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Authors: Barbara Delinsky

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #General, #Fiction - Romance, #Love stories, #Romance - Contemporary, #Romance & Sagas, #Modern fiction, #Popular American Fiction, #Journalists, #Contemporary Women, #Married women, #Manhattan (New York; N.Y.), #Prisoners

Commitments

BOOK: Commitments
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Barbara Delinsky - Commitments

Commitments

by

BARBARA DELINSKY

`;07.'

By the same author

Twilight Whispers Heart of the Night

BARBARA DELINSKY

Commitments

v v .--I"

To Steve, Eric, Andrew and Jeremy - always.

This edition published 1995 by Diamond Books

77-85 Fulham Palace Road Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

Published by Grafton Books in 1990 by arrangement with Warner Books, Inc., New York The Author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work ISBN: 0-261667114

Set in Trump Mediaeval

Printed in Great Britain

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopyin& recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being unposed on the subsequent purchaser

Prologue.

Derek Mcgill wasn't a man to waver. Once he set his mind to something, he saw it through. The industry knew him to be dogged and shrew, self-righteous, even bull-headed when an issue hit him hard. Unanswered phone calls and untold runarounds, veiled hostility and unveiled threats

- all were part of the game. He was used to them; they never stalled him long. , Yet, on the threshold of the rooftop patio, he paused. Granted, the rooms he'd passed through were posh, but held seen more lavish rooms in his day. The patio itself, an oasis high above the concrete maze of Manhattan, was. idyllic, but he'd seen his share of makeshift Edens, too. His hesitation didn't come from the luxury of the Fifth Avenue

-apartment or the greenery of its terrace. Rather, he was drawn up short by the woman standing with her back to him not far from the waist-high brick wall which lined the terrace. She was of medium height and slender. A soft whiteblouse cascaded gently from her shoulders, overlapping an equally lightweight gauze skirt that -veiled her in lilac from hip to mid-calf . Barefoot and oblivious to his arrival, she swayed ever so slowly from side to side. The late afternoon sun, tripping over the treetops of Central Park, gilded her blond hair and that of the small child she held in her arms, her head resting on his. He wasn't sure what he'd expected - not that held had an awful lot of time to dwell on it, given his schedule, But he supposed he'd assumed this woman to be a slick city type surrounded by defenses as heavy as her Giorgio. He'd been wrong. She was younger than he'd expected for one thing, and there was nothing slick about her. As for defenses, his radar couldn't detect any. He almost felt as though he should have brought some along for her use. There was something awe-inspiring about Sabrina Stone as she stood in her private garden high above the city. He found himself thinking of the Madonna. With her hair loosely caught into a short, high ponytail from which stray tendrils had escaped to graze her cheeks and neck, she looked utterly unpretentious. He conjured up images of purity and goodness, both incongruous with the world around her as he knew it. Page 1

Barbara Delinsky - Commitments

Her husband was a high roller in the game of investment banking. She herself was from a wildly successful literary family. Still, she seemed the personification of innocence, a flower child lost and alone, clinging to the one thing she cherished above all else in life. She seemed serene. Perhaps that was what, more than anything, brought Derek to a standstill. He knew that she couldn't truly be serene, given her lot in life. Yet, the picture she presented was that, and he envied it. His own life was a rat race, a nonstop quest for the story to top all others. If he wasn't on the phone with sources or haggling with producers or assistant producers or researchers for information he needed yesterday, he was justifying his position with management or hustling for a final scoop in an eleventh-hour rush to meet the cameras. The sight of Sabrina Stone made him pause, take a deep breath, and release it slowly and with something surprisingly akin to relief. Over the dim clang and whir of traffic that drifted from far below, he caught bits and fragments of a tune. She was humming a song as she rocked the child. He couldn't identify it, but it didn't matter. The effect was the same, a tableau of warmth and love that touched him in strange unexpected ways. He was an intruder. He knew that, but he couldn't have left if he tried, and he wouldn't have tried for the world. Having set eyes on her, his curiosity was piqued. He reminded himself that this was just another story, but deep down inside, he suspected more complex forces drew him forward. His shoes made a muted tap on the marble tiles as he crossed the terrace, but she seemed not to hear. Lost in that tiny world encompassing her baby and her, she neither looked up nor turned. When he was within reaching distance, he stopped. '. Stone?' Her head flew around then, eyes wide and startled. ''m sorry/ he said with an odd gentleness, ' didn't mean to frighten you.' For a minute she said nothin& simply looked at him, studying his eyes as though they could tell her what she wanted or needed to know. ' are you? I she said at last. ' Mcgill." She continued to study him. One of her brows lowered for the briefest instant in a frown she quickly mastered. '

does that sound familiar?' ''m a reporter with Outside Insight. You may have seen some of my work.' She lowered her chin to the child's head, and he could have sworn that her arms tightened fractionally. Both gestures suggested protectiveness. He could understand that. ' did you get in? I Her voice held wariness, while her eyes held his. Their hold was strong. He'd never seen eyes quite like them, though he doubted it had as much to do with their pale green coloring as with the blend of emotions they betrayed. Among other things, he saw fear; and while he'd have been delighted to see that if he were confronting a bureaucrat with allegations of corruption, he regretted seeing it in Sabrina Stone. So he said without pride, ' tagged along with three fellows who were visiting one of the other apartments. That took care of the doorman. Your maid was satisfied when I said that we were old friends and you were expecting me.' ' wasn't true.' ' know. But I wanted to speak with you. I've tried to call several times. Your husband is protective of your privacy.' ''ve spoken with him?' Derek caught sight of a small, almost imperceptible tic in the delicate skin beneath her left eye. It was the kind that came from being overtired,, or overwrought. He suspected that with Sabrina it was the latter. ' haven't spoken with him directly. He never returned my calls, but eventually he left a message that if I tried to reach him again, he'd call the president of the network., A flicker of hardness passed through her eyes, and she nodded. Derek gave a lopsided smile. ''d do that?, '.' She paused. The hardness was gone, replaced by a hint of a plea, though her voice was as soft and controlled as ever. ' do you want?' ' to talk." Page 2

Barbara Delinsky - Commitments

His gaze dropped to the child's curls. As he viewed them closer now and from a different 10 angle,-he could see that they were more light brown than blond. ' he sleeping? I he asked, leaning sideways to see the child's face. One view gave him his answer. The child's large brown eyes were wide open, focused on nothing at all., Derek had seen many a tragedy in the course of his work. He'd viewed grossly deformed bum victims, pathetically spindly victims of malnutrition, severely maimed victims of war - and still he'd managed to keep a certain distance between him and his subjects. But the sight of this child, with baby-fine hair the color of pecans, a button nose, tiny lips and pale, butter-soft skin, wrenched at his heart. ''s beautiful/he whispered.

"Yes/ she said. Derek looked up to catch the sadness in her eyes. '

old is he?' ' months.' ' nam e?1 '.' After his

father. Derek should have guessed that. Nicholas Stone had never been known for either modesty or understatement. The man was a winner; he was of the breed that coupled smarts with a determination to make every venture successful. Derek couldn't help but wonder how the min viewed his son, whether what he'd assumed to be protectiveness had in fact been embarrassment or shame. If so, -his heart went out to the woman before him. His research said that parents of the brain-damaged suffered unimagined trials, and, up close, her face bore testimony to that. Faint smudges were visible beneath her eyes. Strain had traced tiny grooves by the sides of her mouth. And though her skin looked nearly as I I smooth and soft as the babels, its pallor seemed that much more unnatural. , In spite of it all, Derek thought she was beautiful. It was as if her beauty shone from within. It was absurd, he realized, because he didn't know her for beans. But she touched him, made him ache a little. That hadn't happened to him in a very long time. ''m not sure why you're here, Mr. Mcgill/ she said softly. They both knew she hed. Behind the pale green of her eyes - those telling eyes - was a glimmer of challenge. ''d like your help/he replied. When she didn't blink, he went on. ''m doing a story on special children and their families their needs, available medical resources or the lack thereof, the paucity of help, both physical and emotional.' She shifted the child, a small bundle of dead weight, and, bracing one arm under his bottom, slanted the other across his back like a shield. Opening one hand over the glossy curls, she pressed the child's head to her heart. And said nothing. In that instant, Derek wavered. it wasn't that Sabrina Stone threatened him physically, and he certainly hadn't been put off by her husband's harsh words or he'd never have found his way to her terrace. But there was strength in the woman who stood before him, a strength that gave him pause. For a split second he felt unsure of who he was and what he was doing. His job was to ferret out the facts, not exacerbate them, but he had the distinct feeling that his involving Sabrina in his story would compound her troubles. He assumed it had something to do with. her husband. The man had sent him a clearly hostile message. There was nothing hostile about Sabrina, though. She 12 was cautious, as she should be. Her eyes, an emotional kaleidoscope, spoke of sadness, confusion and helplesshess in turn. But he also saw in them strength. 11

was told that you've had a difficult time.' A look of hurt entered her eyes. ' told you that?' Knowing that he couldn't answer her question, but needing to erase that look of betrayal, he rushed on. ' doesn't matter. What does matter is that, theoretically, you and your husband are in a position to mobilize the best of resources. Few of the people I've spoken to are. Many don't recognize the handicap early on, others refuse to admit it. And then, even beyond the mon-etary demands, they don't know where to turn.' I Sabrina tore her gaze from his and aimed it out over the park. When the baby gave a sudden weak wail, she put her mouth to his forehead, -cooed softly and resumed her gentle rocking. He quieted almost instantly. Derek smiled. ' knows a good thing, doesn't he?' ''m not sure what he knows, Mr. Mcgill.' It wasn't an admission, Page 3

Barbara Delinsky - Commitments

exactly. The most precocious of sixteen-month-olds was still a creature of sensation, an entity whose brain workings were vague. But it wasn't a denial, either, and that was what Derek homed in on. ' long have you known that he was differentv he asked with that same gentleness he'd felt earlier, the one that was as unfamiliar to his ears as it was to his heart. ' child is different. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.' ' are Nicholas' strengths?' She thought about that for a minute, and when she looked at Derek again, her eyes were misty. '

has a heartrending smile and a great potential for love.' 13 Invisible fingers squeezed Derek's heart. ' he. get those from his mother?" She blinked, pressed her lips together and seemed to marshal her composure. ' try.' ' the smiles come harder these days?' '.' '

you tell me about it?' She took a shaky breath, then slowly shook her head. ' not?' ' things are private.' ' things benefit from sharing.' Lowering her head, she caressed the baby's brow with her cheek. The silence went on for such a long time that Derek was beginning to wonder whether he was being tuned out as a prelude to being asked to leave; then she spoke again. ' has problems. The world is full of frustration and heartache. Some people find solace in sharing.' She hesitated, and her-voice lowered. ' deal with things on their own., ' that what you want to dor ''s what I have to do., '? If I can shed light on the extent of the frustration and heartache, perhaps something will come of it.' ' doubt that/ she murmured, and for the first time, there was an element of defeat in her voice. ' is an inexact science. Doctors aren't miracle workers. No amount of light shed on the problem will change the fact that brain damage can't be reversed.' ', but it can aid in the coping.' She looked at him then, her eyes touched by cunosity. ' that how you justify your work?' ''s one of the ways.' 14 ''re a reporter, not a politician or a therapist.' '.' ' you really helped people?' 11 like to think it. There are times when we've been able to publicize a problem so much that the forcesthat-be had to sit up and take notice.' Her lips seemed to relax into the beginning of a smile. It was a sweet beginning, and it surprised Derek. She had every right to be bitter-pr cynical, yet she wasn't. Goodness. He thought it again. Again he was touched. ' me with one of your stories/ she invited softly. He sifted through -the files in his mind. It was a large collection, comprising reports he'd done not only for Outside Insight, but for the various news programs with which he'd been involved prior to that. ' year I did a piece on the job discrimination faced by cancer patients. I interviewed dozens of people who, as soon as they were diagnosed as having cancer, were denied jobs or opportunities for advancement. many of those people had been treated successfully for their illness, yet still they were regarded as futureless. As a result of awareness generated by the report, a group of patients got together'and filed a class-action suit charging a violation

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