The world of romance writing is a fabulous place.
While I have zero interest in ever getting a tattoo (or solving a murder, or meeting vampires, or extracting a hostage from the clutches of a drug cartel), I get to read about fascinating characters who love the world of permanent body ink, and who fall in love during the process of considering what body art to acquire.
While the first full-length book of this series, Delicate Ink, will be published on October 14th, we can enjoy the two prequel novellas to the series that she has put out to tantalize us until then, both of which take place in that most sensual of cities, New Orleans.
Ink Inspired (which, let’s be honest, should win some kind of cover art award because yikes) stars Shepard Montgomery, a talented tattoo artist with an established reputation who has created a life filled with his art, friends, and his large and loving family but who finds himself wanting more. He’s tired of the semi-drunk tourists who stumble into his shop not caring what they are about to permanently put on their bodies, and it’s this attitude that has him being brusque with the prim blonde who can’t decide what tattoo she wants. That she’s scared to death is a given, and Shep isn’t about to ink her until she absolutely sure what she wants. What he can do is pursue her despite his poor first impression, as his mid-life ennui has disappeared in her presence with one look out of those big eyes.
Shea Little can’t tell the huge, handsome tattoo artist what she wants because she has no idea. She barely understands who she is, having suffered with the constant emotional abuse of her mother and her bossy ex-boyfriend. Coming from a politically prominent and moneyed family, Shea has tried to make a life of her own working in her little accounting office and wearing her suits. She can control her immediate world even if she can’t control the negative things her mother thinks and says, and choosing ink for her body wouldn’t just be a rebellion but a big step to asserting her independence. The sexy, oh-so-dirty Shep Montgomery, however, is not within her sphere of control, although she finds his relentless pursuit of her unbelievably sexy. When she develops feelings for this gentle, scorchingly sensual man, all her efforts to create her own life might come to an end when her family threatens to destroy him.
Oh. My. God. Shep is the last person you’d think to pair with Shea, so naturally he’s perfect for her, since he understands and supports her work to uncover who she is and what she wants on her own time. While he knows that he’s from a different world, Shea and Shep are kindred souls who learn from one another. That Shep is more than happy to show Shea what she’s been missing regarding her sexuality, is a bonus for readers and for Shea, and I defy you to find a more heinous bitch of a mother than the abusive and manipulative villain in this story. Remember, this is an edgy hero, with plenty of f-bombs, piercings in sensitive areas, and the frequent use of the modern adjective “hella” but chances are you are going to love him as much as Shea by the last page.
This novella is skillfully written as Ryan manages to lay the groundwork for the entire series, smoothly weaving in Shep’s Colorado cousins (the focus of the series and owners of their own tattoo business), minor characters in the New Orleans shop, and hints of the Montgomery clan’s own social and political influence (albeit the less prominent and far shadier variety than Shea’s family). Shea easily could have been a cowed, naive twit, but instead she is a woman struggling against the bonds that have tethered her personality for so many years, with Shep coming at exactly the right moment to help her break free. Shep is one of the sexiest, sweetest rough heroes I’ve read in a while, and I’m certainly hoping I get to see and hear from him in future installments of the series.
Ink Inspired is also a great deal, only $.99 right now on Amazon, and you can get it as one of the novellas contained in the Midnight Ink box set if there are other authors in that collection who also appeal to you (and there are some doozies in there!). I can honestly say – as a decided connoisseur of boxed sets – that I was blown away by Midnight Ink, a collaboration of the group of authors who make up the Inkheart Authors (and several of whom are in the quality romance author group, the Smutketeers). These wonderful authors developed a New Orleans tattoo parlor, Midnight Ink, figured out who the key characters were (either artists, owners, or patrons) and then each developed a story. The result is a brilliant sequence of moving, erotic, emotional stories as these men and women move to find their happily ever after (HEA) in the Big Easy.
The consistent quality and deliberate cohesiveness of the anthology makes this feel almost like one of those big Baskin Robbin’s ice cream bowls with 21 flavors – they are all delicious but each have a different (delicious) taste. Keep in mind that the various stories’ focus ranges from more traditional uber-hot romance to menage to BDSM-themed romance, but with the execution and writing quality so high, I think even readers who don’t normally choose some of those themes will find themselves reading to find out how each character takes a chance on happiness. At $5.99 for over 500 pages, it’s a good bargain, although I’ll warn you that I loved so many of these stories that I went out and bought the other books related to them to find out more about the secondary characters and relatives of the Midnight Ink characters!
One character who we did not see get her HEA in the anthology was Midnight Ink’s receptionist, Sassy Bordeaux, who played matchmaker when she saw which way the wind was blowing with each of her coworkers and clients. Luckily Carrie Ann Ryan took it upon herself to not leave Sassy out in the cold, and Ink Reunited is a wonderful tale of Sassy realizing her own dreams. This novella explains how years ago the sensitive yet brash receptionist had fallen for two very different men after running away from her abusive, wealthy home. Rafe Chavez loved Sassy from the start when his loving parents added the homeless waif to their large family and she honed her administrative skills working in the Chavez chain of auto repair stores. But Rafe never considered Sassy a sister and the heat between them became all-consuming when Rafe brought home a wealthy stranded client, young millionaire Ian Steele. The three of them fell head over heels in love with each other, but when Ian began to distance himself emotionally from Rafe and Sassy, Sassy couldn’t handle yet another massive rejection from the men in her life and she ran.
A decade later, Ian has never stopped regretting the impulsive actions of his young twenties’ self so when Rafe tells him that Sassy has been in New Orleans hiding under their noses the whole time, they commit to winning her back and renewing their relationship, this time for the long haul. To say that Sassy is shocked by their appearance is an understatement, but her heart is reluctant to risk everything – again – on these two wonderful men. As Rafe and Ian convince her of their seriousness and show her how their unconventional partnership will hold up to family and public scrutiny, an ugly specter from her past rears its head to threaten everything they are trying to rebuild.
This is a wonderful menage story with a strong focus on the emotional journey of three people who have known and loved each other for a long time. Rafe and Ian would each be a catch, but both of them together? Sassy is one fortunate woman, whose heart of gold almost undermines her future. I loved this 100+ page novella which whetted my appetite for the upcoming full-length novel in the series, Delicate Ink.
Honestly, if you haven’t already gotten Midnight Ink, I would recommend getting it and Ink Reunited, as that gives you over 600 pages of amazing, spicy New Orleans romance for under $9.00, but with each story of the anthology available independently, the world is definitely your oyster if you want to pick and chose what you think looks good. Know that part of the Inkheart Authors and the Smutketeers motto is quality romance, which means that everything they publish is beautifully formatted and edited.
Just like a tattoo, the Montgomery Ink series and its related stories are bound to leave a permanent mark on your romance reading soul, but the good news is that, unlike going under the needle, this process is painless thanks the excellent writing of Carrie Ann Ryan and her fellow authors.