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Heather Gregory couldn't decide if she should jump for joy or scream her frustration into the telephone.
It took her a full five seconds to recover enough to respond. "Good morning, Mr. Montgomery. This is Heather Gregory, your daughter's counselor at Lawrence High. I've tried to reach you for over a week. I need to see you about Cynthia. Can you come in today?"
Ever cool and efficient, Heather effectively disguised her impatience since learning of Cynthia's problem. A problem for which Heather held Mr. Montgomery almost singularly responsible. If he had just taken a little time with the troubled teenager, Heather was certain Cynthia wouldn't be in this mess.
"Today? That's impossible. What's Cynthia done now?"
"Mr. Montgomery, you don't seem to understand." Despite the abrupt nature of his speech, Heather found herself distracted by his voice. It was deep and so utterly male.
"No, Ms. Gregory, you don't understand. I'm extremely busy at this time, and my schedule doesn't allow any flexibility. What's the problem? I had breakfast with Cindy not an hour ago, and she didn't mention any difficulties in school."
"I'm sorry, but I can't go into the details over the phone. But I assure you, it's important."
"It will just have to wait, Ms. Gregory."
"Mr. Montgomery, I don't think you understand the urgency."
"I don't have time to argue. In fact, you're lucky to have caught me here at the office this early. I only stopped to pick up some documents."
"I've a meeting in Southfield within the hour and appointments all afternoon. Tomorrow I'm back in court. What is it?" There was no mistaking his annoyance and impatience.
Heather was livid. Although she detested his arrogant male attitude, a feminine part of her was thoroughly aware of the sensuality in the man's voice. And that awareness annoyed the hell out of her.
"Mr. Montgomery, this is your child we're discussing. Cynthia is in trouble. I must talk with you today. Once we've talked, I'm certain you'll see why a face-to-face meeting is necessary." Heather congratulated herself for not shouting into the phone. She took a deep breath and forced herself to listen with professional calm.
"Cindy has been in and out of trouble ever since her mother died. And I might add, she has been thrown out of at least six schools during those five years. Whatever she has done now is hardly news."
"I realize Cynthia has had her share of problems. You're her parent, and I think you'll agree it's your-"
"I'll have my secretary call you and arrange an appointment. Perhaps next week?"
The line went dead and Heather stared at the phone as if it had suddenly grown arms and legs. Finally she recovered enough to replace the receiver. She couldn't remember the last time someone had made her so downright angry!
Heather pushed her shoulder-length black hair away from her face. It was styled in a profusion of very thin individual braids. Her hair was center-parted and curled around her slender shoulders. The black braids complemented her flawless, molten-gold, light brown skin and caramel-colored eyes.
She'd spent six years working in Chicago's inner-city schools. When she was ready to relocate, she'd been lucky enough to land this job back home. Although small, Lawrence was a private prestigious high school that drew a major portion of its students from the wealthy sector of the Detroit community.
Heather headed the counseling department and worked with a staff of four other counselors. The job had been a challenge since day one, and she was quite pleased with the programs she'd helped develop in her two years at Lawrence. Her pet project was expanding their scholarship program in order to increase the enrollment of minority children at Lawrence. They started with a core group of twenty students. Heather had hopes of doubling that number in the next school year.
No wonder Cynthia was in such a mess, Heather decided, tucking a stray braid behind her ear. The girl had an excellent reason to feel as if she had nowhere to turn. With a father like Quinn Montgomery, she was lucky not to be in jail or strung out on drugs, rather than being pregnant at fifteen.
According to Cynthia, after her mother's death, her father was too busy to care what happened to her. Yet in spite of her conversation with that horrid man, Heather couldn't make herself believe he didn't love his own daughter. Quinn Montgomery seemed to have been caught up in making it. He was extremely successful. He'd gotten over the death and left his daughter behind.
Heather had been working with Cynthia since she'd been admitted this past fall. Cynthia had some real problems adjusting to the new school. She was a loner. She didn't seem to want any friends and was constantly in trouble-from cheating on tests to skipping classes and disrupting classes.
"Morning, beautiful. You're early, aren't you?"
Heather turned, a welcoming smile replacing the scowl. "Hi, Charles." She greeted the extremely tall, black slender man leaning against the open door. "I had a call to make. I could ask you that same question."
Charles Randol, the basketball and tennis coach, was considered to be quite a catch. And he knew it. Yet Heather only thought of him as a good friend. They'd gone out a few times, but it was something neither of them took seriously.
"I called last night," he said, dropping into the chair in front of her desk. "Who were you with? Another date with one of those musclebound freaks your brother's forever fixing you up with?" Charles let his curious gaze run over her, his eyes finally resting on her sparkling light brown eyes.
Heather laughed. "Was it anything important?" She refused to tell him she had eaten dinner with her older sister Gwen and her husband and their two daughters. Charles was a big tease and had a memory like an elephant. She'd once foolishly admitted that she believed in love and a lifetime commitment to one special man. A dumb mistake. Charles was a skeptic by nature and cynic by design.
"Just wondering if you'd have dinner with me before the panel discussion on Friday evening?" Charles eyed her roguishly. "A little candlelight and wine. Then later-"
"Charles, please. I'm not interested and neither are you. Will you quit! It's not even eight o'clock in the morning!"
"A table for two?" he persisted.
"Thanks, but no. Why spoil a perfectly wonderful friendship?"
"Girl, your problem is you've got too much romance in your soul. Face it, doll-face, ain't no such animal as Mr. Right! You should be jumping at anything over thirty with all his own teeth. I would hate to see a foxy little number like you end up an old prune."
Heather laughed merrily. "Charles, you're growing peach fuzz between the ears. Must be old age."
"Old age! When did thirty-two become old?"
"On you, it's ancient," she teased.
"I'm serious. Sex is sex, why give it a fancy name like love? That sweet little word means s-e-x."
"We, my friend, are discussing two different topics. Sex is marvelous, perfect in fact, with the one you are in love with. Love is the key ingredient. I won't sleep with a man just because I think he's nice. Feelings are what it's about, Mr. Randol. Don't you think it's time you stopped changing women like your socks?" She wiggled her finger at him. "Afraid of commitment, aren't you, bro?"
"And you, doll-face, are too romantic for your own good!"
The bell sounded, breaking into their laughter.
"Got to run. We still on for dinner Friday night?" he asked, getting to his feet.
She rolled her eyes. "Sure. Want me to drive?"
"Nope, it's my turn. See ya." With a wave he was gone.
Charles got a kick out of teasing her about her old-fashioned ways. A smile lingered as her thoughts moved to her family. She wanted what her parents had shared for almost forty-five years. And her older sister and all four brothers had all been lucky enough to have loving relationships. Heather didn't expect a relationship to be without problems, but she knew for a fact that love was the glue that kept two people together. And she wouldn't accept less for herself. Why should she? She'd seen firsthand how long-lasting and satisfying love could be.
"Miss Gregory?" The slender black teenager tapped lightly on the open door. "You busy?" At five-seven she topped Heather by a good five inches. The lovely brown-skinned girl was extremely slender, almost to the point of appearing frail. Her black hair had been cut into a short bob.
"Morning, Cynthia. How are you?"
"I know I don't have an appointment, but it's kind of important."
"Come in, I'm free. Close the door so we can talk," Heather said, noticing the girl's unhappiness despite the bright makeup streaked flamboyantly across her delicate face. "How have you been?" Heather came around the desk, indicating the tweed settee beneath the window.
"Have you talked to Daddy? He hasn't said anything to me." She held her books tightly to her small breasts, her fingers moving nervously over the bindings. She wore an overly short denim skirt and tight yellow sweater. She had such beautiful dark gray eyes. "Maybe I've been right all along ... he just doesn't care." A single tear slid down the soft brown cheek.
Heather sympathized with her. Even with Cynthia's defensive attitude, Heather liked her. She reminded Heather a bit of her own two nieces, who were about the same age.
"I haven't contacted you sooner because I haven't met with your father. We did talk briefly on the phone this morning. From what I gather, he's been involved in an important trial."
Cynthia rolled her eyes. "Tell me something new. It's either a new case or some trial. Look, Miss Gregory, don't sweat it. I shouldn't have bugged you about this. I'm the one who got myself into this, so I'll get myself out of it."
Heather imagined how Cynthia would handle her pregnancy, and she wasn't prepared to leave the matter up to her. If she could get the parent involved-and Heather fully intended to try-she would do so. Heather suspected it was what Cynthia really wanted. Why else would she have come to her counselor with this?
"If you're thinking about an abortion clinic, remember you've got to have a parental consent in Michigan-which is where I come into this, remember. I'll tell him for you-but you have to let him help you."
"There are places beside Michigan, Miss Gregory,"
"I know that. But it was my understanding that you wanted your father to help you decide."
"Yes," the girl said, hanging her head.
Heather let out a slow breath before she said, "Cynthia, the baby's father also has rights. You haven't told me anything about him."
"Yeah, I know."
"Does he go to school? I would be glad to talk to both of you together."
"No!" Cynthia shouted quickly. "He's not the problem. Daddy is. I already told you why I can't tell him. Daddy won't understand. He'll probably send me off to live with my mother's sister in New York. And I'll just die! I can't stand her! Aunt Joan's a fashion editor. Living with her would be worse than being sent away to boarding school again. Daddy might not want me around, but he's all the family I have! I love him!" Tears blurred her vision.
"It's going to be alright," Heather said squeezing her hand. "Let me speak to your father-then it'll be your turn to talk to him. Alright?"
"Yeah," she sniffed.
Heather handed her a tissue. "Good. Just remember, be honest with your father. Let that be your first step toward solving this problem." Heather gave her a quick hug. "Now let's talk about the baby's father?"
"We broke up." She answered sullenly. "There's nothing more to say."
"Cynthia, you're not alone," Heather said, her heart going out to the troubled girl.
"You're wrong, Miss Gregory. I've been alone since the day they put my mother in the ground."
"No, I don't believe that. And what's more I don't think you do either."
The girl sighed heavily. "I like you, Miss Gregory. I like you a lot. Not because of the usual stuff, but you listen to me and take time to talk to me. No one else even bothers to ask about what I think. If only ..." Her voice trailed away as she brushed a tear away and dropped her chin.
Heather put her arm around Cynthia's small shoulders and held her for a time. "Better?"
"Uh-huh." Cynthia nodded.
"After I've seen your father, we'll talk again."
"Wait!" Cynthia jumped to her feet. "I think maybe we should just forget about telling him."
"I'm telling you to forget it. Daddy doesn't have time for me. All that matters to him is work. If I went out and killed someone, then he might notice."
Heather shook her head. "You asked me to talk to him for you. That was my promise to you. Talking is only the first step. Promise me that you won't do anything about your pregnancy until I've seen your father."
Cynthia hesitated for a moment before saying doubtfully, "I promise. Look, I'm late for class. Can I have an excuse?" Cynthia didn't seem pleased as she stood up to leave. In fact, she looked plain scared.
"Sure, whose class is it?" Heather reached for a pad and pen on the desk.
Heather quickly jotted down the explanation. "Here." She tore off the top sheet. "I'll try and reach your father again a little later. If I can't get through today, give me a few more days. Alright?"
"Sure. But it won't matter to him," Cynthia said, her shoulders slumping, dejectedly.
"Adults don't always take the time to show their feelings, but that doesn't mean they don't have them." Heather walked her to the door.
Even though there were two students waiting to see her and several reports to get through, Heather telephoned Quinn Montgomery's office. His last appointment was at seven, and Heather intended to be in his office no later than seven-o-two. He would see her today or she would pitch a tent on his doorstep. The jerk!
Quinn Montgomery stretched his stiff shoulders and neck, then leaned back in his chair. "Sorry it went so long. But I think both our clients will appreciate the effort, especially if we can settle out of court. Tell Elaine it's my fault."
Darnell, who'd began collecting his things, smiled easily at his longtime friend and business associate. He and Quinn were also seasonal neighbors with lakefront properties in the Traverse Bay area. "Let me get back to you in a few days with McDonnel's response. I'll be relieved if we can come to a satisfactory agreement out of court. Save a lot of time and energy."
"Not getting soft are you, Darnell? It's been years since we've had an opportunity to square off opposite each other in the ultimate arena," Quinn said.
"Not since you began limiting yourself to criminal cases. Why did you take Gordon on? There's nothing challenging about this liability case, not compared to someone's life hanging in the balance."
Quinn shrugged. "No special reason. Maybe I need a change. How are the twins?"
"Great! Michigan State agrees with the boys. It's been good for my marriage, too, if you know what I mean." He raised his eyebrows. "We're able to spend quite a few uninterrupted hours together. How's Cynthia?"
Quinn's brow creased as the conversation with Heather Gregory flashed uneasily through his mind. "Between this case and the Jameison murder trial, I'm ashamed to say my daughter hasn't seen much of me. In fact, I can't remember the last time I made it home before midnight. I've got to start making time for her. She's growing up too fast."
"Things have been hard since her mother's death. For her and you. Hey, how about a game of racquetball sometime soon? It's been a while." Darnell grinned boyishly, snapping his briefcase shut. "That may not be such a great idea considering you spent two weeks in Hawaii last month. I probably don't stand a chance against you."
Excerpted from PASSIONATE HEARTS by BETTE FORD Copyright © 2005 by BET Publications, LLC. Excerpted by permission.
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