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Dana Newcombe's jaw tightened. Whenever her twin, Nicole, announced she was bored, bad things happened.
She had to think of a diversion--fast. "How about, um, Monopoly, or ... Scrabble?" Dana looked around the living room of her cozy apartment, wondering where she'd stashed the board games.
Pressing her oft-photographed lips together, Nickie picked up a silver-backed hand mirror and scrutinized her image. The victim of a chemical peel gone awry, her sister's face reminded Dana of a molting snake, with brownish, discolored patches alternating with areas of fresh pink flesh. Nick wore tinted glasses as a disguise, and had come to stay with Dana to prevent anyone in Manhattan from seeing her looking any less than perfect.
Both Dana and her sister sprawled on identical plush couches upholstered in deep, velvety green. The smoked glass coffee and side tables reflected the crackling flames of the fire glowing in the white brick hearth. Unable to use make-up herself with her skin so bad, Nicole had been experimenting on Dana, so open containers of cosmetics--blusher, nail polish, and lipsticks--littered the coffee table between them.
"You could read your latest magazine." Dana reached for a copy of Vogue. The cover of the November issue featured her sister's famous face, eerily like her own, but with the features made up with Chanel's latest line of cosmetics. Dana figured that it had been shot before that fateful visit to the incompetent aesthetician who'd come close to ruining the career of supermodel Nicole Newcombe.
Rolling her eyes, Nicole groaned."Spare me."
"Max and I are going to the Ingmar Bergman revival at the Arts Theatre downtown. Tonight they're showing Cries and Whispers. Why don't you come along with us?"
Still staring into the mirror, Nicole picked at a dead patch of skin. "After which the two of you will go to the Boring Cafe, drink hot cocoa, and discuss logarithms."
"It's the Boolean Cafe, and it's more likely we'll talk about the film." Dana adjusted her glasses.
"Whoa, exciting. As exciting as a funeral dirge." Nick scowled at her reflection.
"Look, I'm probably going to marry Max. The two of you ought to do some bonding."
Nicole dropped the mirror. It clattered onto the coffee table. "You can't settle for Max! He's too dull for you. Not like..."
"Colton?" Dana knew that Nickie and Colton, Max's brother, had been hot-and-heavy last summer. That had ended when Colt traveled to Europe. "Look, I don't want to poke a sore spot..."
"Colt didn't hurt me." Nicole tossed her mane of long, platinum blond hair.
"Whatever. Look, Ms. Supermodel, I'm not exciting like you. I'm just a dull little scientist. Max and I are perfectly suited."
"Mr. Meticulous has his head buried so far into his stocks and bonds that he can't even tell you and me apart."
"Oh, nonsense. Of course he can. He loves me."
"Can too." How on earth did her sister manage to reduce her to a bickering little brat?
"Bet you I'm right, and if I win, you can't marry him." Nicole wagged her index finger, decorated with a French-tipped nail, back and forth.
Dana stared at her twin, eyes widening. The stakes had definitely risen.
"Unless you're afraid." The taunting note that had always irritated Dana had entered her sister's voice.
She told herself not to let Nicole get to her. Unfortunately, Nick knew exactly how to crawl under Dana's skin. "Afraid of what?" Dana asked.
"Afraid I'm right."
"Max knows me. He loves me! There's no way he'd be fooled."
"No doubt you both think so. And if you're right, you have nothing to worry about." Nickie's voice was smooth as a con artist homing in on a rich old lady. "Does he know I'm in town?"
"Umm, yeah, I told him you'd be here this weekend."
"Is he coming to pick you up?"
"We were going to meet at the theatre."
"Okay. I'll wear your coat and tell him I--you--whatever--I have a headache, or something, and didn't come down from New York."
"You're mixing up your pronouns."
Nicole waved a hand. "You know what I mean."
"Why not? It's just a little harmless fun. You scared?" That taunting note had entered Nick's voice again.
"I'm not scared." Pissed-off, she infused her voice with equal contempt. "I'm not going to let you push me into something I don't want to do."
"Bullshit. You're gonna wimp out on me, aren't you?"
Dana bit her lip. When she put it that way ... "I'm not a wimp!"
"Okay, okay." Nickie sounded mollified. "So let's visit your closet."
After pawing through Dana's clothes and rejecting most items, Nicole picked black wool pants, a loose, thick black sweater, and a sensible parka. She touched up her face to partially conceal her mottled skin, then donned a red beret and red knitted gloves. Pirouetting in front of the full-length mirror, she asked, "How do I look?"
Her mouth dry, Dana swallowed. "Like me."
"Perfect!" Nicole pranced out the door in Dana's borrowed black waffle-soled boots, leaving Dana's heart sinking to her ankles and her head throbbing.
What would happen if Nickie won the bet? Dana's comfortable life with its cozy relationship would be blasted to smithereens.
She poured a glass of Cabernet and raised it to her lips with a shaky hand. In her heart, she knew Nicole was right. Dana cared for Max, maybe even loved him, but he didn't light her fire. He never had. Actually, she'd pretty much given up on finding a man who would really, truly do it for her. A stroke book and a vibrator were so much more reliable.
On the other hand, Dana looked forward to the life she and Max could share. Security, home, comfort, affection ... children, maybe, when the time came.
Nicole didn't understand. Men didn't fall at Dana's feet the way they swooned for her glamorous celebrity sister. Males weren't attracted to cerebral women. She was lucky to have Max. A stockbroker, Max valued her intelligence and looked beyond her academic façade. Or so she hoped. What if Nick was right?
Dana bitterly regretted the bet. It scared her. Had she wagered her future on impulse?
She took off her glasses to massage her temples, then found a bottle of aspirin in the bathroom cabinet and washed a couple down with the rest of the wine. She was crazy. Why was she letting this happen? She had to stop this disastrous bet. She grabbed Nicole's long, elegant leather coat and flung it on, preparing to leave.
The door bell chimed, and Dana wondered why neither Nicole nor Max used their keys. Both her sister and her almost-fiancé had them. And who else could it be?
She opened her door. A dark-haired male in denim leaned on the jamb. She recognized him immediately.
Her heart stuttered.
Her stomach dropped.
Her palms sweated.
She overheated like an ancient Studebaker laboring up a mountain.
She wasn't a coward, but she was tempted to slam the door before hiding in her darkest closet. The man at her door scared the starch out of her usually upright backbone. Why, she couldn't define, and that bothered her all the more.
But for no reason she could pinpoint, Colton Wilder, Max's younger brother, spooked her right down to the tips of her toes.
"Hey, Nick." Colt straightened to his full six-foot-two. "Can I come in?"
Without waiting for permission, he sauntered past her, brushing the coat's fur trim with his arm. The touch tingled through her as though he'd caressed her breasts, which lay directly beneath the fur.
He didn't say excuse me, either.
Maybe that was why he pissed her off, Dana thought. He was the rudest man she'd ever met. Like a predatory hawk, Colt liked to swoop in, take what or who he wanted, then fly away again.
He was so different from Max that Dana couldn't fathom how they'd emerged from the same womb. Perhaps Colt's rough streak was the result of being Son Number Two instead of the firstborn, she mused as she watched him strip off his sheepskin-lined denim jacket and take a seat on her plush sofa.
"Wha-what are you doing here?" she asked. She tried not to stare at his chest, clad in a snug turtleneck, which outlined incredible pecs. The cobalt fabric accentuated his brilliant blue eyes.
"I flew into LaGuardia earlier today and called you in Manhattan. After I listened to your phone message, I decided to come rescue you from my brother and your sister. Last time we went out you told me they bored you to tears."
Dana's mouth dropped open. Nick, that traitor, had called her boring? She'd get her.
Colton spread long arms along the back of the couch and eyed her. "Come on over here, Nickie, and say hello properly." He patted his lap.
Torn between deception and truthfulness, Dana hesitated. For all his faults, Colt was a prime piece of manflesh. He wasn't a mere boy toy. He was FAO Schwartz, Toys-R-Us, and Santa's workshop at Christmas rolled into one mouthwatering package.
He'd swooped in last summer and they'd double dated, with Dana and Max showing Boston to Nick and Colt, who'd indulged in a torrid affair lasting all of three weeks. Then he'd flown away in wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am style.
Nicole never discussed Colt, but that really wasn't odd. She tended to be casual about her affairs, and Dana hadn't pried, assuming that Nicole had set another notch into her lipstick case and moved on.
But Dana wouldn't lie. "I'm not Nick."
Colt laughed. "I love your sense of humor." He stood. "Okay, if you're not in the mood, we can go over to the Four Seasons and eat."
"I'm not dressed for the Four Seasons. Why do you want to go there?"
"They burn a good steak. Why don't you change your clothes?" Colt eyed her jeans and fisherman's sweater. "I'm sure you brought more than that from New York."
Nick had, of course. "What about you?"
"I won't matter. I'm sure they'll be delighted to seat the famous Nicole Newcombe whenever and wherever she pleases. Remember last time?"
Dana did. The four of them had gone to the racetrack; with Colt's contacts in the horse-racing business, they were able to see the horses up close and personal. Afterwards, even though they reeked of the stables, Nicole had swept into the Four Seasons as though she owned the place and demanded an early supper of champagne and hors d'oeuvres. The maitre d' had seated them without a flick of an eyelash or a twitch of his nose.
Dana decided that getting confused with her sister might not be so bad. She figured she could do a credible Nickie imitation for one evening, especially if the deal came with Colt's company. Why not? After all, Nick was enjoying a night out with Max. Why should Dana stay at home alone and let her sister have all the fun?
She went to the bathroom to freshen up a bit and stared into the mirror. The long, fur-trimmed coat looked jaunty, rakish and dashing, but her plain-Jane demeanor reminded her that she was Dana the scientist, not Nicole the cover model. No one in their right mind would label her jaunty, rakish, or dashing.
How did Nickie do it? Dana wondered for the umpteenth time. Although she wore Nick's crimson lipstick and matching nail polish, she definitely felt like a pig in a poke. They shared the same DNA down to the ends of their platinum hair, had the same hazel eyes and six-foot height. Yet Nickie had a stellar career as a model while Dana dated staid, dull-as-dirt Max. An astronomer, she studied the stars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in nearby Cambridge. Glamour girl Nickie danced with them in Manhattan's trendiest clubs Even at age twenty-five, Dana felt eclipsed by her famous sister.
Dana immediately berated herself for her disloyalty to Max and her jealousy of Nick. It wasn't Nicole's fault that Dana had always felt insecure. Max wasn't dull. There was nothing wrong with being known as Mr. Meticulous. He was steady, not staid. Reliable.
Like her father.
Dana shunted her mind from that icky thought. She stripped off her clothes, then raided Nick's suitcase for a long, spangled slink of a dress. Of cream and gold jersey, the gown was cut so low that Dana had to take off her bra rather than expose her underthings.
Examining her reflection, she saw the dreaded VPL--visible panty line--ridging the clingy knit.
She bit her lower lip. No undies in this freezing weather? Nick would skip them, she reminded herself. She stripped off her bikini panties, put on pantyhose, then rearranged the gown.
Hoping for the best, she left her glasses where she'd tossed them on the counter. Big risk. In terms of their appearance, the glasses were the major difference between herself and Nickie. When Nick wore glasses, they were an affectation or a disguise. For Dana, the vision in her left eye was permanently impaired, and she needed them to see. She had contacts, but they couldn't completely correct the damage done by an errant soccer ball at the age of four.
She tended to avoid analyzing the blow to her psyche caused by that soccer ball and the resulting injury. But she knew that she was less tough, less secure, and less outgoing than Nickie.
Squinting into the mirror, she popped in her contacts before she smeared a little of Nicole's coverstick over the tell-tale red marks on each side of her nose where glasses usually rested. She then draped Nicole's long leather coat over her arm and returned to the living room.
Colt leaped to his feet. "That's more like the Nickie I know and love." He ran his tongue over his teeth.
"Love? A strange word coming from your mouth."
He came closer. "Now, darlin'. We said no regrets, remember?" He ran a hand across her bottom, sheathed in snug, cream-colored jersey.
Her flesh rippled. With shaky fingers, Dana wrapped Nicole's spangled muffler around her neck and picked up her keys, ready to leave her home with Colt.
Forbidden, frightening, scary, exciting Colt.
"No regrets," she said.