BEVERLY BARTON

A Child Of Her Own


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You were always too wild and free.”

      “Darcie wasn’t planned,” Rick admitted. “She was an accident. I got April pregnant, so I married her for the kid’s sake. We stayed married less than a year.” Rick slumped down in a cushioned Windsor chair to the left of the sofa. “Believe me, Lori Lee, my daughter isn’t so lucky. April was a lousy mother and I was an absentee father who saw Darcie about once a month. I sent support checks, but April blew them on liquor and good times for herself.”

      “You don’t have to tell me any of this. It’s none of my business.” Lori Lee wasn’t sure she wanted to share confidences with Rick. Doing so made their relationship more personal, and that was the last thing she wanted.

      “If you’re going to help Darcie, you need to know that until we moved to Tuscumbia last summer she hadn’t had much of a life.”

      “What happened to your wife? Your ex-wife?” Lori Lee poured coffee into two mugs, seasoned hers to taste and lifted the mugs off the table.

      “April was killed in a car wreck two years ago.” Rick accepted the coffee when Lori Lee offered it to him. Her hand grazed his. He looked up into her startled blue eyes and realized that on some level she was afraid of him.

      He set his mug down on the coffee table, and when Lori Lee sat down across from him, he reached out to touch her reassuringly. Grasping her mug with both hands, she scooted back on the sofa.

      . “I decided to bring Darcie home to Tuscumbia because I knew it would be the only way she’d ever have a normal life.” Rick lifted the mug off the table and to his lips. He took several sips. “I used my life savings to buy half-ownership in Bobo Lewis’s business, and I’m hoping to buy him out when he retires. I’m trying to be an upstanding citizen, for Darcie’s sake. And one of these days, I’d like to find a nice woman, get married and give Darcie a real mother and a bunch of brothers and sisters.”

      I don’t care, Lori Lee wanted to scream. I do not care! Why should it matter to me that Rick Warrick wants a houseful of kids? He doesn’t mean a thing to me. His dreams aren’t important to me.

      “Is something wrong?” he asked. “You’re awfully quiet, and you’ve got a strange look on your face.”

      “No, nothing’s wrong. I’m fine,” she lied. “I think you have some very worthwhile plans and I wish you the very best luck in...well, in buying out Bobo and in finding Darcie a new mother.”

      “Yeah, thanks,” Rick said. “My sister Eve’s been setting up some dates for me, but nothing’s panned out yet. And I got a few dates on my own, but unfortunately they weren’t good mother material, if you know what I mean?”

      Rick chuckled like a naughty little boy, and something inside Lori Lee wanted to slap his face. He was such a chauvinist, but then, he always had been. She supposed one of his many fascinations for the female sex was his blatant, unrepentant macho attitude. Why was it that women were intrigued by bad boys? Even she harbored a secret fantasy that she was the only woman on earth capable of taming Rick Warrick, of turning her own bad boy into a model husband and father.

      But Rick wanted more children.

      Lori Lee tried to smile, but the effort failed miserably. Instead she sipped her coffee, picked up the estimate folder and pretended to thoroughly inspect every page.

      Rick knew he’d put his foot in his mouth when he’d mentioned “those kind of women.” He supposed he’d always considered bad girls the only kind of girls a bad boy like him deserved. He had to admit that bad girls were a lot more fun if all a guy wanted was a good time.

      He’d tried to work up some enthusiasm over the women Eve found for him to date, but not even a hungry good-night kiss had gotten his motor running. Maybe nice girls just didn’t turn him on.

      No, that wasn’t exactly true. There was one nice girl who’d always given him a hard-on just looking at her, and she still did. Rick squirmed uncomfortably in the chair. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He was sitting there, getting harder every minute, in a studio that would soon be filled with a bunch of tiny tots, one of which was his own daughter.

      He had to get his mind off his favorite fantasy—making love to Lori Lee. He knew he wasn’t good enough for her, that she’d never even date him let alone consider marrying him. But since his return to Tuscumbia, he had found himself daydreaming about making love to Lori Lee, then making her his wife and the mother of his child.

      If he shared that particular fantasy with her, she’d probably laugh in his face and ask him just who he thought he was. What would she want with a guy like him when she could have her pick of successful, respectable men? Men like Jimmy Davison and Powell Goodman. How could he ever compete with men who could offer her everything?

      The silence between them stretched into hour-long minutes. Lori Lee glanced at the wall clock. Any second now her students for the five-thirty class would come barreling through the front door.

      “I, uh, I have to get ready for my class.” She stood, then handed him the estimate. “Everything looks fine to me. Show this to Aunt Birdie and she’ll write you a check. When can you start on the job?”

      “We’re booked up until next Monday.” Standing, he shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and dragged the jacket down over the front of his jeans. “I’ll get my crew out here first thing Monday morning. About eight o’clock, if somebody can be here to let us in.”

      “That’ll be fine. I’ll meet you here.” This was Thursday. She wouldn’t see him again until Monday. That gave her the entire weekend to get her hormones under control so she didn’t make a fool of herself around Rick. She had to keep reminding herself that he’d been bad news fifteen years ago, and he still was.

      Darcie came flying threw the open door, Birdie waddling feistily behind her.

      Jumping up and down beside her father, Darcie held up a shiny new baton. “Look what Aunt Birdie gave me. It’s my very own superstar baton.”

      Willing his body to relax, Rick grinned and nodded his head. “Yeah, that’s some great-looking baton.” He glanced over at Birdie. “I’ll pay you for it, of course.”

      “Nonsense,” Birdie said. “This was a gift for my new little friend. You can buy her the classic baton for competition.”

      “Thanks, Miss Birdie.” Rick wondered if Birdie Pierpont had any idea how hard-pressed for cash he was and had taken pity on him. He hoped not. The one thing he hated most was pity.

      “The other girls will be here shortly, Darcie,” Lori Lee said. “Would you like for me to give you your first lesson before they get here?”

      “Oh, yes, Miss Lori Lee.” Gripping her baton tightly, Darcie stood at attention in front of her teacher. “What do I do first?”

      “Come with me.” Lori Lee placed her hand on the child’s shoulder and led her to the center of the room. “Tell me, Darcie, do you know how to dip ice cream?”

      “What?”

      “Can you dip ice cream?” Lori Lee repeated. “You know, with an ice cream scoop.”

      “Yes, I know how to do that. Why?”

      “Because that’s what I want you to do with your baton.”

      Darcie looked at Lori Lee, puzzlement in her stare. “You want me to dip ice cream with my baton?”

      Lori Lee reached over and removed one of her batons from the wall rack where she displayed them. Gripping the wand in the middle, she delved it downward to the left, then lifted it and delved downward to the right.

      “See what I did? I’m pretending my baton is a double ice cream scoop. On this side—” she dipped to the left “—is chocolate ice cream, and on this side—” she dipped to the right “—is vanilla ice cream.”

      Darcie smiled and nodded her head. “I get it.” Watching again while Lori Lee demonstrated, Darcie scooped to the left, then to the right. “Look, Daddy, I’m scooping ice cream with my baton.”

      “And doing a great job, sweetie.” His eyes met Lori Lee’s and for just an instant they shared the joy of Darcie’s