Published: July 2003
Kait London has been estranged from her twin sister for years. She has never understood why and has always regretted it. When her phone rings in the middle of the night, Kait learns that Lana desperately needs her help. All Kait has to do is take her place, for two days, at her home in the horse country of Virginia. If Kait can play this role convincingly, she will save Lana’s life.
This is a game the twins have played before. But never like this. For the charade is much more difficult to pull off than when they were children. Lana has many secrets, secrets she has kept from everyone, including Kait—and she has as many enemies—including her own husband. Kait had not been expecting Trev Coleman to be in residence. Worse, she is soon forced to recognize how darkly seductive he is—and that he may very well be her worst enemy.
And then Kait realizes that she is directly in the line of fire. Someone is deliberately stalking Lana, but Kait is the trapped prey.
From New York Times bestselling author Brenda Joyce comes an alluring novel of a woman’s dangerous quest to protect her twin sister—and the secrets, lies, and deceptions that threaten them both…
“Sizzles with intrigue and suspense.”
“A fantastic tale of passion and intrigue with lots of twists and turns.”
–Old Book Barn Gazette
“Stylishly sleek romantic suspense novel, which uses secrets, deception, danger, and forbidden desire to keep readers guessing until the very end. “
Kait had been driving on a winding country road with no line dividing it for some time now. She had left the small quaint town of Three Falls, Virginia, about twelve miles behind. It was the following afternoon, a mere twelve hours since Lana’s telephone call, and she was tense with anxiety and even fear. That tension had been present ever since she had promised Lana that she would switch places with her. It had increased and turned into dread when she had read and then reread Lana’s letter last night. Her grip on the leather-bound steering wheel tightened. Was she really doing this?
Could she really do this?
Abruptly, Kait swerved off the road and parked Lana’s Porsche. The rolling hills of the Virginia countryside were breathtaking and had been so for some time; it was early autumn and the land was alive with a brilliant kaleidoscope of flaming color. Kait found herself turning off the ignition and climbing out of the small silver sports car. The fields in front of her were bordered with pristine white fences. Horses grazed not far from where she stood, and in the distance she saw several white barns and outbuildings, trimmed vividly with evergreen, and beyond them a colonial house on a hill. There was a lump in her chest and she couldn’t seem to breathe. Tears came to her eyes.
This was Fox Hollow. This was Lana’s home. It was storybook perfection.
Kait clung to the top rail of the fence trying to calm and compose herself, as she was expected at Fox Hollow at any moment. She had obeyed the instructions in Lana’s letter exactly. She had called the housekeeper, Elizabeth Dorentz, to let her know she would be arriving around one in the afternoon. She had taken the eleven A.M. shuttle from LaGuardia and picked up Lana’s Porsche at Reagan National in long-term parking. She was wearing Lana’s clothes, makeup, and jewelry-a pale tan Armani pantsuit with high heels, her red lipstick, her beautiful Chopard watch with its diamond bezel, her rings and earrings, just as she was carrying Lana’s Gucci bag, her wallet, her driver’s license, and her cell phone. And she had called in sick at work, explaining that she would be out for a few days-Kait was a VP at a small PR firm on Madison Avenue. Yes, she was really switching places with her sister; she was really s20participating in a monstrous deception.
But there was no choice, because Lana was in trouble, and she hadn’t exaggerated when she had said it was the killing kind.
Kait inhaled deeply but could not stop shaking. Lana’s letter had been a bombshell. No, it had been a nuclear explosion, and she still didn’t know how she could manage it, how she could survive its contents. Lana was married. And Lana had a daughter, a four-year-old little girl named Marni.
The flaming orange trees and fading green fields blurred in her vision. And Lana wasn’t only married, she had been married for six years. Six years ago, she had gotten married, without telling Kait, without calling her, without writing her, without inviting her to the wedding.
The betrayal was acute, overwhelming. All these years, Lana had been living a short shuttle flight away. All these years, she had been the mistress of an old moneyed horse farm and the wife of the Virginian, Trey Coleman. Kait didn’t think she would ever recover from the fact that she had been so thoroughly excluded from Lana’s life. The question of why would haunt her forever.
They had never been close like other sisters, not even as small children. As an adult, Kait had rationalized that because they were so different, they had merely had different friends, interests, and activities, and thus their estrangement. Lana had been the tomboy as a child, Kait had been a bookworm. Lana had enjoyed and excelled at gym and sports, Kait had dreaded every time she got up to bat, every time they chose teams for a game. In many ways, Lana had been the extroverted one, Kait the reclusive one.
Their parents had been solidly middle class, and the sisters had grown up in Darien, Connecticut. They’d both fallen wildly for horses, and had worked at a local stable for lessons. When their mother had died of cancer the twins had been turning thirteen; Lana’s tomboy nature had been changing, and suddenly lip gloss and tight tank top appeared with her low riding jeans. Kait had become a serious student, earning straight A’s on every report card. The jocks began looking at her sister; Kait’s best friend was another A student and her neighbor, Tom, a geeky type who was already creating computer games and programs. Other girls began to look to Lana as a role model. Miniskirts appeared. She pierced her ears, cut her hair. Kait went to the stables less, Lana went more. She had her first boyfriend just after their mother died. She told Kait she wouldn’t go all the way until she was sixteen.
Their mother’s death should have brought the two sisters closer together. But it did not; the reverse was true. For Lana, there were more boys, and there were late parties and the small lies needed to cover them up. For Kait, there was confusion, anguish, and bewilderment. School became even more important to her-she didn’t have her first date until she was a freshman at college. And it was no surprise to Kait that Lana would choose to go to a different college entirely, and it was even less of a surprise when she dropped out her junior year. Their father, who had hung on to their life the best that he could after the death of his wife, had given up attempting to control or even guide Lana for years. She didn’t tell anyone she was quitting school, and it was a year or so later before Kait learned that her sister was in New York City, working as a waitress while taking acting lessons.
Kait knew that they had never been close because they were so very different by nature; but other sisters were different too, and they were still as close as best friends. Lana’s indifference had always, secretly, hurt. Kait didn’t know when the wound had first been inflicted, but it felt as if it had been within her forever.
Now there was the fact of her sister’s marriage, her sister’s child. The pain was acute. But with it, there was the oddest joy. Kait had a niece. And in a few moments, Kait would meet Marni. She simply could not wait.
But she had to compose herself now, and quickly. She closed her eyes tightly. Squeezing them shut. Trying to breathe. It was impossible, because in a few minutes she was going to have to walk through Coleman’s front door. He was out of town on business, but she was as afraid of discovery as she was of successfully deceiving his family and friends now.
It was an amazing twist of fate, Lana’s marrying Trev Coleman. A few years ago Kait had contacted him about using his estate for a charity event sponsored by one of her largest corporate clients. She’d actually seen his photo in Town & Country once, on a society page for a local Virginia event, and he’d caught her eye, because he was a tall, handsome man with an unusual complexion-he seemed swarthy, but he had brown hair heavily sun-streaked with gold. In his tuxedo, he’d been at once elegant and virile, another unusual combination. A coworker had then suggested his name some time later when they’d been given the account for the charity event. Oddly, Kait had been filled with excitement at the idea of contacting Coleman. She did her homework and learned he had been recently widowed. And he had seemed amenable to the idea over the phone; in fact, the conversation had turned friendly and almost personal in the end, leaving Kait foolishly breathless. She had anticipated their business meeting, speculating about what he might be like in person, and as foolishly had taken hours to decide the night before what to wear, but in the end, they had never made a deal. He hadn’t shown up for their lunch meeting. She had waited for him at Le Cirque for well over an hour in her brand-new Sergio Rossi mules and a simple black sheath. He hadn’t even bothered to cancel. Kait had been annoyed. She had also been slightly humiliated, sitting there at the five-star restaurant sipping Perrier like a jilted girlfriend, not like a publicist wasting her valuable time.
She had wound up using a smaller but very picturesque estate on the Hudson River instead.
And now Lana was his wife. And she, Kait, was on the verge of walking into her sister’s life in order to pretend to be Coleman’s wife and Marni’s mother. It was wrong in every possible way, and Kait’s very nature rebelled against what she was about to do, but there was simply no choice.
Kait dug into the pocket of her pale beige wool trousers, extracting Lana’s letter. She unfolded the crumpled pages and read it again, the words blurring and fading before her eyes.
I have so many regrets, and the biggest one is my failure to be the sister you have always wanted and deserved. Yes, Kait, I know you as well as you know yourself, and I know you have always wanted my love, and deliberately I have withheld it from you. You see, Kait, I have always been jealous of you, because you were the perfect student and the perfect daughter, because Mom and Dad always loved you the most. But no more. Kait, I swear to you, that when this is over, I am going to make up for every single moment we have lost. When this is over, we are going to finally have the chance to be real sisters and best friends.
Kait blinked back hot tears, still stunned to learn that Lana-whom she had always admired so, who’d had all the boys, who had always been one of the most popular girls in school-had been jealous of her, and read on.
I’m in trouble, Kait. Serious, deadly trouble. I borrowed a tremendous amount of money behind my husband’s back in order to stave off his creditors and to prevent foreclosure on Fox Hollow, our country estate. While that was accomplished, it seems that I went to the wrong people and now Paul Corelli has threatened not just my life but that of my daughter’s if I don’t pay him back by the end of this week. There is someone who I haven’t seen in years, someone I was once close to, who I believe will help me out of the dilemma I now face. I only need two days for you to cover for me. It will work because I haven’t told anyone about you. No one knows I have an identical twin, so no one will ever suspect the switch. And when I return, when I pay off Corelli, I will introduce you to my family and we can start over-if you will allow that.
Kait hung on to the fence, the wrinkled letter in her hand, still trembling. As far as she could see, fading green hills rolled and spilled away, framed by the flaming orange and yellows of the turning oaks and elm trees of fall. In the distance and to her right was a dark blue lake, a bevy of ducks flying above it; several broodmares that were clearly in foal were grazing by the lake. The sky above her was brilliantly blue, making it a picture-perfect day.
Not only was Lana’s life in danger, but so was Marni’s. Kait was terrified for them both.
Which meant she was doing as Lana had asked, because there simply was no other choice.
And did Lana really mean that she regretted their past? Did she really intend to start over with Kait, and forge the friendship they had never had? After all of these years, did she finally realize that she needed and wanted her sister in her life? Kait was filled with hope. But so many years had gone by that there was doubt too. Kait wanted to believe that her sister was sincere. Maybe, having faced threats from this Corelli person, Lana had realized that it was time to finally include her sister in her life. Maybe she finally realized the importance of family.
But how much money did she owe? And who cared so much for her now that he or she would lend or give it to her? Kait didn’t like the sound of any of that. It was odd.
Lana had her cell phone. Kait intended to call her the moment she had the chance-which meant that once she was settled in and no one suspected who she really was, once she had a truly private moment, she would call and try to find out more details about the problems Lana faced. Lana hadn’t given her, Kait, a chance to help in any other way other than to cover for her-clearly she didn’t want her husband to know about the trouble she was in-but Kait knew that where there was a will there was a way, and, surely, she could help Lana raise the money to get this Paul Corelli off her back. And then there were the police. Kait couldn’t understand why her sister hadn’t gone to the authorities. That in itself made absolutely no sense.
Kait pulled a lighter out of her pocket and burned the letter. Then she rearranged her expression, which she knew had to be a worried one, and with a slight smile fixed on her face, she returned to Lana’s small sports car. The flamboyant and expensive Porsche was a convertible, but Kait did not have the top down. She slid into the driver’s low-lying bucket seat and turned the ignition back on, then pulled down the mirror on the sun visor to check her red lipstick. It hadn’t smeared or run. For one moment, Kait stared at her eyes, contoured now with Lana’s almond brown eye shadow. Kait favored nude glosses and mascara but rarely wore any more makeup, not even to work; and out of the office, it was strictly blue jeans and T-shirts. She was far more than chic now, she was incredibly glamorous, and that, coupled with the lie she was about to commit, meant that she felt unbearably uncomfortable-as if she had somehow stepped out of her own skin and into someone else’s-which she had. Lana had always been the fashionable one, the chic one, and Kait looked so much like her sister now that it was surreal.
A huge ball of fear sickened her stomach now.
Could she really do this? How could she not do this?
Kait put the Porsche into gear and slipped back on the road. She also failed to understand why Lana hadn’t shared her burden with her husband. If she were Lana, she would confess everything to her husband, and somehow, with his support, find a way to raise the cash and get out of the mess she was in.
Kait wished that she’d had a chance to reason with her sister. Even knowing how opinionated and determined Lana could be, if Kait had had her way, she would have talked Lana out of this deception, convincing her to go to the police and her husband.
The road turned. And suddenly Kait was face-to-face with a pair of brick pillars, each one with a brass plaque. One gave the number of the estate-1296 NORTHWOODS ROAD. The other merely read FOX HOLLOW.
Kait was one second away from whipping the Porsche into a U-turn and fleeing. Instead, the last lines of Lana’s letter resounded in her mind.
Kait, I am desperate. I would never ask this of you if I weren’t.