Jack growled something under his breath, then continued. “This is unprofessional of me, but I’m going to do it anyway. Will you have dinner with me?”
“Dinner?” Beth felt like an idiot echoing him, especially since on some level she, too, had felt the attraction. But she’d assumed he was married, or that he would be put off by her problems. “I’m sorry, but…”
“Why not?” he asked bluntly.
He was big enough that she felt crowded in the booth. His knees bumped hers as he moved restlessly; his shoulders blocked her view of the front of the café.
“Surely you can see this isn’t a good moment for me to be thinking about getting involved….”
“Don’t let him stop you.”
She blinked. Was that it—did she fear she’d anger her ex-husband more? But she knew even without deep analysis that her reasons were more complex. “I’m flattered that you’re interested, but you’ll have to accept my regrets. Now, I really should be getting back to the store.”
Hands flat on the table, he had gone very still. “If you change your mind…”
She made a face. “I’ll call the Butte County Sheriff’s Office and pass on a message.”
His mouth crooked into a faint smile. “That wouldn’t be a problem.”
My daughter read my PATTON’S DAUGHTERS trilogy and said, “I’m not sure I like Jack.” I pointed out that, like most of us, he’s a work in progress, a mix of cowardice and nobility, kindness and impatience. In other words, he’s as real as I could make him. Jack is a hero who doesn’t believe he is, a man who has spent his life trying to make up for one moment of fear and weakness. All these years later he still hasn’t convinced himself that he has in him the ability to be heroic. And our perceptions of ourselves are as important as our behavior, right?
For me, this added up to a character who demanded his own story. Perhaps I always intended him to have it. For those of you who’ve read PATTON’S DAUGHTERS, I hope you’re waiting for this book. For the rest of you—Jack is a hero, and the most interesting kind: flawed, self-aware and stronger than he knows. I loved writing these books, and as always, I’m eager to hear what you think!
Janice Kay Johnson
You can reach me at: www.superauthors.com
Jack Murray, Sheriff
Janice Kay Johnson
BETH SOMMERS STARED blindly at the screen of her computer. She squeezed her eyes shut, drew in a long breath and tried to release tension as she exhaled. But even as she opened her eyes, her glance strayed to the wall clock.
Nine, long past time for the girls’ baths and the gentle rituals of getting ready for bed. And they still weren’t home.
Beth stood restlessly and went to the window, which overlooked the street. Street lamps illuminated the sidewalks and front yards, leaving pools of darkness. Headlights approached, but she could tell that they didn’t belong to her ex-husband’s pickup.
“Damn him,” she said aloud, the intensity in her voice shocking her.
How could Ray use their children this way? He had once loved them, she knew he had. He hadn’t been much for changing diapers or giving baths, but she remembered how gently he had held Stephanie when she was a baby, the look on his face when she smiled at him with wonder and delight.
And Lauren, the quiet one, the shy one, coaxed by her daddy into riding on his shoulders, so terrifyingly high up. Beth remembered her younger daughter clutching his hair, eyes saucer wide. By the end of the ride she was giggling and kicking him with her heels and shouting, “Giddyup!”
When had his anger swamped his love to the point where he could hurt his daughters just so he could hurt her?
She was turning away from the dark window when the high bright headlights of a pickup truck appeared around the corner down the block.
“Please, please,” Beth whispered, frozen in place.
The pickup stopped at the curb, and her muscles unlocked. In an agony of relief, she ran out of the office and down the stairs to the front door. Wrenching it open, she hurried along the walkway to meet the girls, who tumbled out of the high cab of the pickup and raced to her.
“Oh, sweeties!” Beth swept them both into a hug so hard her muscles quivered. Tears burned in her eyes, but she lifted her head and smiled shakily. “Did you have a good visit with your dad?”
Eight-year-old Lauren had been crying, Beth could tell. Her older sister’s face closed at the question, and she glanced nervously over her shoulder. “It was okay.”
“You guys get your stuff and go on in,” she told them, trying to sound casual, natural. “I need to talk to your dad.”
Stephanie said in a low hurried voice, “I think he’s mad at me ’cause I asked him when we were going home. He said that his apartment was home. But it’s not! I was scared—” She broke off abruptly, a sixth sense seeming to tell her that her father had grabbed their bags out of the back of the pickup and was approaching.
Both girls lowered their heads and turned to meet him, taking their overnight bags from him and obediently accepting his hugs. Then they fled into the house, leaving their mother and father facing each other on the front walkway.
Despite her best effort to speak levelly, Beth’s voice was trembling with suppressed anger. “You are three hours late. I’ve been worried.”
He shrugged and smiled. “We were having a good time. What’s the hurry?”
Dear God, to think she had once been attracted by that slanted, lazy grin! Now she wanted to erase it, once and for all.
But, heaven help her, he was her daughters’ father. Somehow she had to convince him that they counted more than his feelings of anger.
“You scare them when you do this,” she said. “Please be a father Steph and Lauren can rely on. Please.”
His grin faded, all right, as his lips drew back from his teeth. Just like that, he was shouting. “I’m not the one who drove their father from them! You want to run your own damned household, run it, but don’t tell me how to run mine! You got it?”
Her own anger exploded. To her eternal shame, Beth couldn’t stop herself from yelling back, “You bring them home late one more time, and you won’t take them again. If you can’t be a decent parent, then forget you ever were one!”
A few equally