We're just under a week away until the release of INK EXPOSED by Carrie Ann Ryan (!!!), but we couldn't wait. So we're revealing the first chapter of Carrie Ann Ryan over the next three days! Find out more about INK EXPOSED and read the final part of the first chapter below!
About INK EXPOSED
The Montgomery Ink series continues with the brother that deserves a second chance, and the woman who has always loved him.
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 re-immersing himself back into the world, but the demons he faced before aren’t out of the picture, and he’ll have to learn to rely on others to make it out whole. When Alex discovers that Tabby’s life is in danger, he not only finds a way to help her but also 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.
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INK EXPOSED releases November 29th - preorder now!
Read the Final Part of Chapter One:
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.