Carrie Anne Ryan’s Montgomery Ink series is the definition of Sexy as Hell and Get Off Your Ass Inspiring. “Ink Exposed” is the long awaited story that focuses on the youngest Montgomery son Alex. Alex married his high school sweetheart suffered a more terrible than can be imagined marriage which manifested in his alcoholism. Now he is navigating the minefield of his overly well meaning and worried family and his own insecurities and self-doubt. Tabitha Collins is the Executive Assistant for Wes and Storm who run Montgomery Inc. Some would say she’s the one who actually runs the show and keeps the business flowing smoothly. She is organization incarnate and has the planners to prove it. Tabitha has had a crush on Alexander since he was still married and couldn’t do anything about her feelings. She seen him at his best, worst, and now healing and still thinks he’s incredible.
These main characters are complex, multi-layered, vulnerable, insecure, sexy, wonton, and incredibly strong. They have their faults but they are ones that are understandably human and not over-the-top angst. There is conflict from a few fronts, the past, the present, family, and self-doubt from both sides. The past brings demons, horrible memories, and the desire to escape into numbness. The present brings physical danger and the trigger of a lack of control. The self-doubt comes from the belief that either one is undeserving, isn’t desirable enough, what is needed, or simply unloved. Alexander’s stressors come from his worrying about his family’s walking on egg shells around him. The other thing that he fears is that his addiction of alcohol will turn into an addiction for something else. All of the Montgomery tribe, their significant others, off-spring, and “adopted” strays are in attendance as well as Tabitha’s brothers.
Alex still feels like an outsider even as a blood Montgomery. He feels everyone watches him and are careful about what they do and say around him. Alex broke the trust of his entire family, hurt them terribly, and feels guilty about it whenever he sees them. He knows his family saved his life. This twin brothers’ admin Tabitha is an honorary Montgomery, one his mother is dying to make an official Montgomery. Tabby attends the monthly dinners helping out like one of the family. Whenever Alex sees her he is definitely attracted to her even though he knows she someone better than him. Tabitha has had a crush on Alexander for years. Yes, they refer to each other as Alexander and Tabitha they’re the only ones who use their respective full names. She doesn’t know why but she likes that they are the only ones that do so.
Alexander comes to the Montgomery Inc. office one evening when Tabitha is working late alone. Even though he avoids being alone with her he’s angry that she’s so cavalier about her safety. Alexander stays to walk Tabitha to her car. He’s in the parking lot warming up her car and de-icing it when an irate former customer storms in. The large man is physically attacking Tabitha when Alexander comes in tearing the man away beating him into unconsciousness. Typically avoiding the temptation touching her brings he has hold her in order to comfort her. Against his better judgment Alexander offers to teach Tabitha how to fight again bringing her in way to close contact with him. Alexander isn’t the only one struggling with their newly forged, yet still innocent, intimate proximity. Tabitha is hot and bothered as well but she feels as though Alexander may not reciprocate her feelings.
Alex is working on a couple of freelance photography projects. There’s a personal one for his family. a paying one for Montgomery Inc., and one for a client. Alexander’s toying with something close to his heart that has him shooting pictures late in the bitter cold downtown streets. He’s shocked to find Tabitha out in the dark also in the cold, among the homeless population downtown. He is out of his mind furious, seeing her walking into a darkened alley, alone. He learns she has no car and is intending to walk several blocks to the mass transit train station. He is irate ordering her to get into his car so he can drive her home. Tabitha expects Alexander to drop her off in her driveway and burn rubber driving away. She’s shocked when he not only walks her to her door, he shoves her inside, and kisses her soundly.
Alexander’s adrenalin has spiked in his worry for Tabitha and opened the floodgates to his feelings. She acknowledges that she feels the same way and their passion ignites to 5 alarm levels. But when Alexander and Tabitha make a particularly intense eye contact he doubts himself and runs.
It isn’t until one of Alexander’s friends calls Tabitha asking for her help that she sees him again. Alexander took boxing lessons and as an outlet he spars with a couple of friends. He’s entered a sanctioned fight at the gym with a fighter who has a lot more experience than him. Alexander’s friend is hoping that Tabitha’s presence could defuse the situation. Brody picks Tabitha up at her house and takes her to the gym. Unfortunately the fight is already underway and Alexander loses. Tabitha is furious that Alexander could be so reckless and he’s furious that she was there and wearing his friend’s coat. Insisting that Alexander take her to his place so that she can tend to his wounds. After she bandages him up they discuss why he entered the fight. For Alexander it’s about having control. Tabitha “tends” to Alexander and they end up having sex.
After that night they see each other almost everyday, regularly having sex multiple times not always sleepover. But Alexander knows he could drown in her and he’s afraid he could drag her down with him. Tabitha and Alexander are trying to keep their relationship a secret from the rest of the Montgomery clan. They know that the family will get either overly excited or concerned about their relationship. However, Storm seems to sense that there is something going on between them. Alexander is beginning to feel more comfortable and happier around his family and he attributes that to Tabitha. She grounds and centers him. She puts a spring in his step and a smile on his face. However, when his ex-wife shows up Alexander is thrown because she is his biggest trigger. Her manipulations in their marriage are what drove him to drink in the first place.
Tabitha becomes insecure about Alexander’s ex-wife’s re-appearance. Many of the members of the Montgomery family come to Montgomery Inc.’s offices. They are extremely concerned about how Alexander’s ex-wife’s return is going to affect his sobriety. However Tabitha tells his family that she trusts that Alexander is able to remain sober despite his ex-wife’s return. Tabitha says she believes he will as them for help if he needs it. Alex happens to arrive in the offices to see the many family members and hear Tabitha’s declaration of her trust in him. He reassures them that he has tools at his disposal to help him and he’s not going to have a drink today or drink tomorrow. They seem reassured and disperse. Tabitha feels that their relationship is getting serious enough that they’re going to reveal it to his family soon. Especially after that worry-fest meeting at the office.
Tabitha confesses to Alexander what she was doing alone downtown that night he found her among the homeless. It involved an ex-boyfriend and there is a similarity to their relationship that slightly concerns Alexander. Feeling he needs to be completely open with Tabitha he tells her about his former marriage. Things that he never told anyone in his family, his therapists, or in rehab – and it is truly horrible. It explains so much. It’s at Girl’s night when all of the guys show up to meet up with their women that things get interesting. First, when Storm comes in he informs Tabitha that Alexander is still in the car taking a call. Potentially causing some curiosity. When Alexander enters, he walks straight to Tabitha giving her a casual yet claiming kiss right on her mouth. The room becomes silent until one of Alexander’s sisters declares it’s about time.
When Tabitha inadvertently declares her love for Alexander he freaks out. Alexander never wanted to care about someone to love again. He doesn’t believe he has to ability to fall in love with someone else. Alexander leaves Tabitha’s apartment early the next morning. Tabitha is ambushed at her house by the same man who attacked her at the Montgomery offices. Using the skills Alexander taught her she’s able to escape. However she’s extremely banged up and needs to be hospitalized. Alexander blames himself for Tabitha’s attack and being in the hospital is another trigger for him. Tabitha tells him to go and call his sponsor. Alexander leaves doing as she says but he feels guilty for leaving her. Tabitha stays with Alexander’s parents while she heals. Alexander texts her several times a day requesting to see her she tells him she needs space to think.
“Ink Exposed” is probably the most emotionally intense of the Montgomery Inc. series. Carrie Ann Ryan not only depicts Alexander’s struggles with his cravings but with his guilt as well. She also delves into how the worry and extra effort to not tempt Alexander adds pressure already weighing on him. There is an exploration into how a recovering alcoholic approaches going into a romantic relationship and the pitfalls involved. Despite the wonderfully written serious stuff Carrie Ann Ryan does not skimp on the smoking hot sex scenes. Alexander and Tabitha have an extremely inventive, vibrant and healthy sex life. This book hits on so many topics yet is not overwhelming or over-burdened. Somehow the balance is perfect. The storyline is complex, romantic, and the pacing is on point. The characters are all well developed be they primary or secondary. Again, “Ink Exposed” is my favorite in the Montgomery Inc. series thus far.
I’m giving “Ink Exposed” 5 Lightning Bolts and a Hurricane Warning.
This novel was provided to me. It was voluntarily read and reviewed without bias.