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The In-Between Hour

The pale green Prius from the day before crawled to the end of her driveway, and Will Shepard turned neatly to one side in a considerate act of parking.

His author photo had revealed nothing. Black-and-white, it was taken from a distance as he glanced over his shoulder. Headshots didn’t seem to be to his liking. Hannah had seen a partial of his face years ago in an out-of-date People magazine picked up in the dentist’s waiting room. At the time, she’d just finished the third Agent Dodds adventure, and her radar had been tuned to all things Will Shepard. If she remembered correctly, the photo had shown him escorting a young heiress to a gala.

Hannah fingered the key, and the dogs cowered around her. She could lavish ten more lifetimes of unconditional love on her babies, and still fear would stalk them. Daisy’s abuse had gone beyond neglect. The dog had been forced to fight. So many damaged creatures had passed through Hannah’s life in the past twenty years and most of them had come from Poppy. Now her friend had brought her a bestselling author and his grieving dad. A small happening that felt huge.

Hannah read Will’s bumper stickers: “I’d Rather Be Writing,” and “Love a Climber, They Use Protection.” Climbing—that made sense since Agent Dodds was an extreme sports freak. Was his creator an adrenaline junkie, too? Or a nocturnal reveler who dated beautiful socialites? The two of them hadn’t signed anything. If she had even a twinge of doubt, she would renege.
Will turned to talk with his father, and Hannah drummed her fingers on the porch railing. Impatience didn’t come often, but she had an appointment in… Unbelievable, she was wearing both her watch and her dad’s, and yet she had no memory of putting on either one. Focusing on life’s details was becoming impossible. She sighed.

Would it be inappropriate to ask Will to sign his books? Or would he be offended that she didn’t own anything beyond volume five? Galen was scathing about commercial fiction, especially the kind of thrillers Will had produced in recent years. Her MFA poet preferred incomprehensible allegories written by alcoholics and drug addicts who’d been dead for at least a century. And he would not be happy when he discovered she was renting out the cottage. Privacy was everything to Galen, and since the age of thirteen, he had proved himself worthy of trust, not surveillance. But during the previous night’s phone conversation with Will, she had realized it was time, once again, to adapt.

Coincidence spoke of connection, and renting the cottage to an aging widower was nothing short of symmetry. Her father would approve. No, he would applaud. After all, the cottage had been built as his refuge. And what if it went deeper than that? Her father’s last selfless act had been to protect Galen and Liam, to spare them from the moment of his death, to wander into the woods to die alone. What if some echo of that love reverberated across Saponi Mountain, telling her to contain Galen in his childhood room where she could keep him safe? Her mother had believed that the dead often remained tethered to the living—trapped either in their desire to right wrongs or in their refusal to leave loved ones. Hannah, too, was drawn to the idea that the dead never really moved on, although often it was the living who refused to let them go.

Kookiness aside, renting the cottage was a sound financial move. Galen had become a dropout in need of aid. Her father’s money was gone and she barely made a living, but Will hadn’t quibbled at her inflated price. Overcharging, not undercharging, was oddly liberating.

Will pulled himself from the car. She’d been right: he was small for a guy. His taupe knit shirt, however, revealed a muscular torso, and his thick, straight hair was only slightly less tousled than the day before. Obviously, he didn’t own a comb. He walked toward her, not with the swagger of someone whose name was a long internet search of awards, but as if he were a kid dragging his body to a reprimand. An unexpected blend of curiosity and recognition tightened in her gut. He was so familiar she almost said, “Oh. It’s you.”

His eyes were concealed behind funky green-tinted sunglasses, which wasn’t helpful. You could learn a great deal from a person by the way he held—or avoided—your gaze. He was also beautiful. A pretty boy young enough to be her son, if she’d gotten pregnant that first time.

Will paused in front of the cottage, squatted and waited. Rosie and Daisy sidled down the steps, their claws clacking on the wooden boards. He held out both hands, offering his palms, and a chunky silver sports watch slid down his wrist. He cooed something at the dogs, words Hannah couldn’t make sense of, but her girls clearly understood. Daisy flopped to the ground and exposed her belly; Rosie actually whimpered. Animal behavior rarely surprised her, but her dogs had just told Hannah all she needed to know about this man. Even if he hadn’t been polite enough to remove his sunglasses.

Hannah joined Will and the dogs. Up close, his face was a little too perfect, its bone structure a little too predictable. She preferred faces with wrinkles and scars, faces that spoke of struggles and triumphs. This guy looked no more than thirty.

“Will Shepard.” He rose slowly.

“Hannah Linden. I imagined you to be older.”

“I write fast.” Will extended his hand but flinched.

Now the sunglasses made sense. “Want something for that headache?”

“I thought Poppy said you were a vet.”

“A holistic vet. Treating pets often means treating owners. You’d be surprised how many clients ask for help with minor ailments. But if it makes you feel better, my father was a rural doctor. When I was a teenager, he let me help out with patients.”

“Is that legal?”

“Would it bother you if it wasn’t?”

He winced.

“Bad one?”


“I have to visit a couple of clients this afternoon, but I’ll be back by early evening. I can pop over then with my acupuncture needles and a feverfew tincture. Should help you sleep, too.”

Will turned as his dad clambered out of the passenger seat. “I don’t sleep much.”

“Well, there’s your problem. Good sleep habits are the key to a healthy mind.”


She would excuse his snide tone, since her girls had given their approval. “By the way, we’re in a drought, so please be mindful of water usage.” Hannah handed over the key. “Short showers, minimal toilet flushing. And any water you’d like to recycle, please toss over there, for the garden.”

As she pointed at the huge galvanized tub under the outside shower, Jacob Shepard shuffled over. Hannah covered her mouth and swallowed. Jacob’s expression was identical to the one her father had worn in those final months of unbearable grief—his eyes, his mouth, even the skin on his cheeks appeared to be dragged down by sadness. The lines grooved between his eyebrows, the faint scowl, seemed to say, “I no longer understand the world in which I live.”

“Are we home, Willie?” Jacob said.

For a moment, she considered kissing Jacob’s cheek, whispering, You can be happy here. Instead, she strode to meet him with a smile.

“I certainly hope this will feel like home. You must be Jacob. I’m Hannah, a friend of Poppy’s. She’s promised to swing by this evening and see how you’re settling in.”


“My friend Poppy. The art teacher at Hawk’s Ridge.”

“Firecracker, that Poppy.” Jacob grinned, showing yellowed, higgledy-piggledy teeth. He was taller than Will—over six feet—and broad shouldered, despite a slight stoop. If she had to guess, she’d put him around eighty. Once again, Hannah glanced from father to son. These two couldn’t possibly share a gene pool.

“I―I’m not good with names, little lady,” Jacob said.

“That’s okay. I answer to anything. Call me Hey You if it’s easier.”

“Hannah,” Will said, his voice sluggish. “Her name is Hannah.”

“That’s a pretty name, name for an angel, but I like Hey You better.”

“Hey You, it is. I love your necklace.” Hannah nodded at the string of bear claws that hung on his chest. “Occaneechi?”

Jacob’s eyes crinkled.

“Yes,” Will answered. “My dad is Occaneechi.”

Will Shepard was Native American? Although, something about his square jaw and thick eyebrows… Yes, she could believe he had native ancestry.

“My mother—” Will pushed his sunglasses up into his hair, and Hannah gasped “—was not.”

The In-Between Hour
by by Barbara Claypole White

  • Genres: Fiction, Romance
  • paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
  • ISBN-10: 0778314758
  • ISBN-13: 9780778314752