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Authors: Fern Michaels

Picture Perfect

BOOK: Picture Perfect
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Books by Fern Michaels

A Family Affair

Forget Me Not

The Blossom Sisters

Balancing Act

Tuesday's Child

Betrayal

Southern Comfort

To Taste the Wine

Sins of the Flesh

Sins of Omission

Return to Sender

Mr. and Miss Anonymous

Up Close and Personal

Fool Me Once

Picture Perfect

About Face

The Future Scrolls

Kentucky Sunrise

Kentucky Heat

Kentucky Rich

Plain Jane

Charming Lily

What You Wish For

The Guest List

Listen to Your Heart

Celebration

Yesterday

Finders Keepers

Annie's Rainbow

Sara's Song

Vegas Sunrise

Vegas Heat

Vegas Rich

Whitefire

Wish List

Dear Emily

Christmas at Timberwoods

 

 

The Sisterhood Novels:

 

Kiss and Tell

Blindsided

Gotcha!

Home Free

Déjà Vu

Cross Roads

Game Over

Deadly Deals

Vanishing Act

Razor Sharp

Under the Radar

Final Justice

Collateral Damage

Fast Track

Hokus Pokus

Hide and Seek

Free Fall

Lethal Justice

Sweet Revenge

The Jury

Vendetta

Payback

Weekend Warriors

 

 

The Godmothers Series:

 

Classified

Breaking News

Deadline

Late Edition

Exclusive

The Scoop

 

 

E-Book Exclusives:

 

Serendipity

Captive Innocence

Captive Embraces

Captive Passions

Captive Secrets

Captive Splendors

Cinders to Satin

For All Their Lives

Fancy Dancer

Texas Heat

Texas Rich

Texas Fury

Texas Sunrise

 

 

Anthologies:

 

Secret Santa

A Winter Wonderland

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Making Spirits Bright

Holiday Magic

Snow Angels

Silver Bells

Comfort and Joy

Sugar and Spice

Let it Snow

A Gift of Joy

Five Golden Rings

Deck the Halls

Jingle All the Way

FERN MICHAELS
Picture Perfect

ZEBRA BOOKS

Kensington Publishing Corp.
www.kensingtonbooks.com

All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.

Chapter 1

D
avey Taylor didn't like the shine of the street lamp that cut through the darkness and played against the filmy curtains in his bedroom. The lamp created shadows that danced on the wall, menacing his toy chest and his favorite stuffed animals on the shelf above. Each night Davey would move his ragged, beloved Panda Bear from the shelf and place it where the shadows couldn't touch it.

Right now the lights in his room were all lit and the shadows were held at bay. If Davey moved back the curtain, he could even see his own reflection in the glass. But later, after Mom turned off the lights, those dark invaders would enter his room. His mother said he was too old for a night-light.

Straightening his room before he went to bed, as he had been taught, Davey pursed his mouth as he studied his dog calendar.

“Today is Sunday; yesterday was Saturday,” he told the dog sitting quietly near his feet. “I'm supposed to change my pajamas on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.” His brow knit into worried lines. “I can't remember if I changed them last night or not, Duffy.”

The Yorkshire terrier squirmed, as if uncertain of the tone of Davey's voice.

“See, I make an X on the days I change my PJs. There's no X for yesterday.” Davey looked down at his dog, who tipped her head to one side. Shaking his head over his forgetfulness, he walked over to his chair and flopped down.

“Changing my pajamas,” he said, with seven-and-a-half-year-old authority, “is one of those ‘almost' things. You know, Duff, like I can almost reach the top cupboards. I can almost tell the time. I can almost walk to school by myself. Everything is ‘almost.' I can't wait to grow up so I can be
most.

The tan-and-black dog woofed in agreement.

Davey swiveled his bright blue eyes to the clothes tree. There were no colorful pajamas on the peg. A cherry-red windbreaker and a yellow slicker with matching hood were the only garments hanging there. Davey ran his stubby, little-boy fingers through his thick, flaxen hair, a sign that he was relieved. His breath exploded in a loud whoosh. He must have changed his PJs the night before after all, and put them under his pillow, otherwise they'd be hanging from the peg. As if sensing her master's relief, Duffy yipped happily.

“See these, Duff? They're my first pair of Reeboks!” Davey said proudly. “And I almost got them dirty today. I'm wearing them tomorrow with my new red jacket when we leave with Aunt Lorrie to go camping. Mom says you can't go camping with dirty shoes, Duff.”

Duffy rolled over on the meadow of green carpet, taking Davey's excitement as a sign that it was time to play. Instead, Davey leaned over to pull up his pants leg. Duffy watched as first one strap and then another was loosened. She growled deep in her throat when the brace fell against the side of the desk. Crawling on her belly, she stretched herself to her entire two feet in length to show her disapproval.

Davey stood erect. He could walk without the brace; he just wasn't supposed to be ram . . . rambunctious. He liked that word even though he wasn't exactly certain what it meant.

Finding the PJs under his pillow, he stripped down and pulled the top over his head, then completed the job with the long-legged bottoms. Jumping onto the bed, he settled himself down with his new book,
Elliott the Lovesick Swan
. The long hand on his 101 Dalmatians watch told him it was almost time for his parents to come in and say good night. The new watch, a gift from Aunt Lorrie, was special. The only time he took it off was when he had a shower.

“Oh, man, I forgot to brush my teeth!” With only a few minutes until bedtime, he didn't want to waste them brushing his teeth. Davey threw back the covers and marched to the bathroom. He turned on the water, put his toothbrush under the flow and wet it. His eyes danced merrily as he purposely splashed a little water onto the marble vanity top. A giggle erupted as he gave the toothpaste tube a quick squeeze in the middle, then set it down. He scurried back to bed where Duffy watched him with droopy eyes.

“I made it look like I brushed my teeth, Duff, but I really didn't.”

Picking up his picture book, he flipped through the pages. He wasn't interested in Elliott tonight. If only he could talk to his friend Digger on the CB radio. But “if only” was like “almost.”

“Time for lights out, buddy,” his father said, opening Davey's door all the way.

Davey looked up to see his mom and dad standing in the doorway. “I know, Dad. See, the big hand is almost on the six. Do I call it six eight or eight six?”

There was a trace of annoyance in Sara Taylor's voice when she answered for her husband. “No, Davey. You call it eight thirty or half past eight. The little hand tells you the hour and the big hand tells you the minutes.” She refused to call the hands on his Dalmatian watch “paws,” as her sister Lorrie had suggested. The boy would learn to tell time properly. “We went over all this on Saturday afternoon. I can see where we'll have to practice extensively when you get back from your camping trip.”

Davey was undaunted by her displeasure. “I don't think I can fall asleep tonight. I can't wait for tomorrow. Gee, this is almost better than Christmas,” he said, his voice bubbling with excitement. Almost. It
was
going to be better than Christmas, he just knew it.

Andrew Taylor walked over to the bed and grinned as he bent to kiss his son good night. “I think you're absolutely right. Do you have all your gear ready?”

Davey nodded. “I've had it ready for a whole week. Are you going to miss me, Dad?”

“Of course we're going to miss you,” Sara replied instead. “By the time you get back from your trip, we'll be back from ours. We'll all be together again in just a few days. Did you brush your teeth, Davey?”

Davey squirmed. “Go see the toothbrush,” he answered, avoiding the lie. He looked at his parents, noticing how close they were to each other. They were always like that, he thought. And Mom always knew what Dad was thinking or was going to say. He had heard the phrase “matched pair” and that was how he thought of his parents. A pair. Like a pair of socks or shoes. They matched. Wanting to be part of a pair, Davey drew Duffy close.

Wordlessly, Sara Taylor pushed the terrier off the bed. “I think I will check that toothbrush,” she said, then leaned over to kiss him good night. “Did you find your PJs under the pillow?”

“Yep. See?” He lifted the pillow for her inspection.

“Davey, we do not say ‘yep.' It's a slang term and I don't want you to use it.”

Her voice was firm and Davey made a note to try and remember. Mom's voice was
always
firm. He liked Dad's voice better because there was usually a smile in it. But he liked Aunt Lorrie's voice best of all because there was usually a secret waiting to be told. Hers was a tickly, fun kind of voice. You couldn't fool Aunt Lorrie. She would have known about the toothbrush right away.

Davey felt guilty for liking Aunt Lorrie's voice more than his mom's. Impulsively, he reached out, hugging her around the neck. The stretching pulled back his pajama sleeves from his arms.

Sara Taylor's cinnamon-brown eyes fell on the needle marks dotting her son's arms. But her movements, when she extricated herself, were icily controlled. There was no hugging pressure on her part, no smile in her eyes, when she firmly pushed him back onto his nest of pillows. “Good night, Davey. Sleep well.”

“G'night, Mom. G'night, Dad,” the boy said quietly. He felt funny inside, as if he'd done something wrong. He lay very still until the door closed behind them.

Seconds later, he scooted to the bottom of the bed. Duffy lay stretched out on a small carpet bearing her name.

“C'mon, Duff. You can get up here now.” The little dog was on the bed in one leap, her tail wagging furiously. “I've got that funny feeling again, Duff. As if we did something wrong.”

Chubby hands cupped the terrier's face in a firm grip. Bright blue eyes stared unblinkingly into Duffy's melting brown ones. “We didn't do anything wrong today, did we?” Duffy wriggled, trying to get free to snuggle in the warmth of the blankets.

Davey stared into the dim corners of the room, trying not to look at the light that filtered through his curtains. Why did his stomach feel so funny after Mom and Dad said good night? All those times in the hospital, his stomach had felt bad, too. The tubes going into his veins, his sore puffy knees making him want to cry. But he hadn't cried. Instead he'd gripped the pillows and clenched his teeth so hard he'd been afraid they'd crack into pieces. “Don't cry, Davey. Only babies cry,” his mother had cautioned. “You must be brave and not do anything to upset your father.” He had felt sick whenever Mom said that to him, her eyes willing him not to cry.

He remembered the day the tall doctor told him he was going to get a different kind of treatment—a blood transfusion through the jugular vein. Davey had steeled himself not to cry in front of his dad. Instead, he'd grinned and waved to his dad as they wheeled him to the special room for blood transfusions.

Pills and shots, shots and pills for days afterward, and Davey had taken it all, like the brave little man his mother had told him he must be for his father's sake. He'd been carefully instructed from infancy that Daddy's wants and needs came first. Even when the pain in his joints was so bad he couldn't walk, still he hadn't cried. Davey's eyes had searched his father's each time he visited. There was always acceptance in his father's eyes, an acceptance that was totally ignorant of the price Davey was paying just so that his dad could laugh and smile when he came to visit.

Davey had hoped his mom would be proud of him, but if she was she hadn't said so. He didn't understand. He'd done as he'd been told. He'd been brave. Behaved like a grown-up. With a child's sure instinct, he'd recognized that he was a trial to his parents, less than perfect, a disappointment.

Once when his aunt had visited him, she'd commented on the shadows under his eyes and asked if he was in pain. He'd been hesitant to say yes, but Aunt Lorrie had persisted until he admitted it.

“Why didn't you say something to your mom when she was in here?”

“I . . . I wanted to but—”

Before Davey could finish his answer, his mother and father had entered the room and stopped him from continuing. That night, after visiting hours, Lorrie came back. Wordlessly, she lowered the bars of the youth bed and sat on the edge. There, in the dark, she took him in her arms and held him.

“It's okay to feel tired and sore, Davey,” she told him, her voice as soft and sweet as the darkness. “It's all right. You can cry if you want to. No one will hear. I know it hurts,” she crooned, reaching out to share the weight of his misery, acknowledging Davey's pain, accepting it.

Silently Davey clung to her, taking from her the courage to continue with his charade and face the ordeal. At last he slept, his body weak with exhaustion. But he hadn't cried. Not then, nor the last time either. But knowing that it would be okay to cry lightened his burden.

Now the worst was behind him; he was home, and there were just the daily shots of antigen. He had done what his mother wanted; he had been brave. He hadn't cried. He hadn't upset his dad.

Now, sitting with Duffy in the darkness of his room, trying to avoid the light coming through the curtains, Davey felt that tightness in his middle, again the alarm that said he'd done something wrong. That his mother didn't approve.

In a flash he was off the bed and across the room, dodging the light. He created a windmill of motion as he pulled his toys from the toy chest and sent them sailing across the bedroom. “See, Duff. Here it is,” he whispered triumphantly, grabbing onto his stuffed giraffe.

Back on the bed, with Duffy crouched between his legs, Davey held the stuffed giraffe up for inspection. “You see, Duff, how shiny Jethroe's eyes are?” The giraffe's bright, shoe-button eyes stared back at him. “Look, Duff,” the little boy commanded, “Jethroe's eyes never change, no matter how I move him. I don't like this giraffe!” he cried suddenly, and his lower lip trembled as he stared at the toy. “You know why I don't like that old thing, Duff? I'll tell you. It's . . . it's 'cause I feel like Jethroe sometimes. All wobbly and tired. Aunt Lorrie says it's okay to feel that way sometimes. But Mom doesn't.” Seven-and-a-half-year-old wisdom rose to the fore. “If I cry and act like Jethroe, Dad will get upset. Mom doesn't want to see Dad upset.”

Duffy snuggled deeper into the covers. “Aunt Lorrie knows I hurt sometimes. She knows I feel like Jethroe. She says it's okay to feel like that because those trips to the hospital for blood tests take all the . . . energy out of me. Energy, Duff. Like what's in the batteries that make my RC car go. The blood tests take all my energy.”

Davey pitched the giraffe across the room. The backward motion of his hand nearly toppled the picture of his parents that rested on his nightstand. “Whew, that was close,” he sighed as he grappled with the slippery frame. Even in the near darkness it seemed he could see the photograph of his smiling parents. Holding the frame carefully by the edges, he turned the picture to the light that came through the curtains. His gaze intent, he brought the faces closer, then held them at arm's length again. Gingerly, he replaced the picture on the nightstand.

His whisper was fierce, almost savage, as he pulled up the covers. “I like Aunt Lorrie best! Mom and Dad really only like each other.”

A soft whine and much wiggling and the little dog was safely tucked against the pillow next to Davey. “You know, Duff, when I get all my energy back, I'm going to . . .”

He was asleep before he could complete his thought.

 

In the corridor leading to their bedroom, Sara linked her arm through her husband's and squeezed. “I want to talk to you about something, Andrew.”

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