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The Mighty Quinns: Liam
By Kate Hoffman
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All right reserved. ISBN: 0-373-69133-5
Chapter OneThe three boys hunched down on the floor of the front parlor, peering through the tattered lace curtains at a figure on the front porch.
"What should we do?" Liam Quinn whispered.
"We can't let her in."
"Answer the door," his brother Brian ordered. "We have to pretend everything is okay."
"She'll go away," Sean reassured them both. "Just wait." Sean was Brian's twin and they usually disagreed on everything.
"No," Liam whispered. "She's not going away. Not this time."
A knot of fear twisted in his stomach and he held his breath. He and his five brothers had been dodging social workers long enough for Liam to know exactly what they looked like. This one wore a gray coat, nearly the same color as the dirty snow that melted on either side of the street. But it was the dour expression and overstuffed briefcase that really gave her away.
"Answer the damn door," Brian snapped. "Just tell her you're home sick and Da is napping in the bedroom."
Liam turned to his older brothers, the twins both glaring at him. He was the swing vote, a position very difficult for a ten-year-old. "What if she wants to talk to him, Einstein?"
"You'll just have to convince her that he can't be bothered," Brian explained. "Tell her he has a contagious flu ... and that he's barfing ... and thatthe doctors said he has to sleep. You can do it, Li." Brian gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder.
The doorbell buzzed again and Liam jumped at the harsh sound. The social workers had been a fear for as long as he could remember. They were like the mythical dragons in their father's tales of the Mighty Quinn ancestors, always lurking in the shadows and waiting to swoop down to tear their family to shreds.
Winter was the worst season for the dragons to strike. In the winter, there was no way they could produce a responsible parent. In late October, Seamus Quinn took The Mighty Quinn down to the Caribbean, following the swordfishing fleet to warmer waters where he'd earn a winter income not possible on the North Atlantic. Since he was due to return at the beginning of April, they were still on their own for a few more weeks.
Liam didn't exactly have a perfect family, but it was as close as the six Quinn brothers would ever come. Though his older brothers remembered a time when things were better, Liam had never known any other life. Conor, Dylan, Brendan and the twins, Sean and Brian, had all been born in Ireland, a country Liam only knew as an island on a map. But to hear them speak of it, Ireland had been a land filled with magic and mystery and wonderful, happy times.
Liam had tried to imagine what it was like to have a regular family, a father who came home every night and a mother who cooked dinner and read stories. But all that was over by the time Liam joined the family. Their father, Seamus, had brought his wife and five sons to America before Liam was even born. He'd bought a partnership in Uncle Padriac's long-liner, The Mighty Quinn, working at an occupation that took him away from South Boston for weeks and sometimes months at a time.
Liam had been the first Quinn born in America. He had always harbored a secret guilt that maybe he'd been the cause of his family's problems. He'd pieced together enough bits of information from whispered conversations between his brothers to know that everything had gone bad about the time he was born. His father had begun drinking and gambling, his mother often shut herself in her room and wept, and when they were together, they fought all the time.
And then she was gone. Conor had been eight at the time, old enough to remember her. Dylan had been six and remembered even less, and, at five, Brendan had only vague memories. As for the three-year-old twins and infant Liam, they'd been left to only imagine the dark-haired beauty who'd sung them lullabies and tucked them into bed.
"Fiona," Liam murmured, his lips forming her name like a charm against evil. If she were here, he wouldn't be scared. She was a Quinn, too, and she'd be strong enough to slay the dragon waiting on the porch. "The dragon is leaving."
The social worker turned and started down the front steps, but suddenly she returned to the door, this time pounding on the weathered wood with her fist. "I know you're in there," she shouted. "Mr. Quinn, if you don't let me in, I'm going to have to involve the police. Your three youngest sons didn't show up at school today. They're truant again."
Why they had to interfere, Liam didn't understand. He and his brothers were doing just fine. Conor was seventeen now and he had a part-time job that helped pay the bills. And Dylan and Brendan watched over things at home while their father was gone, picking up odd jobs when they could to add to the family treasury. And the twins, Sean and Brian, did chores around the house.
They managed pretty well as long as they stayed out of trouble. He cursed inwardly. Maybe skipping school that day hadn't been the smartest move, but sometimes the twins could be so persuasive. Besides, they rarely invited him along on their adventures, so he'd been flattered by the invitation.
Liam turned his attention back to the porch. He knew the real reason why they'd asked him today. He served as a good excuse. If they got caught by Conor, Sean and Brian would convince Liam to lie about how he'd had a stomachache or a headache and his twin brothers had been generous enough to stay home with him.
"She'll call the cops," Sean muttered. "They'll bust down the door and take us all away."
"All right, I'll do it," Liam said. "But you'll owe me."
"Anything," Sean said.
"My choice of your baseball cards - and yours," he said, turning to Brian. "Any ten I want. No dibs or saves."
"No way!" Brian protested.
"Give him what he wants," Sean insisted. "He'll get rid of her. She'll believe him. People always like Liam."
Though it was a backhanded compliment, Liam relished it anyway. People did seem to trust him and he did have a knack for disarming most adults. Wasn't that why the twins always took him along when they planned to pinch candy from the corner store? If they got caught, Liam could always charm the store owner into letting them off the hook.
Excerpted from The Mighty Quinns: Liam by Kate Hoffman
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.