Sam McKade ran down the airport concourse toward the boarding
area, arriving just in time to see flight 437 roll away from the gate.
He skidded to a halt.
"Son of a bitch!" Slamming a fist through the air
in frustration, he spun around, then brought his hands up to ram all ten
fingers through his hair, glaring off into the distance. He was blind
to the people giving him a wide berth as they carefully skirted around
He wanted to hit something. Man, did he want to hit
something! A golden opportunity had just dropped in his lap... and then
been snatched away before he could grasp it.
He told himself to look on the bright side. Hell, it was
strictly by chance that he'd spotted Kaylee MacPherson in the first place.
He'd been coming back from a meeting with the North Carolina bankers who
were financing the fishing lodge he wanted to buy, and the last person
he'd expected to see at the airport was a bondsman's client. Yet there
she'd been, and while he'd stopped dead to watch in amazement, she'd undulated
down the concourse with that killer walk of hers, her suitcase bouncing
off her shapely calf.
Unable to credit his eyes, he'd failed to react immediately.
But was impossible to mistake her for long-- earlier in the week he'd
been in the office picking up a check while the bond bailsman who employed
him made arrangements to be at her arraignment to post bail. Sure as heaven
made catfish, there weren't two women in Miami with hair that color or
a body like that. And by leaving the area, Sam had known damn well she
was breaking the terms of her bail.
Man-oh-man, he'd thought there was a God after all. The
bounty on her bond would put him over the top for the last of the financing
he needed for the lodge. Then it would be Goodbye, dregs of society and
humid gritty streets, and Hello, serenity on cool, misty mornings. Talk
about easy pickins.
Which just went to show what happened when you underestimated
the job at hand. It gave unwelcome teeth to that famous last words thing--no
way in hell he should have assumed nabbing MacPherson was going to be
a piece of cake.
She was such a dim bulb, though, that she hadn't even attempted
to tone down or change her appearance, let alone travel under an assumed
name. Hell, looking at her, a man could all but hear the sultry bump-and-grind
drum-beat set up by those well-rounded, spandex encased hips. Not to mention
the enormous wealth of red hair that blazed so brightly beneath the florescent
lights. There might as well have been a row of flashing neon arrows overhead
to point out the way. He could keep her in sight merely by following the
path of turned male heads.
A fat lot of good it had done him.
He hadn't anticipated the new hire who had hung him up at
the checkpoint, and for that he had only himself to blame. Now he had
no choice but to buy a ticket to Seattle and try to pick up a trail that
would undoubtedly be stone cold dead by the time he got there. God, he
wanted a cigarette. What a damnfool time to quit smoking.
He called the office to let them know where he was headed,
to make arrangements to have the fugitive's bond undertaking messengered
to him, and to get all the information on MacPherson he could garner.
Then he went to the ticket counter, where he finally got lucky in a good-news
bad-news sorta way. The good news was, he could catch a flight that would
land him in Seattle less than an hour after MacPherson. The bad news was,
it blew his budget all to hell and gone. But that couldn't be helped.
Somehow he'd have to find a way to economize on the return
trip to Miami. The thought caused Sam to utter a soft, unamused snort
of laughter. That ought to provide one mother of a challenge-- considering
the high maintenance woman he'd have in tow.
Catherine MacPherson's first impulse, when the doorbell
rang, was to ignore it. She wasn't feeling particularly sociable.
Self-pity, on the other hand, was such an unattractive trait,
and one that filled her with guilt-- in spite of the permission she'd
given herself to take one full day to wallow in her misfortune. The doorbell
peeled again, relentlessly, insistently, and in the end years of self-discipline
won out. She went to answer the summons.
The last person she expected to see on her front steps was
her identical twin. "Kaylee," she said blankly, and then simply stood
there for an instant, staring dumbfounded at her sister.
"Surprise!" Kaylee exclaimed in the breathy
contralto she'd perfected when they were fifteen years old. With the shoulder
strap of her purse sliding down her arm, her suitcase ricocheting off
the doorjamb, breasts jiggling, she tripped into the foyer. Dropping luggage
and handbag, she flung herself at Catherine, enveloping her in a lush
and fragrant embrace.
Catherine's arms automatically closed around her sister
to return the hug, but she couldn't suppress the little voice in her brain
that whispered, Uh-oh. I smell big trouble in River City.
Patting Kaylee's shoulder, she disentangled herself from the embrace and
Kaylee's gaze took in the foyer and she peered into the
living room, then looked back at Catherine, one eyebrow sardonically quirked.
"Ever the Suzy Spotless, I see," she commented with lazy amusement. "A
place for everything, and everything in its place."
It was like having a bruise poked with a careless finger,
and Catherine replied stiffly, "Actually, it's much neater than usual.
I was supposed to leave for Europe last night, but when I arrived at the
airport, I discovered my travel agency had gone bankrupt and taken my
money with them."
"Ouch," Kaylee sympathized.
"I saved forever for that trip, Kaylee." Catherine's chin
wobbled for an instant but she summoned her resolve, biting down hard
on her molars until she had herself under control once more.
"Yeah, that's tough luck," Kaylee said. Then she shrugged
and added blithely, "But you'll get it straightened out, Sis. You always
do." Picking up a fragile sculpture from the little table in the foyer,
she studied it dispassionately for a moment, then looked over at her sister.
"The thing is, Catherine" --she carefully replaced the sculpture-- "I'm
in really big trouble, myself."
Oh, hey now, there's a huge surprise. It just
popped into Catherine's mind, and yes, she knew such sarcasm spoke ill
of her own character, but she just couldn't seem to work up a decent regret.
It wasn't for nothing she lived as far away from her sister as it was
possible to get in the contiguous United States.
For as long as Catherine could remember, it had fallen to
her to take care of family problems. She could never quite recall how
the responsibility had come to be hers, but most likely it boiled down
to one basic fact. Before anything could be accomplished, someone first
had to be willing to do it-- and no one else in her family ever volunteered.
Her father had usually been off chasing one of his get-rich-quick schemes,
letting the Devil --and everyone else-- take the hindmost. Mama had been
deaf and perennially immersed in her fundamentalist church group, only
emerging from it long enough to admonish Catherine and Kaylee about the
dangers of displaying their sinful bodies. Warnings of that nature had
been issued with numbing regularity, but day-to-day problems had somehow
been ignored. It had been left to Catherine to see that the utility bills
got paid, that meals got on the table. It had been up to her, too, to
bail Kaylee out of the various scrapes her twin got herself into.
Catherine had wished for a lot of things, during her adolescent
and teenage years, but most often she'd wished that Mama wouldn't preach
so about their sinful bodies. It only made her self-conscious about her
own and sent Kaylee overboard to display as much of hers as was legally
allowed. Her sister's motto had seemed to be If They Say No, Do
It. And If It Feels Good, Why Then Do It 'Till You Drop.
It made Catherine weary just thinking about it. Cleaning
up after Kaylee's excesses had once occupied most of her energies, for
her sister could rarely be depended upon to think before she acted. Catherine
needn't even close her eyes for an entire montage of specific incidents
to flash with erratic, strobe-light-dizzying speed across her mental screens.
Well, some things clearly never changed, but Catherine's
patience wasn't what it once was. That didn't negate the fact, however,
that like Pavlov's dogs she'd been conditioned to react to a given set
of stimuli. In her case it was to begin searching for solutions the instant
a dilemma was presented to her. Suppressing a sigh, experiencing that
old uneasy mix of love, anger, and frustration, Catherine bent down and
picked up her sister's suitcase. "Come on into the kitchen," she invited
wearily, "and tell me all about it."
"You overheard what?" she demanded incredulously
a few moments later. Twisting around, she stared over her shoulder at
"A murder being arranged."
"Oh, my God, Kaylee, that's what I thought you said." Catherine
turned back to the stove to set down the tea kettle. Shock rendered her
fingers clumsy, and the kettle clattered loudly against the element as
she fumbled it back onto the burner. The cups she picked up to carry to
the table rattled slightly in their saucers, and the sunlight pouring
through the mini-blinds seemed suddenly garish and inappropriate. "When?
Kaylee stared blankly at the dainty floral cup her sister
set in front of her, then looked back up at her twin's pale face. "Tea?"
she demanded incredulously. "I tell you I heard a murder being planned
and you give me tea? Jayzus, Cat. Don'tcha have something
a tad stronger? Scotch or bourbon maybe --anything?"
Jayzus, Cat. It was their father's voice Catherine
heard in her head, his face she envisioned, with its ready smile and florid
complection. Jayzus, Caty-girl, you gotta learn to lighten up a
little. I'm sure you can scrape together somethin' real fine for dinner.
The way you act, you'd think I spent all the grocery money.
She refrained from pointing out it was a bit early for booze;
instead, she silently rose and went to the cupboard where she pulled down
a pint of whiskey left over from Christmas. Handing it to her sister,
she watched as Kaylee twisted off the cap and added a healthy dollop to
her teacup. Then Catherine resumed her seat opposite her twin.
Kaylee took a large sip, swallowed, and coughed delicately.
She looked across the table at Catherine. As if seeing her for the first
time, her mouth tilted up wryly on one side and she shook her head. "Good
God, Cat, you dress just like a nun. Mama would be so proud."
Catherine looked down at herself. Only Kaylee would equate
her clothing with a convent. It was true her white blouse was on the boxy
side, but that was because having her breasts faithfully delineated drew
too much unwelcome attention. Her bicycle shorts, however, were second-skin
lycra. She looked over at her sister, who wore spandex from cleavage to
mid-thigh, and three inch, spike-heeled pumps to Catherine's Keds, and
conceded that compared to Kaylee she probably did look fairly parochial.
"You really want to talk about my wardrobe?"
"No, I s'pose not. Where were we, then?" Kaylee immediately
waved the question away with a flip of her slender, flame-tipped fingers.
"Never mind, I'll start at the beginning. Three days ago, I was stuck
at the club without wheels because of this bitch who...well, that's another
story and small spuds in the long run, compared to the trouble I'm in
The club, Catherine knew, was the Tropicana Lounge where
Kaylee was a showgirl. As far as Catherine could tell, that equated to
Kaylee stepping synchronously about a stage with other showgirls, wearing
costumes that were large on headgear and small on material. Mama always
used to refer to Kaylee as a dancer, because she'd seemed to feel it held
less wicked connotations. In her view showgirl might as well have been
stripper. But that was Mama.
"The Trop is really nice," Kaylee continued. "But the dancers'
dressing room shares a wall with the men's loo and I tell ya, Cat, it's
a thin one. There are just some bodily functions I woulda been as happy
never hearing." She shrugged. "Anyhow, I was coolin' my jets waiting for
Maria to finish flirting with this guy out in the lounge and give me a
ride home when I heard Hector Sanchez, who owns the place, talking on
the other side of the wall. He was jawing with Chains about Alice Mayberry,
who everyone knows is carrying on a hot and heavy romance with him. And
while I'm standing there sort of enjoying eavesdropping and hopin' to
hear some really juicy gossip, Hector puts out a contract on her."
"A contract," her twin echoed in a faint voice.
"A hit, Catherine, an execution. Ordered by my boss ...
and carried out by Jimmy "Chains" Slovak. He's the Trop's head of security.
And, um" --She cleared her throat, eying her sister cautiously-- "my boyfriend
Bobby LaBon's boss."
Catherine choked on the sip of tea she was taking and hastily
set her teacup down. "Your boyfriend? Your boyfriend works
for a hitman?"
"Bobby's a bouncer, Cat. And I sure didn't know Chains was
a hitman. Hell, he's not. At least he wasn't before now,
as far as I know."
Catherine wasn't listening. She was staring in amazed horror
at her sister. "And you came here? Kaylee, are you crazy?
You must realize this is the first place those people are bound to look
"No, they won't." Kaylee's eyes narrowed. "And what exactly
do you mean by 'those people', Catherine? You sound just like Mama."
"I do not. I just tend to get a little tense when you lead
contract killers to my door."
"Jayzus, girl, get a grip. Sanchez and Jimmy Chains don't
have a clue about you."
"Yeah? Well, what about your boyfriend, Kaylee? You said
he works for this Chains person, this-- you'll forgive me for belaboring
the point--hitman, and he must know about me."
"Nope. He doesn't."
Catherine felt some of the tension leave her spine. "Oh."
She nodded her comprehension. "A new boyfriend, huh?"
Kaylee blinked her big green eyes. "Oh, no, Cat, he's a long time lover. We've been seeing each other four whole
Four whole months. Imagine that. Catherine
ruthlessly stamped out the sarcasm and said in carefully noncombatant
tones, "And in all that time, you never once felt compelled to mention
you have a twin?"
Kaylee shrugged. "Not really. Conversation's not a real
big priority when we get together, if you know what I mean."
Did Catherine ever. It was the knowledge of Kaylee's sometimes
indiscriminate sexuality that had reined in her own the few times it threatened
to run away with her. What if she let herself go and turned into her sister?
The thought scared her to death and had kept her, if not exactly pure,
at least cautious.
Kaylee rummaged through her purse and pulled out a compact.
Glancing up from a critical survey of her reflection, she must have seen
something in Catherine's expression, for she hastened to assure her, "I
mean, it's not like we've never had a conversation. We talked
about lots of stuff. Like I know he has a couple brothers and he does
know I have a sister. We just never got around to swapping the small details
of our family trees. Or our address books." She gave the bulging purse
in her lap a complacent pat. "And I made sure to bring mine with me when
I left." Her foresight clearly made her proud.
Catherine refrained from grinding her teeth, but just barely.
Thrusting her fingers through her hair to hold it off her forehead, she
planted her elbow on the kitchen table and stared at her sister. "Perhaps
you'd better back up," she suggested in a neutral voice. "I'm a little
"Okay. Bobby caught my act at the Tropicana my first night
and it was, like, instant chemistry between us, you know? Oh, I wish you
could see him, Sis," she digressed enthusiastically. "He's like this god,
six-feet-two if he's an inch, with the blackest hair, shoulders out to
here, and eyes to die for, they're so--"
"Kaylee! I don't care about your squeeze's attributes. Tell
me about the thing with Alice Mayberry."
"Okay, sure, where was I?" She recollected her scattered
train of thought. "Oh, yeah. So, when I first heard Hector offering Chains
money to knock off Alice, I figured it for black humor, you know? I mean,
Hector and Alice had been so lovey-dovey I thought it was just something
along the lines of 'Girlfriends, can't live with them, can't shoot 'em--"
"Exactly what did Sanchez say?"
"He said Alice was causing him grief, and he'd give Chains
ten thousand dollars to make the problem disappear. And he told him where
to bury the body when the deed was done."
"And you thought that was a joke?"
"Well... yeah. I mean, who'd believe it could be real? That
sort of stuff just doesn't happen."
"So what'd you do?"
"I caught a ride home."
Catherine moaned and got up to rinse out her teacup
not from any sudden desire for tidiness so much as to keep her from reaching
across the table and shaking her sister silly. How could Kaylee hear something
like that and just walk away? It was hard to believe she and her sister
had once shared the same egg. Catherine doubted two more disparate personalities
could be found if she searched the world over.
"Catherine, do you honestly believe I would have gone calmly
home if I thought they were serious?"
Drawing a calming breath, Catherine put the rinsed cup in
the drainer and turned to face her sister, who was watching her with accusing
eyes. "No, of course not," she said, and felt ashamed because the truth
was that for a moment she had believed exactly that. Responsibility was
never Kaylee's long suit. "And perhaps you're right, anyhow. Perhaps the
murder was never executed." She winced at her poor verb choice and knew
in her heart she was indulging in wishful thinking. Kaylee hadn't come
all this way for nothing.
"That's what I hoped, too," Kaylee said. "But I must have
called her a dozen times and never got an answer. And Alice quit coming
to work, Cat. I know it's because she's dead."
Catherine sagged back against the counter. She tried to
think. "What possible reason could Sanchez have to kill her? There has
to be some sort of motive, or else it doesn't make sense."
"I've thought about it and thought about it, and I've got
a sick feeling that maybe Alice threatened to go to Mrs. Sanchez to expose
"Why would she do that? At the very least it would lose
her her job, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah, but Alice had ambitions beyond strutting around a
"Dancing," Catherine corrected automatically, and Kaylee
flashed a sudden warm grin at her sister.
"Boy, did Mama ever brainwash you." Kaylee barely had time
to see her sister's crooked grin of rueful agreement before she sobered
again. "Maybe Alice thought it was a way to force Mr. S to dump Mrs. S
and marry her."
Catherine gripped the counter at her back as she stared
down at her sister. "Okay, but it still doesn't seem like much of a reason
to kill her."
"Mrs. Sanchez controls the purse strings in that family,
"Amen to that, sister."
"Okay, we have possible motive. But if you were in the dressing
room, Kaylee, with a wall between you and the men, why would they have
reason to suspect you'd overheard anything?"
"I ran into Jimmy Chains out in the hallway afterwards."
The look on Catherine's face made Kaylee say defensively, "I thought they
were gone! I heard both of 'em leave, but Chains musta forgot to pee or
something. That would be just like him-- the guy's entire brain could
be high-grade cocaine, and it wouldn't retail for enough cash to buy a
tube of lipstick in a discount drugstore. Anyhow, when I left the dressing
room to go find Maria and get the hell outta there, he was
coming back down the hall."
"If he's not particularly intelligent, perhaps he won't
make the connection."
"He probably wouldn't, on his own," Kaylee agreed. "But
he loves to talk, and I'm scared to death he'll mention it in passing
to Hector. And if that happens, Catherine, I'm as dead as Alice." She
looked up at her siser. "That's no exaggeration. I heard Hector tell Jimmy
Chains where to bury the body. Without a body, there's no crime. With
one--and testimony tying Hector to it--and he probably goes to jail for
years. I left all those messages to call me on Alice's machine. If Hector's
heard them and he even suspects I overheard his plans, I
am literally dead."
Catherine pushed away from the counter. "You have to go
to the police, Kaylee."
"Well, um, about that, Caty-girl..." Her twin couldn't quite
meet her gaze.
"Oh, no." Catherine straightened. "What? What have you left
"I was, like, kind of arrested earlier in the week."
"You were what?"
"Arrested. It wasn't my fault, Cat."
"Oh, of course not, it never is with you, is it?" Catherine
grit her teeth. How many times had she heard those words in her lifetime?
It was the primary reason she'd snapped up the position at the Briarwood
School when it was offered to her four years ago. Seattle seemed so wonderfully
far removed from Miami. "Just once before we're old women," she said bitterly,
"it would be really sweet if you'd accept responsibility for your actions."
God. Twenty-five minutes in her sister's company and it was as if she'd
never gotten away. It shouldn't be like this.
It hadn't always been.
"Oh, get the stick outta your butt, Catherine," Kaylee snapped
back. "God, when the hell did you turn into such an old fuddy duddy?"
"When the hell have I ever had the chance to be anything
else?" Dropping into her seat, Catherine glared across the table at her
sister. "I was always too freaking busy cleaning up after your messes."
"Yeah, okay, so maybe I haven't always been all that --whataya
call it-- accountable in the past. But that was then, and
this time it wasn't my fault, I'm tellin' you. The arrest was totally
bogus. See, Bobby had to go out of town and he left me his new car to
drive. Only it turns out it wasn't his to lend, and I ended up being charged
with grand theft auto on the say-so of some bimbo with a legal registration
and a bad attitude."
"Oh, I made bail. But that's the problem, Cat. I'm restricted
to Florida by the terms of the bond, and the minute I figured out that
the contract to kill Alice wasn't a sick joke after all, well, naturally
I emptied out my bank account and came straight here." She reached across
the table and squeezed her sister's fingers. "Come on, Cat, please. This
is serious and I really need your help."
A car door closed out in the street and Catherine glanced
out the window. There was a sedan parked halfway between her house and
the neighbor's, and a man was bent over it, locking the driver's door.
Probably someone looking at the house for sale next door. Catherine looked
back at her sister. "I'll do what I can to straighten out the situation,
of course," she agreed wearily. "But you still have to turn yourself in."
Kaylee released Catherine's fingers. "Dammit, Catherine,
I just explained why that's impossible."
"No, you explained how matters became complicated. The fact
remains, however, that you overheard a murder being ordered. A murder,
Kaylee, that to the best of your knowledge has since been carried out.
And according to your own words, you're the only one who knows where the
body's buried. This is not exactly a penny-ante mess you've gotten yourself
into this time."
"Read my lips, Catherine. When I left Florida I jumped bail.
I can't go back."
"You have to."
Clearly not liking what she was hearing, Kaylee started
to push away from the table, but Catherine reached over and grabbed her
by the wrist, hanging on until she had her sister's full attention. "If
you don't turn yourself in, you're not only going to be running from this
Chains person or your Bobby LaBon, or whomever, but from the law as well.
Trust me, you don't want everybody hunting you. You need someone on your
"Yeah, I know. That's what I've got you for."
"For God's sake Kaylee, I'm a teacher for the deaf! What
do I know about hitmen or your legal standing in a matter this complicated?
You need people trained for this sort of situation if you hope to remain
safe." Glancing out the window again, Catherine noticed the man had straightened
and was studying the house next door. He was arresting, with his dark
hair, dark brows, and a well-knit body clad in slacks and a white dress
shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up his forearms. She got a swift
impression of energy and strength.
"Come up with something else," Kaylee demanded, recapturing
Catherine's attention. "I can't go back."
"There is nothing else."
"There's gotta be. Nobody's gonna believe me, if I go back.
Sanchez is a respected businessman. He's well known in the community."
Kaylee rubbed at the furrows between her eyebrows. "Dammit, I was so thrilled
that for once in my life, I'd found a gig at a really upscale lounge.
I thought it was my big shot. Think of something else, Cat. I know you
can-- that's why I came here."
"For heaven's sake, Kaylee, what did you think I was going
to do, make you disappear into thin air? Wave my magic wand and make the
whole thing go away?"
"I don't need your sarcasm, Cat, I need your help! Going
back's a no-win situation."
"I'm sorry, but it's the only solution you have. You said
it yourself, this is serious and you can't just sweep it under the rug."
Seeing the belligerent angle of her twin's chin, knowing Kaylee didn't
want to hear what she had to say, Catherine nevertheless reiterated through
gritted teeth, "You-have-got-to-turn-yourself-in!"
Kaylee stubbornly refused to meet Catherine's eyes, her
gaze sliding past her to the window. Abruptly, she pushed away from the
table and rose jerkily to her feet. "I gotta use the loo." She grabbed
her purse and her suitcase and trotted with knock-kneed awkwardness down
Catherine buried her face in her hands. Maybe they should
call a lawyer before they called the police. And did one call the local
police or the Miami police or-- Wait a minute.
Why did Kaylee need her suitcase to go to the bathroom?
Catherine was down the hall in a flash. Bursting through
the door just in time to see her sister drop from the window sill to the
brick patio outside, she dove for the open window. "Kaylee!"
It came out less than the peremptory order to halt she'd
intended when her diaphragm made forceful contact with the sill. Simultaneously,
a loud crash sounded at the front of the house and a male voice roared,
Identical shocked green gazes clashed and held as both sisters
did exactly that. Then Kaylee's paralysis broke and she snatched up her
address book from the patio where the contents of her purse had exploded.
She tucked back in the wad of cash that had tumbled out of it and rose
to her feet, tucking it under her arm. She rubbed a circle on her chest
with her closed fist, American sign for I'm sorry. She hesitated
for a moment, then simply reiterated, I'm sorry, Cat. Then
she turned and ran, leaving purse and suitcase behind.
No! It was a silent scream in Catherine's
head as she renewed her efforts to get through the window. She had nearly
succeeded and was fervently hoping she could break her fall on the bricks
below with something other than her head when the bathroom door crashed
against the interior wall.
"Hold it right there, sister!" Hard hands clamped down on
her hips and hauled her back into the room.
opened her mouth to scream, only to find her vocal cords had frozen. So,
taking a tip from the one and only self-defense class she'd ever taken,
she did the next best thing. She lashed back with her foot and experienced
a savage burst of satisfaction when she felt it connect with the hard
bone of her interloper's shin.
End of Excerpt.