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Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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Chapter OneA cold wind rattled the windows of the tiny apartment above the brick storefront. Keely McClain pushed aside the lace curtains and stared out at the dark street in her quiet Brooklyn neighborhood. Snow gathered on the ground and she said a quick prayer that the storm would worsen and school tomorrow would be canceled. She had a math test and had frittered away her study time today at school passing notes to her friends and drawing cartoon pictures of the nuns.
"Please snow, please snow," she murmured. She pressed her palms together and said a quick prayer, then crossed herself.
Keely turned from the window and then hopped up on her bed, standing on the mattress so she could see herself in her dresser mirror. Carefully, she rolled up the waistband of her plaid skirt until the hem rose to midthigh, just to see what it looked like. Three rolls and a tug and the hem was perfectly even, as if her mother had made it that short. The nuns at Saint Alphonse required that school uniforms reach the floor when kneeling, a notion that every other girl in the all-girl school found positively prehistoric, especially in 1988.
"Have you finished your homework?" Her mother's voice echoed through the tiny apartment. For as long as Keely could remember, it had been just them. She'dnever known her father. He'd died when she was just a baby. But Keely carried a picture of him in her mind, an image of a strong, handsome man with a charming smile and a tender heart. His name was Seamus and he'd come to the United States from Ireland with her mother, Fiona. He'd worked on a fishing boat and that's how he'd died, in a terrible storm at sea.
Keely sighed. Maybe if she'd had a father around, she and her mother might have gotten along a little better. Fiona McClain had strong ideas about how her daughter should be raised and first and foremost was that Keely McClain would grow up a good Catholic girl. To Keely that meant no makeup, no parties, no boys - no fun. Instead of meeting her friends on Saturday morning to hang out at the mall, she was forced to help her mother at Anya's Cakes and Pastries, the shop right below their apartment.
When she was younger, she'd loved watching Anya and her mother decorate the many-tiered wedding cakes. Sitting on a high stool in the bakery's kitchen had been one of her first memories. And when she'd finally been given the responsibility of a real job, Keely had been too excited to speak. Every Wednesday afternoon, she'd dust the glass shelves that held the cake toppers and wedding favors and crystal goblets. She had passed the time by making up romantic stories about each of the little ceramic couples on the cake toppers, giving the grooms dashing names like Lance and Trevor and the brides pretty names like Amelia and Louisa.
She'd been just a kid then and her idea of true love had been more of a fairy tale than anything else. It wasn't the clean-cut, heroic guys that caught her attention now. Instead, Keely had found herself interested in the kinds of boys that her mother would call "bowsies" and "dossers." Boys who smoked cigarettes and boys who cursed. Boys who were bold enough to walk right up to a Catholic schoolgirl and start a conversation. Boys who made her heart beat a little bit faster just to look at them, and boys who weren't afraid to steal a kiss now and then.
Keely took one last look at her skirt, then jumped down from the bed. She grabbed her schoolbag. She'd always worked so hard to please her mother, but slowly she'd come to realize that she was not the kind of daughter her mother really wanted. She couldn't remain a little girl forever. She was twelve years old, nearly a teenager!
And she couldn't always be the dutiful daughter, couldn't always remember her manners and the proper way to sit in a skirt or eat soup with a spoon. There were times when she didn't care to think everything through and make the right decision. She reached into her schoolbag and pulled out a lipstick tube. A wave of nausea washed over her, and for a moment she was certain she'd throw up, just as she had after she'd walked out of the drugstore.
Her mother had always told her that her nervous stomach was a sign from God. He was trying to drive the impurities out of her. Keely figured it was just punishment for allowing her impulses to control her behavior. But she had to admit that this time she'd probably gone too far.
It had been a dare and Keely had been too proud and stubborn not to accept it. Her friend, Tanya Rostkowski, had challenged her to walk into Eiler's Drugstore and steal a lipstick or else be banished from the cool girls' group. Keely had known it was a sin, but she never backed down from a dare, not even one that involved breaking the law. Besides, she wanted lipstick, and if she'd bought one with the money she made at Anya's, Mrs. Eiler would certainly have ratted on her to her mother.
"Keely Katherine McClain, I asked you a question! Have you finished your homework?"
"Yeah, Ma," Keely shouted. Yet another lie she'd have to confess to, though it paled in comparison to the lipstick.
"Then get ready for bed and don't forget to brush your teeth."
Keely groaned. "Bloody hell," she muttered, instantly regretting the curse the moment it left her lips. She already had enough on her curse list for Friday night confession. Lying and stealing would probably be worth at least five Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys. And Father Samuel was particularly harsh with foul language, although "bloody" couldn't possibly be a curse word, since her mother said it all the time - at least, when she thought Keely wasn't there to hear it.
"Bloody, bloody, bloody," Keely muttered as she undressed and hung up her school uniform precisely as her mother required. Then she slipped into a flannel nightgown and jumped into bed. When she realized that she hadn't brushed her teeth, she reached into the drawer of her bedside table and pulled out an old tube of toothpaste she'd hidden there. She put a dab on her tongue, then winced at the taste.
The trick always worked - unless her mother checked to see if her toothbrush was wet. It was just a tiny rebellion, but Keely felt that her teeth were her own and if she wanted them to turn black and fall out of her mouth when she was twenty, it was certainly her choice.
She leaned over the edge of the bed and reached beneath her mattress to pull out her journal. Sister Therese, her fifth grade teacher, had urged her students to start keeping a journal, hoping to perfect their penmanship and their grammar skills. And since that very first little cloth-bound book two years ago, Keely had written in her journal every night.
Excerpted from Reunited by Hoffmann Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.