Shouldn’t Have You
Book 2 in the Fractured Connections Series
NYT bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan continues a brand new series where second chances don’t come often, and overcoming an unexpected loss means breaking everything you knew.
I’ve been many things in my life: daughter, friend, student, lover, wife…and now, widow. Getting past those labels and finding who I could be without them was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Then I became friends with Brendon Connolly.
Every time I look at him, I see a past, I see a present, and I’m afraid if I look too hard, I’ll see a future.
I’ve known Harmony Wynham since before she got married. Before she lost everything. I didn’t know that one day she wouldn’t be just my friend but the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Only I don’t think that can happen.
Not when every time she looks at me, she sees what she lost, and I can only see what I can’t overcome.
I love her, even though I shouldn’t. Somehow, we need to find a balance.
Because if we don’t, walking away will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done—even if it’s the only thing I should do.
Shouldn’t Have You
I called you today. You didn’t answer.
– Harmony to Moyer. 1 month ATE (after the end)
The idea of dating had always been an abstract thing. As if it were something others did that I watched from afar, either knowing I’d never participate again since I’d already found my future or wondering how on earth people risked everything for a single date these days.
I was twenty-seven years old, and I was not only out of practice, but it also seemed I was out of my depth. As someone who detested not knowing what I was doing and who needed to be in control no matter what, that didn’t bode well.
I was going on my first date since my husband’s death.
Since I’d lost Moyer.
I suppose I should have felt slightly different than I did at that moment, but it wasn’t as if I could actually figure out what I was feeling. It was hard to put it all into words when, sometimes, there were no words at all.
I’d been called many things in my life: daughter, friend, lover, wife, and widow. I tried not to let those labels define me, and yet, somehow, they’d become my shield.
It was easy to put all of my anger and hurt and happiness and the breadth of my emotions into one word. Well, maybe not easy, but perhaps easier for everyone else.
Because sometimes it felt like I was Chris Pratt in that Jurassic World movie when he was facing off against the three velociraptors. As if I were standing just slightly bent, my arms outstretched, warding off those who would come at me.
Because it wasn’t as if those who came at me were evil people. It wasn’t as if they were mean or rude. Okay, perhaps they were a little rude, but everyone just wanted to make sure I was okay.
Everyone wanted to ensure that I understood that they didn’t know how to take care of me. They didn’t know how to help me feel better.
The thing was, if I knew what that took, maybe I would feel slightly better already.
So, yes, I was the dinosaur wrangler when it came to people and their emotions as they came at me. The widow.
I shook my head and tried to live in the moment rather than in my magical world inside my brain where I had drifted off to so many times over the past two years.
Yes, I was a widow.
But I was also Harmony Wynham née Jacobs. I was a person. A woman. And someone who needed connections.
Yes, I would probably cry and throw up later, but this was my first date with another man. And I was going to live in the moment because I had learned all too well that, sometimes, there weren’t that many moments to live.
“So, you run a nonprofit?” Jason asked, smiling at me.
He really did have a beautiful smile. Perfect, white teeth, so straight that either he had been blessed by the genetic gods or he’d had an amazing orthodontist when he was a kid. I had been forced into braces in high school, something that I still hated to think about, considering that I hadn’t gotten them off until after senior photos.
Jason, however, looked like he was genetically blessed in other ways, as well. A strong jaw, no need to hide a weak chin beneath a goatee like some were prone to do. He had shaved his face completely, not even a hint of scruff. His hair was perfectly manicured, an expensive cut with just enough styling product in it that it angled away from his brow, likely just the way he wanted.
He had bright gray irises, and long, thick lashes that framed those eyes perfectly.
And if I thought the word perfect when it came to him one more time, I might kick myself under the table.
He wore a gray suit that was just a hint darker than the color of his eyes, and I wondered to myself if he had done that on purpose. It wouldn’t surprise me, honestly.
He hadn’t picked me up, something I had been forceful about. Instead, I had met him in the parking lot and then noticed his very fancy—also silver/gray—BMW as he walked towards me.
He, like Mary Poppins herself, was practically perfect in every way.
At least that was how one of my coworkers had described Jason when she set us up on this blind date.
Yes, I was on a blind date. But as I had no idea how to actually date or show anyone that I was available to date, a blind date seemed like the perfect way to dip my toes into the water of the arena that seemed to scare me more than I cared to admit.
I smiled—not too much, not too little, just as my mother had taught me.
I patted my hair, trying to focus. “I’m sorry, I’m lost in my head.” I lowered my hands, nodding. “Yes, I run a nonprofit for charity. It’s to help local women’s shelters as well as shelters for families.” I didn’t get paid because I had my own money. Moyer had left me well-off, and I still had my trust fund from my family. But I worked long hours and put my entire soul, or at least what was left of it, into making sure that our charity and nonprofit did the best we possibly could. Because there were so many people in need. So many women who needed help. So many females and families who had nowhere else to turn.
“That’s wonderful.” Jason winced, and I nodded, understanding what he meant by the action. “I meant that what you’re doing is wonderful, not the fact that it’s needed.”
“I know. Well, at least I try to do my best. Sometimes, you can’t help everyone, but as long as there’s breath in my body, I’m going to make sure I can help as many people as I can.”
“Well, you’re pretty brilliant. At least that’s what your friends say. So I think if there is anybody who can help the entire world, it would be you.”
I held back a wince of my own. That was pretty strong, or maybe just a little overdramatic. But this was a first date. It had been so long since I had been on one, perhaps this is what you did now.
I tried to remember what my first date with Moyer had been like, and I couldn’t. Not really. It’d just been a movie after a long day, and then we had kissed, and that was it. Not it, but more like just the beginning of a new phase in our relationship. We had been friends, and then lovers, and then husband and wife. It had just progressed naturally.
Dating, even when I wasn’t looking for a future exactly, was interesting.
I wasn’t looking for a new husband. God, no. I’d had that, loved and lost and done all of the clichés. Now, I just didn’t want to be lonely anymore.
Maybe I missed sex, but it had been so long that perhaps I didn’t. I had myself for that. I just missed companionship. I missed a lot.
And I didn’t want to be lonely anymore.
Hence this date with Jason, which was going nicely, and which I wouldn’t mess up by talking about Moyer.
I needed to stop thinking about him.
Because I loved Moyer. I loved him with every ounce of my being and would continue to love him until the day I died, and then likely into the moments after when I found what came once you closed your eyes for the last time. But I couldn’t only live for that love that no longer had another end.
“So, Clarisse was saying that you own your own business?” I wasn’t sure what that business was since she’d been vague, but asking was a good step in the right direction of initiating conversation.
He nodded and then looked down at his phone as it vibrated. He had done that a few times tonight, and I was a little worried but not too offended. My phone was buzzing in my purse beside my water glass, as well. But unless it was an emergency, I wouldn’t answer. I knew the emergency vibrations, and so far, it was only simple texts. They would call if they needed me. My friends would call if they needed me.
“Yes, sorry,” Jason said, setting down his phone. He had the grace to blush, and yet again, I didn’t blame him. I worked long hours, and from what Clarisse had said, so did Jason. And if we were just two busy people trying to go on a date, phone calls and texts were bound to happen.
“Anyway, we’re in the middle of a huge deal right now, and it’s getting a little dicey. The guys on the other end are taking their time and trying to change things, and it’s making my job a little harder. But I’m trying to focus. Very sorry.”
I shook my head quickly and then took a sip of my wine. Crisp with pear hints. The perfect balance. “Really, don’t worry about it. I understand.”
“You know, I think you’re the first woman I’ve been out with that could actually understand that.”
I smiled again and then nodded as he started talking about his work. The first woman? No, probably not. But maybe I was the first woman that he thought could possibly understand him at all. I didn’t know what that said about him or me. And I was getting that weird sensation in my stomach that said I was probably making a mistake by staying out on this date. However, Jason was a nice guy, and I wasn’t going to just walk out when things got uncomfortable. I needed to persevere. Break the ice. Take one for the team so I could figure out exactly what I wanted to do.
“So, I was thinking of having the lamb tonight. What about you?”
The idea of eating anything that was a baby animal really wasn’t my favorite, but I wasn’t going to say anything. Maybe I would go vegetarian tonight.
“There’s that portobello ravioli that sounds amazing. The one in the cream sauce?”
“Ah, that sounds good, too. Though I don’t know if I could do pasta right now.” He patted what was most likely his washboard abs and grinned. And then he winked.
Was winking a thing? Did people still wink? Of course, they did. I had guy friends that winked. But why did this one feel weird?
“Well, I’m going for the pasta.”
“And the heavy cream,” he said, winking again.
Was I being fat-shamed? Or eating-shamed. Because, no, I wasn’t the most slender woman in the world. I had curves, and I liked them. Moyer had liked them, too, thank you very much.
I had lost about twenty-five pounds after losing Moyer. Mostly because I couldn’t stomach anything. I had gained it all back recently, though, and it had gone straight to my hips and my boobs. And, yes, the little pouch on my stomach, but whatever. I was perfectly healthy, and if I wanted pasta and cream sauce, I was going to have the damn pasta and cream sauce.
I let out a breath, still keeping the smile that my mother had taught me.
“Well, it’s a treat.” It wasn’t a treat. It was pasta. I ate in moderation. And now I was judging myself, and I did not like it.
“Well, maybe we’ll just have to skip dessert, or at least dessert here.” He winked again.
Why did I hate winking? And why did I hate the innuendo that said he thought he was actually going to sleep with me tonight?
And as that thought sent bile straight to my throat, I sipped my wine, giving him a not-so-pleasant smile. I knew it didn’t reach my eyes this time, but then again, Jason didn’t really catch that, did he?
Oh, I really shouldn’t have gone out on this date.
Because while sitting across from another man while eating dinner was one thing, the idea of actually sleeping with someone else? So not there.
Yes, I’d had dreams about sleeping with three of the four Chrises, but that did not actually mean I was ready to sleep with someone. I could barely stomach the idea of the dreams with Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Chris Pine. Together. Sometimes, Chris Pang would show up, as well.
I let my mind drift, thinking about that dream and exactly how I’d woken up.
Jason was giving me a weird look, and I figured I should probably stop thinking about that particular Chris dream period. I would save it for later. When I was alone. Because after this dinner? I was definitely going to be alone. There was no way I was going on a second date with Jason.
Regardless of how perfect his teeth and jaw were.
We ordered our food and talked pleasantries about the weather and our favorite TV shows.
We talked about families, and how our parents and grandparents knew each other from the country club. I just nodded. I figured if he wanted to talk about the country club set, he would probably mention this date to his parents or his grandparents and then those people would speak to my family. And I really did not want to deal with that. I loved my family. Seriously adored them. But, sometimes, they were just a little too much for me. Hence why I worked at a nonprofit and hung out at a bar downtown with my friends rather than at the country club where Jason apparently spent most of his time.
We finished our food, and I declined an offer to taste the lamb. He, however, did not decline to try my pasta.
Well, who was eating pasta and cream sauce now? Huh, Jason?
We were just about to order dessert, or at least he was because I wasn’t about to touch dessert right then, when his phone buzzed again, and he cursed.
My brows rose, not at the curse but the way he said it. I cursed all the time, but he had very pleasantly not done so. As if this were maybe a façade. Or perhaps I was just looking too much into it.
“Is there something wrong?”
He shook his head and then nodded. Well, that wasn’t confusing at all.
“I hate to do this, but I have to go.”
I blinked. “Oh?” This couldn’t be one of those emergency calls or texts, could it? The same type my friend Violet had sent to me earlier to see if I needed to get out of the date? Emergency calls didn’t usually come after dinner had been served.
“Yeah, something with work.” He cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with his linen napkin. “I’ll leave some cash on the table for my half, and we’ll call it a day?”
Oh. This was one of those dates.
“You know, the whole women’s liberation thing. Don’t want you to feel like I have to take care of you or anything.” And then he winked. Again. I officially hated winking.
“It’s no problem, Jason.” I smiled, knowing it surely didn’t reach my eyes this time. And then I patted the side of the table as if I were patting the check that hadn’t arrived. “How about I take care of this one?”
“That sounds great.” He grinned, pulling on his coat. “Maybe I’ll take care of the next one?”
I didn’t say anything, I just smiled.
He leaned over, kissed my cheek, and then was off doing a job I didn’t actually know anything about.
I blinked and then carefully took my linen napkin and wiped my cheek.
Well. Looked like I just paid for a very expensive dinner at a place that wasn’t my favorite, but at least the date was over. Thank God.
The waitress came, frowning just slightly before she gave me that placid smile again.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” I knew there were more questions in those eyes of hers, but she didn’t ask them. This was a nice place, after all.
“I would love a cup of tea. Do you mind taking the plates away?”
“Of course, miss.” She named off a few tea types, and I ordered the chamomile, needing something to settle my nerves. It was either that or a shot of whiskey.
I sat alone at the table, something I was definitely used to. After Moyer, I had learned how to eat alone at restaurants. Learned how to ignore the curious looks of people wondering why I was alone and not with another person. It didn’t bother me anymore, and oddly enough, being left in the middle of a date really didn’t bother me either.
I had just taken a sip of my newly arrived tea when I heard his voice.
“Hey, there. I was heading to the bar to eat rather than at a table since it’s busy tonight.”
He smiled at me. This time, I smiled back.
Brendon was my friend, and he didn’t wink unless something was actually funny.
“Well, why don’t you join me?” I said, gesturing towards the other side of the table.
He frowned and looked over his shoulder. “Are you sure? Are you waiting for someone?”
I shook my head. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll hear about it eventually, but my date is officially over.”
Something flashed across his eyes, and I wondered what it was.
“Do I need to hurt someone for you?”
That made me laugh. “No, but why don’t you eat something, and maybe I’ll get some dessert.” With extra whipped cream, though I didn’t say that.
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. “Don’t sit at the bar, share my table. Okay?”
He sat down, and the waitress whisked away Jason’s water glass and put down a glass for Brendon. He quickly ordered what he wanted, having apparently memorized the menu much like I had, and soon we were sitting there, me drinking tea, him drinking a glass of red wine, and both of us just talking.
When I looked at Brendon, I couldn’t help but think of Moyer, but not in the way most people might think.
You know that part of the movie Practical Magic when you’re screaming at the husband to move out of the way because you know what’s coming since the curse hadn’t been broken? When you’re so worried about the bikes that you don’t see the truck coming?
I felt as though I lived through that, even though I wasn’t there and I’m not a witch.
Brendon was there, though.
He and Moyer worked together for a few years after they got out of college, and they had become good friends. They’d gone out to lunch to meet me since I could spare the time from work and were running late.
So, it was Brendon who stood on the corner and watched my husband die.
Witnesses would tell my family, who would later tell me, that Brendon had reached out for Moyer. He’d called his name as if trying to will my husband not to take that final step.
But Moyer hadn’t heard. No, he had been too focused on answering my call rather than listening to his friend as he called out to him. Moyer hadn’t chosen to listen, or maybe he just hadn’t had the time. He hadn’t heard.
After all, the split-second decisions where one could make the wrong choice or the right one was out of our hands when the true things mattered. The ones where there isn’t a choice at all.
The driver of the delivery truck hadn’t seen the red light. He hadn’t seen my husband in the crosswalk. He hadn’t been tired, hadn’t been drunk, but he had been confused in the series of one-way streets as he got delayed in his delivery.
He’d missed the light changing from green to yellow to red at the precise wrong moment.
And Brendon had looked at his shoe—at least that’s what the others told me later. He’d looked down because he had stepped in gum or something, and he’d hesitated for a brief moment before going out to the crosswalk.
The one that had signaled them to move. My husband had moved. He had walked. There was no countdown, no red hand telling him to stop. Instead, there was a man in white, telling him to go.
And I had called at the precise right moment…or was it the wrong one?
I hadn’t heard my husband die. The phone had connected, but I hadn’t heard him say hello. He hadn’t heard me say hello either. All I knew was that the call connected quickly, and then nothing. There were no sirens, no sounds of the truck. There were no traffic sounds or screaming.
And like in Practical Magic, I wasn’t there.
Nor was I searching for the black beetle.
My husband had died because of an accident. In a quick—hopefully painless—way. At least, that’s what the doctors told me.
Brendon had been the one to see it all. And it had changed everything. Not just for me, but also for him. Months passed where I didn’t speak to Brendon. He’d been Moyer’s friend, and mine too in a way. But we had drifted. And maybe that was for a reason.
Maybe it was because of him.
Maybe it was because of me.
Maybe Brendon saw Moyer when he looked at me. I didn’t know. After all, when my guards were down like they were tonight, I saw my husband in Brendon, as well.
We’d drifted so far apart that seeing him now was a bit jarring, but it shouldn’t have been. When our friend Allison died, the Connolly brothers came back into my life. Just as they were brought back into the lives of my friends.
But now Brendon was here in front of me, and there were no ghosts in the room.
Only in my heart.
And maybe his.
Shouldn’t Have You
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