Authors: Donna Fasano
Tags: #General Fiction
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ABOUT BOOKS BY DONNA FASANO
“…complex, funny and realistic…” ~Wilmington News Journal
“A fast paced riotous look at family life today. Donna Fasano is right on target! I assure you, WHERE’S STANLEY? is a must read!” ~Donna Zapf, SingleTitles.com
“An interesting character study that provides the reader a close look at a fascinating protagonist.” ~Harriet Klausner, BN.com
“Read in one sitting! I started this book and didn’t put it down until I’d finished. It has plenty of wit and fun, and also more heart than the usual run of chick-lit. It’s got mystery, humor, romance, and friendship…go out and buy this book!” ~E. Lewis, Librarian, BN.com
“An absolutely beautiore ful story.” ~Debby, CataRomance.com
“BOUND BY HONOR is a rarity—a marriage of convenience story that really works. Both characters have valid motivation, and their relationship develops convincingly.” ~Catherine Witmer, RomanticTimes.com
RECLAIM MY HEART
lthough it was after
midnight when she pulled open the plate glass door, rows of fluorescent bulbs lit up the police station as if it were noonday. The officer sitting behind the gun-metal gray desk cradled a telephone receiver between his shoulder and ear while he two-finger tapped a computer keyboard that was so old the letters had worn off the most-used keys, leaving them a shiny black.
“Hmm…no record of him being picked up in our precinct, ma’am,” the officer informed the person on the other end of the line. “Not tonight, ma’am.” Then he murmured, “You’re welcome.” He hung up the phone, slid several papers from the tray of a nearby printer, slapped them into a manila folder, and dropped the whole works into a white plastic bin, all in one fluid motion.
The officer’s gaze met Tyne’s, but before she could get out a single word, the phone rang and he lifted his index finger. He chatted briefly, transferred the call, then glanced up at her again.
Her heart thudded. “My name is Tyne—”
The telephone jangled and the officer cut her off again, this time with an upraised palm as if he were directing traffic at a busy intersection. Tyne’s mouth flattened as she watched him tap, talk, sort, drop, and she wrestled down the urge to snatch the papers from his hand to get his attention.
The caller’s problem sounded complicated, and as the seconds ticked away, Tyne’s fingers curled deeper into her palms. Her attention strayed from the officer behind the desk to the dingy station lobby. A woman entered from a side door, her expression weary, the skirt of her gray suit creased across the thighs. She offered a vague nod as she passed by, and Tyne turned to watch her disappear down the hallway. A man slouched on the bench at the far side of the room.
The unmistakable clunk of the phone receiver hitting its cradle had Tyne spinning to face the officer, but the damn ring sounded again. He shrugged as he snatched it up.
This time, she took a step closer to him. Her thighs an inch from the edge of the desk, her hands clenched into fists, her shoulders knotted as she waited, her eyes steadily fixed on him. When he hung up this time, she placed her fingertips on his desk in an attempt to pin down his attention.
“I’m Tyne Whitlock,” she rushed, fearing another interruption. “I received a call about my son, Zach Whitlock. I’m here to pick him up.”
He turned to the monitor and began pecking at the keys. “Whitlock, you said? With an H?”
“Yes. Zachary. Whitlock.” She emphasized the H so strongly it came out as a whistle. “Can you tell me what happened?” She inched even closer, blood whooshing through her veins making her feel lightheaded. Or maybe it was just stress. “Is my son okay? Is he hurt? The officer who called didn’t say much. Just told me Zach had been picked up and that I should come.”
“I can’t tell you what I don’t know, ma’am. Take a seat.” He gestured to somewhere behind her, his eyes never wavering from the screen in front of him as he reached for the phone. “I’ll call the arresting officer—”
“Picked up. Arrested. Those are interchangeable for us. I apologize ich.f the situation wasn’t made clear.”
Heat flushed her body and sweat prickled the back of her neck. “There must be a mistake. My son wouldn’t do anything—” The rest of the sentence died in her throat when she realized that Zach had been doing a lot of unexpected things lately.
Life was hard enough all on its own; it only took one stupid mistake to screw up everything. She knew that first hand. “He’s only fifteen. Is arresting minors even
?” She couldn’t fathom why such an asinine question had entered her head. She watched the evening news.
The officer nearly succeeded in answering her with a straight face. “Ma’am, we arrest anyone who breaks the law. We picked up a seven year old today who took a handgun to the playground. He says a friend—a
—called him a toad face.” He shook his head as he reached for more papers in the printer tray, muttering, “I wouldn’t want to be that kid’s enemy.”
Tyne flinched when the phone rang.
“Just take a seat. Someone will come for you.” His curt tone held a clear dismissal.
She turned, her knees weak. The space between her and the benches lining the back wall seemed an interminable void. She took a couple of shuffling steps across the black and white industrial tile worn thin in places by high traffic, scuffed and nicked and stained in others. Strange, the things you notice when your mind is on overload. The hollowness yawning inside her made her feel cast aside and helpless, as if she—and Zach—weren’t worth anyone’s immediate attention. And she
didn’t know what the hell had happened with her son.
The man she’d noticed just moments earlier studied her with bleary eyes. The alcohol fumes billowing from him were nearly visible. As was his acrid scent. He offered a slack grin and attempted to rise, but the handcuffs securing him to the arm of the bench prevented him from standing fully erect. Bent at the hips, he swayed dangerously on his feet.
“Charlie, sit!” the officer barked. “Don’t make me come over there.”
Dutifully, the drunk followed orders, his watery, defeated gaze sliding to the floor.
She eased herself down on the corner of the empty bench, as far from
as she could get. Tyne couldn’t believe this was happening. Couldn’t believe she was actually in a Philadelphia police station. Couldn’t believe that her son had been arrested.
Zach wasn’t a bad kid. Sure, he’d been having some problems lately. Acting out a bit. He was a teenager. Rebellion was normal at this age, wasn’t it?
Two policemen barreled through the front door, the woman sandwiched between them kicking and shouting her innocence, then yelling threats, as they dragged her through the full length of the lobby. The three of them disappeared down the hall.
Tyne felt her heart pinch, thinking of her son somewhere down that same hallway. Zach had never experienced anything like this before. He must be terrified. But in the same instant, a flash of annoyance jolted through her, buoyed by a devastating fear for her son’s safety. What was he thinking leaving the house after dark? He knew the rules, knew there were reasons for them, and that he was expected to follow them.
Was this her fault for trusting him to stay home alone?
But he hadn’t been, damn it. Not tonight, anyway.
Catering required her to work a lot of nights, overseeing the serving of the food she prepared and supervising clean up crews of the parties of the people who hired her. Things had started getting a little dicey a couple of years ago when Zach began to complain that he was too old to stay with Mrs. Armstrong next door. Then her elderly neighbor had fallen, broken her hip, and had ended up in an assistedyth an ass living facility.
Desperate for a way to keep her son from spending his evenings alone, Tyne had turned sneaky, and she refused to feel guilty about the babysitting gigs she set up for him, or asking him to tutor the children of her friends. Keeping tabs on a teen was hell, but she did what she had to do. When he’d turned fifteen, she set a nine o’clock curfew. If she had to work later than that, she usually finagled some reason for Rob to drop by the house until she arrived. Tonight had been no different. Rob and Zach were supposed to watch a game on ESPN.
Tyne had arrived home around eleven-forty-five to find Rob asleep on the couch, a replay of some violent kick-boxing nonsense droning on the TV. She’d touched the power button on the remote, awakened Rob with a gentle shake, and they’d chatted for a few minutes. Rob had told her Zach had stayed in his room most of the evening. He’d said he’d tried to coax him out when the baseball game started, but that he’d had no luck, and that he must have drifted off sometime before the ninth inning.
The hours she’d spent on her feet tonight had exhausted her, so when Rob reminded her that he was meeting his sister for breakfast, she’d actually been relieved that he wouldn’t be staying over. She’d walked him to the door and kissed him goodnight. She had been just about to go slip into her pajamas when her cell phone vibrated—and this nightmare had begun.
She glanced down the hallway leading to the back of the building. Was anyone ever going to come? On the adjacent bench, Charlie’s chin had slumped to his chest, his snoring soft and rhythmic.
Tyne had been surprised by the phone call from the policewoman, but not overly concerned. She assumed the woman had chosen the wrong Whitlock in the phone book. In fact, she’d been so certain that the officer had made some huge mistake that she’d asked her to hold on so she could check Zach’s room. The sight of her son’s empty bed made lifting the cell phone back up to her ear sheer torture.
And now here she sat. In a police station. Waiting to see her son. Her son who was under arrest.
Should she have seen this coming?
Sure, Zach hadn’t been easy to deal with lately, but she hadn’t had any serious problems with him. Not anything that would allude to this scenario, anyway. His defiant behavior had begun some time ago. He’d started smarting off to Rob and back-talking her. Not all the time, just every so often. Then she’d noticed that he’d forget to do his chores, leaving his bed unmade, his room a wreck, or the kitchen garbage mounding in the can.
Tyne had called him on it, if not in every instance, at least often enough so that he still knew who was in charge. But his behavior hadn’t overly concerned her. Defiance and moodiness were just part of growing up, especially with kids Zach’s age. Teens saw pushing the limits as their primary goal. To make their parents, and every other adult they came into contact with, utterly miserable. To stick their big, hairy-toed feet out of the box as far as they could until someone shouldered them back inside the boundary lines of acceptable behavior.
The shouldering part fell under her job description. It didn’t matter that she was a single parent. Well, she did have Rob, but he was her boyfriend. Wait. Her
, she mentally corrected, thumbing the diamond ring on her finger. But Rob knew squat about raising kids, or if he did, he didn’t let on. It was Tyne’s responsibility to see that her son followed the rules, even when he felt those rules were unfair or harsh, or just plain ‘whack’ as he would say.
She’d excused it all away as puberty, raging hormones and all that. But then his grades started to slip last winter. A frown bit into her brow as she realized this had been going on much longer than she’d first thought.
His thth="5%"history teacher had complained that Zach was missing homework assignments, that his class participation had taken a nosedive, and there had been several instances of blatant disrespect. Tyne had cracked down on Zach. Hard. Although she hadn’t heard from the teacher again, it seemed as if her son had limped through the remainder of the school year, finishing with mediocre grades in all his classes.
Tyne continued to preach at him at every opportunity about the importance of education, although her lectures seemed to bounce off him like a rubber ball against a brick barricade. Now, with summer vacation in full swing, she’d tried to find something to occupy his free time. He’d been appalled by the idea of working with her. Even a paycheck hadn’t been enough to persuade him. Apparently, cooking offended his masculinity; it didn’t matter how many famous male chefs Tyne had reeled off. Until Zach found a business owner willing to hire a fifteen-year-old, filling out working papers was useless. She hadn’t had too much of a problem with him hanging out with his friends at the mall, or playing basketball in the park, as long as she knew where he was and who he was with.
Absently, she reached up and smoothed her fingertips back and forth across her chin. She’d been confident that she knew what Zach was doing with his time.
And she never would have thought he’d leave the house after curfew. Without telling Rob. Without phoning her.
Zach hadn’t just left the house
, the cold voice of reality whispered from somewhere in the back of her brain.
He’d snuck out
She’d be a fool not to acknowledge the truth. Was tonight the first time he’d done such a thing? Or the second? Or the twenty-second?
Doubt twisted in her stomach. She should have left the party earlier tonight. She could have made that happen, but—
Tyne snapped to attention. The uniform the female officer wore looked starched enough to stand up straight even if she weren’t in it. The bright overhead lights reflected off her thick hair, the bulk of which had been secured at the back of her head, up off her shoulders.
“I’m Tyne Whitlock.” She stood and approached the woman.
“Officer Perez. Follow me, please.”
“Is my son okay?”
“He’s fine.” The woman turned and made her way along the linoleum tiled hall. “He’s been at my desk while I filed the report. I decided not to lock him in a cell with the others.”
Gratitude rolled through Tyne in a huge wave even as her mouth went dry. She knew she should thank Officer Perez for her kindness, but instead she asked, “Others?”
“The boys your son was with. Three of ’em. They’re older than Zach. By a couple years, at least. And all of them have been picked up before. I’m hoping that spending a little time in confinement might instill a little fear, but who knows with these kids.”
“What did they
?” A fresh rush of dread didn’t allow her to wait for an answer. “Zach didn’t hurt anyone, did he?”
Perez shook her head. “It was a minor offense.”
Tyne exhaled with relief.
“But don’t get the wrong idea,” the officer cautioned, pulling open a door and holding it for her. “Your son is in serious trouble. The boys he was with—”
Only a mother could understand the flood of emotion that coursed through Tyne’s body when she saw Zach’s face, heard the fear in his voice, witnessed that he was whole and unharmed.