REVIEW: Alluring Ink (Inked In The Steel City #7) by Ranae Rose

I’ve really enjoyed the Inked In The Steel City series and getting to know all the characters of the Hot Ink tattoo shop. The stories and characters are realistically drawn and their conflicts are written with emotional depth.

We met Crystal in Irresistible Ink when she unexpectedly leaves her newborn baby, Emily, with her brother James while she goes to inpatient rehab to kick a drug habit. I felt for Crystal’s plight but we don’t learn enough about her to truly understand why she did what she did. It would be easy to vilify her, but by the end of that book it’s easy to see that Crystal is working hard to stay clean and give her daughter a better life than she and James had as children, growing up in foster care. I’m glad Crystal got her own book to tell her side that we didn’t see in James’ book.

In Alluring Ink, it’s been about a year since her stint in rehab and Crystal is finally ready to stand on her own two feet and raise her child. Through some well-paced flashbacks we get to revisit the time immediately following Emily’s birth and the hardships Crystal experienced that lead her to leave the baby with James. We also get to see how Crystal still struggles with feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, as well as the stigma of her past drug addiction while putting on a brave face to prove to everyone, especially James, that she isn’t the same irresponsible addict she was in the past.

When Crystal goes to Hot Ink for a tattoo she meets the visiting tattoo artist, Dylan. There’s an attraction but Crystal is not letting herself go there with a guy who’s only going to be around for a few weeks. Unfortunately, just when things take off between them and Dylan has decided to make Pittsburgh his home, his own demons threaten their relationship.

Both Crystal and Dylan are very well-developed characters. They were strong, relatable and quite likable (even though they don’t seem to think so). Both made me a bit misty as I read how they’d worked to overcome their hardships. Additionally, their individual issues were handled with depth and sensitivity. We get to know each of them best when they are apart rather than when they are together. Thus, I felt like the ILYs came a bit too quick for a couple that hadn’t spent that much time getting to know the real person as both are putting on a façade to hide their inner demons from those around them. It’s not until rather late in the story that Crystal divulges her past to Dylan and he shares his own fears. The reader knows who each is through their musings of their pasts, but it’s only a brief time (last chapter before epilogue) when they lay it all out for each other. That made the ending feel somewhat abrupt and rushed. And the epilogue is HFN, not a HEA; I felt like Dylan and Crystal still have a hard row to tow before they get through to the other side of HEA.

I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series, which I assume will be Ben, Dylan’s brother. Hopefully, we’ll also get an update from Dylan, Crystal and Emily.