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Authors: Susan May Warren

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BOOK: Double Trouble
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“PJ, you about ready?”

Boone froze, his eyes just inches from hers, and shook his head, his face grim as Jeremy bounced up the stairs. Oh, the growl hadn’t been a local lawn mower but his motorcycle. She peered past Boone and spotted Jeremy’s bike parked on the street, two helmets on the seat.

Boone stepped back from her, caught her hand, then her gaze. “Ten days.”

She nodded and noticed he barely acknowledged Jeremy as he passed by him.

“Ten days for what?” Jeremy asked, watching Boone retreat.

Ten days to figure out the rest of her life.

* * *

“She scares me a little bit.” PJ leaned in close to Jeremy as they stood on the sidewalk, where PJ had retreated after ten minutes inside Dally’s 1920s yellow one-and-a-half-story home.

“Please tell me, what do Dally Morrison and I have that is remotely in common? Because that girl in there . . . well, what exactly do you see as similar? The long mane of inky black hair or perhaps the lip piercing, or maybe it’s the tattoo on her stomach that says, ‘Born to party.’”

“It was more of a thematic statement than a physical comparison. And keep your voice down.” Jeremy leaned against his motorcycle, arms folded against his chest, clearly unmoved. “I don’t want her taking off into the night.”

“Thematic, huh? Then of course you mean her preference for leather in August? Maybe she and Rudy need to form a club. Or perhaps you’re talking about the exotic animal furniture in her living room. I felt like I was walking into Wild Kingdom. And let me warn you now that if you open your mouth and have the audacity to say we’re both exotic or something equally stupid, these feet are walking.”

“Your approval on her decorating choices is not a part of the deal, PJ.”

“Did you see her pets, Jeremy? I counted five chinchillas
 
—and by the way, they aren’t rats. They’re disgusting little creatures that spit and scream. The only possible thing you can say right now to keep me from laying out in traffic is that Dally and I are the same size.” She propped her hand on her hip and dared him to disagree.

Jeremy held up his hand in a conciliatory gesture. “Pipe down, Panther Girl. First of all, if anyone can take care of the spitters, it’s you, the girl who used to clean rhino cages. And no, I wasn’t referring to your taste in clothing or decorating. But if you want me to get particular, she does have your big green eyes, and your sort of . . . flamboyant style.”

“I am wearing a pair of yoga pants and flip-flops. The height of flamboyancy.” She shook her head. “Do you see anything in my attire either skintight or with the words
Hot Babe
written anywhere, especially lower than my belly button?”

Jeremy leaned back, running his gaze over her as if complying with her request.

“That was rhetorical.” PJ took a step closer.

Not even the dusk hid the small smirk playing on Jeremy’s lips.

“Isn’t there another way we can protect her? You can’t leave me here. It smells like the San Diego Zoo in there, and I swear I saw one of the leopard lampshades move. You don’t expect me to sleep in her bed, do you?” Oh, where was her Vic when she needed it? “C’mon, Jeremy, have a heart.”

He was so obviously clamping his lips against a laugh that she held up her hands in a sort of surrender as an alternative to smacking him.

His smile faded as she stalked down the sidewalk. Three blocks to the east, the homes had begun a nice bend toward luxury as they hugged the Minneapolis lake chains, and the influence had seeped into Dally’s neighborhood. Her small neighborhood of bungalows and cottages poised at the edge of restoration, with a few homes displaying remodeling signs in their manicured front lawns. Bookending one side of Dally’s beguilingly conservative home sat an equally cheerful, light blue Cape Cod with lush variegated hostas leading up either side of a flagstone walk. On the other side, a derelict low-roofed Craftsman with a half porch and a chain-link fence jailed an unwelcoming rottweiler who had been losing his mind since PJ and Jeremy’s arrival. He’d now worked up foam around his
jowls that sprayed spit like a Gatling gun from his dark lips as he darted the length of the fence and back.

A few Kias, Geos, and now and again a Caravan clogged the street, as well as the alley behind the house, save for a lone restored black Charger with racing stripes parked next to Jeremy’s bike. How Dally Morrison ended up in this neighborhood . . . well, someone at the FBI hadn’t been doing his homework if he was hoping to help her blend.

Dally’s front door squealed open, and she came out under the porch light, straight black hair (and now PJ noticed a streak of red
 
—maybe that’s what Jeremy was referring to) trickling down over curves strapped in by a black vest. The slightest tummy bulged out between the bottom of her vest and the top of her low-rise jeans, highlighting a belly button ring like the Hope Diamond.

She stood with her hands on her hips, her expression not at all hinting at patience. “Are you two done talking about me?”

PJ glanced at Jeremy, who merely raised his eyebrows at her.

Fine. “I better get double merit points for this.”

Jeremy followed her back inside.

Dally met them in the kitchen, where she ripped open a package of sugar-free gum. “Just quit smokin’,” she said as she took two pieces and crammed them into her mouth. She offered one to PJ, who gave a quick shake of her head.

The kitchen displayed a contemporary charm PJ hadn’t expected in the black counter-height square table with matching plum-covered chairs, the black marble counters, the white cabinets. Unfortunately she’d been focused on the zebra-patterned chairs in the living room, the shiny black sofa, and the leopard-print rug.

But, moving again into the living room, she noted that Dally hadn’t limited art to just her body
 
—she had plenty left over for the walls. PJ stared for a long time at an eight-foot dragon mural on the side wall, complete with fire, spikes down its tail, and eyes that drilled into her.

“So, you’re going to be me, huh?” Dally examined PJ up and down while PJ matched her gaze, memorizing the way Dally chewed with her mouth open; her cherry red lipstick; the pink, green, and red flower tattoo that started at her right shoulder and trailed down her arm, ending in what looked like two bright splotches of blood on the back of her hand. Her eyes had been traced in about a pound of black liner, yet in them PJ saw the slightest hint of approval as Dally stepped back and nodded. “I s’pose. Of course the girls at the Scissor Shack won’t be fooled, but if you try and do something with that hair
 
—maybe you can find one of my hats
 
—”

“What’s wrong with my hair?”

“For one, it needs highlights, but the biggest issue is that it’s red, hello.” She gestured to her own appearance. “I’m assuming you’re not color-blind.”

PJ felt Jeremy’s hand settle on the small of her back.

“No. You’re right. Maybe I can . . . temporarily . . . dye . . . it.” PJ’s voice cracked slightly on the word
dye
. She would have preferred a wig.

“Whatever. Listen, the deal is, you be me. Whatever it takes. Which means I s’pose I have to give you permission to wear my threads. I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating my fashion; do not make me look like a geek. Most of all, puh-
leeze
do not get any dye or peroxide on them. I can’t replace some of the vintage pieces.”

PJ let those words settle a moment. “I’m sorry . . . did you say ‘dye or peroxide’?”

“I know it’s tempting not to wear an apron, but I always do. I care about my clothes and my stuff. So I’d appreciate if you’d do the same.”

PJ looked at Jeremy. His eyes flicked to Dally, then back to PJ as he leaned close. “You have to go to work.”

“What?”

“What he’s saying is that I work at the Scissor Shack.” Dally eyed Jeremy like,
good grief, didn’t you brief her?
and PJ matched it. For a second, she could agree that she and Dally were exactly alike
 
—tricked into one of Jeremy’s schemes.

He held up his hands. “She just told me when I got here.”

“I tried to get someone to fill in for me, but ten days is too long. I canceled most of my appointments. And the others are simple set and drys. I’d suggest not taking any walk-ins, but you’ll be fine.”

“Set and drys?”

“You’ll be fine,” Jeremy repeated, patting her shoulder.

She worked her hand into the hammer fist.

“But what I’m more worried about is the Rockets. We have four big games coming up over the next week and a half
 
—including a triple-header this Saturday
 
—and my team is going to be ticked if I’m not there.”

“The Rockets?” PJ turned to confirm Dally’s words with Jeremy as Dally left to retrieve something from the other bedroom.

“The Rockets?”
PJ mouthed again. Jeremy wore an unfamiliar apprehensive expression. “It better not be something like Roller Derby or
 
—”

“I play catcher.” Dally returned and dropped chest padding, leg guards, a mitt, and a mask into PJ’s arms, then shoved a sheet of paper into her hands. “I figure if you keep the mask on and only take it off in the dugout, no one will see you. Jeremy told me that you used to play . . . ?”

PJ looked at the equipment, relief swooping through her. “High school. We went to state.”

For the first time since PJ had entered her world, Dally smiled. “Perfect. I made a list of the signals.” She pointed to the paper.

Signals? “Uh, I played shortstop.”

Dally’s smile dimmed. “You
can
catch, right?”

“Of course I can catch. But I’m more useful out in the field.”

“Excuse me, but the catcher is the most important position next to the pitcher.” Dally snatched back her equipment
 
—or at least most of it. The mask tumbled onto the floor. “You told me she could play.”

Oops, Dally had gone right over her head to the boss. But seriously, all the catcher had to do was hold out the glove, give a target to the pitcher, right?

“She can play.”

“Not if she doesn’t know how to call the pitches.”
Now
the words were for PJ.

“I can call the pitches.” PJ said it almost on reflex, but how hard could it really be? It was softball, for pete’s sake, not the major leagues. A pitch was a pitch, and just because she hadn’t called pitches in high school didn’t mean she couldn’t figure it out now.

“This isn’t going to work.” Dally turned to Jeremy, some
thing dangerous in her eyes. “If she blows it, I could get kicked off the team. Do you know how hard it is to get on the Rockets? And we have a tournament this weekend. You told me she could play, that she’d have no trouble calling the pitches. What were you thinking?”

Jeremy didn’t flinch, didn’t even look at PJ. “She can. Don’t worry; your persona is in good hands, Dally.”

Where he’d conjured up his confidence, PJ wanted to know because she could use some too.

Especially as Dally turned, saying nothing, her black-lined eyes searching PJ’s. “Listen, if you blow this for me
 
—” her eyes communicated the threat before her lips said it
 
—“you’ll wish you and your flip-flops had just stayed home in Preppyville.”

Preppyville? PJ tightened her jaw, glancing at Jeremy. He wore a shocked, panicked, please-don’t-blow-this expression on his face. Which, of course, was the last thing she needed because she couldn’t let him down. Not with the way he’d stood there and defended her. She heard the words forming in her head, felt her mouth opening, and then, “No problem, Dally. I won’t let you down. I promise.”

“I promise.”

Dally didn’t acknowledge PJ’s words, just stared first at her, then at Jeremy. He met her gaze with even eyes. Her voice was small when she finally sighed and said, “My life is in your hands.”

CHAPTER
SEVEN

PJ couldn’t decide who won the overprotective prize.

Dally held up her chinchillas one by one, kissing them on their pointed snouts, saying, “Be good for Mama.”

(Which implied what? That they weren’t normally good? What was a bad chinchilla like?)

Meanwhile Jeremy took PJ aside and not only made her confirm his cell phone number but also threw a couple karate moves at her for her to wax on and wax off.

“Methinks someone is a little worried here. What happened to ‘I wouldn’t let you do this if I thought there was any danger’?”

“Just for me, couldn’t you write the number down?”

“No. A great supersleuth never writes down the numbers. It’s up here in the vault
 
—” she tapped her head
 
—“218-555-8919. Got it.”

He shook his head, then pulled a worn wallet from his back
pocket. “I meant to give this to you earlier.” He opened it and worked out a slick black card. And on it, in shiny silver letters right under
Kane Investigations
, was her name.
PJ Sugar, Associate.

Her own credit card. “Seriously?”

“I’ll pay you when we get back in the office. I just wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry I forgot, PJ.”

She was still staring at the card as his hand closed over it. “Just for emergencies, okay? No new cars or shopping sprees at Macy’s.”

“Does emergency pizza count?”

“Your life better be at stake.” But his smile was warm as he handed it to her.

They sat on the steps outside Dally’s house, hidden in the shadows of the black wrought-iron fence and the overhang of the porch. He’d refused to turn on the front light in case neighbors were watching.

PJ had most definitely seen a curtain drop from a window of the unassuming blue house next door, so who knew what congregation ogled them from the haunted house with the rottweiler, who still manned his post, eyeing them from somewhere in the tall grass like a lion in the Serengeti.

Still, even with Jeremy’s face lost in the shadows, she could trace it without looking
 
—dark eyes, square jaw with a scrape of whiskers. The aroma of leather and mischief lifted off him to fragrance the night.

She might miss him, just a little, over the next ten days.

“Just don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Like . . .”

“What? Cut hair? Play softball for one of Minnesota’s top teams?” Dally had taken no small measure of time filling
her in on every teammate and their positions, as well as their idiosyncrasies, not to mention putting her through another thorough grilling about the finer points of catching and the various call signs. Apparently the Rockets were top contenders for an amateur title this summer, having clinched the title last summer.

No pressure there.

PJ had nodded but refrained somehow from making more promises.

“What makes a girl get that many tattoos?” Jeremy asked into the night. So, he too had noted the gallery of images on at least the exposed parts of Dally’s body: a cat
 
—or was it a chinchilla?
 
—on her ankle, a butterfly with a broken wing showing over the back of her jeans, the flower curling down her arm. Great, the height of August, and PJ’d spend the next two weeks wearing long sleeves.

PJ’s hand went to her tattoo of Boone’s name, and Jeremy saw the gesture. “I suppose you don’t want to tell me how you got yours?”

She couldn’t see his eyes, but his tone was so soft, she couldn’t stop herself. In fact, hidden here in this strange neighborhood with the oily alleyway smells, the barks of unfamiliar dogs, the taste of adventure in the air, it didn’t feel so much like giving away a piece of herself as trying out some new identity. A person who wasn’t afraid to let someone see her scars, her dreams.

Her tattoos.

“It was a birthday present for Boone. He turned eighteen a month after me, and at the time I thought we’d be together forever. It was his idea and everyone seemed to be getting tats.
It was the beginning of the craze. I agreed to something little. His is bigger, but of course, you usually can’t see it.”

“It says Princess?”

She could feel Jeremy’s smile in the dark.

“No. Just a big
P
and
J
.”

He swatted at a mosquito on his exposed forearm. “So does he know what they stand for, the
P
and
J
?”

Jeremy’s seemingly innocent tone brought her back to one of their first meetings, when he’d tried to cajole out of her the real names behind the
P
and the
J
of her initials. But she’d spent the better part of twenty-eight years hiding that identity. Perhaps, in a way, it was just one of many things she was afraid to reveal.

Or maybe it was the only one that she
refused
to reveal. Because lately she’d done a breathtaking job of living her dreams, her hopes, even her past out loud and in living color. Not unlike a tattoo.

“No, he doesn’t know.”

“Not even Boone, huh?”

“Nope.”

“Okay, let me give it another shot. We went through the Patty variations, and of course it’s not Peanut Butter and Jelly or Princess.”

“Although really, it should be, if the world was fair.”

She felt him chuckle next to her, a tenor staccato.

“Let’s just focus on the
P
. How about . . . Priscilla?”

“Nope.”

“Pamela?”

“Nope.”

“Poppy? Patsy? Phoebe? You will tell me if I get it, right?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“I think I’ll have to go back to Fast-Pitch, based on your upcoming softball career.”

“Thanks for that, by the way. If I lose Dally’s catching position, you might have to put
me
in hiding after this is all over.”

“If that’s what the job demands.” His foot tapped hers, and she flashed back to riding behind him on his motorcycle, her hands locked around his flat stomach, her chin propped on his shoulder, her life in his hands. There was something about Jeremy that made her trust herself. When he looked at her, his eyes seemed to see so much more of her than she saw of herself.

He reached up and touched her hair, running two fingers through it. “Don’t dye it. Wear a wig.”

She wasn’t sure what to say to that, nor what to do with the feeling of loss when his hand dropped away. “Hey . . . do me a favor and be careful. . . . I mean, I don’t trust her.”

“What do you think’s going to happen, PJ?”

PJ stared ahead, distracted by the sound of hip-hop from a car wheeling by. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just jealous.”

His sharp silence beside her made her still. Oh, wait; she hadn’t meant to say that, had she? “I’m just kidding.” She added a laugh
 
—too high
 
—on the end of her words; it made her wince. “Really, I didn’t mean that.”

His voice was so quiet, she could barely hear it above her heartbeat. “I hope you did.”

Dally appeared at the screen door. “You ready to go, boss?”

“That’s my line,” PJ said, leaping to her feet. She caught Jeremy’s eyes on her as she swung the door open and followed Dally through the house to the back.

Dally left through the alleyway in the darkness, Jeremy leaving after her and then scooting around to the alley on his bike to load her on the back and whisk her into the night.

PJ tried not to dwell on how that had been her a few hours ago, holding on to Jeremy as they flew through the streets of Minneapolis, a tight bullet of crime-stopping power. She listened to the duo from the back step until the motor blended into the blur of night sounds; then she went inside and stood in the quiet living room, next to the zebra chair, with the dragon watching her from above.

From next door, a body emerged into the night, slinking past the overhead light. PJ made out a bulky form through Dally’s side window and watched as it climbed into the Charger. The machine bullied out into the darkness.

Then the neighborhood went quiet, and all she heard was the
scritch, scritch
of the chinchillas and the lonely ping of her own heartbeat.

Ten days to talk to no one but herself.

She retrieved her duffel bag from Dally’s kitchen and carried it through the house, checking out the bathroom
 
—aquamarine with a dragon on the transparent shower curtain
 
—and then to the bedroom in back.

Surprise, surprise! Tough-talking Dally had a pink bedspread on a white French provincial bed. The zebra-striped pillows PJ could have guessed at, along with the one black wall painted with a huge purple dragon with red eyes. But the question of how she might sleep with Puff staring at her was answered by the rich red velour curtains that framed the four-poster bed. She couldn’t help but wonder at the girl behind the tattoos when she took in the three pink walls. A
matching dresser contained framed photos
 
—many of Dally, her arm slung over shoulders of compatriots, mugging for the camera.

PJ opened the closet door to check out Dally’s shoe supply and discovered (of course) a closet full of leather, animal prints, and
 
—jackpot!
 
—a bin of multicolored Chuck Taylor sneakers.

Maybe she could like Dally a little.

And she couldn’t forget that Dally was doing all this so she could put away a drug dealer. PJ had to give the woman credit for doing the right thing.

It took PJ all of five minutes to unpack
 
—a few pairs of jeans, a couple pairs of shorts, T-shirts, tanks, and a sweatshirt, the last of which she pulled on as she padded out into the main room.

The quiet enveloped her, pressed inside her. She found the remote and turned on the television, flipping through the channels. Over three hundred channels and she couldn’t find a thing? Even the oldies channel offered nothing but a James Coburn movie. She slumped down on the black leather sofa, turned off the television, and scanned through the day, starting with Boone’s disheveled appearance at the gym.

She couldn’t believe Allison Miller was dead. She closed her eyes, listening again to Boone’s words:
“She was working for me
 
—sort of an informant on an investigation. They found her body last night in the Kellogg harbor.”

She hadn’t thought about Boone using informants, but being a detective, of course he did. Worse, she couldn’t believe they had actual killers, the kind who dumped pretty girls into the lake for the fish to feed on, in Kellogg. Her one run-in
with a murderer had been of the international variety, and she’d labeled it a fluke.

Clearly Boone would see and know things that she didn’t about the state of crime in Kellogg. And clearly he would have seen things that might keep a man up at night worrying about his girlfriend.

So maybe she should cut him some slack. She didn’t exactly want to end up like Allison Miller.

Allison Miller. Bouncy, blonde Allison. PJ remembered her the way the entire high school probably did: easy. In fact her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Casey Whitlow, had cemented that reputation.

Casey Whitlow. Huh, she hadn’t thought about him in a decade, and here he’d crossed her mind twice in two days. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with her death, right?

That wasn’t fair. Just because he hadn’t turned out like his shiny high school career predicted didn’t mean he’d become a murderer. Look at PJ
 
—she wasn’t nearly the trouble that she’d imprinted in her classmates’ minds. . . .

Okay, maybe she wasn’t a great example. And she should probably stop jumping to conclusions.

Getting up, PJ wandered to the kitchen, opening Dally’s pantry. Cheese Nips, pretzels . . . She decided she had been too hard on Dally when she found a half-eaten box of Cap’n Crunch. Returning to the living room, she stood in the darkness, crunching on cereal, and watched as the furry chinchillas dug themselves into the sand, bathing in it. Not unlike PJ’s relationship to the beach.

She watched her reflection in the glass windows, measuring her image against Dally’s. Perhaps, from a distance, she was
just a conservative version of Dally
 
—wild red hair instead of the long, dyed black variety, one tattoo instead of eight or ten, standard ear piercings, and clothes aimed at comfort rather than an outcry of personal fashion.

How exactly was she supposed to get inside Dally’s skin and impersonate her without knowing her?

PJ opened a few doors. The one to the hall closet
 
—empty. The one to the basement
 
—not a chance. The one next to the bathroom
 
—stairs.

She stared up at the black hole a long time, her foot poised on the bottom step. The space above smelled of age and old lace, and when her hand traced the wall, she found no light switch.

Maybe . . . in daylight. She closed the door.

Still crunching on cereal, she returned to Dally’s room, hunting for clues. She studied the pictures on her dresser. One taken in a hair salon. One of the girls
 
—now
that
was red hair
 
—stuck her tongue out to reveal a silver stud, while posing with a hang-loose gesture. The other, a peroxide blonde with hair caught in the eighties, filled out a light blue apron with the words
Scissor Shack
on the front. Her smile was sweet, and PJ guessed she might be the proprietor.

Another picture showed Dally with her softball team. PJ recognized the redhead from the first photo, her long hair in braids, this time “peacing” the camera. Dally crouched in the front in her catcher’s garb.

A smaller picture in a silver frame showed Dally standing in front of Mount Rushmore and leaning against a sharp-dressed man, although the picture was too small to make out any features.

If the roles were reversed, what would Dally find to clue her into PJ’s life? She’d unpacked her duffel onto the bed. With the exception of her Bible
 
—stuffed with bulletins from the Kellogg Praise and Worship Center
 
—nothing revealed PJ’s true identity.

She stared at the bedroom mirror
 
—gold-plated, with ornate sculpting around the oval edge. Compared to Dally, she felt nondescript. Even her simple
Boone
tattoo lacked pizzazz next to all Dally’s color.

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