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By Kate Donovan
SilhouetteCopyright © 2005 Kate Donovan
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Five years later
"Can I help you, miss?"
Sabrina hesitated, knowing that the next words she uttered would change the course of her life. But she had carefully weighed every alternative before making this decision and, absent new information, wasn't about to second-guess herself.
Her father had trained her better than that.
Smiling at the young man guarding the entrance to Theo Howell's Monterey estate, she announced, "I'm Briana York. A friend of Mr. Howell's. I don't have an appointment, but I can guarantee you he'll want to see me."
"I'm sure he will," the guard said, returning the smile as he scanned her bare legs. She had dressed in shorts and a tank top for the long, hot drive, not really caring how she looked.
Well at least he can see you're not armed, she told herself ruefully.
"Just give me a second, Miss York." Stepping back into his booth, the guard punched a button and an intercom began sputtering static.
Then a female voice from Sabrina's childhood demanded, "Fred? Is the repairman here?"
"It's someone to see Theo. Her name's Briana York. She doesn't have an appointment."
Until now Sabrina had been so focused on the danger in visiting Theo's house after all these years, she had failed to anticipate how wonderful it would be to see the place -- and its inhabitants -- again. Thoroughly charmed, and no longer hesitant about revealing herself, she waved her hand to catch the guard's attention. "Is that Marietta? The cook? Tell her it's Sabrina Sullivan. She'll know who I am."
"Sullivan?" The guard's eyes widened. "As in Sully Sullivan?"
"Just tell her."
The guard nodded, then cleared his throat. "Marietta, the guest says her name is Sabrina Sullivan."
A delighted squeal emanated from the intercom, then the cook instructed Fred to admit the guest right away.
"Go on up to the house, Miss Sullivan. Stay to the right -- "
"I've been here before. Thanks." Sabrina edged her car up to the gate and sped through as soon as it had opened.
He didn't even ask you for identification, she told herself in amused disbelief. If Dad were here, he'd give that poor guy such a lecture!
It didn't bode well for the state of affairs at Perimeter Security Incorporated, she decided. Apparently discipline had fallen apart after her father's death. Hopefully they still knew how to run a background check, which was all she needed from them.
And security aside, she was relieved to see that the estate was as stunning as she remembered it, with the sound of waves crashing in the distance while the wind whistled through the twisted limbs of hauntingly beautiful Monterey cypresses.
The house that Perimeter built, she reminded herself, proud that her father had been part of Theo Howell's phenomenal success. The story was a classic. Howell had come from modest wealth, eventually inheriting the family business -- a burglar alarm company. In a stroke of brilliance, he had invested every dime -- including a few borrowed ones -- and had transformed the company into a full-scale security provider called Perimeter, utilizing sophisticated computers, state-of-the-art monitoring and highly trained bodyguards. Almost immediately, Perimeter gained global prominence, and in the years that followed, became the preeminent provider of security to corporations, dignitaries, movie stars and other assorted clients.
But not without some growing pains. Despite all the successes, Theo Howell and Perimeter had had three pivotal failures. The first -- a bomb smuggled into a peace summit -- had been a mixed blessing, leading Howell to re-cruit the brash young CIA agent who had disarmed the device just seconds before the timer reached zero. That agent, Sully Sullivan, thereafter revamped the company's procedures, trained its staff and basically took it to even higher heights.
Perimeter's second disaster, more than twenty years later, had resulted in the assassination of a client in the Canary Islands. Desperate to salvage the company's reputation, Sully had rejoined forces with the CIA to bring the assassin -- Pluto Zenner -- to justice. Pluto had been killed resisting arrest, leading to the third and most tragic failure of all -- the revenge taken by Pluto's son, Adonis, against Sully.
For Sabrina, that was where the Perimeter story ended. She had no idea what had happened over the past five years. All she knew for sure was that Adonis Zenner had never been apprehended or punished for her father's murder.
Coupled with the lax behavior of the guard at the gate, Adonis's continued existence didn't speak well for the caliber of Perimeter's current staff, she decided grimly. But it was too late to turn back. Sabrina still believed she'd made the right choice in coming here, so she parked her red convertible alongside a black one at the curb of the circular driveway in front of the Howell mansion. Then she took the steps two at a time, reaching the front door just as Marietta opened it wide.
"Miss Sabrina!" The servant gave her a hearty hug. "I thought we'd never see you again."
Sabrina returned the embrace. "It's so great to see you. Are you in charge of the place these days?"
The dark-haired woman shook her head. "It's just me and my husband now. Money's tight for Mr. Howell. But we're really all he needs. Sebastian does the gardening and driving. And I still do all the cooking, so don't worry. I'll put some meat on those skinny bones of yours in no time." She studied the guest fondly, then asked, "Is it okay to call you Sabrina?"
"What about Miss Michelle? Is she coming, too?"
"She's on vacation." Sabrina sighed. "We can visit in a little while, but for now, I'd better go see Uncle Theo. Was he shocked to hear I was back?"
"I didn't tell him." Marietta gave her a wide smile. "I can't wait to see the look on his face."
Sabrina laughed. "Let's hope he's not annoyed. You and that guard really shouldn't have let me come up without permission."
"He'll be too happy to complain. Come on." The cook headed down the hall toward Theo's study.
Sabrina surveyed the entrance hall with wistful thoroughness. Nothing had changed. The same sweeping brass and oak staircase, oak flooring and vibrant red carpets. No furniture except for a brass table holding a vase filled with red roses.
Excerpted from Parallel Lies by Kate Donovan Copyright © 2005 by Kate Donovan. Excerpted by permission.
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