Judy Duarte.

His, Hers and...Theirs?

They probably had a few staples she could use, like flour, sugar and salt, but she doubted theyd have everything she would need. So after gathering a few items she had in her fridge and cupboards, she packed a box and carried it out to her car. Next she climbed behind the wheel, backed out of her driveway and headed for the ranch.

She wasnt sure what shed do with the kids once she got there, but shed think of something. Her few, precious childhood memories were of the time she spent in her abuelitas kitchen, where they made homemade tortillas.

As she left Brighton Valley city limits, an idea came to mind. Maybe she ought to make cookies with the kids. Assuming that Dan wouldnt be prepared with vanilla or brown sugar, she stopped at a little mom-and-pop market along the way. On the back of a package of chocolate chips, she found a cookie recipe, and she was set.

It was late in the morning when she finally arrived at Dans place. One of the Queensland Heelers, although she wasnt sure which one, seemed to recognize her as a friend rather than a foe on this visit, hardly barking at all.

Hey, doggie, she said, as she got out of the car. Remember me?

It certainly seemed to.

She hadnt taken two steps when the kids rushed out of the house, greeting her with happy smiles and chatter.

About that time, Dan stepped onto the porch wearing a blue plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, revealing the muscular forearms of a man who worked the land. He also had on a pair of worn denim jeans and scuffed bootsnothing fancybut he was certainly a sight for sore eyes.

Ever since heading home last Sunday afternoon, shed had repeated visions of the manand she wasnt always dreaming when he came to mind. But today, in the flesh, she found him more attractive than ever.

Here, he said, closing the distance between them. Let me take your bag.

Im afraid Ive got more than just this to haul in. She clicked the remote on her key ring and popped open the trunk, which was full of groceries.

You didnt need to bring food, he said. Ive got plenty. And what we dont have, Ill buy.

I know, but I wasnt sure what you had in your pantry. And since Im determined to make dinner tonight, I wanted to make sure I had all the ingredients. I hope you like Mexican food.

He brightened like a kid whod been offered an early birthday present. I love it.

As he reached into the trunk to lift the box, she noticed the edge of a bandage on his forearm.

What happened? she asked, pointing to the gauze.

This? He glanced down at his arm, then shrugged it off. I got snagged by a nail in the barn. Its no big deal.

Are you sure? It must have been bad enough to warrant first aid.

He gave her a dont-worry-about-it grin, then lifted the box of groceries and closed her trunk.

Eva grabbed her purse from the front passenger seat of the car, pushed the lock button on the remote, then followed him to the porch, where two potted geraniums flanked the steps.

The wood slats creaked all the way to the front door, and they entered the house with the kids on their heels.

I appreciate your help, Dan said, especially today.

Ive got a lot of work to do and cant spare Manuel to help me. Hes got to stick close to the barn this morning.

Yeah, Kevin said. Thats because Sugar is going to have a baby, just like Jill.

Not just like Jill, his sister corrected. Sugars baby is going to be a horse, and Jill had puppies.

Kevin nodded. Well take you to see them. Come on.

Just a minute, Eva said. I need to put away the perishable items in the fridge first.

Whats that? Kevin asked.

Before she could explain to the kids, Dan excused himself and headed through the service porch and out the back door.

Eva couldnt help but watch him go, with that long, lean cowboy swagger of his. Nor could she help missing his presence. He might think she was a pro at dealing with children, but she knew better.

Can I help you cook lunch? Kaylee asked.

Me, too? Kevin chimed in.

Back to work, she thought, tearing her gaze away from the handsome cowboy and offering the children a smile. Sure, you can help.

Kaylee pulled a chair from the table and dragged it to the counter. What are we going to do first?

Ill tell you what, Eva said. As soon as I get the beans going, we can make chocolate chip cookies for dessert. How would you like that?

Kevin let out a little whoop for joy, and Kaylee seconded his opinion with a clap of her hands.

After shed settled into the kitchen, Eva opened the pantry to see if the men did, indeed, have the staples shed needand they didnt.



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