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By Irene Hannon
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBruce Lockwood banged the door and stormed into the kitchen, his eyes flashing. "Mr. Jackson is a -"
"Bruce!" Tess gave her fourteen-year-old son a stern warning look. She knew exactly what he was about to say, and she didn't allow that kind of language in the house.
"- creep!" Bruce finished more tamely, slamming his books onto the table.
Tess cringed. She hadn't exactly had the best day herself, and she wasn't sure she was up to another tirade about Southfield High's principal. She took a deep breath, willing the dull ache in her temples to subside.
"Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Bruce gave her a sullen look. "He's just a creep, that's all." The boy withdrew a card from his pocket and tossed it onto the table. "He wants you to call and make an appointment with him."
Tess frowned and reached for the card, her stomach clenching. The adjustment from small-town school in Jefferson City, Missouri, to big-city school in St. Louis had been difficult for him, particularly midyear. If there had been any way to delay their move until the end of the term, she would have. But the unexpected merger of her newspaper with a larger chain had left her a victim of downsizing, and the offer from a community newspaper in suburban St. Louis had seemed the answer to a prayer. She'd been able to find a comfortable apartment near the office in a quiet suburb, and had hoped that the small-town feel of the area would ease the transition to their new environment. It had worked for her, but not for Bruce.
Tess glanced down at the card. "Mitch Jackson, principal." Her frown deepened. Parents weren't usually contacted unless there was a good reason. The ache in her temples began to throb, and she looked over at her son. He was watching her - his body posture defiant, but his eyes wary.
"Why does he want to meet with me?"
"I didn't do anything wrong," Bruce countered.
Tess folded her arms across her chest, her lips tightening into a thin line. "I didn't say you did. I just asked why he wants to see me," she replied, struggling to keep her temper in check.
"Because he's a creep!"
"That's not an answer."
"It's true! Ever since I transferred to that dumb school he's been watching me, just waiting for me to mess up. He should still be a cop, the way he's on me for every little thing."
Tess held the card up. "What 'little thing' prompted this?"
Bruce glared at her. "You're as bad as he is. Always asking questions, always breathing down my neck. Why can't people just leave me alone?"
Tess stared at her son. How had her relationship with Bruce deteriorated in two short months? There was a time when they used to talk, when he shared things with her. But since coming to St. Louis he'd withdrawn, shutting her out of his life and his thoughts. She'd tried to draw him out, but the demands of her new job had left her too little time to spend with her son during this critical transition period. Whatever his problems at school, she knew she shared the blame. Slowly she sat down on the kitchen chair, drew a steadying breath and looked up at him.
"Maybe because people care."
Bruce gave a dismissive snort. "Mr. Jackson doesn't care. He's just nosy."
He was disarmed by her quiet tone and steady gaze, and his expression softened briefly. But a moment later the defiant mask slipped back into place.
"You're too busy to care."
His words cut deeply, and Tess's stomach again contracted painfully. "That's not true, Bruce. You always come first in my heart. But I have to put in a little extra time at the beginning to learn the ropes. You know I need this job."
He shoved his fists into the pockets of baggy slacks that hung on his too-thin hips. "Yeah. Thanks to ... Dad." His tone was bitter, the last word sarcastic. He turned away and stared out the window, his shoulders stiff with tension. "I wish we still lived in Jeff City," he said fiercely.
Another painful tug on the heartstrings. "I do, too. But this was the best offer I had. I'm still here for you, though. You know that, Bruce. I may be your mom, but I'm also your friend."
He shrugged. "I have other friends."
And you aren't one of them. The message was clear. And it hurt, even though she was glad that he'd finally connected with a group at the school, where cliques were already well established. But she was also a bit uneasy. He never talked about his friends, never brought them home, never even introduced her to any of them. "I'd like to meet them," she replied.
"They're my friends, Mom," he said tersely, turning back to her. "Do I have to share everything?"
She looked at the gangly teenager across from her and wondered not for the first time where her sweet young son had gone. She missed the endearingly protective little boy with the touching sensitivity and wise-beyond-his-years perceptiveness. She'd always known Bruce would grow up. She'd just never expected him to grow away, she realized, her eyes misting.
When Bruce spoke again, his voice was gentler. Maybe the sensitivity wasn't gone entirely, Tess thought hopefully.
"I'm okay, Mom. Really. You don't have to worry about me."
Tess fished in the pocket of her slacks for a tissue. "Worrying is part of the job description for motherhood," she replied, dabbing at her eyes. "Look, Bruce, I need to know what Mr. Jackson wants to talk to me about. I don't want to be blindsided. You've been avoiding the question, and I need an answer."
He shrugged dismissively. "It was nothing to get excited about. Some of the guys had been smoking in an empty classroom, and Mr. Jackson showed up. He could smell the smoke, and he said he was going to put us on report and talk to our parents."
Tess stared at Bruce. "You were smoking?"
He looked at her in disgust and reached for his books. "See? Even you jump to conclusions. I said some of the guys were smoking. Not me. Why does everybody always think the worst?"
Tess watched with a troubled expression as he strode down the hall and disappeared into his room. She'd heard that many adolescents developed an attitude, but somehow she'd never expected it of Bruce.
Excerpted from Crossroads by Irene Hannon Copyright ©2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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