A Moment to Cherish
A Whistle Stop Romance, book 4
by Jennifer Faye
Whistle Stop is abuzz… Why did Mason and Bella broke up? And will they get back together?
Mayoral candidate Mason Noble knows the small-town needs change and he thinks he can be the person to help. However, the votes he’d been counting on are drying up because his engagement ended abruptly. The rumor mill is churning, but only he and Bella know the truth. And they aren’t talking!
Town sweetheart Bella Nez needs money and fast. There’s only one person who can help—Mason. When he agrees to a loan, there’s a condition attached. He needs Bella to pretend to be his fiancée again. A reconciliation would win over the townspeople—and it would give him a chance to win back the only woman he’s ever loved.
Note: This book contains closed door love scenes.
Whistle Stop Romance series:
Book 1 – A Moment to Love
Book 2 – A Moment to Dance
Book 3 – A Moment on the Lips
Book 4 – A Moment to Cherish
Book 5 – A Moment at Christmas
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Please let her be okay.
Bella Nez laced her fingers together to keep from nervously fidgeting. She shifted on the hard plastic hospital chair, unable to take her gaze off her dearest friend. The hallways of Whistle Stop General Hospital were surprisingly quiet, but that didn’t put Bella at ease.
Thursday morning was definitely off to a bad start. Very bad. She hoped it wasn’t an omen for the rest of the day.
Bella leaned forward. “What happened?”
“I was late. So I was rushing to the dress shop. I wasn’t paying attention, and I tripped on the edge of the curb.”
“Are you sure nothing’s broken?”
“They took X-rays and ran a bunch of tests. They said they were concerned because of my age.” Miss Mabel sighed loudly. “I told them I never felt younger. I don’t think they believed me.”
Miss Mabel’s age was one of Whistle Stop’s mysteries. If anyone asked, she claimed she was thirty, give or take a year or two. Miss Mabel had been giving that same answer for so long that no one could actually recall her correct age—at least no one who would admit it. If Bella were to wager a guess, she’d say her friend was closing in on eighty. Her assumption was based on years of listening to the woman’s stories about growing up in Whistle Stop.
The truth of the matter was Miss Mabel had more energy than a lot of women half her age. “Did they say when they’d have the test results?”
“I tried to weasel some information out of the radiologist, but the young man wouldn’t tell me anything. He said I’d have to wait until Doc Willard looks at them.” Miss Mabel waved her hands in frustration. “It’s a bunch of hoopla over a few bruises. I’m already feeling better.”
Bella studied the woman’s pale complexion before shifting her gaze to the IV bag and the heart monitor. It certainly seemed like an awful lot for a few bruises. Was there more wrong with Miss Mabel than her injuries from the fall?
Bella sent her a reassuring smile, not wanting to worry her. “I’m glad you’re comfortable. Did they say anything else about your condition?”
“The nurse mentioned something about some of my vitals being elevated, but they’d have to wait for Doc Willard.”
Bella quietly nodded as concern continued to course through her veins. Nothing could happen to Miss Mabel. She was the only family Bella had, and she loved her dearly— just like a mother—more so, really.
And right now, she could use some motherly advice. But now wasn’t the time to unburden her troubles about her broken engagement. The priority was getting Miss Mabel back on her feet.
The woman turned her way and arched a brow. “You know, you’re the one who doesn’t look so good. We haven’t had much time to talk lately, but I’ve been concerned about you since you called off the wedding. Have you talked to Mason?”
Bella’s gaze moved to the black and white tiled floor. “There’s nothing left to talk about.” Liar. Liar.
“If things are truly over, then why haven’t you done anything about the wedding plans? The invitations were sent out. People will be buying wedding gifts and marking their calendar.”
“I…I haven’t had time to deal with all of that. Besides, I’m sure the grapevine and all of the gossiping took care of notifying everyone.”
Miss Mabel’s lips pursed together while her eyes reflected her disbelief. The problem was the woman knew Bella too well. And this was most definitely a discussion for another time.
Bella leaned forward and squeezed her friend’s hand. “We can talk about it later.”
“Later. My concern is for you. You’re the one lying in a hospital bed.”
“This isn’t over.”
“I didn’t think it was.”
“Good. And don’t think I’ll forget. My mind is still sharp as a tack.”
“I know. I’m just worried about you.”
With her other hand, Miss Mabel patted the back of Bella’s hand. The fragile-looking woman, who was more a mother to her than Bella’s own biological mother had ever been, could see right through her. “I think you’re having what I’ve heard described as bride’s nerves. Not that I was ever a bride, but I’ve been around enough.”
“It’s not that. I promise.”
“You and Mason, you’ll work it out. You’re meant to be. And as for me, don’t you worry. I’m a tough, old broad.”
A smile tugged at Bella’s lips. “You certainly are. Tough that is.”
“Did my son tell you his big plan?” Sarcasm echoed in every word.
Bella shook her head. The less she spoke to William, the better. They hadn’t gotten along—ever. Miss Mabel had adopted him when he was ten and moved him to Whistle Stop.
He’d always looked down his nose at Bella. He never called her that horrible name some of the other kids had taunted her with, but in every mannerism, he let on that he was so much better than she was. But he was good to Miss Mabel—at least when he was younger. As he’d gotten older, his financial needs had grown. He didn’t bother with Miss Mabel these days unless he needed something.
Miss Mabel straightened the sheet, smoothing nonexistent wrinkles. “William says it’s time I sell the dress shop. And now, when he finds out about my accident, it’ll be the final straw.” Moisture gathered in the woman’s eyes. “He’ll demand I move to that senior community near his home in Santa Fe.”
Bella handed her a tissue. This just confirmed her dislike of the man. She’d like to give her dear friend’s adopted son a piece of her mind. Why wasn’t he here? Surely he couldn’t be that shallow and self-centered. For Miss Mabel’s sake, Bella hoped the man’s feelings ran much deeper for the woman who took him in and loved him like her own.
Swallowing her anger, Bella said, “Don’t let him upset you. You’re the only one who can decide what’s right for you.” Deep inside, she hoped Miss Mabel would choose to stay in Whistle Stop and continue to run the dress shop.
Miss Mabel sucked in an unsteady breath and dabbed the tissue beneath her glasses. “Sorry. I get a little snappy when I think about becoming obsolete.”
Scooting to the edge of the chair, she rubbed Miss Mabel’s shoulder. “You’ll never be obsolete, but maybe it’s time you slow down a little.”
Miss Mabel glanced at her hands. “You think he’s right, don’t you?”
“I didn’t say that. You need to do whatever is best for you.” Bella tried to sound reassuring. She held back a selfish plea for Miss Mabel to remain in Whistle Stop.
Miss Mabel gave her a speculative look. “Even if it means selling the shop in order to pay for a room at that senior community?”
Bella’s gaze zeroed in on the serious look on Miss Mabel’s face. She couldn’t imagine Miss Mabel’s Dress Shop being sold, or worse, closed. “Isn’t there another way?”
Miss Mabel’s shoulders sagged. “I don’t have enough savings, even after they sell my home. I talked to William earlier this week. He said the senior community has an opening right now.” A hitch in Miss Mabel’s voice made Bella’s heart ache. “If I don’t accept it now, I might have a long wait.”
Bella glanced at the machine beside the bed. Miss Mabel’s heart rate steadily increased. That couldn’t be good. Bella needed to say something to ease her friend’s stress. She owed Miss Mabel so much—there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her.
“What if I take over?” Bella uttered.
Miss Mabel’s gaze filled with surprise mixed with hope. “You’d be willing to do that for me?”
Bella eagerly nodded. The lines of concern eased on the woman’s face, and Bella was instantly glad she had made the suggestion. The woman crooked her finger, signaling for Bella to lean forward. Placing her hands on either side of Bella’s head, Miss Mabel kissed her cheek. “You’re a blessing. I just couldn’t stomach having my life’s work sold off to the highest bidder. But with you buying the place, I won’t have to worry.”
Buying the place? Wait. That wasn’t what she’d meant. She was thinking only that she’d manage the shop until Miss Mabel got back on her feet or came to terms with the fact she had to sell the store. But as for purchasing the shop, Bella’s back account was practically at zero.
“Miss Mabel, you don’t understand—”
“I know you’re concerned about my son making problems for you, but don’t worry, I’ll speak to him. I want you to have the shop. I already feel so much better knowing that it’ll be safe in your hands. And I don’t have to worry about you losing your job. This is all going to work out.” A small smile lifted Miss Mabel’s face, easing the worry lines bracketing her eyes. “I can feel it in my bones.”
Now what exactly was Bella supposed to say to that? Here Miss Mabel was, all hooked up to machines and having tests run for who knows what, and for the first time since Bella had known her, the woman looked so fragile. It was a word Bella had never associated with this woman—a force of nature who never backed down from a challenge, even when chasing a would-be six-foot-something thief from her store with a broomstick and a stern lecture.
Bella would do anything to make her friend better, even attempting to buy the dress shop. But how was she to manage such a feat? Oh boy, what had she gotten herself into?
Bella swallowed hard as she mustered up the courage to ask an important question. “Do you have any idea how much you’d want for the shop?”
“And the building. It’s a package deal. The place really does have a lot of potential. I’ve given it some thought recently, and I have a ballpark figure.” Miss Mabel rattled off a number that did indeed sound fair, but it was still out of Bella’s reach—without help. But who would help her?
She looked into Miss Mabel’s shiny blue-gray eyes and managed a tiny smile. Disastrous finances aside, she’d do her best to buy the shop. One way or another. Leaning over, avoiding the tubes and lines, she pulled Miss Mabel into a gentle embrace.
Years ago, Bella had pondered calling Mabel Mom, but she couldn’t bring herself to call this kind, loving soul a name that reminded Bella of her biological mother. The word mom conjured the image of an unhappy woman who lived her life out of a booze bottle while going from one codependent relationship to the next without giving her neglected daughter a thought. Bella inwardly cringed.
Letting out an unsteady breath, Bella said, “You took me in and cared for me after my own mother bailed on me. You have to know I’d do anything in the world for you.”
“And you know that I love you.” The woman’s voice cracked with emotion.
“I love you too.”
A young nurse in pink scrubs stuck her head in the room. “We need to take you for a few more tests. The orderlies will be in to get you.”
After the nurse departed, Bella decided it’d be best if she left. “I should be going. I’ll check on you later.”
Miss Mabel gave her a relieved look. “Thank you so much for everything.”
After a long hug, Bella exited the room, weighed down by responsibility. All of these years Miss Mabel had looked after her, and now suddenly the roles were reversed. It was jarring, to say the least.
Straightening her shoulders, Bella strode past the rows of brown chairs lining the waiting area and headed toward the emergency room doors.
There was only one way she could think of to buy Miss Mabel’s shop—Mason. But after ending their engagement just a few weeks ago, the wounds were still fresh. She’d rather step on a nest of fire ants than go begging Mason for help.
Once outside, she inhaled deeply, replacing the troubling antiseptic smells with fresh, clean air. The springtime sunshine warmed her face as she made her way to her old compact car. Once inside, she cranked down the window—a poor woman’s air conditioning.
With Miss Mabel needing the cash to secure the available spot in the senior community, Bella knew she didn’t have a choice but to help. Her fingernails drummed against the steering wheel as she searched for any option that didn’t lead her to Mason’s door.
Her first thought was to paint more landscape portraits to sell, but her art didn’t bring in that much money. The next idea was, um, well…drat. She didn’t have an option B.
Her only shot at making this plan work was by paying her highly successful ex-fiancé a visit. The thought settled like a jagged rock in her stomach. She’d been trying to untangle herself from Mason over these last few weeks, but at each turn something seemed to bring them back together, including being paired with him for Alexis and Cord’s upcoming wedding. The nuptials were to take place this coming weekend. She was a bridesmaid, and Mason was a groomsman. At least it was for only one day, and then they’d go their separate ways.
But if she were to ask him for a loan, they’d be dealing with each other for quite some time. She groaned. Why did life have to be so difficult?
She put the vehicle in gear and drove into town. As she passed the town square, she slowed. People were scattered about. Some talking. Some walking. Some waving at her. She forced a smile and waved back.