She's nearly broke and raising two kids on her own, thanks to her deadbeat ex. He's dealing with a pair of mischief-making twins still grieving the loss of their mother. To top it all off, as the CEO of her bank, he has the power to make or break her future.
But there is an undeniable connection between Melissa Theisen and Seth O'Reilly. And their children get along really well. Bringing these two broken families together seems the next logical step.
But who ever heard of marrying for logic?
About the Author
USA TODAY bestselling author Nancy Warren lives in the Pacific Northwest where her hobbies include skiing, hiking and snow shoeing. She's an author of more than thirty novels and novellas for Harlequin and has won numerous awards. Visit her website at www.nancywarren.net.
Read an Excerpt
IT'S ALWAYS DARKEST BEFORE the dawn had to be one of the stupidest expressions Melissa Theisen knew. She'd worried and raged her way through plenty of middle-of-the-night blackness lately, and when the birds started chirping to announce dawn, she never felt brighter or better. She merely felt one day closer to the edge.
She watched as early morning light crept through the drapes of her Lakeview, Washington, home until she could make out the shapes of furniture in her bedroom. Her mahogany dressing table, and the matching chest of drawers empty of Stephen's things. The smooth expanse of quilt on his unslept-in side of the king-size bed. The crack in the ceiling above her head. Was it her imagination or was that crack expanding?
Giving up on sleep, she rolled out of bed and padded downstairs to put coffee on, showered while it brewed, then sat at her kitchen table sipping the first steaming mug while she read over the letter once more.
Stephen was two months late on child support payments. Worse, he'd missed his weekend visits with the kids. But not until she'd received the letter from the bank yesterday had she suspected the depth of his betrayal. From the midst of the careful, corporate wording, the word foreclosure jumped out at her like a skeleton leaping out of a closet. Oh, they weren't foreclosing quite yet, but the threat was there. Not only had Stephen stopped paying her, he hadn't paid the bank mortgage, either.
Ominously, he seemed to have disappeared.
A year after her divorce, she accepted that he wasn't coming back. But he'd never abandon his own children.
The naive part of her wanted to believe that something had happened to him. The cynical side wasn't buying that for a second.
Draining her coffee mug, she rose and assembled the ingredients for oatmeal raisin muffins. It was part of her morning routine now, along with baking homemade bread—without a machine, thank you very much. As though knocking herself out to be the perfect homemaker could balance Stephen's role as the home breaker. The counselor she'd seen briefly after the separation had told her she was overcompensating for the lack of a father in her children's lives.
She liked baking. The activity soothed her and gave her some measure of control over the mess of her life. Not that she was fooling herself that a few muffins and a loaf of butter-crust whole wheat could make up for a missing dad, but she had to work with what she had.
By the time she woke the kids, the smell of comfort food filled the kitchen and she was dressed for the day.
She had to shake eight-year-old Matthew twice to get him to wake up. "Morning, sleepyhead," she said, smiling down at his sleep-pinkened cheeks and the one skinny leg sticking out from under the duvet cover patterned with vivid insects.
He groaned and rolled over. "Hi, Mom."
Knowing he wasn't fully functional until he'd been up for a few minutes, she ruffled his hair and left him with a reminder to make his bed. "Fresh muffins," she said, glancing back. "Your favorite."
Then she stepped into her three-year-old daughter's room. Alice, like her, was a morning person. Fully awake, she sat in bed and chattered to her stuffed dinosaur. With the mixed herd of stuffed animals and dolls in her bed, she could amuse herself for hours.
"Mama," she cried, holding out her arms.
After a big smacking kiss for her daughter, Melissa performed the morning ritual of greeting the animals and dolls before helping her baby to the bathroom and then getting dressed. Alice was in a pink-and-purple fashion stage. Even at her tender age she was fussy about what she wore. Dresses were preferred, in pink and purple, obviously, but they also had to be good spinning dresses. If a dress didn't bell out when she twirled, well, what was the point?
Already, Alice was enrolled in tiny-tot ballet and had decided she was going to be either a dancer or a princess when she grew up. Such tough decisions when you're three.
Hand in hand, the two women of the house walked down the stairs. Melissa taking a moment to feel the tiny warm hand tucked into hers and watch the soft bounce of blond curls. The kids were growing so fast, sometimes she had to stop and concentrate on a small detail so she could hold on to it and hopefully program it into her long-term memory.
Alice was halfway through her second muffin and her apple juice when Matthew stumbled into the room.
"Before you sit down, can you get me a knife from the drawer, honey?" Melissa asked him. She removed the gingham frill from the top of her strawberry jam, ready to pair it with peanut butter for his sandwich.
"Sure." He yawned and yanked at the drawer. Even as she exclaimed, "Careful," she knew it was too late. The drawer front came away with his hand.
"Uh-oh," Alice said.
Uh-oh was right. How many times had she told them that drawer was loose? She couldn't afford a handyman, and her carpentry skills were in the slim-to-none category, edging strongly toward the "none" end of the range.
She quelled the urge to snap at him. It wasn't Matthew's fault. "Sorry, Mom," he said, looking stricken.
"It's okay." She took the drawer front from him and put it on the counter.
His gaze followed her movement, his expression serious and worried. "Ryan Doran's mom said I come from a broken home," he said hesitantly, staring at the broken drawer.
Oh, God. What to say? "Superglue," she said, "fixes everything. We'll have that drawer back together in no time." In fact, there were two items in her toolbox. A single screwdriver with multiple heads, most of which were a mystery, and a tube of carpenter's glue, which was really amazingly versatile.
Matt nodded thoughtfully. "I told him it's not our home that's broken, it's our family."
ONCE SHE'D GOT Matthew off to school and Alice dressed, Melissa drove to the appointment she'd made at the bank after she'd received yesterday's letter. In the bank parking lot, still in her car, she read that devastating single page one more time. Helpless rage spurted through her. "Stephen Theisen, how could you do this to me?" She didn't even realize she'd vented aloud until her daughter chirped, "Daddy?"
"No, honey." Melissa turned to the child in the backseat, and her heart twisted. So much love and innocent trust shone from the cherubic face framed by a cascade of blond curls. "He's not here."
Alice opened her mouth and Melissa waited for, "I want Daddy," but after quivering a moment, the pink lips closed again. Melissa pursed her own lips hard to keep them from quivering just as childishly and opened the door.
Damn it, she hadn't lost everything yet, and she wasn't going to. The children had been deprived of their father, but they still had a home and a mother. They had friends and a decent school. And she would do anything, anything at all, to make sure they kept the precious stability of remaining in the only home they'd ever known.
Ten minutes past her appointment time, Melissa played with Alice in the waiting area and bristled with righteous indignation. Her ex-husband was supposed to pay the mortgage. Why was the bank bothering her?
A short, unsatisfactory interview with Mr. Cheney, the lending officer who had written the letter, explained why they were bothering her. If the mortgage wasn't paid, the loan would be called. Then foreclosure would begin.
"But," she argued, "I've got all the paperwork showing that my ex-husband signed over the house to me."
He checked the computer records and said, "Since you were on the original mortgage documents, you can pick up the payments without any problem." He glanced at her and then at Alice. "But the house is the collateral for the mortgage, Mrs. Theisen. Is there someone who could lend you some money to get yourself back on track?"
She blinked. "What about you? You're a lending officer at my bank."
He shook his head. "Sorry. You wouldn't qualify for a loan with us. No income, house payments in default." He was sorry, but that was it. When she tried to explain her situation, he looked at her as though he'd heard a thousand stories like hers and was tapped of sympathy. "Maybe you should trade down," was his only suggestion.
Trade down? A shiver of pure fear crawled over her skin at the words. She'd spent her childhood being moved from place to place, always trading down, never up. She envisioned the last home she lived in with her parents—the awful trailer across the highway from Big Bull's wrecking yard on Federal Way.
Mr. Cheney fished around in a drawer and came up with a couple of pamphlets, which he handed her. She read the title of one, "Avoiding Foreclosure," and crumpled the wad of papers into her bag.
In shock, she lifted Alice into her arms and stumbled out of the cubicle, heading numbly toward the daylight streaming in from an outside door.
"You're squishing me," Alice complained and wiggled out of her arms, then took her hand.
Around them, people ebbed and flowed to banking machines, tellers and suited bank reps like Mr. Cheney in cubicles. A sea of people with money to deposit, withdraw, invest. And she, Melissa Theisen, former wife of successful entrepreneur Stephen Theisen, had just been informed she was responsible for more than six thousand dollars in back mortgage payments, plus extra interest and late fees. She had thirty days to pay it and resume regular mortgage payments, or the bank would start foreclosure proceedings on the house.
Stubbornly, her Gucci flats, which had seen better days, refused to carry her out of the building.
There had to be another way.
Melissa hadn't done anything wrong. She'd followed the examples of those wonderful TV families. She'd married the right man, had had the right children. She'd entertained clients graciously. Done everything she could to help Stephen prosper.
She was rewarded by getting dumped.
Well, she'd had enough of men like Stephen and Mr. Cheney taking things away from her.
A guy in a baseball cap jostled her as she stood trying to figure out what to do. An armed guard lounged in a corner of the marble lobby and looked at her with mild curiosity. Fury at the unfairness of it all began to bubble inside her. No, she wasn't leaving this bank until she had a better solution than trading down. She stalked to the bank directory and scanned straight to the top of the listed names.
Seth O'Reilly, President and CEO of the First Bank of Lakeview, Washington. He was her man. Before the anger could dissipate, she picked up Alice and marched to the elevator.
The executive offices on the third level were hushed and unhurried. Melissa's worn shoes sank into teal carpet as she made her way forward.
"Can I help you?" a cool female voice asked.
"Yes. I'm looking for Mr. O'Reilly," she told the perfectly groomed, gray-haired woman behind the expensive-looking reception desk.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"I'm sorry. He's in a meeting. Perhaps someone else can—"
"No. It's very important that I see Mr. O'Reilly today."
"He's not available today." The woman typed something on her keyboard and scanned her computer screen.
"The earliest appointment he has is two weeks Wednesday."
"I need to see him today."
"Well, you can't."
Later, Melissa would realize that that was the moment she snapped. But at the time it seemed as though the only possible course of action was to find the one man who might be able to help her, and to do it immediately. She walked past the reception desk into a hushed labyrinth of offices and meeting rooms.
"Wait! You can't go back there. Stop! I'll call Security." Melissa hardly heard the words.
She felt exhilarated by breaking the rules for the first time in thirty-four years. If a little rule-breaking would keep a roof over Alice's and Matthew's heads, it was a small price to pay. She stalked forward, knowing instinctively that the farther she got from the reception desk—and the public who paid for it—the closer she'd get to the real power in the bank.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Stephen Theisen divorced his wife Melissa, leaving her and their two children, Matthew eight and Alice three, with nothing but debt and anguish. Melissa is desperate to find for financial help so she storms into Seth O'Reilly's office at the bank. Seth lost his wife to cancer. He is now the single father of ten-year old twins Jessica and Laura. After hearing Melissa's story he does what he can to help her. While figuring things out Seth gets a frantic call from his daughter telling him that the other daughter is violently ill. Melissa used to be a pediatric nurse and Seth asks her to come with him. After the drama, Melissa heads home only to reappear at Seth's home several hours later offering to babysit his girls who tend to get into mischief. Melissa needs work and Seth needs help. As time goes by they all settle into a routine and the attraction that was there from the beginning between Seth and Melissa is growing stronger. Seth is having trouble moving on since Clair's death and Melissa wants to help him even if Seth resents her for it. When Seth proposes a change in their relationship, Melissa is afraid of competing with Clair for Seth's love. The Trouble With Twins is a lovely story about loss, grief, and finding love again. Melissa and Seth struggle to raise their children while trying to move on with their lives. Finding each other is a gift they both needed and deserved. Seth and Melissa are strong, endearing characters that I couldn't help but cheer for. Nannette Reviewed for Joyfully Reviewed
In Lakeview, Washington, the bank is ready to foreclose for lack of mortgage payment, which would leave Melissa Theisen and her two children eight years old Matthew and three years old Alice on the street all because her rat of an ex spouse. Stephen is a deadbeat who fails to pay child support let alone visit his kids. Desperate she begs bank President Seth O¿Reilly for a little more time as she plans to open up a daycare center. The widower agrees as long as she accepts his out of control preadolescent twins Laura and Jessica as students.----------------- As Seth and Melissa meet due to their children, they begin to fall in love. However, she fears a commitment due to the antics of her former husband while he and his children still mourn the death of his wife, their mother. Still the four kids get on great together and so do the adults, but neither can take that next step in spite a quartet of preadolescent matchmakers pushing them to do so.---------------- The rambunctious kids turn this contemporary into a lighthearted modern day Brady Bunch romance though the two adults have issues involving what is good for the children and do they really want to forge a permanent relationship. Melissa and Seth may be in love, but both question whether that is enough as they worry about the impact of another parent on their respective offspring. THE TROUBLE WITH TWINS is a fun tale.-------------- Harriet Klausner