Book excerpt

The Replacement Child

A Mystery

Christine Barber

St. Martin's Press

CHAPTER ONE

Monday Night

Lucy Newroe hated the word supererogation. It was one of those ridiculous words you’d see in a Reader’s Digest Word Power quiz. Like quidnunc or sesquipedalian—words whose only purpose was to make the user look smart and the listener feel stupid.

Lucy had no clue what supererogation meant, and she didn’t know how to spell it. Obviously, neither did the reporter who had written the story she was editing—he had spelled it "superaregation." The spell check on Lucy’s computer wanted her to change it to "super are nation," as if that made more sense.

Normally, she would have taken the word out, but it was in a direct quote: " ‘The constant superaregation by the director bordered on the absurd,’ said audience member Jake Plumber."

There was no changing of quotes in news stories. Either she took the word out and paraphrased the quote or kept the word in and figured out how to spell it.

"Oh, hell," Lucy said to her computer. No one even turned to look. It was about 11:30 p.m. Her side of the newsroom was empty except for her and a lone reporter, while the copy- desk side was full of people working quietly. The story deadline had come and gone, but the page deadline still was an hour away. The dance- company review she was editing didn’t need to be done until tomorrow. As the night city editor, she had to wait until the copy desk finished its pages before she could go home.

Lucy got up to look for a dictionary as her phone rang. She picked it up and rambled off her phone introduction without even thinking—"Capital Tribune newsroom. This is Lucy Newroe. How can I help you?"—as she tried to make the phone cord reach to the dictionary on the shelf.

"Is Harold there?"

Lucy recognized the voice. It was old and female. "It’s just me in charge to night," Lucy said as she grabbed the dictionary.

"How about Steve?"

Lucy smiled. Scanner Lady always wanted to talk to the male editors, never to her. "I’m it. You’re stuck with me, I guess. What’s going on?"

Scanner Lady hesitated. Lucy thought she was going to hang up.

"Well, I don’t know," said the voice.

"Did you hear something on the police scanner?" Lucy asked, as she paged through the S’s in the dictionary—was it "supere" or "supera"?

"I think I did." Scanner Lady hesitated again. "I think I heard two Santa Fe police officers talking about calling in the OMI and the state police."

Lucy tossed down the dictionary and started taking notes. Calling in the Office of the Medical Investigator meant a dead body, and calling in the New Mexico State Police to investigate meant that what ever had happened, it might involve a cop. The state police automatically took over any case that concerned a law enforcement officer.

Lucy snapped her fingers at Tommy Martinez, the night cops reporter. He turned and looked at her as she pointed to her phone. He knew what it meant. He grabbed his note pad and ran over to Lucy’s desk.

"So you heard the Santa Fe cops call out the OMI and state police?" She was repeating it for confirmation and so that Tommy could hear. He guessed who it was on the phone.

"Thank God for Scanner Lady," he whispered, and started taking notes.

Lucy ignored him and said into the phone, "When was this?"

"Just a few minutes ago," Scanner Lady said. "I don’t want to say any more. Just listen to your scanner."

But Lucy had been listening to the scanner—it sat on a shelf right above her desk—and she hadn’t heard anything. It wasn’t unusual for police scanners to pick up different traffic. There were two scanners in the newsroom—one on her desk and one in the photo department, twenty feet away. The one in photo picked up more calls from the city police, while hers picked up more county calls and an occasional cell- phone call.

But both scanners were quiet. The last call had been something about a truck full of teenagers skidding into an icy arroyo.

"Are you sure?" Lucy asked. "I haven’t heard anything. Can you tell me anything more? What exactly did they say?"

"Just listen. I’m sure you’ll hear it."

Lucy heard the finality in her voice, but she still had so many questions. Were the voices male or female? What made her think it involved the Santa Fe city police and not the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department? Had they said whether the killing was in the line of duty or something else?

Scanner Lady always played it like this—never giving out all the information, not even her name. She called about once a week. It had become a sort of game for Lucy to figure out who she was. Scanner Lady’s voice was old, raspy. Maybe a smoker? She was definitely Anglo. Once, Lucy almost got her

to inadvertently mention what side of town she lived on, but Scanner Lady went into a coughing fit and hung up before revealing anything. She never mentioned having children or a husband. And she never gave her reason for calling in with her tips. Did she just need someone to talk to?

Most of the time, her calls amounted to nothing. But a few times, what she had heard had turned into a story. That was enough that Lucy never ignored her.

Lucy hung up and looked down at her notes. All she had written was:

OMI

State cops

Santa Fe

Dead body???

She looked at her watch—11:34 p.m. This was going to be tough. Tommy was already on the phone, trying to get hold of the night supervisor at the state police. He looked up at her

and shook his head.

"Just give it your best shot, Tommy. We’ve gotten stories later than this," she said.

And they had. Just last week they’d had a stabbing at 11:45 p.m. and managed to get a ten- inch story in the paper by the 12:30 p.m. page deadline. But a story involving the possible investigation of a police officer and a dead body was something else. Getting that story during working hours was a chore; this late at night, it was next to impossible.

Lucy was too anxious to sit. She walked over to the copy- desk side of the newsroom and watched the editors design the pages for tomorrow’s paper. Across the office, she heard Tommy unleashing his phone charm. He must have been talking to a female police dispatcher: he was laughing a lot—a teasing, swinging laugh. Lucy heard him say, "A la ve . . ." and then, "No sé . . ." He slipped between the local Spanish and English, busting out his best Northern New Mexico accent for the English. His vowels were twice the normal length, stretching out the words into a singsong lullaby. His English had no hard consonant edges and his Spanish was not quick- step Mexican Spanish, but the slow, taffy- pulling colonial Spanish still spoken in Santa Fe.

Tommy was a Northern New Mexico farm boy, the second youngest of nine from a family who had lived in the mountain village of Ojo Sarco for fifteen generations. His grandmother spoke no English, only the Old New Mexico Spanish, as did all his great- uncles and - aunts still on the farm. Tommy had been the first child in his family to finish college, although a sister had done time in a vocational school for paralegals. Why Tommy had decided to become a journalist, Lucy still didn’t know. But he’d been born to it.

His technique for gathering news tips relied heavily on females and flirting. Tommy would tell the middle- aged female police dispatchers of his love for his mother’s tamales and how he missed his sisters. He would tell the young female dispatchers about his love for country- western music and how he lived for the smell of a woman after sex. And in return, they would tell him anything.

Lucy jumped as one of the copy editors spoke.

"Lucy, you’re making me nervous. Would you stop pacing?" the editor said without looking up as he typed in a headline.

She went back to her desk, sat down, and stared at the wall, trying to relax. The room was windowless, like the sensory- deprivation cells used by the KGB to break American spies. The newsroom was painted sea- foam green, with matching cubicle dividers splitting the space up into play house- size streets and alleys. The ceiling was low, with the obligatory fluorescent lights that occasionally strobed. The color of the walls and the artificial light gave everything an aquarium feel, right down to the wet, dank smell coming from under the receptionist’s desk.

The building itself was a mishmash of old and new. Part of it was from the 1800s, the rest from the 1970s. The result was sloping tiled floors where an errant step up would meet three steps down. Walls stopped and started in random patterns. According to office legend, the Capital Tribune had been built on top of the graves of Spanish colonialists killed during the Pueblo Revolt, the odd bumps and angles of the floor made when the coffins were paved over. Some of the night press workers claimed that sometimes, late at night, they heard a woman crying and praying the rosary in Spanish. One of the advertising reps had once come in to work at dawn and supposedly seen a man gliding down a hallway dressed in the brown robes of a mission priest. Lucy wondered if you could use "saw a ghostly vision" as an excuse to take a sick day.

Lucy glanced over at Tommy as he hung up the phone, flipped through his Rolodex, and quickly dialed another number.

She heard him say, "This is Tommy Martinez, from the Capital Tribune. Who is this?" The person on the other end said something and Tommy smiled, saying, "Beth Ann? I don’t think we’ve met. What’s your last name?" Lucy shook her head. Poor Beth Ann, she didn’t stand a chance. By the end of the conversation she would be telling Tommy everything, including when they would be getting together for drinks.

Tommy paused on the phone, waiting for Beth Ann’s answer. "You’re a Garcia? Are you related to Tony Garcia who works at Pep Boys? . . . No? . . . How about Sarah Garcia at the state land office? . . . No? . . . Of course, oh yeah, I know your sister. . . . Me? I’m from Ojo Sarco." Tommy started to laugh. "Yeah, the hillbilly Martinezes . . ." They continued with the expected Northern New Mexico greeting: determining if they were related or had mutual friends.

The Martinezes, Garcias, Vigils, Trujillos—all the native Hispanic families in Santa Fe—were related somehow, their blood intermingling through marriage for more than four hundred years. The Spanish conquistadores came to Santa Fe in the early 1600s, and the settlers followed soon after. A Garden of Eden, with a handful of Spanish Adams and Eves. The other Spanish colonies in America didn’t survive the eventual flood of immigrants. But in Santa Fe, protected by high- desert sands and a wreath of surrounding mountains, there was no flood. The colonists planted apple orchards and built adobe churches, all the while keeping the Old Ways. They were not Mexican. Not truly Spanish. They were colonial Spanish. Castilian.

Lucy waited until Tommy hung up the phone. She walked over to him and he told her what she had expected to hear: He had called the state cops, the Santa Fe police, the hospitals, the Santa Fe County sheriff, and even the city of Española police. Nothing.

"Tommy, you’re heading out to the police station tomorrow morning to do your cop checks, right? Maybe we can look into it more then," Lucy said.

Twice a day reporters went to the Santa Fe police station to look over the incident reports to see if anything warranted a story. In the hot sheets last week, there had been a small item about a man setting fire to his house and running around it naked while singing "Amazing Grace." It had made an amusing story and had been picked up by the national news services.

"Actually, the Gomez trial gets started tomorrow, remember?" Tommy said.

Lucy hadn’t remembered. Sam Gomez had allegedly shot into a crowd of people during the Christmastime performance of Las Posadas two years ago, wounding the woman who played the Virgin Mary. The trial was attracting statewide attention and had to be covered.

She thought for a second. "I’ll do it. I’ll go to the police station tomorrow morning before I come into work."

Tommy looked surprised. According to newspaper etiquette, editors didn’t do grunt work. She should have assigned it to a different reporter instead of going herself.

"I have to get up early anyway," she added.

Tommy looked doubtful but said nothing. He wished her good night as he left.

Lucy looked down at her desk. The dictionary stared back up at her, still opened to S. Lucy sat down and pulled the dictionary to her.

She found it right after superduper. Supererogation, with one o and two e’s." It meant "the act of doing more than what is required or expected."

She smiled to herself. She really did have to get up early— sort of.

Patsy Burke sat in her easy chair, flipping channels. It was almost one a.m. She stopped when she reached Law & Order, her husband’s favorite. It was a rerun, but she didn’t mind. Her memory being what it was, it would seem new to her. She smiled at her joke.

A detergent commercial came on, but the announcer’s voice was too high for her hearing aid, so she muted the sound. As she watched a voiceless laughing woman get stains out of her skirt, Patsy thought about the conversation she’d had with her granddaughter three days ago.

"Grandma, what would you have been if you could have been something?" Brittany had asked. Brittany was doing a school project on choosing a career. As if babies her age should be thinking about such things, Patsy thought. They should be making zoo animals out of straws or pasting oak leaves onto construction paper.

But in the end, Patsy had played along.

"An astronaut," she said, thinking that it would please her. Brittany loved Justin Timberlake and—since the family had gone on vacation to Cape Canaveral last summer—space exploration.

"No, Grandma, you hate flying. Now really think this time."

So Patsy thought.

She’d been born during the Depression and had grown up practical. What was that Doris Day song? "Que Sera, Sera"? Patsy had never been to college. She and John had married straight out of high school. The day after their honeymoon to Kansas City was over, she moved out of her parents’ farm house and into John’s parents’ home. But she had dreamed of college, even though her mother had always said, "Don’t live beyond your means, or dream beyond your dreams." One of the town girls Patsy went to high school with had gone to college, but the girl had dropped out after only four months to get married. Not that the girl would have had much of a choice. In their day, proper women picked from only two careers—nurse or teacher.

Now her granddaughter was asking her to make the choice she’d never had. Patsy said the first thing that came into her head.

"A newspaper reporter."

Brittany seemed pleased.

Since then, Patsy had played the game by herself, changing her chosen profession from day to hour. So far she had been a police officer, a beekeeper, a nurse, a florist, a professional traveler, and a TV news anchor. Today it was a talk- show host for the geriatric set, an Oprah in her eighties. "Okay, audience, today our topic is dentures." Patsy smiled, thinking she would tell her next- door neighbor Claire that one.

The show came back on and she turned up the sound. It was about a small boy who had been killed. As they showed the boy’s body, she realized that he looked like George. Patsy quickly turned the channel. She flipped stations until she was sure that the shot of the dead boy was over, then settled back down to watch.

At least the tears hadn’t come this time. She hadn’t thought of George in months. She wondered if that meant she was forgetting him. She closed her eyes and leaned back, trying to remember the last time she had thought of him. But she couldn’t. She got up slowly, her bad hip giving her a twinge. She

tried to do the yoga breathing that Claire was teaching her. Something about breathing into the pain. But after a few puffs of breath in and out, she gave up and walked stiffly to her bedroom. She pulled open the drawer of her nightstand, rattling a few prescription bottles on top of the table. She opened the cover of her white- covered Bible and pulled out four photographs. The top one was in black- and- white. George smiling back at her.

He was only a year old in the picture. George hadn’t cried at all when the flashbulbs went off, making that loud pop. He’d hammed it up, smiling even more. The photographer had called him "a natural." John hadn’t wanted her to spend the money at the photo studio, saying that they should wait until the family Christmas picture. But there had been no more family Christmas pictures. Four months after the photo was taken, George was trying to catch pollywogs in the creek by their farm, with John nearby putting up fence posts. George was blue when they found him in the water.

That had been more than forty years ago. They had never discussed it. She and John had packed up the farm house and moved to Wichita within a week. For two years they lived in a small apartment with only one room and rusty pipes. She was never able to scrub out the rust stains from the porcelain sink.

The floorboards creaked so badly that Patsy barely moved while she stayed at home all day, finding ways to silently iron, cook, and clean. As if any noise might remind her that George was dead.

Patsy pulled out the picture underneath the one of George. It was of her and her sons John Junior and Harold running in a sprinkler in front of a ranch- style home. On the back in her writing was: "Home. 1961. John Jr., 8. Harold, 6." They had bought the house and moved out of the apartment as soon as she got pregnant with John Junior. The house had been built in a new subdivision. All the homes looked alike and had big grass yards. John fenced their yard in as soon as John Junior could walk. When the boys started elementary school, they wanted to take swimming lessons at the high- school pool with their friends, but John said that they couldn’t afford it. Patsy didn’t ask him about it. Instead, she and the boys spent the summer days running and jumping in the sprinkler.

The next photo was of John in his long- sleeved police uniform. She turned the photo over. It said, "Wichita, Fourth of July Parade, 1963," in her handwriting. John had been on the force almost twelve years by then. He looked tired in his navy wool dress uniform. He had just made sergeant a few months earlier and the extra pay went into their mortgage.

The last photo had been taken just a year ago, during a family reunion at John Junior’s house in Albuquerque. Patsy sat in the middle. Her two sons on either side with their wives, her six grandchildren, and two great- grandchildren. Seven- year- old Brittany was her youngest grandchild. John Junior’s young second wife had wanted more children. Patsy took off her glasses and looked at the picture more closely, the photo almost touching her nose. She smiled. She looked pretty good for an eighty-two- year- old great- grandma. But she looked odd standing with her family without John next to her.

She and John had retired to New Mexico six years ago to be near John Junior. They had searched for homes in Albuquerque but finally settled in Santa Fe, where the homes were more expensive but the higher altitude was better for John’s health. Within three years, he died of a stroke. Her friend Claire said that retirement had killed John. And Patsy thought that might be true. He had wandered around the house all day, thinking up projects to do and then not finishing them. Out in the garage, there were still some bookshelves he had been making.

She heard a noise out in the living room and limped out of her bedroom, once again trying Claire’s yoga breathing. It still didn’t work. The squealing was coming from the police scanner next to the easy chair, momentarily hurting Patsy’s hearing aid. She muted the volume on the TV and turned up the scanner.

"Medic One, 1225 San Francisco Street, elderly woman with chest pains." Patsy wrote down the call in her journal and said a quick prayer for the woman.

Lucy drove around the block a few times before she found a parking space in the dim light. It was just after 11:30 p.m., but the streets around the Cowgirl bar were still filled with cars. She sat in the front seat, prepping herself in the rearview mirror; she reapplied her lipstick, brushed her hair, and tried to

do something creative with her black eyeliner, managing only to poke herself in the eye. She wiped the eyeliner away, but now it looked like she had a case of pink eye. Very attractive. Oh well, at least the red made her eyes look more blue. Accentuate the positive, right? She bent over in her seat and adjusted her breasts in her bra—a burlesque move she had been doing since she was fourteen. When she sat back up, she had cleavage.

She got out of the car and headed through a wrought- iron gate that was almost off its hinges, past a cobblestone courtyard, and into the crouching adobe building. The Cowgirl was packed. She scanned the tables for the copy editors she was supposed to meet. The adobe- brick walls were painted a sickly

salmon color and covered in 1950s photos of cowgirls in short fringed skirts and red lipstick. The chandeliers were made of the antlers of deer and steers. Behind the copper- tin bar was a brass wall hanging of a naked cowgirl lounging seductively on a saddle. It made Lucy think of chafing.

The crowd was a mix of locals taking advantage of dollar- beer night, tourists in town for the ski season, and convention-goers with their name tags still on. A woman named Lisa Smiley—if her name tag was to be believed—walked by with four beers.

Lucy stood on the bottom rung of an empty bar stool to get a look over the crowd. The French had made up a word for someone her size: petite. And for that she was eternally grateful. She would have hated shopping in the "lady dwarf" section at Sears.

Lucy spotted the copy editors at a table in the corner. She made her way through the crowd and was about to sit down when she realized that the Capital Tribune copy editors weren’t alone—they were sitting with a group of reporters from the competing Santa Fe Times. Hell. Damn. She looked around to make sure Del wasn’t there. He wasn’t. Thank God. The table was split in half—women on one end and men on the other. She wiggled her way down toward the men.

In grade school, some students always sat in the front of the class and some always sat in the back; she always sat with the boys. Not because she was interested in them romantically— that became an issue only after she’d hit puberty—but because women made her uncomfortable. She could never figure out the social nuances. The female social system was too complex and required a set of emotional skills that she didn’t understand. And she was never very good at "girl things"—she hated shopping for clothes—and she loved action movies. Whenever she met a woman for the first time, Lucy always felt like she was skipping steps two through four in a required dance.

Men were easier. They made sense. She was never worried whether they were smarter than she or more clever—when it came to competing with men, she knew she would always win. With women she might not be the smartest or the prettiest; she might be average. She might be blah.

She was the middle child—sandwiched between two boys, a year apart on either side. She was neither the youngest nor the oldest. Stuck in limbo. To get noticed, she became the toughest, smartest, and funniest of the boys. She simply ignored the fact that she wasn’t a boy.

When Lucy was twelve, her mother took her to the Clinique counter at Macy’s to get a make over. When Lucy wore her new makeup to school the next day, the boys made fun of her and gave her the once- over, but it was the girls’ reaction that was more interesting—they talked to her. They asked her about shades of eye shadow and how to apply mascara. That’s when she got it—look like a girl, act like a boy. Last week she had spent sixty dollars on a haircut—not to attract men but to impress women. Two girls at work had asked her who her hairstylist was; they’d talked for twenty minutes about hair dye and wondered out loud if Lucy should get highlights in her dark blond hair. Still, at best, all Lucy could manage to strike up was a casual acquaintanceship with a woman.

As Lucy approached the table, she made one of the male copy editors scoot his chair over when she sat down. The two male reporters on either side of her moved over as well. The women eyed her from the other end of the table. Lucy hoped it was a friendly look. The waitress came over and Lucy ordered a Sprite, not wanting to fall into another Monday- night drinking bout. Last Monday, she hadn’t gotten home until six a.m. and had to throw up for an hour before the bathroom stopped spinning. She’d felt like an idiot. Drinking that heavily in college was expected; when you’re twenty- eight, it’s bordering on alcoholism.

She listened to the Santa Fe Times reporters debate whether cheerleading was a sport while the waitress set the Sprite in front of her. She felt a hand reach under her hair to touch the back of her neck. Del Matteucci. She turned around. He was holding a beer and giving her that crooked smile that she loved. Damn.

"Where’s your woman?" she asked, her voice colder than she’d intended. Was she still that angry?

"She’s working late," was all he said as he slipped into a chair next to her, left vacant by a copy editor heading off to the bathroom.

Lucy nodded and turned back to her Sprite, not able to think of anything else to say. They hadn’t really spoken that much since they broke up six months ago. They had seen each other. Said hi. The usual. But talk about the breakup? Never.

"You aren’t drinking?" he asked. She could smell the beer on him. She looked down at her Sprite.

"Actually, I’m just getting started." She leaned over and draped her arm across the back of the sports reporter next to her, asking "What’s your favorite color?"

"Green," he said and pulled her closer.

"Green it is." She motioned to the waitress as Del watched her curiously.

"I want a green drink," she told the waitress. Lucy smiled brightly as she turned back to the sports reporter. She knew what she was doing. Exacting her own sort of revenge. Flirt with all the boys and make Del watch. It was petty, but it would do. She needed alcohol for courage. She asked the sports reporter if she could use his shoulder as a pillow as the waitress showed up with something called a green iguana. It smelled of tequila and sweet- and- sour mix. She took a gulp. It didn’t make her throw up, so she took another.

An hour and three more colors later—red, orange, and blue—Lucy felt Del’s hand on her knee. It stopped her cold. She resisted the urge to move his hand higher up her thigh. She got up silently and went to the bathroom. Alone. She wished for a second that she had some version of a female friend, so that they could gab to each other about boys while they peed. She would have to manage this on her own.

Her boyfriend—she never quite remembered to put the "ex" in front of that—was hitting on her. Del was hitting on her. She had daydreamed of something like this. Of course, her fantasy involved him begging and crying. And beating on his chest in agony at her indifference. Make it very All My Children.

Two top- heavy blondes with Texas hair came tripping into the bathroom. They had tiny purses that matched their completely inappropriate sundresses. Had these women never heard of January? They jiggled their way into the bathroom stalls, talking about someone named Tracy.

Lucy stared back at herself the mirror, concentrating not on her face but on the weird reflection made by the salmon- colored walls. She had moved to Santa Fe a year ago for Del. He had wanted to come; she had wanted to stay in Florida. But she was in love. So they moved. She became night city editor at

the Capital Tribune and he took a photography job at the Santa Fe Times. Six months later, they split up.

She washed her hands in the bathroom sink without thinking and crumpled a paper towel into the wastebasket. She crushed a few more paper towels into balls for good mea sure, resisting the urge to stomp them into the floor. She was too drunk to make sense of her feelings. And the blondes sounded

like they were about to leave their stalls, so she took a deep breath and walked back to the table, stumbling a bit from the alcohol. She sat back down—next to Del, out of habit. He said, "Hey, baby," in the sloppy language of drunks and leaned over to massage her shoulder with one hand, his other holding a Heineken. Something in Lucy quickened, not with pleasure but with rage. Fury. Wrath. All those good Old Testament words but with a tinge of heartbreak. How dare he? How dare he think that she would get drunk and go back to him as if nothing had happened? How dare he destroy her, unmake her, unmold her, and then come back for seconds?

Lucy had the Wonder Twins power that most women possess: the ability to flirt outrageously with a repulsive man. Or a despised man. There are various reasons women do it: It’s a power trip for the pretty, and it can be turned into a fast- acting man- bug repellent. Lucy always used it for the latter reason. The flirt- and- destroy combination had served her well in college. A man who assumes that women must kneel in worship when faced with his magnetism can be tortured into a bloody, humble pulp with charm and the right words. The girl starts with normal flirting, whispered tones, and a soft smile. Make him think he stands a chance. The amateurs will quickly begin to lick their lips and excessively toss their hair. The pros move right into an accidental brush- of- hand- against- back and a few well- placed out- of- corner- of- eye looks. If the girl is enjoying herself, she can continue; but Lucy usually stopped it at that point, using one swift word or phrase to cut the man. Not deep, but fatally. If the girl is very good, she can do all this within a matter of minutes. Lucy liked to think she was that good.

She grabbed Del’s bottle of beer out of his hand and took a sip of it while he watched. She fondled the long neck of the bottle as suggestively as she could. She frowned. She was a little too drunk to be convincing. Her timing was off. She put the bottle down and almost spilled it. She started to laugh. Maybe she wasn’t as good at this as she’d thought.

Del touched her hand on the table and said, "I’ve always loved your laugh." He turned her palm up and traced her lifeline with his index finger, the touch giving her a shiver. "And I’ve always loved your hands," he said.

"That’s not the only body part of mine that you’ve loved," she said with an out- of- the- corner- of- her- eye glance.

"But it’s the only part I can love in public unless you want people to stare."

"There’s a lot of fun things we can do in public with our hands. We just need to get imaginative."

"Like what?"

Lucy switched her voice to that of a scolding schoolmarm. "Well, I can’t believe that you spilled your drink all over yourself." She picked up a napkin and pretended to wipe off his shirt, her fingertips tracing a slow swirl across his neck, then slipping lower down on his chest, sneaking toward the waist of his pants, all the while saying "tsk, tsk," in her schoolteacher tone. And all the while smiling.

He grabbed her wrist just as she was nearing his belt. "If you go any lower I’ll be spilling more than my drink."

"Really? I’d like to be around for that." Del’s face changed when she said that. What had been a boyish smile was replaced by the hard edge of lust.

"We can go back to my place," he said in a low tone.

"Cockroaches are scared to go to your place," she said back softly. They had always had this teasing tension. It was part of their sexual combat.

"You can come over and help me clean. Remember the time we spent all night dusting off the kitchen table?" He squeezed her hand—their fingers interlaced, their legs touching under the table. Lucy put her head on Del’s chest and took a deep breath. He smelled of cigarettes and sweet sweat.

She had him. She could crush him. Destroy him like he had destroyed her. All she had to do was go home with him, feed him a few more beers, and bring him to the edge. Slowly kiss his clothes off, but keep her own on. Then, as he stood there naked, anticipating, she could say, "Oh that’s right, we broke up," and leave.

It was then that she realized what she wanted more than to destroy him: She wanted to get back together. That thought alone saved her.

She smiled up at him and pushed him away, saying, "How about instead I find you a ride home, and then tomorrow morning you call your girlfriend and buy her flowers for no reason."

Excerpted from The Replacement Child by Christine Barber

Copyright 2008 by Christine Barber

Published in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

CHRISTINE BARBER is an award-winning journalist as well as a certified emergency-medical technician and firefighter. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is currently pursuing a career in medicine. She previously worked as an editor at The Santa Fe New Mexican and as a journalist for the Albuquerque Journal and Gallup Independent.