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A BREEZE. FINALLY A faint breath of air, barely enough to lift away the cloying scent of incense and flowers, but sufficient to stave off the persistent nausea for another moment.
Kat Malone leaned against the rough trunk of a twisted olive tree, doing her best to remain at least partially hidden in the shadows of the small grove. She watched silently as, inch by inch, the simple oak casket disappeared into the freshly dug grave, all the while wondering if there wasn't some way to speed up the process short of goosing the pallbearers. She'd managed to get through the interminably long High Mass and the equally lengthy graveside service, but she knew she couldn't last much longer.
Her skin felt clammy and her stomach churned. The old tree offered welcome support, but if she didn't find a place to sit down soon, she'd probably pass out right here in the cemetery.
Of course, at this point, it probably wouldn't make any difference.
She closed her eyes, swayed slightly, and swallowed past the foul lump in her throat.
Fingers clamped about her arm, vice-like, startling her, but steadying her as well. She looked up, up into the icy green eyes of Riley O'Rourke.
The man who'd just been buried.
No. Riley's eyes are blue... they've always been blue....
HER WORLD GRADUALLY EXPANDED from dark to light, opening like the aperture of an old camera. Her initial fear subsided, giving way to confusion. Riley held her firmly in his arms, his brisk steps carrying her back into the olive grove, out of sight of the other mourners.
No! This wasn'tRiley. It couldn't be. Riley was dead, buried moments ago. Riley of the sparkling blue eyes.
I saw them bury you, damn it!She thought of breaking free of the man's steady grip, but lethargy held her arms and legs immobile. Instead, she absorbed what information she could about him.
Know your enemy.One of the first rules she'd learned. An important lesson, it had saved her life more than once.
A stray thought intruded. Why do I immediately think of him as the enemy?
Bemused and disoriented, Kat studied her captor. This stranger, this image of the gentle man she'd loved, was subtly different from the easy-going FBI agent. It was more than the eyes... much more. If possible, his hair was even darker, a little bit longer, his demeanor more intense, his scent... she took a deep breath, inhaling an intoxicating blend of expensive after-shave and man that made her want to shut her eyes and inhale all over again.
Geesh, Malone. Get a grip! She jerked fully awake and struggled enough that he loosed the arm under her knees until her feet touched the ground. He steadied her with one hand while his other arm lightly supported her at the waist.
She inched away, out of his reach. Confusion sharpened by a brief stab of pain followed her.
Riley's dead. He's dead. He's....
"You're not going to keel over again, are you, ma'am?"
Kat shook her head in quick denial. She keyed on his voice. It was different, definitely not Riley's. Deeper... softer. Almost threatening.
Kat Malone never backed away from a threat. Suddenly feeling as if she were back in familiar territory, she raised her chin and brushed a wisp of hair out of her eyes. "I wouldn't have keeled over the first time if you hadn't scared the crap out of me. I thought you were Riley."
"My brother's dead."
"I'm well aware of that fact." Kat stared at him a moment, quickly assimilating the almost imperceptible differences between this man and the man she'd loved. So, Riley had a brother.
One more thing he'd neglected to tell her.
She sighed, closed her eyes and swallowed. "I've spent the morning watching his grieving widow and loving family and friends bury him."
"From the tone of your voice, I assume you're not a close friend of the family." He cocked his head and looked down at her as if she were some sort of bug on the ground.
She studied him a moment before answering, noting the impeccable fit of his black suit, the crisp white collar and cuffs, the perfectly knotted tie. Definitely not Riley. The resemblance was uncanny, but Riley couldn't have acted this arrogant if his life depended on it.
"Until I read his obituary," she said, watching for his reaction, "I didn't even know there was a family. At least, to be specific, a wife."
"Ah. This is beginning to make sense."
"Are there children, too?" she asked, swallowing the bile that wouldn't stay down. She'd really make this guy's day if she puked all over his shiny black shoes.
"Riley and Clarisse were unable to have children."
"I see." Kat swallowed again. "Well, it certainly wasn't Riley's fault."
"What do you mean?"
Even the way he tilted his head as he waited for her answer reminded Kat of Riley, reminded her of the sweetness of the man, the humor... the duplicity. Kat blinked herself back to the present.
"I mean, Mr. O'Rourke, that I loved your brother. I've loved him since the day I met him during an investigation we both worked on well over a year ago. I thought he loved me, too. I changed jobs and transferred out here from Pennsylvania because he asked me to. We talked about marriage, about settling down and raising a family, all the things couples in love generally discuss. Only he neglected to tell me he was already married. In fact, he never said a word about the wife. Who, by the way, must be the one with the fertility problems, because it certainly wasn't Riley."
He stared at her as if she'd suddenly grown a third eye, then lowered his gaze to her flat stomach. "Why would you say something like that?"
"I say that, Mr. O'Rourke, because I'm pregnant with Riley's child."
His reaction stunned her.
"You lying little... How dare you...." He clenched his fists as if he might take a swing.
Kat stood her ground. She'd stared down larger, angrier men than this, though she didn't have a clue why he was so upset. It wasn't like she was accusing him of fatherhood. "Put a sock in it, O'Rourke. I have no reason to lie. Your brother and I had an affair and I got pregnant. It happens all the time."
I just didn't expect it to happen to me.
"Not to my brother, it doesn't. Just what kind of scam are you trying to pull?"
Scam? Kathleen stared intently at the man glaring back at her. What in the hell was this jerk's problem? She swallowed and took a deep breath to give herself time to think of a fitting answer. She blinked and swallowed again.
Then the need for a snappy comeback disappeared entirely. Kat leaned over and puked all over Mr. O'Rourke's fancy black shoes.
KAT WASN'T CERTAIN IF it was humiliation or shock that kept her quiet when Riley's brother pulled his Jaguar up in front of her little bungalow just as the fire truck was leaving. She didn't say a word when Mr. O'Rourke opened the car door for her and helped her out of the low-slung Jag. She even managed to accept, with what she considered remarkable aplomb, the presence of three squad cars and a phalanx of uniformed police officers hovering around her front door.
Then her landlord barred her way at the bottom step and refused to let her pass. Kat saw red.
"Bug off, Morton. You'd better get out of...." She lunged at the little weasel.
O'Rourke grabbed her elbow and stopped Kat dead in her tracks. "What's going on here?" he demanded, looking down on Mr. Morton even though the landlord stood a step above. Kat tried to jerk her arm free.
O'Rourke's grip tightened, firm but not bruising.
She glared at him.
He ignored her.
"I told you the last time this happened I wanted you out of here, lady. This time you pack your bags and get." Morton pointedly avoided eye contact with O'Rourke. He scowled at Kathleen. She noticed a tiny fleck of saliva at the corner of his mouth and wished her stomach hadn't chosen this moment to finally settle down.
She'd really love to puke on his shoes.
"The last time?" O'Rourke's gesture encompassed the squad cars as well as the smoke still drifting out of the side window of the little house. His grip on Kat's elbow tightened. He tilted his chin and looked down his rather patrician nose at her. "This isn't the first time for what? "
The patronizing look on his face fired Kat's adrenaline into overdrive. Damn, the man was infuriating! Just who did he think he was, talking to her like that? He might be Riley's brother, but the two obviously had nothing in common. His disparaging attitude gave her the strength to yank her elbow out of his grasp. She flashed him one of her famous if-looks-could-kill stares.
He didn't flinch.
In a brief flash of insight, she realized she really did owe him an explanation. He had, after all, come to her rescue this morning, whether she'd needed it or not. Kat took a deep breath, turned her back on her sputtering landlord and gestured toward the police captain coming their way.
"Follow me." She brushed past O'Rourke and reached out to shake hands with the officer. "Hey, Sandy." She grabbed his outstretched hand. "I take it my stalker's back?"
"I'm sorry, Kat. We had the place staked out and everything. He must've gotten in during the shift change. Torched the place this time. Really trashed things."
The landlord shoved himself in front of Kathleen again. "I repeat, Ms. Malone, I want you out of here. Today. Don't plan on getting your deposit back."
"Stuff it, Morton. You owe me twice that deposit for all the times I've caught you peeking through the blinds. I don't give freebies. Now out of my way." Kathleen was aware of O'Rourke standing off to one side quietly taking in all the commotion. She turned her back on the landlord and tried to push the image of the tall, raven-haired Irishman out of her mind as well.
Damn, he looked so much like Riley it gave her the creeps. But there was none of Riley's easy going style, none of the loose-limbed awkwardness or easy manner she'd found so endearing.
A wave of nausea swept through her. Look where endearing got you this time, sweetheart. Well, she'd never been known for her intelligent decisions regarding men.
"You probably ought to come in and take a look... let us know if he took anything," Sandy was saying. "Be prepared, though. It's bad. Really bad." Still muttering about the damage, he turned and led the way to the front door.
Kat followed Sandy down the walk to her tiny cottage behind the landlord's house and ducked under the yellow CAUTION tape stretched across the front porch. She was aware of O'Rourke following silently behind her and had to stifle a grin when one of the officers allowed him through but restrained the fuming landlord.
She wasn't prepared for the mess that greeted her. "Oh, my God." Once again a strong hand at her elbow steadied her. She heard the sharp hiss of in-drawn breath.
"You're not going to be sick again, are you?" His voice was so close she almost jumped.
She shook her head. "No," she whispered. "I'm okay."
"That's a relief. Though I wouldn't blame you if you did throw up. This kind of wanton vandalism would make anyone ill."
"Gee, thanks." She tugged her arm free of his grasp and stepped away. Damn! She'd loved this little place in spite of her slimy landlord. A quiet, furnished little house that actually had some character to it. Now it was splashed throughout with painted vulgarities and threats, not done with a spray can but brushed on thickly, red paint over wallpaper and cabinets, across the appliances in the kitchenette.
Red paint. Dripping blood-red paint.
A fire had melted the small plastic trashcan near the sink and black soot streaked the walls. Long cobwebs hung from the ceiling, invisible until the soot had given them substance. Greasy black smears covered every unpainted surface where investigators had dusted for prints.
Sandy tapped her on the shoulder. "We'll need to get Mr. O'Rourke's prints so we can figure out which ones don't belong here."
"Different O'Rourke." Kat's hand went to her belly, consciously cradling the life she carried. "Sandy, meet Riley's brother, the other Mr. O'Rourke. Riley was killed in a car accident four days ago."
"Ah, gee, Kat, I'm sorry to hear that." He held his hand out to the man beside her. "Sandy Wilson, SFPD," he said. "Kat and I have worked on a number of cases together since she transferred to the San Francisco office. I assumed you were Riley. You look just like him... we only met once before. I didn't know he'd been killed. I am truly sorry for your loss. He seemed like a helluva nice guy."
"Seamus O'Rourke." O'Rourke shook hands with the officer. "Riley and I are... were... fraternal twins, but other than our eye color we were almost identical. Your confusion is perfectly understandable." He gestured toward the vandalized kitchen. "What's going on here?"
Kat glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, surprised by the lack of emotion in his voice. He'd dismissed Sandy's sympathetic remark about his brother's death as if they discussed a stranger.
This guy was definitely nothing like Riley.
"Kat's got a stalker." The police captain frowned, his frustration evident. "We figure it's someone she helped arrest somewhere along the line. There've been references to a few things in his... um... writing."
Seamus glanced once again at the stained walls and the room littered with filth . Anything to take his mind off thoughts of Riley. His brother had obviously spent time here in this room. Had most likely made love to the beautiful blonde. Maybe there on the couch? Seamus blinked away the image just as Wilson patted Kathleen on the back. The friendly act made him bristle.
"You got someplace to go tonight, kid?" Wilson's hand still rested, much too comfortably, on Kathleen's shoulder. "You can't stay here until it's cleaned up and the fire damage repaired."
She shook her head. The thick blond hair swung softly with the slight motion. "I'll get a hotel room. Thanks anyway, Sandy."
"You know you're welcome to stay with us. Jane loves having someone to fuss over."
Kat smiled sadly at the captain and shook her head once again. Sighing audibly, she turned away to inspect the damage.
"How about you, O'Rourke? Got an extra room at your place?" Sandy watched Kat as she poked aimlessly through the mess. "I worry about her. This guy's scary and I don't think she appreciates the danger she's in. Kat's too damned stubborn for her own good."
"What? You want me to take her home? I hardly know the woman." Seamus stared at her a moment, trying once more to fathom the relationship between his irascible twin and the tall blonde.
The tall blonde who might possibly be carrying his brother's child. The odds were against it, but what if....
"That's your loss, then, isn't it, Mr. O'Rourke?"
Hell, now even the police captain was pissed at him. Seamus clenched, then unclenched his fists, finally accepting the inevitable. "You're right. She can't stay by herself." He glanced down at his spotless black shoes and shook his head. "She's had a pretty harrowing day."
Why did he feel as if he were making the gravest error in his life? Before he could stop himself, Seamus glanced back at the captain. "She'll stay with me until she finds someplace suitable."
"Excuse me?" Kat swung around from her inspection of a pile of burned books. Ice formed on her clipped words.
"I said, Ms. Malone will come with me." Seamus stepped over the rubble and offered a helpful hand to her arm. She jerked out of his grasp and glared at him. He backed away.
"Over my dead --"
"It very well could be." Wilson spoke to Kat, but it was obvious his words were meant for Seamus. "The attacks are growing more violent, Kat. More personal. You can't deny that. It's risky, you being here alone and all. It was different with Riley in and out of the place like he was. This pervert could never know for certain you were alone. That's changed. If I were you, I'd take Mr. O'Rourke up on his offer."
"Well you're not me, damn it." She glared at both men.
Seamus thought he'd never seen bluer eyes in his life. Riley'd always been a sucker for blue eyes.
Hell, Riley'd been a sucker for anything in a skirt. The legs sticking out from under her short little black number were as long and sleek as any Seamus had ever seen. Riley hadn't stood a chance.
Thank goodness Riley and Clarisse had reached a mutual agreement in their marriage long ago. Clarisse had her affairs, Riley had his, and no one got hurt.
Yeah. Right. Seamus hadn't given Riley's women much thought. Now that he'd actually seen one, touched her, looked into her angry blue eyes, he was suddenly aware of the human toll.
This woman had most likely gone into the relationship with her heart wide open. Riley'd always been a silver-tongued devil, the kind of man women loved to love. Usually, though, the women he chose were worldly enough to understand that, for all his flowery words and lofty promises, he'd be gone the moment the winds changed.
But not this one -- this tall, cool blonde with crystal blue eyes and the face of an angel. She'd believed his brother, believed in the dream.
Not only had she believed, if what she said was true, she'd accomplished the impossible.
She carried Riley's child. The child neither brother had ever imagined would exist.
It changed everything. This angry woman, obviously a cop of some kind, had accomplished something Seamus and his brother had never, not in their wildest fantasies, dreamed could happen.
If she's telling the truth, she's pregnant with Riley's child.
Hope blossomed where only loss had survived. If she's telling the truth... Stunned by the potential of his changing reality, Seamus finally accepted unimagined possibilities.
He was no longer the last of the O'Rourkes.
Copyright © 2003 by Kate Douglas