Read an Excerpt
The Perfect Mom
By Janice Johnson
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
A child screamed, a piercing note of terror that seemed to shiver the window glass.
Kathleen dropped her coffee mug and shot to her feet, tripping over her bathrobe. Even as she raced for the kitchen
doorway, heart doing sickening things in her chest, she thought, Was that Emma? Not
Ginny, surely. Even her giggles were soft!
The scream became a gurgle, a sobbed, "Auntie Kath! Auntie Kath!" and Kathleen knew. Ginny was terrified because she'd
Emma. Something was wrong with Emma.
Hiking her robe above her knees, she leaped up the stairs two at a time. "Ginny! What's wrong?"
Their cat hurtled down the stairs, ricocheting off Kathleen's shin before vanishing below. Wild-eyed and wearing
nothing but a sacky T-shirt, Jo emerged from her bedroom, the first at the head of the stairs.
One of Kathleen's adult roommates who helped pay the rent, Jo was a graduate student and didn't have to get up as early
as the others this semester.
"What is it?"
Kathleen didn't answer.
Six-year-old Ginny, the timid mouse in their household, darted from the bathroom. Hiccuping with sobs, she snatched
"Auntie Kath! It's Emma!"
A whimper escaped Kathleen's throat when she reached the bathroom. Her daughter lay unconscious on the floor, blood
matting her hair.
"Emma! Oh, God. Emma." She fell to her knees, barely conscious of Jo and Ginny crowding behind her.
A faint pulse fluttered in Emma's throat, but her face was waxen and still.
"She's so cold." Gripping her daughter's hand, Kathleen swiveled on her knees. "What happened, Ginny? Did you see?"
Tears running down her face, Ginny nodded. "She ... she was looking at ... at herself in the mirror." Another sob shook
her small body. "Her eyes rolled back, and she fell over! Auntie Kath! Is she dead?"
Even in her fear, Kathleen spared a moment to shake her head. Ginny had lost her dad to cancer a year ago. Death must
often be on her mind.
"No, Ginny. I think Emma fainted. You know she hasn't been eating enough." Understatement, she thought grimly. In fact,
sixteen-year-old Emma had been anorexic for the past year, and this spring had managed to stay barely above eighty
pounds. An ounce below, she'd been warned, and she was going into residential treatment. "She must have hit her head on
Jo, bless her, laid her hands on Ginny's shoulders and gently steered her out of the bathroom. "I'll call 911," she
said briskly. "Don't try to move her, Kathleen."
"I won't." Her daughter's hand was icy in hers.
"Hurry, Jo. Oh, God, please hurry."
The wait seemed forever, although Jo must have been back in no more than a minute or two. She was still pulling a
sweatshirt over her head.
"I'll stay with her. Go get dressed, Kathleen. You'll want to go to the hospital with her."
Dazed, Kathleen looked up. "Dressed?"
"Hurry." Her dark-haired roommate - and sister-in-law to be - crouched beside her. "You'll be okay, Emma," she said
softly, her hand delicately stroking Emma's cold cheek.
Yes. She had to get dressed. Kathleen stumbled to her feet and backed out of the bathroom, her gaze fixed on Emma's
white, gaunt face. She did look dead. And why not? She'd been dying for months, killing herself with her refusal to
Kathleen bumped into the wall and turned, blindly heading toward her bedroom. Her fault. This was her fault.
She should have seen it coming, checked Emma into treatment. Her face crumpled. Why hadn't she? Because she'd sincerely
thought Emma was recovering? Or because she didn't want to believe she couldn't handle her own child's problems?
In her bedroom, she grabbed clothes from her dresser and scrambled into them without caring what she put on. Not
bothering with socks, she shoved her feet into Swedish clogs, yanked a hairbrush through her hair and ran back to the
Jo looked up. "Her lashes just fluttered. I think she may be regaining consciousness. I sent Ginny for an ice pack from
"Where are they?" Kathleen asked desperately, even as she heard a distant wail.
Jo rose. "I'll let them in." She gave Kathleen a quick hug. "She'll be all right, Kathleen. Just hold on."
The EMTs were actually coming up the stairs when Emma's eyes opened. She stared blankly up. In a slurred voice, she
asked, "What happened?"
"You collapsed. And hit your head."
Slow and heavy, Emma whispered, "I was ... a ... little ... dizzy." Her lids sank shut.
"Oh, sweetheart," Kathleen whispered, feeling again how icy her daughter's hand was. "You'll be fine."
For the first time, she knew she was lying.
* * *
Kathleen paced the small waiting room, too scared to sit down or to pretend to read a Good Housekeeping or
Sports Illustrated magazine, as a couple of other people were doing. They watched her surreptitiously, and she
saw pity along with kindness in their eyes.
Looking as if she'd been running, Jo appeared in the doorway, Ginny clinging to her side. "How is she?"
"I don't know!" Kathleen wailed. "They're taking X rays."
Jo opened her arms and Kathleen fell into them, marveling at how natural it felt even though she'd never been
comfortable with casual hugs or physical intimacy. It was a moment before she felt movement down by her thigh and
remembered that poor Ginny was here, too.
Face wet, she pulled back and said quietly, "You didn't put Ginny on the school bus?"
"How could I? She was too upset. Here, Hummingbird." Jo hoisted the child onto a chair. "Your mom is coming."
"You called Helen?"
Jo looked at Kathleen as if she were nuts. "Well, of course I did! You don't think she'd want to know?"
"Well, I suppose ..." Kathleen said uncertainly.
Excerpted from The Perfect Mom
by Janice Johnson
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.