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Cherished Embrace (Cherish Cowboys Book 3), page 1

 part  #3 of  Cherish Cowboys Series


Cherished Embrace (Cherish Cowboys Book 3)

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Cherished Embrace (Cherish Cowboys Book 3)

  Cherished Embrace

  Cherish Cowboys Book Three

  Copyright © 2019 by Charlene Bright

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without the express written permission of the publisher. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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  Two broken hearts not looking for love.

  Kelsey Jackson was just coming alive again after a heartbreak sent her to Cherish, Montana to start again. Her new friends and her new business made her feel like a new woman, but her heart ached for something more.

  He wasn’t looking for a new life there.

  Brayden Maxwell was escaping his own pain after being left at the altar. He found himself in Cherish looking for a temporary break from the hurt that had sent him running.

  They were both afraid to consider love again, but they couldn’t stay away from each other either. Will they embrace the attraction that keeps pulling them together and realize that it’s okay to give love and life a second chance?


  Kelsey stood there, smiling at the young woman before her who was watching herself model the wedding gown in the mirror. Her smile was so radiant, and the way she swished in circles, capturing the glimmering lights of all the sequins and beads on the dress in the three-sided mirror, was enchanting. There was nothing more beautiful than a bride, but sadly, nothing lonelier than wondering if you’d ever have the opportunity to be one yourself.

  The bride’s mother said, “Oh,” and then was quiet, tears in her eyes at the sight of her daughter.

  The two bridesmaids each exclaimed their praises at how Carrie looked in the dress. It was always so magical to see how people responded when they knew that they’d found “that dress”—the perfect one for their perfect occasion.

  “Kelsey, would this one be able to be ordered and here for my wedding?” Carrie asked, staring at her with sparkling blue eyes, clearly hoping to hear the correct answer.

  “The manufacturer needs eight weeks and your wedding is in ten, so we’d be great,” Kelsey said, looking at her reflection in the mirror. Although the bride was standing on a platform, seeing how much taller she was than Kelsey’s 5′4″ frame struck her as an odd visual. Perhaps because it made her feel a bit small.

  You’ve got to shake these blues, she thought.

  “Is that the one you want?” Carrie’s mother asked, now standing up and walking next to her daughter.

  “Yes!” she exclaimed. Then she gave a little jump and clapped her hands. “It’s perfect.”

  “It is perfect on you,” Kelsey said, “almost like it was designed with you in mind.”

  Everyone else agreed.

  From there, it was easy. The measurements were made and it was a matter of ordering the dresses for the bride and her bridesmaids. As the excited group of women left, Kelsey glanced up at the clock in the back corner of the shop.

  “Well, that was a fast day,” she murmured.

  She began to lock up and get ready to go to the small home she rented in town. It had been a busy week, a long week, and she tried to convince herself that it was a good thing that she got to be alone so she could unwind.

  Her pain had lessened over the past half a year, for certain, but she still missed Samuel—rather, she missed the laughter and ease he’d brought to her life. But that was not a part of her future. And strangely enough, according to a message from her mother, it was not a part of her former best friend’s future, either. It turned out that Tina and Samuel didn’t make it after all. Kelsey wondered if they felt as shredded and lonely as she had for a while.

  So with a sigh and a soft smile, she closed the doors to Buckles, Boots, and Brides Wedding Shoppe and walked down the sidewalk of Cherish, nodding and saying hello to several people. They were on their way out while she was on her way in for the night.

  Her smartphone buzzed and she pulled it from her jacket pocket. A huge smile spread across her face. It was a text with a picture from her friends Mal and Olivia, who had each sent it to her. It was an image of Grumpy Cat—that crazy cat whose scowl was guaranteed to make you laugh—and it read: I had fun once. It was awful. Kelsey broke out into a smile, because if there was ever anybody who was all about having fun as much as possible, it was Mal. She had it all, a great business, a great husband, and this endless energy that Kelsey truly admired.

  With a smile on her face and gratitude for the funny meme that had snapped her out of her little funk, Kelsey smiled and responded, Thanks for the laugh!

  Soon enough, a small text conversation was taking place. Mal was beginning to make dinner at her home. Olivia was over in Deer Run with Colton. And Kelsey was now home and ready to snuggle up on her couch, enjoy a glass of wine, and watch a movie that would take her through the night. It was definitely a “comedy only” type of evening. Love may have been in the air everywhere else in the greater Cherish area, but in her apartment, a good laugh was just what Kelsey needed.

  Chapter One

  Sunny and warm, breezy days were known to bring out the best in people, and it was no different for the people of Cherish, Montana. With most of the population being ranchers, nice weather meant for productive days in which they could get a lot done.

  Kelsey had been excited that it had worked out with her schedule, as well as Olivia and Mallory’s, to be able to meet up at Kitty’s for some breakfast that day. Her best friends were just what she needed to cheer her up, because no matter how hard she’d been trying, she just felt an emptiness inside of her, and despite her best efforts, she’d been unable to appease it in any manner. It was strange and unfamiliar to her, because she’d always been so optimistic about everything. Yet, she’d had a hard time rebounding from the deceit she’d felt from Tina and Samuel’s betrayal. For Samuel, if something had been changing in his heart, he should have told her and separated ways with some honor intact. As for Tina, apparently the urge to see what could exist for her and Samuel had been stronger than the bond of their twenty years of friendship. So, while time may heal and mend, it seemed to be moving quite slowly with Kelsey’s heart. All she wanted was to return to that “normal” feeling that she’d been used to for most her life.

  “Good morning,” Kelsey said as she walked into the diner and saw Mal and Olivia sitting in the same booth they always did, whenever possible.

  “Kelsey, hey, we were just talking about you,” Olivia said. She slid out of the booth and gave Kelsey a big hug.

  “You were? Why?” she asked.

  “Well, I ran into Carrie’s mom and she was talking about how amazing you were the other day when it came to helping her find just the perfect dress.”

  “That’s what I do,” Kelsey replied.

  Mal smiled and reached over to grab her hand and give it a little squeeze as she sat down across from the two. “Yeah, but you have a special gift. You know how to make people relax.”

  “Well, I try. I’m glad they’re pleased, though. You just never know. The rush of the moment can sometimes be a bit overwhelming,” Kelsey said.

  Sandy, the waitress, came up to the table. “Coffee for you, Kelsey?”

  “Sure, that’d be great, thanks,” she replied, sliding her mug over so Sandy could fill it up with the carafe of piping hot java t
hat she held in her hand.

  “I have exciting news,” Olivia said, her green eyes sparking up. “Guess what it is?”

  “Colton and you finally set a date,” Mal said.

  “No. That’s definitely not it,” Olivia replied. “We’re in no hurry. Life is great as it is. No need to rush it.”

  Kelsey guessed, “You’re preparing a new exhibit for the Historical Society.” Olivia had come to town about seven months ago on a search for a lost family heirloom, but had ended up staying because she’d found love with Colton and a great job as the town historian and head librarian. Colton’s and her fates had aligned, and Kelsey was glad for her.

  “Well, there are a few things going with that, but I’m not set to unveil them yet,” Olivia replied.

  “So ‘fess up. What’s the news?” Mal asked, turning to stare at Olivia.

  “He booked a trip to Hawaii for us. Can you believe it? I just about passed out, I was so surprised.”

  “That’s awesome,” Mal said with a huge grin.

  Olivia looked at her strangely. Kelsey did also, and then nodded her head. “Why do I have a feeling that you knew all about it, Mal?”

  “Because I did,” she said, smacking her hand down on the table. “Colton wanted to make sure we could cover the ranch responsibilities.”

  “When are you going?” Kelsey asked. A nice tropical getaway sounded wonderful to her.

  “Not for about eight months. We’re planning it around the whale-mating season. I cannot wait.”

  “Maybe you’ll get married there,” Mal commented.

  “Please tell me you don’t know something else that I don’t?” Olivia said. She tried to act casual about it, but Kelsey thought it seemed like she loved the idea of that happening.

  “I don’t know a thing. Swear it!” Mal took a sip of coffee; it looked like she was trying to hide a smile.

  “You’re such an instigator,” Kelsey said.

  “I know. Just can’t help myself. I love to be. Drives poor Wade as crazy as it entertains him.”

  They all laughed and then Sandy came back. “What do you ladies want to eat this morning?”

  “What are the specials?” Kelsey asked.

  Sandy rattled off a few specials, but the one that sounded the best to Kelsey was a Spanish omelet with some homemade sourdough-bread toast. Everyone else agreed.

  “Three specials coming up shortly,” Sandy said.

  Mal leaned in. “Hey, we’re going to be having a visitor for a while at the Williamson household.”

  “Really? Who?” Olivia and Kelsey asked at the same time.

  “Wade’s cousin Brayden. He’s had some rough luck and he’s coming to help at the ranch, restore his sanity,” Mal said.

  “Maybe I should help at the ranch,” Kelsey said with a soft laugh.

  Both Olivia and Mal looked at her with sympathetic faces. They knew her story and how hard it had been to get back to a place where she was truly happy and content.

  “Any time,” Mal said, “but I don’t think you want to get rough hands for touching all those beautiful fabrics on those dresses.”

  “I could wear gloves,” Kelsey said casually. “I was just being silly, anyway.”

  “But you’re doing so well?” Olivia asked.

  “I am,” she said, “but some days are kind of tough. I feel like a fraud.”

  “What?” Mal’s voice was louder than she had realized and they noticed several faces turn to look at them. “Sorry,” she said in a softer voice, “but why would you ever feel like a fraud? You’re amazing at what you do.”

  “Some days are just tough. I’m always so happy for new brides and everything, but what would they think if they knew how—well—pathetic my own love life is,” Kelsey said, taking a sip of coffee to try to hide her sigh. She shouldn’t be pouting about it, but she kind of was.

  “If they knew the story, they’d say that Samuel was a fool,” Olivia said.

  “And that you deserve better,” Mal added. “There are lots of great guys in Cherish and Deer Run. You just have to meet the right one, Kelsey. Give it time and when you’re ready, it’ll happen.”

  “When I’m ready,” Kelsey repeated. “I sure look forward to that day coming.”

  “Maybe you need some projects to keep you busy,” Olivia offered. “We’ve got the hospital fundraiser to plan. That’ll keep you busy.”

  “It’s going to be great this year. I love it that you two are heading it up,” Mal said. “Some new blood is just what the event needs. I’m sure of it.”

  “I am looking forward to it,” Kelsey said. She’d already put a lot of effort into creating a notebook of ideas and possibilities. It had been a good activity to keep her busy when she was all caught up with bookkeeping and everything else for the shop.

  The door to the café swung open and three men walked in. Two of them were instantly greeted by many of the people in the diner, but no two were as excited as Olivia and Mallory, whose faces lit up brighter than the sun at high noon.

  “Hey guys, over here,” Mal said, waving the three men over. She didn’t waste any time with introductions. “Olivia, Kelsey, this is Brayden Maxwell, Wade’s cousin.”

  Olivia smiled at him. “Nice to meet you, Brayden.” Then she looked at Colton and said, “I didn’t know you were going out to breakfast this morning.”

  “Last minute,” he said, then winked at Olivia and she winked back. Those two were such a playful and flirty couple and they were always so sincere about it—genuinely happy for any opportunity, planned or unplanned, to see each other.

  That must be nice, Kelsey thought.

  “It’s nice to meet you, Brayden,” Kelsey said. She looked at him and noticed a slight resemblance to Wade. He had sandy blond hair and soft green eyes, which seemed to be very calm. Kelsey wondered what he could be trying to recover from as she looked at him.

  “Nice to meet you, too,” Brayden said, looking at her intently. Then he coughed uncomfortably, realizing that their eyes had been locked a bit longer than usual and he turned to Olivia. “So, I’ve heard a lot about you in the short amount of time that I’ve been here.”

  “When did you get into town?” Olivia asked.

  “Just last night,” he replied, putting his hands into his jean pockets while he stood there.

  His tall, lanky physique was ideally suited for him, Kelsey thought. Some people just looked like they were meant to carry themselves a certain way. He was one of those people.

  Mal looked at Kelsey and then back at Brayden. “Would you guys care to join us?” She turned to Kelsey only and added, “You girls wouldn’t mind, would you?”

  “Of course not,” Kelsey said.

  “Well, as tempting as that would be, we have some business to discuss so we’ll have to take a pass on that,” Wade said.

  “Darn, well maybe we can all go out to dinner real soon. Give Brayden a proper introduction to the town,” Mal offered.

  Wade turned to Brayden. “You’d better watch out, Mal prides herself on being the social director for anyone new to town.” He laughed.

  She said, “Hey!” but laughed too. “Well, I can’t help it if people need a little boost now and again. I’m glad to give it to them. If I wasn’t that way, I’d still be waiting around for you after all these years, Wade.”

  “On that note, I’m going to go grab that booth over there,” he said before turning and walking away.

  Colton waved at the girls, and Brayden said, “It was nice to meet you, Olivia and Kelsey,” but his eyes remained on Kelsey. Then he turned to the booth.

  “Hmm,” Mal said, looking over at Olivia.

  “Hmm,” she replied.

  Kelsey shook her head. “When you two say ‘hmm’ like that, I get scared.”

  “That Brayden’s a good-looking guy, isn’t he?” Olivia asked, not too subtly.

  “Yes, I suppose,” Kelsey said noncommittally. She knew what was happening and was not about to give her friends any fuel for the fi
re. They had wonderful intentions, of course, but she just couldn’t allow herself to think about something like that. Plus, if Brayden was taking care of personal problems, it would be a waste of time, anyway.

  Thankfully, Sandy came to save the day, and the three hungry ladies began to enjoy their breakfast, eating more and talking less. But Kelsey could not stop her eyes from wandering over to the booth where Brayden, Colton, and Wade sat. Brayden was all alone on his side and was facing her. He happened to look up and she quickly looked away, feeling instantly embarrassed. It was like being in high school all over again.

  Chapter Two

  Wade and Colton were eager to get down to business and coordinate a plan on how to best use Brayden’s help. Although he was a business man by trade, he had been eager to come to Cherish to clear his mind by doing some more intensive manual labor. He’d never really done it before, but he’d read an article about why some people go to dude ranches for working vacations, and thought, Hey, I have a cousin who’s a rancher. Might as well go for the real thing.

  “I know that at the academy, we need some help getting some of the arenas tidied up, and that’s my priority,” Wade said.

  “What’s involved in that?” Brayden asked, looking over at Kelsey at the other table. Her brown wavy hair was so attractive to him, a perfect accent to those incredible eyes. He’d never seen anything like them before—blue with specs of green in them. They were so full of life, yet he sensed that they had a bit of sadness in them. He’d grown used to understanding what that looked like over the past few months.

  Wade looked at Brayden for an answer and saw that he was responding, but not really focused on the conversation. “Is something wrong? What are you looking at?” he asked.

  Brayden snapped back to the present. “Sorry, so, what’s involved?”

  “Grading out the dirt to make sure that it’s even and not full of too many rocks, mostly, but you also need to make sure that the brackets between the sections of metal fence are secure with no sharp edges.”

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