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Yesterday's Gone (Two Daughters Book 1)
 


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Yesterday's Gone (Two Daughters Book 1)


  Tomorrow’s a new beginning...

  When a digitally aged photo of a girl named Hope Lawson is posted online, Bailey Smith can’t deny the similarity to herself. But could she really be the same woman who was abducted as a child twenty-three years ago?

  When she meets Detective Seth Chandler, who opened the cold case of Hope’s disappearance, suddenly everything changes. Not only does Bailey have a family she barely remembers—and a sister she’s never met—she’s connecting with a man for the first time. A man who’s loving and gentle. But Bailey’s not sure she’s ready to be found: by him or the parents she once lost.

  Detective Chandler’s expression never changed.

  But Bailey wasn’t surprised that his pupils had dilated when he finally lifted his head. They stared at each other, and she thought, Don’t let him want me. It would be incredibly unrewarding for him. Men...well...she didn’t do men. Not anymore.

  When she looked at him again, his crooked smile sent a jolt through her.

  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hope Lawson,” he said.

  “Just...don’t call me that.”

  “All right.” There was that astonishing gentleness again. “Bailey it is. Unless you prefer Ms. Smith?”

  “Either is fine.” She retreated to her side of the table. “Thank you, Detective.”

  “If you’re going to be Bailey, I’ll be Seth.”

  The flutter in her belly wouldn’t let her respond to that. We’re not friends, she wanted to say, but she didn’t want to alienate him, either.

  This desire to cling to him was completely unfamiliar to her.

  Dear Reader,

  You see the articles about girls or women rescued after being held captive for months or years. There’ll be occasional follow-ups that include photos in which she is now stylish and remarkably poised.

  Studying them, you’d never guess what she endured. But on the inside, I doubt she is anywhere near as together as she appears. I can imagine many excellent reasons for her to develop a facade to hide the damage she still feels.

  But as I contemplated this story idea, I started thinking about an adoptive sister who was always aware her role was to substitute for the “real” daughter who had been abducted and was still mourned by their mutual parents. And what about Hope Lawson, who finds her way home after twenty-three years to discover her parents replaced her with another little girl, whom she is now supposed to call sister?

  What a cauldron of family conflict on top of deep emotional scarring!

  The heroes? Not hard to figure out for each of these sisters what man would both draw and threaten her on an emotional level.

  Minor confession: sometimes I’m a little ashamed of myself, being intrigued by such painful experiences. I mean—romance writer here.

  But I tell myself a love story isn’t really about the romantic stuff, it’s about the terror of making an awful mistake, about being hurt and healed and ultimately believing in another person.

  I hope you find Hope aka Bailey’s miraculous homecoming moving, and will be on board for Eve’s story in my October Superromance, In Hope’s Shadow.

  Janice

  USA TODAY Bestselling Author

  JANICE KAY

  JOHNSON

  Yesterday’s Gone

  An author of more than eighty books for children and adults, USA TODAY bestselling author Janice Kay Johnson is especially well-known for her Harlequin Superromance novels about love and family, about the way generations connect and the power our earliest experiences have on us throughout life. Her 2007 novel Snowbound won a RITA® Award from Romance Writers of America for Best Contemporary Series Romance. A former librarian, Janice raised two daughters in a small rural town north of Seattle, Washington. She loves to read and is an active volunteer and board member for Purrfect Pals, a no-kill cat shelter. Visit her online at janicekayjohnson.com.

  Books by Janice Kay Johnson

  HARLEQUIN SUPERROMANCE

  The Baby Agenda

  Bone Deep

  Finding Her Dad

  All That Remains

  Making Her Way Home

  No Matter What

  A Hometown Boy

  Anything for Her

  Where It May Lead

  From This Day On

  One Frosty Night

  More Than Neighbors

  To Love a Cop

  The Mysteries of Angel Butte

  Bringing Maddie Home

  Everywhere She Goes

  All a Man Is

  Cop by Her Side

  This Good Man

  A Brother’s Word

  Between Love and Duty

  From Father to Son

  The Call of Bravery

  SIGNATURE SELECT SAGA

  Dead Wrong

  Visit the Author Profile page

  at Harlequin.com for more titles.

  Other titles by this author available in ebook format.

  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 SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  EXCERPT FROM SWEET SOUTHERN NIGHTS BY LIZ TALLEY

  CHAPTER ONE

  DETECTIVE SETH CHANDLER tugged his tie loose and undid the top button of his white shirt as he settled into his chair. Testifying in court that morning had demanded his best getup.

  Unfortunately, the detective bull pen was upstairs in the aging building that housed the county sheriff’s department. In winter, they appreciated the scientific fact that heat rises. A heat wave right before the Fourth of July weekend meant today they sweated, as they would off and on all summer. A couple of window air-conditioning units rattled away inadequately. Doing the job meant tuning out physical discomfort along with the noise of too many conversations around him.

  No surprise to find that, in his absence, over a hundred new emails had arrived. He was being inundated with “tips” right now. That’s the way it was when you got word out there. Most were worthless, but once in a while, he found wheat among the chaff.

  Within moments, he was engrossed. He skimmed, deleted, opened the next.

  I saw this feature online about missing kids and how you can draw pictures so everyone can see what they look like once they grow up. One of them looks EXACTLY like this girl I knew in high school.

  His phone rang. He gave it an irritated glance and saw the call was internal, which meant he couldn’t ignore it.

  Attention still on the open email, he snatched up the phone. “Chandler.”

  I bet she is the one you’re looking for. Her name wasn’t Hope, but I’m totally positive. Except you’ve got her hair wrong in the picture, and her nose, too.

  “A Mrs. Lawson is here to see you,” said the desk sergeant. Seth heard a murmur in the background. “Karen Lawson,” the sergeant amended.

  “Buzz her in.”

  Most police departments across the nation had grown cautious. Locked doors kept visitors from barging in to confront an officer.

  Seth rose to his feet a minute later when the door opened and a slender, middle-aged woman, who reminded him a little too much of his mother, appeared. It wasn’t the general physical similarities that had him making the comparison, but rather the sorrow that clung inescapably to both women.

  Clutching her purse, M
rs. Lawson cast a shy look at the men and women too engrossed in phone calls and computers to so much as notice her presence. She wound her way between desks, her expression apologetic when she reached him, even though this wasn’t her first visit and wouldn’t be her last. He made a real effort to call and let the Lawsons know what he was doing, but she’d obviously read advice to families of missing children that told her to be persistent. Never let them give up, the advocates often advised.

  Ironic, in this instance, when he was the one who had taken the initiative to revisit a case so cold, he’d had to defrost it.

  She rushed into speech. “I know I shouldn’t be bothering you, Detective, but Kirk asked last night if I’d heard from you and since I happened to be downtown I thought you might not mind...”

  He interrupted. “Of course I don’t mind. Please, sit down.”

  She perched on the straight-backed chair next to his desk, her blue eyes fixed anxiously on him. Damn it, he was disturbed every time he saw her by the resemblance the age-progressed drawing of her long-missing daughter had to her. There was a reason for that, of course; part of the art of age progression was using photographs of the parents as children and adults. And there was no denying that daughters did sometimes grow up to look like their mothers.

  “I’m getting a lot of calls and emails,” he said gently, “but nothing has jumped out at me yet. I can tell you that the photo of Hope at six years old and the artist’s best guess at what she’d look like now have been getting wide currency. It’s prompted some newspapers to run features on the fate of missing children like her, but I’m especially hopeful because those pictures are appearing everywhere on the internet. People are intrigued.” It was the pretty young white woman syndrome, of course, but he’d use anything that worked. “Given her age now—” assuming Hope Lawson had lived to grow up, of course, which they both knew to be unlikely in the extreme “—odds are she and her friends spend a lot of time on social media sites. If she’s alive, I’m optimistic that, sooner or later, someone will recognize her.”

  God, he hoped he wasn’t giving this woman false hope. He suppressed his natural wince at his choice of word, as he too often had to these days. What a name for a kid who’d been abducted!

  “Thank you,” she murmured, and he knew damn well she hadn’t even heard the “if she’s alive” part. He’d been deluding himself that they both knew her daughter was likely dead.

  From the beginning, he’d made it clear that he was fighting the odds here. Hope Lawson had vanished without a trace twenty-three years ago. The 99.9 percent likelihood: she was dead. He’d set out to take advantage of improved police and medical examiner cooperation to find a match with an unclaimed body. Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard were the rarities, not the norm. But despite all his warnings, Karen Lawson wanted to believe that by some miracle he’d bring her daughter home alive and well.

  A sheriff’s department in a rural county like this one didn’t have anything like a cold case squad. He was allowed to indulge his interest as time allowed, however. He’d found closure for a few people, mostly by giving them a chance to put a headstone on a loved one’s grave. Not a happy ending, but better than suffering through a lifetime of wondering, as Karen and Kirk Lawson had.

  Her gaze left him to fall on his bulletin board, where he’d tacked copies of the last school picture taken of little Hope Lawson and of the recent rendering. Other photos shared the space: a sweetly pretty wife and mother who had either suffered a terrible fate or fled from her husband and preschool-age children two years before; a toddler who’d disappeared from a picnic ground the previous summer; an elderly man with the beginnings of dementia who had gone for a walk and never come home.

  If only to himself, Seth would admit that his gaze was most often drawn to Hope Lawson’s face. As a child, huge blue eyes had dominated a thin face with high, sharp cheekbones. A few pale freckles dusted a small nose. Moonlight-pale bangs cut straight across her forehead. Her grin revealed a missing tooth.

  The artist had seen the promise of beauty in her, or something very like. The cheekbones were distinctive. More than anything, they gave him hope that she would be recognized.

  Hope. Damn.

  “Eve mentioned that she hasn’t seen you recently,” Mrs. Lawson remarked.

  Another wince he didn’t let show. The Lawsons’ adopted daughter was responsible for his current cold case project. They’d been on several dates when she told him something of her family’s history. Intrigued, he’d done his research, gone to talk to her parents and made the decision to do his damnedest to find out what had happened to the little girl who disappeared sometime between getting out of the community pool after a summer swimming lesson and her mother arriving to pick her up.

  He’d quickly got the idea Eve wished she’d never told him about Hope. She wouldn’t talk about the missing “sister” she’d never met, much less how she felt about her adoptive parents’ renewed yearning for their biological daughter. Any conflicted feelings she might have were understandable. Seth didn’t see any chance of the relationship going anywhere long-term, but she was an attractive woman and he liked her. No one else had caught his eye recently. Why not call and find out if she’d like to have dinner this weekend?

  “I’ve been working long hours,” he told her mother, feeling guilty even though it was the truth. Among other things, he’d been working a murder/suicide perplexing enough to draw nationwide attention. There was no one to arrest after that bloodbath, but everyone would feel better if he could come up with some answers to explain the unexplainable.

  In fact, he’d barely had time to keep up with the influx of emails he was receiving in response to his multiple postings of Hope Lawson’s story.

  “Then I won’t keep you,” Mrs. Lawson said with dignity, rising to her feet. “I really shouldn’t have come by. I know if there was any news, you’d have called.”

  “I would,” he said gently, standing, as well. “But I don’t mind you stopping by, either.”

  She searched his face, then gave a small nod. “Good day, Detective Chandler.”

  He stayed where he was and watched until she let herself out into the hall and was gone.

  “You’ll never get rid of that one,” observed the detective whose desk was right behind Seth’s.

  He grunted. “Am I doing her any favors? Hell, face it. It’s an intellectual exercise for me. For her...”

  “It’s a heartbreaker.”

  He turned to scowl at Ben Kemper, near his age, light-haired to his dark, a man Seth suspected was on a mission of his own, although Seth had no idea what it was. “Thanks. Just what I needed to hear.”

  Kemper grinned. “An intellectual exercise, huh? That’s all it was?”

  “Damn it, no! But I don’t have the same stake that woman does, either.” He scrubbed a hand over his head. “Shit. My best hope was a match in NamUs.” The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System hadn’t existed when Hope Lawson disappeared. A body found in one jurisdiction had in the past rarely been matched to a listing for a missing person even a few counties away. Now medical examiners, cops, even families could input information. A body found in a shallow grave in Florida could be linked to a woman snatched in Montana. As time allowed, some medical examiners’ offices were inputting old information. Or the improvements in DNA technology meant they were taking another try at finding a name for a body long since buried but never identified.

  “Nothing, huh?” Kemper leaned back in his chair, his expression sympathetic.

  “No.” He didn’t kid himself that meant Hope Lawson had grown up and was living out there somewhere under another name.

  Kemper was the one to grunt this time. “You get a call back from Cassie Sparks’s school counselor?”

  He and Kemper, often paired on the job, were working the murder/suicide together. Along with her mother, eleven-year-old Cassie had been shot to death by her father, who had then swallowed the gun. The fact he’d killed a kid—his ow
n kid—had made the scene a difficult one, even for seasoned cops.

  “Hell. No.” Seth frowned. “I’ll finish going through these emails, then head out to the school. I should still be able to catch her before they let out.” They were trying to find out every detail of the lives of all three members of the Sparks family. Unfortunately, Cassie’s very basic Facebook page had been unrevealing. Friends were denying any knowledge of problems with her dad. “You talk to the father’s boss again?” he asked.

  “Sure. Best employee ever. Great attitude. We have to be wrong. Dale would never do anything like this.”

  They’d been getting a lot of that. Too much, in Seth’s no-doubt cynical viewpoint, one shared by his fellow detective. No one who’d known the Sparks family wanted to admit they’d seen any crack in the perfect facade. It sucked to face the reality that you might have knowingly blinded yourself. Or to realize you weren’t nearly as perceptive as you’d imagined yourself to be.

  “I hear a few of his coworkers have a favorite bar,” Ben continued. “I figure I’ll stop by tonight, see what they have to say after a couple of beers.”

  Seth nodded. “Good.” He turned back to his monitor and skimmed down to where he’d left off on that last email.

  Except you’ve got her hair wrong in the picture, and her nose, too. And her chin is kind of square, not pointy like that.

  Uh-huh, he thought. But she was totally positive they had a match.

  Delete.

  Twenty minutes later, he logged out and pushed his chair back. “I’m off.”

  Ben had a phone tucked between his ear and shoulder as he tapped away on his keyboard. He glanced up. “You coming back?”

  “Probably not. I need to knock on some more doors in the Garcias’ neighborhood.” Raul and Maria had come home after a hard day’s work to find their brand-new Sony fifty-five-inch LED HDTV missing, along with the Dell Inspiron laptop the grandparents had bought the granddaughter just last week to take with her to college. Seth had little doubt the thief knew one of the Garcias. He had to have heard about one or both of those very nice purchases—the TV had a two-thousand-dollar-plus price tag. Otherwise, why had their house been hit when none of the others in their modest neighborhood had been?

 
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