Sapphire Falls Book 8
Bryan Murray always planned to settle down back in Sapphire Falls, and Tessa Sheridan was part of that plan— even if she didn’t know it.
But fate has a funny, and sometimes painful way of working things out.A not-so-little tumble off a mountain while biking has turned Bryan’s life upside down and landed him back in his hometown ahead of schedule, changing everything.
At least one thing hasn’t changed– Tess is still the same sweet, kind and beautiful girl he left behind.
Tessa has been saving herself for Bryan in every way. And dreaming about an exciting life. Somewhere else. But now Bryan’s messing up all of her plans. Not only has he come home, but he’s decided to go from the hot, sexy playboy of her fantasies to a sweet, romantic boyfriend type. Who wants a happily ever after with her. In Sapphire Falls.
What’s a girl gotta do to have an adventure or two? She’s going to have to make it happen for herself. Which means leaving home. Which means avoiding falling in love. All while being romanced by the only man who’s ever had her heart.
Available at the following retailers:
Tessa Sheridan was sweet. Super sweet. Possibly the sweetest girl in Sapphire Falls. She was so sweet, she made her own teeth ache.
Which meant everyone was going to be very surprised when she stormed into the Come Again and chewed Bryan Murray’s ass.
She pushed the door to Sapphire Fall’s only bar open and stomped inside.
But her entrance was barely noticed. The music was loud and the place was full, especially around the bar where she had expected to find Bryan, the owner and main bartender on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
He was there behind the bar all right, but he was blocked from seeing the door by three gorgeous women and four of his adoring fans. The women didn’t bother Tess. Two were married and the single one was interested in the town cop—even if she wouldn’t admit it. The fans were guys who thought Bryan was the coolest, funniest, most inspirational guy they knew.
And the thing was, he was definitely cool, funny and inspirational.
In fact, Tess was about to yell at the guy who had inspired her and made her try something that had changed her life.
But she wasn’t going to tell him that. Because Bryan Murray already had a hard time fitting his big head through doorways.
She took a deep breath and marched to the bar. She squeezed in between Ty and Tucker Bennett. Being squeezed in between those two was no hardship, but she kept her mad face fully in place as she leaned onto the bar and pointed at Bryan.
“I need to talk to you.”
Bryan’s face actually lit up when he saw her, and for just a second, she felt her heart flip and her frown ease.
No. She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t go all mushy over that smile—the way she had for the last twenty-five years.
“Can we talk?” she asked, keeping her voice firm and low.
Of course the people right around them—like Peyton Wells, Kyle Ames, the town doctor, and Derek Brooks, the other main bartender— heard her.
And they all focused on her with rapt interest.
Bryan seemed to notice she wasn’t overjoyed to see him and glanced around. “Actually, uh, I have a lot going on right now. Maybe later?”
She looked around too. The bar was busy, but everyone seemed happy with the level of their drinks. “Derek’s here. I’m sure he can handle whatever comes up,” she said. “It will only take a minute.”
Maybe less. All she needed to tell him was to stay out of her love life.
Could that wait until later? Maybe. Would it be better without an audience? Possibly. But she had come straight over after she’d heard he had warned off yet another guy from asking her out. She was ticked, and she needed to confront Bryan when she was ticked. And she needed to do it fast, before he wore her down and made her laugh and reminded her why she’d had a crush on him for as long as she’d known him.
Five years ago, if she’d heard that Bryan was keeping the other guys in town from dating her, it would had given her hope that he wanted something from her besides friendship. If he’d done it ten years ago, she would have assumed they were going to get married and live happily ever after. Of course, ten years ago—and fifteen years ago and twenty years ago and twenty-five years ago on the first day of kindergarten—a smile from him had meant they were destined to be together forever in her mind.
Now she knew better.
She had grown up. She had matured. She was thirty years old and had finally figured her life out. And she knew that Bryan thought of her as only a friend. Or maybe even a sister—though that thought made her shudder a little bit. Still, they’d known each other forever, and he had known that she was in love with him for most of her life. If he’d wanted more from her, he could have had it. Repeatedly. He hadn’t even done anything to really encourage her romantic fantasies. Ever. She saw that now.
She had been young and naïve and starry-eyed over the guy since she was five.
Now she was none of those things.
She really needed to remember that.
“Not later,” she said. “Now.”
He was leaning against the counter on the backside of the bar and shifted to rest his elbows on the bar, putting his face directly in front of her. She moved back, not able to handle having his face only inches from hers.
“Tess, let’s do this after closing,” he said, his voice almost soothing.
Soothing. Yeah. Then why did she feel like she’d just touched a live wire?
After closing, with no one else around, was not a good idea. If they were alone, she would revert to thirteen-year-old Tess…the girl with braces and oily hair and a big butt who would swoon every time he made a joke in math class. He could do no wrong in her eyes.
Back then. Definitely back then. Now she was smarter and more mature and knew that smiles and compliments didn’t mean true love.
Tess lost her patience—something she never did. She slapped her hand down on the top of the bar, making the beer in Ty’s and Tucker’s mugs jump. “You’re messing with me, Bryan, and it’s got to stop.”
He didn’t look shocked. Or contrite. He cocked an eyebrow, looking almost impressed. Or something. “I’m messing with you?” he asked. He gave her a slow smile. “I really think I’d remember that.”
That. That right there was the reason she couldn’t be alone with him. Because he played the full-of-more-charm-than-sense-country-boy thing so well, and she fell for it every time. And because she knew there was more to him than that, and if she called him on the cocky-charm thing and he let the real Bryan show through, she’d be in even bigger trouble.
He didn’t know that she knew there was more. He didn’t know he had changed her life. He didn’t know that she admired and respected him and that up until he had moved back to Sapphire Falls, she had planned to go to Denver to be near him.
And now he wouldn’t know all of that. Because it didn’t matter. She was going to Denver anyway. As soon as she had the money saved up.
“Very funny,” Tess told him, narrowing her eyes. “You need to stop. You’re starting to piss me off.”
There was a beat of silence and then Bryan laughed out loud. And he wasn’t the only one. Ty, Tucker, Kyle and Derek all laughed too.
Tess crossed her arms and waited for them to sober up.
Finally, Bryan looked at her, still with a big grin. “That’s cute, Tess.”
Her eyes widened. Her being pissed off was cute?
So she didn’t get pissed off much. She was a very forgiving, kind, sweet person. Overall. But she could get pissed. Probably.
Okay, pissed was pushing it. She was irritated, and confused, about Bryan’s meddling with the guys who wanted to ask her out. But, yeah, probably not pissed.
Still, Bryan Murray needed to back off. He wasn’t the guy she wanted anymore. Her life had changed three years ago when she’d read one of Bryan’s blog posts for the first time and had started running. Her plans to ask him to coach herhad made perfect sense then. Then his life had changed a year and a half ago. Now they just weren’t on the same page.
She looked at Ty. “May I?” she asked, gesturing to his chair.
He grabbed his beer and stretched to his feet. “Please,” he said with a grin.
Tess put a boot up on the rung of the bar stool and boosted herself up onto the seat. Then she got to her feet. The stool was made to swivel, and it did so slightly until Tucker grasped the back of it, steadying it for her. And then she realized she had a skirt on.
She smoothed it down, pressed her knees together and straightened her back. Ty and Tucker wouldn’t look up her skirt. Not with Hailey and Delaney right there. As for the others… She needed to get this over with.
“Excuse me,” she said loudly.
But not loudly enough. Conversation, music and laughter continued around her.
She took a deep breath. “Excuse me!” she shouted.
That did the trick. Everyone in the room stopped talking and turned toward her. The jukebox continued to play Eric Church, but she didn’t mind. Eric was one of her favorites.
“I just wanted to make a quick public service announcement,” she told everyone.
She wasn’t used to being the center of attention. She was the woman behind the people who were the center of attention. She had been Hailey’s assistant for three years while the other woman had been mayor, and Tess now worked for the current mayor, TJ Bennett, Ty and Tucker’s older brother. Her other jobs also put her behind the scenes most of the time. She taught yoga at Hope Bennett’s studio, but being in front to lead a group through yoga poses wasn’t the same thing as standing on a bar stool in the midst of the Come Again on a busy Friday night.
“It has come to my attention that some people have been misinformed about my dating habits,” she said, feeling her chest and throat flushing pink. “I just wanted to clear up the fact that Bryan Murray is in no way in charge of my relationship status, and if anyone has questions about what I’m doing socially on any night of the week, you should contact me directly.”
She breathed deeply and started to lean over to get down but realized just in time that if she bent over, her skirt would pull up in the back. She squatted instead, and grabbed the back of the stool. She felt a hand at her waist and she gave Tucker a grateful smile as he helped her down. Tess smoothed her skirt, licked her lips and headed for the door to the bar.
Tessa heard Bryan’s grim command, but she kept walking.
“I don’t know if that’s a great idea,” Ty told him.
She kept walking.
“Dammit, Ty. Someone fucking grab her,” Bryan said.
She turned back to tell him that he could go grab himself, but he was busy grabbing his forearm crutches and moving from behind the bar.
The starch went out of her spine instantly. He was coming after her, but he couldn’t do it on his own because he had his hands full with his crutches. Crutches that he needed because of the biking accident he had been in eighteen months ago that had left him with a partial spinal cord injury. The reason he was back in Sapphire Falls. And the reason all of her plans had changed.
She felt like such an ass when she thought about all of that.
That damned accident. It had messed everything up. And, no, it wasn’t all about her. Of course Bryan’s life had been the one most impacted. But honestly, Bryan seemed less affected by it than the people around him were. Tess knew that his sister, Caitlyn, and his mother had had their lives turned upside down by it. She knew that Ty had changed his whole life after the accident—which he had been involved in as well, just not as badly hurt. She knew that all of the people in Denver who had trained with Ty and Bryan missed them both a lot.
But Bryan had continued to smile and laugh and inspire people through it all. He’d kept up with his blog—that she was certain he had no idea she even knew about, not to mention read on a regular basis—and he’d worked his ass off in rehab to the point where he could get around on crutches instead of a wheelchair most of the time.
He really seemed to be looking at the whole thing like just another challenge to be met, and he was meeting it head-on.
But that challenge meant that Bryan was no longer a part of Tessa’s plan.
That sounded horrible, of course, and she would never say it out loud to anyone. But since her plan involved running marathons, training in Denver and having a personal coach, Bryan was no longer on the list of possible candidates.
Since he had been the only candidate on her list until his accident, it kind of broke her heart.
Her runner’s heart. Not her romantic heart. She had figured out a long time ago that Bryan wasn’t a candidate for that.
Kyle was beside her a moment later, his hand on her upper arm. “Come on, Tess. Give him a chance,” he said. “Don’t make him hobble down the street after you.”
See, that right there was part of this whole thing. Kyle mentioning Bryan hobbling was said so matter-of-factly because Bryan had encouraged that. He never shied away from talk of the accident or his resultant injuries and his permanent disabilities. He talked about them candidly and with humor and encouraged others to do the same. Everyone was very respectful, and no one felt uncomfortable around him. She admired that too.
How could she walk out on him now? She would look like a heartless bitch.
Even if she didn’t care what others thought of her, she was not a heartless bitch.
She sighed. “Fine.”
Bryan came up beside Kyle a moment later. “Does he need to carry you into my office?” he asked with a frown.
Bryan frowning was about as unusual as Tess standing up on a barstool and making a public announcement about her personal life.
“No,” she said shortly.
“Then let’s go.” He turned and started for his office door.
Tess had no choice but to follow. And because she was behind him, and a red-blooded, heterosexual female who had loved him most of her life, she couldn’t help but notice how wide his shoulders were and how hard his arms were and how not being able to run and bike like usual didn’t seem to have taken one iota of tightness from his ass.
It was a partial spinal cord injury, so that meant he still had some muscle activity in his lower body. From what she could see, it was an impressive amount. She knew he was doing a lot of swimming and working with what weights he could to improve and maintain his strength. He used the crutches, but he took fairly normal steps and moved quickly and with surprising grace. Using the crutches and wheelchair were no doubt a great workout for his upper body, but his butt and legs in the fitted, faded blue denim were certainly worth appreciating as well.
At the door, he stopped and turned the knob, then pushed it open and stood to the side, waiting for her to pass in front of him.
She did reluctantly.
She did not want to be alone with him. Even if there were fifty people on the other side of the door, being closed in his tiny six-by-six-foot office was a bad idea.
Because thirteen-year-old Tessa was never that far below the surface, and that Tess still loved Bryan Murray deeply.