Cheyenne’s hand came to rest over her heart as the damn organ threatened to crack through a rib. A startled laugh escaped her when she noticed the people standing in the living room of the house she now called home—the house that was still in the process of being remodeled and wasn’t in any way ready for this. A freaking party.
“Wow. This is . . . Wow.” Cheyenne fought the tears that threatened as she scanned the many faces of the people she’d come to call friends over the last couple of years. Every one of them standing in her in-need-of-a-good-cleaning house staring back at her with huge, proud grins on their faces.
Yep, they’d gotten her good with this one.
Kylie was the first to come to Cheyenne’s side, pulling her in for a friendly hug. “Sorry. I tried to get them to hold off until the remodel was finished, but we’re all just so happy you’ve moved in.” Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper that could be heard by all, she added, “They’re a pushy bunch.”
Cheyenne laughed. Pushy? That was an understatement when it came to the Walker family.
“I take it you had a hand in this?” Cheyenne asked, turning to Lorrie, the Walker matriarch. Come to think of it . . . it all made sense now. Cheyenne had been a tad surprised when Lorrie called that morning and asked if she would take her to the mall.
Yes. Take her. Like the determined older woman wasn’t capable of taking herself to the mall. Lorrie was probably the most active person Cheyenne knew. She was also the kindest, which was why Cheyenne hadn’t been able to tell her no, and off to the mall they’d gone in search of . . . get this . . . a birthday present for Sawyer, who would be turning the big three-five in just a couple of weeks. It would’ve made more sense for Lorrie to take Kennedy, the love of Sawyer’s life, also known as his fiancée, with her to pick out his gift. Sure, Cheyenne knew Sawyer, but not well. They’d talked plenty of times when she was in town, but certainly not in depth. Not enough for Cheyenne to have any clue what to buy him for his birthday.
After two and a half hours at the mall, she’d learned the guy wasn’t easy to buy for, either.
Or maybe he was and that had been part of the ruse to get Cheyenne out of the house for a few hours on a Saturday when the only thing she had planned to do was attempt to get her house in some sort of order now that she had officially moved in.
Lorrie merely smiled, that sweet, innocent look that might fool others. Those who loved the woman—Cheyenne included—knew her better than that.
“We’re just happy to have you here, honey,” Lorrie said softly, squeezing Cheyenne’s wrist lovingly.
“Thank you.” Cheyenne refused to cry, so she forced a smile.
It’d been a long, painful journey for her to get to this point in her life, and to think she was only twenty-five years old. But she wasn’t about to dwell on the pain that had inhabited her world since she was old enough to figure out for herself that life wasn’t always beautiful.
But today was beautiful.
It definitely was and these people had come to show her just how much.
“Now, we know you’re not settled in completely,” Travis—her closest friend—said as he approached, holding a beer with one hand and wrapping his other around his wife’s slim shoulders, “but since you’ve made Coyote Ridge your permanent home, we wanted to welcome you the right way.”
“Thank you,” Cheyenne told him. She owed so much to Travis Walker, the guy she’d come to see as a protective older brother. Although he would be the first to say that she didn’t owe him a thing. It was true. No matter what the stubborn man claimed.
In fact, Cheyenne had him to thank for her music career. She could still remember that night so clearly. Who knew how long it would’ve taken her to get as far as she had if not for Travis being in the right place at the right time that night. And she would be forever indebted to him for it, too.
“So, can we get this party started or what?” Zane, the youngest of the seven brothers, hollered from the other side of the room, holding his beer bottle up in the air. “Welcome, Chey. We’re happy you’re finally here and all that nonsense. But we’re also starvin’. After all, my wife’s eatin’ for two, you know.”
“Oh, hush,” V said, smacking Zane’s arm softly. “I’m not the one who’s tryin’ to steal the food outta the kitchen.”
Cheyenne grinned at the youngest, and most mischievous, Walker and his wife. How Vanessa put up with Zane sometimes, Cheyenne would never know. That man was a nuisance. Sweet, yes. A pain in the ass, absolutely. A sweet, good-hearted, pain in the ass. That was Zane Walker.
Over the last couple of years, the Walkers had made Cheyenne feel at home in their little town—coincidentally, a town her own grandparents had once resided in. In fact, Lorrie had known them, but that wasn’t surprising, since Lorrie and Curtis seemed to know everyone in Coyote Ridge, Texas.
It had been a fluke that Cheyenne had ended up there, but after Travis had invited her to celebrate Mother’s Day with their sweet, meddling mother a couple of years ago, Cheyenne had found herself coming back time and again, loving it more and more with every single visit. During her visits with her grandmother, Cheyenne found herself talking more and more about the little town, anxious to bring her grandmother back there. Until here she was . . . the proud owner of an old Victorian that was being renovated by none other than Travis’s wife, Kylie, a woman Cheyenne had befriended easily.
Taking a deep breath, Cheyenne smiled. Feeling grateful and blessed, she stared back at all of the faces looking to her for direction.
“Okay, fine,” she called out, feeling all eyes on her. “Let’s eat!” If she didn’t get these people to disperse, she very well could start crying and she doubted that’s what they had in mind when they’d been planning this party.
BRENDON HAD BEEN fighting the urge to leave the impromptu welcome-to-the-neighborhood—or town as was the case here—party for the last half hour. Ever since Cheyenne walked into the room, looking good enough to eat. Chestnut hair with subtle red highlights, green eyes and flawless, tanned skin had never looked so good. On anyone.
But leaving wasn’t an option. Not unless he wanted to listen to his father ride his ass for the next two days about his attitude.
Yep. Been there, done that, the T-shirt didn’t even fit anymore.
The old man had apparently had enough of Brendon’s shitty mood and had decided to tell him so. One thing Curtis Walker wasn’t was subtle. Just a month earlier, the man, in no uncertain terms, had informed Brendon that he needed to get his shit together and mighty damn quick.
“Boy,” Curtis greeted when Brendon walked into his parents’ house after being summoned by his mother that morning.
“Dad,” he replied, watching his father closely before glancing around the room, wondering where his mother was, but unable to ask before his father started talking.
“Have a seat,” Curtis stated as he eased into his recliner.
Brendon opted to sit on the couch, although he would’ve preferred to stand. He hoped this wasn’t going to last long, and that he’d be on his way in the very near future.
“What’s up, Pa?” Brendon inquired when his father didn’t launch into the reason he’d summoned him over. “You wanted to talk?”
“I do,” Curtis confirmed.
Well, wasn’t that just fucking great? A lecture.
“This mood”—Curtis swung his hand around as though encompassing something—“it’s beginnin’ to worry your mother and me.”
It was beginning to worry him too, but Brendon didn’t speak up.
“Is there somethin’ we can do? Somethin’ to help you move forward?”
“Move forward?” Brendon asked, incredulity ringing in his tone. Was his father serious?
“We know you’ve had a hard time with Braydon moving on with his life, but the way you’re treatin’ others ain’t sittin’ right with me, boy.”
Brendon knew his attitude these days left something to be desired, but he was having a hard time snapping out of the funk he was in. He’d tried. Oh, how he’d tried, but as it turned out, without much to look forward to, Brendon was having a hard time merely putting one foot in front of the other.
“Bren, I get that it’s hard. But you need to get your shit together, move forward. Find somethin’ for yourself.”
“I know,” Brendon informed him. “I’ve tried.”
“Well, how ’bout this? Why don’t we try together?”
“And how do you suppose we do that, Pa?” Brendon retorted snidely.
“How ’bout you start with a smile. That might help.”
“How do you figure that?” Brendon sighed.
“Just give it a shot. Then we’ll go from there.”
Part of him had been pissed—the bigger part—at being treated like a fucking recalcitrant child. The other part of him had understood exactly where his father was coming from, and as it turned out, the smiling thing actually helped. More so when he and his father went out to the barn that day and many days to follow. Keeping busy had turned out to be the best thing for Brendon. It was almost amusing how much his brothers had been tiptoeing around him for the last year without ever riding his ass for it. And that, and his father’s straightforwardness, told Brendon that he’d been acting like a dick.
God, had it fucking been that long? A whole year since his twin brother, Braydon, had hightailed it down to Devil’s Bend to wrap his mind around the fact that he’d fallen in love with Jessie and didn’t want to share her with Brendon anymore?
Where the hell had the time gone?
Oh, well, that was easy. Brendon knew exactly where the time had gone. It had been drowned in a bottle. Many bottles to be exact. Jack, Jim, Jose, Johnny . . . They’d all become his good friends for months on end.
As he sat on the wooden chair that acted as seating in the large living room, he frowned at the beer in his hand.
No, he didn’t have a problem, even he knew that much. And it wasn’t denial talking, either. Sure, he’d indulged in too much liquor for far too long, but he’d stopped without a problem. A lot of that was due to driving headlong into a fucking tree, but that was beside the point. How he’d managed to avoid a DUI for that one, he still wasn’t sure, but he was grateful nonetheless. These days, he still had the occasional craving, but he limited himself to beer and rarely even that. Lifting the brown bottle to the light, he saw that it was still three-quarters of the way full, and he’d been nursing the damn thing for almost an hour. Ever since he had arrived at Cheyenne’s house with the rest of his family and prepared to surprise her with a housewarming party.
Did he want to be there? Yes and no. More no than yes.
Okay, that was a big whopping fucking lie. He wanted to be there more than he wanted the goddamn beer in his hand, that much was true. More than he wanted to inhale the same air as Cheyenne. More than he wanted to take her in his arms, pull her small body against him and never let her go. Hell, he wanted to be there more than he wanted his next fucking breath. And that was a helluva lot.
Not that he had any intention of admitting that to anyone. Ever.
He wanted to see Cheyenne, even if it meant staring at her from across the room, watching the easy way she talked to his family, admiring the smile on her perfect pink lips as she spoke. Which was what he was doing now.
Yeah, he fucking wanted to be there.
But he didn’t want to want to be there, and that was the problem.
Brendon pulled his gaze away from the mesmerizing country star who had somehow, without even trying, inserted herself right smack-dab in the middle of Brendon’s life, and looked up to see his future sister-in-law, Jessie, peering down at him, concern marring her pretty face.
“Perfect,” he lied.
“Sounds like it.” Jessie took a seat beside him in another hard as hell wooden chair that—surprise, surprise—needed a good sanding and a coat of varnish. Not to mention, it didn’t even match the one he was sitting in.
The chairs were lined up side by side as though they were at a high school dance, so when Jessie sat down, she pressed up against him from hip to knee. A year ago, just the feel of her against him would’ve had Brendon’s dick screaming halle-fucking-lujah. Certainly not the case anymore.
These days he was tempted to move away from her. Wouldn’t benefit him to incite his twin’s possessive side, something Brendon hadn’t fucking known Braydon even had in the first goddamn place.
Sighing, Brendon took a sip of his warm beer and pretended Braydon’s fiancée wasn’t staring at him as though he was minutes away from being admitted to the looney bin.
He wasn’t, but his family certainly didn’t know that. Not with the way he’d been acting for the last year.
“She’s beautiful,” Jessie said softly.
Brendon glanced over at Jessie and frowned.
She simply laughed at him. “What? She is.” Jessie leaned closer, her shoulder bumping his. “And you, of all people, should know that, considering you’ve been starin’ at her for the last half hour.”
Sipping his beer, he pretended she wasn’t talking, but once more, he found his eyes homing in on the beautiful, dark-haired woman who was standing toe to toe with Brendon’s brother-in-law Beau, their arms linked together as they each took a shot and then laughed. Brendon smiled. Their arms twined together like that reminded him of a twig wrapped around a ninety-year-old oak tree.
Lord have mercy, the woman’s laugh made his balls tingle. His overzealous reaction to the petite beauty was fucking absurd was what it was, but for the life of him he didn’t know what the hell to do about it.
The problem was, Cheyenne Montgomery didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Not like that anyway.
When it came to Cheyenne, Brendon’s idea of getting to know her consisted of having her small, curvy body spread out on his bed, naked and writhing while he gripped her slim hips and pounded his dick into her sweet, wet pussy.
She, on the other hand, was thinking he could take a long walk off a very short pier.
Not that he blamed her. He’d earned the title of World-Class Dickhead for how he had reacted to her in the past and he would be the first to admit it. The way he’d treated her—calling her names and making unsubstantiated accusations—was the equivalent of him taking that title belt and flaunting it like he was a fucking prizefighter, holding it high in the air and shouting to the world, “I’m a giant fucking dickhead and I’m proud of it!”
But he wasn’t. Proud, that is.
He hated himself for the way he’d handled his attraction to her and that had only added to the depression that had consumed him for longer than he could remember. He’d been on an emotional roller coaster ride for the last few months, ever since the Sunday dinner when Cheyenne showed up to at his mother’s request. They’d sat together that night to eat, but it hadn’t been until Cheyenne asked him to talk to her that he’d realized how much he had to atone for with her.
“Are you really okay with me bein’ here?” Cheyenne asked when they stepped outside.
“Why should that matter?” he countered, instantly going on the defensive, as he always did with Cheyenne.
“Because it does. You have to understand, I’m not here to piss you off, I promise. Travis is my friend and your mother invited me. I can’t seem to tell her no.”
“And you shouldn’t,” he replied, sighing as he did. “Look, I get that I’ve been an asshole and I understand that you don’t like me, but I’m doin’ my best to stay out of the way.”
Cheyenne’s eyes narrowed as she studied his face, and the words that followed might’ve changed the course of his life. “I don’t want you to stay out of the way,” Cheyenne informed him. “In fact, I’d kinda like it if we could find a way to be friends.”
Friends. That was what Cheyenne had proposed that night. As much as he’d wanted to tell her that the last thing he wanted was to be her friend, he hadn’t. Brendon had merely nodded his head and promised to make an effort to do exactly that. In his head, he’d made a bigger promise, although that one had been to himself. Even if it killed him, he was going to do his best to prove to Cheyenne that he wasn’t the world’s biggest dickhead.
Between that vow and his father’s heart-to-heart, Brendon hadn’t had much choice but to figure out a way to move on and stop bringing everyone around him down.
He wasn’t quite sure how well he was doing on that front, but he had to give himself props for trying. After all, he’d once heard that admitting you had a problem was the first step.
And he certainly had a fucking problem.
And she was five feet one inches of sexy, breathtaking female.
Yep, his attraction to Cheyenne Montgomery was his only damn problem these days.