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Cathy Gillen Thacker
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Twice and for Always
Twice and for Always

Chapter One

Meg Bassett heard a man's low, thrillingly husky voice as she stepped through the arched front door of the sandstone building in Seattle's Pioneer Square.

"I'll be back at the office as soon as I get this cleared up. Yes, it's a nuisance but I've got to have my pager. No. Tell the managers that I'll be there. I want to have that staff meeting today, no matter how late we all have to stay."

Spoken like a true workaholic, Meg thought. And she ought to recognize one because she had been married to one. In fact, if she didn't know full well that Brody Taylor was in Ireland now, she'd even think that man sounded like her sexy, successful ex-husband, Meg thought.

Not that he was of concern to her now, Meg thought, with enormous relief.

No, her priority was deciding what they were going to do about the mischief her five year old daughter Kelly had been getting into with another kindergarten student, and getting her own pager back. Because no two children should be getting in this much trouble, Meg thought firmly as she walked down the cheerfully decorated front hall of Forrester Day Care. Not to mention this soon! It was only Kelly's second week in the school. And already she had conspired with another student who-thanks to different parental schedules Meg had yet to meet-to disrupt story time with an impromptu song and dance routine, use finger paints without permission to 'create' squiggly rainbows on the child-sized tables, crumble graham crackers in each other's hair during their afternoon snack, and last but not least, switch Meg and another parent's beeper. If the troublemaking continued at this rate, Meg thought, her daughter and the equally precocious and energetic little boy she was misbehaving with would be asked to leave the prestigious new school before the end of the week. And that would be a tremendous problem. Meg needed a good, safe place for Kelly to attend kindergarten while Meg was teaching musical theater classes at the university. So they had to resolve this quickly and amicably, Meg thought as she entered the office and came face to face with the man talking on the cell phone.

For a moment, the only thing they could do was stare at each other in stunned amazement. Meg's gaze took in the handsome thirty-six year old man. It had been five long years since they had laid eyes on each other, and yet nothing much had changed. Brody Taylor was still as tall and fit and ruggedly appealing as ever. Broad shoulders and a sinewy chest filled out his olive tweed sport coat. Long legs and lean hips made the most of his stone-colored dress slacks. His thick black hair was conservatively cut and combed straight back. And his dark brown eyes were zeroed in on hers with mesmerizing accuracy.

"What are you doing here?" Meg demanded, aghast.

Brody's strong jaw took on the familiar, stubborn tilt. Using the flat of his palm, he smoothed his silk tie against his crisply ironed shirt. "I came to get my beeper. And I could ask the same thing of you!" Brody answered. He shoved the edges of his sport coat back and braced his hands on his waist. "You're supposed to be in New York!"
Meg squared off with Brody, trying not to notice the way he was hungrily drinking in the sight of her, too. As if it had been too long. Far too long. "And you're supposed to be in Ireland," she accused, as her heart turned cartwheels in her chest. She had always known she would see her Brody Taylor and son Kevin again-she just hadn't expected it to be so soon. And certainly not without a great deal of forewarning, planning, and thought!
Brody blinked, his glance roving her casually upswept hair and parted lips before returning to her eyes with hypnotizing authority. "You didn't get my letter?" he asked in a low, piqued voice.

Relieved she at least looked like a woman in command of her own world in her tailored brown herringbone blazer, coordinating sable brown slacks, and ivory silk blouse, when she felt like anything but, Meg struggled against the perilously shifting universe. She folded her arms in front of her, dug her heels in the floor beneath her, and regarded him just as contentiously. "You didn't get mine?"

"Someone want to fill me in?" Katherine Kinnard asked dryly as she walked into the office to join them.

Meg and Brody turned in unison to the driving force behind Forrester Day Care. A graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in Early Childhood Education, at twenty-nine, Katherine was a beautiful woman with silky chestnut brown hair, and a big wide smile. She was a fair boss, a great teacher and administrator, and-unlike Meg--old-fashioned enough to believe in hearts and flowers romance and happily ever after.

"We used to be married," Meg explained uncomfortably, not sure Katherine would understand just how far awry Cupid's arrow had been when it joined her and Brody together, temporarily.

"We split up five years ago, when Kevin and Kelly were just two months old," Brody continued explaining matter-of-factly. "We each took one of the twins with us."

Meg added, "I went to New York to pursue a stage career on Broadway. And Brody went to Ireland to begin a computer software company, that was funded by his Uncle Roarke."

"Do Kevin and Kelly know they are fraternal twins?" Katherine asked, a faintly disapproving look coming over her pretty face.

Meg and Brody exchanged uneasy glances. "They know they have a sibling their same age who lives with their other parent, but that's all, thus far," Meg said. "We thought our arrangement would be too much to try and explain to a young child."

About that, Katherine Kinnard finally seemed to agree.

"We planned to introduce them and tell them everything when they were old enough to be handle their separation, say around twelve or so." Brody frowned, his expression troubled. "We hadn't planned to do it so soon."

Katherine felt her way into the chair behind her desk. "Why didn't you list each other as next of kin on Kevin and Kelly's applications?"

"Brody and I don't have joint custody. We each assume total responsibility for the twin in our care." And they had done so for a reason, Meg thought as she sat down, too, in one of the chairs along the wall opposite Katherine's desk. "Her parents were divorced when she was very young and she had spent her entire childhood being volleyed back and forth between them, to the point she ended up feeling insecure and torn apart inside, like she really didn't belong either place. Meg had also felt terribly disloyal to both her parents and was of course extremely guilty and conflicted about that. It had been a sad, unhappy way to grow up. She hadn't wanted to inflict similar pain on their twins, and neither had Brody. They had wanted to spare the twins the unhappiness of trying to divide their childhoods between two very disparate homes and parents.

"Given how far apart the two of us were going to be living," Brody continued in his usual all-business tone as he settled his six foot two frame into the chair next to Meg. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "Meg and I felt it would be too hard to arrange visitations. So we each took one of the twins, and promised each other we would let them get acquainted when they were twelve."

"In the meantime, all we've ever told Kevin and Kelly is that they each had another parent and a sibling living an ocean away," Meg said. It had been like a fairy tale, or a far away dream that brought only happy thoughts, and not the pain and heartache of divorce and a family split in two.

"Of course," Meg sighed, looking back at Brody, "now that Kevin and Kelly have come face to face with each other, we're going to have to tell them the whole story and go from there."

Abruptly, Brody looked just as daunted by the possibility of doing that as Meg felt.

"Maybe I should give you two a moment alone to sort all this out," Katherine said kindly.

"Thanks." Brody had eyes only for Meg as he stood and began to roam the office restlessly. "We'd appreciate that," he said distractedly.

Katherine stepped outside, shutting the door behind her. Meg and Brody were left alone. Feeling somehow safer if she remained in a different posture than her ex-husband, Meg remained sitting. Brody looked down at her thoughtfully. "I guess we've both got some explaining to do," he said reluctantly at last

Meg crossed her legs at the knee and looped her clasped hands around one. "You first. What brought you back to Seattle?" He couldn't have been here for very long. She had just spoken to him five weeks ago, and he had still been in Ireland then.

"I'm opening a U.S. office of Taylor Software, here in Seattle. I just moved here a few weeks ago. I had my attorney send you a formal letter of notice, shortly after the last time we spoke on the phone, but I guess the letter didn't reach you."

Meg knew why it hadn't. "I wanted to see if I could get a job out here before I made the decision to move. When they offered me the position teaching musical theater at the University of Washington, it was contingent on me starting right away and teaching classes fall term. So I said yes and made arrangements to have my New York City apartment sublet and all our belongings shipped. Kelly and I then spent the last month or so driving cross-country on vacation, finding a place to live out here, and moving in."

Brody looked surprised but pleased. "What happened to your stage career?" he asked curiously. He braced a shoulder against the wall, and folded his arms in front of him. "The last I heard they had offered you the starring role in the Broadway production of Annie, Get Your Gun."

Feeling unbearably restless, too, Meg rose gracefully to her feet and walked over to the windows overlooking Sandringham Drive in Belltown. The restored historic district, near the Seattle waterfront, was bathed in the late afternoon sun. "I turned it down," Meg told Brody seriously, as she tore her eyes from the other beautifully restored sandstone brick buildings. "I realized Kelly was starting kindergarten and if I took the part of Annie that she and I would literally never see each other, because she would be gone most of the day and I would be working every evening, plus all day Saturday and Sunday. That was okay, before she started kindergarten-we just spent all our days together, during the week. And I didn't want to be unavailable to her that way. So I decided to head back home, to Seattle, and look for a day job, which I promptly found." Meg studied Brody's face, noting the healthy golden glow of his skin, the blush of sun across his nose and cheeks. "Why did you relocate to Seattle?" Meg asked curiously.

"Same reason as you." Brody smiled with unabashed sentiment. "It's home. And although I loved Ireland, and my family there, I wanted Kevin to grow up in the States, and have the same kind of all-American childhood with baseball and apple pie that I did when I was a kid. Plus, we did want to open a branch of the company here, and Seattle is a great place for software development."

So it wasn't just his heart bringing him back here. It was also the welfare of his beloved business. Trying not to feel resentful of the ambition that had driven them apart, Meg crossed her legs at the knee. "How has Kevin adjusted?"

Brody's brow furrowed. "Not as well as I would've liked. I haven't been able to find a nanny."

"What happened to the one he had in Ireland?"

Brody paused, just a second too long, before answering, "Her family is in Ireland. I couldn't ask her to accompany us to the States, although she probably would have."

"Even in the interim?"

"I figured I could handle Kev until I found someone else. Of course," Brody shoved a hand through his hair, before continuing ruefully, "that was before I knew how difficult it was going to be to get a replacement Kev liked."

"I take it you've been interviewing?" Meg said dryly.

"Oh yes. But Kevin hasn't liked any of the ones I've met with thus far." Brody paused and gazed at Meg hopefully. "You wouldn't happen to know of anyone here in the Seattle area, would you?"

Meg shook her head. Brody frowned, disappointed. "How long do you have to find one?" Meg asked gently, her heart going out to him. Childcare was both the saving grace and bane of every single parent.

"Truthfully?" Brody tapped his foot restlessly. " I needed one yesterday. Since the move, I've adjusted my work hours and curtailed all business travel, but that can't last forever. Anyway," he massaged the muscles in the back of his neck, "I know the disruption in our home life is probably partially responsible for this chaos today."

"And the rest--?" Meg prodded curiously.

"Is just Kevin being Kevin."

Eager for more information on the child she had been separated from for so long, Meg leaned toward Brody earnestly. "He has a mischievous streak?"

Brody made a seesawing motion with his hands. "I prefer to think of it as a penchant for higher-level thinking. He's always coming up with these bright ideas. You know. Imaginative solutions to real life problems. The difficulty is he doesn't have the maturity or judgment to go along with all his bright-eyed notions."

That sounded like trouble, Meg thought. "Give me an example," she urged.

"Okay." Brody smiled with obvious paternal pride. "Last night he wanted his own car to drive around so he tried to build one for himself out of snap-together building blocks and bed pillows. It didn't work because it didn't have any wheels, but it was a good effort. Anyway, he does stuff like that all the time. Tries to figure out how things work or how to get from point A to point B on his own. I'm used to dealing with his innovativeness. And in fact I think it's kind of cute. But this--" Brody pointed to the beepers, "is for record books. Getting the two of us together this way."

"I know what you mean, it is amazingly coincidental, not just for that, but for us both to enroll our kids in the same school at the same time." What were the odds against such a thing happening?

But Brody, as usual, seemed to take the unexpected in stride a lot more easily than Meg did. "Maybe not ," he said casually. "Forrester Day Care is the hottest new childcare center in the city. It's only been open a few weeks and already it's got a phenomenal reputation as a very wonderful kid-centered place. We would both want our kids to have the best, so it makes perfect sense that we would enroll them here."

Oh, Brody, Meg thought wistfully, if only it could all be that simple. "What are we going to do?" Meg murmured, wishing the two of them had never gotten themselves in such a mess.

"First," Brody stated firmly as he unclipped the black transmitter from his belt, "we're going to give each other back our beepers."

Meg and Brody were each handing the other's beeper over when a rap sounded at the door, and Katherine Kinnard walked in, a twin on either side of her. For a moment, Meg couldn't breathe. She'd seen pictures of Kevin, charting his progress as he grew from infant to toddler, to little boy, but nothing prepared her for the impact of seeing her child in person after five long years. He was so incredibly cute and charismatic she couldn't take her eyes off him. And his twin sister Kelly was just as adorable. Not, Meg noted, that the twins looked anything alike. With her jet black hair cut in a Dutch boy style, and dark eyes, Kelly looked a lot like her father and nothing at all like Meg. Whereas Kevin, with his naturally curly reddish brown hair, green eyes, and freckles, looked a lot like her. So it was no wonder no one had put two and two together and realized they were twins, fraternal or otherwise.

"We're sorry," Kelly said.

"Yeah, we are," Kevin added earnestly, as he pushed the toe his sneaker around on the floor in front of him.

"We didn't mean to give each other the wrong beepers." Kelly bobbed up and down, unable to stand still, even for a second. Intent on talking them out of trouble, she failed to notice the tears Meg was surreptitiously blinking back and instead focused on Brody, who, Meg noted, was struggling to control his emotional reaction to seeing Kelly.

"We were just showing each other how they worked when you were off taking the tour of the school--" Kelly pointed to Brody. "And you were talking to that other parent-lady about being the school's new music teacher--" Kelly turned her index finger in Meg's direction.

Meg drew a shaky breath. It was all she could do not to gather her little boy into her arms and hug him to her chest. But, given the fact, he still didn't have a clue who she really was…

"You're teaching here, too?" Brody's brow lifted.

Meg swallowed hard around the lump of emotion in her throat. "Part-time, to the older classes, in exchange for reduced tuition for Kelly," Meg said. Since buying a small cozy home in Seattle, and foregoing a paycheck for most of the summer, her fiances were tight. "I start later this week."

"And then my daddy came back in and we had to hurry and put the beepers back in his briefcase and your purse and we got 'em mixed up," Kevin continued his explanation with an exuberant array of hand and arm motions.

"Anyway, we won't do it again," Kelly promised, an angelic expression on her face, "cause we know beepers aren't a toy. Right, Kevin?" She elbowed her brother dramatically.

Kevin nodded vigorously, in response.

So, Meg thought, a little shakily as she slid the correct beeper back into the appropriate pocket in her purse, that much was settled. As for the rest, Meg thought as she looked at the child she had given up shortly after birth with a heart that was suddenly filled to overflowing, what were she and Brody going to do about that? She was still precariously close to bursting into tears, wanting to take her little boy in her arms and hold him tight. But knowing that kind of trumped up emotional reaction would scare him, she had to fight for the overwhelming love and joy pouring out of her heart, and hold her composure. Meanwhile, Brody-who seemed to be struggling with the exact same emotional reaction that Meg was having, about finally being close to his only daughter again, finally tore his eyes from Kelly and looked back at Meg. His dark eyes were glimmering moistly. "I don't know about you," he said, in a low husky tone, that seemed to come straight from his soul, "but I'm thinking it might be a good idea to leave early for the day and go somewhere and talk."

Meg nodded, knowing Brody was right, it was imperative they get things settled, and fast, now that they had all inadvertently come face to face again. "Why don't you and Kevin come over to our place for dinner this evening?" she asked casually. She wanted to have this discussion, but-knowing how much of a take-charge guy Brody could be, especially in problem-fraught situations, she wanted to have this family meeting on her turf.

"Yippee!" Kevin and Kelly held hands and jumped up and down together. "We get to be together!" they shouted gleefully.

Brody caught Meg's eyes as his face split into a wide grin. Like Meg, he was content when their children were. "Sounds good to me, too," he stated, already pulling the cell phone from the holder on his belt. "Just let me call my office and tell them to reschedule that staff meeting for first thing tomorrow."

"Are you nervous, Mommy?" Kelly said.

Meg put down her hairbrush and turned away from the mirror in her bedroom. "Why would you ask that?" she said as she sat down on the edge of the bed to put on her sneakers.

Kelly shrugged. She, too, had changed clothes as soon as she got home, taking off her pretty school dress, with its ruffled pinafore, and putting on jeans, T-shirt, and velcro sneakers. Kelly perched beside Meg on the bed and bounced up and down, as if she were on a trampoline.

"Cause your cheeks are all white and you're frowny-faced, and your hands are shaking, kind of like before you go on stage where you're doing somethin' new and you're a little bit scared. Whatcha call it when that happens?" Kelly paused and asked curiously.

"Stage fright," Meg supplied, thinking her little girl knew her too well. And her little boy, well, he didn't know her at all.

"Yeah, that's what you look like you got," Kelly announced loudly.

Meg drew a deep breath. Out of the mouths of babes….

Kelly was right. She was frightened and on edge. For no logical reason. It wasn't as if she couldn't do this. She was a professional actress. Which meant that no matter how she was feeling inside, she could draw on the same talents that she utilized on stage and project an aura different from what she was feeling. Hence, she would put away her nerves and residual feelings for Brody Taylor and act as if Brody meant nothing to her, except as the father of her children, of course.

"It's just been a long day, honey," Meg explained with a weary smile, telling herself that at worst case, the evening ahead would be nothing more than another stellar performance on her part.

"For me, too," Kelly said, as she curled her lithe little body into a ball and did a slow-motion somersault across the bed.

Kelly, however, looked no worse for wear, Meg noted affectionately. In fact she was more exuberant than ever as she hopped back down onto the floor, and stood, first on one foot, then the other.

"Can I take Kevin outside to play on my new swing set when he and his daddy get here?" Kelly asked.

"If you promise to stay in the backyard and not be too rambunctious," Meg cautioned.

Kelly abruptly came to a halt, folded her arms into her sides, stood stiff as a little toy soldier, and regarded Meg. She flattened her chubby little hand over her heart. "I promise I'll behave," she said, very very seriously.

Meg smoothed the hair from Kelly's face, and bent to kiss her cheek. "That would make Mommy very happy."

Kelly vaulted into Meg's arms and hugged her back. "Me, too."

The sound of car doors slamming had them both turning and looking out the windows. Meg caught her breath at the sight of her ex-husband and son in the shiny new, forest green SUV.

Kelly looked equally undone by their arrival-for very different reasons, of course. "They're here!" Looking as if she had just gotten the best gift in the whole wide world, Kelly threw up her arms in excitement and raced down the stairs and toward the front door.

Cathy Gillen Thacker is the bestselling author of witty romantic comedies and warm, family stories whose books are published in 17 languages and 35 countries.