ExcerptTHE HIDDEN YEARS
"Hide and Seek, Book 1"
Harlequin Intrigue® #636
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Harlequin Books
Pub. Date: October 2001
"Hi, Sunshine." He used his pet name for her without thinking, his voice slightly huskier than he would have liked.
Cassidy's full lips turned up in a crooked smile, but uncertainty again flickered in her eyes. "Jake."
He opened the door feeling a measure of both pleasure and wariness in seeing her again, but mostly wondering what caused the shadows in her eyes. "Come in."
Obviously worried, she clutched the box she carried so hard that her fingernails dug into the cardboard. Cassidy took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Slowly, she raised those sea-blue eyes to meet his. "My father died last year."
"I heard. And I'm sorry. For your sake."
He folded his arms over his chest, refusing to be hypocritical. He'd never liked Frazier Atkins. Even ten years ago, Jake had known the man disapproved of Cassie's new friend, a boy with no family. No past.
Cassidy pushed the box toward Jake. "I took over Dad's law practice and found this."
"What is it?" Jake made no move to open the box. Instead he sat and watched Cassidy swallow hard, wet her top lip and try to hold his eyes.
Opening the box with shaking fingers, she looked from the papers inside back to him, her eyes dark and mysterious. "You ever find your sisters?"
Her question set him back on his heels, rocked him to his core. He'd unconsciously figured that Cassidy had come here seeking his help. He hadn't expected the conversation to revolve around him. Or his sisters.
Jake shook his head at the failure that still haunted his nightmares. Nightmares of a five-year-old child promising his father that he'd look after the family. That he'd watch over his sisters. Keep the family together. Awake, Jake couldn't recall exactly what had happened to his sisters. In the darkest of dreams, shadowed creatures with no faces pulled the kicking and screaming girls from his arms. Every few months, Jake still awakened in a sweat, heart pounding and choking on tears.
He glanced at the box, curiosity welling. "I always thought your father was keeping back information on my sisters' locations. Was he?"
Her expression grim, Cassidy nodded. "He always knew more than he'd revealed."
Again Cassidy nodded.
Son of a bitch! Jake stood so fast his chair crashed to the floor. If Frazier Atkins had stood before him now, it would have taken all of Jake's considerable control not to strike him.
Jake paced, his thoughts fuming. "Your old man could have saved me ten years of searching. Ten years of not knowing whether my sisters had lived or died. Ten years of waking up every morning and going to sleep every night and wondering if I had any family left or if I was all alone in the world."
"I'm sorry, Jake. My father never told me the truth either."
Although Jake had never found his sisters, he'd never given up searching. Would never give up. But he had no more to go on now than he'd had ten years ago, when the day after he'd graduated high school, he'd looked up Frazier Atkins. Jake had hoped the attorney who'd handled his custody arrangements could help find his sisters. But Cassidy's father had stubbornly refused to tell him anything about the adoption.
Jake paced, needing an outlet for his anger. Frazier had lied to him. Worse, he'd kept him apart from his sisters. How dare he separate a family? Jake wanted to strike out and hit something to relieve his frustration. But long ago he'd learned to master his anger, and within moments, he'd replaced a burning rage with simmering control. Reaching down, he lifted the chair and replaced it exactly where it had been.
Cassidy's voice pleaded with him. "You have to understand. A lawyer's first obligation is to his client."
"And just who was the client?" Jake asked, folding his arms over his chest and watching Cassidy closely.
"I'm . . . not . . . sure."
"Let me get this straight. Frazier Atkins couldn't tell me how to find my sisters because--"
"Because the custody matters were sealed. Ditto for the adoption records unless both parties ask for the records."
"You're saying my sisters were adopted?"
As she heard the concern he couldn't mask, Cassidy shook her head, regret in her gaze. "I don't believe so." A tremor of distress tinged her voice. "The records indicate all three of you were split up."