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Authors: Beverly Barton

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense

As Good as Dead (7 page)

BOOK: As Good as Dead
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Big Jim chuckled under his breath, then winked at Caleb before looking directly at his wife. "I know you, Reba Upton. You're up to something. You wouldn't by any chance think that since those two gals look just alike, they could be interchangeable as far as Caleb is concerned, would you?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about." She feigned innocence.

"I'm talking about your thinking Reve Sorrell is socially acceptable and would make a suitable granddaughter-in-law."

"Why, Jim, what a thing to say."

Caleb reached out and grasped his grandmother's hand. "I'm sure you'd never believe something so foolish, would you, Miss Reba? I'm in love with Jazzy, with everything about her. And that includes a lot more than her physical appearance. You could parade a dozen look-alikes in front of We and not one of them would ever measure up to Jazzy. After all, if a man who looked just like Big Jim showed up, you wouldn't automatically fall out of love with Big Jim and TO love with this other man, would you?"

"No, of course not. I-"

Dora came bustling into the breakfast room, placed a china soup cauldron on the table, then hurried back to the kitchen and returned with a plate of cornbread and a pitcher of iced tea. "Save room for dessert."

"Let's enjoy our lunch," Big Jim said. "This afternoons while you're issuing invitations"-he smiled at Miss Reba- "I want to show Caleb around the stables and maybe the two of us will take a ride out over the farm."

"A ride as in a horseback ride?" Caleb asked.

"Have you never been horseback riding, son?" Jim cocked, his eyebrows ever so slightly.

"Nope. I was raised a city boy. I spent a lot of time riding a motorcycle, but I've never been on a horse."

"Then it's high time you learned how," Jim said. "The1 best way in the world for a man to look over his land is from horseback."

Caleb groaned inwardly. This business of being the Upton heir was going to take some getting used to. He just hoped he could find a way to make his grandparents' golden years-happy and still live his life on his own terms.

On the ride up the mountain, Reve let Jazzy do most of the talking, just as she had during their lunch together at Jazzy's downtown Cherokee Pointe restaurant, Jasmine's. This was yet another striking difference between them-Jazzy was an extrovert, who could and did talk nonstop. Apparently that woman never met a stranger. On the other hand, Reve was more of an introvert and although she enjoyed good conversation, she never talked just to be talking.

Reve wished she could relax around Jazzy, wished she could look at the woman and not cringe at the thought that they were probably twin sisters. Jazzy had done nothing to make Reve dislike her. The exact opposite was true. She seemed determined to make Re-ve feel comfortable about their potential relationship as siblings and was working overti-me to achieve that goal.

Maybe she could learn to like her. She really haven't given her a chance. Whenever she looked at Jazzy, all she saw was the woman's wild, bright red hair, her abundance of dan-gling jewelry and her rock star clothes. And listening to Jazzy's silly, nonstop chatter about nothing that she could even vaguely relate to made Reve assume Jazzy was unsophisti-cated and uncouth. The words redneck, hillbilly and white trash instantly came to mind.

Besides, Reve couldn't quite get past her private investigator's initial report that conclu-ded Jasmine Talbot was considered the town tramp. However, Reve had learned at an early age that some things were not what they seemed. She couldn't shake the feeling that Jazzy was sorely misjudged by the local populace. Is that really a gut feeling? she asked herself. Or is it that you just want to believe Jazzy isn’t a slut?

As Jazzy maneuvered her red Jeep up the steep driveway to the side of Genny Sloan's house, Reve took in her surroundings. The large old farmhouse sat way up off the road on a rise, nestled into the mountain. Woods surrounded the place on three sides. Colorful, towering trees reached high into the clear blue sky. An old rock-wall fence marked the front yard and rock steps led from the road to the rock sidewalk. Already, in mid-October, the foliage had begun changing from green to deep, vivid shades of red, yellow and orange.

Leaves covered the ground and pine cones dotted the landscape. Jazzy pulled her vehicle alongside the SUV parked in the drive.

"There's Genny," Jazzy said. "She's expecting us. You'll like her. Everybody does."

"She's the… the psychic, isn't she?" Glancing through the windshield, Reve saw Genny standing on the wide front Porch, waiting for them. "She's lovely."

The woman was breathtakingly exotic, with creamy tan skin, long, straight, jet-black hair and a small, slender body.

"Yeah, Genny's a beauty." Jazzy opened the driver's door. "She and Jacob have similar coloring, but Genny looks a lot like her Granny Butler and I'm told Jacob looks a great deal like their Grandpa Butler."

"Oh, yes, I'd almost forgotten that Genny and the sheriff are first cousins." Don't dislike Genny Sloan just because she's Sheriff Butler's cousin, Reve told herself. It wouldn't be fair to assume this woman was anything like her unpleasant relative.

"Actually, they're more like brother and sister. They were raised together after their mothers were killed in a car wreck when they were just kids." Jazzy got out of the Jeep, then motioned to Reve. "Come on. Genny's eager to meet you."

Reluctantly, Reve emerged from the vehicle. She had tried to beg off making this trip up the mountain to meet Jazzy's best friend, but Jazzy had insisted. "I've asked her to give us a reading," Jazzy had said. "She might be able to pick up on whether or not we're twins. And if she can, I'm hoping she'll be able to help us find out what happened when we were born."

Reve was not looking forward to this visit-to becoming' $ acquainted with a backwo-ods witch. For the sake of civility, she'd do her best not to voice her opinion on people who professed to have a sixth sense. But if Genny started foretelling her future, she'd ha-ve to find a courteous way to let Genny know she wasn't interested in any predictions or prophecies.

"Come on. Don't drag your feet," Jazzy said. She reached out and grabbed Reve's arm.

"You act like you're going to m your own hanging. I promise you won't regret coming he-re with me today."

"I'll hold you to that." Reve tugged free, but let her look-alike lead the way.

Genny scurried off the porch and met them in the yard. She hugged Jazzy with great affection. "It's turned out to be 1 such a gorgeous day, I've set up apple cider and tea on the

porch. And I baked one of Granny's apple dapple cakes. I'll bring some out later."

"Genny, this is Reve Sorrell." Jazzy presented Reve as if she were introducing her to royalty. "Reve, this is my dearest friend on earth, Genny Madoc Sloan."

Reve extended her hand. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Sloan."

"My goodness, you two do look remarkably alike." Genny grasped Reve's hand firmly.

"Please, call me Genny." She shook Reve's hand, then held it for a brief moment.

Reve jerked her hand away.

"Sorry, I didn't mean…" Genny smiled. "Most people don't mind if I probe just a little.

And I must admit that I'm curious about you."

"Did you pick up on anything?" Jazzy asked.

Reve glared at Jazzy. She wanted to beg them not to include her in any of their forays into the psychic world, a world in which Reve did not believe.

"Only that Ms. Sorrell isn't comfortable making this visit." Genny spread her arm out in invitation. "Why don't we go sit on the porch and relax?"

Be polite, Reve told herself. Make an effort to get along with these people. "Genny, you must call me Reve. And I apologize for-"

"No need to apologize," Genny said. "You don't know me and you're skeptical. You ha-ve every right to be. I don't expect you to accept my gift of sight as a natural, God-given talent. Nor do I expect you to like me instantly just because Jazzy and I are best friends."

An odd feeling of relief eased Reve's tension. She wasn't quite sure why or how it happened. There was something strangely comforting about Genny's voice. She projected a gentleness that seemed to encompass everything around her.

Once the three were seated in big wooden rockers, Genny's chair turned so that she could face the other two, Genny asked, "Tea or cider, Reve?"

"Neither, thank you."

Genny poured hot liquid from an earthenware teapot that looked hand-painted, then ga-ve Jazzy a cup. "Well, I'm going to come right out and say it. I had a vision this morning."

Reve sighed. Here we go, she thought.

"Was it about us? About Reve and me?" Jazzy asked.

"Part of it was. The good part. The happy part."

"Tell us," Jazzy all but begged.

"I sensed laughter," Genny said. "And wonderful happiness. A oneness as if the two of you were a single entity. You are separate and yet together. Individuals, but linked from birth."

"Then you sensed that we're twins, didn't you?" Jazzy asked.

Genny smiled at her friend, but Reve picked up on something not quite right about the smile. She sensed a sadness in Genny. Stop doing that! Reve scolded herself. You 're playing right into Genny's hands by letting your imagination play tricks on you.

"Yes, I believe you and Reve are twin sisters," Genny said. "I have no doubt about it."

"That's good enough for me." Jazzy looked at Reve as if she expected her to respond by grabbing her, proclaiming them sisters and hugging her. Instead Reve stiffened her spine and sat up straighter in her chair.

"I believe I prefer to wait for the DNA test results." Reve hated that she'd been unable to mask the coolness in her voice, but she simply could not accept some hillbilly psychic's sixth sense.

Jazzy glared at Reve, then fixed her gaze on Genny. "You said that was the good part of your vision. What was the bad part?"

Genny hesitated, as if she didn't want to tell them more. Was her hesitancy real or was it a way to dramatize the moment? Reve wondered. She could not-would not-take Genny's psychic abilities at face value.

"I sensed evil." Genny's voice barely rose above a whisper. "And danger."

"Danger for Reve and me?"

"I'm not sure. But… y'all must be very careful."

"This is nonsense!" Reve shot out of her chair.

"Why must you be such an uptight, unfeeling, unhappy bitch?" Jazzy stood and faced her. "Believe me, I'm having as much trouble accepting our being sisters as you are. For all your millions and hoity-toity ways, you're no grand prize yourself, you know."

Reve felt as if she'd been slapped. Taken back by Jazzy's outburst, she stared at her lo-ok-alike, then smiled. "You're quite right. I'm not a grand prize, am I? I'm sure you'd never have chosen me to be your sister. I'm rich, well-educated, socially prominent and yet I don't have one single close friend. And not one man has ever cared about me just for me, whereas men seem to fall at your feet."

"Well, well, well." Jazzy laughed. "You are human after all."

"Oh, yes, only too human." Reve turned her gaze on Genny. "I don't believe in hocus-pocus stuff. But I apologize if I've been rude. And if letting you do a reading, as Jazzy calls it, will make her happy, then by all means-"

"You are not what you seem," Genny said, her dark eyes pinning Reve with their intensity. "You and Jazzy are two halves of a whole, and very soon both of you will begin sensing your oneness."

Reve wasn't sure how to react. Genny wasn't telling her anything that couldn't be true about any set of identical twins. But the way Genny stared at her, as if she could see beyond her body and into her spirit, unnerved Reve.

"You're very lonely," Genny said. "That loneliness will soon end. I see you surrounded by family. You will never be lonely again."

CHAPTER 5

The Cherokee Country Club was just barely within the city limits of Cherokee Pointe.

The two-story frame Federal-style house had once been home to a wealthy banker who'd lost a fortune in the Crash of 1929 and shot himself in one of the upstairs bedrooms. His widow had taken her children and returned home to Mississippi several years later, letting the house go for back taxes. Farlan MacKinnon's father had purchased the house and surrounding twenty acres for a song. He'd been a young husband with a wife growing increasingly unhappy living with her in-laws, so he'd packed up his wife and two young sons and moved into the old Watley house in 1936. Farlan supposed that was the reason he felt so at home here, because he'd lived in this house as a boy, before he'd been shipped off to military school in Chattanooga.

When, over forty years ago, the most prominent citizens in the county had decided they needed a country club, Farlan had offered this house, which by then had been empty for a good many years, except for a few odds and ends of furniture his mother had left when she'd run off. Farlan had been eighteen at the time of his mother's great escape and had been preparing to enter college that fall. Moonshiners used to run rampant in the hills, and that summer the federal agents had swarmed the county in search of stills. He remembered Agent Rogers-a robust, devil-may-care bachelor who'd set local feminine hearts aflutter. But never had he imagined that the woman who could capture Agent Rogers's heart would be Farlan's forty-year-old mother. Helene MacKinnon had run away with her lover, leaving behind her two sons and their heartbroken father. Farlan never saw his mother again, although he did attend her funeral in Baltimore many years later, where he'd met his young half-sister.

Water under the bridge. The past should stay in the past, he'd told himself countless times. He could no more change anything that happened in the past than he could stem the tide of the Tennessee River, although the Tennessee Valley Authority had done their best to control the raging river with their numerous dams.

A man shouldn't look back, Farlan reminded himself. But it was hard not to think about what might have been, especially when a man's present life was less than satisfactory. He supposed there were others worse off and knew he should count his blessings. The only problem was, his blessings were few. Being filthy rich was, he supposed, a blessing. But when had it ever brought him happiness? In their youths, he and Jim Upton had both offered sweet Melva Mae everything money could buy and she'd turned them both down flat. She'd married a penniless quarter-breed and lived happily ever after. He supposed he'd come out of that ill-fated love triangle far better than old Jim Upton because Jimmy had been madly in love with Melva Mae and never did quite get over losing her.

BOOK: As Good as Dead
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