Inked Devotion - Carrie Ann Ryan
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Inked Devotion

Book 3 in the Montgomery Ink: Fort Collins Series

Montgomery Ink Book 18

The Montgomery Ink saga from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan continues with a road trip romance between two friends running from their past.

Brenna Garrett needs time to think about a major decisions, but finds herself bringing Benjamin Montgomery with her. The problem? He’s her best friend’s twin, so there’s no escaping that familiar face.

Benjamin didn’t want to leave his family in a lurch, but Brenna isn’t the only one who needs a break. Only a drunken mistake leads to a night of passion with unintended consequences.

When it turns out they can’t walk away, they’ll have to make a choice: remain just friends or start something new and possibly risk everything.

Including themselves.

read an excerpt

Inked Devotion is Book 3 in the Montgomery Ink: Fort Collins series

Inked Devotion Characters Profiles

Inked Devotion

I don’t know when it happened. One day I was surrounded by family, more than my share of family, to be honest. The next, I had been adopted by the Montgomerys.

I grew up with a wonderful family. The Garretts took care of me. They loved me. They were slightly overbearing sometimes, but so were the Montgomerys, for that matter. The Garretts were funny, sweet, and loved me. My parents had helped me through college. I had paid for half, and they had paid for the other. My family and I talked weekly, sometimes daily. We had a group chat that sometimes went off so much that I had to learn how to turn off the vibrate on my phone to focus during work. My family was amazing.

And yet, I was still a Montgomery. I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but I wasn’t the only one. I looked over the barbecue area in the backyard where Lee stood, and he raised his beer at me before he leaned down to listen to what Paige and her boyfriend Colton were talking about.

Lee was another adoptee into the Montgomerys, though his family wasn’t exactly like mine. However, Lee was one of my best friends, as were Beckett and Benjamin. The twin Montgomerys had taken me into their family, where I had met Annabelle and Paige and Archer, and suddenly I had such a group of friends that I was invited to Montgomery family dinners, because tonight was a family dinner. Not a party, not a barbecue, just a family dinner. With five children, each with friends of their own that had somehow become family, and spouses and significant others, the group had gotten larger.

Annabelle sat in a lawn chair, her feet on her husband’s lap as he rubbed her ankles. She was pregnant and probably didn’t even have ankle pain at that point, but Jacob just needed to get his hands on her, and in front of her parents, this was pretty much the only way to do it.

Beckett operated the grill, with Eliza standing next to him, rolling her eyes as he most likely was mansplaining how to use the grill. Beckett was terrific, my best friend for a reason, and the one I shared most of my secrets with, but as soon as he stood in front of a grill, he became the Neanderthal who needed to show precisely how man made fire. Of course, his father stood on the other side of him, explaining to Beckett and Eliza how to use the grill.

As Eliza had been living on her own long before she’d lost her husband, thanks to constant deployments, I knew Eliza knew how to use a grill, we all knew, but she was in love, and it was a new and sappy sweet love, so she was going to let Beckett explain to her.

And I wasn’t jealous. Not with Beckett, not at all.

Okay. So I was a little jealous, but not because of Beckett. Despite what everybody in the world thought, I was not in love with Beckett Montgomery. I had never been. I’d suffered a minor crush on him that had turned into nothing, and yet everyone thought I had been pining for him. I had no idea where the rumor had started, and no matter how many times I tried to deny it, or even not talk about it so it would go away, it only intensified their knowingness of my deep love for that man.

Now that he was getting married and he and Eliza were ready to spend the rest of their lives together, hopefully that whole crush thing and unrequited love thing would die down.

Maybe.

Archer and his boyfriend were talking to Mrs. Montgomery. Marc had a scowl on his face, confusing me since the man didn’t usually show emotion at the Montgomery house. I liked Archer’s boyfriend, though I didn’t know a lot about him.

“Why are you over here frowning at the rest of the party and not part of it?” Clay asked, as I looked over at the newest adopted person into the Montgomerys. Of course, Clay had been adopted into another set of Montgomerys before he’d even come here. Beckett’s cousins had been the ones to introduce Clay to this part of the family and were why Clay was now working for Montgomery Builders.

“I’m not frowning,” I said as I relaxed my face.

“Totally frowning. And I don’t hear screaming, so the kids must be in the house with Benjamin?” Clay asked as he rubbed his jaw. “Hell. I had that phone call with the bank, and now I’ve misplaced three kids.”

I knew Clay was his cousins’ legal guardian, but I didn’t know the whole story behind it. I knew it was complicated and far from an easy topic, so I didn’t ask. Beckett knew why, but I didn’t think anyone else did. And that was fine. When Clay was ready to tell us, if he ever was, we’d be here. We all had our issues.

“Yes,” I answered, shaking my head. “They wanted to look at a video game that Benjamin had over here.”

Clay laughed. “Benjamin has a video game set here?”

“I do,” Archer said as he walked over and put his arms around my shoulders. He kissed the top of my head, and I grinned up at him.

“Really?”

“Yes,” Archer said, grinning. “One of my old sets is over here, but Benjamin keeps a few of his old games too. I guess the kids were bored out in the backyard, or just being kids,” Archer said.

“Mariah is nearly five now. She is not a baby, according to her. Ryan is nearly five now, so you would think I would be used to the fact that all of these kids are getting older and we are no longer able to put them in a playpen and call it a day.”

I laugh. “There’s no way that you ever were that guardian just to stick them in a playpen and call it a day.”

“No, and I think they’d probably just learn how to crawl out of it anyway.”

“Do you want some help?” Clay shook his head as Benjamin walked out, Mariah on Benjamin’s back, and Holden and Jackson laughing as Benjamin said something. Benjamin was the quiet Montgomery. He scowled more and growled more, though I always figured that his twin Beckett growled the most. That’s because Beckett tended to get angrier more often.

Benjamin was a quiet angry that simmered. I called him my friend too. After all, I hung out with him as much as I did Lee these days. I didn’t hang out with Beckett as much anymore, but that was because we had our issues.

My issues.

Clay went to take Mariah off of Benjamin’s back, shook his head, and the little girl laughed. She started chasing Holden, who therefore chased Jackson, and Clay rubbed his temples.

Archer beamed before he followed them. Mrs. Montgomery just smiled softly as Archer’s boyfriend scowled a bit and went back to his phone.

“Work?” I asked, and Marc looked taken aback for a moment that I would talk to him. Then again, I didn’t speak to him often. We weren’t left alone too often. Or semi-alone, since Benjamin was still walking towards us.

He lifted his chin, a strained smile on his face. “Yes, work issues. I may have to head out early, but I don’t want Archer to lose this time with his family.”

“That’s sweet, and I’m sorry that you’re having work issues.”

“Comes with the job. It’s fine, I’ll get it taken care of, and I’ll make sure that Archer gets something to eat before we have to go.”

I frowned as he walked away, putting his phone to his ear, and Benjamin sighed. “What?” I asked.

“I don’t think I like him. I don’t know why I don’t like him. That makes me feel like an asshole.”

I held back a wince. “I don’t like him either. I don’t know if it’s just because he’s bad with people or an asshole. Maybe we’re the assholes.”

Benjamin looked at me and winked, looking so much like Beckett I was nearly taken aback. “I think we are the assholes, Brenna. Sorry.”

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “You ready to eat?”

“Maybe. If Beckett ever finishes with the grill,” I mumbled.

Benjamin snorted. “You’ll notice that none of us are over there helping. He’s in his caveman phase to show his woman he knows how to deal with fire.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” I said with a laugh.

He gave me a look as if he were steeling himself. “You okay with that?”

I held back a groan, knowing I’d have to explain everything again. “Okay with what?”

“You know, Eliza and Beckett.”

“The fact that my best friend is happy and in love? What’s there not to be okay about?” He opened his mouth to say something, and I held up my hand. “I’m not in love with Beckett. I never was. Eventually, I will get it skywritten by a plane, or maybe just a large banner. Or maybe a tattoo on my forehead so the rest of all of you will understand.”

Benjamin just blinked before he slid his hands through his hair. “Sorry. This seems to be a touchy subject.”

I rolled my eyes. “Of course, it’s a touchy subject. You would feel it was touchy if everyone thought you were in love with somebody even when you weren’t. He was my best friend.”

“Was?”

I could have kicked myself at the slip. “He still is. Now my best friend circles include Annabelle, Paige, Lee, and even you.”

“Even me,” he muttered. “So glad that I’m tacked on there.”

“You know what I mean. I just, I suck at this whole thing. I really should just stick to baking cakes and not dealing with words.”

“Words are hard.”

“Are you making fun of me?” I asked him, scowling.

“Brenna Garrett, I would never once make fun of you.”

I sighed. “I still think you’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not. Honestly, I thought you did. I thought you loved him. Or I thought it was a crush, or it was something. I’m sorry.”

I shrugged. “Don’t be. There’s nothing really to say about that. You weren’t the only one. I had the stars in my eyes while looking at him, and maybe it was just because I liked having someone I could talk to about everything.”

“You can talk to me,” he said, almost absently.

I looked at him then. I wished that were true. Because I wasn’t sure I could talk to anybody about what was on my mind. And it had nothing to do with Beckett Montgomery.

“You’re a good man, Benjamin.”

He snorted. “That’s a good way to start off the night. I’m a good man, but I’m never going to tell you my secrets.”

“You don’t need to know all of my secrets, Benjamin. They’re scary.”

“With the way that our family rolls? I’m pretty sure we all have you beat.”

“And then what are your secrets?” I asked, only slightly teasing.

He shrugged. “I don’t have any. I think I’m the most boring Montgomery.”

“That may be true,” I said deadpan.

He shoved my shoulder right when Mrs. Montgomery looked at us. “Benjamin, stop hurting that poor girl. What are you thinking?”

“Sorry, Mom.” He put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed me close. “See? We’re all fine.”

“Yes, we are.” I reached around and hugged Benjamin around his hips. “See? No violence.”

“Wow, that’s just what they say before the violence starts.” Beckett walked in, holding a plate of meat. “Meat is ready. Dinner is served.”

“You know there are side dishes and salads and drinks and other things to go with that? I swear to God, you fall in love and get engaged and suddenly are all growly and weird,” Paige joked as she bounced in. “However, we do have all of the side dishes ready, so dinner is served,” she bounced, clapping her hands.

Her boyfriend Colton just rolled his eyes behind her, picked her up quickly so she let out a little giggle, and he carried her against his chest onto the back patio where the table was set up.

I nearly swooned at the image of love and happiness. They had been dating around the same length as Archer and Marc had been. In the interim, Annabelle and Jacob had gotten married, and Beckett and Eliza were engaged. The two original couples were still going strong in the dating zone. Archer looked like he was comfortable where he was at with Marc, the two of them taking their time. Only I knew Paige was antsy. The fact that she had told us she was antsy was only part of it. Her family was getting married and having children, and she felt like she was being left behind.

As somebody without even a prospect of a happy ever after, I knew exactly how that felt. Only I wasn’t going to be left behind, damn it. I had plans of my own. Plans that nobody else needed to know about.

I quickly took my seat between Benjamin and Lee as the two of them stuck their elbows on the tables, taking over my space. I rolled my eyes and elbowed them both in the guts, and they looked down at me.

“What?” They said at the same time.

“You both are hulking big men. I get it. You’re all growling and all filled with testosterone. Stop taking over my space. This is mine. I’ve made a little rectangle around my part of the table with my fingertips. All mine, mine, mine, mine.”

“So, tell us about how you feel about sharing,” Clay joked as he looked pointedly over at the three kids staring at me.

“I share quite nicely,” I replied, raising my chin to Mariah. “However, as a young girl, you should realize that when boys are so big, they don’t realize how much space they take. You need to define your boundaries. Be careful about what is yours.”

“Damn straight,” Annabelle said, before she put her hand over her mouth. “I mean darn straight. Oh my God, I’m going to have to stop cursing when the baby comes.”

Jacob chuckled into his beer.

“Maybe one step at a time. The baby’s going to be a Montgomery. It’s already going to be cursing out of the womb and pretty much covered in tattoos and piercings.” Archer grinned as he looked over his shoulder, waiting for Marc to come back to the table.

“The baby will be a Queen,” Jacob said quietly, and everyone else let out an ooh at the same time.

I laughed and took a sip of my water. “It seems the gauntlet has been thrown.”

“No gauntlet, but the baby’s a Queen. Sorry.”

Annabelle smiled. “Aw, Jacob, don’t worry. The Montgomerys breed true. We’re still going to be there. Watching. Waiting. Montgomerys forever,” she whispered, while the rest of the Montgomerys repeated it back.

I looked at Lee, who winked at me, while Colton just shook his head, looking as bewildered as usual.

“Sorry, I need to head out,” Marc said as he leaned down and kissed Archer softly. “I know you just sat down for dinner, but do you want to come with me?”

There was a pleading look in his gaze, but Archer just shook his head. “It’s okay. I’ll get a ride home.”

“I’ve got you,” Lee said. Lee looked up at Marc, who nodded. “Seriously, Marc, he’s safe with me.”

There was a tiny tick in Marc’s jaw, but he shrugged, kissed Archer again, said he was sorry for leaving, and left. I figured that Marc was just awkward, but maybe it was because I was usually the awkward one. Everybody dug into their food, and I looked around, wondering again how I’d become a Montgomery.

I wasn’t sure why I was here anymore. Things had changed between Beckett and me, but not because he had fallen in love with Eliza. But because I had something to tell him that I had never been able to. I had tried, and he’d pushed me away because he was hiding his own secrets.

I wasn’t sure how to come back from that. Things were awkward, and I hated that.

It didn’t help that I would be leaving soon, just for a little bit, but my family needed me. Or at least that’s what they told me.

“So, when do you head out?” Beckett asked from the other end of the table, and I looked up at him. It was odd, as I used to sit next to him, but Mrs. Montgomery had sat me over here. Was it because she thought I felt like I had lost my best friend? Because that wasn’t the case. Everybody kept putting this label on me, the unrequited, sad virgin, even though I was none of those things. Nobody listened.

“I leave in two days,” I answered.

“And you’re driving?” Beckett said. “I still can’t believe you don’t like planes.”

“I don’t mind planes, but I want to make it a road trip. Lots of space to think.”

Everybody met each other’s gazes, and I knew I’d said the wrong thing.

Benjamin nudged me, cutting into the awkward silence. “Sounds like fun. I haven’t done a road trip in forever.”

“They are fun. Plus, you’re in control of your car. You can’t just get out and stop and take in the scenery while you were in an airplane.”

“No, I think if you have to pull over on the side of the air road, it might be a little dangerous,” Benjamin said, and Lee groaned from the other side of me.

“Air road?”

“Hey, like I said, not good with the words,” Benjamin said.

“No, I’m the one who said I’m not good with the words,” I said with a laugh. “Reunion’s going to be fun.” I looked up at Mrs. Montgomery again. “It’ll be good to see everybody again.”

“And all of your sisters and brothers will be there?” she asked, and I nodded again, taking a bite of my chicken. “Yes, all of them will be there, with their spouses and the babies. And four of the women are pregnant.”

Mrs. Montgomery’s eyes widened. “Oh wow.”

“Yes, it’s going to rival a Montgomery barbecue, and that’s just our side of the family.”

“I always forget you have such a huge family,” Annabelle put in with a smile on her face.

“Very, very much so. I think that’s why I fit in here so well, right?” I asked with a wink, and everyone smiled at me, but it felt forced.

Or maybe I just saw things.

Thankfully, the conversation shifted to something else, and we finished our meals before I decided I needed to head out. After all, I had packing to do, and I just needed to get home.

Everybody was kind as I walked to my car, Benjamin walking with me.

“You doing okay?” he asked.

I sighed. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“I’ll help you stem the tide of the whole awkwardness thing if you want.”

I looked up at him then and frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I can see it now. The way that people are acting around you. I don’t like it. So I’ll help you.”

“I don’t need your help, Benjamin.” I wondered why it irked me that he wanted to.

“I want to help you because I like you, Brenna. We’re friends. Right?”

“We are.”

“Then I’m going to make sure that the family stops acting so weird. I mean, we’re weird daily, but I don’t like the way it was just now.”

Neither had I, and the fact that he’d seen it too meant it wasn’t only in my head. “Thanks, but I can figure it out on my own.”

“You can, you will, but you don’t have to.” He kissed the top of my head, headed to his car, and I got into mine. My phone buzzed at that moment, and I looked at the readout, my heart clenching.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Brenna. I just wanted to let you know that the tests are ready, and the next set of treatments will be when you get back.”

“Okay,” I said. “Dr. Geller, does this mean I’m going to have to pick a donor now?” I asked with a cringe.

“Yes, a donor will be good. The fertility treatments are going well. You’re doing what you should. You’re taking care of yourself. Soon we’ll be at the stage for implantation.”

I swallowed hard. “And then a baby. I’ll be able to have a baby.”

I smiled as I said it, and I listened to her speak again before I hung up the phone and let out a breath.

I was going to have a baby. Maybe not in the most conventional sense, but I was ready. I was ready for my future. I did not need a relationship to make that happen. So yes, I was a Garrett. A Montgomery.

And soon, I’d make my own family.

Even if I was the only person that knew.

end of excerpt

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