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Book Jacket

1590529278
Trade Paperback
pages
Feb 2007
Multnomah Fiction

Perfecting Kate

by Tamara Leigh

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:
Oh, my. Is it my imagination, or did a tuxedoed Brad Pitt just walk through the doors of one of San Francisco’s most exclusive children’s clothing stores?

I blink behind my rectangular specs to bring his profile into sharper focus. But as it’s been ages since I’ve seen a pic of Brad sporting anything other than bed-tousled hair, I can’t be certain if this clean-cut male specimen is him. Definitely calls for a closer look.

As I step forward, a voice at my back murmurs, “GQ. Very GQ.

I look around and up into the boyishly handsome face of Beau, co-owner of Belle and Beau’s Boutique. From his hiked eyebrow, the peak of which disappears into the dark brown hair playing across his brow, it’s obvious he’s also taking in the Bradish guy.

Giving my best don’t-even-think-about-it glower, I cuff his shoulder. “I’ll tell Belle.”

He grins. “You know I’m kidding.”

Of course I do, as he’s never given me cause to think he might revert to the days before he wandered into our church. However, just as he never misses an opportunity to rib me, I never miss the opportunity to return the favor–even though we sometimes push it too far.

He lifts the hand that bears a gold band and wiggles his
fingers. “I’m a reformed man. Belle’s the only one for me.”

Ah… Momentarily forgetting my on-again, off-again “thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy” creed, I wish someone felt about Katherine Mae Meadows the way Beau feels about Belle.

“I know,” I say on a breathy note, which snaps me out of “here comes the bride/happily ever after” mode. Thankfully. Despite marriage’s supporters, it’s not for everyone. Not that I rule it out completely. Rather, singledom is simply the conclusion I reach each time something promising dissolves into something…not so promising. As an added benefit, the dry spells inherent in selective dating are a little easier to bear.

Selective?
As in must have credentials, and topping that list is that “The One” be a Christian. Not that I haven’t fudged a time or two…make that three (“I know I can change him”), but without fail I’ve regretted lifting the ban on what others call a “discriminatory” practice. Of course, some of my Christian dates haven’t gone much better, but at least those losses don’t seem to cut as deep.

“Earth to Kate.” Beau waves a hand inches from my nose. “Hellooo.”

I blink and push my specs farther up my nose. “Do you think that’s Brad–?”

“No, but he does bear a certain resemblance.” Beau smoothes his linen jacket, presses his shoulders back to attain his full five feet ten inches, and winks. “Meet and greet time.”

He walks toward Brad-ish, who’s standing with arms crossed over his chest and head back to scan the three-story three-dimensional wall that’s my crowning achievement–and for which many of the bay area’s mommies and daddies have turned out this evening.

As I sidle nearer, Beau halts to the left of his target and thrusts a hand forward. When Brad-ish turns to him, I’m treated to a head-on view.

“Shucks,” I mutter as he accepts Beau’s handshake with a stiff á la carte smile that bares no teeth, grooves no cheeks, and lights no eyes. Definitely not Brad. Smile aside, his eyes are less-than-unearthly blue, jaw relatively narrow, and skin on the weathered side. As for his size, though his shoulders are broad, his height falls short. Not that ex-Brad-ish isn’t attractive. He’s simply not flawless. In his midforties perhaps?

“Kate Meadows?” A hand grips my arm. “Are you Kate Mae Meadows?”

I look beside me. “Uh, yes.”

The young woman, casually elegant in a soft black skirt and cream-colored blouse, sighs. “Love your work! How do you do it?”

My gaze follows hers as we look from Kapok tree to toucan to waterfall to jaguar, several of which project off the wall. Nice. Although I sometimes forget to step back and marvel at the talent God has given me, once a project comes together, I’m amazed–and humbled–as there’s no denying that it wasn’t a solo undertaking.

I sigh. “Just the right mix of imagination and inspiration, I guess.”

She presses something into my hand–my dozenth business card this evening. “The name’s Olivia. My little girl would love a Kate Mae Meadows room.”

Guessing her daughter to be quite young, as mommy appears to be all of twenty, I nod. “I’m booked for the next three months, but–”

“August then!”

I smile. “I’ll call you.”

With a wave, Olivia glides off among the racks of trendy children’s clothes. Shortly, she loops an arm through that of an older man, who regards her with an I-am-so-bored expression that brightens only when a server appears bearing a tray of desserts. He helps himself to one but shakes his head when Olivia reaches for the tray.

Mustn’t ruin that pretty figure
, I surmise as I watch her sparkle sputter. Why, oh why, do so many sacrifice so much for the sake of outward appearances?

I yank my thoughts back. Who knows? Maybe Olivia is cavity prone…or diabetic…or allergic…

Belle, the first half of Belle and Beau’s Boutique, appears before me. “So?”

I meet her hazel gaze and smile. “Great turnout. I really appreciate your putting on this ‘do.’”

“Good for business, too.” She smoothes the golden wisps escaping her French roll and glances around. “Who’s the overdressed guy with Beau?”

I look to Brad-ish, who, despite the upscale attire of the others in attendance, definitely stands out–and not just because of the tux. “I don’t know.”

“By himself?”

“So far, no S.O. in tow.”

Ugh. Did I really say that? I’ve heard S.O. so often that it has crept into my vocabulary. S.O., as in significant other, which is what the uncommitted committed are fashionably called. Why, even some husbands and wives refer to the other as an S.O. It’s so…impersonal. As if a loved one warrants little more than the status of something approaching a scouring pad.

Belle’s lids narrow. “From the interest he’s showing in your wall, might be another client.”

Focusing on Brad-ish, I sigh. “I certainly hope so.”

She chuckles. “Now that’s a rather enthusiastic response. Mind if I read something into it?”

“Oh, stop! You know I’ve given up on men.”

Her eyebrows rise. “Second time this year, right?”

Twice. So what’s the big deal? Makes it sound as if–

“And of course, it is only March. Who knows, but at this rate, you might just top last year’s New Year’s–er, New Month’s–resolutions.”

She has a point, but this time I mean it. In the unlikelihood that I finally meet “The One,” it will be because God dropped him in my lap. Hmm…

I glance at Brad-ish. Sure would be nice if he was searching for a soft landing. Maybe I am being a bit hasty with my “thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy” creed.

“Could be the one,” Belle singsongs.

“Fat chance.”

“You never know.” She slides a hand across her waist, and as with each time I see her caress her unborn child, I pause. All thoughts of my moratorium on men take a giant step back. Please, God, let this baby make it. Belle’s strong, but another miscarriage–

“Past the halfway mark,” she says.

Peering into her angular face, the edges of which pregnancy has begun to soften, I pop a worry-free smile in place. “Four months to go.” Best-case scenario, but if she can just make it
two more months…

I click my tongue. “Well, guess I’ll make the most of this last hour and shmooze up some more business.”

“You do that, and I’ll trawl around for a date for you.”

I give Belle the evil eye. “No more blind dates, literally or otherwise.”

She snickers at the reference to my most recent date–one of her suppliers who she’d only dealt with over the phone. And the reason I’ve given up on men. Again. No, Charles wasn’t ancient or enormously fat. In fact, he was something of a looker. Literally, though, think dark specs, white cane, and guide dog. Not that I have anything against the visually impaired, but when he used his disability as an excuse to grope me–

Honestly! Right there in the restaurant in front of everyone. I felt like an overripe melon. And I feel melon-y enough with a bosom that defies the most stalwart support bra, threatens to topple me when I lean forward, and makes my back ache to the point of tears. Speaking of which, I probably shouldn’t mess with what God gave me, but one of these days I’m going to do something about my chest. First I have to get up the nerve. And an excess amount of cash.

Belle sobers. “Sorry about Charles. I didn’t think he was your type, but I figured a night on the town would do you good.”

And I’m twinged at wringing yet another apology from her. “I appreciate your efforts, Belle.”

Her eyes flash–an indication that she has every intention of continuing those efforts to see me as happily married as she.

Oh, well. As it’s better to know up front who she’s throwing my way, I hold up a finger. “If you insist, but this time make sure he’s a Christian.”

Not that she doesn’t feel the same way I do about dating. She’s just become, for lack of a better word, desperate. After all, the bay area isn’t exactly teeming with single Christian men.
And she has to be thinking that if Beau, with his seemingly insurmountable past, could be converted, I might also be blessed.

“Ch-ching,” Belle murmurs her rendition of a cash register as a woman floats past with an armful of hundred-dollar girliegirl dresses. With a slight roll in her pregnant step, she hurries off in flat-soled shoes, the likes of which I’ll never get used to seeing her wear. A lover of heels that elevate her above her slender five and a half feet, Belle is rarely seen in anything under three inches. But now that her pregnancy is well under way–

Deep laughter sidetracks my musing.

Brad-ish? The air in my cheeks developing a leak, I blink him into focus and glimpse grooves on either side of his mouth.

Nice teeth, but it’s the laugh–the kind that turns heads without crossing the line to obnoxiousness–that’s responsible for the humming at my center. Manly. Very manly.

Though it’s unlikely that Brad-ish meets my selective dating criteria, is he even eligible for fantasizing–as in single? Of course, my housemate, Maia, would probably overlook a little thing like a wedding ring. She’s already done it–or rather is doing it. For the past year, the five-foot-ten-inch, 120-pound stockbroker has been seeing a married man. Or, as she calls him, unhappily married. She really needs to find Jesus, and if I can just–

Brad-ish’s eyes land on me. It may be a second our gazes hold, it may be a dozen, but when he returns his attention to Beau, I nearly wilt.

With heightened curiosity over his marital status–not that I’ve abandoned my resolution–I lower my gaze to find his arms crossed over his chest again, left hand gripping right bicep, fingers curled out of sight. Of course, if I work my way around, I should have a clear view.

Smoothing the shirt that tops my jeans, I step past a rack of Easter outfits, weave a little left, then a little right, and station myself between a collection of little boy duds and little girl tutus. However, no sooner do I spy the elusive hand than Beau’s voice carries to me.

“Though Kate may not be much to look at, you have to admit her work is beautiful.”

I slam my gaze to Beau to determine if he’s aware of my eavesdropping and is just making the most of it–in a rather cruel way–but he appears oblivious.

“I agree,” Brad-ish says.

The humming caused by his laughter seeps out of me. I attempt to shore up the leak by telling myself he’s concurring about my work and not my looks. And it helps for all of two seconds.

“Of course, it’s inner beauty that matters.” Brad-ish sounds oddly distant.

Beau shrugs. “You’re right. I’m just one of the lucky few whose wife possesses inner and outer beauty.”

Which you don’t deserve, Beau-zo! And which you wouldn’t have if I hadn’t put in a good word for you!

Not that it’s news to me that I’m less than “model perfect,” but when I put forth the effort, I clean up well. Unfortunately, with all the last minute touch-ups to the Amazon wall, I didn’t have time to give it my all. With forty-five minutes to spare, I hurtled home, dragged my curls into a ponytail, and pulled on the first clean top and jeans to come to hand. The only clean ones, owing to laundry put on hold to complete the wall. Fortunately, the event is just right of casual and left of elegant. Even more fortunate, allowances are made for artists, especially those of the San Francisco variety.

Brad-ish glances at his watch. “How about an introduction?”

Realizing that I’m the introduction he seeks and that I’m about to be caught eavesdropping, I swing around and suppress a groan as discomfort strikes between my shoulder blades.

Oh, my aching back…

Still, I pick up the pace and am within feet of the restroom when Beau calls.

“Kate, darling!”

Darling! Not his darling–ever again!

Knowing that Brad-ish is likely watching, I paste on a smile and turn. “Yes?”

Beau clasps my shoulder. “He’d like an introduction.”

“I need to freshen up.”

“Freshen up?” He frowns down me and up again. “You look…”

Go on, tell me I look great…pretty…any old lie-through-your-teeth compliment so long as I can bite your head off!

He sighs. “You have looked better.”

Ah!

“Come on.” He tugs my arm. “Dr. Alexander only has a few minutes before he has to leave for some swanky fund-raiser.”

Which explains the tux.

I cross my arms over my chest. “And he wants to squander them on Kate Meadows, who according to the latest poll isn’t much to look at?”

Though the politically correct thing would be to show surprise, transition to horror, and end with an apology, Beau grins. “Thought I’d give you something worth eavesdropping on.”

Then he– “That’s low! Even for you.”

He shrugs. “I know, but extreme situations call for extreme measures.”

“Extreme? Then you meant it?”

He screws up his eyes. “I keep telling you, some rollers, a little makeup, fitted clothes, a few less doughnuts–”

“I don’t eat doughnuts!”

He gives me a “yeah, right” look.

Okay, so once in a while I treat myself to a doughnut, but I’m only supporting our church’s doughnut ministry. Yeah…doughnut ministry.

Beau sighs. “As I was saying, the right clothes and color go a long way. Now back to Dr. Alexander.”

I stare at him through narrowed lids.

“Think client, Kate.”

Client…

“Think BIG project.”

I grit my teeth.

“Good. Now get to it.”

I shift my gaze to Brad-ish, who is once more consulting his watch. “All right, but if you think you’re back in my good graces, Beau-zo, you’re mistaken.” I step away.

“Uh…Kate.”

I twist around.

“The glasses.” He taps the bridge of his nose. “Lose them.”

Had I thought of it myself, I would. “No.” I shove them up on my nose and, with Beau in tow, cross the store. As we near, the divinely tuxedoed Dr. Alexander looks around, and I’m jolted by the gray-blue eyes that capture my reflection.

Steady, girl
.

I halt before him and, for a moment, can’t remember what comes next.

“You’re Kate Meadows, I presume.” The frown on his brow contradicts the á la carte smile on his lips.

“Uh…yes.”

Beau steps into my peripheral vision. “Kate, this is Dr. Alexander.”

Now I remember. And become aware of the hand the doctor has extended–I have no idea for how long.

I thrust my hand into his and wince at the feel-good attraction that zips from fingertips to palm. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Alexander.”

When he eases his grip, I almost gasp as his fingers brush my palm in reverse. He lowers his arm.

Rats! I still haven’t checked out his hand. Would it be too obvious–?

Stop it! This is the man who concurred that you’re not much to look at. And who, at this moment, is looking
through you.

“I’ve been admiring your work, Ms. Meadows. You’re very talented.”

“Thank you.”

He reaches into his jacket and pulls out a business card with his left hand, the ring finger of which bears a gold band. Married then.

Not that there was much chance of us hitting it off, especially considering my disregard for appearance and manners, but it was a nice thought.

“Ms. Meadows?” He extends the card nearer.

Not again! Accepting the card, I drop my chin to hide my toasted cheeks. Printed at the top is a hospital’s name, center is Clive Alexander, MD, followed by an array of letters that surely denote his specialty, and at the bottom are his work and cell numbers.

“An acquaintance recommended you.”

“Oh?” I look up and, more out of habit than a need to see more clearly, push my specs up. Not a bad move, as it brings his features into sharp focus. Definitely attractive. Of course, what man garbed in a tuxedo doesn’t exude some level of yum?

In the next instant, his lips form words, and like a movie where a voice is out of sync, I hear him say, “He passed on an article that featured your work.”

I start to ask the identity of the one to whom I should be grateful, but he says, “I believe the publication was Upscale.”

As in The Bay Area’s Finest Homes–my first appearance in a magazine. “Oh, yes.”

“I was particularly impressed with the playroom and the children’s library.”

“Thank you. Child-friendly environments are my specialty.” Not that I planned it that way.

He inclines his head. “Your work is incredible.”

“Really?” Yes, I’m fishing. And smiling straight up to my cheekbones. But as I struggle to subdue my mutinous mouth, Dr. Alexander smiles back, and this time his eyes crinkle at the corners.

“You have a unique style.”

I moisten my lips. “So…uh…what are you interested in? Revamping your child’s room?”

As if my question committed some heinous act, his smile slips. “I’m overseeing the expansion of our children’s burn unit and need to secure an artist to create something that appeals to children.” He nods at the wall. “Like this.”

Wishing his smile back, I reach into my shirt pocket and remove a brightly colored business card. Though mine isn’t as impressive as his, it is kind of cute. I hand it to him. “I’d love the opportunity to work up a proposal.”

“How far out are you booked?”

“Right now–”

“Clive!”

As he turns toward the flutey, singsongy voice, I peer past him. The woman, wearing an elegant sheath and with fashionably cropped hair accenting her cheekbones, crosses the boutique on stilettos.

So this is the Mrs.

“We’re late, Clive.” She lays a hand on his arm–her left hand, which is accessorized by a single diamond ring. And a pinkie ring at that.

Oh. Not the Mrs.…

She leans in and kisses his jaw, and I imagine Dr. Alexander’s wife and children sitting at home oblivious to his extracurricular activities. How sad.

“Adelphia, this is Ms. Meadows, the artist who created the Amazon wall.” He nods at my creation.

She doesn’t even feign interest but scans me up and down. Then, as if assured I present no threat, she gives a smile that is all the brighter for her findings.

“Ms. Meadows, this is Adelphia Jamison, a colleague of mine.”

Colleague. Right. Feeling like a sack of cocoa beans alongside a box of gourmet chocolates, I reach forward. “Nice to meet you.”

She clasps and unclasps my hand. “Mmm. Same. We really must go, Clive.”

He meets my gaze. “If I don’t phone within the next week, give me a call and we’ll discuss the project.”

“I’ll do that.”

Adelphia something-or-other loops her arm through his.

“Great-looking couple,” Beau murmurs as the two walk away.

“Hmm…wonder what his wife would say about that.”

“It’s probably something she accepted long ago.”

“I’d never accept it.”

He puts an arm around my shoulders. “Considering your keen fashion sense, there doesn’t seem much likelihood you’ll be asked to do so.”

I duck from beneath his arm. “You’re definitely in the doghouse, Beau-zo.”

“Not much to look at…”

I stare at my reflection in the bedroom mirror–seeing myself as Dr. Alexander and that Adelphia woman saw me. I have looked better. Though Beau may be in the doghouse, I’m the one going to the dogs. Granted in an artsy, free-spirited, semi- Bohemian way, but…

“Not much to look at.”

Though I’m hardly leggy and thin, neither am I as stubby as my top and jeans make me appear. Focusing on the former with its button-down front and fringed hem, I wince. If I didn’t know better–way better–I’d say I was pregnant.

What am I doing hanging on to clothes like these? Why, I can’t even remember when I plunked down good money to look like this. It had to have been years ago–

Ah. Post-Christopher, as in the year following his request that I return his engagement ring. I’d given it back, all right (would have nailed him between the eyes if he hadn’t ducked), then spent the rest of the day tearing apart my wardrobe. Everything red–his favorite color–landed in the donation pile. Unfortunately, as the majority of my clothes had been purchased with Christopher in mind, I’d had to go shopping afterward, as evidenced by the clothes to which I fell victim this evening.

I turn from the full-length mirror and eye the mounds of clothes, the laundering of which is seriously overdue. Of course, if I pulled out a trash bag, that would solve the problem. But then I’d be down to a bare-bones wardrobe. And that would mean a shopping spree. Which would mean a drained checking account. Which would mean a dip into savings–

Unless I use my credit card.

I consider the piece of plastic that I suppose I should use from time to time to build credit. And it’s not as if I’d carry a balance and be subject to an outrageous interest rate. I’d pay off the bill the moment it arrived.

So how much would it cost to update my wardrobe? Unfortunately, I really like the stretchy hip-hugging jeans Belle talked me into months back–pricey at seventy bucks a pop. In fact, had I caught sight of the price tag before trying them on, I wouldn’t have tried them on. But they fit so well, and it had just been the one pair. Now, though, we’d be talking at least four more, which translates into nearly three hundred dollars, and that’s before I even look at tops–

Forget it! I am not spending seventy dollars on jeans destined for paint splatters. Call me cheap, but that seductive little piece of plastic isn’t getting anywhere near a cash register.

I drag my top off and straighten my skewed specs. The mistake I make is in taking another peek at my reflection. The relaxed-fit jeans–of the high-waisted, full-seated variety–make me wince. And groan when I look over my shoulder at my rear end, which appears to be a mile high.

“That’s it!” I step out of my sandals, unzip, tug, wiggle, shake, and kick the jeans aside. So maybe I will be purchasing more seventy-dollars-a-pop–

I hear a gasp, but it’s only my grandmother who raised me from the age of three, following my parents’ death. Though she passed away years ago, her gasp when I did something she did not approve of is so ingrained that it’s as if she’s in the room now. She would not approve of seventy dollar jeans. In fact, she’d be scandalized, much to the delight of my grandfather, whose memories of his beloved wife kept him going the two years he outlived her.

Throat tightening at my loss, I swim back to the shallow end of Kate’s emotional pool. So maybe I can find a cheaper version of the jeans…

Though tempted to content myself with the quick fix of frugally updating my wardrobe, I know that Beau’s “not much to look at” comment went beyond clothes. Thus, clad in bra and undies, I return to the mirror and position myself with one foot in front of the other, abs sucked in, shoulders back.

Ladies and gentlemen–Katherine Mae Meadows, thirty-three years old
(did I actually admit that?), five foot three (must have shrunk), 125 pounds (water retention is such a drag). Reality is a real drag too, which says that as much as I’d like to be twenty-nine, five foot seven, and 110 pounds again, it’s not going to happen.

I lift my chin and…grimace. Hoping it’s the angle, I turn to the other side. Not much better. Face forward. Ooh. Over the shoulder. Ugh.

Must be objective. And realistic. After all, outside of a pair of heels, I can’t do a thing about my height. Outside of traveling back in time (pure drivel), I can’t do a thing about my age. And outside of cruel and unusual punishment (a.k.a. exercise), there’s not much I can do about my weight. Except…

I scowl at my breasts, which present a few choice pounds I’d love to shed, as in breast reduction. Not only does the weight wreak havoc on my posture, but it’s a source of endless backache. Unfortunately, as I’m self-employed and have yet to obtain affordable insurance, I’ll have to finance the reduction myself. But if business keeps going well, it’s doable. In the meantime, there is cruel and unusual punishment.

I consider my abdomen and thighs, evidence that I’ve gained a few pounds. Or more. Moments later, I enter the bathroom, domain of the all-knowing scale–giver of truth, enlightenment, and deeply abiding remorse.

How bad can it be? After all, it’s only been a month since I weighed myself.

As I step toward the scale, I catch sight of the thick dust covering its top.

Make that two months. Maybe three

Gripping the towel bar to avoid jolting the ultrasensitive instrument, I plant the first foot, then the other. Hmm. One hundred and five pounds. Now for the last little bit. I release the
towel bar and…

The dial spins wildly left.

“One hundred and thirty-five pounds?!” I jump off and glare at the dial as it returns to–

“Well, lookie there.” At rest it reads one pound. “Ha!” I fiddle with the dial until the needle settles to zero–well slightly under–and repeat the mounting ritual.

One hundred thirty-four. A nine-pound weight gain, as opposed to ten. Not so bad. And, of course, everyone knows one should only weigh oneself first thing in the morning following a trip to the bathroom. So 134 pounds it is. Perfectly acceptable.

Just who am I kidding?

I stomp off the scale. A nine-pound weight gain doesn’t have me rolling down any aisles, but at this rate none of my clothes will fit by summer. How could this happen? Surely I should have felt it in my pants–

Ah, relaxed-fit jeans! Stretchable hip-huggers! No accountability whatsoever.

Determined to take a closer look at this heavier version of Katherine Mae Meadows, I step to the bathroom mirror. The first thing I notice (how could I not?) is the mole that practically jumps off my cheek. Wish it would.

I remove my specs, which causes the edges of my face to blur. And for once, I’m grateful. Okay, let’s see…

Hair. When was the last time I had it styled, let alone cut? I tug the band from the dark mass of curls and peer at a handful of dull strands victimized by split ends. And for one crazy moment, I consider adopting a fashionably cropped do like the one sported by Dr. Alexander’s mistress. Moving on…

Eyes. More gray than blue, not unlike Dr. Alexander’s–

Best to steer clear of that man.

Nose. A little narrow, but attractive.

Cheekbones. Present, though that unsightly mole–

I grunt.

Mouth. Good teeth, small gap notwithstanding.

Ears. A little large, but flat to the head and nicely appointed with double piercings–

I know. Belly, nose, and tongue piercings are all the rage, but I’m not that progressive (if one can call it that). When I need to “find” myself, I scrape away a layer of paint. When I need to “express” myself, I open my mouth. Of course, sometimes I insert my foot. Much like Beau.

Well, maybe not, as his comments about my looks were premeditated. “Not much to look at,” I mutter.

However, considering all the evidence, his words don’t pack the punch they did earlier, and I grudgingly admit that had I not ignored his advice these past months, my appearance wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to blame the lapse on my flourishing business, it’s more than that. It’s called apathy. As in “Why bother?” which is highly compatible with “Thou shalt embrace singledom and be unbelievably, inconceivably happy.”

I’m tired of the hopelessness of dating. Christian or non-Christian, the result is the same. And, in the rare instance a promising candidate comes along, his expiration date becomes apparent the moment children enter the picture. Or, in my case, don’t.

I press a hand to my abdomen and am stung that the bulge beneath my fingers will never be the result of a growing child. Early menopause–Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)– took care of not only that, but also my fiancé. Despite Christopher’s profession of undying love, he couldn’t accept adoption as an alternative to biological children.

I drop my hand from my abdomen. I’ve accepted my loss. Accepted it and am grateful, as it led me to Jesus. With that reminder, I touch the blue glass and sterling bracelet that was a gift from Belle. She was the first to approach the abject young woman who slipped into her church eight years ago–a lost soul who had left everything behind in Redding to follow her fiancé to San Francisco. When that same young woman accepted Christ a year later, Belle presented her with the bracelet. And it’s been on my wrist ever since.

I touch the silver cross, then the medallion with its inscription Believe. Always a comfort, it reminds me that God is in control. Thus, it’s possible my life will eventually include a husband. Of course, it sure would save time to know at the outset where a man stands with regard to perpetuating the human race. If I had my way, men who require biological children would wear some identifying mark like married men wear wedding bands.

And no, I haven’t limited myself to men without pasts. In fact, for a while I believed that those with children were the solution. Wrong. The first widower I dated was so not “The One” that it took just one date to mark him off. The next wanted more biological children. The third made it clear up front that he was done with marriage. I even dated a divorced guy with partial custody of his three children. He had issues. Last, there was the singleton with a child out of wedlock. As evidenced by his one-night stand overtures, he hadn’t learned the error of his ways.

So maybe I am destined to remain manless, but that’s no excuse to allow my downward slide to continue. Thus, tomorrow I’ll start toning up, courtesy of the yoga class I committed to last month–and for which I have yet to attend a single session. But I will get my money’s worth!

I glance at my watch. A quarter till eleven. Too late to look up scripture and analyze how it relates to my circumstances. As for my prayer journal, surely the soul-searching before the mirror will suffice. Yeah.

I excuse myself–something I do more of lately and seems directly proportional to the number of jobs I accept. Much as I hate to admit it, stuffing God in the backseat is becoming habit.

I sigh. Guess it’s time for my nightly cocktail.

From the medicine cabinet, I remove four vials: estrogen, progesterone, vitamin E, and calcium–a hormone “cocktail” better known as HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, which protects against everything from heart and bone problems to uterine and ovarian cancer to sleeplessness and osteoporosis.

It takes a full glass of water to get them all down, and I nearly choke on the last.

Ah, the joys of menopause before one’s time. Of having one’s reproductive ability ripped out from under her.

“Oh, stop it!”

Retrieving my pajamas, I determinedly recite, “Thank you,

God, for life without menstrual cramps.” I drag the top on.

“Thank you for the absence of PMS.” I thrust into the bottoms.

“Thank you that I don’t have to worry about embarrassing accidents. Thank you–”

A commotion downstairs announces the return of my housemate. I scowl. She’s brought him home again–Mr. Unhappily Married!

Feeling an ache behind my eyes, I pray it’s not one of my rare migraines, courtesy of Premature Ovarian Failure.

Failure. I really hate that word.

Rubbing my forehead, I step from the bathroom. Though I know I should hit my knees for prayer, I curl up beneath my comforter and clasp my hands.

Dear Lord, I know you want to use me, but won’t you please have a chat with Maia about Mr. Unhappily Married?

Excerpted from Perfecting Kate by Tamara Leigh Copyright © 2007 by Tamara Leigh. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Fiction, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.