Our Little Secretby Starr Ambrose
Lauren Sutherland tries to set a good example for her twin sister, from her practical job to her dependable, if boring, fiancé. So when impulsive Meg elopes with her boss, a U.S. senator twice her age, Lauren hops on a plane to talk her into an annulment...but comes face-to-face with the senator's handsome son, Drew, instead.
Demanding to know what she's… See more details below
Lauren Sutherland tries to set a good example for her twin sister, from her practical job to her dependable, if boring, fiancé. So when impulsive Meg elopes with her boss, a U.S. senator twice her age, Lauren hops on a plane to talk her into an annulment...but comes face-to-face with the senator's handsome son, Drew, instead.
Demanding to know what she's done with his father, Drew is as infuriating as he is annoyingly irresistible. But he's not the only one who mistakes Lauren's identity. A relentless foe is on a deadly hunt for the missing newlyweds unless Lauren and Drew can find them first.
Venturing into the elite Washington social scene, they discover an elaborate web of explicit photos and blackmail, but the biggest surprise is the fiery attraction they can barely control. The clock is ticking, and while the sparks between Lauren and Drew burn hot, the trail of clues is growing cold....
- Pocket Books
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- 4.18(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.98(d)
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Lauren Sutherland stood on the slush-covered Georgetown sidewalk and reminded herself that wrecking her sister's marriage was the responsible thing to do.
Sisters looked out for each other especially when one sister insisted on being an irresponsible idiot. Meg would thank her for it later.
Lauren cast a speculatve glance at the house. The red brick edifice to old money was exactly the home she would expect for the third most influential man in Washington, D.C. Meg always had been attracted to power, so that was no surprise. That was why she'd taken a job with Senator Harlan Creighton III in the first place. The lecherous creep. But marrying the elusive and infamous not to mention much older bachelor was a surprise even to Lauren's jaded expectations. She already chewed through three fingernails on the plane ride.
Lauren clenched her hand into a fist, hiding the evidence of her nervous habit. Being a good example took its toll.
A gust of wind snuck under her coat and up her skirt, reminding Lauren that she didn't need to stand outside in the chill March air. Might as well go inside where she could warm up, get into some comfortable clothes, and confront Meg. Her sister would put up a fight, but Lauren knew the best solution was a quick annulment. Meg would see that eventually.
Briefcase in one hand and suitcase in the other, Lauren dragged herself up the walk to the front door, weaving a path around spots of melted snow that were trying to refreeze. She would have worn hiking boots and jeans instead of her prim black business suit, but Jeff objected. Her fiancé said she had to make a goodimpression on the senator, and besides, the suit went with the expensive-looking red wool coat Meg had sent her. Lauren didn't know why she should care what the senator thought when he wasn't going to be a family member for longer than it took to get Meg to an attorney. And the expensive coat was obviously some sort of bribe to buy Lauren's approval. Well, Meg wasn't going to get it. What she was going to get was a lecture on inappropriate behavior and old men who use power and money to buy everything they want, including women.
With her indignation nicely pumped up, Lauren set down both pieces of luggage and rang the doorbell, prepared to burst her sister's bubble.
She didn't hear footsteps behind the heavy door, but seconds later a deadbolt clicked and the door opened. Prepared for Meg's ecstatic grin, Lauren blinked in confusion. She stood face-to-face with a frowning dark-haired man in worn jeans and a crew-neck sweater.
He couldn't be the hired help, not in those clothes. And he was far too young to be the senator, though his demeanor said he belonged here. Lauren's first thought was that she had the wrong house. But she couldn't; the limo driver dropped her here, and he certainly knew where Senator Creighton lived.
Which led to her second thought: Holy cow, why hadn't Meg mentioned this guy? He wasn't the type who escaped notice, especially by someone as fond of good-looking men as her sister. Lauren was certainly noticing. She noticed the flashing blue eyes full of sharp intelligence, the strong jaw implying decisive action, and the athletic build...well, a woman could spend a long time appreciating a man with a body like that. Even an engaged woman.
As she stared, the man's expression changed, his attractive mouth curving into an ironic smile.
"Well, well, well," he drawled in a voice as richly masculine as the rest of him. "Look who's back."
Before she could respond, his hand darted out, grabbed her sleeve, and he yanked her inside.
"Hey!" Startled, Lauren swatted at the hand that had already released her, and backed away until she felt the wall. She'd been right about the decisive action. He had a commanding presence, too. But she hadn't expected a physical assault, and she eyed the man warily.
Steely blue eyes assessed her in return. He crossed his arms and planted his feet firmly in front of the door.
"What did you forget?" he asked. "The number for the offshore account?"
Lauren tried to find an appropriate response, but between his confrontational attitude and his distracting, um, distraction, all that came out was, "Huh?"
His appraisal was more frank than hers had been, and downright disconcerting as his gaze traveled her body from head to toe. She squirmed and tried to ignore the little shiver that crept across her shoulders.
"I see why he fell for you," he finally said. It might have been flattering if he hadn't sounded so disgusted.
"You do?" Her brain was regaining traction.
"Don't get your hopes up. I'm not here to congratulate you on your marriage."
"My marriage?" She suddenly understood the problem. "You think I'm Meg!" She didn't question why this drop-dead gorgeous hunk would be angry with Meg. Her sister went through men like candy, and he wouldn't be the first guy she'd dropped like a day-old sucker.
One dark eyebrow lifted, a good look for him. "Is this part of the game? Who do you expect me to think you are?"
"I'm Meg's sister, Lauren."
He smiled, appearing genuinely amused an even better look. "The mistaken identity routine I thought you'd be smarter than that. Sorry, it won't work. Gerald described you. Red coat, Pendleton scarf, medium-length dirty blonde hair." He looked her up and down pointedly, causing a curious flutter in her stomach. "That's you. I'll admit the diamond ring's a bit small, but that's your problem."
The last comment jolted her out of her fantasies. His description of her might be right, but his attitude was all wrong. It had always been irritating to be mistaken for her sister, even though they were identical twins. But insulting the sensibly priced ring Jeff had picked out was crossing the line.
"Look, I don't know who you are, but I told you, I'm not Meg. I'm Lauren. And whoever Gerald is, he's wrong."
The man actually laughed, and Lauren noted with irritation that he looked good doing it. "Gerald's never wrong."
If he hadn't sounded so arrogant about it, she'd have been more sympathetic. Maybe he thought she was easily intimidated. She stepped toward him, right up to the creamy-beige sweater, stuck her face close to his and said in slow, distinct words, "I'm not Meg. Gerald's wrong."
She was close enough to smell him, a clean, openair smell, like pine trees and sunshine. She could even feel the heat from his body. Or maybe it was hers. Someone was overheating.
He held her gaze for several seconds, then yelled, "Gerald!" loud enough to make her flinch.
Footsteps pounded down a staircase and vibrated through the gleaming floorboards until a young man appeared at the other end of the spacious foyer. He pushed wire-rimmed glasses back up his nose and put a hand over his tailored vest as he fought to catch his breath. "What?"
The man lifted a hand as if he were presenting Lauren for an introduction. "Well? Is this her?"
"Megan!" the young man cried happily.
Lauren felt her frown deepen and she spoke to Gerald in carefully enunciated words. "I am not Meg."
"Give it up, lady," her accuser began, but Gerald interrupted.
"Wait, wait, Andrew," he said, staring at Lauren intently while flapping a hand at his handsome but pushy friend. Stepping closer, Gerald peered at her face, then made a slow circle around her. Lauren stood still, shifting her eyes cautiously to follow him. He was small, but he had an air of authority and she knew his judgment was going to carry weight.
He finally spoke, using one arm to support his elbow as he tapped a thoughtful finger against his chin. "She does look like Megan, but the hair is too long."
"Too long?" Lauren blurted in disbelief. "If anything, mine is shorter. Do you even know Meg? Her hair is halfway down her back!"
"She cut it two days ago," Gerald informed her with a superior air, as if she should have known.
Lauren hesitated. She hadn't actually seen her sister in several months. "She did?"
He nodded, an arrogant sort of affirmation that said he knew many things about Meg that she obviously didn't. "Megan now has a very stylish feathered cut that just brushes the top of the collar, with a few wispy bangs." His fingers sketched invisible locks on his own forehead in demonstration. "Plain, but striking, if you have the right sort of face. Which, of course, our Meg does. She "
The man he'd called Andrew wasn't listening to the rest of the fashion commentary. "It could be a wig," he suggested. Before Lauren could duck, he reached out and tugged a lock of her hair.
"Hey, back off!" She instinctively kicked him in the shin.
"Ow!" Bending his knee, he grabbed his throbbing leg. "Jesus, lady, I wasn't attacking you."
"You grabbed me," she said, then tacked on, "twice," in case he thought she had overlooked the way he'd pulled her in the door. In fact, the way he'd reached out and pulled her toward him had been quite memorable.
While they glared suspiciously at each other, Gerald mused, "No, that's definitely not Megan. She had her hair layered for fullness. She would never let anyone style it that way, all straight and flat and..." He stopped as Lauren shot an annoyed glance his way. "So you must be Meg's sister, Lauren," he concluded.
"Ha! Finally!" Lauren flung her hand toward Gerald in an exasperated gesture as she turned to the man who, gorgeous or not, had the audacity to imply that she was a liar. "See?"
"Okay, okay." He tested the ability of his right leg to hold his weight. It looked sturdy enough to Lauren, so he'd better not be expecting an apology. "You're not Meg. I was wrong. Not that it wasn't a logical mistake," he added in an undertone.
She crossed her arms and sniffed her dissatisfaction.
"Probably cracked my shin bone," he muttered, taking a few limping steps to enhance his performance.
She watched, unmoved. His leg looked perfectly fine to her. "Who are you, anyway?"
"Drew Creighton," he said absently, concentrating on his wounded leg. The big baby. With a slight sneer, he added, "Nice to meet you, Aunt Lauren."
Time shuddered to a halt. Lauren felt her mouth open stupidly. "What?"
She had his attention again, and his slow grin was wicked with satisfaction. "I'm Senator Creighton's son. Which makes me your sister's new stepson. And, it seems, your nephew. Aren't blended families fun?"
What had Meg done to her? Engaged women might be allowed to have semi-sexual feelings about other men, but aunts definitely weren't supposed to have those feelings about their nephews. Lauren was in big trouble here. Besides, Drew was too old to be her nephew. He had to be about thirty-five or -six, which would make him no more than five years older than she was. Her sister hadn't mentioned any grown children from the senator's first marriage. She cleared her throat and asked hesitantly, "Do you have any sisters or brothers?"
He seemed to enjoy that one even more. "Yes, your newly acquired niece, Miranda, is forty years old. Congratulations."
He probably thought Miranda's age was the reason for her stunned expression. In actuality, she was still grappling with the idea that the man who had stirred her lust at first sight was her nephew, albeit her not-so-nice nephew.
A related thought occurred to her. Her sister had always preferred the studly types. If Drew's father still looked this virile in person, she might be forced to rethink Meg's impulsive marriage: The attraction could be based on more than money.
While Lauren recovered, Gerald retrieved her luggage from the porch and coaxed her out of her coat. She looked at him over her shoulder as he hung it in the front closet, cautiously assessing the smaller man. He didn't look anything like Drew, but you never knew. "Are we related, too?"
Drew snorted back laughter, but Gerald answered her seriously. "Not at all. I'm the senator's personal secretary. A man of Senator Creighton's means has many business interests outside the Senate. Meg is his assistant for all that political stuff." He dismissed the United States Senate with a wave of his hand. "Come in and sit down, Miss Sutherland. Perhaps you can help us determine the whereabouts of your sister."
Lauren fought against a familiar, sinking feeling. Her irresponsible sister had stood her up why should she be surprised? This was exactly what she hated about Meg, and exactly why she was with a dependable, sensible man like Jeff. Meg could stand to adopt a few of his values.
"Call me Lauren," she murmured, trailing Gerald into the living room. She could feel Drew's presence behind her. All the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, as if carrying a magnetic charge pulling them in Drew's direction. She tried to ignore him as she addressed Gerald. "What did you mean about determining her whereabouts? Where is Meg?"
"Pay no attention to Gerald, he worries too much," Drew said as he settled onto a yellow sofa. The silk brocade upholstery was patterned with pale green flowers, and the contrast with his plain sweater and jeans only made him look more masculine. Lauren didn't realize she was staring until she caught his lazy smile. She quickly looked away.
Gerald clasped his hands, apparently too nervous to sit. "Meg stopped by the house two days ago on her way to the bank. No one's heard from her since." Concern was evident in his voice. Gerald obviously considered Meg a friend, and he was worried about her. Lauren wondered if she should be worried, too.
Drew gave a soft snort. "They haven't heard from her with good reason. Either my father is keeping his new bride occupied, which I'll admit is possible, or she's already ditched him in favor of his assets, and she's long gone." When Lauren frowned at him he pointed toward the matching sofa across from his. "Have a seat. I can't wait to hear what excuses you come up with for Meg's behavior."
She eased onto the edge of the sofa, knees together, purse tucked under her arm, the antithesis of Drew's relaxed sprawl. Angling her body away from him and toward Gerald, she tried to allay his fears. "I don't know why you haven't heard from Meg. I have. She called around noon the day before yesterday to say she'd reserved a plane ticket for me, and begged me to come. She knew I had to use my vacation time for the trip, so I'm sure she wouldn't just" she waved a hand and quoted him "disappear. She knows I can't stay here long. You'll see, she'll be back soon. She must be with Senator Creighton." She slid a dark look at Drew as she quoted him again. "Who is keeping her occupied."
"Maybe," Gerald mused. Lauren didn't like how grudgingly he said it. "We called his Senate office, but he wasn't available. Committee meetings or something. We're waiting for him to call back."
"Stingy with vacation time, are you? Even to celebrate your sister's marriage."
She glared at Drew, annoyed that he'd sorted out the one fact that made her sound prissy and rigid. "Not that it's any of your business, but my fiancé and I have resort reservations that I made months in advance."
God, she did sound rigid. And prissy.
"Oh, I know what her reason was."
"You do?" She and Gerald said it together.
"It's obvious." He scanned Lauren from her turtleneck sweater to her sensible low-heeled shoes. "Do you and your sister always dress alike, some cute little twin thing?"
"We're not six years old," Lauren snapped.
"So why did you dress exactly like her today?"
Had she? Lauren recalled his description of Meg's coat and scarf, the reason for the mistaken identity at the front door. She hesitated, then admitted, "I didn't know Meg owned the same coat and scarf. She Fed-Exed these to me. They were a gift, and she said if she knew exactly what I was wearing it would be easier to spot me at the airport." It did sound weird, now that she said it out loud. They just didn't know that weird behavior was the norm for her sister. As far as weird went, sending Lauren a new coat and scarf for her trip to Washington didn't stand out.
"But she didn't pick you up at the airport," Drew objected.
"She sent a limo instead because she'd been delayed."
"Uh-huh. And why didn't she just ask you what you'd be wearing? Wouldn't that be easier than playing identical dress-up games?"
Damn, his logic was even better than Jeff's, who had impeccable reasoning skills. It didn't seem to be puzzling Drew, though. "If you're so smart, you tell me why she did it."
Drew made himself comfortable first, arms crossed and long legs stretched beneath the coffee table. It was the sort of careless confidence she might have found sexy in someone less obnoxious. "I don't think Meg sent you an identical coat and scarf. I think she sent you her own."
Lauren recognized the truth as soon as he said it. She recalled noticing the faint scent of Meg's perfume on both items. But she wasn't about to admit anything to this stranger. "So what?"
"So, she set you up. You were a decoy."
"What? That's ridiculous." Even as she denied it, Lauren was aware that was exactly how it sounded.
He didn't respond, just picked a piece of fuzz off his sweater while she thought about it. He was right, damn it. Meg had arranged for Lauren to arrive at the house looking exactly like her sister, while she was somewhere else.
"She even cut her hair recently," Drew reminded her. "She might have gone too short, but it made her look enough like you to fool Gerald at first, and no one is better than Gerald at noticing those sorts of details."
"That's right," Gerald agreed without a trace of false humility.
Double damn. What was going on here? Lauren lifted a hand to her mouth and nearly started on a fourth nail before catching herself. She really needed to break the habit, but dealing with the screw-ups in her sister's life made it difficult. Grabbing a lock of hair instead, she twirled it around her finger as she glanced at Gerald. He looked worried no help there. Drew watched her impassively. "She must have had a good reason," Lauren insisted finally.
At least, she'd better have.
"Of course she did," Drew told her. She was beginning to hate his certainty about the whole confusing situation. "She wanted whoever was watching to think she hadn't left town. Anyone who saw you would think you were Meg."
It made sense, and she nearly put a knot in her tortured strand of hair at the implication. "Who would be watching Meg?"
"The press. My father's marriage would be big news."
She'd forgotten about that. It would explain Meg's ruse. If the press got wind of the biggest playboy in politics getting married, to his much-younger secretary at that, it would be all over the news.
But it wasn't. She tipped her head toward the front window and the empty lawn outside. "If the reporters were supposed to be watching for Meg for me why aren't they here?"
He shrugged. "Maybe you were Meg's ace in the hole and she didn't need you. She got away without the press getting a whiff of it. But if she hadn't, you would have been here to divert their attention." Drew suddenly dropped his placid pose and leaned forward, his gaze intense. "Your sister used you, Lauren. Convinced you to take off work and messed up your perfectly organized vacation schedule, just so she could avoid the press for a few days. How do you feel about that?"
Pissed as hell, but not about to let him know it. Her infuriating nephew had already identified her weak spot, her obsessively regulated life, and it irritated her more than she wanted to admit. "Why do you hate Meg? You don't even know her."
Drew's expression hardened. "I don't have to know her; I've met her type before. This town is full of them."
"Really? What type is that? Bright, efficient, and hard working? Yes, those are pretty suspicious qualities."
His lip quirked into a cynical smile that she tried not to think of as sensuous. "Oh, I don't doubt she's bright they usually are. She's also young, pretty, and ambitious enough to land a top job in a Senate office. Then a few short months later she marries her boss, a wealthy senator thirty-three years her senior." Drew affected an innocent look. "Gosh, you don't think that looks suspicious, do you?"
At least now she knew why Meg had passed on any romantic involvement with Drew Creighton. The man was a butthead of the first degree.
Lauren had nearly forgotten Gerald was there until he stirred at Drew's words. "Now, Andrew, I told you Meg's not like that."
"You don't know Meg well enough to say what she's like, Gerald." He spoke sharply, without taking his eyes off Lauren.
She fumed. "And you don't know her at all. You want to know why this marriage is such a bad idea? The way I see it, an older man much older used his position and wealth to seduce a gullible young woman into his bed." She only stretched the truth a little. Knowing Meg, Lauren had no doubt it was a mutual seduction. "Then he talked her into a marriage that would give him some classy arm candy to show off at banquets and parties, and even better, on the campaign trail voters love candidates with pretty wives, don't they? while still keeping her available in his bedroom. Maybe Meg believed he'd give up his other women for her, but I'm not that naive. She's just another conquest."
She expected him to be furious at the picture she'd painted of his father, but she didn't care. They both knew it was true.
Drew nodded. "Dad does have a reputation as a ladies' man," he agreed, undisturbed.
Lauren bristled. "Is that the politically correct term? I do listen to the news, you know. The man's a tomcat!"
Drew nodded again. "Yup. I wonder what sort of sexual tricks it took to maneuver him into giving up two decades of happy bachelorhood. Your sister must be pretty skilled in that area."
She narrowed her eyes at him and willed her nephew to burst into flames.
Drew stared back, serenely unaffected.
That made one of them.
Confusion fogged her mind. As irritating as Drew was, talking about possible sexual antics had sidetracked her brain. The sharp blue gaze that fastened on hers should have been cold and intimidating, but an unexpected heat began building inside her. Something had to be wrong with her.
Maybe it was a lack of sex. Meg's phone call had upset her, and she hadn't kept her usual Thursday evening date with Jeff, which meant canceling one of their biweekly sex nights. Two sessions a week of making love in Jeff's bed had always been enough for her, but she could be wrong. Maybe she needed more. Or maybe she'd thrown her hormones out of whack worrying about Meg. That would explain why she kept having all these conflicting thoughts about Drew.
She had to admit, though, if the man weren't such a jerk, he'd be every one of her fantasies come true. Family loyalty rated high with her, not to mention being quick-witted and handsome as sin. Just like Jeff, she assured herself. Except Jeff's body was a little softer, and she couldn't imagine calling him handsome as sin. Handsome, yes, but in a safer, more...bland way. She couldn't figure out what it was about Drew that gave his looks a dangerous edge. Maybe it was the intensity in his gaze, or maybe the way his smile had a mischievous slant, making her wonder about things she had no business wondering about.
She caught Drew watching her with frank curiosity and realized she'd sucked her lower lip between her teeth while staring thoughtfully at his mouth. Embarrassment flooded her cheeks.
"This is not helping," she said.
Gerald stepped closer and placed his hands on his hips. "Arguing over motives isn't getting us anywhere. We still don't know where Meg is."
"Yes, we do." Drew turned his attention toward Gerald. "She's on her honeymoon." The heat inside Lauren waned as soon as he said it.
She looked at Gerald, too. Anything to avoid meeting Drew's eyes. "No, she isn't. Meg wouldn't have told me to drop everything and come here just so she could sneak out of town."
"I agree," Gerald said.
His approval gave her enough courage to risk a glance at Drew. He raised his eyes in silent appeal to the heavens, apparently at their misguided loyalty to Meg. "Okay then, where is she and why can't we reach her?"
Frustration surged through Lauren, pulling her to her feet. "How should I know? But I'm not leaving until I see her. My sister thought it was vitally important that I come here today. And I'm glad I did because I plan to convince her to disassociate herself from the Creighton family as soon as possible."
It was much easier to meet Drew's eyes when she glared.
He smiled. "Well, Aunt Lauren, at least we agree on one thing my father's marriage to your sister is a mistake."
She gritted her teeth. "Don't call me that."
"But I'm beginning to like the sound of it."
Gerald threw his hands up. "Oh, for crying out loud! Will you two behave?"
The reprimand, coming from such a slight young man, carried a surprising amount of authority. Lauren gave him a sheepish smile. "You're right."
"The voice of reason." Drew stood, an act which, however unintentional, dramatically reduced Gerald's presence in the room. "It looks like we have no choice but to wait for the happy couple to show up. So what do you say we make ourselves comfortable? I'm willing to play nice if you are...Lauren."
Since he dropped the Aunt, she forced her lips into a brief, upward curve. "Works for me."
He smiled back with seemingly genuine pleasure. Probably at the prospect of having several more hours to insult her sister.
"We've forgotten our manners, Gerald. Lauren is our guest." Drew turned back to her. "Can I get you anything?"
It was about time someone asked. "Yes. Food."
He grinned, a look entirely too erotic for comfort. "Right this way."
Lauren spent the next hour eating her way through soup, a sandwich, and a large slice of pie. She tried to clean up, but Gerald shooed her out of the room along with Drew, who seemed no more familiar with Senator Creighton's kitchen than she was. Growing up with money, he was probably used to having cooks make his food.
Meg still hadn't shown up, or even called. Neither had Senator Creighton.
Lauren stood at the senator's leaded glass living room window, brooding over the darkening Georgetown street. She felt Drew enter the room.
"I just tried his office again. They haven't heard from either of them, but apparently it's not unusual for my dad to be out of touch for a day or two. He has an active, uh, social life."
Lauren nodded without turning and crossed her arms. At least he was keeping her updated without dropping further insinuations about her sister's loose life and shady motives.
"Why don't you try your sister's cell phone?"
"I did. I'm still getting her voice mail."
He was silent for a moment. "Would you like to watch TV?"
"No, thank you."
Another short silence. "How about "
Lauren spun around. "Stop being so nice to me. It's like someone's died and you're afraid to say the wrong thing."
Drew ducked his head and scratched at a lock of dark hair on his forehead, but she thought he hid a smile behind his arm. "Sorry. Would you like me to say something insulting about your sister?"
"That would certainly sound more like you," she grumbled.
He bit his cheek, and this time she was certain it was amusement he held back. It made her feel a little better to know he was laughing at her. No one laughed at tragedies.
"You were starting to look as worried as Gerald," Drew said. "Is it unusual for Meg to change her plans without telling you?"
Lauren shot a hard look at him, wondering if he'd known the answer before he asked. "No, unfortunately, it isn't."
"Not the responsible type, eh? Just takes off on a whim and never considers that someone might worry?"
She shifted uncomfortably. "Don't push it, Creighton."
He didn't try to hide his enjoyment. "It bugs you, doesn't it, having to be the responsible one? The one who has to clean up her messes?"
How did he do that? It was like she had the words written across her forehead: Good sister and martyr.
Lauren straightened her spine. "There's nothing wrong with being responsible. It shows consideration and maturity."
Drew laughed. "Spoken like a true adult."
His superior act was getting on her nerves. "I'm thirty-one years old, Drew. I am an adult. And so is Meg. She has a wonderful career just like an adult, and she pays her taxes and her bills like an adult. It's just that sometimes..." Her voice ran down along with her temper. "Sometimes she doesn't act like one."
Admitting Meg's faults to Drew made Lauren angry and depressed all over again. She turned back to the window. Why couldn't Meg just pull in the driveway so Lauren could yell at her, talk her into a divorce, then go back home?
"I'm willing to bet Meg is acting like an adult right now." Drew's suggestion cut through her dark thoughts. "I'll bet she and my dad are holed up in some cozy hotel room, drinking champagne like adults and screwing their " He stopped with a mild look when she whirled around. "What? A little too adult for you?"
A succinct two-word response had barely formed on her lips when he stopped her with an outstretched hand. "Wait, don't say it. I wouldn't want to be the one to spoil that proper image. Maybe we should just change the subject, forget about the honeymoon couple for awhile."
"Maybe we shouldn't talk at all." She stalked past him, but he caught her by the arm, pulling her around to face him. She should have looked at him with all-out fury, but a pleasant shiver accompanied his touch, and heat flared through her when he pulled her close. She had no idea her body craved physical contact so much. It wiped the intended fury out of her mind, and she looked at him blankly.
"Hang on, Lauren." With his free hand Drew rubbed at his forehead until the lines of frustration eased. "Look, I'm sorry. It's Meg I'm angry with, not you. I actually admire your sense of loyalty."
"Really?" she said, dripping sarcasm. "I couldn't tell."
He chuckled softly and it reverberated inside her like a hundred butterflies taking wing. "Feisty. I like that about you, too. And I really do understand. If someone accused my sister of" he cleared his throat "bad things, I'd be just as protective as you are. And just as worried."
His expression suddenly became sincere. Damn, he really meant it. "Thanks."
"The problem is, you're all wound up, worrying about your sister while she's obviously not sparing a thought for you. Why don't you cut yourself a break? Let Meg live her own life, make her own mistakes."
He'd hit the bull's-eye with that one, and it shook her nearly as much as the touch of his hand on her arm. She had to fight to keep her voice steady. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Fine, we won't."
"Let go of me."
His gaze flicked to his hand, then back to her. He didn't release her.
Oh God, that shook her more than anything; he felt something, too. She couldn't look away from his eyes. Something wavered in their blue depths, something that transferred itself to her body, settling in her stomach. It was fluttery, but nice. Something she'd never felt with Jeff.
Lauren sucked in a breath. "Jeff!"
Drew's lip twitched. "It's Drew."
"No!" She pulled her arm from his unresisting hand and held up her ring finger. "My fiancé, Jeff." She wiggled the finger at Drew, who gave it a puzzled glance.
"Yes, a diamond ring. I see it." He squinted. "Barely."
"I forgot to call him. I said I would as soon as I got here, and he'll be wondering what happened to me."
"Ah. Another person you look out for? You could tell him the truth, that you were distracted by...events."
Earthshaking events. She pretended not to understand even as the heat rose in her cheeks. "He won't understand," she said, twisting the ring nervously on her finger, already formulating an explanation.
"No, I guess he wouldn't. Because you would never be that irresponsible."
Stung by the rebuke, Lauren raised her eyes to his face and found it much too close to her own. Taking a quick step back, she pressed her mouth into a stern line. "Don't make fun of me."
"I wouldn't do that, Lauren."
Not Aunt Lauren. Lauren. Distracted by how different that one softly-spoken word could sound, she didn't realize he'd lifted his hand until she felt it against her cheek. She froze, eyes wide, as he stroked a light path down the side of her face.
"I could never make fun of you. In fact, I find I'm taking you quite seriously." Two fingers lingered beneath her chin for one long moment during which the world might have tipped off its axis for all she knew. Something about him affected her equilibrium and made her head swim.
Another something that never happened with Jeff.
The thought stirred her. She took another step backward, causing Drew's hand to fall away. She swallowed. "I have to go now."
"To call Jeff, I mean."
"Yes, I know."
"I'm going upstairs. For privacy."
"Okay." He raised an eyebrow and waved. " 'Bye."
" 'Bye." She stumbled, turned, and darted toward the stairs.
Lauren spent the rest of the evening in the guest bedroom, too humiliated to face Drew. And too scared.
Talking to Jeff didn't help. She couldn't answer his questions and didn't care to hear his demands.
"When will your sister stop these crazy games and grow up? Her wild impulses interfere with my life as well as yours. They already ruined tonight's dinner with my parents. Aren't you tired of putting up with this kind of nonsense?"
"Yes, I guess so."
"You so?" Jeff's annoyance came through loud and clear.
"It's just that I'm not sure it's nonsense. Meg asked me to come, nearly begged me. She should be here. But she's not, she's missing, and she doesn't even answer her cell phone. No one knows where she is. I can't help thinking something might be wrong."
"What's wrong is that you've let Meg's problems affect our lives again."
Lauren's brows puckered with irritation. "I don't see how Meg's disappearance affects your life, Jeff." Unless he was missing their Thursday night sex date, too. The possibility took her by surprise. She liked to think that wanting her more would make him irritable, but she wasn't sure, since he'd always been uncomfortable talking about sex.
"Lauren, are you listening? I want you here. Do I have to spell it out for you?"
Bingo! She chuckled, relieved that she'd figured it out. Relieved, too, that the secret doubts she'd had about their relationship might be so easily solved. "No, you don't. I understand. You think we need more quality time together, and I couldn't agree more. In fact, I'm in the mood for some quality time with you right now."
"Good." He sounded happier already. "Then you'll come home right away?"
He was more eager to expand their sex life than she'd thought. "As soon as I can." Trying for an appropriately playful mood, she asked, "Do you have something planned already?"
"I will, just as soon as we get off the phone."
Trust Jeff to plan everything, even sex. He'd never do anything kinky, but she had to admit to some curiosity. "Give me a hint. Is it something we've never done before?"
"Sure, if that's what you're in the mood for. I can probably find someplace we haven't been."
"That shouldn't be hard." Jeff wasn't good at thinking outside the box, and the box was his bedroom.
"Well, I suppose if we drive to another town..."
She actually frowned at the phone before putting it back to her ear. "Another town? What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about rescheduling our dinner with my parents. What are you talking about?"
"Sex! I'm talking about our sex life, Jeff."
Silence filled several seconds. Then several more. "Excuse me?"
She sighed, feeling defeated before she began, but unwilling to back down. "Our quality time together get it? I think you should take me to bed more often."
She waited through another long pause. "I thought you were happy with our sex life."
She couldn't help noting that he hadn't jumped at the chance for more sex. "I just thought I would enjoy having more. That I might be even happier with more. Is that too much to ask?"
"Um, no. It's fine. What night of the week were you thinking of?"
That wasn't the level of enthusiasm she'd been hoping for. She was fairly certain if Drew's girlfriend demanded more sex, he wouldn't ask her what night of the week. He'd probably do it right then and there.
Don't think about that.
"It doesn't matter when, Jeff. For God's sake, just pick a night."
"Fine. Um, fine. How about we discuss it during our vacation?"
"Fine." She didn't mind putting it off. The idea was already beginning to lose its charm.
"You will be back in time to salvage our trip, won't you, Lauren? You only have two weeks off work, and we've already lost one day we can't make up. Maybe two."
It was a valid complaint, but somehow it sounded petty when Jeff said it. "I don't want to talk about it tonight, Jeff."
"What will you do tomorrow if Meg doesn't call?"
"I don't know. Why don't we wait and see what happens?"
"You need to change your plane reservations as soon as possible, Lauren, or it'll cost you a fortune."
Lauren usually found Jeff's frugal common sense admirable, but it didn't seem to be the most important consideration right now. "I know, I just don't want to think about it now."
"I need to know your itinerary so I can schedule our dinner with Mom and Dad."
Lauren squeezed her eyes shut. "I have a splitting headache, Jeff. I'll call you tomorrow." She hung up before he could reply. A minute later she realized the headache hadn't been a lie and searched her purse for aspirin before crawling into bed.
Incredibly, she slept a full nine hours. With the early spring sunrise still a gray line in the eastern sky, she made as little noise as she could, washing and dressing.
It didn't matter. When she padded silently downstairs in stocking feet, lights blazed in several rooms. She heard the low rumble of Drew's voice from the kitchen, followed by Gerald's softer tone.
She found them standing at the granite-topped island. Lauren took in Drew's disheveled hair and Gerald's tie-less shirt, with open collar and rolled sleeves.
"Have you two been up all night?"
They exchanged looks, as if her question required consultation. Drew came up with the answer. "Yes."
She didn't need a premonition to guess that something was wrong. A quick stab of fear sent a shiver through her as she walked to Drew's side, refusing to think about why standing next to him might offer reassurance.
"What is it? Have you heard from Meg?" An icy feeling gripped her stomach. "Is she okay?" At least a dozen more questions flew through her mind in the second before Drew shook his head.
"No, we haven't heard from her."
Maybe no news is good news, she told herself. "Senator Creighton?" she asked.
Across from her, Gerald shook his head.
"Then what?" She looked from Drew's weary face, unshaven and shadowed with stubble, back to Gerald's pinched expression. "What were you doing all night?"
"Searching the house," Drew told her. "We hoped there might be a letter, or a notation on the computer, something that would hint at where they'd gone."
They wouldn't look this concerned if the search hadn't been successful. "You found something," she guessed.
"Not right away. Not until Gerald thought to check the safe. Meg told him she was going to the bank when she left here, and she'd been in Dad's office, so we thought "
"You thought," Gerald corrected.
Lauren suddenly realized where this was going. The icy dread inside her mixed with hot anger as she turned toward Drew. "You son of a bitch. You thought she might have stolen something from the safe?"
He didn't flinch. "It was a logical possibility."
A rush of fury pulled Lauren's hands into tight fists at her sides. With her remaining fingernails biting into her palms, she growled at him, "No, it's not logical, not if you know Meg. My sister would never steal." She whipped her head toward Gerald. "You claim to know her. Did you really think Meg would do something like that?"
Pain creased Gerald's forehead. "No, I didn't."
A tiny wave of relief washed over her. At least someone believed in Meg.
Gerald's sad gaze shifted toward Drew. "I still don't."
Responding to the defeat in his voice, Lauren's stomach clenched with dread. "Still?" She turned back to Drew, nearly shrinking from the hesitation in his eyes.
"Lauren..." Drew began.
She shook her head to emphasize the denial because she knew her voice would sound weak. "No. She wouldn't."
Drew's voice was as hard as steel. "I'm sorry. But she did."Copyright © 2009 by Starr Ambrose
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Starr Ambrose's debut novel Lie to Me was one of my favorite reads in 2008. It was funny and well written, had great characters and was an easy, quick read so when I saw Our Little Secret was available, I was really looking forward to reading it. Welcome to the live styles of the rich and famous in D.C. where mistaken identities, blackmail, corruption, foreign dignitaries and politicians are the order of the day. Mmmmm sounds just like every other regular day in Washington. The only thing missing was Chris Matthews from MSNBC's Hardball. Identical twin sisters Lauren and Meg Sutherland couldn't be more different. Where Lauren is the responsible, reliable, practical twin, engaged to an equally boring man, Meg is promiscuous, lives life on the wild side and is now newly married to her boss and a man twice her age US congressman Harlan Creighton. And it turns out instead of enjoying wedded bliss and a honeymoon get-away, the newlyweds are in fact M.I.A. and on the run. With her sister missing, Lauren Sutherland hightails it to Washington D.C. where the first person she encounters is Drew Creighton, ski instructor and son of the missing congressman. Drew immediately mistakes Lauren for her twin sister and thinks she's a gold-digging hussy interested only in his father's wealth and power. The sparks immediately fly between Drew and Lauren with a close call involving a hair pulling incident and a well-placed kick to the shin (I'll let you figure out who did what). Since Lauren was an engaged woman at the start of the book, I was interested to see how Ambrose would develop the relationship between Drew and Lauren. Turns out Jeff the fiancé was a bit of a dud and I could see why Lauren would dump his ass in favor of the gorgeous, irresistible ski bum...or someone she thinks is a ski bum. You know what happens when you ass-u-me and both are guilty of jumping to the wrong conclusions about each other. As Drew and Lauren put their amateur detective skills to work, they are actually a good team once they get past their initial misunderstandings (ohh and Lauren dumps the BF), then the hot and steamy action really heats up between them. But they've got a job to do as they dodge bullets, an attempted kidnapping (Drew's not the only one who mistakes Lauren for her twin sister), and car chases while trying to figure out the good guys from the bad. At this point the suspense plot involving the political blackmail plot, doctored pictures, secret service agents and foreign nationals was a bit long winded and tedious and I was ready for it to be over. To Lauren's credit she was surprisingly strong and smart and really held it together at the end when she was faced with some uncomfortable circumstances. Our Little Secrets had it's moments with funny clever writing , some madcap adventure and great chemistry between Drew and Lauren. Although I enjoyed the story, it wasn't in the same league for me as Lie to Me.
Twins Lauren and Meg Sutherland are total opposites as the former is reliable and the latter is impulsive. However, even Lauren, used to her sibling's reckless behavior, is stunned when her sister marries US Senator Creighton, a man twice her age. Lauren plans to persuade her sibling and the politician to annul their marriage. However, she becomes concerned when the newlyweds vanish without a trace. The senator's son Drew joins Lauren in a search for their missing relatives after mistakenly accusing her of being a gold-digger. To her shock, Lauren is attracted to Drew, which is out of character for her as she is engaged to an ultra conservative who is compatible to her. At the same time an unknown adversary stalks them and the newlyweds are planning to prevent by any means possible the bungling amateurs from unraveling a Washington run by blackmail of illicit trysts. Our Little Secret is an enjoyable amateur sleuth romantic suspense in which the lead couple in their search for their relatives find themselves in a murkier deadly situation as a predator watches their every move. The story line is a fast-paced frenzied frolic with the emphasis on the romance although Starr Ambrose takes a jab at a DC fueled by money interests. Fans will appreciate this entertaining gambit as Drew and Lauren wonder how love can prove so dangerous. Harriet Klausner