An orphan rescued by a wealthy uncle and raised in spheres of privilege, Pete Sorenson is set to launch his career as a high-powered attorney. At his side is Annie, the perfect princess of a companion, ready to support him in every way, gracefully, patiently. But then Maddie Stern enters Pete’s life. More than her notable beauty and enigmatic allure, it’s her past as a foster child that draws a connection between them that Pete could never share with Annie. But on the eve of Pete and Annie’s wedding, Maddie disappears. Distraught, Pete reaches out to his most trusted friend. Annie drops her life in Boston to once again provide the emotional support Pete needs. Together, they try to solve the mystery of Maddie. And together, they discover life is always unexpected . . .
Praise for Fern Michaels and her novels
“Michaels just keeps getting better and better with each book . . . She never disappoints.” —RT Book Reviews on Forget Me Not
“Heartbreaking, suspenseful, and tender.” —Booklist on Return to Sender
“A knockout story.” —Publishers Weekly on Dear Emily
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|Publisher:||Lyrical Press, Incorporated|
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About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1994 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
Six-year-old Pete did his best not to cry. He scrunched his eyes shut while he drew his puckered lips almost up to his nose. He felt a tear squeeze past eyelashes his mother said hid the most beautiful, the bluest eyes in the whole world. She was never going to say that again. Ever, ever. His eyes hurt, the same way they used to hurt when his dad made a campfire in the backyard and they roasted weenies and marshmallows. He was never going to do that again. Ever, ever. His six-year-old brain couldn't fathom how his eyes could bum like this if there was no smoke and no campfire.
He watched his knees and pressed them down against the edge of his bed, not wanting to see the lady in the blue dress stuff his things into the grocery sacks. She was pretty, but not as pretty as his mom. The other lady, the one watching over the lady in the blue dress, wasn't pretty. She was mean and wore ugly black shoes with shoelaces. As they continued talking, he slipped off the bed and out into the hall, where he stood listening.
"Don't get involved, Harriet. If you do you'll never succeed in this job. He's just a child. Children are resilient, he'll recover. We're going to place him in a good home. He'll have a roof over his head, food in his stomach, and belong to a family."
"Will they love him? Will he adjust? He's so little, Miss Andrews. He's just about to lose his first tooth. How is he going to handle that? What if the Fairy doesn't leave anything under his pillow?" the lady in the blue dress said.
"That's pure rubbish, Harriet. It's a cold, hard world out there, and there's no place in it for Tooth Fairies. It will build character." The voice changed suddenly and grew hateful. "You didn't fill that child's head with wonderful stories of adoption, did you? Nobody adopts six-year-olds, especially one who is all legs and arms with big eyes. People want babies and cuddly toddlers. Six-year-olds don't have a chance. It's cruel to tell them they might be adopted. Did you, Harriet?"
"No, Miss Andrews," Harriet said in a small voice.
"Just remember something, Harriet. Our taxes, yours and mine, are going to pay for this boy's keep. Parents who are too stupid to provide for their families shouldn't be allowed to have children. The boy's parents appear to have been a shiftless lot."
"Oh, no, Miss Andrews, I don't think so," Harriet said spiritedly. "Look at Pete's clothing, it's been mended beautifully. This little house is shabby, but it's sparkling clean. I think they were just poor and fell on a streak of bad luck."
"If that's so, how do you account for that surfboard? I happen to know things like that cost a lot of money. There was hardly any food in the refrigerator, but there's a surfboard. The price tag is still on it. Maybe it was stolen. Maybe we should think about taking it back and getting the money. The boy needs new shoes and a haircut."
"You can't do that, Miss Andrews. The board belongs to young Pete. The rules say his belongings go with him." The edge in her voice made Pete open his eyes. "I can trim his hair, and I'm certain his shoes will last a few more months."
"You're getting involved, Harriet. I can't allow this. Where is that child? Please tell me you didn't give him permission to run off and say all those tearful goodbyes that make you cry. I will not tolerate this, Harriet. I told you I wanted him right here where I could see him. He's going to be squealing and crying as it is when we have to remove him from this rat trap. Now, where is he?"
Pete turned and ran, down the hallway and out through the kitchen, pushing the screen door that sounded scary at night when it opened and closed. He ran across the back porch, down the four rotted steps, across the flower beds, through the hedges, over the Lampsons' sprinkler and through their yard until he came to his friend's yard. He bellowed at the top of his lungs, "Barney! Barney!"
"I'm up here, Pete," nine-year-old Barnaby Sims called down from the tree house in his backyard. "Come on up."
Pete scrambled up the rope ladder. "Pull it up, Barney. Don't let them find me. Hurry up, Barney, pull up the ladder," Pete sobbed. Barney responded to the fear in his friend's voice and quickly pulled up the rope ladder. "What's wrong, Pete?" he demanded as he busily stowed the homemade ladder under a wooden milk box that served as a seat and held such good things as bottle caps, a rusty penknife he wasn't allowed to have, some cookies, and his and Pete's prize mice.
"That lady came to take me away. The one with the ugly black shoes. I don't want to go, Barney. Can I hide here? I won't make any noise. You can sneak me food or give me your leftovers. I can take care of Harry and Lily. Can I stay, Barney, can I, huh?"
"Sure," Barney said, sitting down in cross-legged Indian fashion. "Did they see you come here?"
"No, I ran real fast. They put all my stuff in grocery bags. That lady said ... she said ... my mom and dad were a ... shiftless ... What's that mean, Barney?"
"I don't know, Pete. Probably not something good."
"She said no one will 'dopt me because they want babies and ... and something else. What's that mean, Barney?"
With nine-year-old wisdom, Barney said, "'Adopt' means when you get new parents. You can't have a mom and a dad. That's why you get adopted. They give you a new name and you call the new people Mom and Dad. Like that kid Jerry at school. He's adopted. I bet she lied to you, I bet someone would too adopt you," Barney said loyally as he put his arms around Pete's thin shoulders. "Go ahead and cry, Pete, I won't tell anyone. When you're done crying, we can eat some cookies."
"That lady said she wants to sell my surfboard so I can get new shoes and a haircut. The other lady said she couldn't do that. It's breaking the rules if she sells it.
It's mine!" Pete blubbered. "It's the last present my mom and dad gave me. They won't take it, will they, Barney?"
"Damn right it's yours," Barney blustered. "Grownups aren't supposed to break the rules. You tell, Pete, if she does, and don't be afraid of her. Nah, they won't take it," he promised, his fingers crossed behind his back.
"She's ugly inside her heart. My mom always said you can tell when someone has an ugly heart. The lady in the blue dress is nice, but she's not allowed to be nice to me," Pete blubbered.
Barney inched closer to his friend. "Pete, I know you're just little, but can't you remember anything about your uncle, where he lives and stuff?"
"No. Would he 'dopt me, Barney?"
"Well, sure. That's why you have relatives. That's what my mom said. I have an uncle Sam and an aunt Doris. They kiss me and pinch my cheeks all the time. They're okay, I guess. There's supposed to be papers. My dad used to keep all kinds of papers in a box that has a key. Did your dad have a box with a key?"
"Nope. My mom had a box. There were only three papers in it and some pictures. When they got married—that paper; when I was bom; and when I wore a long white dress and they dipped my head in water—those papers. My mother's necklace that she wore to church on Sunday was in the box too. That lady said it was pitiful. She said there wasn't enough food in the refrigerator either. I wasn't hungry, Barney. If I wasn't hungry that means there was enough, huh?"
"Damn right it was enough. We have lots of food. You should have told her that."
"What's it like when you're dead, Barney?"
Barney had no idea what it was like, but Pete needed to know. "You live on a cloud, way up high, and you can look down and see everyone. You can't get off the cloud, though. You wear long white things and you kind of ... sort of ... float around. Everybody smiles and is happy because living on a cloud is the neatest thing."
"Then I want to be dead too."
"No you don't. Little kids can't die. There's ... there's no room on the cloud. You have to be ... big ... grown-up."
Pete thought about Barney's words. "How do you get up there?"
Barney's eyes rolled back in his head. "They have this invisible ladder and you just go up and up and then somebody already on the cloud pulls you up. Neat, huh?"
"Yeah. My mom and dad can see me, huh?"
"I'm not supposed to cry. My dad said big boys don't cry. Do you cry, Barney?"
He wanted to cry right now. "Nah. People make fun of you if you cry. You can cry until you're seven, then you can't cry no more."
"I said," Barney said firmly.
"You're my best friend, Barney."
"You're my best friend too, Pete."
"Are you going to take real good care of Harry and Lily?"
"How long can I stay here?"
"Until they find you, I guess. I swear I won't tell, Pete. I think you should be my brother. Let's cut our fingers and mix our blood. That will make it official. You wanna do it?"
"Damn right I do." Pete grinned. "Don't tell your mother I said a bad word."
"I'm no tattletale. Get off the box. Harry and Lily need some air. Those little holes aren't enough. This knife is a little rusty. It's a good thing our moms made us get those shots when we stepped on that rusty wire last month. Don't close your eyes, Pete. You have to look at what we're doing. It's just a little cut."
Pete watched, round-eyed, when Barney pricked his finger, then his own. Together they rubbed their fingers together, smearing the droplets of blood all over their hands. "We're brothers now, Pete. Forever and ever. My blood is the same as yours and yours is the same as mine. When I get big, I'll come and get you."
"How will you know where I am?"
"I'm smart, I'll find you. Do you trust me?"
Pete nodded. He believed Barney implicitly. He ate the cookie Barney handed him. "Tell me what you're going to do when you grow up," Pete said tiredly.
"Okay. Do you want me to make it like a story or do you just want me to tell you what I think I'm going to do?"
"Make it sound good."
"Well, I'm going to grow up, and when I'm eighteen or nineteen I'm going to find you. You'll be sixteen then. I'm going to work in the grocery store and go to college. When you're sixteen I'm going to take you with me, and when it's time for you to go to college, I'm going to pay your bill. When I'm all done and learn everything, I'm going to get my own business. I am going to be a hort-ti-cult-yurist. I'm going to plant flowers and trees and make things beautiful. You're going to be my partner when you get finished in college. When I make lots of money, I'm going to get a fine house. A really fine house with a swimming pool, maybe build it on the water and get a boat. You're going to live with me. Maybe we can build like an apartment on the house so you have your own door, and guess what, your very own bathroom. I want lots of bathrooms. We're going to have lots of money. We'll be able to eat steak and turkey all the time. Lemon pie too. We'll always have a cookie jar that's full and those chocolate kisses you like so much.
"I might get married. You'll be my best man because you're my brother now."
"I don't want to be best," Pete said sleepily. "I want you to be best."
"It means you're second best. When the man gets married, it means he's the best and then you're next."
"Okay, okay. Do you really and truly promise, Barney?" "I really and truly promise. You take a nap now, Pete.
I have to go to the store for my mom. I'll come back later. Stay here and don't make a sound. I'll climb down the branches."
On his way back from the store, his mother's groceries secure on the back of his bike, Barney pedaled his bike slowly past Pete's house, certain he would see or hear something he could take back to Pete to make the little guy feel better. What he saw was the police and every mother who lived on Pete's street. He tried not to look. He almost fell off his bike when he saw Bill Dewbury's mother point to him and say something. He kept on pedaling and pretended not to hear the police officer shout, "Son, just a minute."
Barney's heart was pumping as fast as his legs when he rounded the comer onto his own street. He careened up the driveway, leaping off the bike and grabbing for the sack of groceries at the same time. He slammed the bag down on the kitchen table. "I'm going down to the pond, Mom, to do some fishing. I'll be back in time to set the table."
"All right, Barney," his mother called from upstairs.
He wasn't going to the pond, even though he snatched his fishing pole off the hook on the back porch. He was going to head for the pond, then double back and climb back up into the tree house. He had to try and protect his brother. He was just a kid and he wasn't sure what he could do, if anything. He had to try. Pete was such a good little boy, his best friend in the whole world. It wasn't fair that his parents died. It wasn't fair that he was going to be taken away. Barney didn't know how he knew, but he did: when Pete got taken away, he would never see him again. His stepfather would probably take the strap to him this evening, but he didn't care. Besides, Dave Watkins wasn't really his father, he was his stepfather. Dave Watkins was a mean, ugly man, as mean and as ugly as the woman with the ugly black shoes Pete had told him about. He hated Dave Watkins.
Barney ran like the wind, down to the pond so it wouldn't be a lie, then back through the yards until he reached his own backyard. He pitched the fishing pole up into the branches before he shinnied up the tree. He was breathing hard when he lifted the burlap sack that served as a door to enter the little house that his father had built for him when he was little. Each year his father worked on the tree house, improving it. Then he went away. Well, he wasn't going to think about that today. Today was Pete's day.
"Pete, wake up. Shhhh, don't make any noise." Pete stirred sleepily and then was instantly awake when he saw Bamaby's face.
"What's wrong?" he asked fearfully.
Barney told him.
"Are they going to put me in jail?"
"They don't put kids in jail, Pete," Barney said.
"They're here to make you go with those ladies. It's like a block party in front of your house. We have to be quiet."
"I really love you, Barney, as much as I love Harry and Lily."
"I love you too. Listen to me, Pete. If anything goes wrong and they find us ... I want you to remember what I said: If they take you away, I'll come get you when you're sixteen."
"Will your stepdad whip you for hiding me up here?" Pete asked.
"Yep. I don't care. I hate him. He's not my father. He hits my mother sometimes. Don't tell anyone I told you that, okay?"
"Sure. I won't tell."
"Do you want to know something, Pete?" Pete's head bobbed up and down. "Do you know what I want to do more than anything in the whole world?"
"Find your dad?"
"Yeah, but after that I want to ... I want to stick my face right up in Dave Watkins's face and say kiss my ass!"
Pete clamped his hands over his mouth so he wouldn't laugh out loud. Barney did the same. They rolled on the floor, pounding each other on the back, their faces red, tears rolling down their cheeks.
Barney sobered almost immediately when he heard voices in his backyard. He put his finger to his lips when he heard his mother's sweet voice. "Barney went to the pond to fish. He took his fishing pole. He loves to fish. He left about half an hour ago. No, I haven't seen Pete all day. I just want to hug that little boy. It's so sad. Bamaby cried all night. If I see Pete, I'll send him home."
"Okay, so I cried," Barney said quietly. "I knew I was going to miss you, so I cried last night to get it out of the way. I didn't know she heard me. Listen, we need a plan. I'm not letting them take you without a fight."
Pete's eyes lit up. "What kind of plan?"
"Look, the only reason you and I can get up this tree is because we're both part monkey. My mother said that's the reason and mothers don't lie. Those cops and that lady with the ugly shoes can't climb up here. The branches are so big and thick at the top, they can't come at us from one of the other trees. We're kind of safe. Let's see what we have here to use as weapons."
"They'll get a ladder," Pete whimpered.
"Then we'll do what they do in the movies, we'll lean out and push it backward. This is our castle, our domicile. I learned that in school. No one is allowed to invade someone's castle. You don't have a home anymore, so I'm giving you this one. This is your castle, Pete Sorenson. We're gonna defend it."
The standoff, when it came, wasn't anything like the boys expected. The fire department arrived at the same time Dave Watkins came home from work.
"Are you ready?" Barney asked, his voice shaking in fear.
"Yeah." In his hands Pete held a pillow that had been slit down the middle. He was holding the slit closed with both hands. Barney held a can of yellow paint in one hand and a can of black tar they'd used to seal the 'cracks in the wood. It was almost full, all soft and gooey and dark as licorice. Two more pillows were on the floor, with slits down the middle.
"Get your ass out of that tree house or I'm coming up to get you," Dave Watkins shouted menacingly. "I mean it, Bamaby. You are interfering with the law, and I'm only going to say this once: Come down. Now, I know you're up there, so come down now before I get the strap."
Excerpted from Desperate Measures by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 1994 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
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