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Sam replaced the weapon, took a deep breath, closed her eyes and exited the closet. She waited a long moment before sliding the closet door closed and opening her eyes to glance in the mirror hanging against the wood panel.
She gaped when she caught her reflection. The pictures in the living room hadn't done a thing to prepare her for the woman staring back at her.
Sam could not say whether she was pleased or displeased, only shocked, standing in one place for five minutes just looking at herself. Her new self. Dara Kelly.
She closed her onyx eyes, shutting out the copper-tone face as she remembered the soul she had past during her journey. A woman in her thirties, black hair falling to her broad shoulders in silken waves, framing a striking rather than pretty face, strong angular cheekbones and jaws, and almond-shaped eyes accentuating the features. A woman who took no mess, a woman who took what was hers. A tough cookie, and cynical.
Sam opened her eyes once more, traveling the length of a curvy but lean-muscled body at least eight inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than her former frame, and looking with a different vision, that of a curious child, wondering what was Ms. Kelly's history.
The phone rang, startling Sam out of her reverie.
She headed down the hall to retrieve the phone from the office, still uncomfortable in the bedroom, the vitality of two sensual and in-love beings effervescing all around her like a just opened champagne bottle, making her feel like a voyeur.
"Dare, baby, I've been trying to reach you all night, but I guess your hands were full."
"I see where your friend bagged that skip you weretracing. It's all over the news, him bringing the guy in. Tough break, huh."
"Yes, it is."
"Whassa matter with you, babe? I'da thought you'd be a little pissed to say the least. Normally I would have had a stream of four-letter ones burning my ear-drum by now."
"It's been a long day, uh..."
"Ralphie! What happened? You get konked on the head?"
"Something like that."
"Well anyway, I've got a chance here for you to redeem yourself."
"I don't kn--"
"I'll admit it's a far sight less than a million dollar bond, but it's something almost as near and dear to your heart as a dead-beat dad: a domestic abuser."
Sam's heart skipped a beat, ears perked for more. "Why is he on the run?"
"Jumped a $200,000 bail awaiting trial for his wife's murder. Worth a nice piece of change for the one who brings him in. I thought of you immediately."
Either this Ralphie had the hots for Dara Kelly, or Dara Kelly was that good that he thought of her first to bring in this guy.
"This skip have a name?" She might as well learn to talk the talk sooner rather than later.
Sam's head swam with incredulity, the room blurring before her vision. She clutched the cordless tight to keep from dropping it, almost strangling the handset as Ralphie rattled on with the "skip's" particulars. She didn't hear any of what he'd said after the name, and she didn't need to.
Sam drifted to the living room, made a beeline for the wet bar, and decided she needed a shot of something to calm her suddenly shaking hands and fast. She found the brandy, poured herself a glass over rocks and took a long swallow, handset cradled between an ear and shoulder.
"Did you get all that, Dare?"
"I did," Sam lied. She knew all she needed to know.
Ralphie wanted her to bring in a murderer: her husband.
Sam paced the living room floor, wringing her hands; surprised she was still standing after knocking back three tumblers of brandy in the last hour.
Maybe the adrenaline shooting through her veins canceled out the effects of the alcohol.
She finally slumped into the recliner, buried her face in her hands, and wondered what she was going to do.
They had told her all would be well. Either They had lied, or They obviously knew something she did not, because Sam didn't see where any of this situation was going to turn out well, at least not for her.
Even if she found Dawson, how would she go about bringing him in? Sure, she was a lot meatier in this new body than she'd been in her former life. Her former self at five-one and a buck-five soak and wet hadn't had much of a chance against Dawson, even with her knowledge of self-defense. But then she hadn't had the element of surprise; he had.
All of this back and forth was getting her nowhere. She needed a solid plan. She needed to know what she was doing.
Sam was the first to admit that she was way out of her element. Several sessions on the target range did not a hard-ass bounty hunter make. She couldn't think of any other skills she'd mastered in her former life that would benefit her now. Ballet? Horseback riding? Ice-skating? Swimming? Tennis? Likely none of these country club activities would come in handy or stand her in good stead on the street.
She needed help, expert help. A mentor. She needed--
Sam felt the woman in the apartment with her before she saw her. She pulled her face out of her hands, quickly scanned the room, and caught movement at the top of the stairs leading to the front door. Sitting there was a woman. The woman.
Sam blinked several times, closed her eyes tight then slowly opened them. The woman was still there and she was smiling.
Great. Insanity was a foregone conclusion. She was no longer going crazy. She was already there.
Sam stood and slowly approached the specter, vibrant energy emanating so strongly she thought she could surely see the woman's aura when she didn't know the first thing about reading or recognizing one.
"You're not seeing things."
Sam paused, squinted at the familiar face, warily continued forward until she was standing a couple of feet in front of the ... Woman? Ghost? Spirit? Angel?
"Trust me. I'm no angel. But then you probably know that already."
"What are you then?"
"Let's settle for who, shall we?"
Sam dumbly nodded.
"You've probably already guessed. I'm Dara Kelly."
"Can anyone else see you?" Sam blurted.
"Get right to the point, don't you?"
Sam stared, waiting.
"Look, I don't know all the rules yet. I'm still feeling my way. Just like you."
"Great." Sam smirked.
"Don't catch a 'tude with me, homegirl. It's not my doing."
"I can only imagine." And actually Sam could. It didn't make her feel any better though.
"Looks like I'm not the only one who's not too happy about this situation," Dara said.
"Looks like neither of us have a choice about it, either."
"Hmm, guess not."
Sam watched as the woman rubbed her chin with a pointer and thumb, eyebrows furrowed in deep concentration. She took a chance and sat down beside her on the top step, felt the warmth radiating from her in gentle waves, reached out to touch Dara's shoulder and met no resistance, hand going straight through as it had when she'd swung at Dawson. Only this time she was on the other side of the conundrum. She wasn't so sure it was a good thing.
"Sam. Samantha Taylor to be exact." Her maiden name blurted out unbidden.
"Well excuuuse me."
Sam almost laughed at how much the woman sounded like John Belushi and smiled at the annoyed expression spreading across Dara's already expressive features.
"Okay, Sam, here's the deal. You need help and I'm here to help you."
"I don't see how y--"
"With information. With experience. I'm not so sure how good I'll be with you in the trenches, seeing as I'm not exactly corporeal. But I can damn sure help you with preparation."
"What are you suggesting? That I become you?" Sam realized how moronic she sounded as soon as the last word left her mouth and she saw Dara's eyebrows practically fly off of her face to touch the ceiling before the woman frowned.
"I hate to break it to you, honey, but you are me, whether you like it or not."
"I didn't mean--"
"We don't have time to interpret what you meant. We have to get to work."
Sam nodded as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her to be sitting, talking with, and taking orders from a dead woman.
"So, mind my asking how it happened?"
"How'd you die?"
Sam gasped, still not used to hearing the word "dead" and "die" in conjunction with herself, still not used to not being her, still jolted by the entire situation and not sure if she'd ever recover or when. "It's a long story," she finally mumbled.
"Well, I would say we've got plenty of time, but we don't."
"You've got things to do, places to go, people to see, and a pretty ass to protect, namely mine, or now, yours."
"I don't understand."
"C'mon honey, wake up." Dara snapped her fingers as she stood and plunked one fist on a hip. "Think about it. You're me. Wonder how that happened?"
"I was murdered. And the guy who did it isn't going to be too happy when he finds out he didn't succeed."
Oh God, she was a target now? She'd gone from the frying pan to the fire wearing a gasoline soaked thong and bra.
"Not to mention, I'm not too happy he did succeed."
"You want revenge."
"I wouldn't exactly call it revenge. More like justice."
"And how do you propose--"
"Never fear. That's what I'm here to help you with. The ins and outs. The how-tos, the dos and don'ts. I need you and you need me."
Sam's head spun at the swiftness with which Dara talked. It was like the woman was on speed or maybe just high on ... afterlife.
"So, who was that on the phone earlier?"
On speed and switching gears in the middle of the track like a race car driver. "An associate of yours. Said his name was Ralphie."
"Hey, if Ralphie called that means only one thing. He had a job for me. So, who's the skip? Someone you know? You're face looked a bit green when you were talking to him."
Sam didn't know whether to be angry that her privacy had been violated, or that this perfect stranger could read her so well.
Dara arched a brow, waiting for more.
"He ... we..."
"He's the one who killed you? Oh, this is rich!"
"It's not what you think. It was an accident."
"Hun, don't defend him."
"But it was. Dawson's a lot of things but he's not a murderer."
"Like I said. It's a long story." She was running out of excuses, and wondered why she defended her husband so staunchly. Dara was right. He was a murderer. Dawson had all but pushed her down the stairs when she'd told him she was leaving. He'd looked at her bag and the determined look on her face, and lost it.
He struggled with her at the top of the landing, snatched the bag out of her hand and flung it down the stairs. When she started to go down the stairs after it, Dawson grabbed her wrist with one hand and backhanded her with the other. She flailed, desperately reaching out for the banister and Daw's outstretched hand, but only came up with air as she took her header down the stairs and heard her mother scream from the front door.
"Did you say Dawson?" Dara asked now.
"You know him?"
"This is getting better and better every minute." Dara smiled, sat back down beside Sam and wrapped a phantom arm around the younger woman's shoulder.
Sam shivered despite the warm energy.
"C'mon. We've got a lot to teach you before you can make another move."