight of all of his family members finding their own paths and making families of their own.

He’d fucked up the family he had, and knew he wouldn’t be getting a second chance. His ex-wife was long gone, thankfully, and he wasn’t about to fall into that trap again.

He didn’t figure he was strong enough to do it a second time.

Once again, he pushed those thoughts from his mind and kept taking photos. Griffin and Autumn cuddling in the corner. Austin and Sierra wrangling heir brood in the center of the room. His parents dancing to the delight of Tabitha, Storm, and Wes. With each click of the shutter, he captured the memory for eternity without actually living it himself.

It was what he did, though, and he’d be damned if he failed at this one thing.

The timer went off behind him, and he turned as his mother clapped her hands, signaling the troops. “Okay, crew, find your seats. Storm and Alex? Come help me put the food out on the table.”

When his mother spoke, people listened, so he put away his camera and went to place the plates of food on the table. Each sibling took their turn acting as sous chef and waitstaff, so Alex took his role in stride. Thankfully, those talented with building things with their own two hands in his family had built a large banquet table to fit everyone at once. Though he figured with all the children popping up everywhere, it would be a tight fit soon.

Eventually, he found himself seated next to Jake on one side, and his nephew, Austin’s son, Leif, on the other. Tabitha sat in front of him with Storm and Wes on either side of her. While his mother hadn’t put out place cards, he had a feeling she’d had a hand in that particular seating arrangement. His mom really wanted Tabitha as part of the family.

Everyone piled their plates high with food, though he was very careful to only take small portions of each dish. Everything was so carb and fat rich, and he had to be careful and not gorge himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to eat everything, but now that he didn’t have drinking to binge on, and had never turned to smoking, he was afraid he’d overindulge with food. Too many of those in his program had done that, and he didn’t want to trade one vice for another. His therapist was okay with the way he policed himself for now, but Alex knew he would always be balancing on the line of obsession and a new addiction.

“Did you get enough?” Leif asked from Alex’s side. The kid was almost a teenager now, which scared the hell out of his dad, as well as Alex. “I can reach the Alfredo if you want more.”

Alex shook his head. “I’m good. I have enough on my plate. Thank you.”

Leif shrugged. “You’re welcome.”

“You sure you’re eating enough?” Storm asked, and Alex narrowed his eyes.

“Yep. I promise.” His tone must not have been as smooth as he’d have liked because the others went a bit quiet around him. “I’m eating plenty, I promise.” And he was, though he’d eaten more in the past. But now that he was working out more, he’d added additional protein to his diet and not carbs. He hated that he even had to justify it, but he’d messed everything up before by becoming an alcoholic so he figured his family might not trust him to take care of himself anymore.

Not that he blamed them.

He didn’t entirely trust himself.

Everyone continued to eat and talk, and Alex spoke quietly with Jake and some of the others when they asked him questions. He still wasn’t completely comfortable so it was easier to sit and observe rather than participate.

“Hey, I might have a job for you if you’re interested,” Storm said, breaking Alex out of his thoughts.

“Really?” he asked. He needed the money, and if Storm could help him find a legitimate job, then he’d take it. He didn’t want handouts, but he’d work for it.

“Yeah. Actually, it was Wes and Tabby’s idea.”

Alex turned to the others, his brows raised.

Tabby blushed, but Wes was the one who answered. “We’re redoing the website, and we want to have a couple of printed books to hand out and for the office. Hardbound for the office, but I don’t know yet about the other printed materials. We want to focus on what we’re good at and show off what we’ve done. Storm and I could easily snap a few photos, but they wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as what you do.”

“We’d pay you your normal fee, too,” Storm added. “It’s not like we’d expect you to just do it for us because you’re family.”

Alex frowned. “But you should expect that.”

“Uh, no,” Maya put in. “You all pay for your ink when you come into the shop.”

“And I get paid for doing work with Montgomery Inc. even though I’m family,” Meghan said softly. “We all work together because we’re family, but we need to make a living, as well.”

Alex swallowed hard, aware that everyone was looking at him. He felt exposed, raw, but he ignored it. He’d felt even more exposed before when he’d tried to drink himself to death, only this time, he didn’t have the booze to numb it all.

“I think I can do that. Just tell me what you want.”

He didn’t miss the way his mother reached for his father’s hand, and the two of them looked at him as if he’d made a giant leap.

He let out a breath and tried to ignore the stares. Finally, it was Tabitha who made a noise, breaking the tension. She yelped as she reached out for her water, spilling it on her lap and some of the table. “Oops! Sorry!”

She winked at him, but he wasn’t sure anyone else had noticed. He stood up to help her, but Storm and Wes were already on the case. He didn’t know why Tabitha had done that and taken the heat off him, but he sure was grateful. Soon, the others went back to what they were doing, and Tabitha came out with a new glass and more napkins.

When they were finished eating, everyone took their plates to the kitchen and picked up more drinks if needed. Alex pulled out a soda. Though he didn’t need the sugar, he wanted the caffeine and wasn’t in the mood for coffee.

Austin and Wes pulled out beers for themselves while in the middle of a conversation about Wes’s next tattoo. When Austin popped the top, the sound echoed at just the right frequency within the kitchen so that everyone heard it. In fact, every single person froze where they were and turned mortified looks toward Alex.

For the first few dinners, everyone had stayed away from drinking around him, but he’d hated that. None of his family members had ever abused alcohol and had always been really careful about who was driving even after one drink. He’d eventually convinced them to start drinking what they wanted, but it hadn’t been easy. Alcohol wasn’t evil, but Alex didn’t know how to say no after one or two drinks. It wasn’t within him to do so, and therefore, he had to stay away from it entirely. But after a long day where his family worked until sweat soaked through their shirts at their demanding jobs, if they wanted a simple beer, then damn it, they deserved it.

And he’d learned to live with it.

One step at a time.

In response to the stares, he deliberately opened his soda slowly, the pop of the top echoing just as much as Austin’s beer had. The tension in the room popped like a balloon, and he could practically see everyone take a deep breath as one.

One day, he figured he might be forgiven for how he’d betrayed his family, but it wouldn’t be anytime soon. He’d broken their trust, and he’d broken himself in the process.

His gaze met Tabitha’s across the kitchen, and she swallowed hard, her eyes wide. He deliberately turned away and headed into the living room where some of the others were. He didn’t deserve to look at Tabitha that way. She was too sweet, too innocent for a man like him.

She deserved someone who hadn’t carved his path through the world with a broken bottle. And he deserved…well, he wasn’t sure what he deserved, but it wasn’t her.

It would never be her.

end of excerpt
Ink Exposed

Content Warning:

Grief, Addiction, Alcoholism, Assault