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Four-year-old Randi Cooper squatted on her plump haunches and closed her fingers around a handful of Queen Anne's lace, ready to tug it out of the soil.
"Nope, punkin. That's a flower."
Maureen looked around and then gestured at a weed.
"Here, my big helper, pull this one out instead."
Randi closed both fists around it and gave a determined heave. The weed burst out of the ground, showering Randi and her twin sister, Robin, with soil. Randi lost her balance and fell backward, spread-eagled, landing in the bed of black-eyed Susans. She lay on her back, squinting blue-green eyes against the warmth and intensity of the early September sun, giggling up at her sister and mother.
"Look at me," she crowed. "I fell down and got all -"
"Dirty," her twin sister supplied. "You got dirty. Get up, Randi." Robin scowled at her twin and did her best to haul her to her feet. "You're smashing all of Mommy's flowers."
"It's okay, they'll grow again." Laughing, Maureen dusted off the girls' blue shorts and matching shirts, admiring the way the sun picked out rich red highlights in their thick mass of curling chestnut hair. She gave each a smacking kiss on tanned, satiny cheeks, her heart swelling with love for her beautiful little daughters.
"Gardening withyou guys is definitely an adventure. Let's go pick some tomatoes. We can have them in sandwiches for lunch." The kitchen garden was overflowing with autumn's bounty, just as the wild-flower seeds she'd planted so haphazardly last spring had turned into this glorious and amazing array of bee balm, black-eyed Susans, clematis and sunflowers.
It was Maureen's first attempt at gardening, and the results amazed and delighted her. Her brother, Clint, had warned her several times, his eyes twinkling, that she was never going to impress an eligible suitor if all she talked about was the size and abundance of her tomatoes and zucchinis.
Maureen smiled good-naturedly whenever Clint talked about suitors, but the truth was, there was a sore place in her heart when it came to men. She'd decided that marriage wasn't something she'd try again anytime soon, and as for romance - she was far too busy with the twins and the bed-and-breakfast she and Clint ran to even think about it.
Most of the time.
"Let's go pick tomatoes," Randi reminded her, tugging at her hand, and Maureen led the way to the vegetable plot. Its relatively small area overflowed with beets, carrots, immense and colorful summer squash, snap beans and four huge pumpkins, the twins' pride and joy.
Maureen had promised the girls that she and Clint, helped by Clint's son, Keegan, would carve the pumpkins into amazing jack-o-lanterns, come Halloween.
The rich soil here in the Berkshires allowed even a novice to produce a quantity of produce that would feed several families well for months. Maureen often wished she could give some of her lavish autumn bounty to old friends in New York, but she didn't go to the city anymore, even though she'd lived there for years. In so many ways, it wasn't a safe or healthy place for either her or her twins.
With the girls' enthusiastic assistance, she picked three fat tomatoes and a handful of fresh basil, remembering that the extent of her gardening in New York had been limited by the size of her tiny balcony.
Moving here to Cooper's Corner, the small, sleepy village in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts where she had spent the early years of her childhood, had been good for her and her babies, she mused, grinning as the twins plucked yet another fat, ripe tomato and then shared bites from it, dribbling warm red juice down their chins and making appreciative noises.
"As usual, you guys are gonna need a bath before lunch."
Maureen savored the sunshine on her bare legs, the rich odors of loam and green things growing all around her, the sound of her daughters chattering to each other. This morning, life was good.
She'd had her share of problems since she'd made the move, but a morning like this reinforced her conviction that this was the place she was meant to raise her girls and live out the rest of her life.
"Aunt Maureen?" The kitchen door of the old farmhouse burst open and another tousled chestnut head appeared.
"Some people just came," Maureen's thirteen-year-old nephew, Keegan, announced. "Some guests just arrived," he corrected with a grin that revealed straight white teeth still too large for his adolescent features. It was Friday, a professional development day for teachers, so Keegan was home from school.
"See, Aunt Maureen? I remembered this time." He gave her a cheeky salute and she laughed. She'd corrected him numerous times, insisting that he use the proper terminology for the guests who came to stay at the Twin Oaks B and B.
As well as his shining head of dark reddish-brown hair, Keegan had Maureen's and Clint's jade-green eyes, and his gangly frame already indicated that he'd be tall like the Coopers. Clint was six three, and Maureen, at five eleven, still endured comments from her brother about being the shrimp in the family.
The dramatic line of Keegan's square jaw and the distinctive shape of his ears, however, came from his mother, Kristin. Maureen felt a twinge of sorrow even now when she thought of Kristin Cooper.
Clint's beautiful young wife had died suddenly almost three years ago, but Clint had recently found a new love. He and Beth Young, the local librarian from Cooper's Corner, were married a week ago, right here at Twin Oaks, and were away having fun on their honeymoon. Maureen was thrilled for her brother.
"I took the guests into the living room and told them I'd come and get you," Keegan reported.
Excerpted from Far From Over by Bobby Hutchinson
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.