Taken With You
Book 4 in the Fractured Connections Series
It all started at a wedding. Beckham didn’t mean to dance with Meadow. And he really didn’t mean to kiss her. But now, she’s the only thing on his mind. And when it all comes down to it, she’s the only person he can’t have.
He’ll just have to stay away from her, no matter how hard they’re pulled together.
Running away from her friend’s wedding isn’t the best way to keep the gossip at bay. But falling for the mysterious and gorgeous bartender at her friends’ bar will only make it worse. Beckham has his secrets, and she refuses to pry.
Once burned, twice kicked down, and never allowed to get up again. Yet taking a chance with him might be the only choice she has. And the only one she wants.
Taken With You
“You are the person of my heart. The woman of my dreams. The other half of my soul. I’ll never forget why you are mine. And why I am yours. I will do whatever is within my power to make sure that you know I’ll always love you with every ounce of my being. To the last breath in my body. I love you, Harmony. With everything that I am. Be mine. Forever.”
“I love you, Brendon. With every ounce of my soul, with every breath of my being. I hope that one day I will be able to really make you understand exactly how much, and how honored I am to call you mine. We walked through the darkness, and I know that even though we weren’t alone, we were there for each other for a reason. And I will never regret that. You are mine, Brendon Connolly. Forever and always. And I cannot wait to see what’s next.”
I leaned back in my chair and just smiled up at the couple as Brendon and Harmony continued their vows in front of each other and the rest of the wedding guests. We were family in a way, friends in so many more. And I was glad that I was here, even if I’d almost stayed away. After all, I was good at being on the periphery these days. I wasn’t very good at being in the middle of things.
I had been to a few weddings in my time, but never one quite like this. I didn’t think there would ever be one quite like this.
I’d known Brendon Connolly for a few years—off and on in the past. Then a lot better recently. Particularly when he and his brothers came to take over the bar that I worked at to try and make it better. To make it a home again. I had been there for the guy. Just like I had been there for his brothers, Aiden and Cameron, as they attempted to figure out how to make their world make sense after losing their parents and coming back together as a family again.
It’d been interesting to watch them create relationships and then fall in love even when they didn’t mean to. Of course—at least, in my opinion—most people didn’t mean to fall in love. It just happened.
Not that I’d ever actually been in love. Not my thing. It was safer to not form those connections. They only left you fractured in the end.
I resisted the urge to look across the aisle at the bride’s side. At her. There would only be pain and heartache there.
“You may now kiss your bride,” the woman officiating said. Brendon dipped Harmony low, his mouth fastening to hers in a deep kiss that had the rest of the wedding guests on their feet, hooting and hollering and clapping.
I shook my head, standing up with the rest of them as I cheered as well. Then I put my fingers between my lips and whistled, a high, sharp sound that garnered a few looks.
I really should not be thinking about her. Or noticing her.
Though it was hard not to. Especially since she was always…there.
Not in a bad way. She was part of our new circle. The one I hadn’t acknowledged I’d become a part of until I was sitting next to all the Connolly brothers and their women and suddenly realized I was one of them.
Meadow Brown was the same way, just on the opposite side of the connection line.
It was odd to think that, after all these years, I was in the same circle as she—even though I didn’t think she actually knew who I was. Beyond being the bartender and the one who liked to give Brendon shit about his drink-slinging skills anyway.
I was the one with the smiles. The jokes. And that was the image I tried for. I didn’t want them to know who I had been before. I wanted to hide the stains on my hands.
I didn’t want to think about it either.
So I wasn’t going to.
Instead, I pushed those thoughts from my mind, shoved Meadow out as well, and grinned as Brendon picked up his wife and carried her down the aisle.
Of course, the rest of the wedding party had to have fun, too.
Cameron grabbed his woman, Violet, throwing her over his shoulder so she could smack him on the ass as they laughed and trekked down the runner.
Aiden tapped his back, and Sienna hopped on, her dress sliding up her thighs as she laughed hysterically, the two of them trying to outrun Cameron and Violet.
The last of the wedding party, Dillon, who was now nineteen or so if I remembered right, looked over at Adrienne, Violet’s sister-in-law, and held out an arm.
Adrienne smiled, flipped her hair over her shoulders, and took his hand.
Adrienne’s husband, Mace, stood on the bride’s side, glaring at Dillon, though there was a smile on his face.
Dillon then reached down, slid his arm under Adrienne’s knees, and hoisted her up.
Adrienne let out a shocked gasp and then laughed, blowing her husband a kiss as the teen carried her down the aisle and from the wedding area in a very gallant style.
The kid had game, even though I didn’t think he was dating anyone. At least, not right now. But he knew how to romance women—even if it was all in jest. After all, I was pretty sure he had had a hand in helping each of his older brothers get and keep their women.
When and if I ever decided to enter a relationship, I’d either have to go to Dillon for help if I wanted to keep it. Or stay far away. The latter, especially if I knew that maintaining distance between myself and whomever I might be interested in would be the best thing for everyone.
After the wedding party had left, I followed the rest of the guests, nodding at a few as they smiled at me. I was the Connolly bartender. Meaning I knew a lot of people’s names, even more faces, and their favorite drinks. I knew a few secrets, too, because everybody always talked to their favorite bartender. But most people didn’t know me. And I was just fine with that.
I slid my hand over my clean-shaven face and frowned. I’d had a beard for as long as I could remember, but had shaved for the wedding. It was something my mother would have wanted me to do—not that I had seen or heard from her in decades. I didn’t feel like myself anymore without the hair, though. It was weird to look at the man in the mirror and realize that…hey, that’s me, the man under the beard. I wasn’t sure I really liked it.
But it would grow back. Hopefully as fast as it had last time.
I’d already decided that I probably wouldn’t shave for the rest of the weddings. All of the Connollys were getting married. Except for Dillon. That kid had a ways to go.
At least, I figured he did. I hoped he wouldn’t get hitched at nineteen or whatever the hell age he was.
Brendon and Harmony were doing a buffet-style meal at the reception. That way, nobody had to sit down unless they wanted to. And that was just fine with me. I hated formal events where I had to play nice and act like I knew what I was doing.
Harmony’s family came from money. And as I looked around the tent that we were under with all the waiters in black tie, and every little detail perfect, I realized it was evident if you looked hard enough.
I remembered Brendon and Harmony complaining at the bar one night that her parents wanted to go all out for the event, even though this was her second wedding, and she wanted to do something small.
Apparently, they’d compromised. The wedding wasn’t huge or insane, but it was nice.
I looked over at the food. The piles of it looked amazing, hot, and were probably tasty, and I figured that I could handle this kind of nice.
Anything for my stomach was a good idea.
“Hey, you’re late,” Dillon said as he came up to my side, holding a small plate with something on a skewer that looked really fucking good. “They announced over the speakers that everybody could start eating. That way, nobody has to mill around. I think it’s only appetizers for now. Not quite sure. Never been to one of these things.” Dillon shrugged before taking a bite. The kid’s eyes rolled back, and he moaned.
“Good stuff?” I asked, sliding my hands into my suit pants’ pockets.
“The best. Just don’t tell Aiden, because he didn’t actually cook this.”
I laughed and then shook my head. “But one of his friends did, right?”
“Yeah, one of the chefs that worked with him at his old place. He ended up leaving after Aiden did. The whole place is a mess now because of the owner’s son or whoever ended up being the head chef. Not quite sure what the whole story is, but Aiden’s friend opened up a catering business, and I think the Connollys are going to hire them. I don’t mind. There’s some good stuff here.” Dillon took another bite and moaned again. “Seriously good stuff.”
“I’ll have to get some, then.”
“So why were you late?” Dillon asked, taking another bite.
My mouth was watering at this point, but I figured I could talk for a bit. “I was just walking around before I came in here. I was like thirty seconds behind you, seriously.” I rolled my eyes and then gestured for the kid to walk over to the buffet area with me. They had stations everywhere so, thankfully, there wasn’t a huge line. I got a little plate of skewers, some cheese, and figured I’d save room for the rest of the dinner. I hadn’t been hungry before, but smelling all the food? Now, I was downright famished. I looked up and met Meadow’s gaze across the aisle.
Great, now I was starving for something else. The kick in my gut that always came when I saw her did its thing. I ignored it and gave her a smile, then winked and turned away. I didn’t want to see her reaction.
I honest to God didn’t know if she even remembered me from before. Previous to the first time she’d walked into the bar to meet with Violet. I really hoped she didn’t. I didn’t want that part of my past out in the world. And, from the way she acted, I had a feeling no one knew her past either.
It was better for both of us if we ignored it.
And that’s what I would keep telling myself.
It wasn’t as if she and I had truly talked before that first bar meeting. I’d only seen her from afar, and we’d never actually met.
“So you ready to move out?” I asked before taking a bite. “Hold that thought. Dear God, this is amazing.”
Aiden looked over Sienna’s head and glared at me.
I flipped him the bird before eating some more.
The other man just rolled his eyes, a laugh twitching his mouth before he moved his attention back to his woman. Good. That was where it was supposed to be. Not on me and the amazing skewers I was about to come over.
“Good stuff, right? As to your question, I don’t know. I don’t really know if I’m ready to move out. But my friends and I all want to get a place while we’re in school. You know? I don’t really want to stay with Cameron forever, even though I kind of do.”
I nodded, understanding, even though I hadn’t really had that growing up. Then again, maybe I had. I’d moved in with a group of friends when I was about Dillon’s age. But they’d gotten me into a whole shitload of trouble. Stuff that I couldn’t erase, even though I wanted to bury it. I’d moved in with them not for college like Dillon, but because I’d thought they were my family. Blood in and blood out and all that shit.
Jesus, I needed to get those thoughts out of my head. I’d been thinking about my past a lot lately. And I had a feeling I knew why. And that reason was currently standing on the other side of the room.
I ignored her—I had to.
“Cameron’s been taking care of you forever. He’s like another dad, right?”
Dillon nodded. “Yeah. Ever since Mom did her thing. I’m okay, though.”
I gave him a look that said I didn’t really believe him, but I knew he was better than he had been. Honestly, he was probably the steadiest of us all. That meant I needed to watch out for the kid. Anyone who was that solid, usually had something to hide. And since I knew most of the kid’s background—as much as he let anyone know—I had a feeling that when Dillon broke, he would need all of us. After all, I’d needed people when I cracked. Sadly, I hadn’t had anyone.
I wouldn’t let that happen to Dillon.
“Anyway, I’m excited to move out. It’ll be nice for Cameron and Violet to have their own place. Without me killing their buzz.”
“Knowing those two, I’m sure they find ways to get together without having to worry about you.”
Dillon visibly shuddered, even as he grinned. “Yeah. I don’t really want to think about that. But it’ll be nice not having to tiptoe around if I need something to drink in the middle of the night.”
“I can see how that might be a little weird. But if you ever need anything, let me know. Okay? I know you’re close to your brothers now, but I’m here for you, too. Just say the word.”
Dillon smiled, his eyes warming. “You’re a good man, Beckham.”
I wasn’t good. I was anything but. There was a reason they said you had to atone for your sins. And I was working my way through that. There would never be a happy ending for me. That was something I had learned long ago. But I could at least try not to be the person I once was.
So, I smiled and took a bite of my chicken before Dillon wandered off to talk to the rest of his family.
When I was finished with my appetizer, I set down my plate and went to wash my hands.
I didn’t know why I was still here. I usually showed up at places and events and then left as soon as I could. But I figured it’d be good for me to at least pretend like I belonged. Not that I always felt that way.
I leaned against the wall, watching everybody dance, smile, and act like they were having a good time. When Meadow walked by, I wasn’t even sure she noticed me. It took everything within me not to notice her. Or try not to. But I couldn’t help it. She was always there. In my thoughts, my past. And, lately, physically right in front of me.
And so, without thinking, I reached out and grabbed her hand.
She froze, her eyes wide as she turned around. I wanted to curse at myself.
I knew where she had come from. And, in general, I knew you didn’t just go around touching women like that. Especially not when I had a feeling Meadow had been through hell.
I was such a fucking asshole. I slowly let go of her fingers and slid my hand back into my pocket.
“Hey,” I said, trying to sound casual. Attempting to come across as if I hadn’t seen the fear in her eyes, or the way she looked as if she were about to run.
There was fight or flight for a reason, after all. And I was bigger than Meadow. So, flight was the logical response.
“Hi,” Meadow said, her throat working as she swallowed. “Having fun?” she asked, her voice soft.
“Yeah. The Connollys sure know how to host a party.”
“So I see. It looks like everyone is having a great time.”
A voice slid out of the speakers, and we froze. “Okay, now this is where we’re going to have fun on the dance floor. Before the bride and groom do their thing, they want you guys to come out. So, find the person nearest you, doesn’t matter who it is, and take them out to dance. Let’s make this wedding memorable.”
The announcer’s voice echoed in my head, and I wanted to curse. There was only one person near me. The one I shouldn’t dance with. And because I knew it would be better if we didn’t, because I was really good at doing what would cause the worst pain, I held out my hand.
“You want to dance?” I asked, my voice low.
Meadow looked at me then, her eyes wide, and she smiled. She had on this jeweled green dress that hugged her curves and made her look sexy as fuck.
There were a lot of attractive women here, some showing off a lot of skin, others wearing more expensive and conservative pieces.
But Meadow was the only one I couldn’t keep my gaze off, and that’s why I’d tried so hard not to look.
“Okay. Only because it’s part of the wedding and all.”
The justification wasn’t necessary. The reasoning had been going through my mind, as well.
I nodded and led her out to the dance floor.
I slid one arm around her, palm resting on her lower back while the other clasped her smaller hand in mine.
“I promise I’ll try not to step on your toes,” I said.
She raised a brow, showing me some of the fire I knew lived inside of her. “Okay, but I’m wearing high heels. I could probably hurt you more.”
I looked down our bodies to her toes and saw the same jeweled green peeking out from the bottom of her dress. I swallowed hard. Huh. Apparently, I have a thing for her feet.
“Okay, then. I guess we’ll see who hurts the other the most.”
She met my gaze, and I had a feeling we both understood the double meaning of that statement. At least, partly. But I simply smiled and started to dance.
Other couples were on the dance floor with us, so I had to pull Meadow closer to my body. She wasn’t pressed against it, but she was close enough that I could feel the heat of her. Every once in a while, my body brushed along the soft curves of hers.
We didn’t speak because there really wasn’t much to say. She always turned from me when we were around the others, and I did my best to not stare when I was around her. I didn’t know why she resisted being near me, but I sure as hell knew why I did. And I didn’t want to push. I was going to have this dance, and then I would get the hell out of here.
It would be better for both of us if I did.
When the song neared its end, we found ourselves at the edge of the dance floor. There were other people around, but no one I knew. The rest of my friends were on the other side of the room.
It sounded as if the music was far away. It felt as if it were only Meadow and me in the space. This was a mistake. I knew it had been from the first touch. But I couldn’t help myself.
Meadow and I kept dancing, though I wasn’t even sure the music was still playing. I didn’t know if anyone was around us anymore at this point.
And then, because I couldn’t help it, and I was the same bastard now as I’d always been, I leaned down. I brushed my lips along Meadow’s—just a soft caress that meant nothing. It had to be inconsequential. But it meant everything. She let out a shocked breath, her lips parting. My tongue brushed hers, a bare whisper of a kiss. And as I pulled back, her eyes went wide.
“Hey,” I said, sounding like a fool.
She blinked at me and then released my hand. I let mine fall, and she took a step back. Then another. Before I could ask Meadow what was wrong, or apologize for doing what I did, she turned on her heel and ran.
She zigzagged through the crowd of others, but no one was really paying attention to us.
I watched her go and knew I had fucked up.
I had kissed Meadow.
And though I knew it had been a mistake, the part of me that had always been an asshole, was positive I would do it again in a heartbeat.
And that, most of all, made me ashamed.