By: Maya Banks

“It scares me to see her this way. It’s like she’s given up.”

Taggert scowled. “I think she gave up a long time ago.”

The two men paced the living room, and fifteen minutes later, Doc came down the stairs, a grim look on his face.

“Well?” Taggert asked impatiently.

Doc sighed. “It hurts my heart to see her like this. I watched that girl grow up, so happy and sunny. No one could look at her without smiling.”

“Is she okay? I mean physically?” Greer interjected.

“Well, yes and no. The problem is, she just doesn’t care. She’s weary to her bones. I doubt she’s slept for more than a few hours at a time in the last year. She’s only eating enough to get by. She’s given up. There’s so much hurt in that little girl’s eyes, it makes me ache.”

“That makes two of us,” Greer muttered.

Taggert shoved an impatient hand through his hair. “So what can we do?”

Doc pinned them both with a resigned look. “I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to get tough with her.”

Taggert frowned. Greer winced a little, but he knew Doc was right. As tempting as it was to coddle and baby her, it wasn’t going to help her rejoin the land of the living.

“She has a routine of not having a routine. She eats, she sleeps—or tries to, and then she does it all over again. She’s on autopilot and a crash is inevitable. Give her a day or two to rest. I gave her something to help her sleep through the night tonight. Make sure she gets plenty to eat. But then, you’re going to have to make her break out of her comfort zone.”

Taggert swore long and low. “Christ, she’ll hate us.”

“Maybe at first,” Doc said. “She’ll come around, though, and then she’ll understand.”

Greer sighed. He and Taggert wanted nothing more than to bring her home so they could protect and love her. Making her hate them again…

“We appreciate you coming by, Doc,” Greer said.

“Anytime. I’m just glad Emily is home where she belongs. It’s been a tough road for her, but she’s young and resilient. She’ll bounce back.”

“I hope to hell you’re right,” Taggert said.


Emily woke to a stream of sunlight piercing the white ruffled curtains. For a moment she lay there soaking in the warmth, and then she turned to look at the old alarm clock on the nightstand. Eight o’clock.

Taggert and Greer would have been up several hours already. Work started early and ended late on a ranch. They and the hands put in long hours every day.

Sundays though…Sunday had always been their day. In the summers they snuck down to the watering hole, one of the Donovan brothers keeping watch for Emily’s dad. A few times he’d shown up, but by the time he had, they’d gotten Emily out of the creek and headed home.

Emily’s mother had died when she was young, and her father was the epitome of old-time conservative strict. Spare the rod, spoil the child. A motto that should have been his family crest.

She’d gotten more beatings over spending time with the Donovan boys than anything else. She wasn’t a rebellious child, and she was usually obedient. Except when it came to Taggert, Greer and Sean. Spending time with them had been worth every lash of her father’s belt.

They’d hated her father, but he was her father, and she owed him as much respect as she could give. He’d been proud of her singing. He loved to hear her sing in church. Every Sunday she sang with the choir, her clear, radiant voice rising above the others.

He’d hit the roof when her attention turned to more commercial songs, and he’d forbidden her from seeking any sort of a career outside the church.

One night she’d snuck out, and Sean drove her to the neighboring town where the honkeytonk was having talent night. She’d sung her heart out and garnered the attention of Frank, an agent to several already established singers in the business.

Her father was waiting—with his belt—when she returned home. It had been the worst beating she’d suffered, and she didn’t go anywhere for three days for fear Taggert, Greer or Sean would find out.

The two things she loved most in the world—the Donovan brothers and singing—were the things forbidden to her by her father.

She’d taken her courage in her hands and gone to the ranch, determined to make the brothers see how she felt about them. In her youth and inexperience, she hadn’t considered how ludicrous her wants were. She only knew how desperately she loved them all.

It was the worst night of her life. Far worse than any beating she’d ever suffered. Sean hadn’t been there, but Taggert and Greer had gently but candidly told her that what she wanted wasn’t possible.

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