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The Trouble With Twins
By Jo Leigh
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSHELBY PAUSED just before her hand touched the doorbell. What if this was another dead end? What then?
The information Michael and Garrett had given her was sketchy at best. A couple by the name of Jackson had given birth to triplets almost twenty-six years ago. Her brothers hadn't been able to find out the exact date yet. The hospital where Mrs. Jackson had given birth had lost its records in a fire, but one doctor had remembered Mrs. Jackson and the triplets. He'd suggested they come here and try to find out if the Jacksons who lived on this ranch were any relation to the Jackson family with the triplets. It was a long shot. But it was a shot.
The quest to find out what had happened to her birth mother had taken on a new urgency in the past few months. Shelby didn't need a psychiatrist to tell her why. Almost everyone she knew had found someone to love, all in a matter of months. And most of them were already parents or expecting to be parents. Shelby couldn't stop thinking about her own family.
She loved her brothers and sister with all her heart. She harbored nothing but love and respect for her adoptive parents, and she missed them something awful. She loved her diner in Austin, her friends, her apartment. It was all perfect, except for two little details. Thoughts of her birth parents had kept her up night after night. Why had they abandoned four babies? What kind of woman could walk away and never look back? Maybe she couldn't look back. Maybe her note of a few months ago had been sent posthumously. Or as a dying goodbye.
And that other thing? Shelby straightened her shirt and smoothed her hair, then her hand went to her stomach, just beneath her breasts. To the scars ...
While there was nothing she could do about that, she could do her utmost to get to the bottom of the mystery of her parents. So here she was. A hundred miles from home, in Blue Point, Texas. Standing on a stranger's doorstep about to ask some very personal questions.
She cleared her throat, prepared to accept whatever was about to happen. But hoping like mad it was going to turn out wonderful.
The doorbell rang loudly enough for her to hear it from the front porch. She expected the door to open immediately, but it didn't. Not even when she rang a second time.
The ranch house was big, though, so it might take someone a while to get to her. Two stories, white colonial, beautiful porch with a double rocker for warm spring nights. The grounds looked well cared for with particular attention paid to flower beds and a small herb garden.
A noise startled her. A bang like a backfire or a gun. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to show up unannounced like this. She took a step back, prepared to bolt if she had to. The door swung open, and she cringed, waiting for the worst, only mid-wince she realized there was no one at the door. She dropped her gaze and her frightened stance. There was someone at the door. She just hadn't expected a pre-schooler, that's all.
"I hate you!"
Shelby wasn't quite sure how to respond. The little blond boy looked to be about three or four, although the chocolate all over his face made it difficult to be certain. His attire, a rather droopy pair of Toy Story underpants and a T-shirt desperately in need of washing, lent a certain air of nonchalance to the proceedings. She wondered briefly if he was alone in the house. A masculine shout eased her mind. The child hadn't been abandoned. He just wasn't taken care of very well.
"Jem, where are you? Jem!"
Shelby opened her mouth to call to the father, but a howl stunned her into silence. Another child. This one seriously unhappy about something.
The crying got louder as a man holding a second child came around the steps to the foyer. As soon as the little one saw Shelby, she stopped crying. The man, Mr. Jackson presumably, appeared to be in over his head, He also looked to be in his early thirties, which didn't bode well for her purposes.
Shelby had the feeling she'd just discovered the answer to her quest, but she didn't want to jump to conclusions. Maybe he wasn't Mr. Jackson at all. Maybe he wasn't one of the triplets.
He put the child down - a girl, Shelby saw, dressed almost identically to her brother - but before he could say a word, the towheaded child raced toward the stairs, her little legs pumping like pistons. The boy shouted in delight, his dislike for Shelby forgotten, and took off after the girl. The man threw his hands in the air and headed after them. "It's about time you got here," he said over his shoulder. Then he was gone.
Maybe she should come back another time. Say when his kids were in college. But then again, he looked about at the end of his rope. He obviously thought she was someone else. Someone, she assumed, who could handle children. If she lent a hand, he might be more inclined to talk about his family. Even though her hope had dimmed, she had come all this way. It seemed prudent to find out what she could. That decided it for her. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her.
As soon as she walked around the base of the stairs she was assailed by chaos. Toys were strewn everywhere, with a preponderance of stuffed dinosaurs and broken crayons. Clothes from long pants to pjs were on the floor, on the tables, and one sneaker perched precariously on top of the wide-screen television blaring Disney's Pinocchio. It was a disaster, and from the crying in the other room, she doubted things were going to settle down anytime soon.
"Excuse me?" She walked toward the sound of wailing. "Mr. Jackson?"
He was in the dining room struggling with the little boy. Mr. Jackson, if he was indeed Mr. Jackson, wanted the child to sit down. The child had other plans.
He spun toward her. The little one picked up a spoonful of something white and yucky and threw it on Mr. Jackson's head. "You were supposed to be here two hours ago," the man said, his voice deter-minedly calm.
"I don't believe I'm the person you think I am."
"You're not from Child Minders?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm sorry to barge in on such a busy day. But I'm here on something of a genealogical quest. Would you -"' The screaming went up two decibels. "Would you have a few moments to spare?"
He opened his mouth. Blinked. Closed his mouth. Then burst out laughing. Hard. The little boy stopped crying. The little girl's eyes widened with surprise. Mr. Jackson continued to laugh as he sank down on the seat, unmindful that there was no telling what he was going to sit on.
"Yeah, well, I can see that you don't." She took a step back. "I'm sorry."
He took a deep breath and wiped his eye with his knuckles. "No, hey. My fault. My fault. No problem ..."
Excerpted from The Trouble With Twins by Jo Leigh Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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