To Protect Her Son

If Gayle Sawyer could have foreseen the day ahead she would never have gotten out of bed. She and Adam, her thirteen-year-old son, had argued the night before and again this morning, leaving her drained and frightened.

When Nate Garrison meets Gayle Sawyer at a meeting about her son, he knows instantly she isn’t his type of woman. She is too serious, too wrought up over her son and way too nice.

But the day they join forces to save Adam from hooking up with the wrong crowd, is the same day they realize how much they need each other. How hopelessly lonely their separate lives have been; how much brighter each day is when they’re together.

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CHAPTER ONE EXCERPT:

If GayBOOKS COVERle Sawyer could have foreseen the day ahead she would never have gotten out of bed. She and Adam, her thirteen-year-old son, had argued last night and again this morning, leaving her drained and frightened. Her eyes gritty from lack of sleep, she stared across the raised counter at her friend Sherri Lawson, nurse in charge of today’s clinic at Eagle Mountain Medical Center. Neill Brandon would be there any minute, and Gayle had pulled the clinic charts for his patients, who sat with their families in the waiting area just a few feet from the desk.

Everything was ready. Gayle glanced one more time at her watch as worry gnawed at her mind. She should have handled the argument with Adam differently last night. After all, she was the adult and should be able to reason with her son.

“Just one more.” Sherri passed Gayle another chart, a square-cut diamond gleaming on her finger.

Gayle couldn’t take her eyes off the ring. “Some people are born lucky,” she teased her best friend.

Sherri touched her diamond. “Can you believe it? After everything that has happened, Neill and I have our dream back. We’ve waited a long time for our happiness.” A smile lit her face; her eyes shone as she leaned on the counter.

Gayle had stopped dreaming about being happy fourteen years ago in Anaheim, California, when the judge had sentenced her husband, Harry Young, for armed robbery and shooting a police officer. Pregnant and alone, she’d vowed never to let her dreams mask reality. She’d worked so hard to make her son’s childhood a happy one, and to find a respectable life for herself. Nothing could be allowed to take all that she’d earned by dint of hard work and determination away from her. “Dreams can be wonderful,” she offered, unwilling to share the details of her past with any- one here in Eden Harbor. Her aunt Susan had died a year ago and left her a quaint Victorian house on a tree-lined street in this quiet, stately town. Gayle had moved, partly for the chance at a new life, and partly to get her son away from a group of teenagers that were having far too much influence in his life. She was happy to leave Anaheim. She never intended to return to the place that had caused her so much sorrow.

“I’ve never been this happy,” Sherri said, a look of wonderment on her face.

Gayle had never seen anyone as much in love as her best friend. “Your wedding plans are coming together so well. I still can’t believe we found those bridesmaid dresses in the first wedding boutique we went into in Boston.”

The doors connecting the clinics to the rest of the hospital banged open. Her son, Adam, his dark hair smudging his forehead, his eyes angry, approached the desk where Gayle sat. The scent of shampoo and of the boy he still was swirled around her as he leaned over the desk. “Mom. You left this morning without giving me any money. I need money.”

Embarrassed that Adam’s loud voice had attracted the glances of the people in the waiting room, she came around the desk, her eyes pleading with him to quiet down. “What do you need it for?” she asked, even though she knew. Adam had started playing video games, and he was always after her to pay for yet another game. They’d argued about it this morning, and now he had come into her workplace.

“I promised to buy a game from a friend. He’s waiting for me to pay up. You know all this, Mom.”

She’d encouraged him to play video games, but not because she approved of them. In her mind they were the lesser of two evils—video games or surfing the internet. She had a very powerful reason for not wanting him online— his father. “We talked about this last night. I don’t have the money. And besides, you just got a new one…”

“Where’s your purse?” Adam glanced behind the desk. “There, right there.” He pointed to Gayle’s purse, which was still sitting under her desk. She hadn’t put it in her locker yet be- cause she needed to pay her share for a staff shower gift for Sherri. One of the patients had knit a beautiful pale green throw for Sherri and Neill. “I don’t have any money…”

“Yes, you do. I saw it last night.”

“Adam! What were you doing going through my purse? You know better than that.”

“I didn’t have a choice, did I?” Adam snorted. “You can go to the bank. I need cash now.” Adam came around the desk, reached down, grabbed her purse, yanked it open and pulled out her wallet.

“Adam! Don’t!”

“I need it, Mom.” He opened the section where the bills were. “You promised.”

“No, I didn’t. Put that money back,” she said, mortified that everyone in the room could hear her son’s demands.

Adam counted the bills. “There’s more than enough here.”

Suddenly Sherri was standing next to Gayle. “Adam, why are you embarrassing your mother this way? She said she doesn’t have the money right now.”

Gayle reached for her wallet, pulled it gently from Adam’s fingers and placed it back in her purse, speaking softly as she did so. “Please go, Adam. I promise we’ll talk about this again tonight before dinner.”

“Not good enough,” Adam muttered, his eyes glistening, his expression one of anger and disappointment. “I want that game. I promised to buy it from my friend.”

“You should have talked to me first.”
“I did—last night.”
“And what did I say?”
“The same old thing—I should mow lawns and pay for my own games.”
She wanted the world for her son, but she also wanted him to know how important it was to make his own way in life. “And my answer hasn’t changed.”

Adam shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his eyes focused on some spot behind her. “Why do you have to be so mean?”

Out of the corner of her eye, Gayle saw Dr. Brandon come through the doors. “Adam, the clinic is about to start. You have to go.”

“You don’t even care about me,” Adam said, his voice rising as he glanced around the room.

“I love you,” she whispered emphatically.

Gayle knew only too well how easily Adam could escalate an argument from a raised voice to yelling—so like his father. She took his arm, gently leading him toward the door. Once out in the hall, she turned to him. “Adam, those people in there are important to me, to us. This is my job and I can’t afford to lose it.”

She wanted to hold her son in her arms the way she used to do when he was upset. She settled for touching his hand. “I know you’re going through a difficult time right now, and I want to help you. But you won’t be able to come back here if you act like this.”

Adam could not continue this way, and she could not move again. Recognizing that what she was about to say would anger her son, she chose her words carefully. “If you keep this up, I’m going to have to get professional help for you.”

“Mom, I… Why don’t you understand? All I need is a few dollars.” He was quieter now, his head down, the fingers of his right hand viciously attacking a hangnail.

Gayle knew this wasn’t just about money. Her son felt angry and frustrated most of the time. Yet when he wasn’t angry, he was the Adam she’d loved and cared for these past thirteen years—a kind, bright, wonderful young man. She softened her tone, seeking to let her son know that she loved him more than anything in this world. “Go back to the house, and I’ll be there right after my shift. We’ll work this out, I promise.”

He jutted his lower jaw, the resentment in his eyes fading to acquiescence. He gave a long, exaggerated sigh as he turned and went down the hall.

Sherri came up behind her, standing beside her as she anxiously watched her son leave. “Gayle, I’m so sorry. You’ve told me a little bit about the change in Adam’s behavior, but this is the first time I’ve seen it for myself.”

“Not as sorry as I am.” She sighed, the old feelings of inadequacy engulfing her.

“I’m not trying to interfere here, but I’ve got a suggestion that might help.”

“I’m running out of ideas, so all suggestions gratefully accepted.” Except for talking to Sherri, she’d kept her concerns about Adam to herself, hoping that it was just part of being a teenager. But she couldn’t have him showing up at her workplace behaving the way he had today. She wanted to confide the whole story to someone, and Sherri was a good listener.

When she’d come to Eden Harbor and the house her aunt Susan had left her, she worried about how Adam would react. It quickly be- came apparent her concerns were unfounded. He’d been great. He’d gotten a part-time job cutting grass in the neighborhood for his spending money. He had become more helpful around the house, much to Gayle’s relief. But in the past couple of weeks, Adam had had to be cajoled into mowing lawns. When he was around the house, he seemed distant, quicker to anger, resentful at times and harder to talk to. In fact, the old rapport they’d shared had almost disappeared. Until this moment, Gayle had let it pass.

“Would it help if he had someone to talk to?” Sherri asked. “Someone who related well to teenage boys?”

Gayle’s biggest fear was that her son would get involved with the wrong crowd and turn out like his father. Harry probably had been a nor- mal teenager who’d got in with a bad crowd, and now spent every day inside prison walls. She couldn’t let that happen to Adam. “It might make a difference. I honestly don’t know.”

“There is a mentoring program in Eden Harbor for troubled teens. Would you consider something like that?”

That could be good, but not if it meant there would be questions about Adam’s father. No one here knew anything about Harry, and she didn’t want that to change. The world they lived in now—a pleasant world with so much potential— was far removed from their life in Anaheim. If Sherri could help her find someone to offer a positive male influence in Adam’s life… “I’d have to think about it, maybe learn a little more before I decide.”

“We need someone we can trust to be firm with Adam, right?”

Gayle loved the fact that her best friend had used we. She’d never had a confidante like Sherri Lawson, soon to be Sherri Brandon in a wedding everyone was looking forward to. The bright spot in Gayle’s life these days was that she would be part of the bridal party. Gayle gave a wry smile as the two of them headed back to the clinic desk. “What he needs is a father figure in his life, the one thing I can’t provide unless the mailman suddenly turns into my Prince Charming. He’s the only male I see on a regular basis.”

Sherri stopped, a look of satisfaction on her face. “I’ve got the perfect solution to your problem. My cousin, Nate Garrison, would be a great mentor for Adam.