Title: Seventeen Days
Author: Linda Griffin
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Divorcee Jenna Scott moves to a quiet California fishing village during the first Gulf War to make a new life in a house inherited from her grandfather. Her next-door neighbor recommends widowed handyman Rick Alvarez to fix her leaky roof. Jenna is intimidated by his good looks and annoyed by his self-assurance but disarmed by his affection for his young son. She is still hurting from her ex-husband's betrayal and resists the attraction between them. Rick has lived in the village for only three years and is still an outsider, friendly but not sharing his past with anyone. When an attractive vacationer is murdered, local gossip says he is the killer, and rumors spread about his wife's death as well. Jenna is determined not to believe the gossip, but will she ever be able to trust Rick with her wounded heart?
She was concentrating on her work and didn’t know how much time had
passed when the screen door banged. She heard Rick’s footsteps—those boots,
such a masculine sound—and he called out, “Jenna?…Miss Scott?”
She met him in the hall and countered with, “Mr. Alvarez?”
“Sorry—Jenna. I knocked…”
“I was in the bedroom.”
“I just wanted to tell you I’m done for today and I’ll come back tomorrow at
eight. Mind if I—?” He gestured toward the kitchen with both hands palm up so
she could see how dirty they were.
“Oh, yes, of course.” He paced ahead of her into the kitchen and washed his
hands at the sink.
“You’re going to get Danny now?” she asked.
“Yes. He loved the brownies, by the way.”
“Would you like a few more?”
“No, no, three was enough. Thank you.” He held up his dripping hands, and
she offered him a dish towel. While he used it, his gaze fell on the sketch she had
tacked up beside the sink. Again she had the odd feeling that she knew what he was
thinking, which was absurd, when he had never given her any clues about
anything. But she knew he had worked hard on this plan and wanted to make it a
reality, and she was both the means to that end and a major obstacle.
He stepped towards her to hand back the dish towel, but he was too close for
comfort. She had her back to the table and couldn’t go far. It was amazing how
quickly he could rile her. “Does the concept of personal space mean anything to
you?” she asked.
“Sorry,” he said, but he didn’t sound sorry and he didn’t back away. Instead,
he put his hand on her arm and leaned in to kiss her. Whoa! Out of context, the
kiss was a good one, but it was of course perfectly outrageous. She pushed him
away. She wanted very badly to slap his face—did women actually do that, or was
it too melodramatic? What if he hit her back? Her heart was pounding. “I’m
sorry,” he said, and this time the apology sounded more genuine. “I couldn’t
“Try harder!” she snapped. She could see he liked that—oh, yes, no doubt
her outrage was very amusing to him. “Who raised you?” she demanded.
He put up his hands in a gesture of surrender, said, “Sorry” again, and left
the room. She waited, almost holding her breath, until he left the house, letting the
screen door bang behind him, and then she followed.
He was putting his equipment in the pickup, and she stood on the porch to
watch him go. She hoped he would be embarrassed, reminded that this was her
property and he was working here. He could be in real trouble. She could file a
complaint against his contractor’s license, assuming he even had one. In the city
she could have made one phone call, and if he wasn’t promptly fired at least he
would never be in her house again.
She saw Nancy Hayes running down the hill from next door, coming over
after school as she had before, and she went down the steps to meet her. Nancy
waved, but when she saw Rick getting into his pickup she stopped dead in her
tracks. She looked frightened. Hadn’t she said she thought Danny’s father was
nice? What was she afraid of?
Rick drove away without a backward glance, and Nancy approached the
house without her usual bounce. “Hi,” Jenna said. “What’s wrong?” Even if the
girl could feel her anger, she shouldn’t be so frightened.
She came right up to the steps before she spoke. “He killed Mrs. Raymond,”
“Him. Danny’s father.”
“No, of course he didn’t,” Jenna said at once. “Why would you say such a
“Everybody says so.” Her certainty carried a chilling persuasiveness.
But no, it wasn’t true. “Remember what your mom said about gossip.”
“It isn’t gossip if it’s true,” Nancy said sulkily. It was a familiar refrain.
“Who said it was?”
“Everybody,” Nancy insisted.
“Kids at school?”
“Everybody,” she repeated. “It’s true. He killed Danny’s mother too.”
“Nancy!” Jenna spoke so sharply that the girl jumped.
“Don’t say it! Don’t say another word.” She was furious, horrified.
Nancy turned around and ran home.
It wasn’t true. It wasn’t true. He was Danny’s father. She had seen the
sweetness between them. Five minutes ago he had kissed her. It was wrong and,
God help her, she had liked it. She could still feel the gentle intensity of his lips
against hers. He might be presumptuous, exasperating, and too damned attractive
for his own good, but he wasn’t a killer.
Oh, God—Danny. If Nancy had heard this at school, what about Danny?
Would the other kids have told Danny this ugly lie?
She didn’t get any work done for the rest of the day.
She locked the door before she went to bed.
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