She’d assumed her twin’s identity, faked an engagement to a man she hardly knew.
But only by becoming Alyssa could Brooke Snowden view life through her long-lost sister’s eyes to find the person who wanted Alyssa dead.The deception, she knew, was fraught with risk, but Brooke hadn’t anticipated her dangerous attraction to the one man forbidden to her .
It was Jack Chessman’s duty as a cop to protect Brooke, and his debt of honor to her twin. But while his regard for Alyssa had never gone beyond brotherly affection, his feelings for pretend fiancée Brooke were of the forever kind.
But first, he had to keep her alive .
After twenty-four years, Brooke Snowden had found her sister only to lose her again.
This was not the meeting she’d envisioned. There would be no squeals of delight as they raced into each other’s arms across the airport lounge, no squeezing hugs to breach the space of lost years, no heart to heart talks that would stretch deep into the night to fill the void of over two decades. There was only silence with its heavy, unnatural weight. And stillness.
Her twin lay in a hospital bed, a shell of herself. Her short blond hair was mostly hidden by a gruesome bandage. The outdoor tan was fading fast, giving Alyssa’s skin a paperlike quality. The blue veins of one arm stood out, rivers of life pulsing on. The other arm was swaddled in a cast. Healing red-brown scrapes scuffed half of her face and one of her hands. Looking down at her sister and seeing a marred reflection of her own face was eerie.
Tentatively, Brooke reached out for one of Alyssa’s hands. But no remembered warmth seeped through her comatose sister’s fingers, no communication of thought telegraphed itself through the bump bump of her pulse. Not even the vaguest sensation of pain transferred itself from sister to sister.
There was so much to say, to explain, to feel, yet this person who’d once been an extension of herself was now a complete stranger. One she desperately longed to rediscover.
“Do you remember…?” she started, then stopped herself, and put a hand over her heavy heart. She missed Alyssa, more now than when she’d thought her gone forever, missed what they might have shared now that they’d found each other again. In her mind the possibilities rolled one over the other, and always there was that wonderful feeling of comfort, of belonging, of acceptance.
“I didn’t know.” Brooke perched a hip on the bed, felt the mattress dip, then sprung up again for fear of disturbing one of the tubes tending to Alyssa’s needs. “Mom told me you and Dad were dead. A car accident. Right after she…left.”
Brooke broke the cool contact, turned away from the unmoving form that was her sister. Out the window, the early summer sun shone. Its heat beat against the glass, glazing the pane in a shimmer with its brilliance. Not that the view mattered. The only thing in Boston of interest to Brooke was Alyssa.
“I might never have known if Mom hadn’t had a heart attack.” Brooke felt foolish for talking out loud to someone who looked as if she were sleeping. Her voice seemed too loud, echoing off the stark walls and floor. Yet desperate to reestablish a connection, she couldn’t stop speaking. She lowered her tone to a near whisper–the quiet voice she often charged her kindergarten students to use. “It scared her. I think she wanted to confess so she could die with a clear conscience.”
Brooke closed her eyes against the memory of her mother’s confession, of the twin threads of pity and bitterness that swelled within her even now. “She didn’t. Die, that is. She’s recovering at a nursing home in San Diego. She’ll be just fine.”
As Brooke paced the room, the rubber soles of her canvas shoes made little squeaks on the industrial tile. She stopped in her tracks, looked down in confusion at her feet, then sat in the chair with the beige vinyl cushion.
“I called as soon as I could. But…it was already too late.” She stared at her sister, and twined her fingers in a fretful gnarl. “Someone named Franny Cotter told me about your accident. I had to come.”
We’ll take care of each other. The broken childhood promise warbled in Brooke’s mind, fed by a stream of guilt for being unable to fix this injury. “I didn’t know, Aly. I didn’t know.”
Driven by restlessness, by a need to outrun too ready tears, Brooke shot up again. She needed to do something. She needed to act. Helplessness dragged at her. Yet there was nothing she could do for Alyssa.
Then the answer clicked and along with it hope.
She could be there.
She didn’t have to be back at school for another two months. She’d stay. She’d raid the hospital library, badger Alyssa’s doctors, learn all there was to learn about coma. And simply be there for her sister.
This would be the first step toward healing for both of them.
Her decision made, energy filled her body, sang along her muscles, provided a lift to her step. With purpose, she turned for the door and the public telephone down the hall.
There were so many things to do. As she walked, she fished into her purse for her notepad and pen, and organized a list. She had to arrange for a room close by, call her mother, then she had to talk to–
The harsh whisper stopped her mid-step.
The man filling the doorway stared at her with an intensity that stole her breath. The dark eyes in a face seemingly chiseled from granite, the animal-like look of a predator, and the lean body tensed for action made Brooke take a step back. A shiver of apprehension snaked down her spine, raising goosebumps in its wake, speeding her heart.
Her pen and pad fell from her hands. Her purse slipped from her shoulder. Like enemy fire, they landed in sharp succession–ping, plop, plunk.
Instinct made her step back to shield her helpless sister against this unknown danger.