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Catherine MacPherson's first impulse, when the doorbell rang, was to ignore it. She wasn't feeling particularly sociable.
Self-pity, on the other hand, was such an unattractive trait, and one that filled her with guilt-in spite of the permission she'd given herself to take one full day to wallow in her misfortune. The doorbell pealed again, relentlessly, insistently, and in the end, years of self-discipline won out. She went to answer the summons.
The last person she expected to see on her front steps was her identical twin. "Kaylee," she said blankly, and simply stood there for an instant, staring dumbfounded at her sister.
"Surprise!" Kaylee exclaimed in the breathy contralto she'd perfected when they were fifteen years old. With the shoulder strap of her purse sliding down her arm, her suitcase ricocheting off the doorjamb, breasts jiggling, she tripped into the foyer. Dropping luggage and handbag, she flung herself at Catherine, enveloping her in a lush and fragrant embrace.
Catherine's arms automatically closed around her sister to return the hug, but she couldn't suppress the little voice in her brain that whispered, Uh-oh. I smell big trouble in River City. Patting Kaylee's shoulder, she disentangled herself from the embrace and stepped back.
Kaylee's gaze took in the foyer and she peered into the living room, then looked back at Catherine, one eyebrow sardonically quirked. "Ever the Suzy Spotless, I see," she commented with lazy amusement. "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
It was like having a bruise poked with a careless finger, and Catherine replied stiffly,"Actually, it's much neater than usual. I was supposed to leave for Europe last night, but when I arrived at the airport, I discovered my travel agency had gone bankrupt and taken my money with them."
"Ouch," Kaylee sympathized.
"I saved forever for that trip, Kaylee." Catherine's chin wobbled for an instant but she summoned her resolve, biting down hard on her molars until she had herself under control once more.
"Yeah, that's tough luck," Kaylee said. Then she shrugged and added blithely, "But you'll get it straightened out, Sis. You always do." Picking up a fragile sculpture from the little table in the foyer, she studied it dispassionately for a moment, then looked over at her sister. "The thing is, Catherine"--she carefully replaced the sculpture--"I'm in really big trouble, myself."
Oh, hey now, there's a huge surprise. It just popped into Catherine's mind, and yes, she knew such sarcasmspoke ill of her own character, but she just couldn't seem to work up a decent regret. It wasn't an accident that she lived as far away from her sister as it was possible to get in the contiguous United States.
For as long as Catherine could remember, it had fallen to her to take care of family problems. She could never quite recall how the responsibility had come to be hers, but most likely it boiled down to one basic fact. Before anything could be accomplished, someone first had to be willing to do itand no one else in her family ever volunteered. Her father had usually been off chasing one of his getrich-quick schemes, letting the devil-and everyone else take the hindmost. Mama had been deaf and perennially immersed in her fundamentalist church group, only emerging from it long enough to admonish Catherine and Kaylee about the dangers of displaying their sinful bodies. Warnings of that nature had been issued with numbing regularity, but day-to-day problems had somehow been ignored. It had been left to Catherine to see that the utility bills got paid, that meals got on the table. It had been up to her, too, to bail Kaylee out of the various scrapes her twin got herself into.
Catherine had wished for a lot of things during her adolescent and teenage years, but most often she'd wished that Mama wouldn't preach so about their sinful bodies. It only made her self-conscious about her own and sent Kaylee overboard to display a., much of hers as was legally allowed. Her sister's motto had seemed to be If They Say No, Do It. And If It Feels Good, Then Do It 'Til You Drop.
It made Catherine weary just thinking about it. Cleaning up after Kaylee's excesses had once occupied most of her energies, for her sister could rarely be depended upon to think before she acted. Catherine needn't even close her eyes for an entire montage of incidents to flash with dizzying, strobe-light speed across her mental screens.
Catherine's patience wasn't what it once was, but that didn't negate the fact that, like Pavlov's dogs, she'd been conditioned to react to a given set of stimuh. In her case it was to begin searching for solutions the instant a dilemma was presented to her. Experiencing that old uneasy mix of love, anger, and frustration, Catherine suppressed a sigh and bent to pick up her sister's suitcase. "Come on into the kitchen," she invited wearily, "and tell me all about it."
"You overheard what?" she demanded incredulously a few moments later. Twisting around, she stared over her shoulder at her sister.
"A murder being arranged."
"Oh, my God, Kaylee, that's what I thought you said:" Catherine turned back to the stove to set down the teakettle. Shock rendered her fingers clumsy, and the kettle clattered loudly against the element as she fumbled it onto the burner. The cups she picked up to carry to the table rattled slightly in their saucers, and the sunlight pouring through the miniblinds seemed suddenly garish and inappropriate. "When? Where? Whose?"
Kaylee stared blankly at the dainty floral cup her sister set in front of her, then looked back up at her twin's pale face. "Tea?" she demanded incredulously. Baby, I'm yours
. Copyright © by Susan Andersen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.