An eXtasy Books Editor’s Choice Award
A single woman battles to keep her foster child from his newly-paroled father—a dangerous man she used to love.
Bridget Matawapit is an Indigenous activist, daughter of a Catholic deacon, and foster mother to Kyle, the son of an Ojibway father—the ex-fiancé she kicked to the curb after he chose alcohol over her love. With Adam out on parole and back in Thunder Bay, she is determined to stop him from obtaining custody of Kyle.
Adam Guimond is a recovering alcoholic and ex-gangbanger newly-paroled. Through counseling, reconnecting with his Ojibway culture and twelve-step meetings while in prison, Adam now understands he’s worthy of the love that frightened him enough to pick up the bottle he’d previously corked. He can’t escape the damage he caused so many others, but he longs to rise like a true warrior in the pursuit of forgiveness and a second chance. There’s nothing he isn’t willing to do to win back his son–and Bridget.
When an old cell mate’s daughter dies under mysterious circumstances in foster care, Adam begs Bridget to help him uncover the truth. Bound to the plight of the Indigenous children in care, Bridget agrees. But putting herself in contact with Adam threatens to resurrect her long-buried feelings for him, and even worse, she risks losing care of Kyle, by falling for a man who might destroy her faith in love completely this time.
Bridget held Kyle’s hand and led him down the hallway to the same door they’d opened during their last visit at the Children and Family Services building. Instead of Thursday morning, they were meeting on Wednesday during her lunch hour. Once she got clearance from the board of directors, she’d rework the visitation to late Wednesday afternoons.
When they opened the door, Adam stood on one side of the room, and Mrs. Dale sat on the chair she’d previously used, the one by the pop cooler.
Bridget’s gaze whipped back to Adam. It’d been almost a week since she’d last seen him. He still had his cream-colored cowboy hat, the one with the curling brim that made the waves of his hair kink in every direction. A tank top hugged his dark skin. A jean shirt caressed his broad shoulders.
Adam nodded. His dark eyes brightened at Kyle.
“Go ahead. I’ll be right there.” Bridget managed to eke out the words while pointing at the chair beside Mrs. Dale.
Kyle inched toward his father. His lips spread into a big smile, flashing his missing tooth.
“Hey.” Adam shifted to his haunches. “How ya doing?”
“Awesome.” Kyle ducked his head and blushed.
Bridget sat. Kyle’s bashfulness was a good sign. She choked the handle of her travel mug. Maybe too good of a sign. If Emery was present, who’d previously visited convicted felons in prison during his discernment at seminary, he’d tell Bridget that Adam deserved this chance.
She gave her head a good shake, anything to get rid of Emery’s nagging voice.
“Thank you, Dad.” Kyle clutched a bag. “May I have this one?” He held up a monster cookie, his favorite.
“You can have ’em all. I made them for you.” Adam led them to the small table.
“Really? Let’s color this one.” Kyle pointed at the Z Men coloring book.
“We sure can.” Adam set his big hand on the back of Kyle’s chair.
Against her will, Bridget’s skin warmed. Kyle used his imagination wonderfully, and she prohibited him from becoming absorbed in TV, computers, or other technological devices. Jude felt the same way and limited his children’s time in front of the too-many screens available to youngsters.
For Kyle’s sake, she should buy a house. Not only would he benefit, this might help her chances at keeping him permanently. With a home, he’d have a backyard to play in.
The real estate market was expensive, but Bridget could broker a sweet deal on the condo to acquire a sizeable down payment for a house. She’d paid off the truck early, leaving her a bi-weekly mortgage payment and the usual bills.
Children and Family Services provided an allowance for Kyle’s care. She did dig into her own wallet for his golf classes. Then there was soccer. Kyle’s first year of hockey had kept him amused this past winter.
As the director of the Aboriginal Student Center at the university, Bridget made an excellent salary that afforded her many extras. Even with Kyle’s extracurricular activities, a house was doable.
Mrs. Dale continued to take notes, peeking over her clipboard at Adam and Kyle. “How are you today, Ms. Matawapit?”
“I’m good. How about you?”
“Busy. There aren’t enough hours in the day.” Mrs. Dale ticked off a box on the sheet of paper.
Bridget snuck a peek. The woman whom Adam referred to as The Hawk had checked off still uncomfortable regarding Kyle’s progress with his dad. Bridget glanced up at Kyle coloring away and grinning at Adam, both quietly laughing. Adam held a red crayon Kyle had picked out, and he helped color the picture.
She shifted, clicking her nails against the bottom of the chair.
“I went swimming…I went for a ride on Uncle Darryl’s four-wheeler…I helped Grandpa polish the important cups after church…I got to watch the stars come up…” Kyle kept coloring. “I always get to watch the stars come up. I never see them here. They’re really bright and pretty at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. There weren’t any dancing lights this time.”
“Dancing lights?” Adam also kept coloring.
“Yeah. The green dancing lights in the sky when it’s dark.”
“He means the aurora borealis,” Bridget piped in.
“Yeah, that’s the big name Mom calls it.” Kyle giggled and gazed up at Adam.
Through his dark lashes, Adam peeked at Bridget. More than peeked. His tender look caressed the bare skin of her arms.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Bridget fumbled to call up the notes section on her cell phone. “I have to write a few things out I need to get after work.”
“I don’t mind.” Adam’s tender gaze kept stroking the gooseflesh peppering Bridget’s skin. “You can join us if you want.”
Bridget almost dropped the phone. “I’m fine. I need to make a list.” Dammit, she hadn’t meant to snap.
Mrs. Dale’s bemused expression bordered on laughing at Adam.
What was the caseworker finding amusing? Adam had a right to try. Kyle was his child. The words Bridget had furiously typed on the phone blurred. Where was her brain? Adam didn’t deserve sympathy. He was a big boy and could defend himself.
“A wise decision.” Mrs. Dale wrote on her clipboard. “Men who’ve been in the system a long time never change.”
“Thank you for your observation, but remember, you’re Kyle’s caseworker. I’m quite capable of handling my own personal life.” Bridget made sure iced coated her words.
Mrs. Dale’s prim mouth moved into a half-moon. Her beady eyes remained gray cement. “I quite agree. If I didn’t, you wouldn’t be Kyle’s caregiver, would you?”
Was that supposed to be a threat? If the old witch thought to stick her nose in the inappropriate place, she was pulling out the gloves on the wrong person. “Adam asked if I’d care for Kyle. Your supervisor agreed.”
“Yes, she did, based on my recommendation after I interviewed you in my office and assessed your home.” A warning lingered on Mrs. Dale’s words. “You have an excellent job. A condominium. A splendid mode of transportation. You’re…well, you’re not like…you do well for yourself…” She sniffed.
What had Mrs. Dale meant? There was a ton of racism lingering in the non-aboriginal population of Northwestern Ontario. Bridget had run into those who’d divided the Indigenous people into the good tax-paying Indians who fit neatly into Western Society, and the drunken, drug-addicted, homeless bad Indians who were a drain on the taxpayers. She was nobody’s good little Indian.
As for tonight, Bridget had promised Adam she’d go to The Gator. If Mrs. Dale found out, she’d probably class Bridget as another drunken Indian who relied on the handouts of society. The hard-assed woman might even terminate Bridget as a caregiver for Kyle.