The Role of a Lifetime

By: Jennifer Shirk

Chapter One

He had a pretty nice body…for a creep.

Sandra Moyer didn’t exactly know what that made her for noticing something like that, but the phrase “cheap and desperate” came to mind.

Since when did she start ogling the physiques of strange men?

Her shoulders wilted as she brooded over that question. Obviously she needed to get out more. The problem was she didn’t see herself doing that anytime soon. Her self-esteem had hit rock bottom and hadn’t been able to locate its way back up since the day she’d found Steve cheating on her with one of his co-stars.

An unpleasant picture of her ex-husband lip-locked with a Julianne Moore-type redhead popped into her mind and she shuddered.

Actors. Did their profession ever mesh with reality?

The answer to that was a resounding no. Unfortunately, she’d learned that one the hard way. Steve had even thought she’d understand the main reason he had the affair was for the publicity and what it could do for his career.

Like that made her feel so much better about it.

“Mommy, I want to play in the sandbox.” Her daughter’s voice pulled her from the brink of depression she teetered on.

“Okay, honey. Just five more minutes, though.”

Hannah squealed and dashed through the playground as fast as her little legs could run. Sandra couldn’t help but smile. Life was so simple when you were four. It was the little things that kept you happy.

And why not? Four-year-olds didn’t think about paying the rent or overdue bills. Things that were constantly on her mind ever since she opened a preschool with her sister. No, the only thing you worried about at that age was whether Mommy would give you ice cream if you didn’t eat your string beans.

Yeah, good times. She’d kill for that kind of stress again.

Unfortunately, the thought of homicide had her eyes traveling back to the well-built man she’d been ogling earlier. Not that he was doing anything illegal—simply tossing around a football with a young boy—but she had a sixth sense when it came to protecting her daughter, and right now it was telling her something big. Like he’d just gotten out of prison. It must have been a whopper of a sentence too, judging from the long, scraggily hair and the kind of beard and mustache Santa Claus would envy. She never made it a habit of associating with men who looked liked convicts, but there was something definitely familiar about him. She had to have seen the man somewhere before.

But where?

She didn’t think he had a child enrolled in her preschool. Story time at the public library? She doubted that, too. He didn’t exactly look like the loving Father Knows Best type, considering a fire-breathing skull tattoo wasn’t designed to instill tenderness. At least the ex-con was out spending time with his son, which was a lot more than what her daughter was getting from her own father.

As if her thoughts were being telepathically sent out, the man in question cast a lingering gaze over in her direction and smiled. She froze.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Oh no, don’t even think about it. Don’t you dare come over here. She fumbled to put her sunglasses back on and almost punched out a lens. She hoped he was a jolly person being his normal, friendly self and had not just leered suggestively at her. But she laid odds on the latter.

What was it with her? She could attract a creep from the next state over without even trying. And that was a talent she’d gladly relinquish.

She flopped down on the bench behind her. Opening her purse, she yanked out a book and hid her face behind it. If she pretended to be engrossed in reading, maybe the man would reconsider trying to strike up a conversation. Yeah, that’s all she needed—some ex-con cozying up to her.

Confident her glasses hid her eyes, she lowered the book a half-inch and snuck another peek. Tall, Dark and Scraggily had his back to her now. Thank goodness, she thought, slowly letting out a breath.

One deadbeat per lifetime was enough.

“C’mon, Uncle Bens. I’m wide open.”

Ben Capshaw lowered his throwing arm and glared at his agent’s son, Todd. “Will you stop calling me that?”

“But you are my Uncle Bens,” Todd said with a frown.

“Yeah, I guess. But when you say it like that I feel like a side dish at a Chinese restaurant.”

The boy snickered. “I know.”

Ben quickly raised the football again and pretended to whip it at him. When Todd flailed his arms and ducked, Ben had his revenge. “Nice move,” he called out with a laugh.

Todd laughed too. “Okay, c’mon, throw it for real this time. I’m really ready.”

Ben lobbed the football in the air and watched with budding disappointment as it sailed right through Todd’s arms and bounced on the ground. Ben rolled his eyes upward. The kid obviously needed more practice. “You almost had it,” he lied.

Todd picked up the ball and ran it back. “You know, I’m so glad you’re here for dinner, Uncle Bens. Are you and my mom sure I can’t tell anyone you’re here?”

Ben looked up at the sky and sighed. A sigh that clearly said, if we go through this one more time I’m going to find your entire stash of Twinkies and eat them all without remorse. If the kid were a little older, he’d understand that threat and let the question lie. Instead, Todd continued to gaze up at him with big, brown, hopeful eyes.