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


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.”


“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.

Raine and Sawyer · Vanished


I think I’m being hazed.

I mean, not really. But kind of. I am currently at my place of employment scrubbing a toilet that was cleaned by our weekly cleaning crew two days ago. Which seems like a ridiculous request.

I’ve only been working at Vanished for a month so obviously, I’m the natural choice for these shit jobs. And despite the fact I think it’s completely unnecessary, I’ll suck it up and get it done. It’s not like this is a normal occurrence. Some girl named Lori that Jax knows from way back is in town and coming to the shop soon. For some reason he’s a bundle of nerves, wanting the place to shine even more than usual. I’m not sure why he cares so much about impressing this Lori, considering he’s already got a girl and seems to be solely and entirely focused on her. Happily so.

The truth is I can come up with a list of three dozen guys who would fight me for this job, just off the top of my head. A month ago I was one of them. But Lucas Abbott, winner of Top Ink, offered a chair to me. On a probationary period of course. It’s off season right now, which means the reality show based on Lucas and this shop isn’t shooting currently. My role on the show is still up in the air which is fine by me. I’m not here to be on TV.

Macy told me soon after I started part of the reason I got the job was because I didn’t care if I was on the show or not. I haven’t been tattooing long and I’m here to learn. From the best. Everything else will take care of itself.

I feel my cell phone vibrate in my pocket. I flush the toilet one last time, wipe down the counter and wash my hands. Then I dig out my phone, eager. Hopeful.

But ultimately disappointed. A text from my brother asking about birthday plans for my mom next week.

It’s not her. Not the girl I spent last night with, a fucking amazing night, before she snuck out at dawn. I managed to bluff my way through getting her number from the hotel and texted her a couple hours ago. No response.


I’m keeping the faith.

Sweet Raine. I’ll see her again. The universe would not be so cruel to show me a glimpse of perfection and then take it away.

I’m no angel and I’d be lying if I said last night was the first time I’ve gone home with a stranger but I’m not really a one-night kind of guy. And she was fucking incredible. Cute, fun, up for anything, quick with the comebacks. Sexy as hell. When she grabbed me as we were leaving the bar, kissing me so sweetly and inviting me back to her hotel room I didn’t hesitate. I’m no idiot.

I’m still frowning at my phone as I wander to the break room, ready for my next ‘Prepare for Lori’ assignment.

“No response from the love of your life yet?” Macy needles.

I flip him off. Distracted as I was last night, I didn’t think to set my alarm. When I finally woke up this morning, sweet talked the desk clerk into getting Raine’s phone number, there was no time to go home and change before work. Macy didn’t miss the fact I was wearing the same clothes from yesterday and he wrung some of the more innocent details out of me.

I should have known better than to give Mace that kind of ammunition. He’ll never let me live it down.

“You wouldn’t be so quick to mock my pain if you’d seen her,” I tell him, grabbing a chair and turning it backwards before straddling it, resting my arms along the back.

“So who is this Lori chick anyway? What’s all the fuss about?”

“Lori’s like a little sister to Jax. They spent a few months in the same foster home as kids and Jax kind of took her under his wing. Eventually her mom cleaned up her act and got custody back, remarried and moved to Philly. They’ve kept in touch but I don’t think she’s been back to Chicago since.”

“So you’ve never met her either?”

“No, talked to her a couple times. I was the one who called her when Jax was shot. She wanted to come but she was out of the country.”

My phone buzzes again and Macy smirks at me, raising one eyebrow expectantly. I try to play it cool, not wanting to give him the satisfaction and even more ammunition.

Three seconds in I can’t stand it any longer and check my texts. I ignore Macy’s chuckle.

My brother again.


What happened with Raine? More here.

Raine and Sawyer · Riley and Jax · Vanished


The slowly lightening sky alerts me to the fact I need to leave. Soon.

I’m surprisingly reluctant. Partly because It’s going to be annoyingly cold outside and I am so warm and cozy right now. Partly because I’m going to have explanations to make that I’m not looking forward to. Partly because the guy I spent the night with last night was, is, pretty spectacular.

Or maybe I just liked who he let me be.

It’s been a while since I haven’t had disapproving eyes on my every move, waiting for me to screw up so my mistake could be pointed out and I could be corrected.

Last night I ate what I wanted to eat. I drank what I wanted to drink. I played darts! And danced to the juke box.

God, that freedom was heady. That and his dark hair, and steel blue eyes, and sexy beard shadow, and gorgeous sleeve tattoo. I was totally sober and still flying high. So at the end of the night, when they kicked us out of the bar, I kissed him. I asked him back to my hotel room. I chose.

But now the sun is creeping in to tomorrow and I have to go.

I slowly scoot to the edge of the bed, easing out from the arm wrapped around me. I pause after making it to my feet, holding my breath until I’m sure he hasn’t woken up. Silently I gather my things.

Sawyer. His name.

I glance over at the bed as I pull my clothes on. He’s rumpled and sexy still asleep, snoring lightly.

I’m hit with a momentary wave of indecision. I could stay….

But last night…last night didn’t count. It was just a gift I’d given myself. A chance to take a mini-vacation from my life.

No, not a mini-vacation. That’s not quite right.

The final blow releasing me from my past life, leaving me untethered and ready to start totally fresh. It’s funny how sometimes you have to go back in order to move forward. When my mom moved us out of Chicago, that’s when my life irrevocable changed for the worse. Coming back here feels like coming back to that fork in the road. And this time I’m choosing, not just a kid along for the ride. I’m choosing. And I’m choosing to go the other way at that fork. Taking the other path.

I hope the better path.

I feel lighter, actually hopeful for the first time in years. That’s got to be a good sign, right?

Today I start the life I choose.

I start my apartment search, my job search, my life search.

Sticking around here, waiting until he wakes up and attempting to start something with the first guy I meet in my new-again city seems like falling in to old patterns, not starting new. The whole point of coming back was so I could be on my own, figuring out what I want. Not to find another boyfriend, no matter how tempting he may be.

So I’m staying the course on my plan. Entering in to this next phase totally unencumbered. I am a blank canvass.

I’m giddy.

First on my agenda, once again going back to move forward. I’ve got to go see Jax. I just hope his offer to come visit any time was real and not just something you say to be polite assuming it will never actually happen. I mean, he’s tried to keep in touch over the years but he hasn’t actually seen me since I was fourteen.

Twelve years is kind of a long time to hold someone to a promise. Hopefully I’ll have a place to sleep tonight.

Well, worse case scenario I can use some of the $50,000 I have stashed in my suitcase for another hotel room.

See what Sawyer thinks here.

Macy and Hunter · Vanished


All I want to do right now is sleep.

Unfortunately, it’s looking like that isn’t going to happen for a while yet.

I was so close. So close. Literally turning the OPEN sign off and about to lock the door.

Instead a blast of cool air hits me in the face as a blur of stripes and color blows by me.

I shoot a look of disbelief at Jax who is behind the counter finishing the deposit.

“I want to speak with Lucas!” the tiny red-headed whirlwind demands. She seems a little unsteady on her feet.
Jax is wearing a surprised expression that I’m sure mirrors mine.

“Uh. Hi, Riley.”

“Jax.” She sways a bit and sniffs importantly, raising her chin. “I would like to speak with Lucas.”

“He’s not working tonight, darlin’” I offer when Jax remains silent, just staring at her with a bewildered look on his face.

She turns her attention to me and stumbles with the momentum.

My chuckle is cut short when Jax glares at me.

“Where is he? Let’s go find him!”

“Well. She’s feisty,” I comment.

“Not usually,” Jax frowns.

He rushes around the counter, wraps an arm around her waist and guides her to one of the couches. He’s murmuring something to her but it’s to quiet for me to make out what he’s saying.

“Mace, can you grab some water for her?”

“On it.”

I’m man enough to admit I grab a bottle of water and then promptly make myself scarce, letting Jax deal with the drama out front.

I’m allergic to drama. Something more than one woman in my past has abruptly discovered. Unfortunately, she’s family, slightly removed, so while I don’t feel the need to jump right into the fray, I’m also not inclined to totally bail. I don’t know Riley well and the Abbotts are basically persona non grata but Riley’s never shown up on our doorstep drunk before either.

Eventually Jax comes to find me in the break room. He’s rubbing one hand over his hair, a concerned expression on his face.

“She caught the fiance cheating,” he informs me.

“Damn. Poor kid.”

“Look, she’s not ready to go home and I don’t think she should be left on her own. But she can’t stay here obviously.” Jax winces, running a hand through his hair again. “We need to take her somewhere the paps aren’t going to find us. The last thing she needs is to be all over the gossip sites drunk and jilted.”

“We? When did I get dragged into this? Doesn’t she have a girlfriend she can call?”

Jax just glares at me silently.

I sigh, resigned to my new plans for the evening. “Fine.” He knows I’ve got the perfect place.

We finishing closing up and then hail a cab across town. If we’re in for a night of helping to drown some sorrows it seems smart not to have a car with us.

Riley is a chatty little thing, at least when she’s a little wasted. According to Jax, who has had more interactions with her than I have, she’s usually kind of shy and sweet. His word, sweet. I roll my eyes. That’s a shit storm waiting to happen.

We pile out of the cab in front of my family’s pub, O’Neill’s. It’s trivia night so it should be busy enough for us to blend in, but mostly full of regulars. People who know me and my family and won’t feel the need to call any paparazzi. Hopefully. Most the people here find it amusing I’ve somehow achieved tangential celebrity status and would much rather give me a hard time than feed into that nonsense.

They keep me grounded.


Tommy’s working the door and grins when he sees me. “Hey, man. How you doing?” I lift my chin in greeting, clasping our hands as if we’re going to arm wrestle and slap him on the back.

Riley’s still talking non-stop although I’m starting to get this is half the alcohol and half nervous energy. She smiles widely at Tommy and starts peppering him with questions, some of which seem relevant, questions about the bar, how long he’s worked here, if he likes it, but others make my head spin with the random landing pads. Does he prefer hockey or baseball? Has he seen the new James Bond movie? Has he ever done a walking tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation? Apparently they’re great. Really informative.

I smile apologetically at Tommy, but honestly, she’s growing on me. And watching Jax both try to distract her from Tommy and keep her at a respectable distance is quickly turning my night around.

We finally make it inside and I see a flash of familiar, but unexpected, honey blond hair behind the bar. I tell Jax to grab one of the open tables and I’ll grab a pitcher of beer.

It’s about the crowd I expected, slowly clearing out for the night. I rest my elbows on the bar, eyes following the gorgeous blond working behind it. I’ll be honest, mostly I watch her ass. Hey, I’m a guy. And Hunter has an amazing ass. Lush and curvy, encased in a pair of well worn jeans. Years ago she let me tattoo that ass. Back in her wild child days.

“Hey, Super Star. What brings you to this side of town?” She grins, finally turning her attention to me.

I smirk. “Got sick of all the Cubs fans up there.”

“Damn right.” She nods. Then laughs out loud. “What can I get for you?”

“No kiss? What the hell? What kind of service is this?”

She laughs again, placing her palms flat on the bar and jumps up to reach across giving me a loud smack on the cheek. “Your dad’s going to be bummed he missed you. He took off early tonight.”

“What are you doing here anyway? Slumming it?”

“No, I just told your dad I could help out for the night. Brandy was feeling a little tired.”

I stiffen at the mention of my sister. Hunter covers my hand with one of hers. “Just tired.”

I blow out a deep breath. My sister Brandy was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago. She’s been in remission for a while now but it’s still terrifying, at least for me.

“Besides, it’s fun to help out once in a while. I won’t be able to much longer.”

I grin at her. “Yeah? You opening your pastry shop soon?”

“Two weeks we have our soft opening.” Her smile could light half of Chicago. She inherited the bakery from her grandmother but it’s been closed for over a year as she’s sorted out the bills and debt and zoning crap. Grandma May was an awesome baker but she wasn’t very detail oriented. If she hadn’t been such a fixture in the neighborhood for decades she probably would have been shut down years ago.

“Congrats, sugar. That’s awesome. Make sure you send me an invite.”

She nods. “So. Drink?”

“Right. I’ll take a pitcher of Goose Island. Three glasses.”

“You got it.”

Hunter steps away and I scan the bar spotting Jax and Riley at one of the pool tables in the back. She’s seems a little more steady on her feet now. Adorably focused on lining up her shot then squealing in excitement when the ball bounces into a pocket. She draws the eyes of several folks in the bar but Jax doesn’t even seem to notice a soft, indulgent expression on his face, I’ve never seen before.

Well. That’s interesting.

She was cute, sure. A little skinny. But cute. Especially drunk off her ass like now. But she didn’t seem like the type Jax usually…. I guess Jax didn’t usually do much with the women in and out of his life.

I grab our beer and cross the room to join them. I half lean, half sit on a nearby stool. In the middle of the next ‘game’ Riley decides to check out the juke box, claiming she’s got mad song-choosing skills. I laugh at her antics but Jax seems to be veering wildly between being his typical flirtatious self, unnecessarily protective and just plain baffled.

I’ve decided despite the drama I see coming, I’m rooting for Riley. While she’s across the room proving her skills, I have a little fun.

“So, cheating fiance huh?”

He nods, eyes never leaving Riley and sips his beer.

“They live together?”

A flash of annoyance crosses his face. “I don’t think so. I’m not sure.”

“If they do, she’s going to need a place to stay tonight.”

He’s silent.

“Hell.” I grin. “She can come home with me. Cute little thing.” Truthfully, Riley is not at all my type, which Jax is well aware. Little sprites like her make me feel like I’m going to break them.

“She’s not going home with you, Mace.”

“Why not? I got a perfectly comfortable bed.”

“She’s Luke’s cousin,” Jax growls. Dude literally growled at me.

Smirking, I point out, “She’s a grown ass woman.”

Jax stiffens beside me, finally turning to face me full on. “She’s not for you, Mace.”

I stand up, deliberately keeping my movements slow and relaxed. “Oh, I know she’s not for me.” I stretch my arms above my head, then reach for the remainder of my beer. “I’m not the one that keeps sneaking glances down her shirt.” I turn and walk away.

I’m still laughing when I reach the bar.

“You need another round?” Hunter asks. The bar is pretty empty at this point but there’s still a good forty minutes before last call.

“No thanks, sugar. I’m going to head home. Kick those two out whenever you need to okay?”

“They need to crash in the apartment upstairs?”

I shake my head. “No. They’ll grab a cab home. Jax isn’t drunk.”

“Fair enough.” She tilts her head, her ponytail swinging. “Good to see you.”

“You too. I’ll see you in a couple weeks for your opening, right?”

It’s hard to tell in the dim lighting but I think her cheeks get a little pink. She nods.

I stare at her another minute before pulling myself away and heading out.

Finally, I’ll get to sleep.

Somehow going home alone isn’t as appealing as it was a few short hours ago.

See Jax and Riley’s first meeting here and here.

Want more of Hunter?

Abbotts · Lucas and Ash · Vanished


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.


“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


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.


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.”


“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.