THE SISTER SHE NEVER KNEW BUT WOULD STOP AT NOTHING TO SAVE
It wasn't like Tess Mays to fall apart in front of strangers, but she was having a rough day. Detective Ryan Hill just informed her that her long-lost father was dead, and that the woman lying helplessly in a coma in the ICU was her identical twin. Unbelievable! Somehow Tess had to unravel her father's secret past and fi nd the thugs who intended to kill her sister. For that she needed Ryan's help if only she could resist succumbing to his protective arms. Her bold plan: to live another woman's life and possibly risk her own in the process.
About the Author
I was born in Sacramento, California where I launched my writing career by "publishing" a family newspaper. Circulation was dismal. After school, I married the love of my life. We spent years juggling children and pets while living on sailboats. All the while, I read like a crazy woman (devoured Agatha Christie) and wrote stories of my own, eventually selling to magazines and then book publishers. Now, 45 novels later, I'm concentrating on romantic suspense where my true interest lies.
Read an Excerpt
Tess took the taxi directly from the airport to the hospital, traveling the dark, rainy, unfamiliar streets in a state of numb distraction.
All she could hear in her head was the impersonal voice on the telephone telling her a fantastic story she still didn't believe. Well, she'd be at the hospital soon and then she'd know. Her stomach, which had been in a knot for hours now, clenched even tighter.
"This is it, lady," the cabbie said, rolling to a stop outside a huge, well-lit building. Gathering her duffel bag, Tess paid her fare before stepping outside into a puddle the size of a wading pool. Her San Francisco blood was too thin for this coastal Oregon chill, she thought, as she hugged her coat close and fought her way through the pelting rain into the hospital lobby.
She knew she needed to go up to the third floor. Once there, she found the ICU waiting room and activated the intercom. "I'm looking for Katie Fields," she said, saying the name aloud for the first time in her life. "I was told she's here."
"And you are?" the voice came back.
"Tess Mays. Theresa Mays. I believe I'm...expected." Within a few moments she was standing outside the curtained cubicle and because she'd been hurrying ever since the startling call came hours before, she pushed aside the soft-blue drapes without pause, stopping only as they swished behind her.
There was one bed in the dimly lit room. One slight figure, still as death itself, occupied the bed. Lights blinked on the monitors. If there were accompanying sounds, Tess didn't hear them; blood rushing through her head obliterated everything but the wild thumping of her own heart.
She wasn't aware when she dropped her duffel bag to the floor or when her shoulder bag followed. Pushing damp hair behind her ears, she slowly moved toward the bed, nerves like fire ants skittering up and down her spine.
Tubes led from the patient's arm to an IV bag, her fingernails were torn and dozens of bloody scrapes crisscrossed her arms. As Tess's gaze made it to the woman's face, she paused, resting one hand on the guardrail as she peered down at the bruised and swollen features.
It was true. Somehow, someway, she, a twenty-seven-year-old only child raised by a single mother eight hundred miles south of here, had acquired an unconscious identical twin sister.
Swaying, she clutched the side of the bed and murmured, "I don't understand...."
She heard her own whispered words and, just like that, the beeping of the machines and a sound came from the shadows. She looked up as a man materialized from the far corner. Taking a step back, she covered her mouth with one hand.
"You're Theresa Mays," he said, his face coming into the light. Tess stared at him as he stared at her, a stalemate of sorts. But the fact that he knew her name finally made an impact and she dropped her hand.
He wasn't a doctor, unless doctors at this hospital had adopted a dress code of jeans and black leather jackets, two-day-old beards and unruly jet-black hair. He appeared to be in his early thirties, a tall man with broad shoulders and features cut from a mountainside. The unsettled look on his face made Tess shudder. He held a rectangle of paper in his hand and he ran his fingers along the fold as he said, "I didn't really believe it until this moment. You look exactly like her."
"Who are you?" Tess said. "How do you know my name?"
"I've been expecting you," he said, walking around the bed, his gaze never leaving her face. He was a big man, and Tess was a small woman, something that hit home every time one of her larger patients got rambunctious, like the Newfoundland jokingly named Mouse who outweighed Tess and liked to sit on her feet.
It finally dawned on Tess that the strongest emotion emanating from this man was confusion.
Join the club....
He produced a badge. "My name is Ryan Hill. I'm a detective with the New Harbor police force."
With a glance back at the silent woman in the bed, Tess said, "Is this about...her...accident?"
"I worked with her father. He was my partner. I take it you didn't know your father," he said gently.
Tess shook her head. He was using the past tense, but her brain kept coming up with explanations other than the obvious one.
"I think you should read this," Detective Hill said, stepping closer and handing Tess the paper. It was dog-eared and much folded as though read and reread a million times.
Tess took it almost reluctantly, unfolding it into a handwritten letter. She looked over at her unconscious sister again, then back at the letter, tilting it toward the light in order to see better.
My dear Katie,
If you're reading this, I'm dead. Of course, being in law enforcement all these years has put me in harm's way more often than most, so I guess it's not too big a surprise. I want you to know any mistakes I made were my own damn fault. That said, you need to know something, Katie, something I swore I would never tell, but now, I don't know, maybe that was wrong.
A pang of loss shocked Tess with its intensity. Looking up from the letter, she found Detective Hill's gaze glued to her face. She said, "When...when did he die?"
"Ten weeks ago. December first."
"And you've read this letter?"
"It was in Katie's possession when she was hit outside her apartment building. One of her neighbors at the Vista Del Mar recognized her but didn't know her name and there was no ID in her wallet. The investigating officer found the letter. You can see that Katie wrote your phone number on the back. That's how we tracked you down."
Tess flipped the paper over and found her San Francisco phone number written in a different hand. "I see," she said woodenly.
He gestured at the paper and said, "Go on, finish reading it."
Turning the page over again, she read:
I know I told you your mother died in childbirth, but that's not the truth. Your mother didn't die. We split up when you were six months old. Only there's more. You had a twin sister, identical to you. When everything fell apart, your mother and I decided we'd each take one of you.
We actually rolled the dice to see which of you girls went where. You were so alike, there was just no other way to do it. I'm sorry for never telling you, but your mother and I made a pact and I'm breaking it now only because if I'm gone it means you're alone and I don't want that. I heard your mother went back to her maiden name of Mays after the divorce. Caroline Mays. Your sister's name is Theresa. I believe they resettled in California. Find them if you want, and if you do, well, tell your sister I'm sorry.
Forgive me, Katie.
Ignoring the tears rolling down her cheeks, Tess refolded the letter. She looked up at Detective Hill, who regarded her with such empathy that it crumbled what little control she had left and she swayed on her feet again. Only, this time he caught her elbows in his strong hands and held her steady.
"There's more," he said in such a way that Tess understood at once that it wasn't good. He dropped his hands and shoved them in his pockets.
"Not yet," she murmured, wiping away the tears.
"Give me a few moments." Directing her attention back to her sister, she added, "Is she...is she going to be okay?"
"The doctor said he thinks there's a good chance she'll pull through," he said. "Her brain waves are normal and her vital signs are decent. She hit her head hard when she went down, though — hence the concussion — but he said she could wake up tomorrow or next week. She's got bruises, torn ligaments in her right leg — I gather it's amazing her injuries aren't worse than they are."
"The person who called me said she'd been the victim of a hit-and-run. Has the driver come forward, have you found him yet?"
Detective Hill's eyes shifted uneasily as though he fervently wished he could respond with a positive, Of course! Instead he said, "There's not much to go on. There was one witness to the incident. A man walking his dog in the rain heard the impact and the squeal of brakes, but when he yelled, the driver, who had gotten out of the van, scrambled back inside and took off. Unfortunately, our witness is legally blind, but he can discern shapes and light. All he could say for certain was that the van was white. It didn't help that it was pouring cats and dogs. He couldn't tell if the driver was a man or a woman. There are a thousand white vans in New Harbor, Ms. Mays. Without a license plate..." His voice trailed off as he ran a hand through his black, glossy hair. "There's a whole lot you need to know."
Tess looked away from his gaze, staring at the bank of monitors, then at the face that was at once familiar and foreign — her twin sister. Her twin. All those years of loneliness and she'd had a twin the whole time.
And a father. "Look, Ms. Mays —"
"Tess. Call me Tess."
"Okay. And please call me Ryan. You must be beat. Why don't I buy you a cup of coffee. This isn't the right place to talk."
"I need to call my mother. She needs to know about...Katie. She needs to...know."
The curtains parted as a middle-aged nurse swept into the room, nodding at Ryan as though used to seeing him there. Her glance at Tess was followed by a double take.
"I'm...I'm her sister," Tess said, trying the words on for size, flinching when she heard her voice utter them.