Dedicated Ink

By: Ranae Rose

Inked in the Steel City Book 3


Blue lines and frantic heartbeats – they were all Abby could think about as she sat the plastic stick down on the edge of the bathroom sink, then clasped her hands in front of her hips, unsteady fingers entwined. She didn’t dare look away as the white area inside the first test window darkened, going grey as if a storm cloud was passing over it.

That was exactly how she felt, too: unbearably nervous, caught beneath the long shadow of looming possibilities. Another few seconds and she’d know. Then, she’d either breathe a sigh of relief or … or what? Her heart marked each long moment as a shape materialized in the first murky window.

A horizontal blue line – the control line. It meant the test was working, nothing more. And there was no other line bisecting it, even as the second window began to darken.

Her lips cracked open in automatic response, and she drew a deep breath. As the scent emanating from the lavender oil diffuser on the shelf above the towel rack filled her lungs, reality registered: there was no vertical line in the first window. She’d worked herself up over nothing. Even her cold sweat was pointless. Except…

Except, holy hell, the first window was still changing, beginning a second metamorphosis right before her eyes. As the second control line appeared in the second window, one just like it materialized in the first, appearing sudden and strong, undeniably there.

She stared at it for God knew how long, her gaze frozen on the vertical line that passed over its horizontal twin, forming blue crosshairs right in the middle of the test she’d picked up for a few dollars at the grocery store ten minutes from her apartment, tucking it between a bag of avocados and a jug of milk, hiding it in her cart because that had made the possibility it’d represented seem less real.

She picked up the test again, reading the three lines over and over as the thin device shook, making the blue stripes blur. The aroma of lavender still hung in the air, but it seemed less soothing than before – cloying, almost.

Blurry or not, the reality the stripes had revealed was clear: Abby’s life would never be the same. Trying and failing to breathe normally, she set the test back down and glanced at her reflection in the mirror.

Her face was pale and shining beneath the sheen of a nervous sweat, and that made her messy ponytail look ragged and washed-out – more dirty dishwater blonde than the natural platinum shade she’d inherited from her dad.

She’d just have to go to work this way. Because at the moment, she needed more than anything to escape the quiet solitude of her apartment, and her hands were still shaking too badly to be trusted with make-up or a curling iron. With one last look at the positive pregnancy test, she turned on her heel and rushed out of her home, pausing to pull on shoes and grab her purse, swinging it over her shoulder as she struggled into a light jacket.

Her entire world’s axis had just shifted, but she still had work – she had a new client scheduled for a noon appointment, in fact. As she hurried down the complex’s stairs and slid into her car, she prayed that her hands would stop shaking by the time she picked up a tattoo machine.

* * * * *

“Hey, you okay?” Tyler hung over the wall of Abby’s half-booth, a dark brow raised as he surveyed her from above.

Half-curled in her swivel-chair, she felt smaller than her petite frame accounted for. “Yeah,” she breathed, forcing herself to straighten and wincing as her spine popped.

“You look like crap,” Tyler said. “I mean, you look like you feel like crap.” He watched her like he expected her to bite his head off.

“Not a great morning,” she admitted. “It’s personal.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding and backing away from the half-wall. “Female stuff. Gotcha.” He was gone quicker than a summer rain shower, safely shielded from her female woes by the solid wall of his own booth.

Abby glanced toward the front counter, where Zoe the receptionist sat on a stool behind a glass case full of body jewelry, ready to help any client who walked in. She was the only other woman in the Hot Ink Tattoo Studio at the moment. All the other artists were male; Zoe and Mina, the other receptionist, were the only female staff besides Abby.

Female or not, Zoe was oblivious to Abby’s issues, and that was for the best. Abby wasn’t ready to tell anybody yet – not when she only half-believed it herself. Making sure that no one was watching, she swept her fingertips over her belly. No baby bump yet, but her body had been changing in other ways.

Sore breasts and days of vague nausea had prompted her to consider the possibility that she might be pregnant despite the fact that a missed period hadn’t meant much to her – her periods had been more or less irregular since she’d started a new birth control pill a few months ago, so no immediate alarm bells had gone off when she’d skipped a cycle.

So much for those pills.

She was what – God, almost two months pregnant, despite the medication? Had to be, because she knew exactly when she’d conceived the baby, even if she could hardly believe it.

One night. One night with one amazingly hot-dream of a guy she’d met at a bar. Her stomach shrank into a hard ball as she tried to imagine life as the single mother of a child conceived in the most cliché of careless situations: a one-night stand with a random stranger who was absent from her life, totally oblivious.