Abbotts · AtoZ Challenge · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Ash #AtoZChallenge

Immediately I know something is very wrong.

Lucas is just ending a call as I enter the kitchen. Years together, and I’ve never seen this particular expression on his face. Something like disbelief and rage and agony.

My stomach drops.

“Luke? What is it?”

“We have to go see Ethan.” His response is distracted. He has yet to look up from the phone in his hand.

“Okay,” I assure him. “Okay, we’ll go see Ethan.”

He nods, his only acknowledgment I’m there. Increasingly concerned I cross the distance between us and cup his cheeks in my hands, bringing him back to me. Where he needs to be. Where we’re strongest. His eyes meet mine, holding torture I haven’t seen there in years. Not since he started making peace with his family.

“Hey, whatever it is, I’m here. We’ll figure it out.”

His tense posture relaxes somewhat and he presses a swift kiss against my lips before pulling me close, arms around my waist. He buries his face in the curve of my neck, another sure sign he’s upset about something.

Dread is settling in my already roiling stomach. “Babe, what is it?” I whisper. I run my hands through his hair, trying to soothe him.

He takes a deep breath before stepping back, his hands still on my waist keeping us connected. “I – I have a sister. She’s waiting in Ethan’s office.”

What?

I bite back a million questions, knowing that’s not what he needs right now. And that he is probably battling the same list in his own head.

“I’ll call Gabby and Riley. I’m sure one of them can stay with the kids.”

We drop the kids off at Gabby’s on the way. As I predicted she was happy to spend the afternoon with them. I know I’ll have questions to answer later – when I hopefully have answers – but my best friend never turns down an opportunity to spoil my children for a few hours.

I insist on driving, Lucas is still too distracted. He’s sitting beside me, fingers drumming on his knees as he silently, broodingly stares out the window. I’ve learned, with time, that sometimes he falls into these dark moods. Jax told me once when they were kids and things got bad that Lucas would turn it in. Back then he would channel it into his art and while that is still his pattern he also has us now.

He isn’t a foster kid being shuffled house to house. He isn’t a poor, angry kid that know one believes in or has any time for. Now he knows he is loved. And when he goes to this place I am there to constantly remind him of that fact so he never stays there for long.

But this.

A sister?

I have no idea how this will affect him.

I turn on to the street where Ethan’s office is located and breath a sigh of relief when someone leaves a parking spot right out front I can pull into.

Lucas is jumping out of the car before I can even finish parallel parking, his patience at an end.

I scramble to catch up with him. He’s half way through the lobby before I do. He presses the up elevator button much harder, and more often, than is required but I don’t say anything.

He turns to me abruptly and busts out, “I love you. Thank you. For being here.”

My eyes sting with tears and uncaring of the people walking by us I wrap my arms around his waist, resting my head against his chest and wait for the elevator to arrive.

“I love you too. I will always be here when you need me.”

He’s stiff in my arms and I squeeze him, listening to his heart beat.

It’s taken time and a lot of missteps but Lucas has slowly made peace with his family, the Abbotts. Some of them, like Riley and Zane, have even become good friends. But for so many reasons, his relationship with Ethan has remained… tense. I’m worried this news is even harder to stomach from this particular messenger.

Finally, the elevator doors slide open, I pull away and we step inside pressing the button for the forty-first floor. It takes an agonizing amount of time to get there, Lucas holds my hand the entire ride. This is when I start to really feel my nerves. Now, when there isn’t anything to do but wait for the elevator to make it’s journey, I realize my stomach is churning.

What does this mean? How is this possible? A sister? Does that mean they found his father? If I’m spinning like this I can only imagine what Lucas is going through. My heart hurts just remembering the anguish on his face when I found him in the kitchen.

A soft ding indicates we’ve finally reached our destination. Releasing my hand, Lucas rushes through the doors and storms passed Ethan’s assistant into his office. Once again I’m running to keep up with his much longer legs.

I enter Ethan’s office just far enough behind Lucas to see him rearing back and punching Ethan square in the face. I rush to his side and grip his arm tightly, before he can decide to hit Ethan again.

“Lucas, let’s hear him out. You need answers right now,” I say softly. He meets my gaze, eyes in turmoil. “Whatever this is,” I remind him, “we’ll deal with it. I love you.”

His chest expands with a deep inhale as he visible relaxes, nodding at my words.

We turn to Ethan who is rubbing his cheek, working his jaw, and eying my husband warily.

“Nice to see you too, Cousin,” Ethan deadpans.

“How long? How long have you known?” Lucas barks.

Ethan sighs, his expression grim.

Suddenly I realize we are not the only ones in the room. Looking over my shoulder a see another couple standing near Ethan’s couch. Lucas had been so focused when we entered he had rushed right by them.

“Years,” Ethan finally admits. “I’ve known for years.”

Oh my god.

I hear a gasp and realize it’s me. Unconsciously, I move closer to Lucas, my hand tightening on his arm. He is visibly shaken by this news, staggering a few steps back.

“How – how could you do that? How could you know this whole time-”

“I wouldn’t let him tell you.”

We both turn abruptly as the woman I had noticed before steps forward.

“He kept the secret because I made him.”

Lucas looks at me in disbelief then back to her.

“You?” He’s clearly stunned, as surprised as I am. “It’s you?”

Click here if you’d like to read about the beginning of Ash and Lucas.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

“You were worried? About the tape and my reaction. You thought I might end this?”

Lucas stiffens and nods reluctantly. “I was afraid you might, yeah.

“I’m sorry you were worried.”

“I’m sorry you were hurt.”

She smiles at him, hooking her fingers in his belt loops and pulling him closer to her. “I know you would never hurt me.”

Brushing her hair back from her face, he searches her brown eyes intently. “You do?”

Nodding, Ash presses a kiss to the center of his chest, above his heart. “Let’s see what I can do to convince you, I’m not going anywhere.”

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

An obnoxious clanging sound permeates the tense silence of the waiting room as Luke’s cell starts vibrating across the coffee table.

He snatches it up, notes Krista calling and quickly sends it to voicemail and shoves it in his pocket. It pauses for a beat and then starts vibrating again. Then again.

Finally, he puts it to his ear. “Not really a great time, Krista,” he snaps.

“Luke, I just heard. How is he? How are you?

“How did you hear already? Logan hasn’t even gotten to the hospital yet.”

He hears his producer sigh on the other end of the line and can almost picture her grimace. “Paparazzi listen to police scanners.”

This was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

“You’re a doctor,” Lucas states quietly, his eyes focused on his hands and the bloody towel he held against Jax’s chest hopefully preventing his best friend from bleeding to death.

“I’m a trauma surgeon.”

“Is he going to make it? He can’t die.”

Ash is silent for a moment, knowing professionally she can’t make that promise. But the raw emotion in his whispered plea is affecting her more than usual. She looks at him, waiting for Lucas to meet her gaze.

“We’re not going to let him die.”

He stares into her eyes for a moment, resolve banking the fear, and nods slightly.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

“Ash!”

Immediately Ash turns her attention to Gabby, who was frantically scrambling across the tiled floor of the lobby.

Across the floor to an immobile Jax and the pool of blood slowly growing around him.

Lucas paled and sprinted to his side.

“Gabby assess his leg. I’ll work on his chest wound. Lucas call 911 and find us some towels.” Ash began barking orders, shouldering him out of her way so she could kneel at Jax’s side.

Cold dread spread through Luke’s muscles holding him in place. Jax couldn’t die. He’d lost too many people. He couldn’t lose Jax.

“Lucas!” Ash’s sharp call jarred him out of his stupor. He met her brown eyes something unspoken passing between them, reassuring him. “Towels. 911.”

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Sunday Snippet · Vanished

Sunday Snippet

Luke’s fist glimpse of Ash.

But Lucas couldn’t have told you what any of the others looked like because all he saw was her. She was tall and slender with soft curves covered in dark jeans and a black backless top. Her dark hair was long, falling midway down her back in soft shiny waves. Her skin was flawless, pale and smooth and begging to be stroked. The door jingled, indicating another customer walking in and she turned, a wide smile lighting her features and he swallowed wanting to be the one to put that smile on her face for the rest of his life.

What the fuck is wrong with me? He shook his head, attempting to clear it, but her dark brown eyes lingered. God those were gorgeous eyes.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Uncle Theo

I glance up from the brief I’m reading when my study door abruptly opens and one of my security team quickly enters. Immediately concerned, I stand grabbing my suit jacket and slipping it back on. This is not how Nathan Erickson normally behaves. Something is wrong.

“Senator,” he nods. “Sorry to interrupt.”

“What’s happened?”

“There’s been a shooting at Vanished, sir.”

My knees almost give out. No. No, it can’t end like this.

Vanished is the name of my nephew’s tattoo shop. My sister’s son, God rest her soul. We’d only found him a few years ago after discovering what had happened to my sister after she ran away all those years ago. Our reunion had not been what I’d hoped and the thought that I could lose him too before we’d even gotten to know each other is devastating.

“Who?” I whisper.

“Reports are still coming in. There’s police and an ambulance on the scene. I assumed you’d want to know as soon as possible.”

“You assumed correctly. Please have my car brought around.”

“Yes, sir.”

Erickson leaves to do as I asked, after he closes the door behind him I call my son Ethan.

“Hey, Pop.”

He only calls me that because he thinks I hate it. He considers it his only act of rebellion. I don’t care what he calls me in private but I continue the ruse because I think he needs an act of rebellion and this seems far safer than other action he could take. Of all my children, Ethan knows the most about my business and I his. Sometimes I regret the choices he’s had to make, worried he’s living his life too much for other people. Ethan has purpose but little joy, unlike his siblings.

“There’s been a shooting at Vanished.”

“Is Lucas okay?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

“No. Meet me at the hospital. If it is Lucas I want to be there. If it’s not, he probably won’t appreciate us showing up at his business.”

“Fair enough. What hospital?”

“I’ll text you as soon as I know.”

I exit my house and climb in to the back seat of the car waiting for me, Nathan Erickson at the wheel.

“What have you learned?”

“One critically injured en route to Memorial Hospital. Minor injuries on site. One in custody and one at large. Press is also on site.”

Damn.

“Still no word on who was shot?”

“No, sir. I’m sorry. Police scanner mentions an attempted robbery.”

“Take me to Memorial.” My wife is on the Board at Memorial so at least that will make things a little easier.

“Yes, sir.”

I spend the twenty minute drive alternating between praying Lucas is alright and regretting the decisions I’ve made where he’s concerned.

At the hospital I’m met by the Chief of Surgery and led to a private waiting room, Ethan meets me there. I’m told it wasn’t Lucas, but his staff member Jax, who was shot. That Jax’s condition is precarious but luckily there was a doctor on the scene. I ask the Chief to keep me updated and call my Communications Director to help deal with the press.

And I wait, keeping vigil to hear if Lucas’s best friend will survive the night.

He may not want my support but he has it.

If you’d like more information about Lucas and his Uncle click here.

Want to check in on Jax’s recovery? Click here.

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Lucas

The bell above the door jingles, signaling someone entering the shop. I look up from the sketches I’m working on and size up the man walking towards me.

He’s not our typical clientele. I know tattoos are pretty mainstream at this point and I know better than most never to judge someone by basic appearances but this guy is totally out of place here. Twisted Ink is in a rough middle class neighborhood in Chicago. We don’t usually get business types in fancy suits popping in over their lunch break. Christ, this guy looks like he got his shoes shined this morning.

Although, we are starting to get some folks sniffing around as rumors leak I’ve made the list of contestants for next season of Top Ink. Most come to check out my designs, see if the rumors are true (I can neither confirm nor deny for another month) and if they can get time on my chair before I’m on TV and my schedule gets tighter and my fees higher. At least that’s what I hope happens. Assuming I do well in the competition.

This chance could change everything for me. The prize money, the name recognition, I could finally start my own shop, take Jax and Macy with me. Do it the way we want. The way Jax and I have always talked about.

But this guys still isn’t the type we usually see. I’ll be shocked if he’s here for some ink.

“Can I help you?”

“Lucas Gray?”

A referral? Maybe I’m wrong. I can think of no other reason this guy would be looking for me.

I stand, stretching to my full height. An asshole tactic? Maybe. Honestly, this guy is no physical threat to me but I am well aware that isn’t the only way to wound someone. I take the advantages I have. “Yeah? I’m Luke.”

When he doesn’t say anything else I fill the silence. “You looking for a tattoo?”

That seems to shake him loose and he holds out his hand introducing himself. “I’m Ethan Abbott.”

Curious, I shake his hand still waiting for an explanation.

“I have some personal business to discuss with you. Is there somewhere we could speak privately?”

What the hell is this guys deal?

Another thought occurs to me. “Are you from the network?”

The confusion on his face gives me my answer before he responds. “No. I’m just – I’m here on personal business.”

What kind of business could this guy possibly have with me? Let alone anything he needed privacy for.

“Hey Mace?” I yell back without taking my eyes off the stranger in front of me.

“Yo!”

“Can you cover the front for a few minutes?”

A moment later Macy appears from the break room. I’m a big guy but Mace is a hulk. I give the suit credit. He looks at us warily but doesn’t back down. Mace looks between us and cocks his head, silently asking me if I need back up. We don’t have the history Jax and I do, but I trust him to have my back when things go to shit. He’s loyal and he never feels the need to prove anything to anyone. It’s a level of chill I have yet to achieve.

I have a fuck ton to prove to literally everyone.

“I’ll be back in a bit. You good?”

“My next appointment is at 2. I’m good until then.” He nods at me.

That gives the suit just over 30 minutes to explain his ‘personal business’. “I’ll be back by then. Thanks man.”

I head to the back room, one of the few with an actual door for privacy and not just a curtain, assuming the suit will follow.

It only takes twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to give me answers that explain absolutely nothing. He tells me his family has been looking for me. He tells me they’re my family too. He tells me a lot of things I can’t hear right now. He hands me a fat envelope and tells me he’ll be in touch. Twenty minutes after he enters he leaves.

My head is swimming and everything feels muffled and far away. My chest tightens until I feel like roaring is the only way to relieve the building tension. So I do, hardly recognizing the sound escaping. I need to hit something. I’d like to hit my cousin Ethan but he’s gone leaving me with unanswered fury and countless questions. I throw open the door exploding through the shop. I stop cold seeing Jax reclining back on one of the battered couches for waiting clients, casually watching videos on his phone.

“What are you doing here? You’re not on the schedule.”

“Mace texted.”

I shoot him a look. Unapologetic he just shrugs, “Didn’t look good, brother.”

This tiny show of support soothes my beast just a little. My throat tightens with emotion and I clear it aggressively away. I don’t like how I feel right now. Like I’m on the verge of losing control. I’ll admit the anger inside me is terrifying and knowing these two are here to help me deal with it but also keep me from destroying with it is the security I need right now.

Jax slowly unfolds from the couch tucking his cell in his back pocket. “Want to head up to the Attic?”

I exhale roughly. That’s exactly what I want to do. My shoulders already feel less tense. I nod.

The Attic is what we call the third floor of the building housing the tattoo shop. It’s mostly used for storage and has a ton of crap from previous tenants but we’ve set up a make shift gym in the corner with free weights and a punching bag. That punching bag is going to help me process the information overload I’ve just received.

I strip off my shirt and wrap my hands while Jax pulls up one of the camping chairs we have stashed up there. He listens while I repeat everything I’ve just been told between jabs. I have no idea how long I work out my aggression, longer than the story I have to tell, and by the time I’m done I’m drenched in sweat and my arms are humming in exhausted protest. Jax throws me a bottle of water and kicks another chair so it skids across the floor towards me. Gratefully I fall in to it and gulp the water down.

“These Abbott’s are kind of a big deal, man. Did this Ethan guy mention that?”

“What do you mean?”

Jax glances at his phone again and informs me about my family. “Well, they’re fucking loaded for one. Like inherited money for generations. And one of them – it looks like Ethan’s dad, is a Congressman running for Senate next fall.” He shows me the articles he’s found while I’ve been exercising.

“No. He mentioned something about an estate and possible trust but I couldn’t process what the fuck he was talking about.”

“They think his sister, the politician guy, is your mother?”

I shrug. After all these years finding out who my parents were had stopped being a possibility in my mind. Even with someone right in front of me telling me he might have answers I was still having trouble rewiring my brain.

“I couldn’t find much about her online.”

“He said she ran away when she got pregnant.”

Jax nods. “You said he left you with some papers?”

“Yeah. They’re still downstairs.”

Jax is silent, letting me work things out in my head for a minute.

“What do you want to do?”

It’s different with Jax. He knows who his parents were, knows they were pieces of shit that had no business making a kid. Our foster homes were pretty ugly at times but he knew home would just be a different kind of hell. I had nothing. No information. No ties. No context. Only questions and constant uncertainty.

“You want to take the DNA test?”

Do I?

Ethan seemed to think it was a formality. They were sure he told me. Used ‘every resource at their disposal’ to find me.

“I don’t know man. It feels pretty fucking convenient.”

“What do you mean?”

“That he comes walking through the door now after all this time. Right before his dad starts campaigning for office and I’m about to be on national television?”

“You think they were sitting on it?”

I shrug. I have no idea what I’m thinking.

The DNA comes back a match. I’m an Abbott. Biologically anyway.

I feel that same wave of rage I experienced the first day Ethan dropped all this on me as I read the terms of my trust.

It’s contingent on me withdrawing from Top Ink. There’s a lot of legal words all strung together that I basically interpret as I can do whatever I want with the money as long as I don’t appear on television this year or any other. I look at the dollar amount, literally counting the zeros to clarify what I’m seeing. It’s far more than I’d make winning Top Ink a dozen times.

But I have a fuck ton to prove to literally everyone. And now, especially one person.

Uncle Theo. You dick.

I’ll take your name. Let you explain to all your country club friends and political donors who I am and what your family did to your too-young pregnant sister thirty years ago.

But I’m not signing anything. Keep your bribe you fucking asshole.

I rip up the papers and open a beer.

I need a drink.

And when I win Top Ink we’ll let the skeletons come tumbling out.

I’m an Abbott.

Meet Lucas after his Top Ink win here.

Curious about Uncle Theo?

Abbotts · Jax and Riley · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Jax

I think it’s the pain in my head that wakes me. Or maybe my chest. My leg still isn’t feeling great either.

I subconsciously remember enough not to stretch or move much, instead I just take a slow steady breath and blink my eyes open.

I fucking hate hospitals. Especially when I’m the patient.

A flash of red hair and a mint green dress catches my eye and I turn my gaze toward the door to my hospital room with a grin, ready to flirt with the new nurse on duty.

What the hell is she doing here?

By the way her smile trembles I suspect I’m not hiding my surprise very well.

Distantly, I recognize I should be angry or annoyed or hostile, but frankly I don’t have enough energy to be any of those things. Or maybe it’s the drugs I’m pumped full of right now. I just feel mellow. And maybe a little curious.

“You’re… Riley. Right?”

If I’m remembering correctly, a fairly big if at the moment, she’s a teacher. And an outsider in her own right, an orphan like us, although she was taken in and raised by Luke’s family. She had a good, cushy home.

Not the hell Luke and I were raised in.

She nods. I got her name right.

She’s clearly nervous and that combined with my natural inclination to flirt my way through awkward situations eliminates any remaining desire I have to give her a hard time.

Well, really I flirt my way through all situations. Now that I can. It works. And I’m too exhausted to fight Luke’s battles right now. Besides, she’s cute in a wholesome 50s housewife kind of way. Not my type. But she seems harmless enough.

“I’m Jax. Nice to meet you,” I offer when she remains silently shifting from foot to foot just inside the door.

She let’s out a burst of laughter she seems surprised by. “You too.”

I smirk, still mostly curious why she’s here. And a little suspicious I know why.

“You want to sit?”

Finally she moves farther into the room accepting my offer. “I – ah – I brought you some contraband.” I smirk again as she glances over her shoulder nervously. A real rule-breaker this one.

“Oh yeah? Bribe or peace offering?”

She has a gigantic purse and it takes her a second to find what she’s looking for. Triumphantly she hands me a white paper bag. I recognize the logo immediately. I may start drooling like a trained dog.

“You brought me Duk’s?” How the hell did she know about my favorite hot dog stand?

I go to grab the bag, forgetting for a minute about the whole not moving thing and immediately feel pain radiate through my chest. I fall back to my pillows with a grimace, sucking air in through my teeth. “Shit.”

“Are you okay? Should I call anyone?” She rushes over a look of concern on her face.

“No. I’m fine. Just need a minute.”

I feel her studying me, probably trying to decide whether or not to call in a nurse. She must come to the conclusion I’ll survive because she turns away and unwraps my gift. Her bribe. We both know that’s what it is. I’m just not sure what she wants for it.

I’ll still eat it. I fucking love a good Chicago dog.

“Thanks.”

She takes one of the seats next to the bed with a small smile.

She has kind eyes.

That’s the drugs. I stomp that thought and turn my attention to my meal. I take a bite and groan with pleasure. This is the stuff.

She’s giggling at my expense and I don’t even care.

“This is exactly what I needed. How did you guess?” I ask taking another bite.

“I watch the show.”

Her answer causes me to shoot her a swift glance. I’d never really thought about any of the Abbott’s watching our show. It feels weird. Like they’re spying on us, even though tens of thousands of people tune in every week. But those people had never dealt such a brutal rejection to my best friend.

I focus on my hot dog, processing this information.

Eventually she breaks the silence by asking me how I’m feeling.

Like I’ve been shot. Like my head has been cut open. Like I’ve had multiple surgeries bringing me back from death in the last week.

But that’s not what I say. She knows that.

“Bored. But now you’re here so I suspect that’s going to change.” There’s a little bite to my words. I guess I can muster a little anger for her and her family after all.

“I – I was -”

“What are you doing here, Riley?” I interrupt. “Hoping to see Luke?” I’m not sure why that annoys me as much as it does. Of course she’s here because of Luke, not because of me.

“I wanted to see both of you,” she says softly, almost as if she heard my thoughts. “I heard about the shooting, obviously. I wanted to check on you, see if either of you needed anything.”

“Why?” Luke has rebuked every effort the Abbott’s have made the last couple years. Too little, too late. And he’s my best friend, the closest thing I have to family in this fucked up world so of course I’ve backed him up.

“Because that’s what you do for family.”

I study her. Trying to figure out what, if anything, is her angle. But she just raises her little chin and looks back at me with those wide gray eyes.

Suddenly uncomfortable under her calm scrutiny I change the subject.

“Who’s the lucky guy?” I nod at the engagement ring on her finger.

She looks down, finally breaking eye contact and starts to fidget with, what I’m sure, is an impressive rock.

“Oh, uh, his name is Daniel.”

She bites her lip and her eyes seems to shutter. I don’t have a lot of experience with engagements, weddings, happy marriages but I know women pretty well. And I have to think I wouldn’t want the woman I planned to marry to have that particular look on her face when talking about it.

And now I feel like an asshole for giving her a hard time.

“So. What do you want me to tell Luke?” I offer in an attempt to assuage my guilt.

She sighs returning her attention to me. But she seems a bit defeated now and I hate that something I said made her feel that way. Even if she is just trying to get to Luke through me.

“Nothing. Really. I just wanted to see how you were doing and hopefully cheer you up a little. I know it’s no fun to be stuck in a hospital bed.”

I try to remember the details of how she lost her parents. They died in a car accident. Was she with them at the time? The only survivor? That’s rough, especially for a kid.

“Thanks for the dog,” I offer, breaking the silence.

Her wide smile is so simple and so pure it almost knocks the breath out of me. Fuck.

I break our eye contact by closing my eyes and laying my head back against the pillows. “I like KitKats too. I don’t think that’s been on the show but next time, see if you can smuggle in some KitKats for me, will you, Teach?”

She laughs and unbelievably considering everything happening in my body right now I feel my dick twitch in response. Fuck. This is the last thing I need.

“I can do that.”

I hear the door opening once again but keep my eyes closed. I don’t think looking at her creamy skin and innocent gray eyes are going to help my current… situation.

“What the hell are you doing here? How did you get in here?”

Well. Lucas is pissed. Maybe she should have brought him a dog too.

She stands ready to bolt in the face of the six-feet-two tattooed and pissed-off male that is my best friend.

I interject to try to diffuse the situation. “I told the guard it was okay. She’s not some crazy fan,” I lie. The guard is there to protect my privacy not keep actual friends or family out.

But Luke hates his family sooooo…

“Did Ethan send you? I told him to stay the fuck away.”

“Luke-”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll go. I just wanted to see if either of you needed anything.” Riley grabs her giant purse and gives me a wobbly smile. If I see tears in her eyes I’m going to punch my friend in the gut. After I’ve recovered from my injuries.

She pauses at the door and tells him, “Ethan didn’t send me. Neither did Uncle Theo. I just -” she leaves before finishing her thought.

I yell after her, “KitKats!”

Lucas is looking at me with an expression of disbelief on his face.

You didn’t have to be such an asshole to her. She brought me Duk’s.

You can see this meeting from Riley’s perspective here.

Curious about why Lucas hates his family? A little of his story is here.

Abbotts · Gabby · Lucas and Ash · Vanished

Gabby

The low buzzing of the tattoo pen pauses and Lucas Abbott the owner of the shop I’m currently sitting in pushes back on his stool.

“Sorry, I have to take this,” he’s referring to the phone call he was just told he had. “I’ll just be a minute.”

Lucas apologizes again with a grimace as he steps away.

I breath out heavily, relived to have a slight reprieve. This is my first tattoo. It hurts.

“How you holding up?” Ash asks me.

“I’m good. Thanks for sitting with me.”

“Of course! It’s actually been really cool even if I didn’t have any idea about this place.”

“Lucas is nice,” I offer, studying her reaction.

Her cheeks turn a light pink and I dance a little gig inside.

She agrees, “He is.”

“You should invite him to come join us after this.”

“What? Why?”

I roll my eyes at her deliberate blindness. “You are so clueless. He can hardly take his eyes off you. If my tattoo is messed up because the tattoo artist was making googly eyes at you the whole time, I’m going to be totally pissed, bitch.”

Ash laughs.

I continue, “You deserve to have some hot stranger sex. And with a celebrity! That’s even hotter. You should totally invite him. I bet he’s a really good dirty talker. He seems like he’d be really vocal.”

Honestly, I have no idea what I’m talking about other than the fact that Lucas Abbott is insanely hot and my best friend deserve to have some fun. They’re both single, consenting adults and the way he’s been looking at her the last hour seems to indicate he’d be open to spending some time alone with her. Naked time.

“Gabriella! How could you possibly know that?” Ash laughs.

“You don’t think so?” I bluff.

I giggle as her blush deepens. “I have no idea,” she informs me.

“Invite him.”

“I’m not going to invite him to join your Bachelorette party!”

“Then I will.” I will. It’s my party after all. And watching Ash squirm will be super entertaining. She hates being the center of attention and considering the amount of attention he’s given her while still working on my tattoo I can only imagine how intense he’d be without the distraction.

“No, you won’t!”

“If you don’t I totally will. You need to get laid. And not in a boring way like you usually do.” As her oldest friend I feel I can speak to this with some authority. Ash has always dated boring men. In my experience boring men, means a boring relationship, which means boring sex. Ash is gorgeous and brilliant and kind and deserves some mind-blowing orgasms. In my opinion.

“I’ve had good sex,” she protests. “I mean, it’s not always boring.”

“Ashland Grace, I have known you since we were thirteen and for every one of your boyfriends. You have not had good sex. Lucas would definitely be gooooood sex.” I draw out the word and wiggle my eyebrows suggestively.

“I’m good, Gabby. Really.”

“Just because Will ended up being a dud doesn’t mean you’re doomed for mediocrity for the rest of your life, you know. Lucas Abbott would know what to do with a naked Ash.”

“Gabby!” she hisses, totally mortified. “Be quiet!”

“Well he would,” I grumble, backing off.

Maybe it’s true that people in love just want everyone else to pair off because now I’ve totally latched on to this idea and practically have Ash and Lucas getting engaged at my wedding next month.

Lucas returns and pulls a fresh pair of gloves on while sliding onto the stool next to me. “Okay. Sorry about that, ladies. Ready to finish this?”

“Let’s do it,” I agree.

He returns his attention to my hip. I meet Ash’s eyes over his bent head. Ask him, I mouth dramatically.

Stubbornly, she shakes her head.

Ask him, I silently repeat.

“So what else do you all have planned for the night?” Luke asks. I suspect he’s just making small talk but I narrow my eyes at Ash all the same. This would be the perfect opportunity for her to make a move.

Before she can respond, or not, Camilla pokes her head into our room. “Hey Gabs! The others are all finished so we’re going to head over to the hotel and make sure everything is ready for the evenings entertainment.” She grins at me.

“You need anything? Want any of us to wait for you?”

“No, we’re good. You guys go ahead. I don’t think we’ll be much longer. Luke?”

“Twenty minutes. Unless Ash changes her mind.”

I catch him grinning flirtatiously at Ash and barely contain my own grin.

“Perfect! That’ll give us plenty of time to set up the games.” She winks and then ducks back out.

I turn to Ash, raising my eyebrows expectantly. “Games?”

Shaking her head, Ash admits, “They didn’t trust me not to tell you.”

“So you don’t know either?” My sisters are going to delight in embarrassing me. I’m the first one to get engaged and they’ve been plotting for months. Surprisingly they’ve managed to keep the weekend’s agenda pretty hush hush, other than the specific things I requested like my tattoo at Vanished.

Luckily they also love my boyfriend, Tim so I’m not expecting anything too raunchy.

No, my fiance, I correct myself. I sigh happily glancing at the design taking shape on my hip.

“No. Although I did veto the private showing of an all male revue. You know how obsessed Jessi is with Magic Mike.”

I hear Lucas make a sound that sounds suspiciously like a snort although he stays focused on his work.

“Well. Thanks for that anyway.” The last thing I need is a stripper’s ass in my face. Or anyone’s ass for that matter. Except maybe Tim’s.

Jax enters a few minutes later, studying my tattoo over Luke’s shoulder. “Beautiful,” he smiles at me. “I think your man will love it.”

“Yeah?” I ask, grinning.

“Hell yeah. It’s hot when a woman is that sure of you, you know?”

I think I know what he means. It makes me happy that Tim is that sure of me too. That we’re in this together, no reservations.

“Macey and Logan packed up and headed home. I’m going to take the trash out back and start to lock up. You good?” he asks Lucas.

“Just finishing up. Go for it.”

Lucas rubs some gel over my finished tattoo. “What do you think?”

“It’s perfect! I love it. Thank you.” I’d sent over images of our wedding rings earlier in the week, they’re sterling silver with elaborate Celtic designs. Lucas managed to capture the designs and entwine our initials with different floral elements to soften the overall look.

He smiles at me and bandages the area. “Glad you like it.”

Luke helps me up and then turns away while I pull my jeans gently up and fasten them.

“Let me clean up a couple things and then I’ll meet you guys up front.”

We, Ash and I, head back to the lobby. I nudge her with my elbow. “Last chance. Are you sure you want to spend the rest of the night playing games and answering quizzes about what Tim and I fight about, or what was our first date, or who’s the better cook, when you could be spending some quality time with Lucas Abbott?”

She bites her lip trying to suppress a smile and I realize she’s seriously considering it.

Yes! This is awesome.

Before I can encourage this along I feel a tight grip on my arm and I stumble as I’m pulled forward. A hand covers my mouth and I stiffen trying to pull it away. I stop struggling when I feel a gun dig into my ribs. Ash’s eyes are wide as she looks beyond me and I realize whoever grabbed me isn’t alone. I see her lips moving as she holds her hands out slightly to her sides but the blood pumping through my brain is the only thing I really hear. I see a hand snatch her wrist and pull her forward out of my line of sight. This only increases my terror. The gun jabs sharply into my side as the arm over my chest tightens. Distantly I realize he’s demanding to know how many other people are still in the building.

I struggle to take a breath in through my nose and get a grip on myself.

I so wish I was playing stupid party games right now.

Read more about this from Ash’s perspective.