How could she have done something so stupid, so humiliating, so…undignified?
Nell stood under the shower, letting the hot water beat over her head. How could she face him again? How could she work with a man she’d let…
She moaned aloud at the fresh realization of exactly what she’d let him do. Never mind what she’d done.
She could only pray he was embarrassed, too, but what were the odds of that? Hugh McLean had a reputation with women. Nell knew painfully well that she wasn’t even close to being a looker. But she was a woman, one more notch in his belt.
She flushed hot and cold. Her behavior had been so alien for the woman she’d become. It was as if too many beers had thrown her back to the wild teenager she’d been sixteen years ago, before she learned her lesson the hard way.
Would Hugh keep his word and not tell anyone? Nell didn’t know him well enough to be sure.
As she got out of the shower, dried and dressed, Nell’s thoughts raced in vicious circles. Then, in the kitchen, she discovered a note from Kim, saying that she was going out with her boyfriend.
Great. Wonderful. Her sixteen-year-old daughter was spending the day with her too-ardent boyfriend. What Nell wouldn’t give for year-round school.
As the parent of teenage girls, I all too frequently fuss about what they could do that would upset me the most. A teenage pregnancy, of course, is right up there on the list. In a mildly malicious mood one day, I pondered instead what I might do that would shock and upset them the most. I didn’t have to think long. If their unmarried mom had sex with a guy she wasn’t even dating and got pregnant, they would be horrified.
It was easy to click into story mode. What if my fictional mom has reason to worry that her sixteen-year-old daughter might get pregnant? And what if she herself gets pregnant and can’t bring herself to tell her daughter? Hey—this girl will never listen to Mom’s moralizing again! Of course, I had to think of a good reason my heroine would be so careless…. But I won’t give that away.
I love multigenerational stories, as you’ve probably noticed by now, so this one plays on a common theme—we often repeat the mistakes of our parents. We are what we were raised to be—unless we overcome our childhood lessons, which is a challenge worthy of a novel!
I’ve become fond of the McLean brothers, and perhaps of Hugh the most. I could hardly wait to introduce him to his match—a woman who might be pregnant with his child, but isn’t all that anxious to marry him.
Janice Kay Johnson
Janice Kay Johnson
SHOULDERS BACK, head high, braced for the worst, Hugh McLean waited for the dreaded assignment.
Damn Riley, he thought bitterly. His partner was on leave with back pain doctors told him might keep him flat in bed for months. Had he hurt himself tackling a bad guy? In a crash during a car chase? Hell, no. He’d tripped over his kid’s plastic blocks and tumbled down the stairs in his own house.
A bulldog in his fifties with a gray crewcut, Police Captain Fisher looked up from Hugh’s open personnel file. “You know Granstrom? She’s been partnered with Wensson. He’s moving to Scottsdale, Arizona—can you believe it?—because of his wife’s allergies.” His dry tone suggested wifey should have kept blowing her nose. “I’m putting you with Granstrom for now.”
Hugh groaned and his shoulders slumped. “Not Granstrom! Anybody but Granstrom.”
Behind the desk, his captain gazed at him coldly, without favor. “What’s wrong with her?”
She was a damn woman, that was what. Hugh liked women; they were even okay on the police force. He’d worked with ones who didn’t think like a woman, and he got along just fine with them. Nell Granstrom was not one of those.
“Our styles clash,” he said from between clenched teeth.
Captain Fisher grunted. “Funny, she doesn’t like you any better.”
That jolted. “What?”
“She’s not enthusiastic. I can’t help either of you.” He slapped Hugh’s file closed. “You’re the only two at loose ends right now. I’m not going to break up established partnerships to accommodate your personality clash.”
Desperate, Hugh lied, “It’s not that. I swear. We just work differently.”
“Yeah, yeah. Your styles.” The captain’s gaze was unsympathetic. “Here’s my advice—mesh ’em.” He looked over Hugh’s shoulder. “Ah. Here’s your new partner now.”
Hugh didn’t turn when the door with the glass inset opened. He knew well enough what Nell Granstrom looked like, all five foot ten of her. She had a model’s build: leggy, skinny, fine-boned despite her height, and a face memorable principally for warm brown eyes and a rosebud mouth. Her hair…hell, he didn’t know what color it was. He almost turned around to remind himself.
“Captain,” said Granstrom, voice expressionless.
“I won’t ask for ‘I do’ from either of you.” Captain Fisher’s grin was sharklike. “Let’s consider this a shotgun wedding. You’ve got each other to have and to hold from this day forward, until Riley gets his ass out of bed. You got problems with each other,” he finished briskly, “I don’t want to hear them.”
A rap vibrated the glass hard enough to bring even Hugh’s head around. “Captain!” Framed in the doorway, the normally imperturbable Lieutenant Nyland looked shaken. “We’ve got reports of shooting at the Joplin Building. The woman on the phone says a gunman is mowing everybody down.”
The captain was on his feet. “Confirmation?”
“Multiple 911 calls from offices on the floors below.”
“Units on the way?”
The lieutenant nodded. “Sir.”
“Call out the SWAT team.” The captain brushed by Hugh and opened his locker. “Gentlemen—and ladies—let’s get suited up and moving.”
Hugh was able to avoid looking at Nell Granstrom as he raced toward the locker rooms. “I’ll drive,” he snapped over his shoulder. Start as you mean to go on.
Both wore black jackets over bulletproof vests when they met at his squad car, she on the passenger side, he on the driver’s. She’d apparently chosen not to argue. Over the car roof, their eyes met for a fleeting second of mutual antipathy and disbelief before both leaped into the car.
Her hair was not quite blond, not quite brown.