Hayden had taken the news of them becoming a family far better than either he or Ginger anticipated.


When Kane mentioned adoption, Hayden immediately stopped calling him Buck and started calling him

“Dad”, which had been beyond cool in Kane’s opinion. But it also drove home the point there was a big difference between being a Big Buddy and being a father. But he couldn’t imagine loving any kid more than he did Hayden.

Kane knocked on Ginger’s office door. He heard a muffled “Come in,” and entered the room.

The redheaded woman of his dreams stood in front of the window behind her desk, her left arm braced across her lower belly, her left hand up by her face.

-- Advertisement --

“Ginger? Everything okay?”

She shook her head and he was by her side instantaneously.

Kane turned her to face him. His heart plummeted at seeing her tear-stained face and red-rimmed eyes. “Do you feel all right?”

“No.” Her arms circled his waist. She sobbed against his chest. She cried so hard he couldn’t make heads nor tails of the words.

He held her, attempting to soothe her. When her cries faded, he tipped her chin up and wiped her tears. “You’re scarin’ me. What’s goin’ on?”

“It’s my dad. You know he’s supposed to stay at the retirement home temporarily while we’re on our honeymoon?”

Kane nodded.

“Well, he told me he’s moving in there permanently.”


“He said he didn’t want to get in the way of us becoming a real family and it’d be best all around if he just moved out. Why would he even say that?”

Because the old coot was being a damn fool and still making assumptions.

“I just want to scream at him. Then I think great, if I’m even remotely considering berating a handicapped man…what kind of mother am I going to be to this baby?”

“Ssh. Hey. C’mere.” Kane’s heart broke with her every stuttered sob. He led her to the couch in the corner of her office. “Sit. Relax. Better yet, lay down.”

“I don’t have time to lie down. I have to talk to him. Right away, before we get married and go on our honeymoon. I have to make him understand—”

“You need to chill out. Getting all worked up ain’t good for you. Now I want you to lay here and think happy thoughts until you’ve calmed down.”

She inhaled and released a long sigh.

“That’s my girl. I’ll go talk to Dash. See if I can’t get to the bottom of it, okay?”

“You’d do that for me?”

“Don’t you know by now that I’d do anything for you?” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “But this isn’t just about you. It affects all of us. You don’t have to do any of this alone any more, Ginger.”

Tears shimmered in her eyes again. “I love you.”

“I love you too. Stop cryin’, sugar. I’ll send Rissa in with some tea before you upset yourself to the point you start barfin’ again.”

“Too late. Oh God. Hand me the garbage can.”

Lightning fast, he had the small garbage can by the edge of the couch. “You want me to stay and hold your hair?” He’d gotten in a lot of practice holding her hair and rubbing her back as she suffered through morning sickness. Although he felt guilty as hell their child was making her the vomit queen, he was so damn excited about this baby he could hardly stand it. But he’d hold off on telling her his mother’s suspicions on why Ginger was so sick…at least until after the honeymoon and Doc Monroe confirmed it at their first prenatal appointment.

“No. Go. I’ll be fine.”

With one last, lingering look, he left and spoke to Rissa before heading outside.

In a town the size of Sundance, it took him about four minutes to walk to the retirement home. He brushed off the snow from his clothes and hat, thinking in three days he and Ginger would be in sunny California enjoying a week at Ava’s beach house, just the two of them.

He walked up to the kiosk and recognized the woman manning the desk as a former classmate. “Lucy.

How are you?”

“Good. I hear congratulations are in order.”


Lucy leaned closer. “Tell me the truth, wild man McKay. Are you nervous about settling down with just one woman?”

“Nope. Been waiting for her all my life.” Kane smiled because the question didn’t bother him.

“Where have you stashed Dash Paulson?”

“Room twelve.”

He skirted wheelchairs and carts until he stood in front of the right door. It was fully open, but he knocked anyway. “Dash? You in here?”

“Where else would I be?”

Kane fought his Testy much? response.

“You might as well come in and sit down.”

Not exactly a hearty welcome. Kane crossed the tile floor. It was the first time he’d been in this side of the nursing home/assisted living facility. The space had a living area with a big picture window, and a loveseat and a chair. The TV was on an end table, shoved against the wall. A kitchenette consisted of a countertop with stools beneath and a small refrigerator and a microwave on the opposite wall. No stove. A doorway off to the left led to a bedroom and a bathroom. Everything in the place was brand new and handicapped-accessible.

“Did my daughter send you here?”

“Nope. I volunteered.” Kane took off his coat and plopped on the couch. He waited for Dash to wheel to the open spot beside the recliner. “So what’s this bullshit about you movin’ in here permanently?”

Dash straightened in his wheelchair, notching up his stubborn chin. “Not bullshit. It’s time I permanently settle in a place like this.”

“Why? Is the bed comfier here?”

That gave Dash pause. “No.”

“Tastier food?”


Kane glanced around the room. “It can’t be lure of the luxury atmosphere that’s makin’ you uproot your life. This place is more bland than my trailer.” Kane’s eyes narrowed. “Is this about sex? Are you knockin’ boots with a horny widow and you want privacy to get it on?”

Dash’s mouth dropped open. Then snapped shut. “What in the hell is wrong with you, McKay? Even if I was, what business is it of yours?”

“Two days from now, what happens in this family definitely will be my business. So if you ain’t upgraded to a place that’s better, why would you wanna leave the comforts of the home you’ve already got?”

When Dash cocked his head and studied him, Kane was glad he’d never stood before this man when he’d been Judge Dash Paulson.

“Since you’re a straight shooter, I’ll give it to you plain. I never intended to live with Ginger and Hayden forever.”

“That so?”

Dash nodded. “My daughter seemed eager to create that happy family vibe she’d been denied growing up and I went along with it to make her happy. I’d always hoped she’d find a good man and settle down.

Now that she’s about to get married, it’s time for me to let her have her own family life.”

Kane looked at Dash coolly. “As long as we’re bein’ honest and all… Have I ever given you the sense that I don’t want you around?”

Another confused look. “Well, no. But you’ve got to admit taking on the responsibility of a wife, a young boy, and soon enough, a baby, is plenty to have on your plate. You’ll still be ranching fulltime too.”

“And you believe I can’t do it all…because I ain’t got a college degree? That juggling several roles is beyond my limited capabilities?”


“Then what’s the real reason for you bailin’ on your family?”

Dash glared at him. “Blast it, boy, I’m giving you an out.”

“How so?”

“By making sure that taking care of an infirm old man isn’t on your list of roles. Despite the fact I’ve hired a male nurse to assist me with personal needs I can no longer do for myself, I’d still be underfoot all the time. I can’t imagine you’d be happy about that.”

Kane counted to ten. “You think I’m that shallow?”

“Maybe at first I wasn’t thrilled when I figured out you two had feelings for each other.” He pointed at Kane. “And yes, this was before you volunteered to ‘help’ out after her accident. I worried about your previous ladies’ man reputation and I believed you’d get fed up with her after a spell and Ginger would end up getting hurt.”

Her take-charge nature appealed to him, but he appreciated that she was comfortable enough to let him call the shots.

“Since she’s established herself here, it’s not like she can run away, like she did after that rotten business in California.”

Again, he fought the urge to defend himself. “I sense a ‘but’.”

“But I was wrong to be worried. I’m glad I kept my damn fool mouth shut and let this play out between you two without my interference. You’re a good man and the best thing that’s happened to her since she moved to Sundance. You two need a chance to…bond or whatever.”

“Trust me, Ginger’s mornin’ sickness is proof of how well she and I have already bonded,” Kane said dryly.

The corners of Dash’s mouth twitched.

“What about Hayden? He’s always spent so much time with you. Doesn’t your grandson get his say about how this move will affect him?”

Sadness flickered in Dash’s eyes. “That boy can come and see me a couple of times a week. Besides, you’ll need time to build a father bond with Hayden.”

“What about the father bond you’ve finally built with Ginger?” Kane countered. “You just gonna throw that away?”

“Never.” Dash placed his gnarled hands on his knees. “But be honest, wouldn’t it be better if I wasn’t there?”

-- Advertisement --