Wanted: One Father by Penny Richards released on Oct 25, 2004 is available now for purchase.
About the Author
PENNY RICHARDS has written and sold contemporary romance since 1983. She took several years off to pursue other ventures, like editing a local oral history project and coauthoring a stage play. She also ran and operated Garden Getaways, a bed-and-breakfast and catering business. Her love of writing and all things historical led her to back to historical mysteries and inspirational romances. She is thrilled to be back and, God willing, hopes to write for many more years.
Read an Excerpt
Wanted: One Father
By Penny Richards
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWords to the scene he should be writing for his newest novel unfolded in Max Murdock's mind as he negotiated the last block to his mother's house. A part of him knew he was driving too fast for the neighborhood streets, but he was late picking up Annabelle, as he had been every night this week. Pulling into the driveway, he shut off the SUV's engine, flung open the door and ran up the steps. His hand was inches from the knob when the front door opened and he stood face-to-face with his mother. Donna Fielding had the determined look in her eyes that said he was about to hear something he didn't want to hear. Normally an easygoing woman, she was hard to ruffle, but when she did get her dander up, it was enough to make even a grown man quake. Some things never changed.
He couldn't help being late. The work on his book had gone exceptionally well that afternoon, and he'd needed to take advantage of the burst of inspiration - an infrequent visitor in the past few months. In fact, since he'd started his second book, a psychological thriller set in New Orleans, the flashes of genius had been few and far between. Max wasn't sure if his difficulty arose from the pressure to make this book as good as his first, or if it was the result of the major changes that hadhappened in his life. His wife had deserted him eight months earlier, which had led to a divorce and Max being granted custody of Annabelle.
Weighed down by a considerable amount of guilt over his tardiness, he brushed past his mother and began gathering Annabelle's things, reaching for a stuffed rabbit with one hand and gently trying to pry a slobber-soaked book from his eleven-month-old daughter's wet fist with his other. Annabelle wasn't going for it. The moment he took the book from her, she let out a screech guaranteed to send any inexperienced father's heart plummeting. His mom claimed that Annabelle had his temper, a theory Max didn't want to accept. Wherever she'd gotten it, it was a force to be reckoned with when she didn't get her way. New to fatherhood, he had no idea how to cope and was more inclined to try to appease her, which meant he usually gave in to her emotional blackmail. Like now. Without even being aware that he was doing so, he handed the book back. The screaming stopped immediately.
"Max, we need to talk."
Annabelle poked a corner of the dripping book back into her mouth. Totally defeated by the eighteen pounds of future womanhood who sat staring up at him with solemn dark eyes that bore no trace of tears, Max raked a hand through his hair and turned his own brown eyes to his mother. He was definitely in trouble. As with his daughter, it was best to admit his faults, give in, do whatever it took to keep his mom happy. At this point in his life, she was the only person he knew without a doubt he could count on. To alienate her would be disaster.
"I know I'm late again, Mom," he began in a conciliatory tone as he stuffed a container of wipes into Annabelle's diaper bag. "But the book was going really well, and when the muse is sitting on my shoulder, it's hard to stop."
"I don't mind that you were late, Max," Donna Fielding said, "but -"
"And I know I'm an inconsiderate jerk," he interrupted, not even hearing that he'd been absolved of the sin of tardiness. "I take advantage of you, and -"
"Yes, you do," Donna said with a nod, taking her own turn at interruption.
Max blinked. He hadn't expected her to agree with him.
"Sit down, son," she said in a gentle voice. "I need to talk to you."
Panic flared. What was so important that he had to sit before she could tell him? She was getting older, and ... "What's wrong?" he asked, his worried gaze meeting hers.
Donna smiled. "Nothing to make you look like that. It's just that Paul and I have been talking, and there are some things he wants to do ..." Her voice trailed away. "This is so hard, darn it." She took a deep breath and looked him squarely in the eyes. "I hate to break it to you this way, honey, but you're going to have to find someone else to take care of Annabelle."
For the second time in as many minutes, Max's heart plummeted. There was no one he knew who could watch Annabelle while he worked. The idea of trying to combine child care and writing was something he couldn't begin to comprehend. All he could think to say was, "Why?"
"Paul has always wanted to travel, but since he retired I've been keeping Annabelle for you, so our plans were put on hold. Neither of us minded for the short term, but we aren't getting any younger. As much as I want to help you, and as much as I know you need me, I feel that my first priority should be my husband."
Max knew she was right. It was a lesson he'd learned the hard way from the breakdown of his own marriage. Paul Fielding was a great guy, and he'd been a good provider for Max, his brother and their mother after his dad passed away when Max was twelve. Paul deserved to spend his retirement the way he wanted. Max told his mother so.
"I knew you'd understand," she said. "And I'm so sorry to let you down this way."
"You aren't letting me down, Mom," he assured her.
"I knew you couldn't keep Annabelle indefinitely."
"It may take a while, but you'll find a good sitter. There are a lot of excellent day care places here."
Here was Hot Springs, the place he'd moved to eight months earlier when his wife, Cara, had packed up while he was at physical therapy for a bullet wound he'd sustained as a Little Rock cop. She'd left their then three-month-old daughter with a neighbor and Max a brief, handwritten note saying she was sorry, but it had been a mistake. All of it. She should never have married him, hating his work as a policeman the way she did. She should never have stayed with him for five miserable years, should never have thought bringing a baby into the world would somehow miraculously mend their decaying marriage. The love was long gone, and she wasn't very good mother material.
He shook his head, uncertain if he was trying to dislodge the troubling memories or answer his mother. "I can't leave Annabelle in a day care."
His mother smiled and laid a comforting hand on his arm. "Honey. People do it every day."
"I want her to grow up in a home environment."
"Then I'm sure you'll be able to find someone to come to the house to keep her," Donna said.
Max shook his head again. "You know I can't work with someone in the house. There would be too many distractions and if I want to keep a roof over our heads, I have to meet this deadline."
Donna gave a little shrug. "Well, then look for someone who keeps children in her home."
Excerpted from Wanted: One Father by Penny Richards Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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