Stay Here With Me
Book 5 in the Wilder Brothers Series
The Wilder Brothers from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan continues with a secret romance that East and Lark never saw coming.
The world thinks I only write songs about my ex-boyfriends.
They study each lyric to point a finger at which man broke my heart—even if I’ve never met him.
Only the man I refuse to write about is the one who is so tangled in my mind that I know I can never be with him.
I had one night with East Wilder, and I know that’s all there will ever be.
He broke my heart without even trying.
Yet now I can’t seem to write a single verse and I need a place to hide while I figure out who I am. The Wilder Retreat will have to be my refuge as the Wilders prepare for my best friend’s wedding.
And when I’m there, I refuse to fall for East again.
Even if the dark shadows in his eyes draw me in and the dangers of his past might be the one thing that forces us to finally give in.
Stay Here With Me is Book 5 in the Wilder Brothers series
- Book 0.5: A Night for Us
- Book 1: One Way Back to Me
- Book 2: Always the One for Me
- Book 3: The Path to You
- Book 4: Coming Home for Us
- Book 5: Stay Here With Me
- Book 6: Finding the Road to Us
- Book 7: Moments for You
- Book 7.5: A Wilder Wedding
- Book 8: Forever For Us
The full series reading order is as follows:
Stay Here With Me
“I gave myself to the future you brought but you took what you wanted and never looked back. For I am nothing, nothing in your eyes. But I am everything in mine.”
“Without You” written by Lark Thornbird
I sat on the floor cross-legged, feet bare, and cursed the mountains of notebooks surrounding me.
This didn’t make any sense. This was not me. I knew what I was doing. I had done this before, after all.
Yet it was like I had never written a lyric in my life.
I was a songwriter. It was part of who I was: a singer-songwriter.
I had Grammys for my writing, Billboard Music Awards, and countless other smaller awards. I’d even won a Teen Choice Award for my song from a movie with America’s favorite teen heartthrob.
That teen heartthrob was actually a twenty-five-year-old man who had kissed me on my cheek when I won, and with that kiss, he’d become my next Internet Boyfriend.
I rubbed my temples, cursing.
He was two years older than me, and yet they had called me a cougar because they assumed that with that boy-band hair, he was young and innocent.
If I had actually dated every single man that the internet accused me of, I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else.
There was Brendan, the waiter from my favorite coffee shop. They assumed that I wrote “Without You” after he used me to get into that film.
Then James, the valet who used me to become a rockstar in his own right.
There were Bobby and Robert. Two completely different actors who were in a feud with each other, so of course, they put me in the middle.
There were Sebastian, Roger, Rourke, Timothy, Easton, Megan, Ariel, Eric, Aurora, Jasmine, John, Smith, Rory, Harry, and a few boy banders, just in the past three years alone.
Since I was fifteen—a full decade ago—when I wrote my first song, I had been paired with nearly every current “It” boy and girl.
It didn’t matter that I’d never been on a real date then, and the only boy I had ever kissed was from my hometown and who sold the story later to gain a few minutes of fame which had ruined my summer vacation.
Not that I actually got a summer vacation. I didn’t get those.
But even through the fake heartbreaks and a few real ones, I had always been able to write.
And despite what others thought, I didn’t usually have a real boy in mind—they were fictional. They were friendly until they were lyrics on a page that I could sing about.
I didn’t need a man in order for me to make music.
After all, the internet would just make one up for me when it wanted to.
I was always able to write lyrics. I was good at it. Put a guitar in my hand and a mic in front of me, and I could sing. I could write. I could pour out my soul.
But I had nothing.
And I knew why.
I hated that I knew why.
“Damn that man.”
Because there was a song in me I wanted to write. One that I thought I possibly needed to. But I wasn’t going to. I wouldn’t write about him. I couldn’t. I promised.
He thought I would anyway. He didn’t trust me.
I trusted him with my body, let him inside me, and he didn’t trust me not to break his heart. He believed what everyone else thought: That I used my heart and their soul to write my words, all so I could have fame and fortune and sell out stadiums. So I could have people tattoo my lyrics on their bodies so they could share a part of me. They wanted all of that, so of course I would use men and women to make that happen.
Of course, I would.
And East Wilder would believe all that. He wouldn’t believe me.
I cringed and opened up my next notebook, reminding myself that I could do this. I was not going to freak out. I had already freaked out, but I wasn’t going to think about that.
I rubbed my temples as my phone buzzed.
I looked down at the readout and ignored it. I did not want to talk to my manager. Yes, I had an album due soon. Yes, I needed to sit in the recording studio and record. But in order to do that, I needed songs.
And that just wasn’t happening right now.
So instead, I picked up my phone and I tried to find another way out.
I wasn’t going to run to him. I wasn’t going to use him for inspiration. He was not my inspiration.
But maybe I needed a little something else.
Me: Hey. Which home are you at right now?
Bethany: I’m in Texas. We just finished a shoot in LA, so I’m here for a couple of weeks before the wedding. Where are you?
Me: Vermont. I rented a room at a B&B. I am full of maple syrup, candy, and the scent of trees that I think are sending me into a full allergy attack.
Bethany: The allergies in San Antonio aren’t great either. Are you doing okay?
I hated that she understood me with just one text. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Bethany Cole was my best friend. Had been my best friend for as long as I could remember. We’d started out in the business around the same time, and now she was an Academy Award-winning actress who did superhero movies, period pieces, and emotional drama pieces. She had even done a few comedies, which surprised everybody other than those who knew her.
Bethany was one of the best people I knew, and not just because of her talent.
And I needed my best friend just then.
I didn’t know why. I should be fine. I had money, I had a home I loved, I had the ability to go wherever I needed to work. I was sitting here, alone on the floor, surrounded by my notebooks, and empty.
Me: Do you think I can come down? Think I need a new view.
Bethany: Yes please! You’re always welcome here. At our house, or one of the cabins. You know the Wilders would take care of you.
I winced at that, because there was a certain Wilder I wanted to take care of me, and yet I knew he wouldn’t. Which meant I didn’t need him to. I didn’t want to need him to.
There was something seriously wrong with me.
Bethany: When are you getting into the studio?
Bethany asked because we understood each other’s careers, even though they were different.
Me: Soonish. I have some time.
Meaning I actually had to write songs first, but I wasn’t going to think about that.
Bethany: Come on down. The whole crew is here. We miss you. You’re one of us.
I snorted. I wasn’t one of them. I was a friend, while everyone else was getting married or having babies. Bethany and Everett’s wedding would be on the property soon, and I was the maid of honor so of course I was going to be there anyway. I would just get there early and hope for the best. I had to figure out something. Because sitting here and hoping to hell I could make this album work wasn’t going to help me. Maybe I needed cowriters to write poems for me that I could somehow make my own. I had never needed that before. Even my coauthored songs had mostly come from me, and while I had done some duets, I had also done most of the writing. I was good at it. Sometimes it felt like it was the only thing I was good at. And yet, it wasn’t working for me. And that scared me more than anything. Even more than the latest tabloid about me forever being alone because they hadn’t seen me out and about with another human being in a while.
What if this was me being alone? What if I had nothing else to give?
The phone rang, and I immediately picked up, seeing Bethany’s face.
“Okay, talk to me. What’s wrong?”
I sigh. “I’m fine. Just having an off day.”
Or an off week. Perhaps an off year.
Perhaps an off life.
“Well, I want to see you. It’s been forever.”
“It’s been a month.”
“That is forever. Come visit us. We love you.”
I smiled. “Okay, I’ll look up flights and figure out when I can get there. I don’t think Vermont is working for me.”
“Which is sad because Vermont is amazing, but if it’s not working for you, it’s not.”
“When is your next movie?”
“We have to do reshoots for something soon. We were expecting it with the script changes.”
I could practically hear her roll her eyes at that, but I just smiled into the phone. “And after that, anything new?”
“Enough. I think. It’s going to be a long few months when things settle down. But I get a break because of the wedding and our honeymoon. I’m taking this thing called a vacation. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.”
“I’m on vacation right now. What are you thinking? I’m covered in tree sap. It’s beautiful.”
Bethany’s laughter soothed my soul. That was her. Just happiness personified. I knew that was in part because of her fiancé, but not all of it. A lot of it was the fact that Bethany was just an amazing light-filled soul who had gone through hell, and found her way out of it.
I loved her, and I was so happy for her.
I just wished I could find my own happiness. But that was on me.
And like most of my songs said, I did not need a man to make that happen.
“Okay. I’ll see you soon. Give me all of your information, and we will make sure we pick you up.”
“No, I can get there.”
“No, you know one of the team is going to come to get you. We have to be careful with security.”
I sighed but knew she was right.
Trace was her security specialist and bodyguard, and he had trained everyone that worked for her—and me when I needed it. He was also working to keep the Wilder Retreat safer. They had a few issues spring up over the years, not through any fault of their own, and with Bethany living on the compound and bringing some celebrity clientele with her, they had to be careful. So that meant I had to be careful, too.
“Okay, whatever you say. I’ll see you soon.”
“I’ll see you soon. And then we can talk.”
I was a little worried about that. I had my own secrets, and I knew Bethany was curious. She didn’t pry. She wouldn’t unless she thought I was hurting myself by not sharing.
I couldn’t let her pry too much. Not when I was so afraid of what could happen. I hadn’t told her about East.
The fact that I had slept with her future brother-in-law.
To be fair, she had six future brothers-in-law and at least three sisters-in-law at last count. Maybe four by this point. It was hard to keep up.
And I had slept with him. And it was a secret. The biggest secret I had ever kept from my best friend. And I was not doing okay with it. And that should worry me.
Just a little bit.
* * *
By the time I touched down in San Antonio’s small airport and made my way to the retreat on the other side of the city, I was tired, the cedar allergies hitting hard, and yet I finally felt like I was home.
I’d never once lived here, yet the sense the place gave me once I stepped on its clay soil spoke to me. Or perhaps they were merely lyrics waiting to get out of me.
Or the fact that my best friend lived here for part of the year.
We were in the Hill Country, and even though much of the grasses and plants were dormant right now, it was beautiful. The vineyard on the Wilder land was gorgeous, rolling over the hills, and the vines from other wineries surrounding them made a perfect picture.
I loved it here, the way that you could see for miles in some directions, and yet the hills blocked others.
Nothing beat a Texas sunset when you were feeling the need to look out into the future.
I quickly wrote down that line, even though I would have to alter it so it was a little more melodic. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel here, so I would use what I got.
We made our way through the gates and checked in with security at the front before pulling up to the main building of the Wilder Retreat and Winery.
I loved the Wilders. Not just the people but the place. There was a large inn where they had rooms, as well as a scattering of cabins on the property. There was a restaurant, gift shop, and multiple places for meetings and just for relaxation. You could take a golf cart, or walk through the greenery to get to the winery itself. My friend Maddie ran the tours there, and I knew some of the Wilders worked at the winery, and others at the inn or with event planning. One of my good friends now was the wedding planner for the whole place, because the Wilders hosted a lot of weddings. It was their main source of income for events.
I never would have thought that six big, brash, scarred, bearded, sexy, former military men would end up hosting weddings, but they were good at it.
I loved this place, with the limestone and white buildings, the black roofs that made it look modern and yet Texas ranch at the same time.
There was a new building being built over on the hill, one that I didn’t recognize, but it had been a few months since I had been here. I’d have to ask Bethany what it was.
I got out of the electric town car and thanked the driver, as Bethany ran out from the front, blond hair waving, big sunglasses covering her face.
I threw my arms around her and hugged her tight, ignoring the person with a cell phone taking a photo of us.
They were a guest and allowed to take photos. We didn’t care at this point because if we had an issue with it, we wouldn’t be standing in front of the building. If we had wanted to hide completely, we’d find a way.
I’m sure one of the staff members would politely mention something about privacy, but that didn’t bother me.
I found privacy when I needed to.
I was grateful because I knew Bethany didn’t have as much of a choice as I did.
People knew my voice and my face, but they didn’t watch me day in and day out like they did her.
I didn’t have a stalker like Bethany had.
“Come on. I’ll show you to your cabin.”
“Jason, do you mind getting her bags?”
“I’m good. I can handle it myself.”
“No no, you’re a guest. We’re going to do everything like we would if you were a normal guest.”
“Because I’m abnormal?” I rolled my eyes and she grinned.
“You said it. I didn’t have to.”
She kissed my temple, and we made our way down the path towards my favorite cabin. The little green one that nearly all of us had stayed in at one time or another.
It was like a show home, and yet filled with warmth.
I didn’t always stay here, as it was highly sought after, but the fact that it would be my home for the next couple of days—or weeks—made me happy.
“You didn’t have to give me this cabin.”
“This is our favorite cabin for family and friends visiting. Plus, we have it open for now with the wedding coming up and the weeks ahead of time making sure we’re all set to go.”
“I love the fact that you’re a we.”
Bethany beamed, the light shining off her smile and that gorgeous diamond ring on her finger.
“I know, right? It’s so weird to think about we as family, and not my team.”
“Well, your team is here too, right?”
Bethany nodded. “At least Trace is for now. He’s about to go back to LA to finalize a couple of things with the new bodyguards.”
I frowned. “New?”
Bethany waved me off. “He’s just in charge of training the new members of the team so they can rotate in and out. I want them on Everett when we’re out on things, too, and I think Trace is going to be working more with the people here. It’s nice, because it doesn’t feel like they’re always around, you know?”
I nodded, knowing that sense of security was needed. And not just after everything she had gone through. We lived day in and day out with people wanting to know our every move.
“I wonder which security guard they’re going to think I’m sleeping with now?” I asked as I rolled my eyes. I set my bag down, Jason following with the rest of the bags. I knew him from the security team, and he smiled, shaking his head.
“Not me, ma’am, if that’s okay.”
I blushed, shaking my head. “I think that was last year.”
“And I’m very glad that I have an understanding wife. However, she also said if you need a beard, we’ve got you.”
I groaned. “I cannot believe the paparazzi thought that we were sleeping together. Have I called Shelly recently to say I’m sorry?”
“Yes. And you didn’t need to. She understands the name of the game. And she trusts us. So, I will talk to Trace if you want to see if I can be on your detail.” He paused. “Not for anything nefarious.”
That made me laugh. “Because whoever works with me might end up in a song, right?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “No, because the paparazzi and everyone involved is going to say that. You’ve never written me, and I know you won’t. And even if you did, I’d get a kick out of it. Shelly would play it for hours on end, and with the baby coming, that’d be nice.”
“Yes. You want to see the sonogram?”
Bethany clapped her hands. “I haven’t seen the sonogram yet. Show me, show me.”
He pulled out his phone and showed us the sonogram, and I sighed looking at the little black-and-white piece of rice.
“Oh, they’re so pretty.”
“It’s because they look like Shelly, right?” Jason asked, wagging his brows.
Jason was hot as heck, something that the paparazzi and media had loved to point out during the week that they assumed we were sleeping together.
The song that I released afterward had nothing to do with him, but they twisted the narrative so it would match with their theories.
“Anyway, you’ll need detail when you go out and visit anyone. If you do. You know the rules.”
“I do, and I’m grateful. Although you might end up as a rebound or a second-chance song. Watch out.”
“Hey, anything to make my wife smile will work. You guys have fun, and we’ll be around when you need us.”
He closed the door behind him, and I sighed. “At least he gets it.”
Bethany raised a brow. “Who does the world think you’re dating now? Fictionally or not?”
“No one, and that worries me because you know they’re all waiting for my next breakup song.”
Bethany sighed. “Just relax, have dinner with us tonight, okay? At the house.”
“I’d love that. And yes, I do need to relax. Thanks for having me here.”
“Don’t worry. I’m always here. And just so you know, there’s construction on the north end. So beware of the area. Though it hasn’t been bothering guests yet.”
“What’s it going to be?”
“A spa. Finally.”
My eyes widened. “The Wilders are putting in a spa?”
“I know. I’m shocked. But we have the space for it, and the need. We’ve had to send people over to another spa, and they’re booked to capacity too. We’re happy to finally add it.”
“Well, I’m going to be your first customer.”
“No, you’re going to have to stand in line with us girls. And maybe some of the Wilders. Elliot and Everett are both chomping at the bit.”
“None of the other Wilders? I would assume Elijah would enjoy that.”
“Him too. Not all of the Wilders are in the mood for dipping in a mineral spring.”
I had a feeling that East wasn’t one of them, but I wasn’t going to bring him up. Mostly because if I did, it would just stress me out and maybe make Bethany wonder why I would mention him at all.
Bethany said goodbye, and I stood on the porch, notebook in hand, breathing in the air that I knew would probably make my nose itchy later.
I needed to write, to sing, to focus.
And I would do that.
Because this was my home for now.
I’d had homes all over the world, because my job let me.
But I didn’t have a place to go home to.
I just wanted something different.
I wanted what Bethany had. A family.
“Didn’t know you’d be here,” a familiar gruff voice said from the right of me, and I turned, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
I loved that voice.
I hated that voice.
“Just for a few days. To visit Bethany.”
And not you.
I hadn’t realized how cool my voice had gotten until he raised a brow.
“Okay then. I’m off to work. Hope you’re not recording anything in there because I’m about to use hammers and saws.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not writing a song. At least not now,” I said pointedly.
He raised a brow and looked around as if he were searching for something, then shrugged and made his way toward the construction area.
I ignored the way that his green eyes sparkled. His dark hair looked messy, as if he’d run his hands through it over and over again.
His beard was longer than before, and it would probably be rough against my skin, but I ignored that shiver.
I ignored everything about him.
He wasn’t mine.
I had promised myself a long time ago, multiple songs ago, that I was never going to fall in love again.
Love hurt, and inspired me to write a song that changed it all.
And I wasn’t about to write another.
Stay Here With Me
is available in the following formats:
Grief, loss, PTSD, kidnapping, violence by bad guy against heroine and hero, drug use in the past by side characters, discussion of suicide by characters, discussion of mental health by characters. Past sexual trauma and assault mentioned, not on page.