Stephanie Hunter's life brings to mind a runner who must jump hurdles to reach her goal. At 12, she lost her parents and, with her three brothers, went to live with a mean aunt and a loving uncle in Texas. She learned by accident, at 16, that she was adopted. Years later, she discovered that the woman she considered her mother kidnapped her from her birth parents, who desperately wanted her back. By the time Stephanie made contact with her birth mother, the woman was having a heart attack and, subsequently, died.

Owen Clayton is one of six children that were adopted by Devon and Reuben Clayton. He has the reputation for being a top-notch architect, as well as a ladies' man. He is captivated by Stephanie and, despite his reluctance, falls hard for her.

Hailstock is a master at creating characters who are so vivid that they stay with you long after the story is finished. The multi-layered emotions of both Stephanie and Owen mesh so that one wants to rush to the end to make sure all's well. But readers are reluctant to do so because Hailstock writes in such a way that each layer must be peeled back at the appropriate time to fully enjoy the story. The Secret is a true "keeper." (Apr., 256 pp., $6.99)
Reviewed by: 
Debbie R. Sims