Inked in the Steel City Series

Inked in the Steel City Series by Ranae Rose

Book: Inked in the Steel City Series by Ranae Rose Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ranae Rose
he saw her arrive with Jess, who, in many ways, was more like a daughter to her than a sibling. Would he still see her as the girl he’d kissed in the studio, or the much older woman she felt like? Maybe he’d regret the kiss. Trying not to dwell on the possibility, she unlocked her car, helped Jess into a seat – she could stand, but only for short periods of time – and folded her wheelchair, stowing it away in the trunk. By the time she finished the routine she’d broken into a light sweat. Fortunately, she was stronger than she looked.
     
    Ten minutes later she’d parked in the Ruby’s lot. Her mind whirled with thoughts of Eric as she went mechanically about unloading and unfolding Jess’s wheelchair. When it was ready she helped Jess into it. “Ready for some fries?” She hoped her smile disguised her nervousness.
     
    “Always.” Jess beamed at her. “Is Karen already here?”
     
    Mina nodded. “She should be waiting inside with Eric. He’s the artist who did my tattoo.”
     
    “Karen knows him? I thought she hated tattoos.”
     
    “She doesn’t hate them. She’s just afraid of needles. Eric is here because the tattoo shop owner asked him to be a part of the photo shoot and Karen invited him to eat with us afterward.”
     
    Jess nodded, clueless that Mina had posed half-naked with Eric and then kissed him right in front of Karen and her camera. That was for the best. Mina didn’t want Jess to get the wrong idea. It wasn’t like she’d made a habit of getting so intimate with guys she barely knew. If anything, the opposite was true. She wasn’t like their mother. In fact, their mother’s behavior was a sort of inversed standard she held herself to. Whenever she examined her own habits and determined that they were exactly the opposite of her mother’s, she felt satisfied. She was on the right track as long as she wasn’t on the train wreck of a path her mother had hurdled down.
     
    The lively din of chatter greeted Mina as she opened Ruby’s front door and held it that way for Jess, who rolled through in her electric wheelchair. Butterflies fluttered in the pit of Mina’s stomach as she stepped through the door and it closed, isolating her from the cool, wide-open world outside. Now she was in the relatively small restaurant, in inescapably close proximity to Eric. Any second now she’d see him and he’d see her. They’d lock eyes and then he’d see Jess at her side and he’d know: Mina was already committed to someone in a way she could never be committed to any man. She didn’t have any romantic ties to anyone, but her life was a tangle of responsibilities that didn’t leave room for an outsider, no matter how hot or gloriously tattooed he was. Or at least, that was what she told herself. It was easier than getting her hopes up and being rejected when he saw her as a whole person; a guardian and provider instead of just another carefree twenty-something girl.
     
    “Mina! Jess! Over here.”
     
    Mina turned in the direction of Karen’s voice and saw her sitting at a large table across from Eric. He turned toward them in what seemed like slow motion, and in the span of one impossibly brief moment, Mina noticed everything about him. He was wearing the same simple black jacket he’d worn on the day on their failed coffee date. Today he’d unzipped it, letting the restaurant’s heat flow underneath, where he wore the same grey cotton thermal shirt he’d worn – or rather, not worn – at Karen’s studio. He seemed to have just finished a sip from the glass that rested on the table in front of him, half-full of water, not soda or beer. His choice of beverage supported what Mina had suspected when she’d seen him shirtless – he had to be into fitness. A drop of water gleamed on his lower lip and she waited for his mouth to curve down into a frown. She almost wished it would so that she could write him off and chalk the kiss up to impulsivity.
     
    But he didn’t frown.

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