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Chance Montgomery pulled his SUV up to the big black iron gates that protected his mother's estate. He punched in the code she'd given him, and, after the gates opened, drove along the winding lane, not surprised that nothing had changed. The leaves on the tall trees that lead to the mansion had turned red, yellow and orange, the way they always did in October in Pine Ward, Pennsylvania. The brown and gray stone mansion, his childhood home, looked exactly as it had on his eighteenth birthday, when he'd run away.
He'd left because his life was a mess. A rope of days, months and years braided together with betrayal and lies. Ironically, he was returning for the same reason. The woman he'd thought was the love of his life had left him when she realized she was pregnant with his twins. She'd never loved him, only used him as a stepping stone to get where she wanted to be in her career. Nine months later, she'd had their babies and seemed to mother them adequately for six or so months. Then suddenly two weeks ago, she'd brought them to his house and said she didn't want them back. Odd that it took her giving up the kids to reinforce the valuable lesson he'd learned when he'd discovered his adoptive father was actually his biological father. People couldn't be trusted. Most looked out for themselves. He should have remembered that when she told him she'd only been with him to use him. But, no. He'd actually held out hope that even if she didn't love him, she could love their kids. He was an idiot.
He pulled the SUV in front of one of the garage doors, clicked off the ignition and jumped out. As if she'd been waiting for him, his mom hurried over.
"Chance, darling!" Her snow-white hair was cut short in a neat and elegant style. Her black trousers and black turtleneck with pearls made her look like the socialite that she was.
She enfolded him in the kind of embrace only a mother can pull off without looking foolish. When she stepped away, her eyes were filled with tears. "I'm so glad you're home."
He cleared his throat. He wished he could say the same, but the truth was he wasn't happy to be here. He wasn't happy he couldn't handle his twins. He wasn't happy his babies' mother didn't want to be in their lives. He wasn't happy that every person in his life hurt him, cheated him or lied to him.
Except Gwen Montgomery. The devoted wife his father had tricked into adopting him. A woman who, even once she'd found out he was her husband's illegitimate son, hadn't stopped loving him.
"It's good to be home." okay. That was a bit of a lie. But how could he tell the happy woman in front of him the truth? That this house reminded him of a dad who couldn't be trusted. That his life sucked
She clapped her hands together. "So let me see them!" He reached for the back door of the SUV just as a tall redhead walked out of the mansion. He would have been lying if he said he didn't notice her face was pretty. Big brown eyes, a pert nose and full, lush lips always added up to pretty. But she wore a plain white blouse, gray pants and uglytruly uglyblack shoes.
His mother said, "By the way, this is Victoria Bingham. She likes to be called Tory. I hired her to be your nanny."
Normally, he would have reached over and taken the hand she extended to shake his. Instead, he turned to his mom. "I told you, Mom, I want to raise the kids myself. I came here for help from you, not an outsider."
Gwen straightened as if he'd mortally wounded her. "Well, of course, I'll help you. But you also need a nanny for things like diapers"
"I can change diapers. I've changed thirty thousand in the past two weeks. These kids were abandoned by their mom. They're not going to lose their daddy too."
She laid her hand on his cheek. "Oh, darling. We are not going to let these kids go without love. You had a nanny until you were four. And you don't think I love you any less than a baby raised without a nanny, do you?"
He shook his head. Gwen's love had been proven a million times over when she accepted her husband's infidelity a lot better than Chance had.
"So, you see? Nannies are perfectly suitable help."
He mumbled, "I suppose," turned to the SUV door, opened it and revealed his two true pride and joys. Little bruiser Sam yelped indignantly as if he resented being stuck in his car seat while everybody else talked. Cindy gurgled happily.
"Oh, darling! They're gorgeous!"
They were gorgeous.
Standing off to the side, Tory Bingham stared at the two blond-haired, blue-eyed babies. She hadn't wanted this job. After years of surgeries and the resultant therapies to repair her left leg, which had been shattered in a motorcycle accident, she could finally walk with the support of orthopedic shoes. She could also drive. Her plan had been to spend her days with her fiance, who hadn't fared as well as she had after their accident. But her parents had other ideas.
They wanted her to get a job. Worse, they wanted her to get on with her life. While her fiance lay in a personal care facility struggling, they wanted her to move on. It wasn't just ridiculous; it was horrific.
But she was twenty-five years old. She didn't have any money. She didn't have health insurance. All of her medical expenses had been picked up by Jason's motorcycle insurance, but she was reaching even those limits. Her parents might be friends of the Montgomerys but they didn't have the money the Montgomery family had. She had no choice but to take the job Gwen had offered.
And now the prodigal son didn't want her.
Fine with her. She would find work somewhere else. Except.
Well, his babies were adorable. The two sweet angels sitting in bear-print car seats caused an unexpected tumble of her heart, and she couldn't stop staring at them.
Chance ducked into the SUV. "Here, I'll get them out."
"That's okay." Gwen scurried around the trailer hitched to the back of the SUVthe trailer hauling a big black motorcycle. "You get Sam. I'll get Cindy."
She opened the door and leaned in to get the little girl, but within a few seconds, she pulled out again. "Tory, can you help me with these strap things? I can't seem to get them unbuckled."
Tory said, "Yes, ma'am," and hurried around the trailer. Apparently she wasn't being fired after all.
But even staying as far away as she could from the black beast on the trailer, her chest tightened with terror as she maneuvered around it. She remembered her motorcycle accident as something like a soundless blur that flashed into her brain at the oddest times of the day and night. A blur that had all but destroyed her leg and nearly taken the man she loved.
Tory scooted to the SUV door, dipped in to undo the buckle and found herself six inches away from the most adorable face in the universe. Big blue eyes blinked at her. Cherubic lips blew spit bubbles. "Well, hello, there."
The baby gurgled with happiness.
"Aren't you just the sweetest little thing?" She undid the last buckle and lifted the baby out of her seat.
For the first time since the accident, Tory's chest expanded with delight. The baby patted her face and she laughed. But Gwen eagerly waited to hold the little girl and Tory handed her over.
"Well, my goodness," Gwen said. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Cindy. I'm your grandmother."
Tory's eyebrows rose. Gwen had never met her own grandchildren? She knew Chance had been away for a while, but she'd thought they'd reconciled.
Gwen walked around the trailer again. "Come on. Let's get them into the house."
"Actually, Mom" Chance winced. "One whiff of Sam and I can tell he needs to be changed. Maybe we should just take them directly to the cottage?"
His mom's face fell. "Oh."
"It's been a long drive and once I change them I should feed them."
Gwen smiled as if she was so happy to have her son home she would agree to anything. "Okay. Tory and I will come with you."
He glanced over at Tory and she looked back at him. She'd already noticed he was tall and lean. That his hair was black and his eyes were blue. That a red flannel shirt suited him and so did butt-molding jeans. But holding the gaze of his blue eyes, she saw other things. Subtleties. Those pretty sapphire eyes had the wariness of a man who didn't trust.
Which was just perfect. She hadn't ever worked full-time beyond the job of watching kids for three summers when she was in high school, and now her first real nanny job came with a distrustful father.
Well, she wasn't going to beg him to keep her or even defend herself. She didn't really want to work for a grouch. Especially not a grouch she didn't know. Nannies lived with the family who employed them. If he kept her, she'd be spending twenty-four hours a day with him.
"Just think, Chance," Gwen said teasingly. "If you have a nanny, you don't have to get up with the twins in the middle of the nightand, even if you do, you only have to change and feed one baby."
He rubbed his hand along the back of his neck, as if bone tired and finding it hard to refute that argument. "All right. You both can come."
After they strapped the kids into their seats, Tory sat between the twins so Gwen could ride in the front with her son.
As they made their way down the slim brown brick lane that wound through the forest behind Gwen's mansion, Tory began to see just how private their living arrangements would be. The trees were thick enough that it was nearly dark. Only occasionally did light pierce the red, yellow and orange leafy overhangs and create shiny beams that sparkled to the ground.
She swallowed. Maybe her first instincts had been correct? Maybe she should have held her ground with her mom and told her she didn't want a job. She wanted to be with Jason, to take care of him, to help him recover. Not trapped in a secluded cottage with a man she didn't know.
They stopped in front of a one-story house too big to be called a cottage. Though it was stone and had adorable windows and a roof with several peaks, it was obviously roomy and modern.
Gwen led them through the great room to the bedroom she'd had redesigned and furnished as a nursery. Two oak cribs, two changing tables and two rockers filled it.
Chance laid chubby Sam on the first changing table. Gwen set Cindy on the second. "Tory, darling, while we're changing the diapers, could you make the babies some cereal?"
"Sure." Happy to escape, she raced outside to the SUV, assuming she'd find baby supplies there. But all she saw were two duffle bags. When she brought them into the kitchen and rummaged through them, she found nothing but clothes.
"See anything you like?"
Her heart just about leaped out of her chest at Chance's question. His voice was low and deep, and the sexy way he folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the center island of the kitchen caused her pulse to scramble.
Annoyance skittered through her. Why did she keep noticing things about this man? She was engaged. She shouldn't be looking at his handsome face or noting the way he moved. Plus, at first blush, she didn't even like him.
Presenting him with what she hoped was a professional smile, she said, "I was looking for cereal."
He handed her the diaper bag. "It's in here. Mom said she had the refrigerator stocked with supplies, including milk. Use that since mine's been sitting in this diaper bag for hours."
With that he turned and walked away, and Tory let out the breath she didn't even realize she was holding. He might be good-looking but he was crabby. Even if she wasn't engaged, she shouldn't be interestedattracted, whatever the devil she wasto him.
She quickly prepared the cereal. By the time she carried it into the nursery, Chance and his mom were on the rocking chairs, each holding a baby. She put the two small bowls on the round table between the rockers and stepped back. Chance fed little bruiser Sam and Gwen fed Cindy.
With nothing else to do, she stood by the door and watched them. Though the babies were twins and looked a bit alike, they weren't identical. Aside from their disparate size, they had different hair. Sam's was short and fine, but Cindy's was thick and longer. Yellow curls fell to her forehead and along her nape.
When they were done, Chance rose from his rocker. "I think we should put them down for a nap. They've eaten and now they'll be tired."
"So it's not their regularly scheduled nap time?" Gwen asked.
He snorted a laugh. "Scheduled nap time? I don't tell them when to sleep or eat. They tell me."
Remembering the trouble she'd had her first summer with the Perkins family, wealthy lawyers with kids who ran roughshod over them, Tory couldn't stifle the, "Oh, dear" that escaped her lips.
She instantly regretted it. Chance's pretty blue eyes narrowed at her and his mouth thinned into an angry line.