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Authors: Elle Aycart

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BOOK: Inked Ever After
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Tate and James hadn’t been at the library’s inauguration,
but she’d heard plenty from Aunt Maggie and Max. Tate would have loved to speak
with Christy, but before she had time to do that, Christy had left for LA,
leaving Mrs. Wilkinson alone with the computers and the electronic collections.
And the romance-reading club Christy had started, which was a huge success, and
half the town wanted to sign up. To say the poor librarian was in full-blown
panic was an understatement.

“You need to speak with Cole, James. He’ll listen to you.”
It was ridiculous. He was in Canada, she in LA. All because of a
misunderstanding.

“I’ll try, my love. He’s going to be fucking pissed at himself
when he hears why Christy left.”

Yeah, he was going to be. Extremely pissed. Not that she
didn’t understand him, because she did. Opening up was frigging scary.

“Look,” she said after a while of watching passengers come
through the sliding doors, “I think I see people from Tampa airport.” Or so
their baggage tags claimed.

Soon her mother was walking through the sliding door.

“She’s here,” Tate squeaked, moving to meet her.

Her mom looked better. More relaxed. Tanned. As she got
closer Tate realized the guy near her mother was actually talking to her. Was
that his hand on the small of her back? Was he helping her not to be crushed by
other people? Opening a path for her in the same way James had done for Tate
just minutes ago?

Oh shit. She grabbed James’s hand and squeezed it. This man
was somehow familiar.

Her mom was smiling, talking back to him. As she saw James
and Tate, she hurried to them, her smile now blinding. After greeting her
daughter and James, she turned to the man who was standing a bit awkwardly near
them.

“James, Tate, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine
I’ve invited to the wedding. This is Ronald Bohm, Amy’s veterinarian.”

Oh crap. Tate squeezed James’s hand harder.

* * * *

Tate paced up and down their bedroom while James, sprawled
on the bed, followed her with his eyes, amused like hell. Every now and then
she stopped, turned to him, hands in the air, and started talking, just to
finish after the first two words, grunt, and then resume her pacing.

She was so cute, dressed in panties and one of his old
shirts, all riled and frustrated.

On one of her passes, he grabbed her by her waist and threw
her to the bed.

“Hey,” she complained.

“Come here, baby,” he said as he turned her on her stomach
and immobilized her with his thigh over her legs.

He lifted the tee and exposed her tattoo.
His
tattoo, on her back. Which had
healed perfectly. He brought his lips down to her and nuzzled her back.

“James—”

“Just helping you to relax, princess. You’ve done so well
these past few days. Don’t freak out on me now.”

Tate’s mom and Ron had been in Boston for three days
already, and Tate was as flabbergasted as that first moment at the airport.
More probably.

“The frigging veterinarian, James. Last time I saw him, I
had to hold my mom back from beating him because he dared comment on Amy’s
kittens. And now look at them. Glued at the hip, smiling and looking at each
other with wooey eyes.”

Yes, apparently Ann and Ron had gotten off on the wrong
foot, but little by little things had changed for the best. Especially since
the neighbors had gotten that rescue dog who was sick all the time and the
veterinarian had started making house calls to the Eternal Sun resort.

“Don’t you want her happy?”

She cringed. “Yes, but can’t she be happy without a
boyfriend involved?” James couldn’t refrain from chuckling. “Come on, don’t be
so childish,” he admonished her.

“You’re right. Of course you’re right,” she said, burying
her face in the pillow. Then she lifted her head and turned to him. “Do you
know what’s the worst of all?”

“What?” he asked, tracing her tattoo with his lips.

“That I like the man. I wanted to hate him, but he’s so damn
likable. He runs a rescue program for Christ’s sake.”

James laughed against her skin. That was his Tate,
conflicted to the very roots of her hair.

“For what it’s worth, I like Ron too. He’s okay in my book.”

Ron had nothing but good intentions toward Tate’s mom. He
was very attentive and very respectful. Affectionate, but never overtly so, as
if he understood what a shock all that was to Tate. He had a daughter in Boston
and was staying with her. At the airport, when James had asked Ann and Ron
where to drive them and it had dawned on Tate he might be staying at her parents’
place, she had gripped his hand so hard she’d almost broken it. But Ron had
insisted on calling a taxi to drive to his daughter’s.

In spite of how nice the guy was and how easy it was to get
along with him, Tate had had very few words with him. Mainly because she was in
shock.

“He makes your mom happy. She needs this. Remember how
tightly wound she was back when we met in Florida?”

She sighed. “I know, baby. I can see it. I’m happy for her.
I really am.”

“So what’s the problem?” he prompted her.

“I just wasn’t expecting this so soon.”

“And?” He knew there was more to it than that.

“She’s been here for three days and hasn’t said a word about
Dad or Jonah.”

“Just her way of coping, sweetheart.”

“She hasn’t said a word about Ron either,” she answered
mutinously. “And her bringing a date to our wedding requires some explaining,
don’t you think?”

As far as he was concerned, it didn’t, but he preferred to
keep that to himself. “You could ask.”

He knew what she was going to say even before she opened her
mouth, just by looking at her wincing. “And what am I supposed to say?”

“Tell her how you feel about him.”

Tate groaned, banging her head several times against the
pillow. “James, I don’t have a clue how I feel about him.”

Yeah, he bet she didn’t. She’d started expressing her
emotions more coherently. Not letting guilt dictate to her how she should feel,
but working through Ron’s presence and what that meant was going to take some
time.

“What does Elle say?”

“Elle? Elle is too busy working several jobs and partying with
friends to get involved.”

He remembered Tate darting toward Elle as she made it to the
barbecue that Aunt Maggie had organized in honor of Tate’s mom that first
afternoon. Tate had taken her sister to a secluded corner, her hands flying
around as she talked a mile a minute. Elle had just shrugged.

Tate buried her face in the pillow again while he continued
caressing her tattoo, watching enthralled as the dragon on his arm moved over
hers. He’d told her, but he didn’t think she truly comprehended what that
dragon on her back meant to him. What it meant to be permanently inked on her.
Especially since she’d opposed tattoos so strongly from the very beginning.

Tate turned around and faced him. “If I would have been more
involved with the wedding arrangements, I would have noticed my mom’s plus one
on the guest list. By the way, is your mother coming to the wedding? I remember
you telling me you didn’t know where she was, but it couldn’t be too difficult
to find her if you wanted to.”

“Princess, my mother died six months ago.”

She stilled. “What?”

Her hair was all messed up from banging her head against the
pillow, so James tucked several strands behind her ear. “She passed away six
months ago.”

“Oh my God. When did you find out? Now?” she asked, reaching
for him.

He shook his head. “No, Dad told me then.”

His words had thrown her off. She cupped his cheek. “James,
we were together six months ago. I was living with you already. How come you
didn’t tell me?”

He went on his back and took her with him. It looked like he
had some explaining to do. “Princess, six months ago you were still shaky from
what happened in Rosita’s. You were having nightmares, and I didn’t want to
upset you. You were dealing with enough as it was without me adding to it.
Besides, Dad took care of everything and told us just before the funeral.”
Probably to spare them the gory details.

He could see her mind working, counting six months back.
“That was in February; you were preoccupied back then. You said you had a lot
of work.”

“And I did, my love. We had those three big concerts to
organize security for. And you—”

“Yes, I was having nightmares, I know,” she said somehow
impatiently. “But that was just that, nightmares. And they were not about what
happened to me in Rosita’s. Most times I woke up panicking that the bastard had
managed to kill you.”

“Baby—”

“Did you go to the funeral?” she cut him off.

“No. I was out of town then. Cole didn’t go either. Max and
Dad went.” And from what he’d heard, they had been pretty much the only
attendees. Talk about a fucking depressing end to one’s life. “Cole had his
reasons not to go, but mine were different. It’s not that I was mad at her; I
just didn’t care that much. It wasn’t a big deal.”

Her eyes were big. “It is a big deal, James. Your mother
passed away, and you went through that alone. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“There was nothing to tell.”

She tried to disentangle herself from him, but he just
tightened his hold. “I don’t believe this. You’ve been accusing me of holding
back on you when you were keeping from me all this time that your mom had
passed away?”

“I wasn’t keeping anything from you. This was nothing. Not
important. You didn’t need to know.”

That had been the wrong thing to say. He could tell by the
way the air thickened. And the way she froze and lifted her eyebrows.

“What do you mean I didn’t need to know?”

He rolled them over until he was on top of her. “Tate, she
wasn’t my mother, not in the sense you mean it. She gave birth to me, but she
walked out on us. I barely remember her. Cole went searching for her once, and
it didn’t end well. Not me. I wasn’t interested in finding her. My dad and my
aunt were the ones who raised me. All I am, who I am, is thanks to them.”

For better or for worse, Rachel was nothing to him.
Certainly not a mother. He’d accepted that a long time ago and made his peace.

“Are you telling me you really didn’t want to talk about
your mother? Even if it was only to say you didn’t care about her?” she asked,
looking incredulously at him.

She might have a point, but it had been his call, and he
stood by it. “You didn’t need to hear that. You had enough with all you were
dealing with.”

She shook her head. “You should have told me. If you had, I
would have been there for you. I would have taken care of you. The same way you
take care of me.”

“I do all the taking care of, princess. Haven’t you realized
it by now?”

* * * *

Tate was working in the front garden, on the flower beds.
Trying to care for plants was a new experience for her, one that she normally
enjoyed immensely. Not today. She’d woken up to an empty bed. She knew James
had an important project and was going to be working, but still. She wanted to
talk to him about his mother. Their conversation the night before had ended up
like always, with James inside her, making her come like crazy. Scrambling her
brain. It worried her, though, that he could think she was so breakable that he
had to keep things from her. Things that had to be important to him, no matter
how hard he insisted they weren’t.

She called him but got his voice mail.

“Love you, babe,” she said and then hung up.

She continued gardening, her phone in her pocket. She didn’t
want to miss his call, because he would be calling back, she was sure.

As she lifted her eyes, she saw Ron coming her way.

“Hi,” she said, standing up and dusting her knees and hands.
She always had the same dilemma. Should she kiss him or shake his hand? As
always she did neither, just smiled curtly. “Where is my mother? Did I forget,
and we were supposed to meet today?”

He shook his blond head. Ron was a very attractive man for
his age, which she guessed around sixty, a couple of years older than her mom.
Her dad had been much darker. Now that she thought about it, Ron and her dad
looked nothing alike. “No, no. Your mother is with Maggie, arranging
accommodations for some friends who are coming in for the wedding.”

“Oh. I see. Do you want something to drink? I can—” she
said, motioning to the kitchen. She needed to buy some time. She hadn’t met Ron
without her mom or James acting as a buffer, and she didn’t know how to behave,
much less what to say.

“No thanks. I just came to talk to you.”

Crap.

And he was fidgeting. Double crap.

“To me?” she asked, the pit of her stomach burning, her mouth
frigging dry. She glanced desperately around. Where was an Avon lady when you
needed one?

Ron nodded. “I’ll just come out and say it straight: if you
want, I won’t attend the wedding. I’ll make up an excuse.”

That caught her off guard. “What do you mean?”

“I know you don’t like me much,” Ron said, shuffling his
feet.

That’s what he thought, that she didn’t like him? Because
she actually did. She didn’t like that she did, but she did nonetheless.

“Your mother invited me,” he continued, “but it’s your wedding,
and I wouldn’t want to make you uncomfortable in any way.”

“What makes you think I don’t like you?”

“You haven’t said four words to me.”

She let out a long breath. Time to come clean. “I do like
you.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. I haven’t talked much to you because I frankly don’t
know what to say. I’m a bit overwhelmed.”

He looked relieved, and Tate felt like a monumental bitch.

“I understand this must be a shock to you, and I wouldn’t
want to make things difficult. I really like your mother, but she has been very
clear. We are friends. Very good friends, but only that. I won’t lie to you. I
want more than that, but only when she’s ready. I would never push her. Or come
between you two and cause problems.”

BOOK: Inked Ever After
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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