He'd never really had a place to call his own...
But the broken-down ranch in front of him was the closest he'd ever come. Now, pregnant widow Emma Manning was struggling to keep it, her children and herself going. She could use a hand. Well, that was all burned-out musician Cash Cochran could spare.
He'd never had a woman to call his own, either...
That was painfully obvious to Emma as soon as Cash knocked on her door. And though, with her ever-growing brood and her money pit of a ranch, she was the last woman on earth he could ever fall for, he was falling nevertheless. They both were.
But what would happen when they landed?
Cash Cochran hadn't known what to expect, but for damn sure goats in coats hadn't made the list.
His breath clouding his face, he frowned at the half-dozen or so beasts in the wire-fenced pen adjacent to the barn, bright-colored balloons on spindly legs. They squinted back with bemused smiles, droopy ears flicking. One gave him a questioning bleat.
I'm not sure, either, Cash thought, his gaze sweeping what had once been a sizable mamas-and-calves operation, sold off in bits and pieces until nothing remained except the house and the ten or so acres his father'd willed to Lee Manning a few years ago...a discovery that'd nearly knocked Cash right off the wagon. Except that was one level of hell he had no wish to revisit, thank you.
Not that he'd needed, or wanted, the property, nestled between two mountain ranges in northern New Mexico. Lee and his wife had been welcome to it. But the why behind the bequest had tainted the lapsed friendship with a bitter stink, one time had barely begun to dissipate.
The sun popped out from behind a doughy cloud, bringing changes into sharp relief--the fair-size, utilitarian greenhouse, the unplowed fields, a young orchard not yet in bloom. Tattered, heavy-duty plastic clinging to one side of the house--an abandoned home-improvement project would be his guess. The goats. Even so, the endless sky and pure, weightless air, the wind's contented sigh through the pinon windbreak--those were exactly as he'd remembered.
What he'd missed.
Unlike the house itself--a ranch-style built high enough for a porch but too low for a basement, the exterior a conglomeration of stucco and fake brick and bad siding--which he hadn't missed at all. Putrid memories punched through the paneled wood door and fake-shuttered windows, trampling the riot of egg-yolk-yellow daffodils crowding the foundation, the cutesy Welcome sign beside the recently repainted porch--
Barking its head off, an avalanche on four enormous, filthy feet roared around the side of the house and straight toward Cash.
Cash's head jerked up, his gaze colliding with blue-green eyes as steady as they were curious. The called-off polar bear of a dog swerved at once, trotting over to plant his butt beside the red-sweatered goat his mistress held on to. A jumble of coppery hair, the bright plaid scarf hanging down her front, both glowed in contrast to the blah-colored, too-large barn coat, faded jeans, muddied boots.
"Can I help you?"
"Sorry, ma'am, didn't mean to cause a ruckus. I'm--"
"I know who you are," the woman said with a bite to her West Texas drawl that made Cash wonder if she kept the dog around just for show. At least she'd been smiling in her wedding photo.
"I take it you're..." He scoured his brain for her name. "Emma?"
Cash couldn't remember the last time a woman didn't go all swoony and tongue-tied in his presence. Longer still since such things had stoked his ego, made a lonesome young cowboy with a fair talent for guitar picking and songwriting feel like hot stuff. It'd surprised him, how fast all the attention got old. Especially when it finally penetrated that the gals were far more interested in Cash's so-called fame than they were in him. Still, Emma Manning's obliviousness to his so-called charms unnerved him. His attention swerved again to the goats, still watching him with squinched-up little faces.
"Why're they dressed?"
"Had to shear 'em before they kidded. Then the temperature dropped. Mr. Cochran...I'm sorry, but why are you here? Since I somehow doubt you dropped by to chitchat about my...