The couple most likely t.., p.1

  The Couple Most Likely To, p.1

The Couple Most Likely To
 

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The Couple Most Likely To


  THE COUPLE MOST LIKELY TO

  LILIAN DARCY

  Published by Silhouette Books

  Americas Publisher of Contemporary Romance

  Special thanks and acknowledgment are given to Lilian Darcy for her contribution to the LOGANS LEGACY REVISITED miniseries

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Coming Next Month

  Chapter One

  T he January darkness had already begun to gather outside as Stacey Handley came into the day-care center. The misty drizzle of rain blanketing the region would have reduced visibility on I-5 almost to zero. John was a cautious driver, thank heaven, but the weather conditions on this first Friday of the new year meant hed probably be late. That and the demands of his job with the Washington State government.

  Taking a deep breath, Stacey accepted the inevitable. Even with his usual quick turnaround, her ex-husband would be making the two-hour drive back from Portland to Olympia in full darkness, in slippery conditions, with their precious two-year-old twins strapped in their seats in back.

  It wasnt his fault.

  It wasnt hers.

  It was the fault of their divorce, for sure, and all the mistakes theyd madeincluding the fact that theyd gotten married in the first place.

  In contrast to the gloom outside, the day-care center attached to the Portland General Hospital felt bright and warm. Childrens artwork hung on the walls and on colored yarn from the ceiling. Creative imagination buzzed in the home corner, the dress-up area, and the block space.

  The place drew Stacey in, giving the usual lift to her spirits. She always loved dropping in here to see Max and Ella during her breaks, and picking them up at the end of the day. In her anticipation at seeing them, she forgot temporarily about the lonely weekend that lay ahead. But for now, she was happy to spend some precious minutes with the twins before John collected them.

  Max saw her almost at once and catapulted into her arms. She returned his hug and inhaled the clean smell of his wheat-blond hair, noting that Ella, as usual, was too busy to have noticed her arrival. Hi, sweetheart, she said to her little boy. Did you have a good afternoon?

  Did paintin.

  Did you? Can I see? She tried to put him down, but he kept his arms tight around her neck, accidentally pulling on hair that needed a fresh cut.

  At this age, he was more clingy than Ella. She always became so absorbed in her play that Mommy often had to join her in an activity for several minutes before she could slowly coax her daughter to let it go. The two were so different in both looks and temperament. Strangers were astonished to discover that they were twins.

  Once more, Stacey felt the usual uncomfortable kick of her heart at the thought of letting them go for a whole weekend. Somehow it hadnt seemed so hard last spring after John had first moved to Olympia. Max hadnt yet been walking. Theyd both been taking longer naps. When youd said to them, Time to get out of the bath, they hadnt thought to protest.

  But now, nine months later, they were such a handful. John was a good father and tried his utmost. He usually took them one weekend in three, sometimes one in two, and their divorce had been amicable enough to avoid any dispute over custody or access. Could he really be as watchful as she was, though? Did he fully understand just how fast they could get into trouble?

  She glanced toward the window again, and already it looked much darker out there, although it was only just after four. The rain hissed and spat against the glass.

  Not rain anymore.

  Sleet.

  How were those roads?

  She needed to get back to workbut she reminded herself that with the twins away she could work late tonight in order to catch up if she was away from her desk for too long now. She could spend a little more time with her children, and coax some hugs from busy Ella, whod only just seen her and called out, Hi, Mommy!

  Her heart kicked again.

  And then, just when it was the last thing in the world she was thinking about, she heard the voice and saw the face shed lately been remembering so vividly. Remembering, and trying so hard to prepare for, since shed dealt with certain employment formalities in the Portland General administrative offices several weeks ago.

  Jake Logan.

  He stood right there in the day-care center doorway. Gorgeous, ambitious, wide-horizoned Jake. The man she hadnt married seventeen years ago. The man shed once expected would share the daunting tasks and incomparable rewards of parenthood right along with her. The man whod left Portland way before she was ready to let him go.

  Jake threw her a shocked glance, his recognition instant and obvious. Max had settled himself on her hip as if he planned to stay there all night. Ella trotted toward her for a hug. Stacey would have her arms full by the time Jake reached her.

  The relationship between herself and the two small children must be written in every gesture. He would have to realize that they were her kids. In seventeen years shed been through all sorts of changes, and her emotions had run the gamut. So had his, no doubt. Seventeen years was a long time.

  Had he noticed her signature on a couple of the administrative letters he would have received from the hospital? Shed kept her maiden name for work and had gone back to it in her personal life after the divorce. Had Jake realized that coming back to Portland would mean seeing her again?

  From his expression, apparently not.

  It all seemed too significant.

  The burden of being a parentof caring that muchof risking and losing and hurtingof dealing with two sets of feelings that didnt matchwas such a large part of what had separated herself and Jake all those years ago, when they were both still in their teens. She didnt know whether she should still be angry about things hed said and done. Shed moved on, hadnt she?

  Now, trying to keep Max anchored to her hip while she simultaneously scooped Ella up before she began to cry, Stacey muttered under her breath, Its just the same. Im carrying the weight. And hes free. Just as he wants to be.

  She already knew he wasnt married. Dealing with Portland General Hospitals personnel files had its advantages, sometimes. And when a man like Jake wasnt yet married at the age of thirty-five, it could only be by his own choice.

  He looked so good. With Ellas smoochy kiss warm on her cheek, she took in all the ways hed changedas well as the ways he hadnt. If hed been good-looking in her own eyes back then, he would turn any womans head now. He was thirty-five, the same age as Stacey herself, and while many of his contemporaries had begun to lose their hair and gain at the waistline, Jake looked fit and strong and confidenta man totally in his prime.

  Hed filled out since the age of eighteen, but all of it was muscle, tamed a littlebut not muchby the dark tailored trousers and gray-and-white cotton sweater he wore. His dark hair was cut short enough to be neat but long enough to remind her of the way shed once run her fingers through it. As he passed beneath the beam of a recessed light in the ceiling she saw just the faintest smattering of silver around his temples and behind his well-shaped ears.

  Hed entered with Jillian Logan who was a social worker at the adjacent Childrens Connection and spent a lot of time here in the hospital, as well. Stacey didnt know if the shared last names were just a coincidence. Logan wasnt uncommon, but anyone with that name around this place tended to be related. From the way Jillian had caught her eye, smiled and tur
ned in Staceys direction, it seemed as if she might soon find out.

  Stacey, hi, she began briskly. She was a very pretty woman with her long brown hair and brown eyes, but usually dressed to give off an impression of professional competence rather than personal warmth. She favored tailored clothing and classic colors, such as todays suit in pale sage green. I dropped into your office at the wrong moment and discovered my cousin.

  Well, that answered the question about their names. The Logan family was very prominent around Portland General Hospital and the adjacent Childrens Connection. Jillians parents had donated an enormous amount of financial and practical support to the fertility clinic and adoption center over the years.

  Odd, actually. Stacey had known Jake so well, but she didnt remember any mention of his prominent Logan cousinsnot even when she and Jake had been planning their wedding and talking about the guest list.

  Jake and Jillian had thrown each other a slightly self-conscious glance, too, as if the word cousin didnt feel quite right to either of them.

  Hed like a tour, if theres time, to meet a few people and get his ID card, that kind of thing, Jillian went on, as Stacey lowered both twins out of her arms. Youre starting Monday, Jake? He nodded and she turned back to Stacey. Oh, I havent actually introduced you. Stacey, this is

  Its all right, Jake cut in quickly. Stacey and I already know each other.

  He put out his hand to shake hers. Ella had scampered back to the Play-Doh table. Max clung to Staceys leg, distracting her. She felt the brief squeeze of Jakes hand, warm and dry. The moment bewildered her. Outwardly so ordinary, yet so significant given their history together.

  Weve been in touch over his employment contract, she explained quickly to Jillian. Jake had become a successful ob-gyn, specializing in infertility, and Portland General Hospital was fortunate to have him coming to work here.

  She caught a flash in Jakes green eyes as he took in the way shed avoided any reference to their high school days, let alone their acknowledged status, back then, as a couple madly in love.

  The couple madly in love, in fact.

  Theyd gotten the official vote from their classmates: The Couple Most Likely To Marry Right Out Of High School, but then life had gotten in the way and it had all fallen apart.

  She tensed.

  Would he challenge what shed said? Had Jillian herself been around at that time? Stacey knew she had grown up here. She would have been a couple of years below them in school, however, and Portland was no country town where everyone knew everybody else.

  Since Jake had never mentioned his Logan cousins in the past, it seemed likely that the two branches of the Logan family hadnt been close. It seemed equally clear that Jillian had no idea of the tension Stacey could feel between herself and Jakelike the zing of an electric current down a wire.

  Someone said you were over here, Stacey, collecting the twins, Jillian went on easily. Does that mean youre heading out early today? Because I have a client to see in the I.C.U. she looked at her watch yikes! Ten minutes ago!

  Its okay. Im not heading out early. The twins are going to their fathers for the weekend. Hes picking them up from here, but I always stop in to say goodbye before they go. Belatedly, she considered Jillians reference to her client appointment and added, So go ahead, get up to the I.C.U. Ill finish giving Dr. Logan the tour. After all, its my job far more than it is yours.

  From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw his body tighten. Apparently hed never noticed her signature on those letters. Not so much of a surprise. Theyd only been cover letters for enclosed paperwork. Hed probably tossed them in the wastepaper basket without even looking. In that area, shed had an advantage. Shed known for weeks that he was coming back into her life.

  But she hadnt known how she would feel about it when the time came. Already she realized it was going to be a heck of a lot harder than shed expected.

  Thanks, Stacey. Jake, Ill see you on the weekend. Jillian touched his arm, but it was a tentative gesture, confirming Staceys impression that the two of them didnt know each other very well.

  As Jillian left, Nancy Allen Logan closed the story shed been reading to a group of children in the book corner and came over to Stacey, sparing only a faint, uncertain smile for Jake. The Cat in the Hat always goes on longer than I remember. Did you put their overnight bags in Robbies office, as usual?

  Yes, with a snack for the ride. She glanced at the clock on the wall. If John doesnt get here soon, it wont be enough for them and hell need to stop for a proper meal.

  Uh-oh, junk food alert.

  I know, when you try so hard to give them good food here, and so do I, at home.

  Nancy and Robbie Logan ran the day-care center together. He was Jillian Logans brother, but again the connection wasnt as close as youd expect. Jillian was one of the Logans three adopted children, while Robbie had been abducted before Jillian came into the family, when he was just six years old. He hadnt been reunited with his family until just a few years ago. Stacey suppressed a shiver. How did any parent survive something like that? Thinking about it brought out her worst fears.

  Do you need to talk to John before he leaves with them? Nancy asked.

  No, everythings under control. Im showing Dr. Logan around the hospital and taking care of some personnel issues he needs in place before Monday. Um She hesitated. Did these two know each other? Should she introduce them?

  Nancy solved the dilemma with a smile at the man. Youre Jake. Of course. Were meeting you officially on the weekend. Im looking forward to it.

  Itll be interesting, Jake answered, sounding a little more reserved on the subject. Jillian made a good case, that it was up to our generation to heal the family rift.

  She must have! Good enough to bring you to live and work in Portland, and with a close professional involvement with Childrens Connection, too.

  Well see how it works out, Jake said. Im a bit of a wanderer, and Im just renting a place. I can move on in a couple of years if being back here doesnt feel like the right thing. Jillians the brave one, pushing for this, when its likely that shell bear a lot of the consequences if the rift doesnt heal.

  Jillian is always determined to practice what she preaches. Nancys tone contained the suggestion that sometimes she didnt succeed.

  The sound of sudden angry tears from one of the children stopped the cryptic conversation in its tracks. Nancy glanced over to where a junior staff member was trying without success to resolve a conflict between two four-year-olds. She gave a resigned exclamation. Id better deal with this one.

  Stacey took a breath and turned back to Jake. ID card first, then the tour?

  Its your call.

  Lets do it that way. The laminating machine acts up sometimes, and its already after four on a Friday afternoon. If we have to call the maintenance department to She realized she was papering over the tension between them with a level of tedious detail he didnt remotely need, and stopped.

  What were Ella and Max doing?

  They were absorbed in their play, she saw. She resisted the need to give them another hug and a whole lot of I-love-you-Ill-miss-you messages. She always tried to let them leave without too much fuss when they went for their weekends with John, because it wouldnt be good for them to guess how reluctant she was to have them go. But, oh, it was hard.

  What had Jake seen in her face?

  Are you finding this a little harder than you expected? he asked quietly, opening the day-care center door for her. Meeting up again, I mean.

  Yes, she admitted honestly. You havent changed, and yet

  We must be reaching middle age. Thats when people start telling each other that they look exactly the way they did in high school, even though it was half a lifetime ago. You do, though, Stacey. You look really good.

  Thanks. So do you.

  Her movement past him brought them close. For a moment, she felt his body heat. His male strength seemed to pull on her like a magnet. Her ex-husband was slighter in build, and Jake himse
lf had been slighter seventeen years ago. This close, she wasnt used to such a powerful contrast between a mans body and her own. It unsettled her way more than she wanted, as did the faint scent of spice and musk that hovered around him.

  It has been a long time, she added. H-how are you doing?

  Good. Im doing great. Im real good. Im good.

  Jake heard himself repeat his answer to Stacey Handleys simple question not once but a full three times and wondered what the hell his problem was.

  Stacey seemed rattled, too, although less rattled than he felt. Her reference to being in touch over his employment contract told him that she must have known he would be starting here, while hed had no clue that he would be seeing her. Filling in short-term for a colleague in Seattle, hed landed in an overworked ob-gyn practice. When hed applied for the position at Portland General hed thrown most of the necessary paperwork at one of the practices admin staff, merely scrawling his signature a few times.

  Encountering Stacey in the day-care center felt like an ambush. His heart still beat faster. His head still spun.

  By mutual unworded agreement, he and Stacey had lost touch with each other years ago. He wasnt surprised to find she was still in Portland but it was a definite jolt to learn that theyd be working under the same roof. Theyd been through too much together to dismiss each other as long-ago high school classmates after a couple of polite questions about kids and careers. Theyd defined each others lives through the choices that had driven them apart, with anger and guilt on both sides.

  It was a jolt to see her, all right.

  As if he didnt have enough emotional stuff to grapple with, thanks to Jillian Logans determination to heal the decades-long rift between her family and his. He remembered almost every word of Jillians approach to him at the medical conference in Seattle several months agothat stuff about healing and forgiveness, about doing what was right, not what was easybut was she being naive? Theory could be a lot easier than practice.

  Accepting an ob-gyn position at Portland General would be seen by Jillians parents as an incredibly provocative gesture on Jakes part if he and the other members of the younger generation couldnt convince Uncle Terrence and Aunt Leslie that his intentions were good. Lawrence and Terrence Logan had turned their differing approaches to life into a chasm that had divided the two branches of the family for thirty years. The long-ago kidnapping of Uncle Terrence and Aunt Leslies eldest son Robbie had only made the chasm wider.

 
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