A one night stand has never gone so wrong … or so right. Two months after one scorchingly hot July night, tattoo artist Abby is pregnant and the man who showed her everything she’d been missing is nowhere in sight. When he walks into the Hot Ink Tattoo Studio looking for much more than some new ink, she risks their rekindled connection by confessing that she’s pregnant … with his twins.
Sworn to serve and protect, Pittsburgh police officer Sam isn’t one to back down from responsibility, and he’s definitely not going to let the woman who’s been haunting his dreams all summer get away again. But two babies on the way means a reunion that’s anything but what he imagined. Can unforgettable chemistry evolve into real love before her due date arrives?
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Blue lines and frantic heartbeats – they were all Abby could think about as she sat the plastic stick down on the edge of the bathroom sink, then clasped her hands in front of her hips, unsteady fingers entwined. She didn’t dare look away as the white area inside the first test window darkened, going grey as if a storm cloud was passing over it.
That was exactly how she felt, too: unbearably nervous, caught beneath the long shadow of looming possibilities. Another few seconds and she’d know. Then, she’d either breathe a sigh of relief or … or what? Her heart marked each long moment as a shape materialized in the first murky window.
A horizontal blue line – the control line. It meant the test was working, nothing more. And there was no other line bisecting it, even as the second window began to darken.
Her lips cracked open in automatic response, and she drew a deep breath. As the scent emanating from the lavender oil diffuser on the shelf above the towel rack filled her lungs, reality registered: there was no vertical line in the first window. She’d worked herself up over nothing. Even her cold sweat was pointless. Except…
Except, holy hell, the first window was still changing, beginning a second metamorphosis right before her eyes. As the second control line appeared in the second window, one just like it materialized in the first, appearing sudden and strong, undeniably there.
She stared at it for God knew how long, her gaze frozen on the vertical line that passed over its horizontal twin, forming blue crosshairs right in the middle of the test she’d picked up for a few dollars at the grocery store ten minutes from her apartment, tucking it between a bag of avocados and a jug of milk, hiding it in her cart because that had made the possibility it’d represented seem less real.
She picked up the test again, reading the three lines over and over as the thin device shook, making the blue stripes blur. The aroma of lavender still hung in the air, but it seemed less soothing than before – cloying, almost.
Blurry or not, the reality the stripes had revealed was clear: Abby’s life would never be the same. Trying and failing to breathe normally, she set the test back down and glanced at her reflection in the mirror. Her face was pale and shining beneath the sheen of a nervous sweat, and that made her messy ponytail look ragged and washed-out – more dirty dishwater blonde than the natural platinum shade she’d inherited from her dad.
She’d just have to go to work this way. Because at the moment, she needed more than anything to escape the quiet solitude of her apartment, and her hands were still shaking too badly to be trusted with make-up or a curling iron. With one last look at the positive pregnancy test, she turned on her heel and rushed out of her home, pausing to pull on shoes and grab her purse, swinging it over her shoulder as she struggled into a light jacket.
Her entire world’s axis had just shifted, but she still had work – she had a new client scheduled for a noon appointment, in fact. As she hurried down the complex’s stairs and slid into her car, she prayed that her hands would stop shaking by the time she picked up a tattoo machine.
* * * * *
“Hey, you okay?” Tyler hung over the wall of Abby’s half-booth, a dark brow raised as he surveyed her from above.
Half-curled in her swivel-chair, she felt smaller than her petite frame accounted for. “Yeah,” she breathed, forcing herself to straighten and wincing as her spine popped.
“You look like crap,” Tyler said. “I mean, you look like you feel like crap.” He watched her like he expected her to bite his head off.
“Not a great morning,” she admitted. “It’s personal.”
“Ah,” he said, nodding and backing away from the half-wall. “Female stuff. Gotcha.” He was gone quicker than a summer rain shower, safely shielded from her female woes by the solid wall of his own booth.
Abby glanced toward the front counter, where Zoe the receptionist sat on a stool behind a glass case full of body jewelry, ready to help any client who walked in. She was the only other woman in the Hot Ink Tattoo Studio at the moment. All the other artists were male; Zoe and Mina, the other receptionist, were the only female staff besides Abby.
Female or not, Zoe was oblivious to Abby’s issues, and that was for the best. Abby wasn’t ready to tell anybody yet – not when she only half-believed it herself. Making sure that no one was watching, she swept her fingertips over her belly. No baby bump yet, but her body had been changing in other ways.
Sore breasts and days of vague nausea had prompted her to consider the possibility that she was pregnant despite the fact that a missed period hadn’t meant much to her – her periods had been more or less irregular since she’d started a new birth control pill a few months ago, so no immediate alarm bells had gone off when she’d skipped a cycle.
So much for those pills.
She was what – God, almost two months pregnant, despite the medication? Had to be, because she knew exactly when she’d conceived the baby, even if she could hardly believe it.
One night. One night with one amazingly hot-dream of a guy she’d met at a bar. Her stomach shrank into a hard ball as she tried to imagine life as the single mother of a child conceived in the most cliché of careless situations: a one-night stand with a random stranger who was absent from her life, totally oblivious.
God, she might never see him again. And even if she did, for all she knew, he was a total flake. A total flake with a rippling six pack that would make her growing belly look frumpy.
“Hey Abby,” Zoe called from up front, “your twelve o’clock is here.”
“’Kay,” she wheezed, suddenly short of breath as she eyed a nearby tray of equipment. Enough was enough – she had to stop freaking out and get into the zone so she could fulfill the promises she’d made to her newest client. She wouldn’t – couldn’t – tattoo anyone unless she was sure she could give the piece her best effort, and she had about five minutes to get her head on straight.
Standing, she reached out and steadied herself with a hand on the booth wall, her heart sinking as her head swam. Was being pregnant really this bad, or was it just nerves?
“Hi,” she said, emerging from her booth and stepping into the main aisle, wiping a clammy palm on her jeans so it would be dry when she shook her client’s hand. This would be the first time she’d done that; this guy had been an e-mail consult, someone who’d claimed his rotating shift schedule made it easier to plan online than face to face. “I’m Abby. It’s nice to finally meet you in person…”
His single-syllable reply sent a strange little bolt of something arrowing through her, making her stomach churn a little faster as she looked up.
“Sam.” The word jumped to the tip of her tongue, a false question, because she just couldn’t wrap her mind around the man standing in front of her – she’d had enough shock for one day already.
Sam was short for Samuel. Duh. Still, she’d had no reason to suspect that the “Samuel Mackenzie” in the From: field of her inbox had been the full name of a Sam she’d met before. There were a million people named Sam, probably hundreds, at least, in Pittsburgh alone…
“Yeah. It’s nice to see you again.” He stood there, six feet of sculpted muscle in a plain white t-shirt and jeans, and extended a hand.
Abby’s own hand felt as heavy as a cinderblock at her side. She let it hang there uselessly, resisting the urge to hug her still-flat midsection as she studied the promise of a six pack that showed through his thin cotton shirt.
He kept his hand there, steady in mid-air, as he stared at her – thinking what crap she looked like, probably. There was no way the clear lighting inside Hot Ink was half as flattering as the flaw-shrouding dimness of the bar she’d first met him in, or the near-dark of his bedroom at midnight…
He, however, didn’t look like crap – not even a little bit. He looked every bit as amazing as she remembered – a fact which sent her heart sinking further toward the floor, even as it skipped a beat.
Those eyes … they were ice-blue, but somehow not cold, especially when he was looking directly at her. And she’d recognize his hair anywhere – it was a dark, rusty shade of red, rich and striking, even though he wore it so short that the strong curve of his skull could easily be made out beneath. The unusual tattoo peeking out from beneath the edge of one of his short sleeves was the finishing touch; it hadn’t been that long since she’d traced its dark lines with her fingertips, and then her mouth…
“Are you all right?” he asked, his lips turning down the tiniest bit at the corners.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
* * * * *
Excerpt copyright © Ranae Rose, 2013
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