Abiding Ink (Inked in the Steel City #4)

BOOK: Abiding Ink (Inked in the Steel City #4)
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Abiding Ink

 

Inked in the Steel City Book 4

 

Ranae Rose

 

eBooks are not transferable. This book may not be sold or given away. Doing so would be an infringement of the copyright.

 

This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination and are in no way real. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Abiding Ink

 

Copyright © 2013 Ranae Rose

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

 

Abiding Ink

 

(Inked in the Steel City, #4)

 

Tyler DeHaven may look like a bad boy, but there’s got to be more to the tattoo artist who volunteers at the hospital during the holiday season. Inviting him to a work Christmas party seems innocent enough … at first. Problem is, he’s just as irresistible as he looks and falling fast is more than Mallory bargained for. After all, she’s reminded every day what a gamble love can be, and there’s no question that with him, the stakes are high.

It may be cold outside but Mallory Stephens is the hottest nurse Tyler has ever laid eyes on. To top it off, she also likes ink and wants him to be her holiday party date. He’s not going to say no, and when things get rocky, he’s not going to let their passion frost over, either.

Can a brand-new romance survive the chill as snow falls in the Steel City?

CHAPTER 1

 

 

 

 

“Any new tattoos?” Beneath a helmet of blue-rinsed curls, Ms. Sherwin’s eyes sparkled as she sat up in her hospital bed, leaning toward Tyler.

“No, Ms. Sherwin. Just the same old ink I had yesterday.”


Tsk tsk
. I told you yesterday – call me Ruby! If we’re going to be seeing each other every day, we can at least be friendly.” As he pushed the meal cart forward, she giggled, sounding more eight than eighty or however old she was.

“I’m only volunteering here for a week, Ms. – uh, Ruby.” Six more days, counting today.

She ignored his comment, leaning forward as he approached with her lunch tray. “Ooh!” Gripping him by the wrist, she pushed up the sleeve of his thermal tee, exposing half his forearm. Her tiny, pale hand looked and felt like a child’s in comparison to his. Then again, she was maybe five feet tall, and he was over six.

“Thought I saw something new,” she said, giving his arm a surprisingly strong squeeze. “Silly me. My eyesight’s not what it used to be, you know.”

“Would you like me to hand you your glasses?” He eyed the pair sitting on the tray beside her bed, thick plastic frames with even thicker lenses.

Letting go of his wrist – but leaving his sleeve pushed up – she waved one hand. “I only use those for reading.”

A novel rested on the table, too – a thick paperback with a woman in an old-fashioned dress posing with a ripped, long-haired guy in a kilt on the cover. Tyler slid the meal tray onto the table, careful not to knock the glasses or book off the side.

“Don’t like to wear them when I don’t have to,” she continued. “They make me feel like an owl.”

“I’m sure you don’t look like an owl, Ms. Sherwin.”

“Ruby.” She tittered. “Now what did you bring me for lunch?”

Peering down at the tray, he tried to think of some way to put a good spin on the food he’d just delivered. Unfortunately, the crown jewel of it all was a cup of green gelatin with little chunks of something suspended in its depths. Pear chunks, probably… At least, he hoped so. “Just what the doctor ordered,” was his eventual reply.

A lot of the hospital patients had special dietary restrictions, and apparently Ms. Sherwin was no exception.

“Well, I hope you haven’t been naughty – you know I’ve got to watch my sugar.” She poked the dessert cup, making its contents jiggle, then smiled up at him like they shared some sort of private joke.

“I’m sure it’s sugar-free.”

She raised her thin, white eyebrows like she was about to say something else, but the sound of sneakers against tile filled the room before she could get another word out.

“Ms. Sherwin.” A clear female voice resounded. “How are we today?”

Tyler turned and felt immediately as if he’d been sucker-punched in the gut.

Holy hell. It was
her
. The nurse he’d noticed yesterday, in the hall. She’d taken his breath away then, walking by and leaving him to practically suffocate over his cart full of red and green Jell-O, pale yellow macaroni and whatever else patients like Ms. Sherwin were allowed to eat. He hadn’t been close enough to read her name badge then, and now, he wanted to, but it was hard to look away from her face.

She raised a brow at him and a polite smile just barely cracked her perfectly-glossed lips. He took in everything – her dark brown eyes and thick lashes, the wet look her gloss gave her mouth and the little sable curls near her temples that had escaped the bun she’d pulled her hair back into. And then his gaze dipped lower.

Okay, it wasn’t
that
hard to look away from her face. Even in scrubs, her knockout figure was clearly discernible. Above one shapely breast, her badge told him that her name was Mallory.

“Looks like I got here just in time,” Mallory said, sweeping past Tyler and side-stepping his cart. “Let’s check your blood sugar before you eat lunch, Ms. Sherwin.”

“I forgot all about checking my sugar,” Ms. Sherwin said. “If it’s high, blame him.” She pointed a finger toward Tyler, grinning. “He’s so sweet, I think it might’ve rubbed off on me.”

Tyler’s gut clenched as Mallory’s luscious lips curved in a little smirk. “No worries there, Ms. Sherwin. Unless you’ve sweet-talked him into slipping you chocolate, like you did that poor girl last week…”

“He would never. He’s a perfect volunteer. I think you all should keep him around for more than a week.”

“That’s not up to me, Ms. Sherwin.”

Tyler gripped the meal cart by the handle and backed away slowly, wincing as the wheels squeaked. Yeah, being around Mallory was no hardship, but Ms. Sherwin was sabotaging whatever chances he might have with the gorgeous nurse. With any luck he’d run into Mallory again … without a geriatric flirt like Ms. Sherwin around. His heart sped a little at the thought, and he cast a last, long look at Mallory’s back as he retreated.

Talk about hot. Her lavender scrub pants didn’t mask the perfect curve of her ass, and the color flattered her smooth, light brown skin. It was flawless and uninked – not that she needed tattoos, or anything else, to look amazing.

“Thanks for bringing by Ms. Sherwin’s lunch,” Mallory called over her shoulder.

Her words caught him off guard, and he guiltily transferred his gaze to something else – the window, where snow flurries were falling beyond the half-open blinds. “No problem.”

The meal cart rattled as he steered it right into the doorframe.

Damn it.

Mallory and Ms. Sherwin both turned to stare at him.

“Need some help?” Mallory asked, arching one finely-shaped brow again and looking like she might head his way.

“No, no.” He raised one hand. “I got it.” God. He had to look like such a douche.

“Told you he was sweet,” Ms. Sherwin said, giggling.

Tyler hurried the hell out of the room, managing not to run into anything else. He made it several steps before realizing that his left sleeve was still pushed halfway up his arm. Jerking it down, he covered himself up. In long sleeves, only the very edges of his full tattoo sleeves were visible, just barely peeking over the edge of his wrist. Ms. Sherwin had spied them the instant he’d walked into her room the day before – she was bullshiting him about her failing eyesight, for sure.

Not everyone was such a fan of tattoos, and so, he kept them covered while volunteering at the hospital. It was December anyway, and as the snow falling outside attested, it was more than cold enough to justify his clothing choices.

Not that he gave a shit, in general, what people thought of his tattoos. He just didn’t want to make any waves while he was helping out at the hospital. He was here for his sister, and all he really cared about was keeping her safe. Maybe it made him a jerk, but he never would’ve volunteered otherwise. And yet…

He couldn’t help but wonder what Mallory thought of his ink – what little bit she’d been able to see thanks to Ms. Sherwin, that was. He wouldn’t have minded if
she’d
shoved up his sleeve and decided to see for herself, that was for sure. As he wheeled the meal cart into another room, a vivid fantasy sprang up in his mind, starting there and quickly taking a much less innocent turn.

Damn, it would be just perfect if Mallory was the type of woman who was turned on by a little – okay, a lot – of ink. He could dream, although after the asinine impression he’d just made, his time would probably be better spent trying to think up a way to perform some damage control.

Maybe he could save a helpless, elderly patient from choking on gelatin-encrusted pear chunks. Anyone but Ms. Sherwin, who’d probably use the occasion as an excuse to pull him down for some mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. His gut lurched at the thought.

Maybe heroics were out of the question. Maybe instead of trying to impress Mallory, he should just focus on not doing anything idiotic and hope she’d forget about how he’d nearly overturned the cart and wasted half a dozen meals.

As it turned out, he didn’t have time to plan anything – heroic or otherwise – before he ran into Mallory again. Literally, almost.

“Whoa.” She took a quick step backward, narrowly avoiding colliding with the cart as Tyler pushed it out of another room. “You’re really determined to do some damage with that thing, aren’t you?”

A pang of chagrin sailed through him as he stepped out into the hall. “Sorry.”

“This is your second day volunteering, huh?”

She’d noticed him the day before? Hard to tell whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. “Yeah.”

“Well, I hope you’ll stick around for a while. The patients really seem to like you.”

Who cared at all that he was there besides Ms. Sherwin, he had no idea. Then again, her enthusiasm was enough for the whole floor. “Actually, I’m only here for a week. One of my little sister’s college professors offered extra credit to any student who did volunteer work over the holiday break and since she needed a ride to and from the hospital, I decided I might as well help out too.”

Actually, his sister had been perfectly willing to use public transportation, but after a week of her taking the bus along with a friend from school, he’d insisted on driving her. Mostly because he’d heard them talking about how another one of the volunteers had been mugged at the bus stop. No way was that happening to his little sister.

“That’s too bad. We’re always a little short on volunteers around the holidays – people get busy with traveling and family stuff, don’t have time to come in.”

“Figured that after witnessing my meal-delivering skills, you’d be glad to get rid of me.”

Light flashed in her dark eyes, and she shrugged. “Like I said, we’re always short on volunteers during the holiday season. It’s no time to pick and choose.”

“Right.” Recalling the snowflakes that had been drifting down past Ms. Sherwin’s window, he did a quick mental countdown. Only about two weeks until Christmas. Damn, already? “I haven’t even started on my gift shopping,” he thought out loud.

“What’s been keeping you so busy – work?”

“Nah.” Things had been good at work lately, but it wasn’t like his every waking minute was consumed by tattooing. He had time, he just… “Guess I just hate shopping, to tell the truth. Always mean to stop and pick up a few things on my way home from work, but I never do.”

“That’s what the internet’s for. What do you do, anyway? No, let me guess…” Her gaze flickered down to where his hands rested on the cart handle, and he could feel it lingering on the little bits of ink that peeked out from beneath the edges of his sleeves. “You’re a mild-mannered professor. Or maybe an accountant. Something that involves a briefcase and a desk.”

Her teasing smile sent a ripple of heat down his spine. He’d never spent a day of his working life behind a desk. Thinking of his tattoo chair, it was all too easy to imagine her in it. “I tattoo at a place called Hot Ink.”

She feigned an expression of surprise. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah. If you’re ever looking for some ink, you should come by.” It was a longshot, but he had to throw it out there.

“Hmm.” Her gaze dipped from his eyes to his wrists again. “I don’t really see myself with tattoos. At least, not so many. I don’t think most patients would be as accepting of that look on me as Ms. Sherwin is of
your
ink.”

“You could always get something in a discreet location.” A slow smile curled his lips – he couldn’t help it. If Mallory ever wanted some ink, he’d be more than happy to tattoo her in a place few people would ever see.

Before she could reply, a tall, slender man in a white coat emerged from a room, heading straight for them.

A pang of guilt sliced through Tyler – would the doctor be pissed at Mallory for stopping to chat with him? It hadn’t been a long conversation, but after making an ass out of himself with the meal cart, the last thing he wanted was to be responsible for one of her bosses breathing down her neck.

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