No Longer Strangers (Bookshelf eBook)
Sometimes letting go is the only way to really hold on tight.
When zoologist Mitch Huntington agreed to be named in his best friends' will as guardian to their daughter, Emily Jane, he was sure it meant nothing more than pony rides, presents on birthdays, and an occasional day at the circus. Instead he finds himself up to his elbows in diapers and soggy oatmeal. While Mitch soon discovers that animal care and baby care are not the same thing, he quickly becomes totally devoted to the adorable little girl.
But Cory Steele, Emily Jane's estranged aunt, will stop at nothing to rescue her niece from the clutches of this single Mormon man — even if it means pretending to join his strange church in order to gain his trust . . . and seize custody of the baby.
Is Cory deceiving herself as much as she's trying to deceive Mitch? What's really in her heart? And what's best for Emily Jane?
You've met Mitch's sister Amanda and read her gripping tale in the best-selling novel Winterfire. Now Mitch's story will tug at your heartstrings as it explores the nature of commitment and selfless love.
About the Author
Rachel Ann Nunes (pronounced noon-sh) learned to read when she was four, beginning a lifelong fascination with the written word. She began writing in the seventh grade and is now the author of more than thirty published books, including the popular Ariana series and the award-winning picture book Daughter of a King.
Rachel and her husband, TJ, have seven children. She loves camping with her family, traveling, meeting new people, and, of course, writing. She writes Monday through Friday in her home office, taking frequent breaks to take care of kids or go swimming with them.
Rachel loves hearing from her readers. You can write to her at Rachel@RachelAnnNunes.com. To enjoy her monthly newsletter or to sign up to hear about new releases, visit her website, www.RachelAnnNunes.com.
MitchHuntington groaned as the sound of the doorbell sliced into his unconscious
thoughts. Reluctantly, he swam through the murky waters of sleep and managed to
open one eye, the other still firmly smashed into his pillow.
“Coming,” he called in a croaky voice that wouldn’t have made it past his bedroom door,
much less carried to the porch. The brightness spilling in from his window was
painful, and he blinked that single eye several times to help it adjust. Who
would wake him up before eight on a Saturday morning? He hoped it wasn’t one of
the neighbor children, newly let out of school for the summer. They often came
to see his animals.
“All right already!” He put both hands on the bed and heaved himself off his
stomach, twisting his legs to the floor. Trying to stand, he tripped over the
tennis shoe Muffin the Mutt had been using to sharpen his teeth. Mitch’s face
hit the carpet, and the top of his head slammed against the
ten-gallon glass aquarium that was home to a pair of his gerbils. Or
had been. The two animals were no longer alone.
Mitch opened his other eye, now pressed up close to the glass. He blew his hair out
of his face. “One, two, three, four, five, six . . .” That was all he
could count before Hiccup covered her new babies, aided by Elvis, her faithful
companion of two months.
“Well, looks like you had a productive night,” Mitch muttered, more than a little
irritated. He’d spent half the night waiting for the blessed event and had
missed it entirely.
The doorbell rang three more times, staccato and short, like an impatient woman
tapping her foot. Mitch hauled himself to his feet and hurried to the door
of his room, stubbing his toes first on the edge of the gerbil cage and then on
the smaller aquarium containing Lizzy Lizard, his western fence lizard, who was
fighting a cold with antibiotics and two extra heating lamps.
“That’s it!” Mitch yelled, grabbing his sore toes and hopping around on the other foot.
“Tonight, you’re all going back to your own room. I don’t care how many babies
you have or how many respiratory diseases you get!”
Hobbling down the hall and through his living room, he opened the front door in time to
see a woman in a trim black suit moving gracefully down his steps.
She turned. “Oh, good, you’re home,” she drawled with a faint accent Mitch thought
might be Texan. She was an attractive woman with long black hair, a full mouth,
and dark eyes that were clearly annoyed. Mitch straightened his tall frame that
was still too thin despite the ten pounds he’d recently gained.
Belatedly, he realized he was wearing his black pajama bottoms, spotted with
white soccer balls and topped by a black, short-sleeved T-shirt.
“I had a late night,” he felt obliged to say. He drew a hand through his brown
hair, which was barely short enough to be acceptable to his family. Parted near
the middle, his hair reached to the bottom of his ears, falling forward
whenever he dipped his head.
“You’re Mitch Huntington?” She sounded as if she hoped he’d say no.
He wondered if he’d done something wrong. “Yes. Why do you ask?”
“I’m Dolores Clark, attorney for Lane and Ashley Grayson.”
“Lane and Ashley?” Mitch’s stomach twinged, warning that something was wrong. He and
Lane had been like brothers during their missions to Brazil, sweating
together over Portuguese verbs while tracting in the humid temperatures near
the equator. Their friendship had continued after they left Brazil—even
when Ashley Steele entered the picture. In fact, if Lane hadn’t married Ashley,
Mitch would have tried to marry her himself. Instead, he’d remained their best
Dolores Clark shifted her slight weight to her other foot. Her high,
thin-heeled shoes didn’t look comfortable, and Mitch was sure they
added to her impatience and irritation. “Yes,” she said. “I’m their attorney
and the executor of their estate.”
“They’re in Texas,” he began. “Wait a minute, did you say executor? What do they need an
executor for?” His friends and their baby daughter had moved from Utah to Texas
six months earlier when Lane graduated from Brigham Young University and
started a new job. Mitch had kept in touch by phone and e-mail. Only
last week Ashley had e-mailed a snapshot of their family. He’d marveled at how much Emily Jane
had grown. Looking like a baby doll, she was in her mother’s arms, one hand
caught in Ashley’s long curly red hair, as it always seemed to be. They had all
“You haven’t heard?” For the first time there was an emotion other than annoyance in
the lawyer’s pretty face. But what? He couldn’t tell.
He was beginning to feel light-headed. “Heard what?” he asked, gripping
days ago the Graysons were killed in a boating accident. I’m sorry, I thought
you might have heard.”
shook his head slowly, knowing there was no one to tell him anything. Lane was
an only child whose parents had died when he was in high school. Ashley’s
mother had died when she was a child, and she hadn’t talked to the rest of her
family since they’d disowned her when she joined the Church four years ago.
“Lane and Ashley didn’t have anybody,” he said for the lawyer’s benefit, still
reeling from shock. “Except each other . . . and me.”
“I know. That’s why I’m here. You’re listed in their will.”
Mitch stepped out onto the porch and sat down in the doorway, tears blurring his
vision. He felt sick and dizzy, as he did each time his allergy to cold
temperatures kicked in. But the porch had been warmed by the morning sun, and
there wasn’t even a whisper of a breeze in the air. Not since his
brother-in-law’s death a year and a half ago had Mitch felt so
horrible and lost. “Oh, Lane,” he murmured. He couldn’t even say Ashley’s name.
And when he thought of the baby . . .
Tears slid down his cheeks. “She was only a year old,” he murmured. “That’s too
young. Way too young.” He tried telling himself it was better that they were
all together, but he found it impossible to bear the thought of never seeing
them again in this life. Why hadn’t he gone to visit six weeks ago in April for
Emily Jane’s first birthday? They’d invited him, but instead he planned to fly
out during his vacation time in August. He let his head drop to his hands and
A comforting hand squeezed his shoulder. He was surprised to find the lawyer
hunched down next to him. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I did try to call
repeatedly this week before the funeral, but you don’t have an answering
machine, and there was no time for a letter. Emily Jane needs to get on with
her life. Of course, I have some papers you’ll need to see.” She tapped the
briefcase she’d set down on the porch. Standing, she went down the stairs
toward the sedan parked out in the street.
Mitch stared after her. What
did she just say?
The car door opened before Dolores reached the sidewalk, and a short, older woman
emerged with a baby in her arms and a fat diaper bag slung over her shoulder.
She moved aside as Dolores brought out a car seat and a large suitcase.
Mitch stared, hope bursting to life in his heart. The baby had a mass of fine, curly
hair a shade or two paler than a carrot. Just like Ashley’s. Emily Jane, he thought. Could it be? He
urged himself to meet them halfway, but he only managed to stand, his tears
abruptly halted and drying on his cheeks in the morning sun.
The short woman came up the stairs and pushed the baby in his direction. “I was the
Graysons’ neighbor,” she said, with a Texas drawl much heavier than the
lawyer’s. “I run a day care. Emily Jane came over in the mornings while Ashley
went to school. She’s been staying with me since the accident.”
Mitch’s arm instinctively secured the baby to his chest. She opened her blue eyes wide
at him as though unsure how to react.
Jane,” he breathed. He recognized her now. Would she remember him?
The baby glanced at the short woman and then back at him. Her face wrinkled as she
started to cry. “It’s okay,” he murmured, patting her back awkwardly. He tried
to return her to the woman, but she shook her head.
“Better keep her,” she said, her hazel eyes kind and compassionate. “She’ll stop in a
minute. Usually she’s good with strangers, but she’s been sad and upset.
Probably misses her parents. She’ll get used to you. Just talk to her.”
The baby’s large eyes reminded him of a wounded or frightened animal. “Don’t worry,
sweetie,” he told her. “You remember me, don’t you? Okay, so maybe you don’t.
Anyway, I know your mom and dad.” He stopped. He had known them. He tried to swallow a sudden lump
in his throat, biting back his own tears. “It’s okay. Don’t cry, sweetie. You
know what? I have something to show you. Come inside with me.” Vaguely aware of
the women following him, he walked to the large dog kennel in the kitchen where
Muffin was yipping in excitement.
“This is Muffin,” Mitch said to Emily Jane. “He normally sleeps in my room, but I had
to put him in here last night. I promise he won’t hurt you.” He bent down with
the baby on one knee and opened the kennel door.
Muffin shoved his wet nose into Mitch’s hand before exuberantly sniffing Emily Jane.
The baby’s tears stopped, but she clutched at Mitch in fear, trying to climb up
“Oops. Sorry. Down, Muffin! Down boy!” Mitch stood to keep Emily Jane out of reach. At
least she was no longer crying.
“I’ll leave these papers,” Dolores said, placing something on the table. “There’s a
list of finances and other items regarding custody. You’ll need a lawyer here
to finalize everything. As Emily Jane’s lawyer, I’ll be happy to help things
along in Texas, although you may have to make an appearance there. I’ll keep in
contact with you about that and about the rest of the estate. I’ll need to know
what you want done with the house and car. And of course the Division of Child
and Family Services here will be in contact to make sure everything’s okay on
“The suitcase by the door has Emily Jane’s clothes,” the older woman added. Mitch
was too stunned to reply to either of them.
“We’ll get out of your hair now.” Dolores walked to the door, followed by the
other woman whose name Mitch had never learned.
“Wait! What about Emily Jane?” He hefted the baby in his arms.
Dolores arched an impatient brow. “You’re her godfather, aren’t you? The will stated
clearly that I was to bring her to you.”
Mitch remembered signing something in front of a lawyer soon after Emily Jane was
born. Ashley, weighed down with the responsibility of new parenthood, had
planned for every possibility. “If something ever happened to us, I’d want
Emily Jane to be raised in the Church,” she had said. “I can’t bear the thought
that she’d go to my dad or my sister. It would be different if they were
members. Please, Mitch. Will you do this for me?”
Mitch had agreed—anything to set Ashley’s mind at ease. Besides, he’d
loved Emily Jane from the minute she was born. But he’d never imagined that
being named her guardian would mean anything more than pony rides on his
shoulders, presents at birthdays and Christmas, and maybe an occasional day at
the circus. It simply couldn’t mean that Emily Jane now belonged to him.
The women descended his steps, and Mitch panicked. It was one thing to be an
exceptional uncle to five nieces and nephews or to be a godfather—but to
be solely responsible for a child?
“Hey, I don’t know anything about babies!” he protested. “What am I going to do with
her?” He felt guilty saying the words with little Emily Jane watching him so
seriously, her lightly freckled face rigid with fear.
Dolores shrugged. “We just came to bring her to you. Of course, if you’d rather, Mrs.
Sumner and I can turn her over to Texas state custody. I’m sure an adoptive
family could be found for her. She’s young enough.”
Ashley’s voice echoed in his head: I’d
want Emily Jane to be raised in the Church.
“No,” he said, backpedaling quickly. “We’ll be okay. I have sisters with children
who’ll help. My mom lives only fifteen minutes from here. Less, maybe.”
He was about to say more to convince them, but the women nodded and continued to
their car, relief apparent on their faces. As they drove away, Mitch clung to
Emily Jane as tightly as she clung to him.
by Tricia - reviewed on October 28, 2008
Very good book! I didn't want to put it down. Rachel Ann Nunes has done it again. Great read for anyone!
Sluggish and Predictable
by Susan - reviewed on January 12, 2007
I liked the idea of this book, but the dialog lacked originality. I found it to be quite predictable and a little over dramatic at times. If this is indicative of this author's style, I would not recommend her.
by Ariana - reviewed on September 26, 2005
Absolutely wonderful. I was hooked from the first chapter until the very end. I would have to say that this is one of the best books Rachel has written.
Loved It Start to End
by KD - reviewed on January 19, 2008
I got this book for Christmas two years ago and now wish I hadn't waited so long to read it. I absolutely enjoyed reading it and could not put it down. Her characters were very believable. There were times when I wanted to strangle Cory myself. And I constantly found myself chuckling about EmJay's little antics and Mitch's quirky love for animals. I can relate to Mitch trying to type because I have a baby just under EmJay's age. I plan to add the other Huntington Family books to my library as well as the rest of Rachel's novels.
by Kalina - reviewed on October 23, 2008
This is a great book. So funny especially when he first starts on the diapers. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good read.