He didn’t say, “Mama lied,” though the words were on the tip of his tongue. “Maybe she misunderstood. I’ll always want you.” Right now wasn’t the time to bash Sylvie or let the reality of what they still had to deal with—custody—into the situation. Now was the time for him to just hold and love his little girl.
“Are we gonna go home?” she asked.
“Yeah, soon.” He smiled at her, feeling the warmth of her grin wash over him.
“Welcome to our home.” A slim, young woman moved along the table, filling water glasses from a pitcher. “I’m Emily Hawkins.” She extended her hand to him, and he took it, surprised at the strength in her handshake. “It’s been nice having Brooke visit us.”
Her eyes were astute and never wavered as she looked at him. Moving away, she sidled up next to Wyatt and got a brief kiss for her efforts. The cowboy was a lucky man, if the love shining in her eyes was any indication. Morgan glanced at Tara, not sure what to think.
“Thanks for having us,” Morgan said to the entire room, his voice quickly drowned by the chaos of the crowd. The mounds of food soon disappeared, leaving empty plates behind. This had to be where Tara had learned to cook.
Finally, Wyatt and his men prepared to get back to work, gathering at the door. A young cowboy stuck his head around the corner. “Hey, Boss. Dutch is back.” A puzzled look passed between the ranch owner and his wife. Morgan glanced at Tara, who’d kept her distance through the meal and was now sitting quietly beside her brother on the other side of the table. Her face paled and she clasped her hands together.
“Who’s Dutch?” Morgan asked Tara, not sure if he was butting into family business.
“The sheriff,” Wade volunteered from the counter where he was helping the cook—whose name Morgan had learned was Juanita, and who was married to the ranch’s foreman. “Maybe he’s got news about the diner.”
Morgan had nearly forgotten about the diner, his truck, the flooding—all of it had vanished as soon as he’d seen Brooke. The sadness in Tara’s eyes brought it all slamming back.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” an older, burly man with a badge on his chest said from the doorway.
Morgan barely had time to register that before Sylvie burst into the room.
“There you are,” Sylvie said, strutting to where Brooke stood hugging Morgan’s side. “Come on, Brooke, it’s time to go.”
Brooke only pushed closer to Morgan, hiding her face against his leg. “Don’t wanna.”
That’s when Sylvie did what Morgan had feared she’d do earlier. Her temper flashed in her eyes as she rounded on him. “What did you say to her?” She turned to the sheriff. “Arrest him, Sheriff.”
“Uh, ma’am, why exactly would I do that?”
“He took my daughter and put her at risk.” Sylvie reached for Brooke’s arm. “Come on, Brooke.”
“No!” the little girl cried and tried to pull away from Sylvie’s hold.
“That’s enough, Sylvie.” Morgan’s hands were fisted at his side, but he relaxed enough to put his arm around Brooke’s shoulders. “You’ve traumatized her enough.”
“Traumatized? See?” Again, she turned to the sheriff. “This is why you need to arrest him. I realize this is the boonies, but surely you know how to arrest someone.”
Brooke’s sob broke the quiet of the room, and Morgan bent to lift her into his arms. She snuggled against his shoulder, reminding him of when she’d been a baby and he’d walked the floor to soothe her to sleep. The idea of Sylvie being able to take her again was like a knife in his gut. He couldn’t let her go.
“Now, ma’am, let’s calm down here.” Dutch stepped forward, nearly in between them. “Wyatt, you got someplace private we can all go for a chat?”
Wyatt nodded. “You can use the den. Follow me.” Wyatt led the way into a room with a fireplace and a bar that covered an entire wall. On the opposite end of the room, a large, wooden desk sat in front of a picture window that overlooked half the county. It was beautiful.