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Authors: Marilyn Pappano

Father to Be

BOOK: Father to Be
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“I loved this story.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A four-hanky book, not to be missed.”

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“This uplifting tale is for everyone who believes in love.”

Publishers Weekly

“Intense emotion and riveting drama are the hallmarks of Marilyn Pappano’s work.”

Romantic Times

“A gripping novel [with] wonderfully drawn characters. Pappano is truly an exceptional storyteller … one of romance’s finest authors.”
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“The story evokes deep emotions and profound feelings. Riveting.”

Rendezvous

FATHER TO BE
A Bantam Book / September 1999

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999 by Marilyn Pappano.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-81726-6

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, New York, New York.

v3.1

Contents
Chapter One
 

I
t was five-thirty on a Friday afternoon when Caleb Brown walked into the grocery store two blocks off Main Street. Though he would have preferred to come earlier so he could get home before dark, circumstances chose the time. It was the end of the week, the beginning of the month, payday, and people were just leaving work and stopping on their way home to do their weekly shopping. The store was too busy for anyone to pay attention to one twelve-year-old kid whose parents were probably around somewhere.

He walked through the produce section as if looking for his mom, then took a turn onto the canned food aisle. The only shoppers there were at the other end and had their backs to him. They didn’t see him sweep a half dozen cans of green beans off the shelf and into his backpack. On the next row, no one saw the bags of rice disappear either, or the macaroni, the peanut butter, canned tuna, and two loaves of store-brand bread.

Acting as normally as he could, he slung the full pack
over his shoulder by one strap and started toward the front of the store. This was always the hard part—walking past the clerks without making them suspicious. He was sure that if they ever really looked at him, they’d know he was a thief, and so he stared at the floor and hunched his shoulders and tried hard not to make anyone notice him. He must have gotten pretty good at it, because he hadn’t been caught yet, but his hands got sweaty and his chest felt like someone was squeezing it tight. He was always afraid that each time would be the time something would go wrong.

Sure enough, it was.

He was almost even with the cash register in the express lane, maybe fifteen feet from the door, when a yank on his backpack jerked him to a stop. He tried to pull free but managed only to twist around enough to see that it was a big man in shirt-sleeves who’d grabbed him and was holding on tight.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

Caleb tried to act innocent, but with his face burning hot, he knew it wasn’t going to work. “Out to the c-car to—to wait for my mom,” he bluffed, but his voice was high, like a girl’s, and he couldn’t look the man in the eye. “She’s—she’s getting groceries, and she said I can wait in the car.”

“Your mother’s in the store getting groceries,” the man repeated as if he didn’t believe him. “Tell me her name, and I’ll have the clerk page her. She can come up to the desk and we’ll straighten this out.”

“Her—her name …” His gaze darting side to side, Caleb looked for a way out. If the guy would ease up just a little, he could slide out of the backpack and run, but the grip was so tight, it was cutting off the blood to his arm.

“What’s wrong, boy? You forget your mother’s name?” Looking disgusted, the man turned to the customer service
desk and the woman working there. “Call the police, Eileen. Tell ’em we’ve got a shoplifter over here.”

A sick feeling rushed up from Caleb’s gut. He couldn’t let them arrest him. Even if they didn’t put him in jail, they’d hold him awhile, and they wouldn’t just let him walk out by himself. They’d want to talk to his mom or dad, and then they’d find out everything. He couldn’t let that happen. He’d
promised
.

“L-look, you got the stuff. I didn’t t-take nothin’. Just let me go and I won’t come back, I swear.”

“Yeah, right. This isn’t the first time you’ve stolen from us. Why do you think I’ve been watching you?”

“You can’t call the police!” Caleb shouted and jerked, desperate to get loose. Surprised, the guy pushed him against the counter, forcing his face down until the cold glass was against his cheek, but he still tried to squirm free—until he heard a voice.

“Uncle Nathan, I know that boy. What is that man doing to him?”

Caleb went still, closed his eyes, and wished he could die. Of all the people in the whole stupid town of Bethlehem, New York,
she
was the one he didn’t want to see, not now, not like this. He thought he’d been embarrassed when the guy grabbed him, but that was nothing compared to this. This was a hundred times worse. This was pure humiliation.

He heard footsteps as they came closer, heard a man speak. “Bill, what’s the problem?”

“I caught this kid stealing, Nathan—and it’s not the first time. He’s trying to carry my store off one bag at a time.”

“Why don’t you let him up? He’s not going anywhere, are you, son?”

Caleb didn’t
want
to be let up. He didn’t want to stand there, humiliated, in front of
her
. But Bill let him go and took his backpack at the same time, and he had no choice
except to straighten up from the counter. He didn’t have to look at her though. Instead, he stared at the floor, hot and sick and scared enough to cry.

“What’s your name?” Nathan asked, but Caleb just stared harder at the floor.

When he didn’t answer,
she
did. “It’s Caleb Brown. He’s in my class at school … sometimes.”

“Caleb, I’m Nathan Bishop. This is Bill Mitchell, and you already know Alanna.”

Nathan offered his hand, but Caleb didn’t take it because then she’d see how badly his own hand was shaking. She’d know he was scared, and that would make her feel even sorrier for him. He didn’t need anyone’s pity, most of all hers, and so he just kept on staring at the floor.

Nathan didn’t seem to mind. He turned away and started talking to the store guy about what was in the backpack, but Alanna kept looking at Caleb. What would he see if he looked back? Pity? Shock? Scorn? Would she still talk to him now that she knew he was a thief? Would she tell her friends, who’d always made fun of him anyway?

He didn’t know, and he didn’t care.

He
didn’t
.

The sounds of the automatic doors opening drew his gaze. The two men were paying no attention to him. If he could get a good head start, he could outrun both of them and make his way through the alleys and back streets to the road that led home. Once he got outside town, they would never find him. They wouldn’t even know where to look.

With his muscles tight, his jaw clenched, he moved an inch closer to the door. When neither man noticed, he took another step, bigger this time, and was about to take off, when Nathan Bishop took hold of his collar and pulled him back.

“Have the clerk ring it up,” he was saying to Bill, “and I’ll pay for it, then Alanna and I will give him a ride home. I’ll have a talk with his parents.”

Panic made Caleb look at Alanna’s uncle for the first time. And he realized just how bad his luck was.

Nathan Bishop was a cop.

There was a loud rushing in Caleb’s ears as he tried to think what to do. There was no way he could let a cop take him home. He’d take one look around and know something was bad wrong, and he’d call the welfare people and the sheriff and whoever else.

But there was no way to get loose either. Even when Nathan paid for the food, he pulled the money out with his left hand and kept a tight grip on Caleb with his right.

“Thanks for handling this, Nathan,” the store guy said as they started toward the door.

Caleb considered dragging his feet, or grabbing hold of the rail that separated the in door from the out, or tearing off his shirt, but instead he let the cop pull him outside and across the parking lot to his truck—the black and white one with the light bar and the seven-pointed star on the door. Surely he would let go of him there, just for a minute, and then Caleb could run like hell. He knew some places to hide.

But Nathan didn’t let him go. He unlocked and opened the passenger door, pushed the seat forward, and sort of helped, sort of pushed Caleb into the backseat. Then Alanna got in the front and Nathan got behind the wheel, and he was trapped with no way to escape.

Trapped. Like a scared animal.

There were people in town who thought his whole family wasn’t much better than animals—people who laughed at him and his brothers and sister because their clothes were shabby and didn’t fit, and they weren’t clean and were poor and the little kids were hungry most of the
time. Alanna had never been like those people, but now that she knew he was a thief, she might be. She hadn’t even said a word to him so far. She’d talked
about
him, but not
to
him, like maybe she was ashamed to know him.

Hell, he wouldn’t have answered her if she had spoken to him.

“Which way, Caleb?” Nathan asked.

He answered in his angriest, most sullen voice. “Take Tenth Street east out of town.”

No one said anything as they drove. The cop didn’t ask what he was doing in town by himself and did his parents know he was shoplifting from the grocery store, and why was he doing that anyway? Alanna didn’t mention the last month of school that he’d missed or the end-of-the-year picnic at City Park or what she was doing for summer vacation. As for Caleb, he had no time for conversation. He had plans to make.

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