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Authors: Susan May Warren

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BOOK: Double Trouble
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“You’re already extraordinary.”

“Not . . . to me.” She looked out the window at the sun glaring on the pavement, the college students hiking home from summer classes, backpacks bumping against their shoulders. She hadn’t finished college. Hadn’t really finished anything.

“I want to do this. And Jeremy’s got a new case for me. It’s important to me.”

“And you’re important to me. I can’t let you do this.”

“Don’t make me choose between you and my job.” PJ wasn’t sure where the ultimatum came from and wanted to snatch it back as quickly as the words tripped out of her mouth, but
they hung there between them, ugly and sour. She had no choice but to cross her arms, lift her chin.

As she expected, her words, so softly spoken, hit Boone like one of her new hammer punches, evidenced by his quick flinch.

“Why?” he snapped. “Because I wouldn’t win?” His eyes, unmoving, burned into her.

She saw the hurt in them, and it seared the words from her mouth.

She tore her gaze away.

With a muffled curse, Boone got up and left her there with the untouched sandwiches.

* * *

Even if she added in Boone’s worst nightmares and compounded them with a killer on the loose, he had nothing to worry about. PJ had to admit to the slightest simmer of frustration as she listened to Jeremy outline their next case. Her so-called
undercover
case.

“Let me get this straight
 
—you want me to house-sit?
House-sit?
Like dust the furniture? take in the paper? water the plants?”

“And feed her pet rats, yes.”

Jeremy had barely looked her in the eye after she returned from lunch, or rather nonlunch, with Boone. She’d taken the liberty of showering at the gym, finishing her sandwich, and scoring a skinny vanilla latte
 
—after all, her coffee had gone to a very unneedy ficus
 
—before returning to Jeremy’s office. Hey, it had milk. That counted as protein.

She found him perched at his window, his shoulders squared, staring blankly into the street.

And when he started with “Maybe Boone’s right . . . ,” she knew she had some reparations to make on his confidence in her abilities.

“I promise to be at the top of my game. No jumping to conclusions. No distractions. Wax on, wax off.” She even did the accompanying defensive arm movements.

“Sure.” Jeremy turned away from the window, wearing indecision in his expression and in the way he coiled a hand behind his neck.

She held her breath for a long moment
 

c’mon, Jeremy, trust me
 
—and finally he collapsed onto the sofa. He nodded for her to take a seat.

Yes. Finally, he was going to let her off her leash. Dance solo. Trust her instincts.

“I wouldn’t let you do this if I didn’t think it was perfectly safe.”

Oh, shoot. But she nodded even as he leaned forward, braced his hands on his knees, and began to explain.

Thirty minutes later, she couldn’t believe he’d actually debated her ability to do this job. So much for earning his respect, his admiration.

Or her own.

“So let me get this straight. You got a call from a woman who says she’s under FBI protection?”

“That’s right
 
—Dally Morrison. Her FBI contact is a guy named Leroy Simmons. Goes by Lee.”

“Right. And he’s in charge of making sure his star witness for a drug case shows up at court in a week or so.”

“Ten days from tomorrow.”

“But said witness
 
—”

“Dally Morrison, our client.”

“Dally, the witness-slash-client, is in danger.”

“No, not danger. Like I said, if I thought she was in danger,
real
danger, I’d never let you do this. She’s just . . . let’s say, upset and jumpy because another witness got killed in a drive-by shooting. But I talked with her protection agent. Even though the witness lived in Chicago, Lee thinks it was unconnected to the crime. The defendant is behind bars, cut off from his gang buddies
 
—”

“C’mon, Jeremy, I’ve seen enough television to know that gangbangers have long arms.”

“No, you’ve seen too much television. There’s no evidence to connect the dots here and create a real threat.”

“Maybe a little bit of a threat? Just an itsy-bitsy threat?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes.

“I just don’t want my first undercover operation to be listed as house-sitting. Can’t we say ‘body double’? Or maybe ‘witness protection shield’?”

He leaned back, his lips tightened in a firm line. But he gave the slightest sad shake of his head.

“Fine. So I’m supposed to lay low, be a shadow in her house while you . . . what?”

“I’ll take Dally to a secluded location and babysit her, keep her calm so she can testify.”

“Why doesn’t the FBI just take her someplace safe?”

“Because Dally doesn’t trust anybody, apparently. She got our name out of the phone book. But this Billy Finch is big-time in Chicago, and the FBI doesn’t want her to waffle. Lee’s
not thrilled about it
 
—especially the part where she doesn’t want me to tell anyone where I’m taking her. But he agrees that any calls from back home or even a strange bump in the night is liable to set her off and on the run. She did this not long after Billy was arrested two years ago
 
—took off, and Lee found her holed up in South Dakota, three sheets to the wind. He thought by moving her to Minneapolis, it would calm her down, but she’s a bit high-strung. So he’s agreed to let us step in, keep her calm, and help her. He needs her to stay put and show up coherent for the trial. So, you’ll take her place, and I’ll make sure she shows up undistracted and ready to testify.”

“If you’re taking her away, why does she need someone to stay at her house?”

“Because she’s paranoid. She thinks that one of Finch’s contacts is after her
 
—” he emphasized his words with finger quotes
 
—“and that whoever it is will figure out she’s gone and look for her. So she wants a stand-in or she’s not going. And not testifying.”

“So I’m sort of bait.”

“Please don’t say that with so much enthusiasm. Again, if I thought you were in any danger, this wouldn’t be happening. We’re simply appeasing a jumpy witness’s psychosis.”

“You take the fun out of everything.”

“Yeah, well, I think your fiancé would skin me from hairline to ankle if I got you hurt.”

Fiancé.
She stared at Jeremy and knew by his steely-eyed, nearly arrogant expression that he’d dropped the word with every intent of rattling her. “He’s not my fiancé.”

“Usually when I hear the word
proposal
, there’s a
marriage
attached.”

She got up and paced to the window. She could barely make out the Vic down the street. “I haven’t given him an answer.”

Silence boomed on the other side of the room.

“Ten days is a long time to be trapped in a house. My tan’s going to fade.”

Jeremy seemed to be debating his response. “There’s a fence. Wear a hat and sunglasses, and you can lay out in the backyard.”

“I’m not in high school.”

“But you are on the job.”

“On the job.

On. The. Job. Like a cop. “Maybe I could wear a wig, some of Dally’s clothes . . . is she my size?”

“I think you’ll find that she’s like you in many ways.”

“I’m not sure I want to know what you mean by that. But I’ll take it as a thumbs-up on my ability to do this.”

Jeremy nodded, yet when she searched for the sweet assurance in his dark eyes, she came up empty.

The men in her life needed to readjust their lenses. Hadn’t she confirmed Rudy Bagwell’s cheating? And one shouldn’t forget she’d landed Boris a job.

But ten days masquerading as another woman?

It
would
give her time to figure out the future with Boone. And perhaps erase that last glimmer of doubt from Jeremy’s eyes.

“I’ll do it.”

“Good. And listen, there will be surveillance. Lee will keep watch over you, so you don’t have to worry.”

“What? Watch over me? I don’t need a babysitter too.”

Jeremy looked away.

“Oh, that’s what you were cooking up while you were staring
out the window, wasn’t it? You
agree
with Boone. Well, I don’t need a bodyguard.”

“Because you can take care of yourself.”

“Because I have great instincts. Panther instincts.”

Jeremy did a poor job of hiding a reluctant grin.

“Listen, call off the dog, and I promise if I think there’s any danger, I’ll call you. I promise. But
you
have to promise that the next case is something
 
—” she discarded the word
dangerous
and went with
 
—“sneaky.”

“Sneaky it is, Panther Girl. But for this case, stay inside, make it obvious there is someone living there, water the plants
 
—”

“Feed the rats? Seriously?”

“I think so. And most of all, stay out of trouble.”

“The things you ask of me.”

CHAPTER
SIX

The best thing about living in Kellogg, population 3,800, was the location
 
—nestled thirty minutes west of the congestion of Minneapolis, close enough to indulge in big-city concerts and clubs, far enough to feel like a vacation. The speed limit into town cut from sixty to thirty in a space of two blocks, during which the architecture shifted from shiny modern condos close to Park-and-Ride stations to stately estates built back from the meandering road. The road ringing the beach began a half mile out of Kellogg, then cut through the refaced downtown: an old movie theater turned haberdashery for nautical attire, a children’s clothing shop, a small-town bookstore
 
—all bedazzled for summer with planters fattened with spider plants, pansies, and geraniums.

PJ surfed through Kellogg in the Vic, taking her time, jamming to the radio, her feet itching to feel the gritty sand between her toes, maybe take a cool dip in the royal blue
waters of Lake Minnetonka. The renascent smell of dinner
 
—steaks and ribs and shrimp on the barbie
 
—lifted off the back deck of the Sunsets Supper Club, and a family of black-hatted Canadian honkers raised their heads and watched her with their button eyes. She kept a keen eye out for Boone.

She should talk to him before she disappeared for ten days. It wouldn’t be easy for him to find her.

Jeremy was swinging by in an hour to pick her up. Apparently she wouldn’t need her Vic for her job. Because,
ahem
, she wasn’t going anywhere.

So much for her highlighted “Witness Protection” chapter.

But maybe if she could prove to Jeremy that she could handle the mundane, he’d trust her with the exciting. He hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

Chapel Hills always felt like its own enclave of culture. Manicured lawns surrounded an assortment of colonials, Craftsmans, and a few modern cube homes, their sprinkler systems rousing the fragrance of summer. She floated her skiff up to the curb in front of Connie’s and threw out anchor.

Amid the opulence, Connie’s neat Craftsman home seemed exactly Connie
 
—calm, structured. An Ann Taylor kind of life, with straight lines, rich fragrances, elegance, and
 

A door slammed, an explosion that cut through the chirruping birds, the whisper of wind in the pussy willow tree in the front yard. Connie emerged onto the porch, stopped at the top of the wide stairs, took one look at PJ, and said, “You!”

PJ stopped on the walk and, just to be sure, looked over her shoulder. “Uh, me?”

But Connie didn’t follow up
 
—was that an accusation or a
discovery? She turned and stalked across the expanse of porch, stopping to stand with her back to PJ.

PJ approached with caution. “Connie?”

Connie whirled, and although she’d spent years learning to control her emotions in front of a jury, it was obvious she’d need a refresher course to deal with her new home life. Her long dark hair hung in strings around her face, and mascara smudged at the corners of her eyes where she’d obviously tried to stave off a mud slide. PJ noted a rip in her hose. “You got him a job.”

PJ eyed her sister carefully, spoke slowly in easy tones. “Yes. We talked about this yesterday. Did something happen?”

Connie shook her head, like the truth might be too unthinkable to speak.

“What?”

“He has to drive to work!”

PJ narrowed one eye. “Yes . . . or I suppose if he started really early, he could get there on foot
 
—”

“Stop it, PJ; this isn’t funny.”

“I’m just saying, how else did you think he would get there?”

“He wants to take the Lexus.” Connie shook her head again, walked over to the railing, and leaned a hip against it.

PJ dropped her bag into one of the rocking chairs. Sat in the other. Folded her hands in her lap.

“I mean, Sergei does have a car . . . but Boris says that he shouldn’t show up at his new job in a car that looks like it could drop pieces on the way. He’s embarrassed.”

PJ’s gaze went to the 1988 Montero in the driveway, the one outlined in rust. Connie affectionately
 
—or perhaps not so
affectionately
 
—called it the greasemobile. Truthfully, Sergei rarely drove it, preferring Connie’s luxury sedan.

She turned back to Connie. “You got all this in Russian?”

“Sergei translated.”

As if on cue, PJ heard a slew of angry Russian
 
—well, she was only assuming the tone was angry, based on the slammed-door clue. (After all, that’s how PIs put things together.) They could be exchanging endearments for all she knew.

Connie nodded to the voices curdling the summer air. “That’s Sergei and his father, showdown at the O.K. Corral.”

PJ nodded. Crossed and uncrossed her thumbs.

“I don’t want to be selfish
 
—I really don’t. It’s just that it’s my Lexus. And I worked hard for it. And I . . . I don’t know why this is so hard. I thought, sure, we’ll let his parents stay here, and they’ll be so excited with Davy and our life that they’ll fall in love with me. But I can’t get past the feeling that everything I do is wrong. I cook wrong
 
—or don’t cook, and I’m constantly letting my son sit in a draft, or maybe too long in the sun, or letting him run barefoot on the lawn. Or rather, what lawn? I should have turned it into a potato patch long ago.” Connie kneaded her finger and thumb into her eyes. “I don’t know what I can do to get them to like me. To make them realize I’m doing the best I can. I just want them to love me like I love their son.”

So maybe she and Connie weren’t so different after all. They both wanted to get it right. PJ got up and wrapped her arms around her sister. Connie’s bones dug into her shoulder.

“You didn’t really expect it to be without a few bumps, did you? I mean, did you see the goat?”

Connie giggled, then swiped away a tear.

PJ held her at arm’s length. “Sis, first, I think you’re doing a great job of adjusting. They should be thrilled for you and Sergei. And I for one know that Vera is crazy over Davy. But the most important part right now is that, no, Boris doesn’t need to use the Lexus. In fact
 
—” she pulled out her Scooby-Doo key chain, working off her newest key
 
—“he can take the Vic. He’s the one who found it, anyway.”

Connie followed her gaze out into the street. “That mafia car with the mag wheels is yours?”

“My new ride. You dig, homie?”

Connie laughed. “Is that why Boone’s Mustang is in the garage?”

PJ dropped the key into Connie’s grip. “Yeah. I didn’t want anything to happen to it . . . but he’ll probably be by for it . . .”

Connie’s smile dimmed. “Four years of law school tells me someone is being evasive.”

“Or just confused. Anyway, I’m going . . . away . . . for a few days.”

“Away where? Will you be back for Labor Day? We were going to have a picnic at Kellogg Beach.”

PJ retrieved her bag. “I dunno, Connie. It’s a . . . let’s say, a
work-related
. . . vacation.” She opened the door, the air-conditioning hitting her skin as she stepped inside.

Connie was on her heels. “A vacation?”

“Who’s going on vacation?” Elizabeth Sugar looked up from the book she was reading to Davy, who sat on her lap in his Fellows uniform. He ran his fingers over the pearls at her neck, counting them.

“PJ is.” Connie shut the door behind them.

“On vacation? But I thought you just started your job? What will your boss think?”

“It’s a
work
vacation, Mom.”

Connie disappeared into the study and closed the door behind her. Voices continued to slip out from under the door.

PJ toed off her shoes onto the mat. “Jeremy knows all about it.”

“What exactly is a ‘work vacation’? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Sergei emerged from the study and came right over to PJ and, without a skip in his step, leaned over and pecked her on each cheek, European style. “
Spaceeba
, Peezhay. What does that mean,
oxymoron
?” he asked, moving toward the kitchen, where Vera stood at the stove, cooking.

Elizabeth Sugar had displaced Davy and now rose from the sofa, visibly alarmed. “It means it’s something that PJ hasn’t thought through.”

Oh, was that what it meant? A “for your information” was just forming on PJ’s lips when another Russian emerged, this one from the back porch.


Prevyet
, Peezhay.”

She’d met Sergei’s cousin Igor only once, but she’d never forget his low, movie-thug voice, the mafia garb
 
—head-to-toe black, complete with squared-off shoes to match his squared-off shaved hair
 
—nor the way he looked at her. Not unlike the eyes of a snake. Even now, his gaze trailed up her as he worked on an apple he’d plucked from the bowl on Connie’s table.

She turned away. “
Prevyet.
And believe me, I’ve thought it through, Mom.”

“You’ve barely been there two months and already you’re taking a vacation?” Elizabeth rounded the sofa, Davy following
her with the opened book. “How are you going to get Jeremy to trust you?”

“It’ll get her away from Boone.” This from Connie, who followed her father-in-law from the study.

Boris held PJ’s key to the Vic, his smile bright. “
Spaceeba, maya
Peezhay.”

His PJ? Maybe yesterday’s excursion around Kellogg and into the province of his new employer had bonded them. When he smacked a kiss onto her cheek, she didn’t mind so much.

He did look slicked up
 
—wearing yesterday’s suit and shoes
 
—for his new job. He waved as he opened the door to leave and nearly walked into Boone, hand lifted, ready to knock.

“Get her away from Boone? Then why is he here?” Elizabeth shook her head and stalked past PJ toward the kitchen.

“Get away from whom?” Boone asked as he walked into the foyer. A shiny pink gift bag dangled from his grip.

“Nobody.” PJ whirled toward the direction of her retreating mother. “And I did think it through!”

“Think what through?”

PJ turned back to Boone. “My
work
vacation.”

“You’re going on vacation? I thought
 
—”

“Stop.”

His mouth pursed in a tight line. “Then you’re still intent on following through with this?”

“PJ’s leaving?” Davy had stopped on the word
vacation
and now dropped his book. “No, I don’t want Auntie PJ to leave!”

Ah, see, this was why she loved Davy. He leaped toward her, and because she’d honed her instincts, she caught him
midflight. He wrapped his legs around her, framed her cheeks in his hands. “Don’t leave, Auntie PJ!”

“I promise I’ll be back, little man. Two weeks, tops. And then we’ll go to the beach, okay?”

“Promise?”

“Scout’s honor.” She held up two, then three fingers.

He popped her a kiss right on the lips.

“With that kind of action, no wonder you turned me down,” Boone said, a soft smile on his face as PJ put Davy down.

“I didn’t turn you down.”

He considered her a moment. “No, I guess you didn’t, did you?”

“No.”

“Please don’t. And please forgive me for . . . walking out on lunch.”

How was she supposed to stay mad at a man who came to her house to apologize, especially bearing gifts? She pointed to the bag. “That for me?”

“It’s for both of us.” He handed it over.

She looked inside. “A cell phone?”

“I can’t stand not being able to get ahold of you. And if you can’t pay your bill, I will.”

“Boone, I can’t accept this.”

“Think of it as my concession to this double life you lead.”

“Shh . . .” Thankfully, Connie had scooped up Davy, leaving her to parley with Boone in private
 
—or at least in semiprivate. Igor still leaned against the doorway, eating the apple.

“Let’s go outside,” Boone said.

PJ followed him onto the porch, digging the phone out of the bag. “I don’t know what to say.”

“I have a list of suggestions, if you’re consulting me.” But he said it with a smile. “Just promise to call me if you
 
—and I can’t believe I used the word
if
, but I’m holding out hope
 

if
 you get into trouble. I’ll be there.”

“Like Superman?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Like the guy who loves you, even if I don’t understand this new PJ.”

For some crazy reason, the words made her eyes film. His words, his appearance today at the sub shop, rushed at her and she remembered in his tone his fear that, indeed, she’d end up like Allison Miller.

Her ultimatum suddenly hung ugly and weighted at the end of the memory. “I . . . I’m sorry for my stupid words today. It’s not that I wouldn’t choose you.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh.”

“How long are you . . . uh, going on
vacation
?”

“Ten days or so.”

He looked as if she’d hit him. “Ten days?”

“Boone! I was gone for ten years and you hardly blinked. Ten days is nothing.”

Behind him, she heard a lawn mower fire up, one yard over.

“I did blink. And now that you’re back, ten days is an eternity, especially when I don’t know where you are or what you’re doing. Or who you’re doing it with.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, that might have come out wrong. But I don’t trust Jeremy. He doesn’t . . .”

“Look after me enough? protect me? He’s my boss, Boone, not my bodyguard.”

“I still can’t pry the image of him hitting you out of my brain.”

“Let it go. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“There you go, making promises again.” He ran a finger under her chin. “Make me this one: promise to call?”

She caught his hand. “Yes. And I also promise that when I come back, I’ll have an answer for you.”

“Would that include a promise to switch careers, maybe become a librarian?”

She rolled her eyes but let him pull her closer as he wrapped his hand around her neck and bent low to kiss her.

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