Neal crossed his arms on his chest. He appraised the blonde. Tall, sexy as hell, but what was her agenda? Her long braid switched like a lioness’ tail did as the beast prepared to spring.
Who was she?
He’d expected to find the twins in Emma Sanchez’s care, but he rather preferred this woman whose brilliant blue eyes matched her tee shirt. Her khaki shorts revealed a nice pair of legs.
Her accusations thundered. Her eyes flashed sparks of anger. Whoever she was, he was intrigued. She clamped her lips together and glared at him.
A pair of ear-piercing screams shattered the silence. Neal jumped.
The twins! Were they ill?
At least he could handle illness. “What’s wrong with them?”
“I guess I scared them.” She knelt on the afghan and spoke in low, soothing tones. “It’s all right. I won’t yell again.” The cries died to whimpers.
His gaze focused on the woman. She definitely wasn’t the person he’d expected to accompany the twins. During their phone conversations, he’d envisioned Lena Greene as a short, dumpy woman. Nothing about the blonde’s appearance marked her as a social worker, a class of women he was well acquainted with. Since the day he’d entered the system at the age of three, he’d had too many encounters with the breed.
Officious, rigid, uncaring, along with a dozen other sterling attributes.
She didn’t fit that picture. Her blue eyes and her air of harassed martyrdom made him want to rescue her.
He held up his hands. “I surrender. I’m guilty of every charge. If I’d known you’d be waiting at the airport, I would have ignored the four major emergencies that kept me chained to the clinic. Welcome to Prairie, Ms. Greene.”
“I’m not Lena Greene.”
“And you’re definitely not Emma Sanchez. So, who are you?”
Lena asked me to deliver the twins.”
Her voice reminded him of brandy -- full-bodied and intoxicating.
She lifted one of the twins. “This is Molly.” She thrust the infant into his arms and returned for the second. “And this is Todd.”
She edged past them. The babies’ squirms grew stronger and he prayed he wouldn’t drop them.
“There’s an envelope on the coffee table with official papers,” she said. “Enjoy the children. I have to go. I’m due in
She can’t leave!
He had no experience in the daily care and handling of babies. He had to find a way to keep her until Emma arrived without admitting how inept he felt.
“You’re leaving now? Are you sure you want to head out this late?”
“There’s plenty of daylight left. When it gets too dark, I’ll find a motel.”
“Do you realize what desolate territory you’ll be crossing? Towns and motels are far apart.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
He handed her one of the twins. She smelled of lavender and memories. “Spend the night and leave in the morning.”
Nora hesitated. She clutched Molly and backed away. His green eyes said more than his words. “I --”
“Say you’ll stay. I wouldn’t want to worry about your car breaking down miles from civilization.” And he wasn’t ready to be alone with the babies.
The concern in his voice soothed the emotions he had kindled. Dr. McKay presented a complication she wasn’t sure she could handle. She swallowed. “I’ll stay, but just for tonight.”
His smile made her feel warm and uncertain. The awkward way he held Todd brought forth a desire to help him. She lifted Molly to her shoulder. “Hold him like this. You’ll find it’s more comfortable, Dr. McKay.”
“My name’s Neal.”
His intense concentration as he imitated her was endearing. She recalled how uneasy
Lena had been about sending the twins to a bachelor,
especially one who kept doctor’s hours. He’d assured the social worker that
he’d found a caring woman to be the babies’ nanny.
“Where’s the woman you hired to watch the children?”
“Wasn’t she here when you arrived?”
“The door was unlocked and the house empty.” She sat on the arm of the couch.
Neal crossed the room. “I should have called, but I didn’t have a minute all day to think of anything except patients. When Emma and I talked yesterday, she said she would be here by noon.”
Nora’s gaze met his. Eyes as brilliant as summer grass captured her attention. She shook her head. She was out of her mind and her emotions were about to run amok. Something in his expression made her want to stay and help him adjust to this new situation.
She couldn’t stay beyond tomorrow morning. Her parents expected her. She would have to leave at dawn and travel past dark to meet the schedule.
“Thanks for offering to stay.”
The gratitude in his deep voice tempted her to forget her plans. She shook her head.
Neal McKay was a wanderer.
Lena’s investigation had confirmed
that. The lack of personal touches and the unpacked boxes were a clear sign he
didn’t plan to settle here.
The attraction she felt astonished her, but she knew it would lead nowhere. She wanted a man with roots, not a tumbleweed. After her chaotic childhood, she intended to stay in one place for the rest of her life.
“I’m curious,” she said. “Why didn’t you furnish the nursery?”
He shrugged. “I went to the mall to buy beds, but I couldn’t decide which model was appropriate. I thought I’d ask Emma for help.
She shook her head. “You’ll need more diapers and formula.”
“I know. Ms. Greene neglected to tell me their size and the brand of formula. The nurse practitioner said some babies have problems when they change brands.”
“She’s right. We need to go shopping.”
“I think you’re right.”
“We should go before dinner. I’d cook, but your cupboards are bare.”
He paced across the room. “We’ll eat at the cafe. Food’s good, hot and there are no dirty dishes.”
She put Molly on the afghan. “Watch them while I get bottles. We’ll go in my car. The infant seats are still in place.”
“Why drive? The store’s five blocks from here.”
“It’s too hot to walk. Besides, we’ll need the car for the groceries.”
“How much food can two babies eat? A couple cans of formula won’t take much room.”
She smiled. “It’s cheaper by the case. And you’ll need disposable diapers and food for the house. I’d like breakfast before I leave.” She looked up. “Are you sure you’re a family practitioner? You don’t know much about babies.”
“Sick babies are my thing.” He grinned. “The certificate’s in one of the boxes here or upstairs. I’ll dig it out.”
“I was joking.”
“Actually, you’re right. I can order antibiotics, tests and treatments for sick children, but I’ve never lived with infants. Seeing them as patients is different from being responsible for them.”
“You’ve got that right.”
“I don’t deal much with the small set at the clinic unless there’s an emergency. A pediatrician comes in twice a month and there’s a pediatric nurse practitioner on staff.”
Nora dashed to the kitchen and returned with two bottles. She added them to the diaper bag. Since they would need the stroller at the store, she put Molly in one of the seats. She slung the diaper bag over her shoulder.
“I’ll carry him.”
At the car, Neal watched Nora fasten the babies in the infant seat. Watching her exhausted him. How would he cope alone? If he didn’t locate Emma, that’s what he would face.
The middle-aged woman had seemed reliable, sensible and had been recommended by Hattie Gardner, the town’s matriarch, as the best person for the job. When they returned to the house, he had to call Emma.
Nora parked in front of the grocery store. She opened the stroller. Neal fumbled and finally unfastened Todd. As he held the baby, reality struck. For the next eighteen years, he was responsible for the well-being of these children. He hadn’t the slightest idea what to do. Foster homes, at least the ones he’d been placed in, weren’t good training grounds for parents.
He watched Nora. She handled the twins like a pro. If for some reason Emma wasn’t coming, what would it take to persuade Nora to stay.
She put the diaper bag in the tray beneath the stroller. “You push the twins and I’ll take the cart.”
Inside the store, Nora stopped to read the signs. “This way,” she said.
As they started down the aisle, the number of baby items amazed him. Maybe they’d need his pickup instead of the car. Nora put a case of formula, two packages of diapers and some boxes in the cart.
“What about this.” He picked up some bottles of juice.
“They’re not ready for juice. They’ve just started cereal.”
“Dr. McKay, are these your babies?”
Two elderly women, Maude and Grace Adams, blocked the aisle. Nora continued ahead with the cart.
“They are,” he said.
“What beautiful children.”
Neal lost sight of Nora. “Thank you, ladies.”
“Are they much trouble?”
“Do they sleep all night?
“We’re twins, you know.”
Their comments pinged and ponged. Neal felt dizzy. “I’ve got to go.”
“We’ll see you at Hattie’s on Saturday.”
Neal turned the stroller. He spotted Nora at the check-out counter. The cart was crammed. “Why all the food?”
“I thought I’d cook dinner.”
“I said we’d eat at the cafe.”
“Should I put the steak back?”
He shook his head. “We’ll take everything.”