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"Kylie, honey, you'll be late for school."
"I've got to find it, Daddy. Mommy said it looks pretty."
Curbing his impatience, Trent slumped against the wall of the pink-and-white bedroom while his seven-year-old daughter emptied the contents of her musical jewelry box, hunting for the elusive barrette she insisted was the only one that matched her outfit - pink leotards and a purple-and-pink flowered turtleneck. They'd already searched her dresser drawers, the floor of her closet and the bathroom cabinet.
"Here it is!" She pirouetted to face him, her corn-flower-blue eyes alight. She handed him her hair-brush, then plopped onto her bed. "Fix me."
Her innocent words stabbed him. Doing his daughter's hair was challenge enough. Other things, regretfully, went far beyond "fixable."
Kylie sat quietly as he drew the brush through her straight, silky blond hair, so like her mother's. Fumbling with the barrette clasp, Trent wished for the umpteenth time that little girls came with instruction manuals. His clumsy fingers could scarcely wrap around the purple plastic bow. "How's that?" he said at last.
She jumped up to inspect herself in the mirror. "It's crooked."
Trent sighed. Ashley would have done it perfectly. "Get your coat, honey."
Her look let him know he'd failed as a hairdresser, but to his relief, she walked to the hall closet, where he helped her into her parka, careful not to disturb the all-important barrette.
Dragging her book bag behind her, she followed him from their first-floor condominium to his extended-cab pickup, engine and defroster already running. After settling Kylie in the back seat, Trent scraped the remaining ice and snow from the wind-shield. "Warm enough?" he asked as he climbed behind the wheel.
Kylie merely shrugged, folding her arms around her body and ducking her head, her lower lip thrust out.
With slight variations, the same thing happened each morning. Today the delaying tactic was the lost barrette. Other times she complained of a stomach-ache, refused to eat breakfast or gave him the silent treatment, as she was doing now. He fought the familiar panic. He had no idea what to do for her - with her.
Ashley had always known. But Ashley wasn't here. Would never be here. And back then ... Kylie had been a model child.
Her behavior was natural, the school counselor had told him. Children handled grief in different ways, an aversion to school being one of them. Or withdrawal. Controlling behavior. Acting out.
Trent glanced in the rearview mirror. Eyes downcast, Kylie stared at her clasped hands. She looked fragile, defenseless, lonely.
His grip tightened on the steering wheel. It wasn't fair. Vibrant, beautiful Ashley wasting away, ravaged by the relentless leukemia he'd been powerless to stop. Nearly a year had passed, and still their condo echoed with her absence. The leukemia had sent a message loud and clear. Trent Baker no longer controlled his life. Hell, he couldn't even find a way to help Kylie. Some kind of father he was.
A sullen voice from the back seat jarred him. "I'm not going."
He struggled for a neutral tone. "We've discussed this, Kylie. You are going. It's the law."
"I hate you!" He couldn't bring himself to glimpse in the mirror once more and see the belligerence that he knew sparked in his daughter's eyes.
"That's too bad. I love you." Pulling in to the driveway of the school, he noted that most of the children had already been dropped off. While Kylie unbuckled her seat belt, he spoke soothingly. "Try to enjoy yourself. Give school a chance. You just might like it." He mustered a grin, which was met with the withering scorn of a pint-size cynic.
Kylie scrambled from the car, and without a backward glance trudged toward the school entrance. By afternoon, her teacher had told him, Kylie would be fine, but with a fatalism born of experience, he knew that the cycle would repeat itself tomorrow morning.
It didn't help that after school she would be bussed to a day-care center and then picked up by her grandmother until he got off work. Or that the cold Montana winter kept her confined to the condominium much of the rest of the time. Or that his rental agreement prohibited pets.
But even if he could have addressed all those issues, he still wouldn't be able to provide the one thing she needed most - her mother.
Excerpted from The Wrong Man by Laura Abbot Copyright © 2004 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.
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Posted February 15, 2004
Twelve years ago Libby Cameron divorced Trent Baker. Looking back she knows she just married the wrong guy though she admits she loved her then husband although he constantly let her down until she said enough...................................... One year has passed sine vibrant Ashley died from leukemia. Trent, struggling to raise their depressed little girl by himself, Kylie returns home to Montana. Upon learning that Trent is back in town, Libby tries to avoid him though she realizes she still loves him. However, she finds her heart reaching out to the sad Kylie. As she watches Trent nurture Kylie she wonders if he finally grew up, but can she trust him with her heart the second time around? He desperately wants that for his daughter as much as for himself................................. Fans of second chance at love tales will enjoy this four tissue box tear jerker that contains a wonderful female protagonist, a not precocious seven year old still devastated by her loss, and a beleaguered male who refuses to let down his daughter. The story line works because Laura Abbot provides the needed pacing to enable readers to understand the key three players and what pulls at their souls. For Libby it is trust; for Trent it is guilt; and for Kylie it is loss. This solid tale proves that Ms. Abbot is the right author for readers who value an angst laden contemporary....................... Harriet Klausner
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