Longtime Crush - Carrie Ann Ryan
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Carrie Ann Ryan Carrie Ann Ryan

Longtime Crush

Book 3 in the Montgomery Ink Legacy Series

When my best friend and I fell for the same guy in middle school, I stepped back.

I’d always expected to dance at their wedding.

Not sit in the back pew of her funeral.

I left town for my own reasons, but now that I’m back, it’s clear Sebastian Montgomery isn’t the same man I left.

He’s hard. Broken.

And a single father to an adorable little girl.

When it turns out he’s my new neighbor, I can’t stay away.

But I know I’m playing with fire and the heat between us burns enough to scorch.

I thought I was over my crush.

But now it might crush me.

read an excerpt

Longtime Crush Characters Profiles

Longtime Crush


Music blared over the speakers, but not loud enough to be distracting. In fact, it was just fine for me. I had an appointment in twenty minutes, so I wanted to focus on that rather than the headache from lack of sleep.

I knew why I wasn’t sleeping, or at least that’s what I told myself.

“Sebastian, did you get the coffee?” Leif asked from beside me. I shook my head.

“Nope. The line was around the building for drive-through, and the inside wasn’t open, so I couldn’t get anything.”

My cousin and co-owner of Montgomery Ink Legacy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Seriously? How hard is it to get coffee in this town? We are right outside of fucking Denver, Colorado. There should be a coffee joint on every block.”

“There is, downtown. We have Starbucks. Or more Starbucks. Your choice,” Nick, my friend and other co-owner, put in, rolling his eyes.

“I’m sorry, we have the machine in the back. I can make us the fake espressos and even use your oat milk.” I shrugged as I said it, but Leif just shook his head.

“No, I can make my own coffee. You were coming in, so I thought you could pick some up. I hate that our normal places closed down.”

“When does the new place open?” Nick asked, frowning over his notebook.

“I was talking with Dad about it, and he said it should be within the next month. They already have the barista and baker in. They’re just finalizing a few things.”

I held back a snarl, knowing it wasn’t their fault that things were running behind.

“They should have been the first tenants. I can’t believe we let those other people move in.”

I went to the back to make my cousin coffee though he hadn’t asked. Leif had his hands full with a client—a full back piece that would take at least three sittings. I didn’t mind helping out, especially when I needed to get my brain in the mood.

“What happened with the other place?” Leif’s client, Dallas, asked, from where he was lying face down on the table.

“When we moved into this building after the fire at the old location, we knew we would be able to purchase it outright,” Leif began.

I shuddered, remembering that fire. While the building itself had only been damaged and not destroyed, we had already outgrown the original Montgomery Ink Legacy location.

The flagship Montgomery Ink is a tattoo shop owned by some of my family. My aunt and uncle, as well as their friends, built it from the ground up in downtown Denver, and it was still running strong. Uncle Austin, Leif’s father, would never retire if he could help it.

Eventually, other family members built another shop down in Colorado Springs. When Leif, Nick, our cousin Lake, and I had found the means, we opened our own place. We’d felt honored to use the name, which was a little daunting, but we made it. We passed the first year with flying colors and made some damn good money, but when it had nearly burned down, we hadn’t wanted to stay. We rebuilt the place and had been there for another year, but then we found this other building that we could buy. It was the family’s. We no longer had a landlord. We were our own landlords. And it had multiple storefronts where we could bring in more businesses.

There was a bike shop at the end, our shop, and some of my cousins even had their security business offices on the other end. But next to us was the café.

Or at least it had been.

Dallas frowned. “What was the name of the café before?”

My cousin grumbled. “A place called Coffee and Nuts or something?”

I held back a snort. “Nut Roasted,” I corrected.

“A ridiculous name, but the two guys had the money, the means, and the talent according to everything we had heard.”

“It was all a fucking lie,” Nick grumbled.

“They had no idea how to run the business, their coffee ended up being shit, and they didn’t have ethical work practices,” I answered. “All in all, they fucked up, and we had to evict them. They didn’t pay us, their company was going under, and they spent so much time smoking weed inside that they weren’t actually roasting anything but themselves.”

Dallas winced. “Ouch. That sounds horrible. I never went in there, and I’m not sad about that now. You have someone else moving in?”

“Yep. And this time, we’re going about it a little differently,” I answered.

“One of the big draws of the original Montgomery Ink is the café next door. There is an actual door connecting the two, making it easy to go get coffee or a snack between appointments.”

“I know that place. I love it. They have the best sandwiches. And the owner seems to know exactly what I want all the time.”

I snapped my finger and pointed. “Exactly. Well, Hailey is the owner, and she actually married one of the tattoo artists there.”

“That was handy.”

I laughed and handed over Leif’s coffee before sitting back with my notebook.

“Well, Hailey always wanted to franchise, but the timing never worked out. Between kids and just life, it hadn’t happened.”

“Is she opening, what is it called, Taboo 2?” Dallas asked.

I shook my head. “Not exactly. She’s going into a partnership with the people who are going to be running the café next door. I don’t know the name of the place, though.”

“Latte on the Rocks,” Leif answered. “It sort of plays on the whole Rocky Mountain thing, and the fact that we are an iced coffee generation. They’re going to have some damn good baked goods, though. I’ve tried a few samples from the baker. She’s a pastry chef. Went to school for it and everything. Though I haven’t met her, since she’s always doing a hundred things. The barista, Greer, brings everything over.”

“That sounds too fancy,” I grumbled. “I just want a muffin in the morning.”

“I’d say something to that, but I don’t know you well enough to make a sex joke,” Dallas added, and I rolled my eyes.

I noticed that my cousin and friends didn’t make a joke. They weren’t very good at joking about sex or relationships when it came to me. I didn’t blame them, but it had been five years. Five years since my world had completely changed, crashed to the ground, and I’d had to force myself up through blood and tears because I hadn’t had another choice.

They should be free to make sex jokes, especially because that’s just what we did. They did it with everyone else, but they were careful about me.

Everybody was so fucking careful around me.

I pushed those thoughts from my mind and rolled my shoulders back.

“They’re opening soon, though, right?” I asked again.

Nick rolled his eyes. “I said as much. They know what they’re doing, Hailey vouches for them, and since she’s going into business with them, I trust them.”

“All I know is that I want coffee that isn’t burnt and is nearby. It’s all I ask for in life,” I said.

“You should ask for more. But yes, coffee’s good,” Dallas said, as my client walked in. We went back to work, our break done.

My client was a man in his fifties, retired military, and wanted to finish his sleeve. We had already gone through a few sketches and the outline was done. Now I got to add the color and some shading, and I liked how it was coming together. We were adding the names of friends he lost within the shading so it was just for him, while still honoring those no longer here.

I swallowed hard as I thought about it, because I honored my loss a different way. Life was way too damn short, before you blinked, it could be gone. The person you loved was no longer there, and somehow you were supposed to move on.

I needed to get out of my head, something I had gotten better at in the past five years. I just needed to remember to do so.

It took a couple of hours, and then I was done and packing up my station.

“I need to head out. I’ll work on the books for Lake later,” I said. Our cousin who owned the building with us but wasn’t a tattoo artist, was the brains behind the business, and we wouldn’t be here without her. She was also Nick’s wife.

“No problem. We have a meeting tomorrow, though. You good with that?” Leif asked, stretching after his client left. Leif was working longer hours tonight because Brooke had both kids at home.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Are you eating here? I know you have another client.”

“Brooke is bringing the kids by,” Leif answered. “Luke doesn’t have practice tonight, but since my ten-year-old usually has some form of activity after school, we’re going to eat dinner out while we can. Just as a family, I guess. And Landon is learning what foods he likes when we go out to eat, so that should be fun.”

I smiled, wondering how on earth here we were talking about kids. Leif was just a few years older than me, and was the eldest cousin of all twenty or so of us Montgomery cousins. We were a big family, considering my dad had seven siblings, not even counting all of their cousins.

And all of their cousins acted like our aunts and uncles, meaning their kids were our cousins, too. Even if, technically, family trees didn’t work like that.

All in all, our family was ridiculous in size, but we were close. And considering everything that had happened to us over the past years, I was glad we were close. I relied on them more than I had ever wanted to, and I wouldn’t be here without them.

My daughter wouldn’t be here without them.

I liked the fact that Nora had Luke and Landon to grow up with. She wasn’t alone. Although Nora was five now, and she was right in the middle of them, we were still family.

“I need to go pick up Nora. I not only have soccer practice, but there’s homework because apparently, five-year-olds need homework from kindergarten, and then tomorrow is dance.”

Nick just laughed. “Y’all are amazing. I love it.”

“Your time’s coming.”

“One day. One day,” Nick said with a grin, and I just shook my head, said goodbye, and headed toward Nora’s kindergarten. She was in an all-day school, which was weird to me. Preschool had only been half day, and then she had gone to the Montgomery Daycare.

When I was a kid, there were so many of us that my parents and aunts and uncles had formed a daycare just for the Montgomerys and those that worked for them. They had kept it going, and now the next generation was sliding their way through. Luke and Landon were part of it, as was my daughter. My youngest cousins, who were all past daycare age, still went there, though, to help when they could. It was a good meeting place.

Soon my cousins and siblings would end up with kids of their own, and the daycare would be bursting again. But for now, we were in a bit of a break.

At least a break for them. I didn’t get such a break.

I pulled into the school and waited in line with all the other parents, grateful that I had got there at least in the middle of it rather than the end. That meant I didn’t have to wait for an hour for my perfect parking spot at the school, but I also wasn’t waiting in the middle of the street, as people honked behind me, because I was too late.

It was never easy, but I was figuring it out. We all had. My parents, my sister, and even my cousins helped pick up Nora sometimes when I couldn’t. Sometimes clients went long, or I just had other meetings. I was blessed to have my family.

Because I didn’t have Marley.

I swallowed hard, wondering once again why I kept thinking about her lately.

It had been five years since I lost the love of my life. Since Marley died and everything had changed.

I’d been nineteen.

Nineteen, and thought I knew what the fuck I was doing. I’d been in college, ready to buy into Montgomery Ink Legacy and start my career. I had gone to school for business, and taken art classes on the side to ensure that I was getting what I needed to become a better artist and business owner, and Marley had been right along with me. We’d had a plan.

We dated all through high school, and even that middle school dating where you held hands at dances and looked at each other across the cafeteria at lunch. We had always been together. She had been my everything. And one time the condom broke, and Marley hadn’t been allowed to be on birth control because her parents had forbit it. I’d gritted my teeth at that but once again pushed it from my mind.

And somehow, at the end of it, I held my baby daughter in my hands and felt like I was alone.

But that wasn’t the case. I had my parents. My family. And though I had sleepless nights as I raised my daughter, I always had someone to lean on.

I knew I was lucky, so damned lucky, but sometimes it sure as hell didn’t feel like it.

I pulled up to the curb as Nora’s teacher waved and my little girl ran to me.

She had soft brown hair, still in pigtails which were a little uneven after her day, and bright eyes.

She was so beautiful and looked like a blend of Montgomery and Marley. I couldn’t believe she was mine. I got out and opened the back door of my SUV, she hopped right in, and I buckled her into her seat.

“Hey there, munchkin.”

“I don’t know if I like munchkin today,” Nora said.

I rolled my eyes, kissed the top of her head, closed the door, and waved at her teacher.

The car behind me was revving its engine, ready to go, so I quickly put the car into gear and pulled out of the parking lot.

“You ready to go to soccer practice?” I asked as I got on the road.

“Yes. I’m ready. I think today I want to be a sweeper. I don’t like being a goalie. I think Molly wants to be goalie, though.”

My lips twitched as she continued to talk in a never-ending rapid-fire sentence. Her best friends, Molly and Shane, were in soccer and dance with her and were always by her side.

It reminded me of when I was younger and it had been us three amigos. Me; Marley, of course; and our friend Raven. Raven had moved away for college and had only come back to visit family. Everyone grew up. Hell, I was a single dad.

That wasn’t what I’d thought my life would be. But I figured out a way to make it okay.

Molly, Shane, and Nora were a team and a fierce force, and I loved that they had that, so Nora was never alone.

She kept talking about what she wanted to draw because she wanted to be an artist like me and how she wanted to be a dancer in New York, on the Broadway.

My lips twitched, but I kept listening, asking questions when I could.

I knew every five-year-old out there was different. Some talked a little, some never stopped talking, and some only wanted to speak when spoken to. Some loved to read. Some weren’t ready to leave their picture books yet.

Nora loved to read, but she loved when I read to her the most. My father grumbled about that because he did the voices better than I did, but in the end, Nora loved her daddy. And hell, I would take that win.

Soccer went by quickly, and I rubbed the back of my neck, ignoring the looks from a few other single parents.

It had always been like that, and it never ceased to amaze me. I was there for Nora, not for the women and men who came up to me to flirt by asking how I was doing.

I hadn’t dated since Marley died. I’d had a few hookups, a few dinners, but nothing more. Between starting the new business, adding on real estate, and Nora, I didn’t have time.

And it was only recently that we had moved into our home.

We were renting from my family, since the Montgomerys also had a construction business that happened to own single-family units.

So I didn’t have time for things like dating or the fluttered eyelashes and ways that women plumped up their breasts near me.

As if that was going to catch my attention when my daughter was learning how to do pirouettes one minute and then kicking the hell out of a ball the next.

“Well, I think she likes being a sweeper,” Coach Madison said, and I laughed.

“Apparently,” I agreed, smiling wide as I watched Nora kick butt.

The other coach shook her head. “If she likes that, she can stay there. But you know five-year-olds. I’m glad they follow the ball around like a group of bumblebees sometimes.”

I laughed, shook the woman’s hand as we said goodbye, and then Nora and I headed home.

“Did you see Shane? He did so good. He got two goals.”

“And only one was ours,” I said with a laugh.

“He just wanted to say hi to Molly. Because Molly was our goaltender,” she explained for the fifteenth time.

I laughed, nodded, and we got out of the car. I carried two of her four bags in. How my daughter could need so much stuff throughout the day baffled me.

She was more like her mother than she would ever know.

That familiar pain settled in, but I told myself it was okay.

Marley’s photos were in the house, and we lit a candle to speak to Nora’s mommy whenever we could.

It wasn’t the same, it would never be the same, but we did what we could.

“Get your snack, and I’ll make dinner in a bit.”

“Okay!” Nora called out as she began to quickly change into her at-home clothes.

I picked up behind her, sighing, and knew that would be another thing we’d have to add to her list to work on.

Sometimes she put her clothes in the hamper. Other times they were on the floor. Of course, I had always done the same thing, and it had only been moving out on my own and having to take care of not only me but Nora that I had gotten better.

I had even gifted my mom a nice thing of laundry soap in a container when I had moved out, just as a joke to say thank you. She had smiled, wiped away tears, and tried to do my laundry at this house.

I started dinner, just a quick vegetable pasta, as my phone buzzed.

I looked down and ignored it when I saw who it was.

I didn’t want to talk to Marley’s parents today, not when we had a hundred things to do. If they needed something, they would email or leave a message.

I gritted my teeth, thinking about the past few years. I wasn’t going to worry about that just then.

We had won, and that’s all that mattered.

The doorbell rang and I frowned, wondering exactly which family member it would be now. There were dozens of them, so who knew.

“I’ve got it!” Nora called as she ran past.

She was wearing her at-home clothes at least and not running naked to the door. She had finally gotten out of that naked phase, which I was grateful for. Trying to catch a naked toddler on my parents’ lawn in the middle of winter had been a fun event for sure.

“No, you don’t. You know we don’t answer the door for strangers,” I called out.

“Okay, fine,” she said with such a put-upon sigh. I held back a laugh.

I looked through the peephole and frowned, my heart doing a little racing thing that I didn’t understand.

I opened the door as Nora started to clap with glee.

“Raven?” I asked, eyes wide.

Raven looked the same as she always had, which surprised me. It hadn’t been that long since I had seen her, and hell, I had just thought about her earlier that day, but for some reason, since my life had irrevocably shifted, I thought she would’ve changed.

I sure as hell didn’t look like I had five years ago, or even last year for that matter, with the new ink that Leif had done.

She had dark brown hair as usual, but with a hot pink streak in the front and a couple on the sides from what I could see. She had strong cheekbones, dark eyes, and wore a flannel shirt over a tank top, and jeans with holes at the knees.

She looked laid back, when I usually saw her when she was at school or for something where we had to wear our best and our blackest.

I remembered the last time I had seen her.

She had been here for the funeral. She had slid in at the back and sat in the pew alone. Her cheeks had been wet. I had gone to her and hugged her tight, but we hadn’t spoken. There hadn’t been time. Everybody had needed me for something, and she had always shied away from gatherings where she felt in the way.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I know you!” Nora waved.

Raven blinked and looked down at Nora. “Hello, Nora. I know you too. I haven’t seen you in a few years, though. You were just a baby.”

“But your picture is on the fridge with mommy. And Daddy. You look pretty. I like the pink.”

Raven grinned. “I like the pink too.” I saw the sadness in her eyes at the mention of Marley, and I wondered if it echoed my own.

“Your mom sends me photos,” she said to me.

I blinked. “What?”

“Just…you know…the family newsletter stuff. I’ve always been on the list. Well, anyway, it’s nice to see you, Nora, and Sebastian. I saw you guys pull up, so I thought I’d say hi.”

She waved at the house next door, the house that had been empty the day before.

“You moved into the rental?” I asked, frowning, wondering why the hell I hadn’t known.

She looked over her shoulder. “I needed a place to move in because of the shop and everything. I moved back.”

Everything hurt, and I tried to keep up, only it felt like I was missing key parts of this conversation. “What?”

“I own the shop with Greer? Latte on the Rocks? I’m starting soon, and I was waiting for all of my things to get here so I could move into the house. Your parents and I talked about it. Did they not tell you?”

“Apparently not,” I said, wondering why my voice sounded so gritty.

She looked at Nora, then at me, and I noticed the light dimmed from her eyes. She no longer looked excited to see me.

But hell, why hadn’t anyone mentioned that Raven was moving in next door? To both my work and my home.

“I’ve been in Portland, for school, and then life, but I’m back now. For my parents and because this is home. It was time.”

Unsaid was why she had left. Because I still didn’t know.

“I’ve been staying on Greer’s couch while house-hunting, and then this just worked out perfectly. So I’m here and ready to settle in, and the Montgomerys have been great. And don’t worry, I just wanted to say hi, and well, yeah, I’ll be busy with work and everything, and I found this.” She handed over a red ball to Nora. “This was in my backyard, and I figured it was yours.”

She smiled brightly, but I could tell it was false.

“Thank you. I forgot that she kicked it over there.”

Nora looked up at me. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“It’s okay, munchkin.”

“Not munchkin,” she grumbled, and I smiled despite myself.

“It’s good to see you, Raven.”

“Yeah, you too. It’s nice to see you too, Nora. Anyway, goodbye now.”

She fled, and I felt like an idiot. I hadn’t welcomed her in, hadn’t said welcome home. I’d done nothing except wonder why the hell she was there. She’d been my best friend for most of my life, right along with Marley, my twin, and my cousins.

I closed the door and Nora asked a thousand questions.

Because it wasn’t the shock of seeing Raven, my friend from years ago that no longer felt like the same person. No, it wasn’t that.

It was the fact that I had a hard-on for a woman I knew I shouldn’t.

And why the hell it had to be her.

end of excerpt

Longtime Crush

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Content Warning:

Pregnancy, death, death in childbirth (off page), stalking, violence, grief.