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Authors: JoAnn Ross

Tags: #Washington (State), #Women Lawyers, #Contemporary, #Legal, #Fiction, #Romance, #Single Fathers, #Sheriffs, #General, #Love Stories

Homeplace

BOOK: Homeplace
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Homeplace
Coldwater Cove [1]
JoAnn Ross
Gallery Books (1999)
Rating:
***
Tags:
Washington (State), Women Lawyers, Contemporary, Legal, Fiction, Romance, Single Fathers, Sheriffs, General, Love Stories

Fighting legal battles eighty hours a week has left Raine Cantrell burned out and empty. Although she once dreamed that success might make the father who walked away without a backward glance take notice, the high-powered big-city lawyer now finds herself feeling very alone. Then she gets an urgent call from three kids in trouble in her Washington state hometown, and suddenly Raine is returning to face unresolved feelings, unhealed wounds -- and an unexpected desire.

Sheriff Jack O'Halloran, a man with a tragedy in his past and a six-year-old daughter to raise alone, has three teens barricaded inside a house and the media clamoring for a story. He isn't ready for Raine to invade his territory -- or his thoughts. And Raine isn't ready for anyone to touch her heart.

Unable to deny their attraction to each other, their solution is adult, reasonable -- and totally foolish. They decide to have a simple affair. But they are about to discover that love is rarely simple -- and that lives can change forever in a single heartbeat.

Also by JoAnn Ross

Far Harbor

Fair Haven

Legends Lake

Blue Bayou

River Road

Magnolia Moon

Out of the Mist

Out of the Blue

Out of the Storm

Blaze

Impulse

During the writing of
Homeplace
, I’ve had reason to be grateful for a number of special people: Caroline Tolley, for her keen eye and thoughtful editorial advice; Lauren McKenna, who smooths the way and is a joy to work with; Damaris Rowland, the wisest, most supportive agent in the business; as well as the terrific members of RWA—Online.

Also—my son, Patrick; his wife, Lisa; their wonder daughter, Marisa; and the newest family miracle, Parker Ryan Ross, who handled early obstacles with a great deal more aplomb than his elders.

And, once again, and always, to Jay, the grand love of my life.

H
OMEPLACE
1

Coldwater Cove, Washington

I
t was a damn three-ring circus. And Olympic County sheriff Jack O’Halloran had gotten stuck with the job of ringmaster. Despite the cold spring drizzle, the hillside was covered with people, many carrying cameras. Some bolder, or more curious, individuals pressed as close as they could to the white police barricades. Kids were running all over the place, laughing, shrieking, chasing one another, having themselves a dandy time. The mood couldn’t have been any more electric if a bunch of TV stars had suddenly shown up on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to tape an episode of
NYPD Blue
.

Ignoring the rain dripping off the brim of his hat, Jack scowled at the vans bearing the names and logos of television stations from as far away as Spokane. Which wasn’t all that surprising. After all, Coldwater Cove had always been a peaceful town. So peaceful, in fact, it didn’t even have its own police department, the city fathers choosing instead to pay for protection from the county force. Crime consisted mainly of the routine Saturday night drunk and disorderly, jaywalking, calls about barking dogs, and last month a customer had walked off with the ballpoint pen from Neil Olson’s You-Pump-It Gas ’N Save. It definitely wasn’t every day three teenage girls barricaded themselves in their group home and refused to come out.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ida Lindstrom, their court-appointed guardian and owner of the landmark Victorian house, had apparently set off this mini-crime wave when she’d been taken to the hospital after falling off a kitchen stool. Although the information was sketchy, from what Jack could determine, when a probation officer had arrived to haul the unsupervised kids back to the juvenile detention center, Ida had held an inflammatory press conference from her hospital bed, adding fuel to an already dangerously volatile situation by instructing the girls to “batten down the hatches.”

Having grown up in Coldwater Cove, Jack knew Ida to be a good, hardworking woman. Salt of the earth, a pillar of the community, and unrelentingly generous. During her days as the town’s only general practitioner, she’d delivered scores of babies—including him. Since lumbering was a dangerous business, she’d also probably set more broken arms than any doctor in the state, and whenever she lost a patient—whether from illness, accident, or merely old age—she never missed a funeral.

She’d inevitably show up at the family’s home after the internment with a meatloaf. Not one person in Coldwater Cove had ever had the heart to tell her that her customary donation to the potluck funeral supper was as hard as a brick and about as tasty as sawdust. Ida Lindstrom had many talents, but cooking wasn’t one of them. Six months ago, when they’d buried Big John O’Halloran, Jack’s father who’d dropped dead of a heart attack while hiking a glacier on nearby Mount Olympus, Jack’s mother had surreptitiously put the heavy hunk of mystery meat and unidentifiable spices out on the back porch for the dogs. Who wouldn’t eat it, either.

Jack admired the way Ida had taken to opening her home to at-risk teenagers at a time when so many of her contemporaries were traveling around the country in motor homes, enjoying their retirement and spending their children’s inheritances. But the plan, agreed to by the court, the probation officer, and Ida herself, dammit, had been for the retired doctor to provide the kids with a stable environment, teach them responsibility and coax them back onto the straight and narrow. Not turn them into junior revolutionaries.

“I still think we ought to break down the damn door,” a gung ho state police officer insisted for the third time in the past hour. Jack suspected the proposed frontal attack stemmed from an eagerness to try out the armored assault vehicle the state had recently acquired at a surplus government military auction.

“You’ve been watching too many old Jimmy Cagney movies on the
Late Show
,” Jack said. “It’s overkill. They’re only juveniles.”

Juveniles whose cockamamie misbehavior was proving a major pain in the ass. The standoff was entering its sixth hour, television vans were parked all the way down the hill, the satellite systems on their roofs pointed upward, as if trying to receive messages from outer space. Jack figured he was a shoe-in to be the lead story on the six o’clock news all over the Pacific Northwest. Hell, if he didn’t get the girls out pretty soon, they may even make the national morning programs. And while Eleanor O’Halloran would undoubtedly be tickled pink to see her only son on television, the idea didn’t suit Jack at all.

“They’re not just your run of the mill juveniles,” the lantern-jawed officer reminded him unnecessarily. “They’re juvenile delinquents.”

“Minor league ones. The most any of them are guilty of is truancy and shoplifting. Want to guess how a bunch of grown men wearing combat gear staging a military assault on three little girls would play on TV?”

“Crime’s crime,” another cop from neighboring Jefferson County grumbled. Although the standoff wasn’t occurring in his jurisdiction, that hadn’t stopped him from dropping by for a look-see.

He wasn’t alone; Kitsap, Island, Clallam, and King counties were also well represented. Even the Quinault and Skokomish reservations had sent uniformed men to offer backup and gain experience in hostage situations. Not that this was exactly a hostage situation, since the girls were all alone in the house. The assembled cops were having themselves a grand old time. Jack was not.

“He’s right,” another cop agreed. “You may not consider shoplifting a punishable offense in your county, Sheriff, but in my jurisdiction, we view teenage malfeasance as a slippery slope to more serious crimes.”

“Got a point there,” Jack agreed dryly. “One day a kid’s swiping a tube of Mango orange lip gloss from a Payless Drugstore and the next day she’s toting an Uzi and holding up the Puget Sound National Bank.”

He took the cellular phone from its dashboard holder and dialed the Lindstrom house again. The first time he’d called, the oldest girl, Shawna, had informed him that Ida had instructed her not to speak to him. Then promptly hung up. From that point on, all he’d gotten was a busy signal, suggesting they’d taken the phone off the hook. And dammit, apparently still hadn’t put it back on.

“There’s always tear gas,” one of the Olympic County deputies suggested.

“In case you’ve forgotten, one of those girls is pregnant. I’m not willing to risk harming any unborn babies.”

“So what do you propose to do?” a grim-faced man asked. His belted tan raincoat with the snazzy Banana Republic epaulets on the shoulders made him stand out from the local crowd clad in parkas and Gore-Tex jackets. He’d introduced himself as being from Olympia, an assistant to the governor. Unsurprisingly, the state’s chief executive was concerned about the public relations aspect of this situation.

Jack shrugged and thought of his six-year-old daughter. He imagined how he’d want the cops to respond if Amy took it into her head to barricade herself in their house.

“They aren’t going anywhere.” They’d also refused to speak to anyone but Ida. Deciding the contrary old woman would only get them more stirred up, he’d instructed the hospital to remove the phone from her room. “The way I see it, the best thing to do is wait them out. For however long it takes.”

No one argued. But the grumbles from the assembled lawmen told Jack that he was all alone, out on an increasingly risky limb.

New York City

The mob began to gather early. The senior citizens chanted slogans and marched in circles, holding their placards high. One of their leaders bellowed through a bullhorn, reminding them that this was a war. They all cheered. Some waved their signs, others their fists.

By the time Raine Cantrell walked out of the federal courthouse a little before noon, the protesters were primed for battle. Anxious for blood.

“I think I’ve just discovered how it feels to go diving for sharks without the metal cage,” she murmured.

She’d been warned there’d be a demonstration, but given the demographics of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, she hadn’t expected such an unruly mob. The cacophonous chants echoed off nearby buildings; catcalls and belligerent shouts rang out over the blare of car horns.

The street was jammed with illegally parked vans bearing the insignias of all three major networks, along with CNN and various local television stations; thick black cables snaked across the sidewalk and the crowd of reporters, photographers and cameramen jockeyed for position.

“Christ. Every reporter for every half-assed paper and television station in the country must have shown up for this circus,” her client, Rex Murdock, muttered.

During the months they’d worked together preparing a defense, the CEO and principal stockholder of Odessa Oil Company had revealed himself to be a man accustomed to controlling everything and everyone around him. He was brash, rough-mannered, impatient as hell, and handsome, in a rough-hewn way. All the women at Choate, Plimpton, Wells & Sullivan would inevitably cease work whenever he strode through the offices, the wedged heels of his lizard skin cowboy boots tapping a purposeful tattoo on the Italian-marble flooring. Even sixty-four-year-old Harriet Farraday, who’d worked as comptroller at the law firm since the Stone Age and had a dozen grandchildren, had taken notice.

“Why, he’s a man’s man, dear,” Harriet had explained one day when Raine had questioned the effect her client had on seemingly the entire female staff. “You don’t find many of those anymore in these so-called enlightened years.” She’d made a little sound of disgust as she looked around the office. “Especially around here.”

“You’d think the bastards would have better stories to chase than this half-baked, bush-league case,” that man’s man was grumbling now.

“Perhaps we should go back into the building and try leaving by the rear door,” a second-year associate attorney from the firm’s investment division suggested. His face was pale, his anxiety, evident. Raine wondered if he was rethinking his decision to enter the glamorous world of big-city corporate law. She also decided that as bright as he admittedly was, he wouldn’t pass Harriet’s male litmus test.

Raine’s legal team was made up of a clutch of associate attorneys, a paralegal whose job it was to hand over briefs with the precision and speed of a transplant-team surgical nurse, and various dark-suited minions who’d been at her client’s beck and call during the past three weeks of the trial.

Standing between them and the elderly crowd was a reassuring wall of blue. The police were grasping riot sticks she suspected none wanted to use. After all, video of burly cops beating up Grandpa and Grandma headlining the nightly news would definitely undermine the mayor’s effort to refurbish the city’s image.

“Slinking out the back way would make it look as if we were ashamed of our case,” she said.

Okay, she may have made a slight miscalculation regarding the emotional impact of what, had it not been for the millions of dollars involved, should have been a routine contract case. But her Grandmother Ida had taught Raine that nothing could be solved by sticking your tail between your legs and running away from a problem. “Perhaps I should stop long enough to answer some questions.”

“No offense, Raine. But I’m not real sure that’ll calm them down,” Murdock warned.

“They’re definitely in a feeding frenzy. But avoiding the issue won’t make it go away. We may have won in court, but believe me, Rex, the media’s going to play this as a David-and-Goliath story. And from the average person’s point of view, you’re going to be cast as a malicious, greedy giant.”

“Remind me once again why I should care?”

A low burn began to simmer just below her ribcage. Raine ignored it. “Do the two little words
Exxon Valdez
ring a bell?”

His scowl deepened.

“I’ll just try to defuse the situation a bit,” she said, taking his nonreply as begrudging consent. “Before it gets totally out of hand.

“Hell, you’ve handled this case damn well so far.” He did not add, as Raine suspected he might once have—
for a woman
. “Might as well let you ride it out to the whistle.”

Raine realized this was a major concession on his part. A wildcatter who’d struck it rich back when the gushing black gold could put a man on easy street for life, Rex Murdock did not surrender the reins easily. In fact, there’d been more than one occasion in court when she’d seriously wished the bar association guidelines allowed attorneys to muzzle their clients.

They’d reached the police barricade.
Show time
. Raine willed herself to calm as she faced down the crowd. The motor drives of the still cameras whirred, sounding like the wings of birds fighting against the wind that was ruffling her chin-length brown hair.

It was a cold day that gave lie to the fact that according to the calendar, spring had sprung; atop the building the flags snapped loudly in the wind and the taste of impending rain rode the brisk air. Foolishly believing the wake-up forecast predicting sunny skies, Raine had gone to work in a lightweight charcoal gray suit and white silk blouse that allowed the wind to cut through her like a knife.

“Ms. Cantrell!” A sleek blond woman sensibly clad in a black trench coat shoved a microphone past one of the cops. Raine recognized her as an attorney turned legal correspondent for CNN. She also occasionally showed up on
Nightline
. “What is your response to those who say your client is snatching bread from the mouths of the elderly?”

Raine looked straight into the camera lens. “I would simply reiterate what the court has decreed. The plaintiffs’ claim was rejected because my client adhered to United States law by properly informing all employees, upon the signing of their employment agreement, that the company reserved the right to alter or terminate their retirement benefit package at any time.”

BOOK: Homeplace
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