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The Tiger in the House

The Tiger in the House

by Jacqueline Sheehan
The Tiger in the House

The Tiger in the House

by Jacqueline Sheehan


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The Tiger in the House is teeming with excitement and heart-stirring emotion. A natural storyteller, Sheehan will draw you in with her finely crafted characters and hold you tight until the very end.” —Heather Gudenkauf

Love and resentment, fear and hope intersect for two sisters as their desire to help an abandoned child forces them to face their past and decide their future . . .

Delia Lamont has had it. Though she loves her job at Portland, Maine’s child services agency, its frustrations have left her feeling burned out and restless. She’s ready to join her carefree sister Juniper and start a seaside bakery, celebrating and serving life’s sweetness for a change.

Then the call comes: a five-year-old girl has been found at the side of the road. She reveals that her first name is Hayley, but little more. The only clues to her family lead to a shadowy web of danger that reaches closer to Delia herself than she would ever guess.

As she seeks to discover where Hayley belongs, Delia is forced to reexamine her own painful history. With no guide but her own flawed instincts, Delia must decide how deep to venture into the unknown, whether in shaping the destiny of the child who has no one else to turn to—or in exploring the fierce dark corners of her own soul.

The Tiger in the House is at once terrifying and tender, a tribute to this writer’s range in the realm of domestic drama. I read it once, and then I read it all over again. Stop what you’re doing and settle down with this one.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617738982
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 02/28/2017
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jacqueline Sheehan is the acclaimed author of The Center of the World and other bestselling novels.  In addition to being a fiction writer and essayist, she is also a psychologist. She is a New Englander through and through, but spent twenty years living in the western states of Oregon, California, and New Mexico doing a variety of things, including house painting, freelance photography, newspaper writing, clerking in a health food store, and directing a traveling troupe of high school puppeteers. She lives near Northampton in Western Massachusetts.  Visit her on Facebook or at

Read an Excerpt

The Tiger in the House

By Jacqueline Sheehan


Copyright © 2017 Jacqueline Sheehan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61773-899-9


Jen and Richard ate dinner at the seafood place over in South Portland that their daughter raved about all the time. And it was as good as expected. She had the lobster roll and Rich had a mountain of fish and chips. It was the sort of place where you go in and order, pay, and then they give you a number, like Hannaford's grocery store where the deli crew takes your order.

The best part was the picnic table behind the seafood shack overlooking the ocean. Jen imagined how the meal would have gone if they were twenty-five years younger and still had the relentless yearning for each other, or if Rich could think of anything to say at all, even that. They ate mostly in silence. Jen liked it better when they were in the active years of parenting, working as a team, laughing so much.

When they were done eating, they each slid into the Chevy Silverado pickup and buckled up. Rich turned to her and said, "Let's take the long way home, over where they're selling off the big Johnson farm." Okay, that felt good. She slipped in a CD of early Bruce Springsteen and grew a little younger, rolled her window down, and tapped her fingers along the side view mirror. They sailed past sea grass and red-winged blackbirds perched on top of cattails. The houses grew smaller, more like the old days, less monstrously rich. Jen nudged her sandals off and wiggled her toes.

It was the end of August and the hint of lengthening nights announced itself already at eight o'clock.

"Look up there," said Rich, taking his foot off the gas and reaching over to turn down Bruce Springsteen.

A cloud slid over the low-hanging sun. Up ahead, there was a small child in the road, thumb in mouth. The road had turned to gravel a few miles back and they crept along. The gravel sounded like Styrofoam balls crunching beneath the large truck wheels.

The child wore white shorts. There wasn't another car parked along the road, no houses, just a bulldozer that had torn into the earth, making way for a new foundation.

Jen pulled her hand into the truck, getting ready for something. She slipped her sandals back on. The truck would be terrifyingly large to a child.

They pulled up close to the child, who was sucking her thumb. Jen was a small woman and she knew how to talk to kids, and she wouldn't be as frightening as a man or a truck.

The child was a girl with soft brown hair. The white shorts were actually underwear; she wore white underpants and a T-shirt with a faded Disney princess. Jen wasn't sure which princess it was.

She tried to think of something nonthreatening to say that wouldn't alarm the child. The girl looked to be about five.

"Hey there," said Jen, six feet away. The child was barefoot. "My name is Jen. Can you show me where your mommy and daddy are?"

Jen took two more steps to the child and pointed back at the truck. "That's my husband, Rich." She stopped in front of the child and squatted down to be eye level with her.

The girl had been crying; her face was covered with dust, and the tears left two stripes along her cheeks.

"I'd like to help you find your family," said Jen. What was that along the kid's arm and neck? Jen stopped breathing. It was blood.

"Sweetie, are you hurt?"

The thumb stayed firmly in the girl's mouth. Jen forced a smile.

"Everything is going to be okay. You wait right here."

She turned at the sound of the truck door closing. "I've already made the call," Rich said, sliding a cell phone into the front pocket of his jeans.

He had a Windbreaker in his hands. "Here, put this on her."


"It's not that they live forever, but they should," said Delia. "Instead, dogs live in an accelerated universe, parallel to ours." She was helping Ben, the local vet, at his annual Spay & Neuter Clinic. He had called her when one of his volunteers quit. They started at six in the morning and wouldn't end until seven or eight that night. Ben made tiny stitches along the nether parts of a female terrier mix.

"You don't usually talk about parallel universes. I suspect it's the atmosphere of anesthesia talking. But in general, I know what you mean." Ben wore his special glasses for surgeries, the same as reading glasses, but larger, the kind that old people wore in the eighties, large and round, circling their eyebrows and the tops of their cheeks. Thick black frames.

Delia wasn't a vet tech, but she had known Ben since junior high. He was a good friend of her father's. His last remaining friend. The best thing about Ben was that he knew the worst parts of her family and she didn't have to explain anything.

Ben straightened up, rolling his shoulders back with a groan. "This girl is ready to go back to the recovery room."

This was the part that Delia liked above anything else at the S&N clinic. It was her job to carry the still-anesthetized animals in her arms. She didn't have kids of her own, never had the feel of a babe pressed against her chest, and she wouldn't claim that hoisting freshly neutered dogs and cats was the same as a carrying a baby, but there was something about it that stirred her. She protected the animals when they were vulnerable and unable to care for themselves in the postsurgical moments. Not unlike her job as a caseworker with foster kids.

She slid her arms under the small dog, careful to hold up the wobbly head, and walked to the back room, where other dogs in various stages of consciousness were placed in wire crates. The techs put old towels on the bottoms of the crates. Delia knelt down and edged the terrier onto the towel. She placed her hand on the warm belly and felt the thumping of the heartbeat.

She retraced her steps and returned to the surgery room. Ben stretched his arms overhead, then placed both palms on his lower back and pushed his hips forward.

"My wife tells me that my posture is terrible. She says my profile looks like a question mark. She wants me to go to yoga or tai chi. I don't think that I'm old enough for tai chi. I saw old people on a TV show moving in slow motion doing something called qigong. Please tell me that I'm not there yet."

Ben was in his early fifties, and Delia knew age had nothing to do with his reluctance to exercise. He'd been an athlete as a young man but never made the transition to sports that an older man could enjoy, not tennis or biking, never mind the more esoteric areas of tai chi. His old days as a high school football player resulted in a recent knee surgery. He was six months post knee surgery and still limping.

The next dog, a female mixed breed somewhere between beagle and boxer, was brought in and quickly anesthetized. Ben picked up the scalpel, leaned over the spread-eagle patient. The scalpel clattered to the floor. He picked up another scalpel from a stainless steel tray. "Clumsy today," he said.

Delia reeled between two things that pulled at her attention. What was different about Ben? He was a stellar vet. Animals loved him. His staff, almost all young women who were vet techs, liked working with him. The staff at the animal shelters said he was their best vet, always willing to work on injured animals even when no owner could be found to pay for the expenses.

She didn't hesitate when he called her for help. How could she? He had been there for her and her sister Juniper when their parents died. She would do anything for Ben, including assisting him so that fewer animals might end up abandoned at the shelters, terrified and bewildered at the turn in their lives.

But something was different, so slight that if she hadn't known him well, it might not have registered at all. Delia, cursed with a powerful sense of smell, had sniffed an acrid overlay from his usual older-man scent, as if a new chemical had been added to his molecular mix. And the way he reached for his scalpel, a premature surge of his wrist, faster than his slow, deliberate pace. Then dropping the surgical instrument. The movement lost something in the jerkiness, a bit of connection with the dog that lay anesthetized, her lower belly ready for the slice that would take away all future puppies. No, it must have been Delia's lack of sleep, her newfound restlessness since she had actually handed her resignation to Ira, with three months' notice, which was too long for Delia but not nearly long enough for Ira. She now had four weeks left.

Jill, the receptionist, opened the door. "There's a phone call for you, Delia, from the foster care place over in Portland."

How could Ira possibly know that she was working at the S&N clinic? She had turned off her phone when surgery started. He must have called her sister. This was going to be bad.

Delia followed Jill back to the reception desk and picked up the phone.

"Hi, Ira," she said.

"Sorry to pull you out of the clinic," he said, "but we've just had a request for an emergency placement. We're going to need you."


Delia sat in the parking lot of Foster Services. She was keenly aware that she hadn't filed her latest case notes, becoming less organized, for the first time ever, as her job drew to an end. She pulled out her laptop and typed furiously before meeting with Ira.

She hadn't typed her notes from yesterday yet. She imagined titles for her case notes, which would be frowned on by Ira, potentially viewed as minimizing a child's tragedy or mocking the disaster of parenting gone haywire by alcohol, drugs, mental illness, or general meanness.

She never kept the titles, at least not yet, although they remained in her head. Sometimes titles captured an entire life or just a single interview. "Transformer Joe" for a boy who changed from sweet to tyrannical in an instant. "Don't Take My Blankie Away" for a child who had traveled through the worst of times with a shredded blue blanket, now the size of a paperback. "We're Just Atoms Combining and Recombining," a title for a family of four kids who had been dispersed among three foster families until Delia had campaigned hard for one family to take all four kids.

Imagining the titles was part of what helped Delia remember the most important details of a person's life, like labeling a photo in an album. But so few people still had photo albums. They had photos on their phones, or in the cloud. Although she was embarrassed to ask, she didn't clearly understand what the cloud was. And specifically, if you put something in the cloud like a photo or a kid's placement file, could you ever take it away from the cloud? She'd ask one of the interns. One of the great things about graduate interns was that you could peel the latest technology right off them.

Her last intern said, "How old are you? You seem a lot older than you look." Her comment could have been in reference to Delia's lack of cloud technology. She hoped it wasn't the way she looked, at thirty-two. But she felt older, sometimes decades older.

When Delia told her boss, Ira, that she was leaving, Ira had not accepted her resignation easily. "This is about Juniper, isn't it? You can't keep taking care of her forever."

The truth was, resigning was about Delia and starting a new life that was bright and beautiful, without social services.

Ira, director of Southern Maine Foster Services, had worked his way up through the ranks. He had been a kid in the foster care system by the time he was eight years old, fresh out of the burn unit at Shriners Hospital in Boston. Delia never asked him for details about the abuse; the burn scars visible along his arms were all she needed to know about a little boy who had been through unspeakable trauma. He was one of the survivors. He had only been in two foster homes before he landed with a family who wanted to adopt him. His biological mother died from a drug overdose and his remaining biological parent, who was in prison, did the best thing he'd ever done for Ira by relinquishing all parental rights. But someone like Ira saw everything, every twitch, because he had learned to be vigilant when he was a kid, on the lookout for any sign that his parents had gone from benign to dangerous. Now he was like one of the dogs that were trained to sniff out seizures moments before they felled their owner.

"It's the accumulation," she had told him, avoiding the comment about Juniper.

Delia finished her notes and filed them, snapping her laptop shut, and headed for whatever awaited her with Ira. Even now, walking along the hallway, she could smell it, the fear and anger of children who had come through the foster care system. A steel-wool-meets-linseed-oil smell that children gave off when they'd been hurt by the ones they loved.

Delia did all the right things that she'd learned over the years at the professional development workshops. Most recently she had attended yet another workshop about establishing clear boundaries. Buzzwords for not getting traumatized by the pain of your young clients. Bystander trauma.

She exercised, had friends, took every bit of her vacation time, and listened to music on her drive to and from work rather than the news. Even so, with each child, a droplet of something had found its way into Delia, like acid rain eating up the paint on her car. The accumulation finally hit her personal high water mark.

Delia saw other people in her profession who had missed the signs. She did not want to become the bitter, fatalistic curmudgeon that others had morphed into.

As of today, she had thirty days left. Time to sensibly close out her cases, transfer them to others, and withdraw from the world of uphill battles. But Ira had called her, and she did not, absolutely did not, want to know what waited for her. The underside of her chin itched, as it always did with the worst cases. She had stopped trying to explain the telltale itch to others. It just was, and she had learned to listen to it. Scritch, scratch, like little creatures rambling about along her jawbone. This meant the case was searing hot with abandoned kids and parents in a tailspin. Or worse.

She rubbed her chin, trying to rub out the familiar twitch. She paused at her desk long enough to read the new file. A gift from Ira. He had already penciled her name on the front of the file: Delia Lamont.

She closed the file after reading it. The child was five years old and had been released from the hospital. Blood was found on the child, but it was not her own. The pediatrician noted symptoms of malnutrition, a good deal of dirt under her fingernails, and mosquito bites that had become infected. She came in at the seventieth percentile for weight.

They had reason to believe that she lived in a house on Bakersfield Road. Because the house was a crime scene, the on-call caseworker had not been able to get into the house to check for something that might be special to the girl: a blanket or a stuffed animal.

There had been three adults at the house, all shot at close range. One woman, two men. The woman had been identified by her driver's license as Emma Gilbert, twenty-six, from Florida. The two men had no ID's on them, as if they had been stripped of ID's or maybe they never had them. The house was a rental. A local management company received cash, one month in advance, deposit, and rent for part of August and September, for a total of $4,600. The name on the rental agreement was Russ Tiggs. The police said that upon checking, his ID was false. No one named Russ Tiggs existed. There was no information about the child.

This wasn't the first time a child had arrived in emergency foster care without any records at all. Children could fly under the radar for years, never see a doctor or a dentist, and never go to daycare or preschool.

She had been found by a local middle-aged couple who stayed with the child until the police arrived. They requested to be notified about the well-being of the child. When the first cop on the scene had asked the girl what her name was, she answered without hesitation. "Hayley." When asked for her last name, she had shrugged.

* * *

Delia was glad that the job of locating relatives of the girl was up to Ira and not up to her. She looked at her job as surveyor of disaster, sort of a one-woman hazmat crew. Despite the media portrayal of foster care as the devil, foster care couldn't even enter the equation unless a true shit storm happened in a family where kids were in situations that looked like war zones. Or sometimes kids were just left with nobody, dangling, free-floating on their own.

No one wanted to be the kid who had to go to foster care, because that meant something cataclysmic happened, and one of those things might be that your parents didn't care enough about you, or weren't able to care about anyone, not even themselves. If kids at school knew you were in foster care, it was a neon sign on your forehead that said you weren't worth loving.


Excerpted from The Tiger in the House by Jacqueline Sheehan. Copyright © 2017 Jacqueline Sheehan. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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