They were asleep.
Holly held her breath as
she closed the story book, then backed out of the children’s room with the
stealth of a special ops soldier.
The caution was
necessary. Really. These kids could sleep soundly through the familiar blast
of car horns and sirens from the busy New York street below, but the tiniest
squeak from within the apartment could rouse them to instant, panicking
This evening, to Holly’s
relief, neither child stirred. They lay perfectly still in their matching bunk
beds. In striped pyjamas, one dark head and one fair, they clutched their
favourite fluffy toys – a kangaroo for Josh, a koala for Anna – and their eyes
remained blessedly closed.
Holly reached the
doorway without a mishap, and quickly flicked the light switch, plunging the
room into darkness. For once there were no responding squawks or protests.
Just sweet, blissful silence.
She tiptoed down the
hall… and the silence continued.
With a little luck, tonight would be a good night. No wet beds. No nightmares.
In the past month there’d only been a handful of good nights. But before Holly
could even think about letting out a sigh of relief, her cell phone rang.
With the speed of a
baseball short stop, she dived across the room, snatched the phone from the
coffee table and darted into her bedroom, closing the door quickly but softly
The phone’s screen
identified the caller. Her boyfriend, Brandon. Wonderful.
‘Hi, Brand,’ she
No squeaks emanated from
the bedroom down the hall and she sank gratefully onto the bed.
‘Why are you
‘I’ve just got the twins
‘Oh, right.’ Brandon
gave an audible sigh. ‘How are they coping this week?’
‘A little better.’
wasn’t quite the word Holly would have chosen to describe the small
improvement in the children’s progress, but of course she wouldn’t reproach
Brandon. He’d given her fabulous support during the funeral and its aftermath.
‘I got your message,’ he
‘Right. Thanks for
calling back.’ Holly took a moment to relax into the pillows and she
deliberately lightened her tone. ‘So, what do you think? Can you wangle a
leave pass for this weekend?’
Holly crossed her
fingers as she waited for his answer. Please come, Brand. I need you.
Brandon’s family owned a
dairy farm in Vermont and his dad’s health wasn’t the best, so the
responsibility of running the enterprise had fallen squarely on Brandon’s
So, yes – it was asking
a lot to expect him to get away to New York again so soon. Last month, after
Holly’s cousin Chelsea’s sudden and tragic death, he’d taken almost a whole
week off to be with her and to help with the children.
That was pretty amazing,
actually. Holly had been touched and surprised. Since she’d moved away from
Vermont to study in New York, she’d come to accept that if she wanted to see
her boyfriend it was up to her to make the effort. She’d grown up on a dairy
farm, too, so she understood the demands, and she’d been prepared to be the
one who did all the travelling. Even so, she’d only been able to see Brandon a
handful of times in this past year.
If he came this weekend,
she would make sure they had time alone together. She and Brandon had been an
item since high school, almost six years. Very soon now, she would be finished
with her studies, Anna and Josh would be settled in Australia with their
father, and she was looking forward to going home to Vermont to settle down
She could so easily
picture their lives together – Brandon with his dairy herd, while she worked
in the local school, the two of them balancing their day jobs with their life
at home, and eventually, with a family of their own – copper haired children
like their dad.
Holly was very happy
with that picture, and thinking about her boyfriend always made her feel cosy
Admittedly, most girls
might not place cosiness and safety high on their wish-list when it came to
boyfriends or future husbands, but Holly wasn’t looking for a guy who spelled
excitement and passion. Her cousin Chelsea, the twins’ mother, had taken that
risk and the result had been divorce and heartbreak.
‘I don’t know if I can
get away this weekend,’ Brandon said suddenly.
Holly suppressed a sigh.
‘I do understand, honey, but –’
‘Do you?’ His voice
bristled with unexpected impatience. ‘Because I don’t understand why
you’re complicating this, Holly. The children’s father is on his way at last,
so why do you need me? Why do you need my help if he’s going to be there too?’
‘I wanted your opinion.
I have to hand the children over to him.’
‘Of course you do. He’s
‘Yes –’ Holly winced.
‘But I thought another man could sense if Gray’s – you know – if he’s OK.’
After all, Chelsea had run away from this Australian cattleman, although
admittedly, her cousin had never said a bad word against her ex.
‘Holly, even if I didn’t
like the man, there’s nothing I could do about it.’
‘I guess –’ She
suppressed a sigh. Thing was, she needed to be calm and composed when she
talked with Gray about his children, and she would have liked a little back up
from Brandon. She needed to explain to Gray about Anna and Josh’s schooling
needs, their eating habits, their fears…
The twins had been at
home on the day Chelsea had collapsed, and it was six year old Josh who’d
courageously dialled 911. They hadn’t only lost their mommy; they’d suffered a
terrible trauma. Anna’s nightmares were truly terrifying.
Holly needed to explain
all this to their estranged father, but it would be so much easier if her
steady and reliable boyfriend was there as well. As a buffer. An anchor. A
‘Actually, Holly, I
can’t come this weekend.’
The sudden nervousness
in Brandon’s voice penetrated the whirl of Holly’s thoughts.
Why was he nervous?
Brandon was never nervous. Was something wrong?
‘There’s – um – there’s
something I should tell you,’ he said.
‘What is it?’
‘It’s really hard to
explain. I – I don’t know how to say this, but –’
Holly’s insides froze
and she was gripped by a terrible deer-in-the-headlights fear.
Brandon cleared his
She forced herself to
ask, ‘Brandon, what’s the matter?’
‘I didn’t want to tell
you before – because of Chelsea and everything –’
‘Tell me what?’ she
almost screamed. He was scaring her.
Brandon cleared his
Holly gripped the phone
tighter, squeezed her eyes to hold back threatening tears.
Was Brandon trying to
break up with her?
From “Rancher's Twins: Mom Needed"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
Copyright: © Barbara Hannay
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement
with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com