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Authors: Tracey Bateman

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Claire Knows Best

BOOK: Claire Knows Best
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Copyright © 2006 by Tracey Bateman

All rights reserved.

WARNER BOOKS

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

Warner Faith
®
and the Warner Faith logo are trademarks of Time Inc. Used under license.

First eBook Edition: June 2006

ISBN: 978-0-446-55897-6

Contents

Copyright Page

Praise for Claire Knows Best

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Reading Group Guide

If You Enjoyed Claire Knows Best...

About the Author

Praise for Claire Knows Best

“Through Claire, Tracey Bateman leads us in and out of the corners of
real
life where children misbehave (and triumph), trees fall in unfortunate places, and a romantic kiss can still be a doozy of
a good one. What I love about the Claire Everett series is that through it all, Claire knows best, even when she doesn’t—which
is so relatable.”

— Charlene Ann Baumbich, author of the Dearest Dorothy series
www.welcometopartonville.com

“I love Claire Everett! With poignancy and humor, Claire confronts life, romance, and mothering with an authenticity and nerve
that grabs my heart. I just wanted to climb inside the book and hang out with her. A delightful read that charmed me and made
me believe that, indeed, Claire Knows Best!”

— Susan May Warren, award-winning author of
Everything’s Coming Up Josey

“Whether you’re eighteen or eighty, you will find something to love about Claire! She is everygirl, and I loved sharing in
her life and can’t wait to see her again. Tracey Bateman is a wonderful, snappy voice in women’s fiction.”

—Kristin Billerbeck, author of
What a Girl Wants
and
She’s All That

To Susie Warren. Sometimes a girl needs a best friend to laugh with. Thank you for loving life with me. Sometimes I think
we were twins separated at birth.

Acknowledgments

First of all to Troy King, owner and operator of America Tree in Grand Lake, Colorado: Thank you Troy for your expert information
on how to remove a tree from a house. On a day when I was frantic for something fresh, God spoke through you and gave me exactly
what I needed to get over my block. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Debra Ulrick: Thanks for being a voice of praise when I need to hear nice things. And thanks to your husband, Rick, for putting
up with contracting questions.

Leslie Peterson for great editing.

Cara Highsmith: I would have been lost without you during the edits of this book. Thanks for being an ear and a voice of encouragement
as well as offering good insights that made the book much better than I could have done alone.

My great agent, Steve Laube: Thanks for believing in me.

My mother-in-law, Vivian: You’re always there for your grandkids and for me. You raise the bar for mothers-in-law everywhere.

My mom, Frances: As always, you read for me, you watch kids, you provide much needed prayer and pep talks.

Angie and Eldon Shivers: Thank you for feeding my kids, driving them places, and convincing me that I’m doing you the favor
by letting you do it. God breathes His goodness through you two. I’ve never known anyone with such a spirit of generosity.
I’m blessed to call you friends.

Rachel, Chris, Susie, Susan, and Anne: For helping in so many different ways. Just for being my friends.

Kris B: Thanks for long, honest e-mail conversations. You’re a treasure.

Jesus, You make this all possible. I live for You.

1

I
have a bad habit of laughing at the wrong times. Like last Tuesday during prayer meeting. Eddie Cain, a sweet, elderly man
who has attended my church for twenty years, stood up and asked for prayer. Nothing humorous about that. But for ten whole
minutes—and for the record, ten minutes can be agonizingly long—he shared every detail of his medical malady and then excused
himself and headed for the men’s room.

Let me just say that incontinence is a serious issue facing many seniors, and I know it’s not funny. Only, the way Eddie said,
“Preacher, I need y’all to pray for me. I’m having trouble holding m’water these days,” just sort of gouged my funny bone.
I pressed my lips together and bowed my head like I was getting ready to pray. But the truth was that laughter bubbled just
below the surface. I knew if I looked anyone in the eye, I’d lose it.

The heavy silence that followed this man’s request and subsequent exit didn’t help matters. I kept waiting for
someone
to say something to ease the tension. Pastor, maybe? Our leader, the shepherd of the flock. But the pin-dropping silence
lingered… lingered… Then, as I sat there replaying poor Eddie’s words in my mind, the inevitable happened: I felt
a dreaded giggle coming on. I pushed it down not once, but twice. Oh, all right, at least ten times. Fervently, I prayed that
Pastor would just end the service already before I made a complete fool of myself. But alas, that was not to be.

Still, to my credit, I was totally winning the battle for control. I really was. That is, until my fourteen-year-old son snickered
next to me. Oh, my goodness! Spit-flying guffaws burst forth from my innermost being. First I tried to cover them with a cough.
That never works. Next I pretended I’d been moved by the Spirit. You know what I mean. Just above a whisper I resorted to
the word that remains the same in every language: “Hallelujah.” Hey, I’m not proud of it. But in the heat of the moment, I
caved in to Christianese.

I don’t think anyone was fooled by either diversionary tactic, anyway. Imagine a high-pitched, way-too-forced “Hallelujah”
and you can guess why no one bought it. Oh well.

I didn’t wait around after the final “Amen.” Instead, I bee-lined for the door and got the heck out of Dodge before anyone
could give me that way-to-blow-the-whole-service glare.

And then, of course, I was too embarrassed to come back. I begged off Wednesday-night Bible study, then faked the flu on Sunday.
To make matters worse, my best friend, Linda, phoned Sunday afternoon to tell me they’d cancelled Tuesday-night prayer meetings
for an indefinite period of time. Pastor Devine claimed it was because of low attendance, and I can’t help but feel responsible.

Believe me, I know poor Eddie Cain’s plight was so not funny in the first place. But like I said, the stupidest, unfunniest
things make me laugh.

Moral of the story? It is quite possible that laughter is
not
necessarily the best medicine. Because I just feel sick about the whole thing. Although, in my defense, let me just say that
with four pregnancies under my belt, it’s not like I haven’t experienced the same problem. I mean, you try sneezing with nine
pounds sitting on top of your bladder. And heaven forbid anyone should make me laugh at the wrong moment during the last trimester.

Not to make this all about me or anything, but I
do
empathize on some level with the poor man.

Fresh from the memory of such a mortifying experience, you’d think I’d be on my guard for a while. Instead, I made another
huge mistake merely a week later when my editor, Tanya, called me from home to break some potentially life-altering news.

I’m thinking, really, after five years of working with Tanya, who edits my books with the touch of Midas, why I was the last
to know about her obsession with
Star Wars
? She had to have a baby (of which I had no clue until a week before her maternity leave) in order for me to know this.

If she’d have mentioned it in the first place or even hinted that she enjoys the Lucas-film mega-movie empire, I’d have been
prepared for her boldly going where no parent has gone before. Oh, wait. That’s
Star Trek
, not
Star Wars
. Well, either way, if I had known she had a penchant for sci-fi, I would have been prepared for her announcing the child’s
name.

Anakin Skywalker Gordon.

So, there I was, laughing like a lunatic at her little
joke
. Only to find out, um… she wasn’t joking. To make matters worse, Anakin is a girl. Although from the photo Tanya proudly
e-mailed to me, Anakin Skywalker Gordan looks more like, well… Yoda. But I suppose it’s not fair to judge. No one else
in the world can have babies as beautiful as mine. Besides it could have been worse as far as names go. Flash, for instance,
would have been worse, considering her last name. So, that little “Anakin” fiasco happened yesterday when Tanya called to
tell me she had decided not to return to work. Apparently, she doesn’t have the heart to leave little Ani (on second thought,
I guess Ani works for a little girl). She wants to be a full-time mommy. Admirable, but leaves me in a bit of a lurch.

And after I mocked her choice of a name, even though she knows I thought she was kidding, she’s in no mood to go to bat for
me with her replacement. Who is a man. Who hates romance novels. Which I write.

This guy will not be swayed by my ever-growing fan base. Because from what I’ve heard, his vision for the publishing company
is about as far away from romance as a person can get. Literary something or other, I imagine. The stuff college seniors deconstruct
in English 401, taught by frustrated English instructors who wanted to be authors but who didn’t have the guts to live on
Ramen noodles and reuse paper towels so they could afford to write the great American novel. Hmm. Maybe they
are
the smart ones.

Even my agent, who used to think I was the cat’s meow, isn’t optimistic about my future with this publisher. Methinks my publisher
is about to cut me loose. So much for all the hype about loyalty. Guess that’s a one-way street and I’m heading the wrong
way.

Did I forget to mention I’m a writer? Claire Everett, writer and single mother juggling four kids ranging in age from eight
to sixteen, three of whom are boys. My ex-husband and his new younger (and I promise I’m not bitter about it anymore) wife,
Darcy, are expecting their first baby this summer (she may have morning sickness, but
I’m
the one who’s truly nauseated by the whole thing).

My kids are excited about the pregnancy and have already started talking about spending more time at their dad’s. I’m a little
jealous. I admit it. I just have to get a grip and realize that they will naturally want to be around their new baby brother
or sister.

Anyway, back to the situation at hand. My agent’s hesitation is making me nervous.

“So, where does this leave me?” I ask, hating the tremor in my voice. I mean, honestly, I know God has my life in His hands.
I know my writing career was totally His idea and that He’s surrounded me with His favor every step of the way. There’s no
need for me to worry. But why’d I have to go and laugh at Anakin’s name? Why? Why? Why?

I finished my last contracted manuscript a month and a half ago. I’ve been expecting a new series contract soon. Waiting,
as a matter of fact, for my editor to get back from maternity leave so she can approve the new manuscript and turn her attention
to pushing the review committee to approve a new contract for me. But no, Miss I-want-to-be-a-mommy turned over
her
job to a woman-hater. And suddenly
my
job security is gone.

“Look, Claire,” my agent, Stu Lindale, says in a smooth voice that, to be honest, I could listen to all day. He’d make a killing
reading audio books if he ever wanted to give up agenting. “You still have a name in the industry. I’m sure the other publishing
houses would love to get their hands on you now that your contract has expired.”

I know he’s trying to mollify me, but quite frankly that bites. “What if I don’t want to go looking somewhere else?”

“You’ve been wanting a change,” Stu reminds me. “Now’s your chance.”

Hope, like the phoenix, rises from the ashes. “Does this mean we’re going to start shopping the new series proposal?” I started
it during my recovery from surgery. Carpal tunnel. Had it last year and was forced into a sabbatical. Best thing that ever
happened to my family relationships. Maybe not so good for my career, though.

Stu is hemming and hawing about now, and I feel the phoenix crumbling once more into the thick dust that is my life. Stu never
hems and haws. He’s precise, concise, and, by the way, never charges me for mailing supplies. I like his no-nonsense approach
to my career. So why, all of a sudden, is he hedging?

BOOK: Claire Knows Best
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