One month later
Zane and Vanessa’s wedding
“You look beautiful, V,” Kylie exclaimed as she and Jessie made their way into the bridal room at the small church. Clearly, Kylie, Jessie’s sister, was excited for the woman, as was Jessie.
From the moment they stepped into the room, Jessie felt the soon-to-be bride’s exhilaration mingling with her anticipation. It was almost palpable, making the room seem even brighter, if that were possible.
Jessie and Kylie joined Zoey, the three of them admiring V, who looked simply stunning.
There was an eruption of excitement, giggles, and more compliments while V stared back at the three of them now circling her as they offered their praises. It was amazing how much of a ruckus four women could make all on their own. V’s cheeks turned pink, probably from all the attention, but as the joyous moment settled down, Vanessa Carmichael—soon to be Mrs. Zane Walker—replied easily, “Thank you.”
She did look stunning. Like a modern-day fairy-tale princess in her jewel-encrusted white gown. But V didn’t need an expensive dress to make her look beautiful. The woman just was.
Today was V’s wedding day, and in roughly half an hour she would be marrying the man who had dedicated himself to working his way into her heart. As far as Jessie was concerned, Zane and V were meant for one another, a true example of how opposites attract.
It was the second Walker wedding Jessie had attended in a month. First, she had watched Ethan and Beau tie the knot, so to speak, in a ceremony that had made her weep like a baby. Today she would have the honor of watching V and Zane, the youngest Walker brother, do the same. There was a tiny part of her that was jealous that she wasn’t the one who’d found her happily ever after with the man of her dreams.
The thought had her mind wandering to Braydon. Over the last month, ever since Ethan got married, Braydon had started to pull away. She, Brendon, and Braydon still spent time together, but the sex had come to an abrupt halt after Braydon’s declaration that he was done, which, truth be told, Jessie was okay with. From the threesome perspective anyway. Their easy friendship had become more and more strained in recent weeks, and they were all getting good at pretending that nothing was unusual.
It wasn’t that Jessie didn’t know what was going on. It’s that she didn’t want to discuss it. Neither did they. And probably because they had all clammed up, the tension was soaring to astronomical levels.
“You look like a princess,” Zoey told Vanessa, pulling Jessie back to the moment.
“I feel like one,” V declared as she stared back at Zoey. “It’s just . . .”
“What?” Kylie asked when V didn’t continue.
“Nothing. I’m just nervous.”
“Which is perfectly acceptable,” Zoey assured V.
“Right. Because we all know you were a jumble of nerves on your wedding day,” V huffed, a radiant smile lighting up her entire face.
“I was!” Zoey imparted with a disbelieving chuckle. “You should remember, you were there.”
“Yeah, but you were nothing like this,” V argued, glancing at herself in the mirror. “At this rate, I’m going to trip on my gown and fall on my face before I even make it down the aisle.”
“You’ll have Jerry to make sure you don’t fall,” Zoey reminded V.
A few months ago, Regina, V’s mother, and Jerry, a man Regina had dated years before, had opted to rekindle their long-ago love, this time with Regina giving her all to the relationship. As it turned out, Jerry just so happened to not be married or attached; therefore, when the two of them began officially dating, the man had picked up his relationship with V as though she were the stepdaughter he had always hoped for. To top it off, Jerry had stunned them all when he asked if he could have the honor of giving V away on her wedding day.
“And if that doesn’t work, I’ll make sure to warn the guests sitting near the aisle. I’m sure someone will reach out and catch you,” Zoey said sweetly.
“Thanks,” V snorted with a choked laugh.
“What are friends for?”
“So what’s left to do?” Kylie asked as she moved around the room.
“Nothing but wait,” Zoey told her.
“Yes, freaking wait,” V retorted. “My best friend here is a stickler for being on time, so what did she go and do? She got me ready half an hour early. Now I have to fight the urge to throw up for thirty more minutes.”
All the women giggled at that, including V.
“Where’s your mom? And Lorrie?” Jessie asked, realizing the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom weren’t there.
“They stepped out to make sure everything was going as planned,” Zoey explained.
“I think they got tired of listening to me freak out and they needed to get away,” V inserted.
Funny that V continued to claim she was nervous, because from where Jessie stood, V was the epitome of calm and collected, despite her frequent contradictions to the fact. She was backlit by the windows, her long white gown shimmering in the midmorning sunlight streaming in, a vibrant contrast to V’s flawless olive skin. Her dark hair was pulled into a fancy updo on her head while a few wispy pieces framed her face. Her makeup was minimal, but the woman didn’t need makeup. She was naturally beautiful.
And her smile was present and accounted for.
Ever since Jessie had been introduced to the Walker clan, she’d become close friends with Zoey and V. The two women had embraced both her and Kylie with open arms. Jessie had understood their welcoming her sister into their fold because Kylie was a Walker—technically before they were—but for them to include Jessie . . . Well, she considered herself incredibly lucky.
It was probably a little strange for them all when Kylie, who’d married Travis when she was just eighteen, came waltzing into their lives unexpectedly years later, only to be pulled back into the fold when she and Travis reconciled. They had Gage to thank for that, although Gage probably didn’t think he’d done anything all that heroic, considering his blatantly underhanded way of handling the situation, but Jessie wasn’t one to judge. It had worked out in the end, and that’s all that mattered.
Regardless, Zoey and V were the most down-to-earth women Jessie had probably ever met and the only women, aside from her sister, who she could truly call friends.
“Please tell me you haven’t seen Zane yet today,” Kylie said to V.
V and Zoey both laughed at that, and Zoey was quick to reply with, “I managed to keep him away.”
“You did?” Jessie asked in disbelief. This was Zane Walker they were talking about. The man had come up with an entirely new definition of the word “persistent.”
“Well, I orchestrated it, yes. I left it to his brothers to keep him as far from her as possible.”
“This is Zane we’re talking about,” Kylie reminded them, giving voice to Jessie’s thoughts. “I’m sure they’ve had their hands full.”
“I’ll say.” Zoey giggled. “Zane showed up at the door about an hour ago with Kaleb and Travis in tow. They were threatening to tie him up and gag him if he didn’t behave.”
Jessie could picture that. For the last couple of weeks, Zane had been more obnoxious than usual. His excuse was that he was getting married. Considering the guy had waited patiently—as patiently as he was capable of—for V to agree to a wedding date, Jessie didn’t necessarily blame him. V had presented him with the wedding date at Christmas as her gift to him. Jessie remembered feeling a pang of jealousy at that time, too.
It wasn’t that she wanted to get married, per se. She just wished she could fall in love with a man who she could envision being with forever. Well, that wasn’t quite accurate. Jessie wished she could find a guy who was looking for the same thing she was. She hadn’t expected it to be a particularly difficult task because Jessie simply wanted to be loved in return. Funny how that never seemed to work out for her.
A knock on the door behind them got their attention, and as the four of them turned to face the newcomer, Zoey and Kylie moved to stand in front of V as though they could possibly block her from anyone’s view. Jessie laughed at the sight. Considering V was noticeably taller than they were, they weren’t accomplishing their goal.
“It’s just us,” Lorrie Walker said as she moved into the room.
The woman looked elegant in her beautiful navy gown, her short dark hair hanging loosely to her shoulders. Simple. Understated. That was the best way to describe the Walker brothers’ mother. She was the sweetest, kindest woman Jessie had ever met.
Even though Jessie was sure Lorrie knew that she had been involved with both Brendon and Braydon at the same time, she never felt any scrutiny from Lorrie. Even now, when it wasn’t exactly wine and roses between the three of them. At first, Jessie had been petrified that she’d be exiled from any family gatherings once the truth came out about her relationship with the twins. But surprisingly, everyone seemed to be all right with it. And by “all right,” she meant no one usually mentioned anything, although Jessie could see the concern in their eyes.
At first, she’d been confused, but then Kylie had informed her that everyone was worried that the twins would hurt her. She’d laughed off the idea, advising her sister that she wasn’t looking for anything permanent. And she wasn’t. Well, in the beginning she hadn’t been. Now . . .
Well, now she couldn’t seem to get Braydon off her mind.
But these days, no one looked at her cross. Probably because she was slowly drifting away from the twins. It was oddly unsettling, but Jessie had gone into the situation knowing it was temporary. The rumors about Braydon and Brendon all seemed to end the same—they weren’t interested in a long-term relationship. Jessie just happened to be around longer than any woman they’d been with before, or so she’d been told.
Convenience. That’s what she’d chalked it up to. She was convenient, they were convenient. All in all, they were friends with benefits and it had worked for them.
Too bad she had started to develop feelings along the way. On top of that, her feelings weren’t on an even keel when it came to Brendon and Braydon. She couldn’t pinpoint why, but somewhere along the way, she’d found herself falling for Braydon, something that she desperately tried to fight. Even considering they were physically identical—if it weren’t for their polar opposite personalities, Jessie wasn’t sure she’d be able to tell them apart even now—Jessie had been seduced by Braydon’s more sensitive side.
“Is everyone ready?” Regina Carmichael asked, pulling Jessie from her wandering thoughts. “I think it’s time.”
Everyone turned to look at V, who had gone a frightening shade of pale.
“Oh, honey, you look beautiful,” Lorrie consoled her soon-to-be daughter-in-law.
Zoey, V’s lifelong friend, chimed in, “You’re gonna walk out there and take one look at Zane and all will be right in the world. Nothing else will matter as soon as you lay your eyes on him. You’ve been waiting for this. And just think, we’ll officially be sisters by the time the day is out.”
“I know,” V whispered, choking on a sob.
“Don’t you dare ruin your makeup,” Zoey said sternly, her voice wobbly despite the huge grin and tears in her eyes.
V laughed, as did everyone else.
Jessie found she had tears in her own eyes, and she quickly blinked them back, knowing that if one of them broke, they’d all be a mushy mess by the time they made their way out the door.
And right now, they needed to get the show on the road.
WHY ZANE HAD opted for a big wedding, Braydon would never know.
Braydon’s idea of a perfect wedding consisted of a quick trip to Vegas, followed by a kick-ass honeymoon where he and his bride would spend the next seven to ten days in bed.
Not that anyone had asked his opinion. Nor would his mother ever agree to one of her boys taking an impromptu trip to Sin City to tie the knot. But that wasn’t really the point.
Zane clearly didn’t share the same outlook, and a big wedding was exactly what he got.
With Beau as best man and Zoey as matron of honor, everything had gone off without a hitch, from the two practice runs—yes, that’s correct, two—to the official ceremony. The rest of the Walker brothers had all been groomsmen, at Zane’s request, which made for a huge wedding party. And now that the ceremony was over, Braydon was ready to shun the tux, but the festivities weren’t over yet.
There was a reception to go to at Alluring Indulgence Resort, which meant he’d be trussed up for a few more hours at the least. Now he just had to make the trek to his truck, head over to the reception, kill a few hours, toss back a few beers, and life would finally be back to normal.
Braydon turned to see Cheyenne Montgomery walking his way. She was holding the lower part of her colorful glimmering gown and trying to maneuver through the mushy grass in heels, which was a sight in itself. He knew the confusion was clear on his face as she approached, but he was a little shocked that she was there in the first place. Yeah, he knew who she was, but up until Mother’s Day of last year, no one had even heard of her.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. They’d heard of her because her music topped Billboard’s country music charts and their mother was a huge fan. But no one had known that she was a friend of Travis’s. And since then, she’d been showing up to more and more family functions, which seemed . . . strange.
“I knew I should’ve worn boots,” she said, straight-faced.
Braydon tried to picture her in that dress and boots . . . Couldn’t do it.
“Seriously, I wanted to let you know that Cooper’s looking for you. Something about seeing if you know of anyone who might want to fill in on his ranch for a little while. He’s been asking anyone who’ll listen. Looks like Dalton’s gonna be on the road for a few months.”
Cooper was Braydon’s cousin Tessa’s husband. He was also a famous country music singer who’d moved to the small town of Devil’s Bend and opened up an equestrian center last year.
“Thanks. I’ll catch up to him in a bit,” Braydon replied, turning slightly away. When he realized Cheyenne wasn’t leaving, he turned back. Trying not to be rude, although he had already developed a grudge against this woman for reasons that were completely unfair to her, Braydon said, “Was there something else?”
“Yeah,” she began, squinting up at him as the midday sun bore down on them. “I just . . . wanted to apologize.”
“For whatever I did to make you not like me.”
Braydon wasn’t sure what the woman’s angle was, or if she even had one, but her apology caught him off guard. “I like you fine,” he told her.
Cheyenne’s laugh was as sensual as the rest of her. Her voice was smooth and raspy, mixed with just the right amount of Texas drawl to catch people’s attention. He could completely see why Brendon was hung up on her; after all, she was pretty. Granted, it wasn’t the fact that Brendon had a thing for her that bothered Braydon the most. It was the fact that Brendon was holding on to Jessie in the meantime. Almost as though he didn’t want Braydon to have a chance with her. Then again, a solo relationship for either of them was unheard of. They shared their women. Always.
Not that any of that mattered anymore, because Braydon had done what he’d never thought himself capable of. He’d called a halt to the threesomes with Jessie.
As Braydon stared back at Cheyenne, realization dawned.
He recalled the conversation Brendon had with Cheyenne that first night they met her. Brendon had been working hard to get Cheyenne to go home with them. Braydon damn sure hadn’t been opposed to the idea at the time, but he’d tried to stay in the background. From the moment he’d been introduced to her, Braydon had known that Cheyenne wasn’t like most of the women either of them came on to, despite her age and her likely inexperience with men. Or maybe because of. He didn’t know. The only thing he knew for sure was that Cheyenne, although confident and sexy in her own right, wasn’t like the women who usually flocked to him and Brendon, whispering sweet nothings and looking for the next hookup. There was something very real, very innocent about Cheyenne. He just couldn’t put his finger on it.
Regardless, her refusal to go home with them had been expected, as was her reason. Cheyenne insisted that she would never be shared between two men. She was adamant about that fact, too. Since then, Brendon had been infatuated with her. But then they had met Jessie, and Braydon had thought that his twin had moved on. After all, Brendon had seemed genuinely interested in Jessie from the beginning. She was, quite frankly, everything they could ever want in a woman. Beautiful, smart, funny, incredibly sexy. And a spitfire in the bedroom.
But no, Brendon didn’t seem to be satisfied completely. He also didn’t seem to be willing to let Jessie go.
Because Braydon wanted her.
Ah, damn. As he stared back at Cheyenne, everything became so fucking clear. How the hell had he not seen it before?
Brendon still wanted this woman and she was clearly not interested. At least not where a threesome was concerned. And if Braydon was right, Brendon was biding his time with Jessie until he could convince Cheyenne otherwise. Or maybe there was a deeper reason that Braydon wasn’t considering, but it was so much easier to assume Brendon was just drawing things out, purposely keeping Braydon in the shadows.
That still didn’t explain why Cheyenne seemed to be popping up all the damn time.
“Well, I should get back,” Cheyenne said uncertainly, and Braydon realized he’d been staring at her like a dumbass.
“I’ll walk you,” he told her.
“You don’t have to do that, but thanks for the offer.”
Ignoring her protest, Braydon held out his elbow for her to take and escorted her back toward the church. It was slow going because the heels of her shoes continued to get stuck in the soft ground.
“Is your car here?” he asked.
“No. I rode with Jared. Lorrie and Curtis were kind enough to let me stay the night at their place last night. Have I ever mentioned that it is impossible to say no to your mother?”
Braydon laughed. “I’ve heard that before.”
“When I told her I had a hotel, she told me, ‘Nonsense, honey. We’ve got more than enough room upstairs.’ ” Cheyenne gave a fairly good impression of his mother’s voice.
“How are you getting to the reception?”
“I was hoping to catch a ride with Travis, Kylie, and Gage.”
“They already left,” Braydon apprised her. “Kylie needed to get over there to make sure things were set up and ready for Zane and V.”
“Well, hell,” Cheyenne said, glancing around. There were still a few guests lingering at the church, but even the limo that was taking Zane and V over to the resort had already left.
“I’ll take you,” Braydon offered.
“I’ll take her,” a gruff voice cut in.
Braydon and Cheyenne both turned at the same time to see Brendon walking up behind them. Although he didn’t respond immediately, Braydon heard his brother loud and clear. It wasn’t just the words he said, but the way he said them that brought him up short.
Cheyenne glanced up at Braydon, then over to Brendon. She didn’t look happy, but she didn’t argue.
“We’ll see you there,” Brendon told Braydon, pretty much dismissing him, which only pissed him off. But Braydon had become familiar with not causing a scene lately. Rather than argue, he nodded and headed back toward his truck.