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A New Life
By Dana Corbit
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Strike. Yes!"
Max shot both hands into the air and did a happy dance on the lane, though two pins - the four and the nine - still stood firmly.
"Oh, brother," six-year-old Rusty, Jr. said, shaking his head. "They call that a 'split," not a 'strike.""
Max shrugged, showing off his million-dollar grin. "Split. Yes," he called out, repeating the dance with the gusto of a four-year-old.
Tricia Williams laughed out loud, and her three children fell into a cackling heap on top of their spring jackets that were piled on the floor. Their squeals only added to the noisy Saturday night atmosphere at Mil-ford Bowling Lanes, combining with the crash of pins and the loud music from a nearby private event room.
It felt great to laugh again, to really laugh and not to feel as if she had to push air from her diaphragm to bolster the sound. In the two years since her husband Rusty's death, she'd sensed a compassionate - but relentless - scrutiny from her friends at Hickory Ridge Community Church who wanted to make sure she was all right. And she was. Her children were, too. Maybe her little family wasn't back to normal, but they'd found a new normal. If only she could convince her friends that she was fine.
"Hey, sweet pea, why don't you roll your ball again and see if you can hit one of those pins?" she told Max as she extracted him from the pile.
With another between-the-legs, agonizingly slow roll, the boy picked up the four pin, assisted by a good bounce from the gutter guards.
While the young mother marked down the score, her daughter Lani leaned close to whisper in her ear. "Do you think we should tell the man on the next lane that they can put the gutter things up for him, too?"
The struggle not to laugh again made Tricia's chest ache. She'd been trying not to notice the dark-haired man on lane fourteen for the last twenty minutes, since he'd settled in and started throwing a record-setting number of gutter balls. He was either terribly distracted or the worst bowler she'd ever seen.
"No, we'd better not," Tricia whispered back, giving her daughter a side glance. Lani's sly smile showed she was joking and, as always, she seemed older than her seven years. Tricia reached up to ruffle the deep-brown tresses of her child's bob haircut.
"Mom, watch me bowl." Rusty, Jr. stood poised with an eight-pound ball, wiggling his backside into his best pro bowling form.
"Okay, let's see you roll a strike. You're doing it just right."
It felt right, too, just being here on a rare night out with her three favorite people, even if it strained the tightrope budget she tried so hard to balance every month. Watching her children enjoy themselves almost relieved her guilt over telling the white lie that freed up her calendar for a bowling night. Almost, but not quite.
They continued through the frames of their game, but none of their performances compared to the show going on in the next lane. While before, the man couldn't hit a pin with a two-by-four, now his black ball seemed unable to miss one. Tricia half expected someone to recognize him at any moment as an escapee from the pro-bowlers' tour.
"Look, Mommy, the man isn't throwing gutter balls anymore," Max pointed out two octaves louder than his regular speaking voice.
Tricia pressed an index finger to her lips to hush her son, her cheeks burning. At least the guy had the decency not to look at them, though he must have heard. His chest moved slightly a few times as he seemed to be trying not to laugh. His profile transformed as a dimple, incongruous with the earlier determined flex of his jaw, appeared on his cheek. On his next frame, he even missed a pin.
"Kids, what are we here to do? Bowl or talk?" Tricia said finally.
"Bowl!" the three chorused as they turned back from their interesting neighbor.
So they returned to the game, with Tricia's applause and encouragement accompanying her children's giggles. But no matter how hard she tried to focus on the game, she couldn't help sneaking curious glances at the next lane.
Why was such a handsome man bowling alone on a Saturday night? Why had he seemed so preoccupied when he'd arrived? And an even bigger question: why did it matter to her? He was probably just like the four of them, trying to get one last visit in before the bowling alley closed so it could be renovated into a minimall. Besides, she hadn't been so much as curious about a member of the male gender in the last two years.
No one would know it from the number of blind dates she'd gone on recently. It seemed that everyone with a Christian friend-of-a-friend had introduced them, hoping to create a perfect match. Her friend Charity probably had the same hopes for the blind date Tricia was supposed to have been on tonight. If she hadn't cancelled.
Didn't these matchmakers realize she was already in love - with Rusty. And she always would be. He'd just gone to be with God a little ahead of her, that was all. She couldn't blame her well-meaning church friends; they just didn't understand. God only gave people one love like that in a lifetime, and she'd already had hers. Even though she was a widow and only twenty-six, she didn't think it was fair of her to ask Him for more.
Trying to focus, Tricia rolled her ball. She smiled at her children over her dismal effort but suddenly felt too guilty to laugh with them. It wasn't her blind date's fault that her heart was permanently off the market. She'd been rude to cancel at the last minute. Tomorrow, right after church, she would phone him and try to reschedule.
Obviously, she needed to stop being nosy about the man in the next lane and focus on her own behavior. Still, out of her peripheral vision, she watched the man as he stepped off the lane and sipped his soda. He swiped his hand through his dark-brown hair, but since it was clipped so close, it did little more than flutter. Funny how the haircut made his strong jaw appear so pronounced.
Excerpted from A New Life by Dana Corbit Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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