Every Time I Fall (Orchid Valley #3) by Lexi Ryan

Chapter One


The air conditioning in Smithy’s bar feels like the sweetest reward for my short walk through the Georgia humidity, and the clamor of the busy establishment instantly makes me smile.

Dean Jacob—my brother’s best friend and the hottest guy in all of Orchid Valley—is sitting at the bar, and by some miracle, the barstool next to him is vacant. Dean’s broad shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and single dimple usually mean there’s a woman or three fighting for any available space near him. Never me, though. Dean might be a good friend, and he might make for some seriously enjoyable scenery, but I’ve never been foolish enough to think I’m the kind of girl he’d pick for his next flavor of the week.

I take the spot next to him, just happy for a little company and two-for-one martini night. I’m a big girl, and I can handle drinking alone from time to time, but it’s always better with a friend.

The corner of Dean’s mouth hitches up in a crooked grin when he notices me, and I warm inside. I needed to see a friend tonight. “Hey, Abbi.” He looks me over and his smile falls away. “You’re all flushed and stuff. You okay?”

All flushed and stuff probably means my cheeks are bright red from the late August heat and humidity. While other girls look dewy and fresh when they get warm, I look more like I’ve run my fastest mile and have serious regrets.

I push the frizzy tendrils from my face. “I’m fine. What about you?”

He shrugs. “Fine, I guess.”

I arch a brow. “Not very convincing, Dean.”

He takes a pull from his glass—a light-colored draft beer, an IPA if I had to guess—and shakes his head. “Nah, everything’s good. I just . . .” He shrugs again, and some instinct has me looking over his shoulder toward the other side of the bar, where Amy Matthews sits with a man I don’t recognize. Amy used to be married to my brother, Kace, but that’s old news at this point. Kace has moved on, falling madly, deeply in love with Stella. Amy moved on long before that with many men, something I wouldn’t judge her for if Dean hadn’t been among her conquests.

“Ugh.” I scowl. “Please tell me she’s not the reason for your grumpy mood.”

He doesn’t have to follow my gaze. I can tell by the tense line of his jaw that he knows who I’m talking about.

“Aaaaaabbi,” Smithy croons, tossing a couple of napkins on the lacquered bar in front of me. “Where’ve you been, girl? I’ve missed you!”

I grin at my stoner friend. Smithy’s rocking a full beard these days and he’s recently put his long, light brown hair into dreadlocks. While I appreciate dreads on many people, they somehow just make Smithy look unshowered. “I’ve been busy,” I lie.

Saturday nights off used to be reserved for girls’ nights and lemon drop martinis at Smithy’s. They were for laughter and cutting loose from the week before. These days, when I get the rare Saturday night off, I spend it alone in front of the TV and questioning all my life choices while my friends are busy with their amazing boyfriends.

Savvy and I are the last single girls standing. I adore Savvy. She’s fun and feisty and not afraid to speak her mind. But I, the head chef at the nicest restaurant in Orchid Valley, don’t actually have all that much in common with fitness instructor Savvy Downing. So aside from the rare occasions when Stella and Brinley pull themselves away from their men to meet up for a drink, I rarely spend time at Smithy’s these days. I’m trying to change that.

“I couldn’t pass up two-for-one martini night,” I say with a genuine smile.

“Damn straight,” Smithy says. “Lemon drop for you and your date, or will the lucky guy be drinking another of my martini selections tonight?”

My cheeks flash hot. “Um, well, it’s just me tonight, Smith. Is that a deal breaker on the special?”

“Two-fisting it, eh? I likey. No problem at all.”

I made the right choice coming tonight. Another lonely night in my apartment, and I might’ve caved and downloaded Random again.

I shudder at the reminder of what gems of “dates” that app brought to me last time I tried. “You didn’t look this fat in your picture,” the last guy said. “Why are you trying to fool guys like that? Think we won’t notice when we meet you in person?”

I dumped a very expensive drink down his shirt and walked out. I’d rather wash my papercuts out with lemon juice than use Random to find a date again.