Houseful of Strangers

Houseful of Strangers

by Linda Barrett

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Overview

**Finalist, National Readers' Choice Awards, Oklahoma Romance Writers

**Award of Merit-Holt Medallion, Virginia Romance Writers

Flying Solo - single parents, second chances and the power of love

After breaking his arm, Dr. Eric Mitchell is forced to seek help with his rural veterinary practice in upstate New York. The temp he hires is a surprise. At first glance, she seems too fragile to handle the large animals he caters to, and emotionally, she seems fragile as well. Her smiles are rare and don't reach her eyes, especially around Joey, Eric's ten-year-old son.

Two years after losing her husband and son, Dr. Alison Truesdale accepts a six-month position far away from her New York City home in an effort to pull herself together and move on with her life. A new environment and new challenges at work should help her to begin again. She hadn't counted on a boss with an attitude. A man wary of women because of a bitter divorce and custody battle. She hadn't counted on sharing a house with a sweet young boy, a painful reminder of her loss.

As trust begins to grow between Eric and Alison, another youngster enters their lives. An abused but street-smart runaway from the city hides in Eric's barn which doesn't thrill the vet. Surprisingly, this teenage girl might hold the key to transforming a houseful of strangers into a home full of love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781945830075
Publisher: Linda Barrett
Publication date: 06/23/2017
Pages: 226
Sales rank: 898,925
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.48(d)

Read an Excerpt

Monday, April Eighteenth Forest Hills, Queens

SHE PACKED BILLY'S picture last. The one

with him wearing his dirty Little League uniform. He'd scored the winning run a moment earlier, and she'd been there, camera in hand. Her boy,

Alison bit her lip and slammed the suitcase shut. With trembling fingers, she groped for the locks, snapped them into place.

Okay. She could do this. She could leave her home, which wasn't a home anymore but a hideout. She could leave this bedroom where she'd slept alone for the past two years. She could leave the bed where William had cradled her in his arms, where she'd given love and received it for fourteen years from a man who'd known he belonged right next to her.

She had no choice but to keep going, but God damn it! Survival was overrated.

A soft whine near her ankles caught her attention, and she scooped Shadow into her arms. "We're almost ready, girl," she whis-pered to the black, curly-haired schnoodle. Billy's dog. Billy's shadow. Now hers.

She put the dog back down and hoisted the suitcase to the floor, scanning the room with a critical eye. Tenants would be moving in the next day, tenants who under-stood that Billy's room was off-limits. She rechecked each dresser drawer, as well as the master closet. Nothing. She'd sent William's clothes to Goodwill and hers to her parents' place in Massachusetts.

As she clasped the handle of the suitcase and stepped toward the door, her eyes fell once more on the king-size bed. She blinked quickly and hurried from the room, down the flight of stairs, Shadow at her heels. Outside on the front steps, she slammed the door behind them.

Bayside, Queens

FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD DANIELLE O'Connor

pointed out the street sign to her two new friends. "Jupiter Place," she said. "We're here, and we've got a job to do."

"At your old house," said Raven, shad-ing her eyes and peering down the long city block.

"That's exactly right," said Dani softly. The sun shone brightly, and Dani needed to feel its warmth on her face. She'd woven her hair into one long braid, which hung down her back. April in the city smelled clean, hinted of promise, a promise of something. She didn't know exactly what, but she liked the tang in the air. Especially combined with the familiar rush of adrenaline coursing through her. "Nice spreads and big ole oaks," drawled Houston. "A good hood."

Dani glanced at the boy. A skinny kid from Maine with a craving for Texas. "All the houses look alike, " she said ", and the oaks have been here forever, but your accent's getting better, cowboy. Keep prac-ticing. And keep your mind on what we're doing. Hear me?"

Maybe it was time to go off on her own again. After two years on the streets, she'd learned that life was easier just taking care of herself. But sometimes she liked the company. Last year, she'd returned to her old street alone and had achieved great success. Yet her satisfaction had been short-lived because no one had been there to see the shambles she'd made of her father's house.

He'd deserved it and a lot more. "An al-coholic. A crazy cop," the neighbors had called him. "No wonder they threw him off the force." Dani had heard the whispers, had seen the empty bottles. And she'd been bruised enough throughout her childhood. Maybe if her mother had been alive, She stroked the gold four-leaf clover she wore around her neck.

"We're going to walk slowly down the block. Just three kids killing time. And when we get to his house, we make sure it's empty before we go in." She paused and stared at Raven. Dani didn't know her real name. "Better take off the do-rag, Raven. We don't want attention."

"You worry way too much, Irish." But the girl pulled off her headgear.

"I don't worry, Raven. I plan." She'd had to learn to plan—about the time her breasts had begun to grow and her hips had widened, and John O'Connor had, She swallowed hard. Revenge was really very sweet no matter what some people said.

She scanned both sides of the street. Jupiter Place was quiet at two in the after-noon. The younger kids were still in school; the older kids probably had other activities. Like track team. Dani glanced down at her running shoes. They fit just right—not too snug, not too loose—exactly as her coach had taught her.

Take it right the first time. Her next shopping trip would include longer jeans. She had grown a couple of inches, and her boobs had sort of flattened out, which was fine with her. But her pants were too short.

"The house we want is on the other side of the street, almost at the corner," she said.

"Let's just sort of meander."

Raven rolled her eyes. "I don't care about the rag, but we don't need no hundred-dollar words around here, girl. What's me-and-her?"

"That's just her way," said Houston.

"Makes her feel mighty fine to know those big words."

"Makes her feel mighty high. Higher up on us is what."

Next time, Dani thought, she'd defi-nitely come alone. "How about, I'll get you something special when I go shopping again. Maybe, earrings?"

Raven's eyes shone as Dani knew they would. The girl was easy to figure out. And cheap pierced earrings were easy to lift.

Dani checked out all the cars parked along the curb as they covered the length of the street, then the common driveway behind the row of attached brick houses. John O'Connor's car wasn't anywhere. She smiled.

"He can't afford a new one, so we're okay. I'm going in through the back. Raven, come with me and stand at the door, and Houston, you keep a low profile out here in front. I won't be long."

She let herself in with her key and stopped short in the kitchen. Spotless. No way would her father do women's work. A cleaning service? She doubted it. Moving silently through the room to the hallway, she climbed the stairs to the second floor, hoping to retrieve anything that belonged to her—clothing, books, anything at all—but paused outside the master bedroom. Perfume. She peeked in. Sure enough, on the dresser was a mirrored tray with girl stuff, like her mom had once had. I feel sorry for you, lady.

Then she spotted the gun. The one he'd bought after his retirement. "Once a cop, always a cop," he'd said. It was in a holster over the back of a chair. So care-less, so inviting. Dani grabbed the gun belt and rushed back to the kitchen, took a paper napkin and lifted the weapon out. She put it carefully into the freezer. Then she lay the empty belt across the kitchen table. He'd go crazy when he saw the gun was missing. How long would it take him until he searched the freezer? Oh, yes. This was good. Very, very good.

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