Falling With You
Book 3 in the Fractured Connections Series
NYT bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan concludes a brand new series where second chances don’t come often, and overcoming an unexpected loss means breaking everything you knew.
The day I lost my best friend was the day I realized that I’d been living in the past. I’ve tried to find a way to heal, to mend that break. Somehow, I came through it partially whole. But I know I couldn’t have done that without Aiden Connolly.
The problem is, he once loved my best friend. And now she’s gone, and I refuse to be in that shadow, or worse, a replacement for someone we both loved.
I left them all behind.
My best friend.
Only Sienna Knight doesn’t realize what she means to me. But before I can make sure she knows, I need to figure out exactly what that is.
**There is a bonus epilogue in the eBook edition as well!***
Falling With You
Sometimes life knocks you down. Getting back up seems like something just for the movies.
-Sienna, age 14.
I had a headache, and I didn’t think having another drink was going to help. Was it going to stop me, though? No. Was the fact that I needed to drive home going to stop me?
I’d only had one glass of wine, but that would have to be enough for me. Because although I loved drinking at my friends’ bar, I wasn’t going to be an idiot about it.
Oh, I could be an idiot about many things, but not when it came to the amount of wine I had before I got into my car.
But none of these precautions actually helped my headache.
I looked over at my sister, Violet, and held back a cringe. I didn’t really have any room to comment on headaches, considering that Violet got migraines almost constantly, and they sometimes came out of nowhere and left her in debilitating pain.
I didn’t have that kind of pain. I just had a stress headache from two long days at work and trying not to think about everything that I was thinking about.
But I was fine. Everything was fine. I would just go home and forget that I was stressed about my job, that I was still missing my best friend, and the fact that I had a crush on the guy currently sitting next to me.
A guy I really shouldn’t have a crush on.
Because I’d had that crush for a decade now.
A freaking decade. And he hadn’t even been in my life for some of the years in the middle. Plus, he had been dating my friend at the beginning.
I had no right to have a crush on Aiden Connolly.
But it was really hard not to when he kept smirking, glowering, glaring, or sometimes even smiling.
Not that he smiled often, but I still had that crush even when he didn’t.
It was a no good, terrible, very bad crush.
No wonder I had a headache.
Because Aiden always gave me a headache.
No, thinking about him gave me the headache.
And despite how hard I tried not to do it, I tended to think about Aiden more than I should. That meant a lot of stress, a lot of headaches, and a lot of just feeling like I was making one wrong decision after another.
“What’s wrong?” Harmony asked, leaning into me on my other side.
We were sitting at one of the round tables in the corner at the Connolly Brewery. Our friends from back in our school days—now our friends again—owned the place. It used to be owned by Jack and Rose Connolly before they passed away, and then had been passed down to their three kids.
Cameron, Brendon, and Aiden were foster brothers, although Aiden and Cameron were actually twins who had then been adopted into the family. There was a fourth brother now, the half-brother to Cameron and Aiden, but they were all still Connollys, if not by blood or name then by choice.
The place had almost gone bankrupt a few months ago, but the three brothers had come together to find a way to make it work, and now it thrived.
That meant it was very busy in the place, and even though it was their night off, all three men were constantly getting up to help. Even Violet and Harmony pitched in, and considering that Violet was dating Cameron, and Harmony was dating Brendon, it made sense that they wanted to help their men.
I wasn’t dating any of the Connollys. No, not even Aiden. Or even their younger—very younger—brother, Dillon.
So, since I was not dating any of them, that meant if I tried to help, they all just gave me weird looks.
Not that I wasn’t actually helpful, but because it naturally meant that I usually ended up having to help Aiden because of the logical pairing.
And the two of us fought. A lot.
I had no idea why, but he just got under my skin. I might have a huge crush on him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t annoy me.
And he annoyed me so much.
I shook my head and looked over at Harmony. “I’m fine. Just a little headache.”
“I’m sorry, is there anything I can do?” Harmony asked, her voice soft.
Harmony was the nicest of us all. She had been through hell and back and had come out stronger for it, even though I would never say that to her. She hated the word strong, and considering that it came to my mind often when I thought about her, I could see why she hated it. She had lost her husband a couple of years ago and had had to rebuild her life. And then we’d all lost our best friend, Allison, after she had taken her own life.
So, we’d all gone through hell, but Harmony had been through more. But now, she was smiling more, and even though I thought she was slightly delicate, she was always sweet and amazing.
That probably had to do with the fact that the man she’d fallen in love with sat on her other side. Brendon Connolly. Our friend, and now Harmony’s other half.
The two of them had recently started dating, and I knew it was love and all the lovely magic that happened at the beginning of relationships.
I knew I probably sounded a bit cynical with that, but it was actually true, and I had a feeling that these two would go all the way. Marriage, maybe even babies. The same with Cameron and Violet.
That left me alone. Along with Aiden. But that was not going to happen.
Of course, there was some new blood in the water now, too—and no, not the eighteen-year-old Dillon.
The bartender Beckham had joined our group, even though he was working tonight and not sitting at our table. He was one sexy, bearded man, and I knew he had given me a few looks.
But for some reason, he didn’t put on any moves, and because I didn’t want things to get awkward, especially considering all of the connections we had with each other, I didn’t put any moves on him either.
And that was just fine, because I had a feeling his eyes were for someone else.
But that person wasn’t with us tonight either.
“Sienna? Are you okay?”
I tossed back the last of my water and nodded. “I’m fine, just lost in my head. And because of that, I think I should head home. I have an early day tomorrow, and I’m just not feeling it. You know?”
Harmony reached out and gripped my hand. “If you’re sure. We’re here if you need us.”
“I’m fine. Seriously. Nothing’s wrong. I’m just a little out of sorts tonight. Maybe a long bath and a good book before I go to bed will help. You know?”
“That sounds wonderful,” Harmony said, smiling.
“Did someone say bath?” Brendon asked, his voice a little low and too growly for me. He kissed Harmony’s neck, and I rolled my eyes.
“Okay, you two. Paws off each other while I say goodbye to everyone.”
“Oh? You’re leaving?” Violet asked as she stood up with me.
“Are you sure? Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine. I just explained to Harmony that I have an early morning. You guys have fun tonight because you all deserve it. I deserve a nice warm bath.”
“Okay, text me when you get home so I know you’re safe.” Violet kissed my cheek and gave me a hug, and then I went through and hugged all of the others, saying my goodbyes. I ended up at Aiden’s side, and he just raised a brow at me.
“Do you want a hug, too, Connolly?”
“I’m sure you’ll give me one, but I need to head out too since I’m not actually working tonight, and sitting here and trying not to micromanage the kitchen is starting to get under my skin.”
Aiden was possibly one of the best chefs I’d ever met. I’d had some amazingly prepared food in my time, but Aiden was the best. He had left his job at a Michelin-starred restaurant to come work at the bar.
I knew it might seem like a step down for some, but Aiden had been very clear in saying that he hadn’t liked his other place. That he wouldn’t have made it far there because of who owned the restaurant and who the other sous chefs were. Apparently, everybody at that place preferred hiring cousins and sons rather than chefs with any actual talent.
So, he was sprucing up the brewery and making the place a little classier than it had been.
I was just fine with that because it meant I got to taste all the good things.
Not that I’d tell Aiden that he was amazing. That might just give his ego a little bit too much of a boost. And he did not need help with his ego.
“Aw, did the big, bad Aiden have a bad day? Was he yelling at all his poor little people?”
“Why do you have to sing-song when you ask that? I just can’t with you.” He shook his head and then handed me my purse. “Let’s go.”
“I can walk to my car just fine. It’s not like there aren’t lights everywhere.”
“Yeah, you can. But I’m going the same way. So, let’s just get this over with.”
“Oh, my hero. Whatever shall I do without you?”
He just grunted something under his breath, and I had a feeling it wasn’t anything nice. But it didn’t really matter what it was. I was heading out the door, and I was going to get over my crush.
Because having a crush on Aiden Connolly had done nothing for me over the past decade. And keeping with it was only going to make things worse.
We had made it just around the corner when Aiden cursed under his breath.
“I forgot my phone. Do you want to come back with me?”
“Not particularly. I’ve probably walked this street over a hundred times on my own. I’ll be fine.”
“I’d rather not leave you alone,” Aiden growled.
“I have my little cat ears that I can stab someone with.” I took out my keys and made a little punching motion with the keychain’s sharp, pointy ears.
“You look adorable.”
“You said that so truthfully, too. I totally believe you.”
“Come on, Sienna. Walk back with me.”
“I’m tired, Aiden. I’ll be fine. Go, get your phone. I’m going to head home. I’ve worked later hours before, and the place where my job is at is in an actual bad part of the city. We’re not exactly there now.”
“Just don’t be stupid, short stack,” Aiden growled and then turned on his heel, jogging towards the bar.
Knowing him, he would probably run there, get his phone, then sprint back so he could walk with me the last bit of the way. I didn’t mind him being protective, it was just when he got overly so that it got weird.
But I wasn’t going to be stupid. So, I made sure my crossbody bag was secure, my little cat ears were firmly on my fingers, ready to punch out, and I had my phone in my other hand, queued to call 911 just in case.
You couldn’t be too careful when it came to being a woman alone, even if it wasn’t quite dark out yet.
I had just turned right when the first hand grabbed me.
At first, I thought it was Aiden, trying to teach me a lesson or something, so I didn’t punch out when I should have.
And I really should have.
One hand grabbed my neck, the other pulled on my hair.
And when the hot, putrid breath slid across my neck, I knew it wasn’t Aiden.
“What?” I asked, trying to get words out. Suddenly, another hand was on my neck, and I knew there was more than one man.
And those hands were big, rough, and callused.
They smelled, they were dirty, and they were on me. Someone pushed me into the brick wall of the alley, and I screamed. Only no sound really came out because there was still a hand over my mouth.
Tears formed in my eyes at the pain as my cheek scraped the brick, but I couldn’t freak out, I had to get out of this. Hadn’t I just told Aiden that I was safe?
I tried to reach for my phone, but the guy took it and tossed it down the alley, the crunching sound echoing in my head.
“Bitch. Give me all your money.”
But he was tugging at my purse, hard enough that the strap dug into my shoulder. I knew it would leave a bruise. I kicked out, trying to remember what I had learned from that week of self-defense classes I had taken.
They hadn’t been enough. I had been so sure that I was safe, that I was making mistake after mistake now that I wasn’t.
There were three of them with grabby hands tugging on my coat, my purse. They weren’t touching me anywhere else, they were being very careful not to. Maybe I was just blocking it all out.
I fought back, kicking and trying to scratch them. But one man had his hand firmly around my wrist, squeezing so hard I thought he might break it. My hand opened, my keys fell out, and the cat ears that were supposed to save me did nothing.
And then the men were off me, and I could breathe again.
I hit the ground, my knees radiating sharp pain.
And Aiden was there, punching, kicking, using his fists all on one man’s face.
I tried to get to my feet, but I was achy, and my head felt light.
I hadn’t even realized that the man’s hand had been so tight around my throat earlier, squeezing. I’d been so far in my head, trying to figure a way out, that I hadn’t realized I hadn’t been breathing.
And then there was the sound of feet against pavement as the three men ran, and Aiden was on the ground next to me, holding me.
“Sienna? Sienna? Talk to me. What’s wrong? What hurts? God, baby. I’m so sorry.”
I was on his lap, and he was holding me, one hand cupping my face, the other held close to his body. I looked down and instantly knew something was wrong.
Aiden, the talented and amazing chef, the one that used his hands to create masterpieces, was holding his hand in such a way that I had a feeling it was broken.
Broken on someone’s face. To protect me.
And that was my fault. He was hurt. All because I had told him to go away. Because I’d thought I was strong enough.
Because I’d thought I could handle it on my own.
But obviously, I couldn’t.
“I tr—I—” I tried to get out words, but I couldn’t, so Aiden just kissed my temple and held me close, and I tried not to lean into him, tried not to do anything. Because I didn’t want him to be hurt again.
It was my fault that he was hurt, my fault for everything.
I didn’t even realize I was shaking until he was whispering soft, soothing things into my ear that I couldn’t decipher.
“It’s okay, I called the cops, they’re coming. They’re coming, Sienna. Just hold onto me. You’re going to be fine.”
“Sorry,” I whispered, but my voice was a ragged exhale.
He cursed under his breath, and I had no idea what happened next. I didn’t pass out, I was awake, but everything just happened so quickly. The cops were suddenly there, sirens blazing. People were running, shouting. I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know anything.
I just found myself being pulled from Aiden’s arms, his growl of a voice telling them what he had seen.
He gave his statement, and then there were paramedics, taking care of us both.
I still had my purse on, but my keys were on the ground, and my phone was somewhere down the alley.
I think I told them that, but I don’t really remember.
I blinked a few times, and then I was in the ER, sitting on the edge of one of those beds.
My feet dangled, and I wondered why. Shouldn’t I be lying back? Shouldn’t I be settled, trying to get better?
Why was I sitting?
“Miss Knight? I need you to answer a few questions, okay?”
The female doctor was sweet, her voice soft. Caring. And I needed that. I didn’t know why, but I needed that.
“They didn’t touch me,” I said quickly. Because I knew that look in her eyes, I knew what she was asking. “They didn’t touch me like that. They just put their hands on my wrist and my neck, and they tried to get my purse. But they didn’t touch me.”
They didn’t do what would’ve been the worst thing that any woman could deal with.
And I was lucky. I might be bruised, I might be broken, but I was lucky.
“Okay, we’re just going to finish checking you over, okay? And the cops are here, and they’re going to want to hear what you have to say. Your family’s here, too.”
I blinked again, trying to get my thoughts in order. I was fine. I was just fine. Just a little banged up. And once I got through the shock, I would be fine.
It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been so much worse.
And then I thought of Aiden.
“Aiden? Is he okay?” I knew my words were fast, my voice a little high. But he needed to be okay.
“The man who came in with you? He’s with another doctor right now. His family’s here, as well, and it seems that you all know each other. Once I’m allowed to give you his status, I will. But first, let’s just worry about you, okay?”
“He needs that hand. He needs to be okay. He’s a really great chef. You would love the Connolly Brewery. They’re really great. I mean, they used to be great before, but now they’re even better because the brothers are working together, you know? And I really think that you should try it. Aiden does this thing with tapas. He makes it really fancy, even though it’s not too fancy. So, it’s not like pretentious or anything. I really think you’d like it.”
I knew I was rambling, and the doctor just nodded and then started to check me over.
And then Harmony and Violet were there, with Meadow right on their tail.
Meadow hadn’t been out with us, but here she was, our new friend, our new fourth.
And then I could breathe again. Because I wasn’t alone. But I had to make sure that Aiden was okay.
Aiden had to be okay.
The doctor finished with me, and it turned out I only had a few bruises and scrapes. I would be fine and could go home soon.
I went through my statement and told the cops everything I could remember. They had found my phone, though the glass was shattered. They had found my keys and had handed them over.
I had been mugged, and yet I had everything that I’d had before.
“Okay, you’re going to come home with me, okay,” Violet said, her voice soft.
“I just want to go home,” I whispered. “The cats.”
Violet just smiled. “Meadow’s going to take care of your cats for you. And Beckham’s going to go with her so she’s not alone. No one’s going to be alone tonight. You’re going to come home with me. I’m going to tuck you in and love you and do my best not to freak out. Because if I freak out, then Mace and Adrienne will be right here. You know our big brother tried to get in that car and drive up here. But I wouldn’t let him. He will be here tomorrow, though, and we can’t stop that. But tonight, you’re coming home with me. Okay?”
Violet was talking very calmly, very precisely, and I just nodded. I didn’t want to be alone, not really. But my babies were at the house. Though if Meadow and Beckham were going to take care of them, then that would be okay.
“What about Aiden?”
Violet and Harmony and Meadow all shared a look, and they stiffened.
“What about Aiden?” I repeated.
“The guys are with him now. He’s going to go home a bit later than you. But we can wait if you’d like. He broke his hand. It’s not a bad break, but it’s enough that it’s going to be in a cast for a few weeks.”
Tears filled my eyes, and I started shaking.
“But he needs to work. How can he do that?”
“They’re going to figure it out. And Dillon is ready to step in. We’re all going to be fine. You just need to worry about yourself for now. Aiden will be just fine.” I looked at Harmony and nodded, but I couldn’t really focus.
Because while I might be bruised and still in shock, I wasn’t the one going home in a cast.
Aiden was the one hurt. All because I thought I could take care of myself.
I had been wrong.
And the guy I’d had a crush on for so long, the man that I secretly loved even though I shouldn’t, had been hurt because of me.
If I hadn’t had my pride, he would be fine.
It was all my fault.
Falling With You
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