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Authors: Susan Mallery

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

A Dad for Billie

BOOK: A Dad for Billie
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New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery’s beloved story about how the hardest mistakes can sometimes lead to the best surprises…

From the moment a baseball smashes through his window, banker Adam Barrington’s life is never quite the same. The guilty party, an eight-year-old tomboy, soon turns his household upside down. But that shock is nothing compared to when Adam discovers who Billie’s mother is…

Jane Southwick knows that coming back home won’t be easy, and that living next door to Adam again will be sweet torture. But it’s pure joy to see the delightful bond growing between him and her daughter—despite the guilty secret that clutches at Jane’s heart.

Susan Mallery

A Dad for Billie

Dear Reader,

As a published author, one of my most frequently asked questions is: Where do you get your ideas?

I remember exactly what inspired me to write
A Dad for Billie
. It was a beautiful spring day. The sort of day that calls us to be outdoors having fun. I could hear several kids playing next door. I reminded myself that I was an adult and that I had a deadline, so I was going to stay at my computer until my pages for the day were finished.

I nearly managed to lose myself when I heard it. The sharp crack of a bat, a collective gasp, the unmistakable tinkle of broken glass followed by a loud cry of “Billy, you’re in trouble!”

This particular Billy was a young boy in the neighborhood. But in that split second my writer’s brain kicked into gear. I changed the boy to a girl, shifted the location to the other side of the country, put a computer in the way of that wayward ball and started asking questions. Who was that little girl? Why was she throwing that ball at that particular moment in time? Where was she from? Was she happy?

A Dad for Billie
was born. I hope you enjoy this story. It was one of my favorites when I first wrote it and it still is.

Sincerely,

Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter One

C
rash!

Adam Barrington glanced up as a softball flew through his window, arced in a perfect half circle across the room, then
thunked
onto the center of his desk. As it rolled over the loose papers and spread sheets, he put out his left hand. The ball dropped off the side of the desk and directly into his palm.

Except for the tinkle of falling shards of glass, the room was silent. Adam leaned back in his chair and waited.

It didn’t take long. About thirty seconds later a small face appeared at the broken window. A red baseball cap hid the child’s hair and shadowed the eyes.

“You caught my ball.”

“You broke my window.” He rose to his feet and approached the mess.

“Yeah. I see.” The kid glanced at the remaining bits of glass and the other intact panes. “What if I tell you it wasn’t my fault?”

“Was it?”

There was a heavy sigh. “Probably. I mean I’m not playing
catch with anyone, so I can’t say someone else threw it. This window costs a lot. More than my allowance for a month, I bet.” Another sigh. “My mom’s gonna kill me for sure.”

Adam fought back a grin. “Wait there. I’ll be right out and we can discuss reimbursement.”

The child slumped visibly. “It’s never good when adults say
discuss
, then a big word you can’t understand.”

He chuckled as he walked through the hall and out the front door. The kid stood on the wide expanse of lawn beside the window and stared glumly at the shattered pane. At first Adam had assumed he was a boy, but as the child turned and pulled off the baseball cap, he saw “he” was a “she.”

Short dark hair clung to her head; bangs, mangled by the cap, stuck out in uneven spikes. Wide and somber brown eyes watched him like a prisoner waiting for execution. Shorts and a grubby T-shirt covered a sturdy tanned body. She was somewhere between six and ten, he guessed. He’d never had much experience estimating children’s ages.

“It looks bad,” the girl said. “I’ll pay for it, I swear. And even if you don’t believe me, my mom will make sure. She’s big on me assuming the ‘proper responsibility.’” The last two words came out in a stern falsetto.

“I can’t say I blame her, if you go around breaking people’s windows.”

“Well, I don’t.” The girl planted her hands on her hips.

“You broke mine.”

“It was an accident.”

“Somehow you strike me as the kind of child who has a lot of accidents.”

Her lower lip thrust out mutinously. “I do not!” The lip curled up. “Okay. Some. A few. But not
lots.”

For the second time in as many minutes, Adam had to fight the urge to grin. “What’s your name?”

“Billie.”

“I’m Adam.” He thrust out his hand. They shook solemnly. He gave her the softball. “I haven’t seen you before, Billie. Are you from the neighborhood?”

“No. San Francisco. We just moved here. It’s a long drive.
How come you don’t talk funny? I mean, you kinda do, but not like that lady in the store. But she was nice. She gave me candy.”

Billie pulled a half-eaten sugar stick out of her shorts pocket. After picking off a loose thread, she stuck it into her mouth.

“Well?” she asked, after a moment.

“This is South Carolina, Billie. As far as we’re concerned, you’re the one who talks funny.”

“I do not!” She gave the candy a last lick, then thrust it back into her pocket. “Can we play catch until my mom comes out? She’ll want to apologize for my reptile behavior. Are you mad? We’ll be neighbors. I don’t want you to hate me or anything. I’m basically a good kid.” She grinned, an impish light dancing in her wide brown eyes. “At least that’s what my mom says when she doesn’t know I’m listening. Do you have any kids? Mom didn’t know if there were any on the street. I prefer boys. Mom says she’s glad I’m a girl, but I don’t know if it’s so great. Have you ever had to wear a dress and then keep
clean?
Yuk.” She pulled the baseball cap over her head.

Adam blinked several times. He didn’t know where to begin. Reptile behavior? It seemed easier to focus on the obvious. “Neighbors?”

She pointed to the house next door. The Southwick place. “We’re moving in. The furniture’s not here yet, so we might have to camp out—on the floor.”

He glanced over his shoulder at the house in question. The two-story structure, a smaller version of his own home, stood where it had for eighty years. In the last couple of months the old tenants had moved out and a string of workmen had taken over. The outside had been painted, the inside as well. Carpeting had been replaced and an electrician had fixed several old circuits. It hadn’t been sold, that he knew. The only real estate office in town used his bank, as did the local escrow company. New tenants, he told himself. Another family. He didn’t mind. It’s not as if he’d for a moment thought Jane might move back. Her parents had retired to Galveston and she had—

He frowned as he realized he didn’t know what she’d done. But it didn’t matter. They’d been old news for a long time.

“Are you ready?” Billie asked.

“Ready for what?”

“To play catch. Mom’ll be right out. She’s trying to figure out what furniture goes where. If it ever gets here. I won’t throw hard.”

She tossed the ball with an easy underhand.

He caught it instinctively and threw it back. “Young lady, you do not have to worry about throwing too hard for me.”

“I don’t know. I’m the pitcher on my softball team. I have a mean curve ball.”

Adam glanced at the broken window. “That I believe. How many wild pitches last year?”

She wrinkled her nose. “We won our division.”

“How many?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Let me guess. Not some or a few, but a lot?”

She laughed. The sound reminded him of something, but before he could place it, she threw the ball, harder this time. “Yeah, a lot. Coach says I’ll develop more accuracy as I mature.”

“I hope that’s soon. I have a lot of windows.”

Billie tugged the cap over her eyes, and bent in a crouch. “Here she is, ladies and gentlemen, the National League’s first female pitcher. Not only has she pitched a record six shutouts in a row, but her batting average is close to five hundred.” She cupped her hands over her mouth and breathed heavily to sound like background crowd noise. “She’s pitching to her favorite catcher, a champion in his own right, Mr. Adam—” She paused and looked expectant.

“Barrington. Adam Barrington.”

“Adam Barrington, one of the old-timers. He can still catch a mean curve ball.”

“I’m honored,” he said dryly.

She wound up and threw. The curve ball started out steadily enough, then lost its speed and direction. He lunged to the right, but it rolled past him and into the bushes.

“I gotta work on that curve,” she said.

“Try the backyard.”

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