But when her best friend, Gina, risks losing her young daughter to an impersonal court systemthe same system that failed Elizabeth many years agoshe vows to fight back. But Elizabeth needs help. She needs the kind of help that a family can give, and she needs Ryan Paxton, the brilliant attorney whose tragic family history is intertwined with her own.
As the custody battle turns to something more dangerousand more deadlyElizabeth comes face-to-face with a past she has tried to forget and a future she wants to embrace.
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By Karen Young
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Lizzie. What's wrong? You're pale as a ghost."
"I don't believe this, Louie." Elizabeth Walker's attention was riveted on an article in the Sunday newspaper. Her picture was front and center in the article, but it was the content of the piece that dismayed her. "You remember that reporter from the Houston Chronicle who interviewed me a couple of weeks ago?"
"After a bit of pressure from your publisher?" Louie Christian broke a piece off his bagel and tossed it from the gazebo to his dog, Archie, who caught it with a quick snap of his teeth. "Is the article in the paper today?"
"It's the front page feature in the 'Lifestyle' section."
Louie leaned over to see for himself. "Nice photo. You look very professional sitting at your computer."
Elizabeth's response was a disgruntled snort. "I knew I shouldn't have agreed. Listen to this." She moved her coffee cup aside and spread the paper flat on the low table across from Louie. Grimacing, she read aloud, "'Houston author Elizabeth Walker, winner of the prestigious Newbery Award for children's books, leads an almost reclusive life. Repeated attempts to interview her were unsuccessful. It was only after her publisher intervened that Walker, an auburn-haired beauty who looks more like a runway model than an author of sensitive stories for children, reluctantly agreed to the interview at her home in the exclusive Memorial area. Consequently, her reluctance had this reporter's nose aquiver. Deeper research revealed a very interesting history quite apart from her life as a writer. Walker, it seems, is the daughter of Matthew Scurlock Walker, a judge who was once a powerful political figure in Houston legal circles. After his death in a mysterious house fire twenty-five years ago, Walker left behind three daughters. Elizabeth, the eldest, was five years old at the time. Having no other relatives, her two younger siblings were adopted, but Elizabeth landed in the care of the state of Texas, then spent the remainder of her childhood in and out of various foster homes.'"
Elizabeth stood up abruptly and began to pace. "What possible relevance does any of this have on my career, Louie?"
"None, specifically, but you'll have to admit it adds spice to the reporter's article."
Bending, she swept up the article. "I suppose this part is also titillating," she said, snapping out the page smartly. "'According to sources, Walker has had no relationship with her siblings since their adoption. She has not seen them since the night of the fire.' How does he know that, Louie?"
"Deeper research, I suppose."
She muttered something unintelligible and tossed the paper aside. Moving to the steps of the gazebo, she looked out, tears blurring her vision. "What's missing from the reporter's story is that my sisters' adoptive parents never made the slightest effort to contact me."
Behind her, Louie picked up the paper and scanned the article. "You can't let something like this upset you, Lizzie. Your success makes you an interesting person to the public at large. The reporter struck it lucky when he researched a little deeper and discovered your past to be a bit extraordinary."
"I feel violated, Louie. It's almost like ... rape." She closed her eyes and took a deep, unsteady breath.
Louie sighed, knowing her well enough to leave it alone for now.
But Elizabeth wasn't ready to leave it. "It's no wonder the media is suffering from a reputation only slightly better than used car salesmen," she said bitterly, turning to face him. "I'm amazed at my own naiveté, Louie. The questions he asked were so benign, such as, 'How do you get your ideas?' and 'How difficult was it to get published?' and 'What made you choose to write books for children rather than adult fiction?' And I actually thought that was what the article would be about."
"He appears to cover that, too," Louie said, still reading.
She turned and looked at him, then after a beat, she managed a short laugh. "I'm overreacting, right?"
Louie put the paper down. "I wouldn't say that, since he's opened your life to the world, but your editor and your agent would probably remind you that any publicity, favorable or otherwise, is good."
She made a disgusted sound and picked up her cup. She could always trust Louie to spin even the most awful experience in a positive light. She knew that he understood her reaction to the reporter's insensitive exposé of her history, knew that to her it was like pouring salt in a wound that had never quite healed. Still knowing all that, he wouldn't let her wallow in self-pity. She studied him over the rim of her cup with affection. At seventy-one, his white beard gave him a distinguished air even though she'd noticed he'd begun to stoop a bit. She wondered if she could persuade him to have a full physical.
Louie had been her neighbor for about five years, but they hadn't become friends right away. Her fault, not his. Those years in foster care had shaped her well. She'd learned early the hazards of trusting too soon. But Louie had patiently persevered. Elderly and lonely himself, he'd finally breached her shy defenses with a variety of neighborly gestures: offering tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden, bringing her newspaper to the door on rainy days, returning her trash can to the garage after the garbage was picked up. And, best of all, assuming a vital role in Jesse's life.
A sharp shriek from across the lawn brought her to her feet. But it was joy, not distress making Jesse squeal. The little girl and her best friend, Cody, were in wild pursuit of Archie who now had not a bagel, but something dark blue and crushable in his teeth. There was no likelihood that the big golden retriever would be overtaken, but both kids were giving the race their personal best.
"Is that something valuable in his mouth?" Louie asked, moving up behind her.
"Cody's cherished Texans ball cap? Priceless." Elizabeth smiled, watching Jesse try to outsmart the dog by circling behind while Cody stood out in front and yelled as a distraction. Squealing, Jesse leaped on the playful retriever from behind and Cody dived gleefully into the tangle of little girl and big dog. Amazingly, Cody emerged from the fray with his cap. Archie got up, too, shaking himself vigorously, tongue dangling in a doggie grin.
"Maybe we'd better go check for broken limbs," Louie said dryly as the two five-year-olds sprawled on the lawn, winded and giggling.
"Whose, Archie's or the kids?"
Smiling, they watched as the children tore off in another direction, Archie between them, barking joyously. Elizabeth felt a rush of love. Jesse was a delightful mix of tomboy and sprightly femininity. And a constant delight, despite the fact that lately her welfare was a constant concern.
Excerpted from Private Lives by Karen Young Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Houston, Jesse and her mother Gina D¿Angelo live with Newberry Award winner Elizabeth Walker. Though opposites, Gina and Elizabeth have been friends since they met as foster children two decades ago. The D¿Angelos moved in with Elizabeth following the kid¿s father Austin Leggett throwing both of them out of his home. Gina has since asked for child support, but Austin refuses to pay and counter files for custody. Though he hates this case, attorney Ryan Paxton represents Austin because his client¿s father, a senior partner in their firm, asked him. Ryan implies that Gina and Elizabeth might be gay and rips both in other ways when they testify. Still, the judge rules joint custody. Austin persuades Angela to accompany him to discuss the finding, but she refuses to give away what their daughter needs. He bruises her. They meet again, but Gina ends up comatose after a car accident. Ryan believes that Austin caused the accident and helps Elizabeth because the shocked Jesse is the most important person in this fiasco. Soon Ryan and Elizabeth fall in love, but both know Jesse comes first. Though Austin shows no redeeming quality and his behavior after Gina is comatose seems out of character. However, PRIVATE LIVES hooks the audience because of the rest of the extended cast. The story line is fast paced, but contains delightful sidebars that make the lead couple seems so real as both want what¿s best for Jesse. Fans of romantic suspense will encourage Karen Young to reveal the PRIVATE LIVES of Elizabeth¿s two sisters who make strong appearances in this terrific work. Harriet Klausner