Judy Duarte.

His, Hers and...Theirs?






Theyre great kids, Eva said. And Ive grown close to them, too.

Im not surprised. Youre a natural mother.

Her eyes brightened, and her cheeks flushed a pretty shade of pink. Thank you so much for saying that. Ive been worried about the kind of mom Ill be.

Youll be the best. Theres no doubt in my mind.

They stood just an arms length from each other.

A wave of desire washed over Dan, and he was sorely tempted to reach out and touch her, to run his knuckles along her cheek.

Her lips partedhalf in surprise and half in arousal. But she wasnt the only one whose thoughts had taken a sexual turn.

He wanted to kiss her again in the worst way. And in her eyes he could see that she wanted it, too.

Dear Reader,

Its summer in Brighton Valley, Texas, the fictional town where His, Hers andTheirs? takes place. The sun is warm, and the days are lazy.

Its the perfect time for love, especially for a shy laboratory technologist who is pregnantwith twins!and a rancher who has recently become the guardian to twins of his own.

I dont know about you, but I enjoy books with medical professionals and hospital settings almost as much as I do books with cowboys and ranches. So writing the BRIGHTON VALLEY MEDICAL CENTER series has allowed me to create stories with all my favorite elements.

So whether your summer reading takes you to the front porch, the seashore or a faraway place, I hope you enjoy Dan and Evas romantic journey as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy reading!

Judy

P.S. If you want to know more about me and the books I write, please visit my Web site, www.JudyDuarte.com.

His, Hers andTheirs?
Judy Duarte


www.millsandboon.co.uk

JUDY DUARTE

always knew there was a book inside her, but since English was her least favorite subject in school, she never considered herself a writer. An avid reader who enjoys a happy ending, Judy couldnt shake the dream of creating a book of her own.

Her dream became a reality in March of 2002, when Silhouette Special Edition released her first book, Cowboy Courage. Since then, she has published more than twenty novels.

Her stories have touched the hearts of readers around the world. And in July of 2005, Judy won the prestigious Readers Choice Award for The Rich Mans Son.

Judy makes her home near the beach in Southern California. When shes not cooped up in her writing cave, shes spending time with her somewhat enormous but delightfully close family.

To Raema Pace, who not only gave me a personal tour of the lab at our local hospital, but also shares two grandchildren with me.

And to Emalee and Kaitlyn Colwell, who have brightened our lives and hearts.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Epilogue

Chapter One

The playground at Twin Oaks Park was jam-packed with happy kids, and Dan Walker couldnt feel any more out of place than if hed walked into a Sunday service at the Brighton Valley Community Church wearing nothing but his boots and his Stetson.

Of course, the family-style event was just what the pediatrician had ordered, and his five-year-old niece and nephew were having the time of their lives.

The grounds were hopping with mommies who wiped noses and kissed boo-boos and with daddies who played catch and flew kites.

But it had been a real shot in the dark for him to think that he would somehow pick up everything he needed to know about fatherhood by attending a Parents of Multiples outing.

When Dr. Tomlinson had suggested Dan bring Kevin and Kaylee to play at the park, hed been desperate and had thought he would give it a try. He figured it might be a good way to check things out without actually becoming a card-carrying member of the group. But being there had only made him feel less confident about doing right by the kids.

As his niece and nephew dashed around the playground, fitting right in with the sandbox crowd, Dan stood along the sidelines and watched. Too bad he hadnt decided to go the library instead. He could have checked out a copy of Parenting For Dummies or some other Daddy how-to book. Surely he would have picked up more information by reading than by osmosis at a family outing.

He supposed he ought to mosey on up to one of the real parents and ask, How in the world do you do it? Whats the trick?

But hed learned never to admit his shortcomings. In fact, if he ever thought he had a better than average chance of failing at something, he preferred to hit the high road rather than face the risk.

He chuffed at the irony, since here he was, the least capable adult in the bunch. But apparently Fate hadnt gotten that memo.

Last winter, on an icy Manhattan street, his sister, Jenny, whod been struggling to make her mark on Broadway, had been struck by a car and killed.

When Dan had gotten the call, hed been crushed. But it hadnt been the tragic loss of his twin sister that had torn him up. That had been tough enough. But what had made matters worse was that the two of them had been estranged for years, and her death meant theyd never be able to patch things up.

And then there were the kids. Jenny had been a single mom, and even though Dan had only been around Kaylee and Kevin once since theyd been born, thered been a will, and his sister had named him their guardian.

The fact that shed done that had been comforting in a sense. It meant that she hadnt completely shut him out of her life, that shed known somewhere along the line that theyd eventually mend their rift.

Of course, who else was she supposed to leave them with? Their father had been a married man, which was one of several reasons Dan and Jenny had butted heads. So, he supposed, her options had been limited.

Either way, he wasnt sure what his sister had been thinking when shed chosen him as the guardian of her children. After all, what in the hell did he know about being a parent?

At thirty-eight he was set in his ways, to say the least, and with some luck and a good deal of determination, hed managed to avoid marriage and family himself. Of course, even though wedding bells and a wife were still out, apparently single parenthood wasnt.

After the funeral, hed been prepared to take the kids back to the ranch with him in spite of all his insecurities. After all, he remembered how it felt to be young, homeless and unwanted. But it had been a stroke of luck for everyone involved when Catherine Loza, Jennys roommate, had asked to keep the kids with her in New York for a while.

Dan had been uneasy about leaving them behind, but theyd been so comfortable in a big city environment, in the fourth-floor apartment where theyd lived most of their lives. Besides, they knew Catherine much better than they knew him. So all things considered, it had seemed like the best solution for the kids.

On top of that, Catherine was a woman, and Lord knew that all kids needed a mother figure. Dan sure would have liked having one when hed been five.

So hed left Kevin and Kaylee with Catherine, called them regularly and sent monthly checks to cover their living expenses.

But several months later, Catherine got a big part in a Broadway musical and called Dan in a panic. She was looking at a grueling practice schedule followed by evening performances that would keep her out late at night. She could no longer take care of the kids, and Dan had flown back to New York and brought them home to Texas.

And now, two weeks into the whole family ordeal, he hadnt gained much confidence, which didnt sit easy with a man who was proud of the fact that he could out-rope, out-ride and out-cowboy just about anyone in Texas.

But parenting two five-year-olds? That was a whole different ball game.

Dan adjusted his Stetson, making sure the brim blocked the sun from his eyes. Then he hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his jeans and shifted his weight to one hip.

Damn, he wished he were anywhere but here today. But this wasnt about him; it was about the kids.

And right now, they were having a blast playing with the other twins and triplets, some of whom were dressed like mirror images of themselves.

But then again, why wouldnt Kaylee and Kevin be having a good time at the park? Living on a cattle ranch with the uncle they scarcely remembered and a crotchety old cowboy-turned-nanny couldnt possibly be any fun.

It was good to see them laughing and socializing, though.

Off to his right, he noticed a brunette who was also standing along the perimeter of the playground. She wore sunglasses, so he couldnt see her entire face, but her cover-girl profile and shape were intriguing.

She didnt appear to be a typical mom, although he couldnt put his finger on why hed come to that conclusion. Maybe because her purse was way too small to fit in all the things some of the other mothers packed, like little baggies filled with snacks, wet wipes and Band-Aids. Or maybe because earlier this morning shed somehow found the time to weave her long dark hair into a fancy braid that hung down her back.

She was dressed differently than the others, too, with a pink scarf that was stylishly wrapped around her neck, a crisply pressed white cotton blouse and a pair of slim-fit black jeans.

Whether she was a mom or not, he decided she was nice to look atand that she was an intriguing diversion from the hubbub and the energetic chatter that swarmed around him.

Dan had been so caught up in his perusal of the brunette that he hadnt paid much attention to the activity on the playgrounduntil a child let out a scream.

He watched the attractive woman dash across the sand toward the slide. As his gaze followed her, he realized that the screaming child was one of his.

Oh, God. His heart dropped to his gut, and his pulse kicked into overdrive as he hurried toward little Kaylee, whod gotten hurt while Dan was supposed to be looking out for her.

The sight of blood running along the side of her face and her heart-wrenching screams shook him to the core.

Did he need any more proof of his shortcomings than that? Hed been gawking at an attractive woman, rather than watching the kids play, and hed failed the kids, just as hed known he would.

Hell, he wasnt cut out to be a father, no matter what Fate seemed to think.

He dropped to his knees on the sand beside them and started to reach out to Kaylee with stiff arms, but as the brunette continued to tend to the child, he pulled back his hands and let someone more capable do the comforting.

Oh, sweetie, she said, lifting her sunglasses from her eyes and resting them atop her head. What happened?

Ifelldown, Kaylee sobbed. And I got hurt. Really bad. She lifted her little hand to her forehead to probe the gash, and as she lowered it, she spotted the blood on her fingers and let out another wail.

Its okay, the brunette said. Its just a little blood. The owie isnt very big.

Yes, it is, her brother said. And its bleeding a whole bunch. We better call the ambulance.

At her twins suggestion, Kaylee cried even louder. Still, Dan thought a 911 call was probably their best bet. He knew that even the simplest head cuts could bleed profusely, but hed much rather let a professional take charge.

The brunette made a quick scan of the playground and beyond. Wheres your mommy, honey?

Shes in heaven, Kevin said. Shes watching over us, but I guess she was busy just now.

Im their uncle, Dan admitted. This is Kaylee and Kevin.

The brunette turned to him. Im sorry. I didnt mean to interfere.

Her hazel eyes were almost amber in color, and her lashes were thick and dark, but he shook off the compulsion to study her. Dont be sorry for stepping in. Im way out of my league when it comes to this stuff.

Do you have a handkerchief? she asked.

No, I never use them. Sorry. He realized one would have come in handy about now.

She smiled, then pulled the scarf from around her neck, revealing a nasty scar that ran from the underside of her chin down to her throat and beyond. A burn of some kind, he suspected.

She held the pink cloth against Kaylees forehead, applying pressure to her wound.

Are you a doctor? Kevin asked the woman.

No.

A nurse? the boy continued.

She slowly shook her head. No, Im not.

Then probably just a mother, Dan guessed. Shed certainly taken charge like a woman whod done this a hundred times before.

I do work at the Brighton Valley Medical Center, she told Kevin, but not with patients. Im a medical technologist.

Whats that? the boy asked.

By this time, Kaylee seemed to realize that she was under the care of a professional, and even if she didnt know what a technologist actually did, her scream had softened to a whine.

Im a scientist, the brunette said. I work in the lab.

Whoa, Dan thought, realizing she was the brainy type. Hed never really known any of those. He tended to date women who were more street-smart than book-smart.

Dated? Now where had that wild-ass idea come from? If she was hanging out at the park with the Parents of Multiples, she was probably a motherand married, which meant she was off-limits, even if hed been looking. And he wasnt.

Still, his gaze slid to her left hand, which was ring-free. Not that it mattered, he supposed. His dating days were over now that the ranch house was filled with the pitter-patter of little feet.

Kaylee clung to the woman who dabbed at the wound with her scarf, permanently staining the fabric, no doubt. Hed have to buy her a new one when this was all said and done.

Are you someones mommy? Kaylee asked.

No, the woman said.

Then what was she doing at the park? Dan wondered. He almost asked but figured it might be best to bide his time and wait for one of the kids to quiz her. The two of them, especially Kevin, were certainly doing a pretty good job of interrogating her.

Thanks for stepping in to help, Dan said. Kaylee needed a womans touch.

Youre welcome. Her smile reached her eyes, turning them to the shade of Tennessee bourbon. Are you babysitting today? Was it that obvious he wasnt an experienced guardian? Probably, since a real father wouldnt have let one of his kids get hurt.

Im afraid Im the man in charge, he said, faking a smile and doffing his hat. My names Dan Walker. And youre?

Eva Galindo. She nodded toward the small building that housed the restrooms. The bleeding has stopped, so maybe we should get some water and wash her face.

Good idea. He stood, placed his hand on Kevins head and stroked the straw-colored strands of his hair. Come on, sport. Weve got to get your sister cleaned up.

As they walked toward the restrooms, Dan said, I really appreciate this, Eva.

I didnt do anything out of the ordinary. I saw her trip in the sand and take a fall. I guess it was just instinct kicking in.

Lucky me, he said, meaning it. Hopefully, Fate had decided to give him a break, at least for the rest of the day.

Eva took Kaylee into the ladies room and came out several minutes later. The little girls hair and face were wet but clean. And Dan was able to get a good look at the half-inch gash that marred the upper left side of her forehead and the bruise that surrounded it.

What do you think? Eva asked, gripping his gaze and setting his heart off kilter.

He didnt dare tell her that he was thinking of her as some kind of superhero right now. So instead, he glanced at her water-splattered, bloodstained white blouse and smiled. I think Im going to owe you a new outfit.

Thats not what I meant. Look at that gash, Dan. Its pretty deep.

The bleeding might have stopped, but the wound definitely gaped open.

You know Eva cocked her head and studied the little girls forehead. Shes probably going to need a few stitches.

No! Kaylee, whod been a little standoffish with Dan the past couple of weeks, clung to the woman. I dont want stitches.

If Dan had been looking in the mirror at his own face and had seen the cut, he would have let it pass without any treatment at all. But on a little girl?

Why dont you want stitches? he asked.

Kevin jumped in with the answer. Cause when we lived at our old house, Jimmy Milburn got stitches on his face and got to be a pirate for Halloween.

Being a pirate is cool, Dan said, hoping to convince the kid that it was some kind of adventure, rather than something to be afraid of.

Yeah, Kevin said, but Kaylee doesnt like swords and stuff. She wants to be a princess. Besides, when I told Jimmy that I wanted to have stitches like his, he said it really hurt.

It wont hurt Kaylee, Eva said. She has a princess cut. And doctors are very careful when dealing with a princess.

The girl turned to Eva, her tears coming to a rolling stop. Really?

Oh, yes. Im sure of it. Eva ran her hand along the dampened strands of Kaylees long, blond hair. The doctors at the medical center can spot a princess a mile away. And they know just what to do with royal injuries.

Kaylee cocked her head to the side. They do?

Absolutely.

Then, okay. Ill get princess stitches. Kaylee looked at Eva as though she were a fairy godmother.

But hell, Dan didnt blame the kid for that. He was thinking of Eva as though shed fluttered into his life with a pair of wings and a magic wand, too. Shed been a real godsend, and he wished he could take her home with them until the kids turned eighteen.

Will you ride with us to the medical center? he asked her, hoping like heck that she would agree. Having her along would make the ordeal so much easier for Kaylee. And for him, too.

Me? Well, I As her gaze caught his, he spotted more than indecision in her eyes. He noted apprehension, too.

Finally, at about the time hed expected her to blow him off, she said, All right, Ill go with you.

Dan didnt know when hed heard sweeter words, when hed felt more relief. Thanks, Eva. Ill make it up to you.

Of course, he didnt have a clue how he was going to do that, but hed figure out a way.

When Eva had set out this morning, she had thought the scope of her adventure would be simply checking out the Parents of Multiples picnic at the park and getting a feel for what would soon be in store for her.

Now, as she sat in the dual-wheeled Chevy pickup across from cowboy Dan Walker, she felt as if she was living someone elses life. For a woman who was basically shy and introspective, it was both exciting and unnerving at the same time.

She wasnt one who basked in new experiences, and this was certainly a first for her. One minute she was on the edge of the playground, watching the kids chase after each other, and the next she was standing by helplessly while little Kaylee tripped and flew headfirst onto the steps of the slide.

Instinct had taken over, and Eva had rushed to the little girls side. Looking back, she was thankful to know that her lousy childhood hadnt disabled whatever internal button had kicked in at just the right moment.

Thank goodness her instincts were functioning properly, since shed be having a set of twins of her own in six months or so.

And now here she was.

She stole another glance across the pickup at the handsome cowboy in the drivers seat, wondering if she would have even given him the time of day on any other occasion. Not that he wasnt attractive, but he was well over six feet tall and as buff and brawny as the good Lord made them. He was just the kind of man who could easily toss stacks of hundred-pound bales of hay to the left and right without breaking a sweat. Yet there was something about the soft brown color of his hair and bluebonnet shade of his eyes that spoke of a gentle side.

That, she suspected, along with the way his expression had crumpled around the crying child, had made Eva trust him well enough to get into his truck in the first place.

Her stepfather had been a brute of a man whod mentallyand sometimes even physicallyabused her, so she tended to avoid men who reminded her of him. Shed had a couple of boyfriends in collegeeach of them budding scientists who had been brainy and slightly builtbut the relationships had never lasted very long.

So when, after much thought, shed decided to create a family of her own, shed opted for in vitro fertilization. It had been easier that way. She hadnt needed to make any decisions about whether to have a man in her life or not.

She had to admit, though, that she was still a little apprehensive about being a mother and bringing home two newborns, which is why shed come to the park today. Shed read about the Parents of Multiples event in the online newspaper and had decided to observe things from a distance.

It was a scientific approach to her problem, and it seemed to be the most logical way for her to proceed.

If she liked what she saw and the people she met at the park, she would take it a step further and attend one of the evening meetings, where she might connect with another mother of twins who could offer her adviceand maybe even friendship.





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