Her twin sister is missing.
When Ariana Costas heard her twin sister, Zoe, had disappeared, Ari left Vermont and returned to her Jersey girl roots to find her. Ari didn't know what to expect from her search, but danger around every corner, dodging bullets, and a hunk in a leather jacket saving her was not it.
He thought she was someone else.
Detective Quinn Donovan thought he located Zoe Costas. Beautiful, dark haired and a perfect match to the description he'd been given, he believes he has his lady. Except as it turns out, the gorgeous woman is Zoe's twin Ariana, the college professor. Suddenly, Quinn's job is more about trying to protect Ari who is in trouble deeper than the Atlantic at high tide. There's more at stake than trying to protect her without spilling his well-guarded secrets.
Will he lose his heart and the girl in the process?
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Under the Boardwalk
By Carly Phillips
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Karen Drogin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIf walls could talk, the stories they'd tell. Especially these walls, Ariana Costas thought as she glanced at the rows and rows of pictures leading down the stairs of her family home. A true documentary of insanity if there ever was one-the infamous "wall of shame," as Ariana liked to call it-that portrayed her relatives at their conniving best.
Judging by the commotion she heard from the kitchen, her family was up to their usual tricks. Her heart skipped a beat as she realized that, sadly, nothing had changed in the five years she'd been gone. Apparently not even a missing daughter could deter them from their routine. Pulling her black suit jacket around her like armor, Ariana stepped inside the kitchen and into the fray.
Her mother's sister, who technically lived next door though you'd never know it with the amount of time she spent here, sat with the phone book, calling people at random.
"Hello? Do you need your chimneys cleaned?" Aunt Dee asked in her high-pitched voice. "Winter's around the corner and you can't be too careful. You wouldn't want to light a fire and discover there was an animal stuck inside, would you?" After a short conversation, she set up an appointment and marked it in her calendar.
Ariana was always amazed anyone fell for the scheme. "What are you and Uncle John going to milk these unsuspecting people for once you're inside?" she asked as she walked over to the coffee machine.
Aunt Dee merely winked at her before moving on to the next number in the book.
In the meantime, her handsome father sat at the rectangular table drawing posters. A smile quirked at her lips as she took in his clean-shaven head. Prostate cancer seven years ago hadn't sidelined him. Instead, chemotherapy and her father's resulting baldness had started the family's biggest moneymaker, The Addams Family Act, derived from the old television show of the same name. Her father had taken on the persona of Uncle Fester, her beautiful mother with her raven hair was Morticia, while the rest of her relatives rallied around. Over the years the show had earned money at the local theater, and her family had become the pride of Ocean Isle, her small coastal hometown, fifteen minutes outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ariana was so grateful her father was healthy and still in remission, she kissed his bald head. Over his shoulder, she studied his poster. "'Earn while you Eat! Join a weight study,'" Ariana read aloud. "And how much will this study cost each participant?" she asked her father.
"Only what they want to give. You know that," Nicholas said without glancing up from his work.
She rolled her eyes. Ariana had seen this scam and ones like it before. Every Costas relative conned their way through life with a wink, a smile, and legendary Greek charm. The only shocking thing was that her family members managed to avoid doing hard time, something Ariana chalked up to luck.
With a sigh, she took a cup from the pantry. She'd arrived at her parents' home late last night after being informed of her sister's disappearance, and she could barely keep her eyes open. The coffee was too dark and thick to look appealing, but then no one in her family claimed to be related to Martha Stewart or Chef Boyardee. Thank God.
She lifted the mug to her lips, breathed in deep, and choked on the fumes. She dropped the cup into the sink, her eyes watering. She tried to speak and coughed again. "What is this stuff?" she asked, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Her mother breezed in, her long black hair flowing to her waist behind her, and kissed Ariana on the cheek. "It's brake fluid."
Ariana sighed. Yet another perfect example of why she'd avoided bringing friends home when she was a teenager.
Her mother patted her shoulder. "It wasn't meant to be tasted."
"Then what's it doing in the coffeepot?" "We were out of Tupperware."
"Of course." Ariana's eyes began to tear again. "Give me a tissue, please."
A hand reached out and waved a handkerchief in front of her eyes.
"Thanks." As Ariana blotted the tears, she looked over her shoulder and into the eyes of a real, live monkey. In any other home, she'd have jumped back in fright. "Who does the chimp belong to?" she asked, resigned.
"Not a chimp, a capuchin," Aunt Dee explained as the small monkey jumped down from the counter and scampered to the middle of the room. "If you'll recall, Great-Aunt Deliria was engaged to a monkey. This could be a long-lost relative." She swept her hand wide in a grand gesture and pointed to the animal, who was now sitting on the kitchen floor and unceremoniously playing with both feet.
Ariana winced at the sight and didn't bother to remind her mother's sister that Aunt Deliria was an Addams family relative, not their own. The presence of the animal, who resembled the monkey on the television show Friends, spoke for itself.
Was it any wonder Ariana had escaped to Vermont and normalcy as soon as she was able?
And she'd stayed there until that phone call. The one telling her that her twin sister was missing.
"You people are insane! Aren't you worried about Zoe?" she asked.
Zoe, the vibrant, lively one. Ariana refused to believe her sister was dead. According to documented studies, Ariana should have felt her death the moment her twin left this earth. She'd known the moment Zoe broke her leg when they were seven. Surely Ariana would sense her death now. She didn't, and her heart insisted Zoe was still alive. She had to be or Ariana's chance to make amends would be gone along with her.
At the mention of Zoe's name, silence had descended in the kitchen and lasted long enough for Ariana to grow increasingly uncomfortable. And guilty. Of course they were worried. Despite the hustle of daily activity, Ariana had felt the pall of Zoe being missing, and when they thought no one was looking, she'd caught a look of sadness in each of her relatives' eyes.
Finally Nicholas rose from his seat and hugged Ariana. "It's okay," he said, his hold on her tight. "It is just that we agreed not to discuss Zoe until she walks in the door. Safe and well." "And she will," her mother added with certainty. "Until then it's business as usual. And wait until you hear what new business we have planned."
Ariana wasn't interested in their newest scam, but those words of normalcy, at least by her family's standards, along with the scent of her father's aftershave, reassured Ariana as it had when she was a child.
Until he spoke. "Don't worry about your sister. Zoe's strong. After all, she's an Addams."
Which was enough for Ariana. "I need some air." She stepped outside and left behind the commotion, which had begun again. Blocking out her family, Ariana started for Islet Pier. Though it was fall, she couldn't mistake the smell of the ocean, a part of living in a coastal town. And a part she missed when in the mountains of Vermont. Only after she'd walked far from her house did she realize she should have grabbed her coat. The cool breeze from the water and the fall temperatures combined to chill her skin. With home being the alternative, she shoved her hands into her front pants pockets and strode on.
Not surprisingly, Islet Pier and the stretch of beach she and her sister used to frequent when they were kids were empty. Ariana recalled the many hours she and Zoe had played together here and the good times they'd shared, the pictures in her mind as vivid as if she and Zoe were together now. A lump rose to Ariana's throat along with the determination to find her twin and set things right between them.
A voice muffled by the sound of crashing waves interrupted her thoughts. Ariana believed she was imagining things brought on by her memories. Then she heard it again. "Zoe!" the male voice yelled out more clearly.
Surprised, Ariana lifted her head and hoped that she'd see her sister, alive and well and as real as the sand surrounding her. She stepped out from the covering of Islet Pier and looked into the glare of the sun. At the same moment a shot rang out and a hard body threw Ariana to the ground.
Quinn Donovan stepped out of the South Side Center, a town-run facility for down-on-their-luck kids. He glanced at the gangly street urchin on the corner, all long limbs and wise-cracking smile. "Hey, Sam. How you doing today?"
"Not bad. Bet I can tell you where you got them shoes." Quinn looked down at his scuffed loafers. "Where'd I get my shoes?" he asked, playing along.
The teen paused a beat before continuing. "You got 'em on your feet." "Sam" was Samantha, and she burst into belly-aching laughter at the same joke Quinn heard from her every time he volunteered. Quinn came by often to help, playing basketball with the kids or cleaning or doing whatever else was necessary. He glanced at Sam and chuckled. Sam and the other kids reminded Quinn of his real life and prevented him from losing touch with who he really was. He'd pulled strings to get Sam placed in a decent foster home, and he refused to put up with any shit that would jeopardize her placement there.
"Shouldn't you be in school?" he asked her. "Shouldn't you mind your own business?" The laughter quickly died as her huge green eyes flashed with defiant, angry sparks.
Quinn had been the same rebellious pain in the ass at that age. Stepping closer, he pulled the Yankees cap off her head and a mass of tangled blonde hair fell over her shoulders. Without the disguise she appeared younger and more vulnerable. Smart foster kids like Sam tried to beat the system by making themselves invisible in the mistaken belief they'd have a better chance at remaining in one home.
Shut up and don't cause trouble was the mantra repeated by case-workers.
Quinn ought to know. But even Quinn with all his experience hadn't known the kid was a girl until the third time they met. He hoped that once she adjusted, she'd trust her new foster family and revert to looking like what she was, a feminine young teen.
"They don't let you wear hats in school. Go now or I'm calling Aaron and Felice," he told her.
Sam's bravado crumbled and tears welled in her huge eyes. "They won't care, Quinn. Felice is pregnant and they don't need me around anymore."
Before Quinn could react, Sam took off in the direction of school. "Oh hell," he muttered.
Aaron and Felice were a young couple who'd failed at adoption too many times. They'd turned to foster care and requested a girl, even accepting a teenager, something few families willingly did. A hardass by nature, Quinn still had faith in Sam's foster parents.
He ran his hand through his already windblown hair and made a mental note to check in with Felice before pushing his thoughts toward his problems.
His Chevy Blazer sat parked across the street, but the crisp fall air, combined with the possibility of being alone, called to him. He had time before he had to return to the charade he was currently living, and damned if he wasn't going to make the most of it. He headed for the boardwalk and Islet Pier, the place that had been his refuge for as long as he could remember.
At this time of year the beach was deserted, the snack shacks were empty, and all would remain that way till spring. He breathed in the salty air and a sense of peace filled him-until his serenity was broken.
A jet black-haired woman strode down the steps, onto the sand, and toward the pier, beneath where Quinn stood. Her long dark hair blew around her shoulders in wild disarray, and the classic profile was unmistakable. A jolt of familiarity kicked him in the gut.
"No frigging way," he muttered aloud. Hadn't he taken care of Zoe Costas himself?
He calmed his thoughts and suddenly the other possibility dawned, this one more frightening than the last. If it wasn't Zoe he was watching beneath Islet Pier, it was her twin, Ari, the college psychology professor who Zoe had sworn was safely in Vermont. Who Zoe had promised wouldn't return to Ocean Isle and get in the way. Not on a bet. No matter how grief stricken Ari would have been when she heard of her twin's presumed death, Ari wouldn't desert her students mid-semester and fly home. She'd grieve in her own world, the sane world she'd escaped to years before. Zoe had promised.
Shit, he thought, shaking his head. Obviously, because of their estrangement, Zoe had no idea what her twin would or wouldn't do. Because Ari was here.
And Quinn had a problem.
Before he could decide what to do about it, the distinct sound of a male voice yelled above the crashing waves. A split second later, a shot rang out. Acting on instinct, Quinn jumped from the pier and tackled Ari to the ground.
Ariana hit the sand hard, grunting on impact. Pain shot through her chest. But even with the wind knocked out of her, she was keenly aware of the hard male above her and the too real knowledge that someone had taken a shot.
Waves beat against the shore and seagulls screeched in the air, but in her ear, she felt hot, heavy breath. Every last nerve ending came alive with a female awareness she hadn't felt in so long.
Seconds passed in which neither of them moved. Not only was Ariana covered by a heavy male body, but he smelled extremely good. He was a combination of muscle and determination. And he'd either saved her life or fired that gunshot. She wasn't about to wait around to find out which.
As soon as he rolled away from her, she rose to her feet and took off at a run, zigzagging across the beach. The sand slowed her effort and she hadn't made it more than halfway to the main road before he grabbed her around the waist. Hauling her into his arms, he pulled her behind a vacant snack shack. "What the hell kind of run was that?" he asked, breathing too easily considering she was huffing and puffing.
"Serpentine," she managed to explain, through her wheezing and fear.
Behind her, she thought she heard him laugh. "From The In-Laws?" His amused voice held utter disbelief.
But Ariana wasn't laughing. She had escaped into old movies to get away from her family's antics, and she'd obviously learned something. "If you ask me, you ought to be applauding my ability to think on my feet. When someone shoots at you, you don't give them a straight place to aim. You give them a moving target instead. It makes sense to me."
He obviously didn't agree with her thinking, because he burst into a full-blown laugh. She tried to wriggle forward and out of his grasp, but he merely tightened his grip. He yanked her against him, pressing her solidly against his back.
Panic started to take hold, but before she could fight, he spoke. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said, his voice strangely reassuring despite their circumstances.
"Then let me go." While he debated, she used the time to draw deep, even breaths and regain her equilibrium.
He twisted around, pulling her with him to scan their surroundings. "It looks like our gunman's gone," he said at last.
She could have told him they were alone.
Excerpted from Under the Boardwalk by Carly Phillips Copyright © 2004 by Karen Drogin . Excerpted by permission.
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