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Authors: Tracey Bateman

Leave It to Claire

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Copyright © 2006 by Tracey Bateman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may
quote brief passages in a review.

WARNER BOOKS

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

The Warner Faith name and logo are registered trademarks of the Time Warner Book Group.

First eBook Edition: January 2006

ISBN: 978-0-446-55896-9

Contents

Copyright

Praise for Leave it to Claire

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

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Epilogue

Reading Group Guide

If You Enjoyed

Praise for
LEAVE IT TO CLAIRE

“Author Tracey Bateman’s ability to ‘tell it like we think it’ is remarkable. I laughed out loud; I shed a few tears; I related,
I cheered, and was touched... A perfect blend of mayhem, marvel, and ministry. Write on, Bateman! I’m hooked on Claire, who
is my kind of a real woman!”

—Charlene Ann Baumbich, speaker, humorist, and author of the Dearest Dorothy series

“Claire takes an honest look at what it feels like to be divorced, a single mom, and a Christian. Her family, her choices,
and her lessons will inspire you and linger long after you put the book down.”

—Susan May Warren, award-winning author of
Flee the Night

“Whether you’re eighteen or eighty, you will find something to love about Claire! She is every girl, 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 my amazing family,

who loves, supports, and puts up with

a full-time writer for a wife and mother.

Acknowledgments

Rusty, I love you so much. You promised God in the early days of our relationship that you would let Him love me through you.
I know it hasn’t always been easy, but in seventeen years you’ve never gone back on your word to Him. I feel God’s smile in
yours, His faithfulness in your faithfulness; I feel His tenderness in your soft words, His unwavering and unconditional acceptance
and support every time you assure me that I am worth loving. I look forward to spending the rest of my days with you.

Cat, we know you are not the daughter depicted in the pages of this book. Thank you for letting me write her even though you
knew people would assume she’s you. You amaze me every day. Your constant drive to serve God better inspires me. At not quite
sixteen, you’re already beginning to learn excellence in ministry by running the soundboard for the youth band. I’m so proud
of you.

Michael, you’re my laughter. You’re growing into such a fantastic and talented young man. I don’t know what I would have done
without your help while your dad was serving in Kuwait. You stepped up and became the man of the house in so many ways. Enjoy
the rest of your childhood, son. Learn new skateboard tricks, play on the basketball team, and have fun with friends. You
deserve it.

Stevan, my musician, my worshiper. Every time you sit at the piano, I’m blown away by your gift. At eleven years old, you’re
already amazing. You have a love for God and insights that constantly challenge and delight me. I can’t wait to see what God
has planned for your life.

Will, my prayer warrior. The seven-year-old boy who refuses to let his feet touch the floor in the morning until he’s taken
a minute to pray. Every time I think of your precious face, my heart melts a little. As much as it touches me to see tears
well up in your eyes when you hear the song “Here I Am to Worship,” I can only imagine how it moves the heart of Jesus. Stay
tender, baby, and let God direct your life.

Thanks to Chris Lynxwiler, Debra Ulrick, and Bonnie Burman for reading this book before I turned it in, and especially for
laughing and crying in the right places.

To my editor, Leslie Peterson, thanks for encouraging me to dive deeper to true excellence. You’re an answer to prayer.

Special thanks to my agent, Steve Laube. You are a pure gift from the Lord. Thanks for believing in me, supporting me, and
partnering with me in this ministry-career. You are the best.

1

W
hen I’m sitting in front of the computer, time means nothing to me. Whether I’m staring blindly at the screen, praying without
ceasing as I beg God to take away writer’s block, or whether I’m on a roll, burning up my keyboard as the words pour forth—like
I just won an Oscar and this is my list of people to thank. I completely lose my sense of time and space and go on and on,
oblivious to the orchestra playing “Get off the stage!” Or in this case, oblivious to the fact that my daughter is about to
go ballistic because I forgot she needed a ride. Like five minutes ago.

“Come on, Mom! If you don’t get down here, I’m going to miss kickoff.”

I picture Ari downstairs in her cheerleading outfit, and I feel anxiety building. I don’t want to be the one to make her late.
I’d never, ever hear the end of it.

“Hang on!” I call down, hoping to buy a little time. “Just a couple more minutes, and I’m all yours.”

After two full days of writer’s block, I’m finally on a roll. The characters in my latest novel opened up to me today and
started living out the story faster than I could type.

“Time’s ticking away, Ma. Are you coming?”

Sheesh. What does “Hang on” mean?

My jaw clenches. Interruptions drive me crazy. Especially now, when my hunky, albeit reluctant, hero Blaine Tyler is making
his long-awaited move.

My novel—which, really, should have been on my editor’s desk two weeks ago—is finally wrapping up. The romance is coming together
just like every romance should (only I was starting to worry that this one wouldn’t). And Ari is worried about kickoff?

In a few well-placed words, Esmeralda is going to get the kiss of a lifetime. Her toes will curl, her pulse will race, she’ll
feel things in her stomach she’s never felt before—although if I were Esmeralda, I would have stopped waiting for Blaine a
long time ago and either made the first move myself or started dating Raoul, the pool guy. But that’s just me. My faithful
readers want that happy ending, and Blaine’s the one with the steady job, so…

“Mo-om.”

“Sheesh. Okay, already,” I yell down to my impatient offspring. “And we do not raise our voices in this house, young lady!”

Duty calls.

I push away from my desk, rereading the last sentence as I stand. How can I bear to leave them like this? Blaine’s hand cups
Esmeralda’s flushed cheek as he lovingly moves in for the . . .

“Fine, Mom. I’ll walk.”

Never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait until that girl gets her driver’s license.

I sigh. Yeah, I really do, just like a breathy character in one of my novels. I punch Ctrl+S to save my work. Blaine’s waited
this long, I guess he can hold that pucker for twenty more minutes until I get back. Then I’m wrapping up this last draft,
taking two days—tops—to read over all four hundred manuscript pages, and off it goes to my longsuffering editor.

I’m still muttering as I slide my feet into leopard-spotted slippers and yank my jacket from the coatrack. I jerk down the
stairs, every inch the martyr, and find my daughter in the kitchen, pacing like a caged dog. She pauses mid-step and stares,
her eyes alight with horror—like she’s Janet Leigh and the shower curtain just opened.

What?

“Mo-ther.” She gives me an exasperated huff to show me she
cannot
believe how few brains—if any—I actually have. “Please tell me you’re not going to wear that.”

I look down at my outfit. A pair of SpongeBob SquarePants loungies that I slept in last night and a five-year-old faded blue
long-john shirt my ex left when he moved out.

Okay, she might have a tiny point. But that teenage expression of utter disdain is just begging to be wiped off her face.
I grin. “What’s the problem?” Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Rolling her eyes, she huffs to the door. “Fine, but just drop me off in front of the school. No, at the side, okay?”

“Fine.” I sling my purse over my shoulder. The strap immediately starts to slide. I end up dangling it from the crook of my
elbow. I hate that. I’m turning into my mother. Before long, I’ll have blue hair and false teeth and be calling everyone “honey.”
It’s okay for her. But I’m not ready for the association. People already tell me how much I look like my mom—like that’s supposed
to be a compliment. I’m so glad they think I could be a twin to a seventy-year-old.

No woman under forty, especially me, wants to believe she’s going to look like her mother one day. But denial notwithstanding,
every time I pass a mirror, I say hi to Mom.

Ari gives me another once-over (clueless to the fact that in twenty years she’s me). I snatch the keys from the counter. She
rolls her eyes again. This time at the slippers. But at the end of a great writing day, I’m way past caring what a fifteen-year-old
considers acceptable attire.

On me, anyway.

I do, however, care what she considers acceptable on her own body. And I think we’ve just hit an impasse. I’m looking at a
good two inches of skin between the bottom of her shirt and the top of her cheerleading skirt. Mentally, I fast forward thirty
minutes to when her arms (and consequently her shirt) will lift during a “Go, fight, team” cheer. Yeah, I’m thinking, no way,
José.

I know she gets the picture, because her face goes red, and her eyes are way too wide. Deliberate innocence.
Soooo
not going to work.

I lift one eyebrow and dip my chin ever so slightly. “Did your shirt shrink?” Oh, that was clever. She scowls.

“Don’t give me a hard time, Mom. Please? I know belly shirts aren’t exactly in the rulebook, but these are standard issue
for home games now. We’re dancing at halftime.”

Amazing how a kid’s tone can go from “You’re too stupid to live” to “I wuv you, Mommy” in a matter of seconds.

I feel myself caving. In my mind’s eye, I see her very first itty-bitty finger-paint handprint and I want to give in. Then
my gaze sweeps her in another once-over. Okay, she did
not
have that body in preschool.

I fold my arms across my—
ahem
—ample chest, bracing for World War VI (III, IV, and V have come and gone since puberty hit). My daughter is not going to
dress like the latest teenybopper pop diva. Not in my lifetime. “Hmm. Let’s go back to the ‘I-know-belly-shirts-aren’t-exactly-in-the-rulebook’
part.”

She can’t exactly argue with that now, can she? I smile. But only on the inside. No use flaunting my rapier wit when she’s
on the losing end of the argument.

She’s not smiling at all—not on the outside, and I’d bet not on the inside either. The girl has no sense of humor anymore.

“Mother… if I don’t wear the shirt, I can’t dance tonight.”

“Then I guess I might as well get back to my computer.” I shrug and move like I’m headed to the stairs. Totally calling her
bluff.

“I’m on the third row of the pyramid!”

“Then they’d better let you dance fully clothed, or it’s going to be a lopsided pyramid.” I grin at the image. But again,
she’s not thinking it’s funny.

“Fine, Mother,” she bites out. “I’m going upstairs to change.”

I nod, sending her a “good choice” look. She rolls her eyes again.

Oh, yeah. High five, me. I am way too cool to be pushing forty.

I’m liking the outcome of this little blip in the road, and it appears all will be smooth riding until Ari turns back around
and gives me that look—the one every teenage girl begins to acquire around age thirteen and has down to a science by the time
she graduates from high school. Only, my daughter has it down pat at the tender age of fifteen, and I can tell things are
about to get ugly.

“I can’t believe you’re criticizing my cheerleading outfit when you’re planning to go out in public like
that
.”

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