Authors: Nicole Edwards
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The Walker brothers: Kaleb, Zane, Travis, Ethan, Braydon, Sawyer, and Brendon
You’ve changed my world in so many ways and I am eternally grateful.
This series has brought me so much happiness, but it has also made me sad, giddy, frustrated, thrilled, angry, delighted, delirious, ecstatic, excited . . . I think you get the point.
It’s been a quick-moving roller-coaster ride, which is why I’m dedicating this one to the seven fictional men who will forever be a huge part of me.
Seven years ago
heyenne Montgomery was nervous. As much as, if not more than, the last time she’d played in a small backwoods redneck bar, just a couple of months earlier. At eighteen, barely six months out of high school, it wasn’t easy for her to get onto the stage, something she’d learned through a lot of hard work and repeated rejection at an early age. In fact, it was usually downright impossible. But the rather unruly owner of this little hole in the wall had been willing to give her a chance, and here she was.
“Hey, y’all. My name’s . . . uh . . . Cheyenne. Cheyenne Montgomery. Thanks for . . . um . . . thanks for having me.”
“Come on, sweetcheeks. Get on with it!” someone hollered from the crowd.
Nodding, Cheyenne swallowed hard. After making her introduction to the crowd, albeit timidly, Cheyenne launched right into her first song. She’d taken to playing covers of incredible artists like Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert, and even Reba McEntire. Not because people had told her that she sounded like them, but because they were her favorites. The band accompanying her—the only people who’d been half-ass nice to her since she arrived—was brilliant and she was grateful to them for agreeing to back her up tonight. She was doing this for free, which meant they were, too. Well, technically, she guessed they were all doing it for their joint love of music.
When she finished her first song, Cheyenne glanced out at the scattered faces in front of her, forcing her smile to stay on her lips. Her hands were shaking and she was sure if anyone in the threadbare crowd looked close enough, they’d notice. Not that she had to worry about that. No one seemed to be paying her much attention, which wasn’t all that surprising. At the little dives like this one, she didn’t generally see much interest in what she did. Well, except for one drunk old guy . . .
“Hey, honey! When you’re done up there, why don’t you come sit on my lap?”
Cheyenne ignored the man. He’d been yelling obscene suggestions at her since the second she came up onstage. During one of her songs, he’d even been taunting her. It didn’t look as though he intended to stop any time in the near future, either.
Jumping right into the next song in her set, Cheyenne gave her all, blocking out everyone and everything around her, falling right into the music. The two spotlights, awkwardly aimed at her head, made it nearly impossible to see the faces of the people in the bar, which allowed her more opportunity to get lost in her own little world for a while. So, that was exactly what she did.
After the fifth song, Cheyenne and the band took a quick break. She wasn’t allowed to go to the bar, so she graciously accepted a bottle of water when the drummer—she wasn’t sure what his name was and she was too nervous to ask—brought it to her. After downing it all, she waited for the band to return.
Ten minutes had passed and she’d had to endure the intoxicated man—the one she’d dubbed Loud Mouth—who continued to holler at her. Cheyenne noticed that he’d gotten louder as the minutes ticked by, probably due to the alcohol he was consuming. His words didn’t bother her, and he definitely wasn’t trying to be polite, but she was pretty sure he was beginning to irritate those around him.
“You ready to go, girl?” the drummer asked when he returned.
“Absolutely,” she lied.
For a minute, she’d considered running out the back door and hopping into her little piece of shit car and going home. Only, home was an empty apartment that had little to no furniture in it. She was the epitome of a starving artist, just like so many musicians when they first started out. Her tiny apartment consisted of a bed—where she slept—and a ratty, secondhand couch—where she did everything else, including eat. Not that she needed much more than that. She wasn’t home much as it was.
“What’re you gonna play?” the guitarist—she remembered he’d said his name was Joe—questioned, and Cheyenne turned back to him and smiled.
With the help of a friend of hers, she’d written a song and hadn’t yet sung it in public, but tonight seemed as good as any to give it a go, so she whispered her intentions to Joe. She’d provided them with a copy of the music when she had arrived, so they were familiar with her request. When he informed the others and they gave her a thumbs-up, Cheyenne swallowed hard.
Turning back to the crowd, Cheyenne introduced her song. “This is just somethin’ I came up with one night. I hope you like it.”
Although the lights were still pointed at her, Cheyenne could tell that when she launched into her own song, heads started to turn. She knew it was good, but most importantly, the song was written specifically for her. It reflected the heartbreak that had been her life and she knew there were others who could relate. Three minutes later, Cheyenne brought the song to a close and grinned when a few people even applauded.
“Good job, little girl. Now come on down here and show me what you’re really good at,” Loud Mouth yelled.
The dark, rich tone that rang out caused the entire bar to go silent, all eyes turning to the tall guy approaching Loud Mouth. Cheyenne couldn’t see much of the mystery man’s face, but she could tell he was big. No, maybe
would be a better word. He towered over everyone around him by several inches. Perhaps a foot.
“What’re you gonna do about it? Huh? Does her pussy belong to you? If not, I suggest you stay out of it,” the drunk guy snarled.
“If I hear one more disrespectful word out of your nasty mouth, I’m gonna make sure you don’t speak for the rest of the night,” the other man growled.
“That so? I’d like to see you try.”
The next thing Cheyenne knew, the room erupted in chaos. The drummer made his way out from behind his drum set and gripped her arm tightly, yanking her back with him. Without arguing, she managed to hide behind the instruments while the brawl went on in front of her. She couldn’t believe this was happening. They’d never let her back in here now.
She had no idea how long the fight lasted, but the cops eventually arrived to break things up and the bar owner opted to close down early. The damage was extensive, chairs and tables broken, glass bottles shattered and strewn across the floor, alcohol in puddles throughout, glistening in the overhead lights that had been turned on.
Cheyenne waited for the band to pack up their things before she ventured out with them, not wanting to run into the drunk guy if he happened to still be lurking in the parking lot.
The band members had gone their separate ways and Cheyenne was beating feet to her car when someone said, “You okay?”
The voice sounded familiar, and when Cheyenne lifted her gaze from the ground and looked up—way,
up—into the face of the man now standing almost directly in front of her, she realized he was the one who’d been towering over the rest of the crowd, the same one who’d addressed Loud Mouth for saying crude things.
“I’m all right,” she muttered.
Good grief, how freaking tall is he?
“Thank you, by the way.”
“I’m not sure why you’re thankin’ me,” he answered humbly. “You’re leavin’ because of me.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the way these things go sometimes,” she responded politely, although in all the months she’d been doing this, never had a fight broken out before tonight.
“Name’s Travis Walker.”
Cheyenne shook the big guy’s hand when he extended it and watched as hers disappeared almost entirely in his palm. The man was massive. Granted, she was on the small side, topping out at a full 5'1", but still. He made her feel like a child.
“Nice to meet you, Travis Walker. I’m Cheyenne Montgomery.”
He nodded, but she didn’t think he was really listening to her. “I’d like you to meet someone. Don’t go anywhere.”
Cheyenne glanced around, hoping the drunk old guy from inside had been carted off by the police, because now that she was standing alone in the parking lot while Travis ambled over to a group of people loitering near the door, she suddenly didn’t want to be there.
Luckily for her, Travis returned quickly, another man at his side, this one not nearly as tall or as broad.
“Cheyenne Montgomery, I’d like you to meet Clayton Crosby.”
“Nice to meet you,” Cheyenne said, shaking the proffered hand. She wasn’t sure why Travis wanted her to meet this guy, but she tried to appear happy to be introduced. In actuality, she just wanted to get to her car so she could go home.
The guy laughed, glancing between her and Travis.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, confused.
“He didn’t tell you who I was, did he?”
“No, sir,” she told him quickly.
“Figures. Travis here ain’t much on talkin’,” Clayton said with a grin that made his rough features soften somewhat. “I’m a record producer.”
It took her a moment to process what he was telling her and then all of a sudden it sank in. Not wanting to get her hopes up too quickly, Cheyenne didn’t say a word as she ignored the anxious flutter in her belly. Hell, she wasn’t sure she could make her voice work if she had to.
Clayton laughed again. “We’re probably gonna have to work on gettin’ you to talk a little more.”
“Question for you. That song . . . the last one you sang. You write that?”
“Yes, sir,” she said hurriedly.
He smiled again and Cheyenne’s chest loosened.
“Good. Looks like we’ve got more than just a beautiful face and an incredible voice to work with.”
“Work with?” she asked.
“You interested in doin’ this gig full-time? Maybe in front of some bigger audiences? Somethin’ with fewer fists bein’ thrown?”
“Good. Then I think we might become good friends.”
Cheyenne didn’t know exactly what that meant, but she had an idea.
Glancing over at Travis, she noticed he was watching the two of them as they talked. His expression was blank and she wondered whether that was the way he looked all the time.
“I’d like that,” Cheyenne finally forced herself to say, turning her attention back to Clayton. “I’d like to be friends.”
“I think we both have this guy to thank for our new friendship, then,” Clayton said as he clapped Travis on the back. “Guy always has had a knack for bein’ in the right place at the right time.”
Travis grumbled something that sounded like, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Cheyenne wouldn’t argue with Clayton in that regard. Come to think of it, she wouldn’t argue with him period.
A total stranger had just turned her world completely upside down. And oddly enough, that was
he’d come to her rescue. If this happened to be her big break, she wasn’t sure whether or not she’d ever be able to repay Travis Walker, but Cheyenne vowed right then and there that she’d do her damnedest. If things went the way she hoped, she would truly be indebted to him for the rest of her life.
And she didn’t mind that one single bit.
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
to want to be there, and
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-
-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.