Book 3 in the Montgomery Ink: Colorado Springs Series
The Montgomery Ink: Colorado Springs series continues with a couple fighting to keep what they thought they had and gain what they didn’t know they needed.
Roxie Montgomery met her soul mate when she least expected it. When he asked her to marry him, she thought her happily ever after was only just beginning. Then, she found that walking into the sunset was much harder than her favorite books made it out to be. After a crushing loss, she feels as though she doesn’t know her husband anymore, or rather…she doesn’t know herself.
Carter Marshall has loved Roxie since the first time he saw her. But as the days pass between them, so does the distance. He doesn’t know how to show her that he’s all in, and honestly doesn’t know if she’s in at all. When an accident changes everything, they’ll have to decide if what they have can be salvaged, or if starting over is the answer. Or even possible.
Without fighting, without a true new beginning, sometimes, the remnants of what was lost can leave anyone jagged, shells of what they were before. It will take more than the idea of forever for Roxie and Carter to find themselves again, but as the Montgomerys know, nothing worth fighting for is easy.
Fire burned, bright and hot.
Those were the first things that had come to Carter Marshall’s mind when the explosion hit.
He hadn’t thought of what might happen, not even for a moment, when he threw himself on top of Thea’s body, trying to take the brunt of the heat.
But the heat.
It was so fucking hot.
Carter snorted to himself, thinking about that. Of course, fire was hot. Of course, it burned. Of course, it singed. Thankfully, he hadn’t been able to scent his own skin burning. But he had been able to smell burnt flour and other baked goods as the industrial bakery oven exploded in front of them.
He’d heard screams, mostly coming from Thea, and maybe from himself. He’d heard people rushing towards them. He’d heard other people crying out.
He had heard it all, but he hadn’t really felt much.
Maybe he wasn’t supposed to feel anything. Maybe, in that moment, it had been how it was supposed to be.
At least that’s what he’d thought when he attempted not to feel, when he tried to make sure Thea was okay and ensure he could maybe walk out of the inferno.
And then he’d woken up, and he hadn’t been dead.
And he hadn’t been alone.
Roxie had been there.
The Montgomerys had been there.
He hadn’t been alone.
And for someone who’d thought he always would be, that was a comfort. At least…it had been.
Someone had tried to destroy part of his sister-in-law’s bakery, Colorado Icing. And in doing so, that person had almost killed the love of his life’s sister. Had nearly killed Thea. And had almost killed him.
Now, he sat in a hospital bed, wondering what the fuck to do, because the explosion was only the beginning.
The heat, the flames, yes, they burned brightly and quickly.
But the dull ache running down his side and in his heart…that was what would last. That he would have to deal with.
“Are you okay over there?” Mace asked, his brows drawn. Carter turned to look at the other man with his dark hair and inked skin peeking out from under his shirt sleeves. Mace had been there for over an hour, just waiting. Waiting like all of them were doing.
Carter almost shrugged to say that he was okay, then stopped himself just in time. He had pretty severe burns down his side and leg, even some on his neck. And, because of that, shrugging would likely hurt like hell.
He would be okay. The doctors had told him that over and over again. He didn’t even have to worry about infection as much as he might have if he had been in the fire even a second longer. But because the flames had gone overhead, and he had flattened himself as much as possible over Thea’s body, he was going to be okay. Well, as okay as he could be with severe burns down his side, though, thankfully not life-threatening ones. And he had full mobility, or he would. I will be okay, he repeated to himself.
Finally, he answered Mace. “I’m fine. Just tired.” He didn’t ask the question he wanted to. Didn’t ask the question that he should have the minute he woke up and saw Mace by his side.
It was the second day after the explosion, and when he was asleep through his surgery, things had gone to hell and back with his family. Thea had discharged herself from the hospital, thankfully, not as hurt as he was. Then, she’d gone off to see what had happened to her boyfriend as he had left her side and hadn’t come back. Apparently, Dimitri had gotten hurt in another accident and was even now in the same hospital as Carter.
The Montgomerys sure liked coming to medical centers.
Carter should know that, he had married a Montgomery after all, and he had spent more time in hospitals with Roxie than he cared to admit. He swallowed down bile from the pain, tried to push the thoughts from his head. He had to do that often when it came to Roxie. Not think. Not dwell.
It was better for both of them. He just focused on the now, and not the past…and sure as hell not the future.
Mace leaned forward in his chair, his expression concerned. “You want me to get you something?”
Carter shook his head, at least as much as he was able. “I’m fine. Just bored.” True. Somewhat.
Mace snorted. “Well, I’m not going to lie, I’m glad you’re bored. Because you’re here and able to be bored.”
“I guess that’s true. If I have time to be bored, I guess I have time to heal. I’d just rather be home while I do it.”
But as soon as Carter said the words, he wasn’t sure that was true. Home was awkward, it wasn’t easy. Home was full of memories, the depth of them piled on top of one another like coats of paint that had never been chipped away.
Taking away his breath.
He was suffocating, trying to figure out what to say, trying not to step on toes—even his own. He hated it, but he didn’t know how to stop it. Didn’t know how to make things better.
He didn’t know if there was a better.
It would be easier if he didn’t love Roxie. Things were always easier if love wasn’t in the equation.
He pulled himself from his thoughts again. He needed to. “What?”
Mace’s voice was low and far too careful. “Her mom sent her home. Said she needed to take a shower and get some sleep. She’s been in the waiting room or by your side since she ran into the ER after we all found out about the accident. You know she’d be here if she could. But the folks pretty much dragged her out of the room to get herself together, and that’s why I’m here.”
Carter couldn’t think about that right then. He didn’t want her to see him like this. He already felt like only part of a man most days he saw her. This way? Weak, and not himself? He didn’t want to do that to her.
The she they had been talking about was Roxie, of course, but they could come back to that. The fact that Carter’s brother-in-law—or his soon-to-be brother-in-law if Mace and Adrienne had anything to say about it—was there, was nice. But the man had a daughter at home. He was the sole provider for the child ever since Daisy’s mom ran out on her. Between Adrienne and Mace, and the rest of the Montgomerys, there was always child care, but Carter didn’t like pulling Mace away from his kid.
“She’s with my sisters. They drove down from Denver,” Mace replied. Carter nodded, thankful that Mace’s two sisters had come to help out. He knew they didn’t see their niece very much and were trying to make the hour and a half trip more often, but still, he didn’t really like the fact that everyone had to change their plans because of him.
He decided to change the subject. “So, they caught the person that did it? The sabotage.”
Mace nodded. “Yeah, there was the one person who actually did it, but the person that orchestrated it…Molly? She is going to either be behind bars or getting the help she needs. She attacked Dimitri, too, in their old home. So something was definitely off there. But it makes me so fucking angry that it even got to this point. She could have hurt a lot more people. She did hurt a lot of people.”
“I’m just glad Thea wasn’t alone back there, you know?” Carter said, picking at some of the fuzz on his hospital blanket.
“I don’t think any of us want to think about it. Adrienne’s ready to bust some kneecaps I think, she’s so damn angry.”
“Well, your girl stood up for herself when she needed to, and she wants to stand up for others whenever she can. She could pretty much kick my ass if she wanted to.”
“I think she could kick all our asses, especially with you down for the count right now. But you’re going to be okay, you’re going to be right back to fighting shape and ready to kick all of our asses soon. Especially considering that out of the four of us—Dimitri, me, Shep and you—you’re pretty much the most built.”
“Well, with my job, I have to be.”
“That’s the truth, with two tattoo artists and a teacher, the mechanic who has to lift things other than a pencil or pen all day is probably going to be the one with the most muscle.”
“It’s going to be okay, Carter, make sure you tell your wife that,” Mace said, his voice low.
Carter didn’t say anything then, knowing that Mace was fishing. They all were. Everyone wanted to know what was going on between Roxie and Carter. And he hated the fact that he didn’t have answers for them. He saw the looks, heard the whispers. He wasn’t the dumb mechanic that others often thought of him as.
The Montgomerys may love him, may have taken him into their family when he didn’t have anyone else, but he still wasn’t one of them. Not really. He was the guy who had gone to mechanic school and took a couple of business classes to open up his shop. He was the guy that had fallen in love with someone he never thought would actually love him back.
And he was the guy who had gotten married because he thought he was making the right decision, who had thought he was doing it because everything would be better for it. Because he loved her.
And people wondered about the reasons behind it.
It wasn’t any of their goddamn business.
Carter loved Roxie Montgomery.
He just didn’t know if love was enough anymore.
“I’m going to go get a soda or something. Shep will be in soon to take over. You want anything?”
“I’m fine. I can call the nurses if I need anything, but I think I’m just going to take a nap or something.”
Carter didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t really want anyone near him. All he wanted to do was heal and figure out what the fucking next step was. Something he had been thinking about forever it seemed. What was the next step with his business? What was the next step with his life? What was the next step with the woman who wouldn’t talk to him?
“Roxie should be here soon too, you know,” Mace said as he stepped toward the door. “I don’t think her mom is going to keep her away for too long. I’m pretty sure they had to drag her out, and probably scared the nurses and staff in order for her to actually leave. But she’ll be back.”
“Yeah, she will.” Carter didn’t say anything else as Mace left, he could only wonder how long Roxie would stay when she came back.
He hated this. Hated not knowing anything. That was always the problem, the not knowing, the feeling of being two steps behind like he was a fucking idiot. But more and more these days, every time he thought about his wife, he couldn’t help but feel stupid. And that was on his shoulders, that was never on her. But he would have to figure out what to do about this feeling.
But, deep down in his gut, he knew that the accident would only make things harder for everybody.
Carter settled in for a nap and noticed that Shep, Roxie’s brother, walked in, checked on him, and then left again. A couple of other people came in, and he figured they were nurses and doctors. He was just so damned tired. His body exhausted, hurting. His mind hurting. His heart hurting.
He hated feeling like this. He was a man who worked with his hands, someone who knew what the fuck he was doing when it came to what was in front of him. But what surrounded him, what was behind him and lurking? That, he couldn’t stop thinking about. That was what he couldn’t control. And he was afraid everything he couldn’t control would end up slipping through his fingers.
A few hours later, the door opened, and Carter knew she was there before he saw her. Even over the scent of antiseptic and all the ointments on his body, he knew it was her. She tried different perfumes and lotions, but there was always just the smell of Roxie. The one that was uniquely her, sweet and a little floral. Maybe a little spice on certain days. It didn’t matter what she was wearing, how long her day had been, or how long she went without a shower. It was just Roxie.
Carter resisted rubbing his hand over his heart at the thought. His Roxie wasn’t really a phrase he could use anymore, was it?
She hadn’t been his for a while, no matter what the paperwork said.
Damn, he hated himself.
And he couldn’t help but wonder…if he hated himself for any longer, would he end up hating her, too?
“You’re awake,” Roxie said, her voice soft, hesitant.
She was always so cautious around him.
Where had the woman gone who was such a force? Where did the woman who couldn’t keep her hands off him—just like he couldn’t do with her—go?
He didn’t know what to say after that. How could he not know what to say to the woman he loved with everything he had? What the hell was wrong with them?
Or rather, what the hell was wrong with him?
He just needed to open his mouth and say something. Anything. Tell her how he felt. That he loved her. That he wanted to work this out. That they could figure out whatever this was. But he didn’t know how to do that. Not when she looked so unhappy, so…not Roxie around him.
He didn’t want to force her to love him. Didn’t want to push her to be with him. To speak to him. To tell him her fears when he knew deep down that he was her fear.
He was going to lose everything he’d ever wanted, and he wasn’t sure how to deal with that. It wasn’t like he was dealing with it well at the moment.
Carter looked into her deep blue eyes and willed himself not to beg. It wouldn’t do either of them any good, and with the pain meds he was on, he was afraid he’d say something senseless.
When she came to sit down next to him, he just turned his head and stared at her, wanting to keep her on his mind and in his memories, feeling like the time was too short for them. Seconds and moments were passing in a blink, like sand between the fingers as it fell, and he couldn’t hold on any longer.
She reached out and put her hand on his, and he almost moved his away, startled at not only her movement but also his reaction. He turned his hand over and clasped hers as if knowing it might be forever if he let go.
“The doctors said you would be okay. That you can come home soon.” She wasn’t looking at his face but their joined hands.
He didn’t want to let go.
He never wanted to let go.
He cleared his throat and looked at her face, willing her to look at him. “That’s what I hear. Maybe another night or two while they get me ready for PT and are sure that I don’t catch an infection, and then I can come home.”
She gave him a tight nod, still not looking directly at him. “I’m…I’m glad.” She cleared her throat again. “I…I’m so sorry you got hurt, Carter. I can’t believe it all happened like it did. I don’t know what I would have done if—” She didn’t finish her statement, but she didn’t need to.
He didn’t know what he’d do if he lost her either.
Just thinking those words made him want to throw up.
“I’m okay, Roxie.”
She looked up at the sound of her name, and he realized he hadn’t said it aloud in far too long. He needed to change that. Needed to change a lot of things.
But, sometimes, there was no going back.
“I don’t like seeing you hurt.”
“I don’t like being hurt.”
“Thank you.” She licked her lips. “Thank you for saving my sister.” She wiped away a tear, and it wasn’t lost on him that he hadn’t seen her cry for him, but for her sister. Maybe it was all too much for her, or perhaps it was because she didn’t love him enough to break through that barrier of hers.
“Thea’s family,” he said, watching Roxie’s face for her reaction.
She just nodded, still looking partly down at their clasped hands. “And you’re the kind of guy who will throw yourself in harm’s way for family, for strangers, for…everyone.” She let out a shaky breath. “You’re a good man, Carter.”
He didn’t know why those words hurt. They shouldn’t. But then again, most things hurt these days.
They sat in silence for a few more moments and then talked about the family, never themselves. They were good at that. Talking without saying anything. He didn’t know how to fix things without hurting her.
He’d just hurt himself instead.
It took five more days for him to go home, and he knew PT and recovery wouldn’t be easy. It was going to take time. Time he didn’t have with his shop, though his crew was working hard for him. Time he didn’t have because he knew it would be hard on his wife.
But he’d push through.
It wasn’t like he had a choice.
Roxie drove them home, having told the rest of her family she could handle it. He didn’t mind since he didn’t want to deal with the others watching them, trying to see what was going on beneath the surface. He just wanted to be alone, wanted to heal. And he wanted to fix what was going on between him and his wife.
When they walked inside, he winced every few steps, going slow as he tried to catch his breath.
“Here, let me help,” Roxie said after she’d closed the front door. She slid under his good arm and pressed against his unmarred side, taking some of his weight. “Lean on me, I’ve got you.”
Oh, how he wished that were true.
Because he wasn’t looking at her now.
Wasn’t even truly feeling her.
Instead, he looked at the hutch to the side of the entryway, to the stack of papers and folders that hadn’t been there before he was hurt. To the mail that had been delivered in pristine and professional envelopes.
He knew that company.
Knew the name on the label.
And he knew exactly what it was.
He couldn’t look at his wife. At his Roxie.
Because he’d been right.
She wasn’t his.
Because those papers meant it was over.
“Were you going to tell me about the divorce papers, or were you just going to wait and see if I saw them?” he asked, his voice devoid of emotion.
When she didn’t say anything, he moved away from her, walked away.
He couldn’t fix this.
No one could.
He’d lost his Montgomery, his heart.
And there was no going back.
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