Discover romance across America with Janet Dailey’s classic series featuring a love story set in each of the fifty states.
Since her divorce was final, Maggie Rafferty has lived for one man only: her ten-year-old son, Mike. A spunky kid who’s just old enough to protest his mother’s kisses, he’s processing the divorce by focusing on Little League. No amount of Seattle rain will keep Maggie from being at every practice—but it’s not just Mike she’s excited to see.
Mike’s coach, the handsome and kind Tom Darby is the sort of man Maggie could imagine a future with. But just as she feels ready to explore romance again, Mike’s father returns—reviving old feelings Maggie thought were buried forever.
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For Mike's Sake
The Americana Series: Washington
By Janet Dailey
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1979 Janet Dailey
All rights reserved.
THE COMPACT CONVERTIBLE zipped down the street, trees leafed out into full foliage to shade the lawns on either side.
The car's top was down, wind ruffling the scarlet gold hair of the driver, dressed in snug fitting Levi's and a blue madras blouse with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
Expertly shifting down to make a running stop at an intersection, Maggie Rafferty saw no traffic approaching and let the little car dart across. Ahead was the ball park and Maggie slowed the car to turn into the small graveled lot near the stand.
Stopped, she lifted the smoke gray sunglasses from her nose and perched them on her head. Her green eyes scanned the cluster of young boys as she pressed a hand on the horn.
Instantly one separated himself from the others and ran toward her, a baseball glove in his hand.
He paused once to wave at the group, backpedaling toward the car.
"See ya Friday, guys!" When he hopped into the passenger seat he was faintly breathless, his dark eyes glittering with excitement. "Hi!"
"Hi, yourself." Maggie smiled, tiny dimples appearing in her cheeks. "Sorry I'm late. I hope you didn't have to wait too long."
"That's okay." He shrugged away the apology, absently punching a fist into his glove. "I'm getting used to you always being late," he said with the patient indulgence of an adult.
"Thanks a lot, Mike." She laughed and reached over to tug the bill of his baseball cap low on his forehead.
Punctuality had never been one of her virtues, but she didn't need a ten-year-old son reminding her of it.
"Hey, come on!"
Mike protested the action, removing his cap and putting it back on at the correct angle. Its momentary removal revealed coal black hair, a shade darker than his eyes.
Maggie's gaze skimmed his profile, lighting on the sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose. They were the only thing he might have inherited from her. "I told you not to do that."
"Sorry, I forgot." Which wasn't totally true. Mike believed himself to be too old for hugging and kissing. It embarrassed him.
Maggie couldn't smother the urge to touch him and love him, so she hid it under the guise of teasing pokes and gestures.
"Are we going home or not?" he prompted.
"Yes, right now."
As she turned toward the door to took over her shoulder for traffic before reversing into the street, Maggie's gaze was caught by the man standing on the driver's side of a station wagon parked beside her.
Tall, in his thirties, with light brown hair and hazel eyes, he was very good-looking, as suntanned as a lifeguard.
The look in his eyes was decidedly admiring in his inspection of her. His mouth quirked into a smile, accompanied by a slight nod of his head in silent greeting.
Maggie returned the smile and the nod without hesitation. One of Mike's teammates raced around the station wagon to climb in the passenger seat, and Maggie breathed out a sigh of regret. Why were the good-looking ones always married with a little wife waiting at home?
She flipped the sunglasses down on her nose and reversed into the empty street.
"How was your first practice?" The Little League baseball season was just beginning. Maggie didn't want to think about the hectic summer schedule that would be ahead.
"Great. The coach says I'm going to make a good utility man, 'cause I can play any position on the field ... except pitcher, of course. Maybe I should practice pitching."
He considered the idea.
"Instead of being good at every position, you should concentrate on one or two and become the best at those."
"I guess," Mike conceded. "I've gotta improve on my hitting. I didn't do too well today."
"It's only your first practice," Maggie reminded him.
"Yeah, I know. Coach said he'd give me a few pointers about switch-hitting and all if I'd come earlier than the other guys for practice. Do you suppose you could manage to bring me early?"
"You wouldn't have been late today if Aaron hadn't called from the office just as we were leaving." Maggie correctly interpreted the question as a slur on her character.
"Yeah, but you always leave everything to the last minute. Then when something comes up, we're always late."
"We'll get an earlier start next time," she promised.
There was a flash of blue at the end of a side street, the shimmer of sunlight off the smooth surface of water.
In Seattle there always seemed to be a flash of blue around the corner, whether from a lake or an inlet or Puget Sound itself.
"You don't have to take me. I could always walk."
"We've been through that before, Mike." Her mouth was set in a firm line, irritation sparking through her that he should bring up the subject when she had made her feelings so plain on it before. "It's too far for you to walk."
"It wouldn't be too far if I had a bike, a ten-speed. I saw one the—"
"Your birthday is coming up."
"Summer will almost be over by then!"
"If you'd taken better care of your old bike, you wouldn't be without one now."
"I only forgot to lock it that one time. How was I supposed to know someone was going to come along and steal it?"
"I hope it taught you a lesson and you'll be more careful with your next bike."
"If you're going to get me a bike for my birthday, do I have to wait clear till then? Couldn't I have it early?"
"Maybe if I wrote dad, he'd buy me one now," he muttered, not content with her half promise.
Maggie gave him an angry sidelong look.
"You just ruined your chances of getting a bike before your birthday. I've told you repeatedly that you aren't going to play me and your father off against each other. If you persuade him to buy you a bike before your birthday, I'll lock it up until your birthday. Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Mike grumbled, hanging his head, his mouth thinning into a sulking pout.
Concealing a sigh, Maggie let her green eyes look back to the road. God, how she hated playing the heavy-handed parent!
But she had little choice, really. Mike was only behaving as any child of divorced parents would. If she let him get away with his emotional blackmail, he'd be walking all over her. And nobody walked over her, certainly not her own son.
"It isn't so bad, is it?" she asked, trying to ease the friction between them. "To have me take you to practice?"
"No, it isn't so bad," he agreed glumly.
"From now on, I'll make sure you're there early so the coach can give you some tips on hitting, okay?"
As she glanced at him, Mike gave her a sideways look through thick black lashes. A sudden, impish light glittered in his dark eyes. "I know why you're going to get me there early. It's the coach, isn't it?"
One thing about Mike, he never held a grudge, a trait that was totally his own.
Maggie smiled. "The coach?" She didn't follow his comment.
"Yeah, the coach." There was a knowing grin on his face. "I saw the way he looked at you."
"The way he looked at me?" She laughed in bewilderment. "I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't even see Coach Anderson at the ball park."
"He isn't our coach this year. We've got a new one, Tom Darby."
"Oh," said Maggie in understanding and repeated the sound in realization. "Oh, your new coach was the one by the station wagon, the tall, good-looking man."
"Yeah, do you want me to introduce you?"
His dark eyes were twinkling with an awareness beyond his years, but then children seemed to grow up quicker nowadays.
Maggie hid a smile at his matchmaking attempt, but there were telltale dimples in her cheeks despite the straight line of her mouth.
"The coach's wife just might object to that, Mike."
"He isn't married."
His grin deepened.
"The boy who got into the station wagon with him ..."
"... was Ronnie Schneider. Coach was giving him a ride home. You don't think I'd try to line you up with a guy who's married and has kids of his own, do you, mom?"
"You can just forgot about lining me up with him. If there's any lining up to do, I'll take care of it." As they turned a corner the wind blew her hair across her cheek, flame silk against her ivory complexion. Maggie pushed the tangling strands back.
"From the look he gave you, it won't take much lining up," Mike declared with decided certainty. "He'd like to make it with you—I could tell."
His candor brought a bubble of indignant reproof, but Maggie swallowed back most of it, releasing a tame reprimand.
"You see more than you should."
"It's a fact of life, mom. A feller can't ignore it." He shrugged, knowing he was being outrageous and enjoying the feeling.
"It's not my fault I have a beautiful mother and that half the guys think you're my older sister."
"Do you mind?"
She slid him a curious glance as she turned the car into the driveway of their home.
"Nah, I just tell everybody that you had a face-lift and you're really a lot older."
She didn't know whether to be angry or laugh, and in the confusion became capable of neither.
He laughed heartily, finding her astonishment riotously funny.
"I don't tell them that, mom, honest. But you should have seen the look on your face!"
Maggie stopped the car in front of the garage door. "Wait until you see the look on your face if I ever find out that you have!"
But the threat wasn't made in earnest.
"Seriously, mom—" he opened the door and hesitated before stepping out of the small car "—I don't mind that you look young and beautiful. And I wouldn't mind a bit if the coach was your boyfriend."
"Oh, you wouldn't?"
Maggie switched off the engine and removed the key from the ignition. "Do you think it might help you to score a few points with the coach?"
"It couldn't hurt. It would be pretty hard for him to bench the son of the girl he's dating, wouldn't it?"
"If you deserve benching, the mother might suggest it to the coach,"
"Oh, well," he sighed as he climbed out of the car, "you can't blame a guy for trying to cover all the angles if he can."
With a shake of her head, Maggie stepped onto the concrete driveway. Mike took the short flight of steps to the front door two at a time and waited impatiently at the top while Maggie rummaged through her cloth purse for the house key.
"What's for lunch? I'm starved!"
"Homemade noodles." She handed him the key to unlock the door and reached for the letters in the mailbox.
"Can we eat now?"
He was in the house, tossing his baseball glove on the sofa while be headed for the kitchen.
"The glove belongs in your room and we'll eat in twenty minutes, after you've washed and I've fixed a salad."
"You're trying to turn me into a rabbit. Salad!" Mike declared.
"The glove and wash," Maggie reminded him, catching him before he reached the kitchen and turning him back to the living room. "And you like salad, so I don't know why you're complaining about it now."
"I don't like it for every meal."
As Mike retraced his path to the living room, Maggie had to admit her menus had been lacking in imagination lately.
She supposed it was a problem all working mothers faced. Cooking for only two people wasn't easy, either.
Still, Mike's criticism was justified and she should do something about changing it in what was left of her two weeks' vacation.
Maggie set the mail on the counter and began rummaging through the kitchen cupboards. There would be time enough to look over the bills later. Right now, she had a hungry boy to feed.
Boy. Dimples were carved briefly in her cheeks at the word. After that observation about his coach, Mike was fast outgrowing the term of boy.
And matchmaking yet. Still, it was better that he had no objections to her dating. It would have been unbearable if he were jealous and resentful of her seeing other men.
But Mike had only been five years old when Maggie had finally obtained her divorce, so his emotional scars were few.
Mike evidently liked his new coach. Tom Darby—Maggie remembered the name.
He was good-looking, in a jock sort of way, and she would have been less than honest if she didn't admit that she had been attracted to him. He evidently liked children, otherwise he wouldn't be coaching a boys' Little League team.
Most of the eligible men she had met lately had either been too young or too old, but this Tom Darby was ... Maggie took a firm grip on her imagination. The man hadn't even asked her out yet—if he ever would—and here she was assessing his possibilities!
Mike burst into the kitchen.
"My glove's in my room and my hands are washed. Can we eat now?"
Maggie made a brief inspection of him and nodded. "Set the table while I see what I can fix in place of a salad."
"Can't we just forget the salad? I promise I'll eat two helpings of green vegetables at dinner tonight instead. I'm starved! I really worked up an appetite at the ball field."
She smiled crookedly and gave in.
"All right, set the table and I'll dish up the beef and noodles."
Later when Mike helped himself to another portion of noodles, Maggie carried her empty plate to the sink, picked up the mail from the counter and returned to the table.
She sifted through the half-dozen envelopes, a mixture of advertisements and billing statements, until she came to the last.
Even before she saw the Alaskan postmark, she recognized the boldly legible handwriting. Her heart missed a beat, then resumed its normal pace.
"You have a letter from your father, Mike."
Her thumb covered the return address and the name Wade Rafferty as Maggie handed the envelope to her son.
"Great!" He abandoned his plate to tear open the flap with the eagerness of a child opening a present. Maggie sipped at her glass of milk, trying to ignore her pangs of jealousy.
Mike read the first paragraph and exclaimed, "Oh, boy! He's coming home!"
Her heart missed another beat. "Why is he coming to Seattle?"
She refused to use the word home.
"To see us, of course." Mike continued to read the contents of the letter.
Not us. He's coming to see you, but not us, Maggie corrected him silently.
Wade had no more interest in seeing her than she had in seeing him.
"Does your father say when he's coming?"
It had been six years since she had seen him last, shortly after their divorce, before he'd left for Alaska, a transfer Wade had requested from his company. Of course Mike had seen him regularly, flying to Alaska in the summers and during Christmas holidays.
The first time Mike had gone, it had been awful, with Maggie worrying about him every second. But it had been even worse when he came back, every other sentence containing "daddy." Even today, she still experienced moments of jealousy, although none as intense as that first time.
To say her five-year marriage and year's separation from Wade had been stormy was an understatement. It had been six years of one flaming argument after another, each alternately demanding a divorce from the other until finally their demands coincided.
They had been too much of a match for each other, her fiery temper equal to his black rage. Yet, since their divorce they had managed to be civil to each other for Mike's sake, albeit at long distance.
"He's coming home Sunday the ..." Mike glanced up at the calendar hanging on the kitchen wall, notes scribbled on various dates. "Wow! He's coming home this Sunday!"
He pointed at a section of the letter. "He says right here, 'I'll see you on Sunday. I'll call you first thing in the morning.' This Sunday. Wow!" Mike repeated with incredulity and delight.
"Does he say why? I mean, didn't you write him in your last letter and tell him how much you were looking forward to coming to Alaska this summer?" Maggie felt uneasy.
It was so much better when there were hundreds of miles separating her from Wade. "Surely your father knows how much you wanted to come, so why would he disappoint you this way?"
"I'm not disappointed. I'd much rather have him come here. Dad knows that, 'cause I keep asking him to come home. Mom, do you suppose he could—"
"He is not staying here!" She read the rest of the question in Mike's expression and immediately rejected the idea.
"And I'm sure your father wouldn't want to, anyway."
"It was just a thought." Mike shrugged and tried to hide his disappointment.
There was sudden perception in her green eyes as Maggie studied her son's face.
"Mike," she began hesitantly, "I hope you aren't holding out any hopes that your father and I will get back together again. We both tried very hard to make our marriage work, but we simply couldn't get along."
Excerpted from For Mike's Sake by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1979 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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