Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Digital release date: December 17, 2013
Print release date: Late 2014
Third in the Ross siblings series
The consequences of a moment can last a lifetime.
Gabriella Ross suffered every bride’s worst nightmare: a no-show groom. Now summer stretches before her with nowhere to go but home, at least until it’s time to go back to medical school.
Determined to prove she might be down but definitely not out, she chucks all her old plans in favor of having a good time—starting with giving herself a pair of wings. Tattooed wings, that is, in the form of a phoenix on her back.
When everyone else at Dermamania chickens out at the prospect of putting the gorgeous, perfect skin of the boss’s big sister under the needle, Ian Rhodes finds himself stepping up. Then unexpectedly connecting with her through tears that have nothing to do with the pain of getting inked.
Attraction flares into one hot night that was supposed to stay that way—single, and secret. But best laid plans have a way of getting blown out of the water. Now two perfect strangers must plan for a very different future…beginning with whether there’s enough common ground to spend it together.
Warning: Contains explicit sex, graphic language, Ross family drama, reuniting with beloved old friends…and a hot tattooed, Harley-riding hero who doesn’t mind being robbed from the cradle.
“A fantastic, unforgettable cast of characters, heartfelt writing, an entertaining plot, and of course, smokin’ hot love scenes makes Take Me On a must read book. If you haven’t experienced Cherrie Lynn yet, you are missing out!” Guilty Pleasures Reviews
Copyright © 2013 Cherrie Lynn
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Dude, she’s spiraling.”
Ian Rhodes glanced over at his boss, who was staring out the front windows of Dermamania. Following Brian’s gaze, Ian watched the lithe brunette stalk across the street toward their establishment. He didn’t see any spiraling there. He just saw a tall, beautiful woman with a purposeful scowl on her face, whose stride was so forceful that her hair lifted in quick bursts of wind with each step. Big, dark sunglasses shielded her eyes in the late-afternoon glare.
“Who is that?” he asked.
Brian had been drying his hands after finishing his last piercing job. He threw the towel in the bin behind him now with a sigh. “My sister.”
“The one you said got jilted at the altar a few months ago?”
“Do not fucking mention it.”
“Or she’ll scratch your eyes out,” Ghost supplied from the computer at the counter.
Okay, that might be cause for spiraling. “Understood,” he said, unable to look away. The closer Gabriella came—he knew her name because Brian had mentioned it before—the more apparent it became that whoever the bastard was who subjected someone so beautiful to such abject humiliation was a damn fool. Unless there were some severe character flaws there—but then they shouldn’t have gotten as far as the altar in the first place if that were the case.
“And it’s apparent she’s spiraling at this moment because…?” Ian asked as she drew closer. There didn’t seem to be anything too outwardly alarming about her appearance.
“Because she’s here. Hey, Gab!” Brian called brightly as the door flew open and she rushed in.
Brian had never mentioned his sister was a knockout. But then, that might’ve been a little weird. Her hair was a warm chestnut brown, long, thick and silky enough to catch the overhead lights. She had a dancer’s body, and it was shown to its full effect in a skintight tank and cutoffs.
He didn’t dare glance at her legs. If he did, he knew his gaze would get trapped there and she’d catch him looking, and that wouldn’t be good. Especially in front of her brother. His boss. What he really wanted to see, though, were her eyes.
As if reading his mind, she pushed her shades to the top of her head. Dark green stunners swept over Ian then, assessing and dismissing in one smooth motion. His breath nearly choked him in that split second.
“This makes, what, exactly once that you’ve graced us with your presence?” Brian grinned and boosted himself up onto his counter.
“You’re the one always bugging me and Evan about getting some ink,” she said. Now that Ian could see her face in its entirety, he knew the only thing marring that gorgeous skin was the dark circles under her big eyes. She held out her slender, inkless arms. “Here I am.”
“Are you shitting me right now?” Brian asked. Ghost watched the exchange with amused interest.
“No. I’m not shitting you.”
“What brought this on?”
“Does it matter?”
Gabriella rolled her eyes. “After all these years, and all your smart-alecky bullshit, you’re actually going to balk when I finally give in?”
“Well…” Brian seemed to be choosing his words carefully, and when he began saying them, they sounded rather pointed. “It’s kinda like a one-night stand. It might seem like a good idea in the heat of the moment, but the consequences are yours to deal with for the rest of your life.”
She stared at him for a couple of seconds and burst out laughing. Her even, white teeth were a striking contrast to her dark-cherry lips. “Jesus, Brian.”
“Seriously. I don’t want you to do it now while you’re…” He trailed off, at a loss.
“While I’m what?” she demanded.
“Obviously pissed off about something,” Ian interjected, unable to hold his tongue any longer. Brian cast him a warning glance, and Gabriella turned the full force of her piercing eyes on him. A lesser man might have wilted under that stare. It only made his blood pump hotter.
She gave him more regard this time, not even attempting to hide it as her gaze danced down over the ink on his arms, then back up to his face. “It’s that obvious?” she asked.
Ian shrugged, trying to seem uninterested. “You were stomping pavement out there like it was someone’s face. Someone you really don’t like.”
Yeah, he was inching ever closer to the edge, and Brian and Ghost looked like they were preparing for a nuclear explosion, but she only took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Looked back at her brother. “I’ll have to work on that, then.”
“And you seriously want ink.”
“I do. I’ve always thought about it, you know. I haven’t been as dead-set against it as Evan. Now seems as good a time as any.”
“And you aren’t going to hate me later for letting you do it?”
“I’ll only hate you if you tattoo ‘Kick Me’ across my back or something.”
“Oh, I’m not going to do it,” Brian said. All heads snapped toward him, and his sister’s expression fell.
“Why not?” she asked.
“You must be out your damn mind if you think I’m gonna be any part of this.”
“But you’ve always—!”
“I’ve always teased that you should get ink. I’ve never said you should let me give you ink. Hell, I probably would write ‘Kick Me’ across your back.”
She stepped forward to smack him on the arm. “You would not.”
“Nah, but still. You can get it here if you want it, but I’m going to recuse myself. Sorry.”
“Then who would do it?”
“There are two more than capable candidates right here—”
“No way, dude,” Ghost cut in. He shook his head at Gabriella. “No offense, but from what he’s told me, you scare the shit out of me. And you’re the boss’s sister. That’s pressure I don’t need.”
“—or Tay or Starla or Janelle would be more than happy,” Brian finished.
“They’ll probably say the same thing,” she fretted.
Ian had been enjoying the back-and-forth without giving much thought to the matter, focusing mostly on her mouth as she spoke. But it slowly began to sink in that he was likely the only candidate to do this for her. The new guy. He really liked his coworkers, but there’d been no small amount of hazing since he started three months ago. And it was apparent now that he would probably get tossed the jobs everyone else would rather not do…and no one else who worked here and vaguely knew Gabriella Ross would want anything to do with this project, it seemed.
Was she really that scary?
“I’ll do it,” he said.
“There you go,” Brian said to his sister. He leaned over far enough to slap his hand against Ian’s back a couple of times. “He’s your guy. Go hash it out.” The dude looked thoroughly relieved.
“Brian, I really wanted you to do this.” Gabriella’s voice sounded tight, and she glanced at Ian. “No offense.”
“I only work with the best, Gab.” Brian hopped off the counter, turning his backwards ball cap forward, usually the sign he was declaring himself off for the evening. “I leave you in good hands.”
“Then I’m not doing it.”
“That’s up to you. But stop being a baby about it, whatever you decide.”
“I’m being a baby?”
Before a real sibling spat could erupt, Ian straightened and stepped forward. “Hey, now. Gabriella, right? I’m Ian. If you want, I can take you over to the display and show you some of the work I’ve done. If you like it, I’ll be happy to do yours. Anything you want. And it’ll turn out great. I promise.”
“I look forward to seeing what you come up with, man.” Brian slapped Ian’s back again as he headed for the back, leaving Ghost snickering and Gabriella glaring. Bastard.
“Fine,” she sighed after her brother had gone. Then she mustered a smile for Ian and followed him to the poster displays, standing without comment while he flipped through some of his flash. After a few minutes, though, she stopped him.
“These are great, but they’re all really small,” she said.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “You’re wanting to go big?”
“Very big. And actually…I already know what I want.”
“Lay it on me.”
“You never mix business with pleasure,” Gabby supplied. “Got it.”
The way she purred that sentence in between sips of her drink, focusing on the “pleasure”… Oh goddamn, he wanted to mix it. He wanted to mix it hard. “It’s not…a hard-and-fast rule or anything.”
“Not hard and fast?”
Shit. Ian felt like a fucking mouse being batted back and forth between the paws of a very svelte, very cunning feline, and given that he’d spent all damn day thinking about her, he wasn’t sure he liked it. There was a certain perverse curiosity in wondering when she was going to stick her claws in, though, and maybe it was best to hurry her plan along. Whatever it was.
“What the hell are you doing?”
That got her attention, and her musical laughter surfaced again. “I’m not doing anything, Ian. Hey, look, I appreciate what you did for me today. Stepping up the way you did, and then calming me down when…things got weird. Seriously. Thank you. I should buy you a drink.”
“Nah…I’m good,” he muttered, still off balance from the delicate floral notes of her perfume and her sheer allure. “It’s my job. Nothing more.”
“Well…” It had been more than that. He was a damn liar if he said otherwise. But he didn’t want her to know that. He needed to stay clear of this one. At all costs.
But this was a woman who knew her own power. She knew it so well that she could call bullshit on any pitiful excuse he tried to make up as to why he didn’t want her. Every man in this building wanted her, and she wore that knowledge. It shrouded her as surely as her dark curtain of lustrous hair. Whatever humiliation had befallen her a few months ago damn sure hadn’t affected her self-esteem.
“Yeah, it’s my job,” he finished lamely.
“You’re very good at your job, then. I see why Brian has such faith in you.”
“I appreciate that.”
Onscreen, Beltre took that moment to slam one out of the park, giving the Rangers the edge over the Blue Jays, and the room erupted in boisterous approval. Gabriella even joined in. “So you like baseball?” Ian asked once the shouts died down.
“I love it. Me and Mar—um, yeah, I used to go to Rangers games whenever I had a chance. Not often, but I loved it.”
“Me too. Kinda wish I were there right now.”
“Right? So if you wish you were there, why are you here?”
“Needed a fresh start. I knew Brian from some mutual friends we have in Dallas. Kara and Marco?”
“Sorry, I don’t know anything about many of Brian’s friends.”
“Oh. Well, they taught him—and me—everything we know. I worked in their studio, but they were saying he needed help here, so I came.”
“Just like that?”
“Like I said, I needed a new start.”
He sucked a breath in through his teeth. “I have my reasons.”
“Ooh, mystery.” She gave him a nudge with her elbow. “I like a mystery.”
She wouldn’t like this one. He damn sure didn’t. “What about you?” he asked. “You’re here, wishing you were there too.”
Gabriella sighed, twirling her glass on the polished bar. “Don’t be too sure about that. At the ballgame, sure. Otherwise… not so much.”
He began to relax a bit, though it occurred to him that maybe it was a huge mistake to go off his guard around her. She was far more disarming like this. “I’ll be honest,” he said. “I knew a little about what happened to you before you came in. Brian didn’t tell me much, so don’t get mad at him. But I started working for him around the time it all went down, so yeah. He was so pissed about it.”
“It’s okay. The entire town and all of the Dallas medical community know, so why should you have been any different?”
What the hell did he say to that? How did someone go through something like that and come out on the other side as this fierce creature? He could see now, though, beneath the veneer of the seductress who had slithered up to him tonight, real pain. The same pain he’d glimpsed earlier today. “I can see how it would be hard to go back home and face everyone after something like that.”
“I’ll be going back. I just figured I’d wait out the summer, let a few more scandals erupt, and by the time I head back in the fall, no one will really care about my stupid wedding.” She chuckled without much humor.
“Non-wedding,” he reminded her.
This time, her laugh had humor, and he couldn’t help joining in. “I call it The Wedding That Wasn’t.”
“Fuck weddings. Be anti-wedding.”
“Oh my God, right? Be damned before I go through that stupid shit again. My other brother and his wife got married on the beach in Hawaii. I could do that. But the whole big-church, hundreds-of-guests, fairy-tale thing…yeah. Fuck that.” She held up her glass, and he clinked his bottle against it.
“In fact…we’ll go picket against all weddings now,” he said.
“It just makes me want to go speak out at every one, and not hold my peace.”
“Right on. They’re all making a terrible mistake anyway.”
She seemed to consider a moment and finally shrugged. “I don’t know so much about that. I mean, I can look to my own parents—they made it. Both my little brothers seem to be madly in love. I’m surrounded by so much freaking happiness, while being deprived of my own, and it’s sickening.”
She killed her drink and turned to face him fully. “So how about you? Was I making a play for a taken man or something?”
A prickle of warning crept up his spine. He drank his beer, not meeting her eyes. Because then he would be doomed. “Making a play, huh?”
“Wouldn’t be much use in denying it.”
Yep, just keep staring at the bar. Don’t look at her. Eyes down. “No, not taken. No wife, no girlfriend.”
She nodded, then pulled her purse around and dug inside for her wallet. He looked at her only when he was certain he wouldn’t meet the magnetic pull of her eyes.
“Hey, I’ll get your drink. Really, let me. I want to,” he said.
Ignoring him even when he reached back for his own wallet, she tossed some money on the bar and stood. What the hell had he said?
“Are you leaving?”
From his vantage point, he had to look up at her as she spoke. “Well, Ian, it’s pretty obvious to me that you’ve been ready to jump out of your skin ever since I approached you. I began to take it as I was intruding on someone else’s property, something I would never dream of doing. But now you tell me that’s not the case at all, so I can only speculate that you’re that fucking scared of my brother, or you just don’t like me. In either case…I’ll see you at our next appointment.”
“I’m not scared of your brother,” he said, standing from his stool and towering over her. Her gaze didn’t leave his during his entire ascent.
“So you don’t like me?”
“I’m not finished. I’m not scared of your brother, but I respect your brother. And…goddamn, are you always this direct?” How did a woman like this not realize her fiancé wasn’t keen on meeting her at the altar, like, months ahead of time? Seemed she would’ve grilled it out of him.
“Listen, man, you go through what I’ve been through, you don’t have time for anything less.”
“Well, then, allow me to reciprocate.” He moved his mouth to her ear and spoke directly into it, allowing his lips to brush against the soft shell. Close enough to smell her hair, close enough to feel its softness against his nose. “I’d love to take you home and fuck you senseless, if that’s what you’re after.”
A full-body shudder went through her. He stepped back, seeing the desire clearly in her heavy-lidded eyes. She definitely wanted him to. “But I’m not going to,” he finished, watching it crash and burn. “For reasons I’ve already explained. So you can go on telling yourself I don’t like you if you want. Whatever makes you feel better about this.”
Collecting his beer from the bar, he cast her one last look over his shoulder as he moved off toward the pool tables.
He’d had the earlier thought that Satan had slid up on the barstool next to him. Oh no. Now she was Satan, and if looks could kill…he’d have her pitchfork buried in his chest. Or elsewhere on his anatomy where she could do maximum damage.