By: Maya Banks

Goddamn, it hurt him to see her so defeated. She wouldn’t even sing, and she’d always sung. Always. He couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t weaving words into beautiful music.

“We shouldn’t have let this go on for so long,” Taggert said. “We should have dragged her ass home months ago.”

Greer nodded. “Agreed. But we can’t change the past.” He rubbed a tired hand over his face. “God, if we could. All we can do is make damn sure Emily feels safe with us, that she knows the ranch is her home.”

“And that this time we aren’t going to give her up like we did before,” Taggert vowed.

“She may not want us now,” Greer said carefully. “Time changes things. She married Sean. She’s a different woman now.”

Taggert turned fiercely to Greer, slowing down as he did. “You look at that girl back there and you tell me she’s a different woman. She’s hurting like hell. She’s grieving. She’s tried to stop living, but she’s still the same sweet, giving girl we’ve known all our lives. She loved us, Greer. We shit on that love, but she loved us, and I don’t believe for a minute she gave that love lightly. We can get her back. I didn’t say it would be easy, and it shouldn’t be after we turned her away, but I won’t give up.”

“I hear you, man. She needs time, and she’ll have all the time in the world at the ranch where we can take care of her and end this path to self destruction she’s on.”

Grief and regret, so much regret, swirled in Taggert’s stomach. Sean shouldn’t have died protecting Emily. His older brothers let him down—let him and Emily both down. Taggert would have to live with that for the rest of his life. But he wouldn’t surrender Emily the same way. She was alive, damn it, and she was going to start acting like it.

Chapter Three

Emily woke in Taggert’s arms as he strode from the SUV toward the front porch of the two-story frame house. She’d always loved this house. Whitewashed, it could have existed a hundred years before, a farm house on a fledgling cattle spread. And it did, she reminded herself ruefully. This land had been in the Donovan family for over a century, built when the west was still new, when people with big dreams came to settle the raw, untamed land.

The sun was sliding over the mountains, and the chill of the spring air elicited a trail of goose bumps over her arms.

Tagg looked down at her as he mounted the steps, and his eyes softened. “We’re home, Emmy.”

He set her down, almost as if he knew how important it was that she walk inside on her own. Greer opened the door, and Emily stepped into the living room.

The first thing that hit her was the smell. It was hard to put a name on the smell of home. It was older, musty but not unpleasant, just the reality of an aged house. There was a hint of tobacco, the scent of leather and a faint whisper of daffodils.

Nothing had changed. The furniture was the same down to Taggert’s favorite threadbare armchair with ottoman. The old television had been replaced and a flatscreen was mounted on the wall catty-corner to the stone fireplace.

Through the adjacent door, she knew she’d find the kitchen the same as she’d left it, its large open floor plan inviting and homey, the wraparound bar that hugged the entire kitchen a place for people to gather, talk and eat at the end of a long day.

She could almost hear the laughter echoing through the hallways.

“Emily, my dear! It’s so good to see you.”

She blinked in shock to see Doc Summerston stand from his perch on the couch. She’d been so busy remembering that she hadn’t even noticed him in the room. What on earth was he doing here?

“Hello, Doc,” she said a little nervously.

Greer wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a light squeeze. “We asked Doc to come out and look you over.”

She inhaled in surprise and glanced sharply up at him and then over to Taggert who looked none too apologetic.

“Is that all right with you, Emily?” Doc asked in a gentle voice.

Her shoulders went down in defeat. It didn’t really matter. The sooner she got it over with, the sooner she could go to bed.

“Where am I sleeping?” she murmured.

“In your room,” Taggert said.

She nodded and started for the stairs, Doc following behind her. Was there a diagnosis for dead-and-don’t-know-it? She almost laughed. Doc would think her terribly fatalistic.

“Well, we got her here, now what the hell are we going to do?” Greer demanded after Emily and Doc disappeared up the stairs.

“That’s a loaded question,” Taggert said with a sigh. “We take it one day at a time.”