Far From Destined
Book 3 in the Promise Me Series
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan continues her sexy new contemporary stand-alone series with a broken heart and the shattered soul that can heal them both.
Macon Brady remembers every moment he lay on the ground, a bullet in his chest, his life bleeding out with each pulse. Yet his nightmares aren’t the only thing keeping him up at night.
Dakota Bristol left her ex with nothing but the clothes on her back and her child in her arms. She’s been hurt before and wants nothing to do with the shadows in Macon’s eyes. The problem? Her son loves him, and the more time she spends with the man, the more she’s afraid she’ll come to love him just as much.
Danger always comes back to haunt those who run. It was a lesson Dakota learned before. Now, it might be the man she refuses to fall for who makes the greatest sacrifice of all.
**There is a bonus epilogue exclusively in the audio and ebook editions!**
Far From Destined
I ducked the punch to the face, then came out swinging, my fist connecting with the jaw of the man in front of me. He let out a grunt, stumbling back. I hit again, and again, jabbing, going for his ribs. I threw a cross, an uppercut, continued moving until I was pulled away, my hands lifted in the air, and announced the winner.
Sweat slicked my body, and I heaved out a breath, running my hand over the pebbled scar on my chest—the memory that would never fade, the flesh that would never fully heal.
Anyone who understood scars knew where the marred flesh had come from, and if they didn’t know me, they likely figured I was some kind of badass to have it. They thought it was a scar of pride, not one of fear.
Those that knew me understood I never wanted to remember that pain, never wanted to remember bleeding out and begging for help.
I never begged. I never asked for help.
Only as I lay there dying, wondering what would happen when I closed my eyes for the final time, not seeing my life flash before my eyes as others promised, I knew I’d run out of time.
I hadn’t been strong. I had been weak.
I was weak no longer.
As my trainer put his arm around my shoulders, I knew I would come back to the ring and trounce anybody I could. I would win as many times as I could to prove that I wasn’t weak.
It didn’t matter that the people here didn’t know me. It didn’t matter that these were sanctioned fights and I wasn’t in some underground shit that would end up hurting me in the end. I knew that what I was doing was dangerous.
And I didn’t give a fuck.
I was just so goddamn tired.
Every cut on my wrist, every bruise on my jaw told me that I was here.
That no matter what happened, I would still be here.
That the scar on my chest wasn’t the only thing that mattered when it came to who I was.
“Doing a good job, Brady.”
I nodded, pushing my hair from my eyes. “Thanks,” I said, spitting into the bucket next to me as I pulled out my mouthguard. No blood this time, so I counted that as a win.
“You still up for just boxing? Or, we could start training in mixed martial arts.”
I shook my head. “Don’t think I’m that flexible.” I laughed, while one of the ring girls raked her gaze over my body before meeting my eyes.
“Oh, I’m sure you’re quite flexible,” she purred, winking before sauntering off.
“I’d like a piece of that,” Bob said, and I shook my head.
“She’s married,” I replied with a laugh, wiping my face with a towel.
“So? Didn’t stop her from giving you a look like she wanted to go down on her knees in front of you.”
“True, but that’s just for show. Her husband could kick my ass.”
“You’ve met the guy?” Bob asked as we made our way back to the training room so I could shower before heading home.
“Yes, and he could kick all our asses.”
It was a lie for her benefit. Her husband was an IT guy who worshiped the ground she walked on. I only knew that because I had walked her to her car once to make sure she was safe in the dark, something I wasn’t even comfortable with these days—not that I told anybody that.
Her husband had been late showing up to make sure she got to her car safely and skidded into the parking lot right when I was there.
He was all of a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet, glasses falling off his face, and his hands shaking, but he had stood up to me. I remembered smiling and lowering my head to explain to him what I was doing.
I liked the guy. We had exchanged numbers, and I was always there to make sure his girl made it to her car unharmed. She could take care of herself, but it was always smart to make sure that more than one person watched your back.
Of course, I hadn’t been alone when I was shot, but you couldn’t fight a gun with a fist.
It sure as hell seemed like I was trying these days.
“I’m off after I rinse the grime away,” I said as I stripped out of my shorts and headed to the shower. “I’ve got to work in the morning.”
“Got to go save those kittens,” Bob sneered, and I flipped him off, unwrapping my hands as I turned on the water. My open wounds stung, and I cursed. This place had a doctor on call, but he was a jackass and didn’t like me. That meant I’d either have to go to the emergency room or have my partner at my vet clinic help me if I needed stitches.
I looked down at my hands and figured I was safe there. I didn’t have any deep cuts on my face, so I counted that as a win, too.
No stitches today, just ice, and then a beer later.
“You up for another fight next week?” Bob asked, looking down at his phone.
“No, got a family thing. I’ll let you know when I need another round.”
“You say that as if you’re just using it as an excuse to punch somebody and not make money.”
I didn’t bet on myself. Actually, I didn’t bet at all. All I did was fight, trying to get some of the rage under control. Honestly, I didn’t know why I was doing this, and I knew I was probably going to hurt myself in the end, but my brothers and sister didn’t know what I was doing. Nobody did.
I was just fine with that. If they knew I was fighting like this, they’d drag me home and yell me into submission.
Sometimes, I felt like I was weak enough to fall right into the plans others made for me. The person I was before I was shot. I was done being that guy. That man cried out for help and never got it. He pushed his brother away to save the girl rather than saving himself.
I wouldn’t be that person anymore.
“Okay, man, just let me know when you’re ready to fight again. I like it when you come in. You get shit done, and you don’t whine about it.”
“I do my best,” I said dryly.
“Yeah, I think you do. It’s probably why I like you. Stay safe, and don’t fight anywhere but here. You don’t want me to have to put you on an actual contract.”
I snorted and shook my head. “I don’t have that much of a death wish,” I muttered.
“Good, kid. Don’t get one now.”
I nodded, then finished showering before drying off and pulling on my clothes. I didn’t have much with me. I always worried that someone was going to steal my shit. Though tonight, nobody else was with me here. The guy I had fought had his own room, and we simply nodded at each other as we walked away. I liked Dave. He was a good guy. We both just tended to take out our rage on each other. Next time I saw him, we’d get a beer, though we didn’t have much in common outside of the ring. And that was just fine with me.
I made my way to my car, grateful that everybody else had gone home, and nobody seemed to be around. I didn’t want to have another conversation.
I was so tired of talking, pretending that everything was okay when it wasn’t.
I had to go back to my normal life tomorrow and pretend I was fine, that I wasn’t stressed out or repeatedly having nightmares about being shot. The fact that I could still hear Hazel screaming in my dreams was something I should probably tell somebody, but I wasn’t going to. Not anytime soon, anyway.
Not when everything hurt.
I looked up at the sound of someone next to my car and froze, my fists clenching at my sides. I swore I could hear the cock of a gun, but then it was gone. The person in front of me was one of the last people I wanted to see.
“So, you want to tell me what the fuck you’re doing?” my younger brother, Nate, asked, a scowl on his face.
“None of your fucking business,” I countered, pushing past him to my car. “Where the hell are you parked?”
“I got a lift here. Heard you were fighting from a buddy who recognized you and texted me to get my ass here. I thought I should be able to drive your car back to your place if I had to carry you out of there.”
“I take it you were inside?”
“Then you know there’s nothing to worry about,” I growled.
“Whatever you say. But we still need to talk.”
“We don’t.” Shame crawled over me, and I hated myself. What had Nate seen? Would he tell everybody else? Jesus Christ, I couldn’t do this right now.
“Come on, we’re going to get some coffee, and we’re going to talk about this.”
“I don’t need to talk about this,” I said.
“We do. I’m not going to tell the others, but you and I need to talk. I don’t care if you get pissy about it, but you’re my brother, and I love you. And you’re going to fucking listen to me.”
“No. I’m done. Come on. We’re going to go get some coffee.”
Worry slid over me. “Where exactly are we getting coffee?
“You know where we are going.” Nate paused and gave me a knowing glance. “If it helps, she’s not working tonight.”
I swallowed hard, trying not to think her name. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Whatever. You’re not very good at lying, you know.”
“And you’re driving me because I don’t want to call my Uber.”
“I can’t believe you fucking Ubered here,” I said, knowing that Nate was stubborn enough that he wouldn’t let this go.
“I do what I have to do. Now, come on, I want coffee and a Danish.”
“Danishes are for breakfast. She’s probably not going to have them at her place.”
“She might. And look at you, thinking of her instead of the shop.”
“Fuck you,” I growled, tossing my bag into the back before getting into my truck and starting the engine.
I headed to the Boulder Bean and parked in the back, grateful there was a space. The fight had been an early one, and they had closed up for the night since it was still a weekday. That meant the bakery was still open, despite the owner not being there.
At least, I hoped she wasn’t here. I wasn’t sure if I could face her all bruised and aching like this. Who was I kidding? I wasn’t sure I could face her at all. And that was part of the problem.
We made our way into the café, taking a seat near the window. I didn’t want my back to the door. Nate didn’t seem to mind, but he did notice the hesitation. Regardless, he just gave me a look before shaking his head.
“I’m going to get us some coffees. What do you want?”
“Just a regular. Black.”
“You’re so boring,” Nate said, grinning, though it didn’t reach his eyes. He was worried about me.
And I was fucked.
“Thanks for the brew,” I growled. He made his way to the counter, the two of us occupying one of the two full tables in the café. The place was about to close soon, and I knew I should’ve just gone home. I could have even taken Nate with me so we could hash things out, but even though I wouldn’t admit it, I’d wanted to come here on the off chance that I’d see her.
Because I was a fucking glutton for punishment. If I weren’t, maybe I wouldn’t be in the ring at all. Things wouldn’t hurt as much as they did. Hell, I just wanted things to get back to normal.
I wanted to see her.
Only she wasn’t here. And even if she were, she’d likely take one look at me and run, just like she always did.
“Macon?” a familiar voice asked. I froze, my whole body snapping to attention, my throat going dry.
I looked up to see her. Her dark hair was pulled away from her face in a messy bun, her creamy complexion rosy after a long day, her thick black glasses perched on the tip of her nose as if she had been reading and hadn’t wanted to bother with her contacts. The fact that I knew she wore contacts most of the time should probably worry me, but it didn’t.
Because I was a masochist when it came to Dakota, the woman I couldn’t have, the female who wanted nothing to do with me. She had made it very clear that she didn’t want me in her life, and yet, all I did was want more.
Because I was a fucking loser.
“Hey, Nate’s getting me some coffee.”
She studied my face as if waiting for me to say more. “Okay, you want to tell me what happened?”
“Nothing,” I lied.
“You have blood on your knuckles and a bruise on your jaw. What happened? Who hurt you?”
I heard the fear in her voice and wanted to kick myself. I shouldn’t have come here, even on the off chance that she would be here. It didn’t matter that I wanted to see her.
Because I knew she was running from something. Given what had happened to our friends, and what she never spoke about when it came to her past, seeing me bruised would only bring back the horror of what neither of us wanted to talk about.
I was going to hell, and it was my own damn fault.
“Nothing. Just a long day.”
“At work? You’re saying a dog or a cat did this?”
“I do work with large animals sometimes if I have to go out to a farm and one of the other vets I know needs help.” It wasn’t a lie, but not the truth today.
“So, a cow did this, then?” she asked, and I shook my head.
“I’m fine, Dakota. Don’t even need stitches.”
“And because you’re a vet, you can tell that?” she asked.
“Yes, I guess that’s a good reason for me to know,” I said, knowing I sounded like an asshole.
She shook her head, her glasses falling down her nose. I wanted to reach out and move them back. I didn’t.
“What the hell, Macon? Who did this to you?”
“Nobody. I said I’m fine. Let’s not talk about it.”
She studied my face for a long moment before shaking her head, disappointment plain. “Why are you fighting?” she asked, and I wanted to curse.
“No, I see your knuckles. You’ve clearly hit someone. And you want to hang out with Joshua?” she asked, her voice sharp even as she kept it quiet so nobody else could hear.
“Dakota.” I needed to fix this. Somehow, I had to remedy this.
“No. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you better stay away from my son. And me.” Then she turned on her heel and went back to the office, leaving me sitting there, wondering what the fuck was wrong with me.
Nate came back with two to-go cups, a sad expression on his face.
“I honestly didn’t know she would be here.”
“It is. Come on, let’s just go.” I took the coffee from Nate, nodded at him, and then left the building. The bell over the door echoed in my head, sounding like a fucking gunshot. I tripped over my feet, the coffee sloshing out of the cup, and cursed, not even feeling the heat.
“Fuck, are you okay?” Nate asked from behind me.
“I’m fine. Let’s just go. I’ll take you home.”
“We still need to talk.”
“You know, I think I’ve had enough talking for the night.”
“No, you got what you wanted. Everyone’s going to know that I’m a fucking asshole, and that’s fine.”
“That is not what I wanted. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine. As you can see, everything is just dandy. I’m scaring women and children, to the point where she’s never going to talk to me again. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Because it’s not like she ever wanted to before.”
Sweat covered my body as my hands went clammy, and I did my best to catch my breath, the sound of the gun cocking filled my ears again, the taste of blood in my mouth as if it just happened, the scream echoing in my head as Hazel shouted my name.
“I need to get home.”
“Okay, I’ll get you there.”
“I need to go home,” I repeated.
“I’ve got you. I’m driving. We’re going.”
He led me to the truck, and I got in, making sure the coffee was in its holder before covering my face with my hands and trying to catch my breath.
“I’m sorry,” my little brother whispered.
“Not your fault. I’m the asshole.”
“Then why does it feel like I am?”
“You’re not,” he repeated. “She’ll talk to you again. She’s just had a tough couple of days.”
“Why?” I asked, giving him a sharp look. “What happened?” I hated that I was so protective of Dakota. She didn’t want me in her life. She’d made that perfectly clear. Only I needed to help her fix things despite that she hated it when I tried. That was on me, and I was usually better at giving her space.
“It’s just busy with the café, I think. I don’t know for sure. It’s just what I overhear from the girls. We’re all one big group. We’ll make it work. She’s not going to take Joshua from you.”
I snorted, ignoring the pain in my heart at my brother’s words. “He’s not my kid, Nate.”
“That kid worships the ground you walk on.”
“He shouldn’t. Look where I am.”
“You’re with your brother, and you’re going home. And you’re going to stop making stupid decisions. I think that’s a pretty good place to be.”
I didn’t say anything else, knowing there was nothing to say.
I deserved the looks she gave me, any ounce of hatred she threw my way. I was doing things that weren’t good for me, even though I was supposed to be the nice guy.
There was nothing nice about me. Part of me had died the day I was shot, the day I had thought would be my last. There was nothing left of me for Dakota or her kid. And she saw that better than anybody. It didn’t matter that the others thought there could be something more between us.
There couldn’t be.
And tonight’s meeting had been the final nail in the coffin of who we were. Too bad it’d taken my blood and her fear to make it happen. I might want Dakota more than my next breath, but wanting was good for nothing. She would never be mine. And the only people that didn’t seem to understand that were those outside the two of us.
Because Dakota sure as hell didn’t want me.
There wasn’t much of me left to want.