Chapter One

 

HOSS MCMASTERS stared at his coffeemaker as if the damn thing was a snake that just bit him. Dirty water dripped from the counter, a sludge of coffee grounds making its own private waterfall on the way to his brand-new ceramic tile. He didn’t ask a hell of a lot from life, really—enough eight-second rides to keep his happy ass in entry fees, decent prices at the cattle auction, a lack of hoof-and-mouth disease, a truck that ran, and a goddamn coffeemaker that delivered a hot pot when he got his ass out of bed at the crack of dawn. That was it.

He glared at the offending Mr. Coffee and considered just picking the evil bitch up and throwing it against the wall. Of course, he’d just painted three months ago and Folgers left a stain, and God knew, Momma would ask him what this coffeepot ever did to him and…. Shit.

He grabbed a towel and started mopping up.

Life just wasn’t fair to cowboys.

He tossed all the grounds into the trash, then grabbed eggs out of the fridge. He turned around to pull the bread out of the bread box and damned near killed himself tripping on Joanie, his Australian shepherd.

“Christ! You need a bell, baby girl.” She’d been mute since birth, something about her vocal cords being crossed or something, and she’d never learned to make a boisterous noise.

She nudged him hard with her nose and went to the back door. Which had a doggie door. “Not time for ball yet, honey.”

She shot him this look that he swore said, “Look, ass hat, go to the fucking back door or I will eat your good boots.”

So he went.

Who was he to argue with the damn dog? She was like Lassie or something. Always telling him what to do.

Hoss opened the door and peered out. “No one here.”

One fuzzy brown eyebrow went up, and Joanie did her pointer impersonation, which was when Hoss caught sight of this… thing on his porch.

Like a basket deal. A plastic yellow basket deal.

A plastic yellow basket deal with a wriggling, not plastic, more-pink-than-yellow critter in it.

Maybe less of a critter than a baby. A wee baby.

“Well, fuck me sideways.”

Joanie just stared.

“Is that a baby?” He leaned down and reached in, and the wail that let out was absolutely 100 percent without a doubt a baby. “Huh.”

He straightened up and looked for a truck. A car. Hell, at this point he’d accept a stork or a cabbage patch on his property, but he had nothing.

“Someone forget a baby?”

The baby screamed.

Joanie sat down and scratched the back of her neck.

Hoss sighed. All this without coffee. He bent down and pulled the soft blanket back, staring at the poor, hungry-looking kid. “Well, honey, we’d best call the sheriff. I can take horses and cows and the occasional donkey, but this has to be illegal.”

Still, the sun couldn’t be good for babies, could it? He reckoned to bring the little thing inside in the shade until someone came to fetch it. Someone official. He wasn’t just going to hand the baby over to any random stranger who came calling like it was a puppy on Craigslist.

Hoss hoisted up the basket, which had another B name he couldn’t remember. Basset? Bassist? The wails stopped, the wee one hiccupping a bit, and his ears thanked all that was holy. “Bassinet? Maybe? Although those may be them things from the cover of Rosemary’s Baby, the devil baby bed. If you’re a devil baby, you oughta know my dog bites.”

Joanie sat down next to the chair he put the basket on and peered into it, wagging gently.

“Yeah, yeah, don’t make me a liar so fast, J.” He dug out his phone. He had the nonemergency number in there, just in case he had to report trespassing or something. Question was, did he have it under S for sheriff, D for Dunny, or P for Pooter?

“Shit. Maybe I ought to call 911.” Was this an emergency? Ah, there. Pooter it was. He dialed the man’s personal cell, figuring that was a good compromise.

“Dunny.”

“Pooter? It’s Hoss McMasters. I got me a problem, and I don’t know exactly what to do about it.”

“Hey, Hoss. I was about to head to Glenda’s for breakfast. Come on.”

“Well, I’d like to, but you see, someone done left a baby here.”

“A baby what?”

“Like a baby baby. Like a little person with no teeth baby.”

On cue, the baby in question started screaming, and he heard Pooter sucking his teeth. “Well, I’ll be. No shit? Whose baby is it?”

“I ain’t got the foggiest. You got someone who lost one? Maybe thought they’d left one on the wrong porch?”

“No…. Ought you should come on, Hoss, and meet me up to the clinic. Doc Simpson’s on call. He likes babies.”

“Right. Okay, I can do that.” He wasn’t sure what the clinic could do, but the baby did look hungry. “I’ll meet you there in twenty.”

“Good deal.”

He looked down at the little one and frowned. “Well, now. Let’s go get you dropped off, huh? With someone who knows how to make it better.” He knew what to do for calves and kids and foals, but for human babies? No, Hoss was at a loss there.

Speaking of at a loss…. How the hell was he going to tie this chair into the truck? Maybe he ought to call his momma. She had to know someone with a car seat.

He dialed her number, not wanting to hurt the baby with a bad case of stupid.

“Hey, Little Wyatt, how’s it going?”

Right on cue, the baby started screaming.

“Are you castrating cats? If you are, it’s not a good time to call your momma.”

“Someone left a baby on the porch.” Castrating cats at home wasn’t on his to-do list, dammit.

“What?”

“Someone left a baby on the porch. I called Pooter. He said take it to Doc Simpson.”

“You mean a human baby?” Her voice rose with disbelief.

“Uh-huh. Like a little young person with no teeth.” Why was this so fucking hard to understand? Was it the he was queer thing? He wasn’t sure Pooter thought on that, even if Momma did.

“Well, shit. I’ll be right there. I’ll grab Krista’s old car seat out of the storage shed. Your Aunt Maybell left it. Do you need diapers?”

“I don’t know! I ain’t undressing it!” What if someone thought he’d hurt the little thing?

“Wyatt Earp McMasters the Third. You see if that baby is wet. And if it’s a boy or a girl. I will be there in ten.”

Oh man. Oh man. “Uh. Momma says I should see if you’re wet.” Obviously that needed a wet rag and a dry rag and…. “Did they leave you with anything? Diapers or a bottle?”

He leaned toward the basket and reached for the baby, who reached right back, its face just beet red.

“You are not happy, huh? I don’t blame you. It would totally piss me off to be dumped on some random cowboy. I mean, seriously.”

He hoisted… her? She was dressed in pink under the yellow blanket, so he would guess so. Hoss pulled her up and cradled her against his shoulder.

She sobbed, and the sound just got to him, made him frown. “Oh, baby girl. I know. We’ll get you to the clinic, and then Pooter will find your momma.”

God knew she needed to eat, and her butt was wet as a dishrag. God love her, he hoped his momma brought diapers.

Maybe he could use one of the soft dishtowels. Not to feed her, to cover her bits. Just to get her dry. All that wet could cause a rash, right? Damn, her little outfit had to be clammy too.

“Okay, darlin’. Let’s get you all warm and dry.”

He had towels. He’d just put the yucky clothes in a… oh, a Ziploc bag! That would preserve hairs and shit from the mom, and then Pooter could… do CSI stuff between breakfast and his coffee run….

“You poor thing.”

She’d stopped screaming and was chewing her baby fist, staring at him as he talked to her. His voice seemed to calm her, so he muttered on.

He cleaned her up and wrapped her bottom half up in a dishtowel and a gallon Ziploc baggie, then used a soft T-shirt wrapped around the rest of her.

That would do ’til Momma showed up.

Her little mouth made sucking motions, and he thought about what he could… maybe another cloth dipped in a little milk. He had half-and-half. Did that count?

He had nipples for the calves, the goats, but her mouth was way smaller. He hadn’t had to bottle-feed a dog in a long, long time, so those would be dry-rotted. Oh, he had the droppers somewhere, from when he fed those baby rabbits.

“Let’s go look in the mudroom, little one.” He bounced her just a little when he walked her to the mudroom, and the crunch of his mom’s tires on gravel sounded outside. Hallelujah. “Ah, there’s our savior. Savioress? Saviorette? There’s my momma. She’s a champ, and she loves babies.”

“Son? Little Wyatt? You in here?”

“Can’t you call me Trey like Daddy does, Momma?” He walked back into the kitchen and held out the baby.

“Is that a baggie? Good Lord, boy, are you stupid?” She took the wee thing and tucked her into her arm like a champ.

“Well, the last time I needed a diaper….”

“Do not talk back to me, young man.”

“I’m not. I wasn’t.” He rolled his eyes. “She was so wet.”

“She, huh? What’s her name?”

“There wasn’t a note or nothing. Just this basket and a baby.” Wasn’t there supposed to be a “Kind stranger, please care for my young one. Asshole mother” note pinned to the baby’s front?

“She’s the spitting image of you when you were wee.”

“All babies look alike, Momma.”

“They do not.” His momma took the baby back to the kitchen table. “Get that bag I brought out of the truck?”

“Sure. I don’t suppose you brought coffee?”

“What?”

“Nevermind.” He just needed to figure out what the hell happened to his coffeemaker. He brought the flowerdy shopping bag over and handed it to her.

Momma popped the baby’s diaper on, then dressed her in a union suit–looking thing that was way too big for her. “I have a car seat, but we should take your truck. Mine is full of shit for the rummage sale.”

“Sure. Come on. She probably needs to eat and get checked out.”

“She does.” Momma pursed her lips. “Oh, who would do this? And why you?”

“You mean you didn’t have it hired done?” he teased, knowing better. He just shrugged and shut the door behind him. “I don’t know. I sure didn’t hear nothin’, you know? Joanie’s the one that let me know.”

“Huh.” Momma led the way outside. “Get that car seat out of my truck.”

“Yes, Momma.” Bossy wonderful old woman. Hoss grabbed an older car seat from the bed of her truck before buckling it into the backseat of his king cab. “I’ll grab some towels. This is too big for her.”

“Good deal. Make sure you grab your wallet and your phone charger.”

“My charger?”

Momma looked at him like he was a newborn fool. “In case it takes a while?”

“I’m just dropping her off, Momma.”

“We are not going to just leave this poor baby with social services.” Momma’s chin set.

“Will we even have a choice?” Weren’t there laws or something?

“We will if I have anything to say about it. Pooter is terrified of me. Now, come on!”

“Yes, Momma. Okay. Sure.” Get the car seat and his damn car charger. He had his wallet. Did he have boots? He glanced down. No. He had slippers. “Be right back.”

On the way inside, he grabbed his phone and dialed his best buddy, Bradley Germaine.

“Yo, buddy. S’up?”

“Hey, Bradley. Can you feed for me this morning?” He tugged one boot on, hopping as he went.

“Sure. You okay?” Bradley sounded worried.

“Someone left a baby on the porch.” He kept saying that, and it kept not making sense.

“What? What kind of baby?”

“A girl one.”

“No, I mean, what species. Dork.”

“People. Someone left her on the porch like a damn package.”

“No shit?” Now Bradley was working up a good mad. “Jesus, what kind of asshole does that?”

“You got me. I called Pooter and Momma.”

“Did you get lost in there, boy?”

“Be right there, dammit!” God, he was trying, but it was hard to get the boot on and talk on the phone.

“Don’t you cuss at me!” His momma could shout.

“I’ll feed. You need some help, man? At the clinic?”

“I… shit, I don’t know. I ain’t never had this happen before, have you?” Lord knew Bradley’d fucked more women than he had, given that his number was none.

“No. I mean, I had more chance of it, once upon a time.”

Yeah, Bradley had been on a long dry spell.

“Well, this is the first—and last, please God—baby that’ll be dropped off like this. It ain’t nice.”

“No. No, it’s not. I’ll come feed, then maybe meet you for lunch if you’re done in town?” Bradley asked.

“Sounds good. I’ll holler after a bit.”

“Cool. Take pictures so I can see the baby,” Bradley said before he hung up.

Weirdo.

Hoss grabbed the charger and shit, and between him and Momma, they got the baby set up. Then he headed to town and their wee little clinic.

Momma chattered at the baby all the way. “You need a name. I don’t want to give it to you, though, because what if you have one and it’s not what I call you?”

The little one muttered and cooed, just making the weirdest noises, like she knew what Momma was saying.

“You know she has no idea what you mean, right?” He grinned at her in the rearview.

“All that matters is that she knows the tone of my voice, honey. She’s got to be so scared.”

“I know. This is the shittiest thing ever.” He kept his tone even, thinking about what his momma had just said, but the more Hoss thought about the whole situation, the more furious he was on the wee kiddo’s behalf.

This wasn’t cool. Shit marthy, this was a giant clusterfuck.

“It is, but she’s with friends now, son.”

“I reckon. Doc Simpson will be able to get with Pooter, decide what to do with her, find her momma.” What if the momma was hurt or carjacked or some shit? It wasn’t like he lived right off the highway or nothing. No one would just sneak a baby in because his land was convenient. Shit, he’d bought the least accessible ranch he could because he didn’t want to worry about cars and cows and lawsuits. He’d seen what happened when a Holstein met a Trans Am. That was a damn nightmare.

“I bet her momma doesn’t want to be found, son.”

He didn’t know what to say about that, because which one was worse? He just rolled his shoulders, something tickling at the back of his mind like a weird little feather. Hoss didn’t have time to be tickled, so he shrugged it off. “Well, we’ll help her.”

Momma nodded, lips held tight together. “I texted your daddy. He’s in Luckenbach looking at goats with your uncle Eazee.”

“Oh good Lord and butter.” Uncle Eazee was Daddy’s oldest friend and the biggest source of temptation in Daddy’s whole world. “What does he want goats for?”

“He’s decided to start a cheese-making company.” Momma managed to get the words out without snarling. He was impressed.

“No shit? Well, at least it’s not meat goats. I know how you feel about cabrito.”

“Yes. Baby goats are not for eating, period.” Momma hadn’t grown up here in the sticks, and sometimes it showed she was from Texarkana. She put up with Daddy’s people to a point. No peeing off the porch. No goats for meat. Definitely no squirrels in the freezer.

He couldn’t say the same for his mudroom. A man needed something to bait the coyotes with, right? He did have a separate wee freezer for weird roadkill and stuff for Joanie and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Weezer, who actually lived one farm over.

“Are you listening to me, son?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Not a chance.

“Well, you’re about to miss your turn.”

“Oh, for—” She accused him of driving like someone from New Mexico all the time, forgetting to use his turn signal. They’d gone to Ruidoso every year for a vacation in August, the mountains cooling down while Texas boiled.

Oh. Ruidoso. He was already ready, and it was just April.

“You’re grinning like a monkey,” his mom accused.

“Mmm. Ruidoso.” He turned off to Doc Simpson’s makeshift clinic.

“I know, right? I’m ready too. A whole three weeks of relaxing.”

“Lucky retired woman.” Still, the ten days he took wasn’t nothing to sneeze at. “Here we are. Man, Doc is busy today.”

“Yeah. Pooter’s here. You just go in real quiet and see if there’s a way to get the baby in through the back.” When he shot her a curious glance, Momma shrugged. “I don’t want her having a bunch of sick people panting on her ’cause she’s new. She could catch anything at her age.”

“Oh.” Oh, ew. Good to know. Poor kid was half-starved as it was. God knew, they paid dear for colostrum for calves; he couldn’t imagine how pricey that shit was for human folks.

Maybe they could just…. Just what? Babies had a whole aisle for milk at the grocery. They’d just make up a bottle, and it would be done. Doc would know what to do.

Hell, Doc might have delivered this tiny person. That would make everything so much easier if Doc knew who belonged to who.

“I’ll be right back.” He headed into the clinic and went right up to Trudy at the front desk. “Pooter come in yet?”

“Yeah, honey. Doc says to drive around the back and he’ll open the door.”

“Thanks.” He gave her a genuine smile, relieved that he hadn’t had to explain. He felt all discombobulated without his damned coffee.

He didn’t explain; he just pulled the GMC around to the back, where Pooter’s cruiser was waiting. Doc Simpson opened the door, and Momma grabbed the baby up.

They hustled the kid inside like they were bank robbers or camera-shy celebrities, and Doc grinned. “Okay, what have we got?”

“Someone left this on my porch, Doc. Just left her right there.”

Doc unwrapped the blanket Momma had put around the baby and peered at her little face. “Well, damn. I don’t know her. I reckon that’s good and bad.”

She began to scream as Doc unwrapped her, bared her little body so he could examine her. The noise went right to the center of Hoss’s noncaffeinated brain and echoed.

He winced. “I’ll wait out back.”

“You will not. This baby was dropped on your porch. Right now this is your responsibility.”

“Momma!”

“Wyatt McMasters!”

He rolled his eyes but stayed while Doc and Pooter did their best not to grin.

“Don’t you roll your eyes at me, boy. I’ll pick them up and roll them right back.”

“Yes, ma’am. So what do we do?” Hoss asked.

“Talk to her, son. She’s scared.”

“I reckon she’s hungry, Momma. Do y’all have something to feed her?”

Doc nodded. “I do. Let me get a bottle in the works, and then I’ll give her a blood test and such.”

Oh, that sounded vaguely shitty. No one wanted to be poked. “Lord, poke her real quick and then feed her so there’s good at the end at least.”

“I want a urine sample too, Vicki.”

Hoss stared at Vicki. They’d gone to high school together, back in the day, and she didn’t stand on ceremony. “How you gonna get her to pee in a cup, Vick?”

With cattle you just stood back there and waited with a bucket.

Vicki snorted. “Peeing with babies is not a problem. It will happen soon.” She got out some kind of baggie and some nonlatex medical tape.

“That ain’t right.” In fact, that was just wrong.

“Well, it’s less invasive than some things we could do.”

Oh, now. He hurt for the wee one. Man, he wanted some coffee.

The little gal was just pissed and getting pissier, and he stepped forward, putting a hand on her teeny head. “Hey. Hey, honey. You’re okay.”

She snuffled, but sure enough, she stopped crying. Everyone else stopped what they were doing for long moments to stare at him too.

“Whut? I just…. She was crying.”

“Nothing.” Vicki taped on the bag, and he sure hoped little girl peed soon.

“So tell me about this whole thing, Hoss. You didn’t hear nothing this morning? You been sleeping hard?” Pooter looked at him like a goat looking at a new fence.

No, he’d been drinking a few beers with Bradley and had gone down to bed like a lead balloon. His momma wouldn’t approve of that, so he just shrugged. “Put in a long day. Joanie took me to her. I saved her clothes in a baggie and all. The bassinette thingee too.”

“It’s a carrier, son.”

“Whatever. That deal. I brought it. You want it?”

“I do.” Pooter nodded. “Might as well collect evidence. Doc, you got this?”

“You know how many babies I’ve seen?” the old man grumbled.

“Come on, man. I’ll show you.” He tugged Pooter out. “I swear to God, Pooter, if I don’t get a fucking cup of joe….”

“You and me both, Hoss. Christ, I told you I was on the way to breakfast.” Pooter sighed, staring at his truck. “Let’s lock up the evidence and take the cruiser to the drive-thru.”

“Yeah? We’ll grab Momma something fancy, and she’ll forgive us.”

“Hell, I’ll even spring for Doc and Vicki.”

Marnie Levine had put in a permanent food truck last spring that did espresso drinks and drip coffee along with doughnuts she brought in from somewhere every morning. She was making a killing at it.

Her husband, Bump, said it saved their marriage and their teenaged son’s life.

They climbed into the cop car, which made Hoss feel a little like a TV hero. “You heard anything about someone having a baby, Pooter?”

“Not since Annie Greshim’s girl had a baby in Dallas.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“That means she had to come from somewhere else. Why didn’t she leave a note? Assuming it was the mom.”

Pooter shrugged as he pulled out of the parking lot. “Shit if I know, Hoss. Maybe she didn’t reckon to be found.”

“Well, duh.” Still, that seemed low. Was it someone he knew? Someone who thought he’d take care of her?

He knew a lot of folks through the rodeo who had nothing to do with Talco, Texas. Maybe he needed to make some calls.

Did he know any barrel racers who had been knocked up recently? He didn’t think so, and most of those girls wouldn’t know his name since he didn’t flirt or train horses. He didn’t remember anyone telling him they’d gotten a girl preggers.

“You fall asleep on me?” Pooter asked, pulling into Java Junction.

“No, sir. Just woolgathering.” Just trying to figure out what was what.

“Well, what do you want for your momma?”

“That super caramel latte deal. I just want a cup of coffee. Oh, and a couple of them doughnuts.”

“Chocolate or cinnamon sugar?”

“One of each and we’ll let Momma choose.” He was completely willing to suck up to keep her from hollering at him. Totally.

“Got it.” Pooter ordered three drip coffees with room for cream and sugar, two super caramel lattes, and a dozen mixed doughnuts.

“I got Elgin sausage kolaches today,” Marnie said.

“Oh God, give us four of those too.” Pooter glanced sideways at him. “We’ll eat those on the way back.”

“You’re a good man. I don’t care what they say about you down to the jail.” He handed over a twenty, and Pooter waved it away.

“Official sheriffing business, you know.”

Ah, coffee on the county. He understood that. Might as well take advantage of it while he could. “Sorry I dragged you away from breakfast.”

“You can buy next week, buddy.”

“I can totally do that.” Hoss chuckled. “Better yet, we’ll con Bradley into it.”

“Shit, you been conning that sumbitch into things since y’all was little.”

Hoss rolled his eyes and took the doughnuts and balanced them on his lap. Right. They’d all grown up together—the three of them had been like the Lil Rascals, for God’s sake. “Like your skanky ass wasn’t in on the trouble. Who was it that hotwired the truck down to the dump?”

“Not me.” Pooter winked over before getting them moving again.

“Uh-huh. Right. I remember.”

“Nope. You were drunk off your ass.” Pooter sighed. “You got any idea where this baby came from, Hoss?”

“I don’t. I mean, I swear to God and on your granny’s grave. I don’t even know any pregnant gals.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

He took a deep drink of his coffee, letting it burn all the way down into his gut. “How did somebody decide to leave her on the porch, man? How did they pick my porch? I’m not right off the road.”

“Well, that’s why I think it’s someone you know, bud. These things are rarely random.”

Hoss batted his lashes at Pooter. “Lord, it’s sexy when you get all law enforcement.”

“I will not hesitate to beat you into a pulp, boy.”

“Promises, promises.”

They looked at each other and hooted like giant idiot owls. Yeah, they’d jacked off once or twice as kids, but Pooter wasn’t into it, and once he’d lost enough baby fat to hook the homecoming queen, that man had dived in and never surfaced from Claire Ann’s prodigious cleavage.

Hoss could only wish that meant more dick for him. Sadly, he rarely got in touch with anyone’s but his own.

“Yeah, yeah. So, not yours. You mind if I come out and look around?”

“You know you’re always welcome. Shit, I don’t even lock my doors.” He didn’t have to. No one ever came out to his place unless they meant to. A shiver worked down his spine. “Poor baby.”

“Yeah. Well, I guess we ought to see what Doc says, huh? See if we need to drive her to Sulphur Springs or Texarkana or what?”

Hoss frowned. That seemed like a lot of trouble for a baby they would no doubt find family for. Taking her to one of those places meant social services, and then who knew what would happen to her. Still, this was way above his pay grade, wasn’t it?

He was a cowboy without a wife. Babies didn’t just show up on porches.

“We’ll see,” Hoss finally said. They were silent the rest of the way back to Doc’s, munching their kolaches. Man, Pooter could really eat in a car, not a drop of oil on that uniform shirt.

They brought their goodies in through the back, finding Momma alone with the little one, the baby sucking hard on the nipple of the bottle.

“Hey, Momma. Brought you caramel latte and doughnuts.” He held up the bag. “What did Doc say?”

“She’s happy and healthy and perfectly sound. No diseases, no bruises—she’s just a beautiful little baby girl.”

“Well, good.” He leaned against the wall and finished his coffee. “What on earth happens next?”

“We’re taking her home and buying her some cooler clothes. This onesie is too damn warm.”

“We’re….” He hadn’t heard that right, had he? “You’re fixin’ to take on a baby to raise, Momma? Y’all have a cruise leaving off from Galveston in a couple days.”

Her lips firmed up in that way that told him he was about to get blasted. “No. We’re keeping her until Doc runs some tests. I am not sending this baby to social services and have her spend weeks with someone who volunteers to keep children just to get a paycheck.”

“But….”

“Son.”

“That would give me a chance to find out if there’s some little gal in trouble, Miz McMasters. If we can handle this without the state, it’s better for all concerned.” Pooter was not helping.

“You gonna come change diapers, Pooter?” Hoss snapped. “What am I supposed to do when you leave, Momma? I can’t not work.”

“We’ll figure it out. We will. I don’t leave for four days. I bet Pooter has this thing figured out before that.” Momma stood up and handed him the little one and the bottle. “I have to pee, son. Feed this girl.”

He looked to Pooter as she sashayed out, but Sheriff Asshole Coward just put his hands up. “No way. I didn’t feed Vivian. I ain’t feeding yours.”

“Not mine,” he growled. Still, he put the nipple in her baby mouth, and she latched right on, pulling like a fiend. Easier than feeding a calf, when it came right down to it.

By the time Momma came back with Vicki and they had coffee and doughnuts, he had her all fed and burped, ready to take a wee nap.

Doc Simpson came in, shut the door behind him, and sighed. “So what’s the plan, men?”

Hoss blinked over, feeling just about gobsmacked. “Uh….”

Momma squared her shoulders. “Pooter is going to look into who might have left her. You said you could run a DNA test. Hoss and I will care for her until we know more. Just a few days,” she said, smiling at him in a way he knew she meant as soothing. She looked like a barracuda.

“Works for me, y’all. I bet some little gal just panicked. She’s only a few weeks old—if she was trying to hide her, it was fixin’ to get harder, huh?”

“Why?” Hoss thought maybe he was stoned. Someone had slipped him some ecstasy once and it was kinda like this. Well, less baby and Momma and more sexy and sparkles, but the end result was basically the same. He was confused and everyone was pissed off at him.

“The noise, son.” Doc Simpson rolled his eyes, huge white eyebrows flapping like an owl’s wings. “She’s gonna start making more noise.”

Hoss frowned. “How much noise? I mean, my dog don’t even bark.”

“Now, Hoss.” Vicki rolled her eyes at him. “You just take care of her until we find her momma.”

“Stop acting like I’m being unreasonable, all y’all.” Hoss bounced the baby when she fussed a little. Then he lowered his voice. “She’s not mine. I feel bad for her, but it’s not like I have a responsibility here.”

“Pardon me?” Oh shit. “You are my son and a Christian man, and do you think for a second that Jesus Christ would approve of you deserting an innocent babe in her time of need?”

There was no arguing with Momma when she invoked Jesus. None. He knew this from years of trying.

Worse, not only did he know, but so did Doc Simpson and Pooter both. Fuckers.

So Hoss bit back his urge to ask what Jesus had done for him lately and nodded. “I reckon I can get Bradley to help with her while you’re gone, Momma. But we got to work hard to find her place.”

“Sure, man. Sure. You need for me to have some of the church ladies bring a crib and all, Miz McMasters?” He was going to rack Pooter so hard the man sang soprano.

“I have a bunch in storage. Thank you, though. Come on, son. Let’s take the little miss home.”

“I promised to meet Bradley in town.” He held up a hand when Momma opened her mouth to protest. “If I’m gonna ask him to help, I need to break it to him easy. You know how he is.”

“You mean dumb as a box of hammers?”

“Momma.”

“Sharp as a bag of wet mice?”

“You’re not funny.” She was a little funny, but Bradley was his bud, for fuck’s sake.

“I’ll take y’all to the house, ma’am. You might ought to text your son with what all you need from the Walmart, since he’ll have to make a run.”

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” Hoss murmured. Pooter had just earned the beer Hoss bought him once a week. “Pooter has to go look for footprints and sh—stuff, anyway.” He felt weird cursing in front of the baby.

Little Bit sighed and then passed gas, long and loud enough to be a Teamster.

“Holy shit.” Hoss laughed. “Did you get her pee bag, Vicki?”

“We did and diapered her all up.” Vicki leaned over and shook her head, frosted hair all stiff and sticky, one finger beeping the tiny baby nose. “Silly baby.”

He nodded. “She’s got great motion in her guts. No colic.”

“Freak.” Vicki shook her head at him. “You know all about cows and horses but not humans.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Hoss handed over the baby to Momma before he shook hands with Doc and Pooter. “Y’all keep me in the loop. I’ll go meet up with Bradley and do some shopping.”

Maybe by the time he got back from town, they’d have found the momma of this little one.

That would be the best situation all around, right? A baby needed its momma. Not some single, gay cowboy who didn’t know the first thing about little girls.