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San Antonio, Texas
"You're pregnant, Natalie."
Natalie Sinclair blinked, stared at her sister, Kitt, and then waited because she was certain that Kitt was about to deliver the punch line of a silly joke.
But the punch line didn't come.
Judging from Kitt's expression, she was serious. However, Natalie was serious, too, and she knew for a fact there was no way she could be carrying a child.
"I haven't had sex in over a year," Natalie admitted. Though her sister no doubt already knew that. And it was the realization of the no doubt that caused any remaining amusement to vanish.
Pulling in her breath, Natalie set her teacup aside, the delicate bone china rattling against the saucer. Some of the Irish blend splashed onto a pair of entwined hand-painted yellow roses. "Dr. Benjamin did the pregnancy test," Kitt continued, her voice shaky and thin. "He called when you were in the meeting with the antique broker, and when I pressed him about what was wrong with you, he finally told me. You don't have the flu, and you're not anemic—"
"Stop right there. I can't be pregnant." Natalie waited for Kitt to agree to that, but her sister made no such acknowledgement. In fact, nothing about Kitt's ultra-solemn expression changed. "But you think I am?"
Okay. This obviously wasn't some joke. Besides, Kitt wasn't a joking kind of person. Still, there was no way this could be true.
Natalie shook her head. "The test is wrong." Kitt did some head-shaking of her own. "The doctor used your blood and urine samples to repeat it. Not once. But twice. And then he repeated it again at my request. All three times, the tests were positive. Based on the physical he gave you and those test results, Dr. Benjamin thinks you're about four weeks pregnant."
Forcing herself to remain calm and think this through, Natalie snapped her fingers in rapid succession. "I've heard about this sort of thing. They're false-positive results. They have to be."
Natalie was well aware that she sounded desperate. And she was.
What was going on here?
Kitt didn't respond to her false-positive theory. Instead, her sister turned the computer monitor around to face Natalie and typed in something on the keyboard. "You remember a couple of months ago I had surveil-lance cameras installed throughout the house?"
"Of course, I remember. Some items were missing, and we thought someone on the staff might be stealing from us. The surveillance tapes proved it." And Natalie wasn't pleased about this seemingly mundane topic when they had something not so mundane to clear up.
"I didn't have the cameras removed after the problem was resolved," Kitt continued. "I figured the extra security wouldn't hurt."
Impatient, Natalie huffed. "Is this leading somewhere, Kitt?"
"Unfortunately, yes. After I finished my conversation with Dr. Benjamin, I went back through the surveillance tapes for the past four weeks. I found something."
That nearly stopped Natalie's heart. "Explain something," Natalie insisted.
Kitt typed in a code on the keyboard, and Natalie instantly recognized the video feed that appeared on the screen. Nearly a month earlier.
The night of her surprise twenty-ninth birthday party.
Though Natalie was familiar with the scene, it wasn't an entirely pleasant memory. She'd arrived back in San Antonio from a week-long antique-buying trip in Ireland and had stopped by Dr. Benjamin's office because she was sick. The diagnosis was an upper respiratory infection. The doctor had done some lab tests and given her prescription meds. By the time she made it home, she had been exhausted, ready to fall face-first into bed. Only instead of bed, she'd discovered that her mother had assembled three dozen or so of her close and not-so-close friends for a surprise birthday celebration.
"Are you saying this is when the so-called pregnancy happened?" Natalie asked. "Because, trust me, I would have remembered something as monumental as having sex with one of the guests."
Though Natalie had to admit to herself that some of the night was a complete blur. She blamed the big blur on the prescription meds. Of course, the fatigue from the business trip hadn't helped, either. She'd felt like a zombie throughout the entire party. Still, her zombie-haze wouldn't explain that pregnancy test.
"Just watch," Kitt instructed.
Even with Kitt fast-forwarding the event, Natalie had no trouble spotting her mother, Macy, in the crowd that had gathered in the foyer to say their goodbyes. With her Marilyn Monroe platinum-blond hair, curvy body and dazzling smile, Macy had a way of monopolizing space and drawing attention to herself.
Then, Natalie spotted someone else.
She automatically frowned. Rick had a way of monopolizing space as well, but in a totally different way. Wearing jeans and a white shirt, he appeared his usual self. Aloof. Surly. Her mother had no doubt invited him, but he definitely fell into the unwanted-guest category. Natalie had spent the evening avoiding and ignoring him, and was thankful he'd done the same to her.
Natalie dismissed her surly, jeans-wearing nemesis and continued to study the surveillance tape. As the guests idled by the front door, she managed to locate herself. Alone. Her head down with her chin practically touching her chest. Leaning against the wall next to the fireplace. She definitely wasn't in the throes of having wild sex.
The video stopped, and a second later, the screen became blank.
"Something went wrong with the surveillance equipment at this point," Kitt explained. "I'm not sure what. But that's not the only camera we had in operation that night." Kitt typed in something else on the keyboard. "The lighting isn't very good, but here's some footage taken from the hall outside your bedroom. The time lapse is about a half hour from the segment you were just watching."
The hall was indeed poorly lit. And empty. It didn't stay that way for long. Natalie soon saw the approaching couple. Mere shadows moving within the shadows.
"There's no camera in your bedroom so this is all we have," Kitt explained. She latched onto her Texas A&M coffee mug, took a long drink of the heavily scented espresso, and that's when Natalie noticed that her sister's hand was trembling. "Still, I think it's enough."
"Well, it's not much."
Natalie couldn't see the faces of the couple, and without audio, she couldn't tell who was approaching her bedroom door. At least, she couldn't tell until the figures got closer to the camera.
Then, Natalie realized that she was one of those shadowy figures.
Seeing herself, however, didn't jog any memories. She had absolutely no recollection of being in the hallway that night though she was certainly aware it'd happened. After all, she had woken up in bed the following morning.
Still, hadn't she had a feeling that something was wrong? A feeling she'd dismissed.
Maybe she shouldn't have.
And with that uncomfortable thought repeating in her head, Natalie moved to the edge of her seat, closer to the monitor.And she studied every inch of the screen.
Praying. Hoping. That whatever image appeared, there would be a plausible explanation for it.
Natalie watched herself as she slowly approached her bedroom. The person walking beside her had his arm looped around her waist.
It was definitely a man.
He was at least a head taller than she was and outsized her by at least fifty pounds. And neither of them was too steady. When she reached the door, she staggered forward, and her arm rammed into the wall. The reaction on her face could have been either pain or giddiness.
Sweet heaven, she acted drunk.
But she knew for a fact that she'd consumed no alcohol that night. The only thing she'd had to drink was a glass of sparkling fruit juice that someone on the catering staff had gotten for her shortly after she arrived home.
"Okay, here it is," Kitt said.
Natalie waited and watched. The man in the video turned, shifting his weight. So did Natalie, except she wasn't as graceful. He barely managed to catch her before she stumbled again. Once he had her semi-steady, he kissed her. She didn't resist. In fact, she kissed him back and groped behind her to open her bedroom door.And that's when the security camera and the meager lighting worked together to catch his face.
Kitt froze the image. Not that Natalie needed a second look to know who he was.
The man taking her into her bedroom was the one person on earth she considered her enemy.