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I can hardly look at you. You have my face. And seeing you reminds me that my parents lied to me."
Those weren't exactly the words she wanted to hear. Daphne Soder had expected surprise, maybe even shock from her long-lost sister. Instead, the stranger who was also her twin seemed one second away from leaping out the closest window.
Ignoring a strong urge to stop her, Daphne kept still, trying not to frighten Raina Abernathy any further.
Raina sat beside her lawyer, barricaded behind a long maple conference table in the office of Delaney, Brock, Sheffield and Gannon. Her body language screamed, "stay away," as she moved closer to the dark-haired man whom she clearly considered her protector.
His name was Patrick Gannon, and his glacial expression pierced Daphne as if he expected her to reach across the table and murder Raina in front of him.
So much for a happy reunion. Daphne had arrived at this meeting filled with the crazy hope that she and her sister could finally become a family, that they'd learn to love each other. But Raina obviously didn't want that, and her rejection hurt.
"I'm sorry. I had no idea you didn't know about the adoption," Daphne said. "Still, that doesn't change why I'm here."
Patrick turned toward her, his mouth a thin line, his glare raising goose bumps that made her hug herself. He stared at her arms, then looked into her eyes, his own filling with suspicion.
"I don't have any ulterior motives," she said. "But I hope you aren't thinking like Mr. Gannon, Raina." She met his gaze full on. It took more than a man with the ability to launch an ice age at a glance to scare her these days. "Or are you assuming the worst because mysister does?"
Neither Patrick nor Raina answered. "I'd hoped you'd welcome the chance to meet your twin sister," Daphne continued. "I understand you're reluctant because you don't know me, but can't you try?" She studied Rainaa polished, expensive yet timid version of herself.
Raina looked away, but not before Daphne saw her obvious sadness. She reminded herself that she'd had months to get accustomed to the idea that she had a twin sister. And because her family had been anything but stable, the news had been welcome. The same was not true for Raina, who probably was struggling to accept such a radical change to her world. That realization nudged aside Daphne's disappointment, allowing her to feel Raina's pain.
Almost against her will, Daphne slid her hand across the table toward Raina. Reaching out to strangers was difficult, but she and Raina shared a bond that Daphne longed to build on. Offering physical support was a monumental step she had to take.
Patrick shifted, positioning his body to protect Raina. The rejection and hostility in the move, along with Raina's acquiescence made Daphne snatch back her hand.
He glanced at Raina, and the look they exchanged appeared intimate, as if they carried out a silent conversation. Certainly their closeness exceeded the bounds of a typical lawyer-client relationship. He seemed ready to vanquish dragonsor in this case, a pesky, lowbrow twin who didn't have the sense to stay hiddenat the merest gesture from Raina. Daphne knew a moment of envy. A woman who had Patrick Gannon in her corner would never need a pit bull or an electric fence to keep her safe. Did Raina appreciate having someone so willing to support her? Did she know the value of not having to fight battles alone?
Daphne tucked both hands under the table and twisted her fingers until they hurt. She didn't need a man like Patrick in her life. She knew how to take care of herself. In fact, she preferred it that way.
"I can't give you money," Raina spoke suddenly, startling Daphne. "It's all tied up. In a trust. I just get an allowance."
"You think I'm letting you treat me like this because I want your cash?"
Patrick opened the folder in front of him. "It's a logical conclusion. Raina has inherited theAbernathy pharmaceutical fortune.And from what I've been able to discover, you don't have many assets of your own."
Her beleaguered finances were no secret. But if that was the biggest obstacle Patrick could throw in her path, then clearly he hadn't been that thorough in his background check. If he knew her true history, he never would have allowed her within the same state as Raina. Still, those deeds were in her past and bore little relevance to this situation, even though she doubted Patrick and Raina would hold the same view.
"You have nothing compared to the Abernathy fortune," Raina said.
Her coldness and the way she stressed her adopted family name destroyed Daphne's dreams of an amicable reunion and a new family. So she reacted the way she usually did in the face of rejectionshe went on the offensive.
"You have everything," Daphne said. "Wealth, poise and standing in this little town. I'll bet your parents loved you and made sure you had nothing but the best." In essence, all the things that were in such short supply in Daphne's life. "Yet despite those advantages, I can't detect a shred of kindness in you. It's a disappointment to think we share the same blood."
"You counted on kindness? You expected to be welcomed with open arms because we resemble each other? Blood doesn't make us family."
Daphne brushed her bangs out of her eyes. "This is not how I saw meeting you."
"Tell us what you want," Patrick said, halting the deteriorating conversation.
Daphne resisted looking to Raina for help. If their roles had been reversed, Daphne would have told him to stay out of the situation and let her talk to her sister. But after her quick insults, Raina was content to leave the hard work to her lawyer. One more piece of evidence that their physical similarities did not extend to their personalities.
Honesty, Virginia, had sounded like a sanctuary to Daphne from the moment she'd read about it and Raina. A chance to create the kind of family most people took for granted. Finding out that she was a twin had underscored her loneliness and isolation.
Raina hadn't been alone. She'd had a mother and a father who'd loved her. She'd been a princess in this town. She'd belonged to people and to a place. She'd never needed that mystical twin connection the way Daphne had. Raina hadn't needed fantasies of real parents swooping in to rescue her from a crazy foster mother who beat her with wooden spoons. Or from a foster mother's boyfriend who seemed a little too interested in the young female charges. The disparity in their childhoods and their biological connection motivated Daphne. She wanted, no, needed, Raina to acknowledge her.
"I've searched for our parents for years." Ten years to be precise. Since she'd turned eighteen. "I finally learned our mother died in a car accident soon after we were born. Our father gave us up for adoption. I haven't traced him, but I found out about you in a newspaper clipping. The article talked about our mother's accident and mentioned her surviving twin daughters."
"My mother died three months ago," Raina snapped. "It's too late to start wondering about this otherwoman."
"You can't help feeling" Daphne said.
"Don't pity me." Raina's voice went shrill. Daphne stared at her, surprised to feel the tightness of tears. Regardless of her treatment of Daphne, Raina was mourning. "I don't," she said.
"Who needs your pity? My parents loved me. They didn't tell me about this other life I barely had because they knew what you don't understand. That past has no relevance. It's not me."
Maybe the Abernathys hadn't wanted anything to mar the illusion of their perfect life. Or maybe they had been afraid Raina couldn't handle the truth, which her oh-so-helpful sister had brought home with a vengeance.
Either way, it appeared Raina wasn't content to hide behind Patrick for the entire meeting. Not about to let the two of them tag-team her, Daphne turned to him.
"Why are you here?"
Her aggressive tone made Raina sit back in obvious surprise, while Patrick gave a startled half smile that increased the laugh lines around his mouth and eyes. She couldn't help thinking that if he knew how much the expression softened him, he'd never use it. She liked how that simple curving of his lips hinted at warmth hidden beneath his cold exterior.
Without warning or any reason, he woke a new emotion in Daphne. A longing that baffled her. She hadn't come here to get all fascinated by a man whose job it was to thwart her.
"Patrick's with me in case I need him to explain the facts of my life to you," Raina said. "I have nothing to share with you."
"Nothing? No sister's love? No interest in finding out if we could be a family?"
Daphne wished she hadn't spoken. Raina's silence was more than enough answer. Daphne looked out the rain-streaked windows at budding treetops and the bell tower of the courthouse that composed the town's square. She'd never forget this moment. Her quest to build a future with her sister ended now.
Even in the face of her pain, she refused to let these two, with their suspicions and remote expressions, know she hurt. She faced them, trying to appear as if she didn't care.
Raina couldn't look at her. Her eyes flickered toward Patrick, no doubt seeking his support. Money, even tied up in a trust, mattered to Raina. Money. If she'd worried about anything else, Daphne would have been willing to fight. But she would never tolerate being accused of acting out of greed.
She banged her hands on the table and pushed back her chair. On her feet, she was aware of her faded jeans and knit shirt. By comparison, Raina's white suit must have cost more than the rent Daphne had paid last year.
"I'm leaving, but I want you to remember I only asked for family. Goodbye, Raina."
Patrick stoodto make sure she didn't pick her sister's pocket on the way out? "Wait," he said. "Why don't you"
"No." She wanted out of this room with its smells of polish and coffee and paper. She needed fresh air that wasn't weighed down with judgment and skepticism.
Her sneakers made no sound on the plush mushroom-colored carpet. She opened the door and slipped through. The receptionist sprang from her chair, mistaking Daphne for someone who mattered.
She held her head high, startled that no one recognized her as a woman limping on the last of her courage. At the elevator, she punched the down button. Four times. Fast.
The conference-room door opened. No way would she check to see who'd exited the den of intimidation.
She made for the door marked Stairs. She pounded down, half sliding on the metal balustrade, praying she'd come out in an alley rather than the foyer.
The gods must have been playing with her. At the bottom she stumbled straight into the marble atrium of Blah-Blah-Blah-and-Gannon.
The latter burst out of the elevator so abruptly the doors rattled on their runners. Swearing beneath her breath, Daphne walked quickly. She wouldn't run, but she wanted out of this building before Patrick caught her.
He beat her to the revolving door, stepping in front of her. He held out his hands. "I don't think you understand."
"I didn't. I do now."
"I'm all Raina has left, but that doesn't mean I don't give a damn about anyone else. And Raina doesn't want to hurt you."
Daphne stared at him. "You see a different Raina than I did."
Patrick smiled. A hint of sensuality curved his lips, but she didn't want to respond to it.
"Don't leave like this," he said.
"I don't blame her. We don't know each other, and I just blew up all her beliefs about her happy family."
"She doesn't want you to go."
"I guess since she realized you really were walking away."
"So she changed her mind a split second ago." Not good enough. Daphne deserved better than a halfhearted plea delivered by someone else. "You know, that sentiment might be more convincing if she'd had the guts to deliver it herself."
Patrick took her arm. She pulled away with a youdie look that had always stood her in good stead.
"We were cold to you," he said.
"You have a talent for cold."
"Think of the coincidence. Raina's mother died and the estate went to her. It's been well publicized."
"You'd be surprised how few Honesty newspapers sally beyond the town limits. That, combined with the fact I don't read the financial pages, means I didn't know Raina was rich."
He glanced toward the passersby who eyed them curiously. "Out of nowhere" he lowered his voice "you arrive, claiming Raina's family wasn't really hers, but that you are."
"It sounds improbable right now, but until I saw the two of you sitting behind that table as if you were under siege, I assumed she'd be as happy as I was to find a sister."
For a moment, he said nothing. Upstairs, he'd been as impassive as Raina. But now he looked uncomfortable.
"Raina and I made assumptions, too," he said.
"Come back up, and we'll all start over."
"Forget it. I made a mistake.