Authors: Jessica Clare
Irritation flared on her face again, just before she tamped it down into her serene, professional expression that would have fooled anyone who didn't notice the rigid set of her mouth. She looked over at Cade. “Your friend is determined to get under my skin this weekend.”
Cade chuckled, shaking his head. “Reese is a flirt, Audrey. Pay him no mind.” He shot Reese an amused look and handed Audrey a canister of oatmeal.
That wasn't the look of a man concerned about his woman. Whatever Cade felt for Audrey, it didn't extend past friendship, which meant she was fair game for his teasing.
Reese crossed his arms over his chest, grinning at Audrey. “Play your cards right and I can get under a lot of things.”
Her color flared again, and her mouth went even tighter. She shoved the canister of oatmeal at his chest. “You know what? You can put this away. I'm going to go check on Daphne.”
As she stomped away, Reese clutched the oatmeal to his chest and chuckled.
Cade simply shook his head. “You definitely bring out raw emotion in people. I don't think I've ever seen Audrey so flustered.”
“It's probably the combination of the two of us,” Reese told him, bending over and tossing the oatmeal under the counter like he was throwing a football. From the sound of things, it knocked a few other things over, which was fine with him. More to aggravate Ms. Uptight when she returned.
Cade gave him a puzzled look. “The two of us? What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” Reese said blandly. If Cade didn't have a clue that Audrey had a crush on him, he'd keep it that way. The last thing Cade needed was more stress. He'd seemed a bit tense lately, which wasn't like him. “How you hanging in there?”
“Good. Work's been busy but numbers are good. I'm scheduled to go to Africa in a month to oversee a few of the clinics we've set up with Doctors Without Borders and determine the needs of the communities. I don't have to go, but I want toÂ .Â .Â . as long as things are good here.” Again, that line of tension crossed his face, and he set down a box of cereal, then gave Reese a dark look. “How is she?”
“Audrey? You saw her.”
Aha. So the white knight had arrived to the rescue of a very different twin. Suddenly, a few things locked into place. It explained why, despite Cade's busy schedule, he was here hanging out with a pair of childhood friends.
He was in love with a twin, all right, but it was the wrong one. For some reason, somewhere along the way, Cade Archerâgood hearted, generous, white knight Cade Archerâhad fallen for the messedâup, drug-using, infamous twin.
He didn't know who he felt sorrier forâCade, for his choice in women or Audrey, who clearly had a crush on a man who wouldn't notice she was there except in a friendship capacity.
“She's a fucking mess,” Reese said bluntly, and hated the way that Cade's brows furrowed even deeper. “That girl needs a year of rehab, not a vacation in the woods.”
“Daphne's stubborn,” Cade told him with a tense look. “Audrey's tried to get her into rehab before, but she just runs away. Her label's not much help, either. I think someone there keeps supplying her with the drugs. I imagine a constantly available stream of her favorite addictions keeps her under their control more than threats of a contract breach does.” He didn't look very pleased at the thought.
“She's famous,” Reese told him. “She runs with all kinds of crowds. She can probably get drugs anywhere and everywhere.”
“That's why I'm here,” Cade told him, and rubbed a hand on his nape, as if weary. “Audrey had mentioned concerns, but I didn't realize. Thought the tabloids were just full of their usual bullshit. Then when I saw her at the party, I realized that they were all true. And I couldn't leave her like that. So when she reached out to me, I suggested she come here. Maybe ifÂ .Â .Â .” He paused, then gave Reese a tense look, daring him to contradict him. “Maybe if I'm here, it'll make a difference.”
“Maybe,” Reese said. He wasn't sure. The girl seemed pretty messed up to him. But if Cade wanted to ride to the rescue, he wouldn't be able to dissuade him. “You just let me know if you need help with things.”
“I will. Sorry your weekend was ruined. Sounds like Audrey has some impeccable timing.”
Reese grinned. “Camilla will get over it. In the meantime, I plan on making Audrey regret that she interrupted my rendezvous.”
“Don't do anything I wouldn't do.”
Reese snorted. “Buddy, everything I do is something you wouldn't do.”
“She's a friend,” Cade cautioned, ever serious. “A childhood friend. Don't hurt her. Despite her bluster, Audrey's got a really good heart and she's sensitive.”
The woman was about as sensitive as a bull in a china shop, but he didn't disagree with Cade openly. “I just plan on teasing her a bit, man. She's safe with me.”
Safe enough, anyhow.
He didn't mention their little blackmail-directed rendezvous scheduled for later that night. While he still considered that teasing, he wasn't sure that Cade would.
“Good,” Cade said with a grin. “I'm glad you're here. It'll give us a chance to hang out, and I'm guessing we'll need another set of hands around, if Daphne ends up being half the handful I think she'll be.”
Reese was pretty sure that Daphne would be more than just a handful, but he said nothing to Cade. No sense in starting an argument. “It'll be interesting.”
He just wondered what good ol' Audrey would think when he didn't leave immediately. Maybe he'd stick around for longer than the weekend, just to crawl under that woman's skin. He had to admit that the idea had appeal, and his work was covered thanks to a few rather aggressive hires to handle the day-to-day aspects of Durham Industries.
Which left him plenty of time to torment Audrey Petty.
She'd fall under his spell eventually. Reese Durham always won over the women he had his eye on. And until she did, she was going to be mighty fun to play with.
He always did enjoy the chase a bit more than anything.
Audrey set four places at the wooden table, laying down the plates and ignoring the large man who hovered nearby, supervising.
“You're so incredibly domestic, Audrey. First dinner and now the table?” Reese tsked and shook his head, pretending to be impressed. “You're going to make Cade a lucky man.”
She glared at him, clenching the last plate in her hand as if she wanted to strike him with it. “Will you shut up, already?” Audrey glanced around the room, making sure that Cade was nowhere to be seen. “He'll hear you.”
“Sorry,” he said in a tone that indicated that he wasn't sorry at all. “I thought I'd help you set the table.”
“You're clearly being such a help,” she said in a nasty tone. “What with your standing around and being in the way.”
He chuckled. “What can I do to help you, then?”
Go away. Go away and never come back.
“Go tell the others that dinner's ready.”
“That, I can do.” Reese strolled out of the small kitchen, whistling, and Audrey gritted her teeth again. At least he'd listened to her for once.
It had only been a few hours and he was already driving her crazy. The man seemed determined to make her lose her temper. Not only was he constantly hovering around and making cracks, but he seemed to delight in doing nothing more than heckling her.
She wished that Cade had stuck around, but once he'd unpacked, he'd taken a walk around the lake. He'd asked Audrey to go with him, but she'd declined, wanting to stay close to the cabin in case Daphne needed her. She'd suggested that Reese go instead, but he claimed to be tired and laid down on one of the couches in the living room.
Of course, no sooner had Cade disappeared that Reese had been back up again, bothering her and asking her questions. How long had she been in love with Cade? Had she ever told him about it? Had she ever seen him naked? Did she get jealous when he dated other women? Did she date other men?
She'd ignored his questions and gone into the small kitchen, determined to make dinner. It was something to keep her busy. The only problem was, she wasn't much of a cook. When they were younger, her older sister Gretchen had always cooked for the family, and she was wonderful at it. Living in New York City, Audrey had never needed culinary skills, not when there was a restaurant on every corner. But the groceries that Cade had brought seemed to be healthy, wholesome foods, and she guessed that someone would have to cook for them.
And given that the men had disappeared from the lodge, she supposed that fell to her.
There'd been a recipe for meatloaf on the back of one of the packages of meat, and so she'd decided to make that for them. It didn't look so hard. They were missing a few of the spices, but she figured that she'd just add some extra salt and pepper. When she pulled it out of the small oven, it looked good and smelled even better. Pleased, Audrey set the pan down on the table and returned to the kitchen to make a small tossed salad to accompany it.
It wasn't high class cuisine, but it was a nice-looking dinner. She wanted things to be comfortable for her twin while she was struggling to get clean, nice, and wholesome dinner with friends would be a great start. If she could keep Daphne distracted and relatively content, this could work. And with Cade at her side, between the two of them, they could keep on Daphne at all times.
This was going to work, Audrey decided.
While the food was cooling, Reese and Cade returned and washed up and sat down at the table. A moment later, Daphne descended down the stairs, each step shaky and weak.
Audrey's heart sank. It had been less than a full day and her twin looked like hell. Dark circles lined Daphne's eyes and her entire body shook with small tremors. Her steps were small and shuffling, and she seemed thinner than ever.
Audrey went to Daphne's side, wrapping an arm around her. “How are you feeling?”
Daphne brushed off her arm irritably. “Don't touch me. Hurts.”
Immediately, Audrey released her, feeling contrite. “I'm sorry. What can I get you?”
“Glass of water,” Daphne said, and licked her lips. Audrey noticed that they were dry and cracked, as if she'd gone weeks in the sun. Was detoxing supposed to be this hard on her twin? Audrey had never done drugs, so she didn't know, but she was concerned.
“I'll get it for you,” she told her. “Go sit down at the table.”
“Well, sit down with the others at least. I'm sure Cade will be happy to see you,” Audrey said, keeping her tone bright and cheerful. “Go say hello to him.”
Cade got up from the table and approached Daphne, extending his hands to her. “Hey, beautiful.”
Daphne managed a tiny smile and put her trembling hands in his. “You're such a tease,” she told him. “I look like shit.”
“You're too hard on yourself,” Cade told her quietly. “You're going through a hard time.” He took her hand and gently guided her toward the table, then pulled a chair out for her.
Audrey smiled at the sight. Having Cade here was wonderful. He always knew what to say to her twin to make her behave, to make her respond, and he always treated her like a lady, even when Daphne was at her lowest. “I made meatloaf and salad, Daphne,” she said, setting the glass of water down in front of her. “Do you want to try it?”
“You should,” Cade said softly. “Your sister worked hard on it.”
Daphne shrugged her thin shoulders. “I'll try and eat.” She glanced over at Reese, who sat on the opposite end of the table. “Hey. You're the guy from the hot tub, right? You're still here?”
“I am,” Reese said pleasantly, glancing at Audrey. “Your sister offered to give me a ride back to town but I was enjoying her company so much that I thought I'd stick around.”
Audrey snorted. She wished it was that easy to get rid of him. She finished dishing a small serving onto Daphne's plate and then took Reese's plate and began to slop a large amount on there. The meatloaf seemed a bitÂ .Â .Â . pink in the middle, but she figured if you could have a steak rare, you could have meatloaf rare, too.
When he raised an eyebrow at the amount she piled on his plate, she gave him a saccharine smile and thumped it down in front of him. “I figured you probably have a caveman-like appetite to go with that caveman personality of yours.”
“Is that a hint for me to drag you off into my cave?” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She shot him a withering look. “Not in the slightestâ”
“Well,” Cade said, interrupting. “I'm starved and it smells great, Audrey. Thank you so much for fixing dinner.”
“She'll make someone a terrific wife someday, won't she?” Reese said casually.
Audrey froze, then turned to glare at him.
He gave her a wicked smile, unfurling his napkin and placing it on his lap.
“That she will,” Cade said, missing the tension between the two of them. He glanced at Daphne fondly, then smiled at Audrey when she set a plate of food down in front of him.
“Eat, everyone,” Audrey told them, serving up her own plate and then sitting down. “You don't want it to get cold.” Her gaze slid over to Daphne. Her twin had a fork in hand but she had yet to take a bite. Instead, she was poking at the food with the fork tines, dismantling it and shoving it around her plate. Wasn't she hungry? She hadn't eaten earlier, either. She cast a concerned look at Cade, who shook his head, indicating that she should leave Daphne alone.
A choked sound came from Reese, and Audrey looked over just in time to see him spit a mouthful into his napkin. His eyes began to stream as he coughed.
Her eyes widened. “Did you swallow wrong?”
“Yeah. I tried to swallow. That was the problem.”
“Spitters are quitters,” Daphne said from the far end of the table, her voice low and tired.
Audrey looked over at Cade, who had a pained expression on his face. As she watched, he reached for his water glass and politely coughed into his hand.
A hint of a smile touched Daphne's mouth. “You guys shouldn't have let Audrey cook. She kind of sucks at it.” She pushed the meatloaf around on her plate a bit longer. “Glad I'm not hungry.”
It couldn't be that bad.
Casting another angry look at Reese for joking around when her twin clearly needed to eat, Audrey took a tiny bite of the meatloaf. Wet, half-raw hamburger meat and onion touched her tongue. The salty, greasy taste was overwhelming. With a gagging noise of her own, Audrey quietly followed Reese's lead and spit into her napkin. “I must have missed something on the recipe.”
“Like the instructions?” Reese told her.
She tossed her napkin down on her plate. “I didn't see you volunteering to do anything in the kitchen, did I?”
“Is that a challenge?” he told her. “Because I'm up for it. You want to make a bet on who can make a better dinner?”
“I'm not betting anything with you, idiot,” she bit off, and then glanced over at Cade and Daphne, mortified at her outburst. “Sorry,” she said, bringing her voice back down to a modulated, calm tone. “I'm just a bit frustrated.”
“So you don't think I'm an idiot?” Reese teased at her side.
“I didn't say that,” she said tightly.
Daphne sighed heavily and drank her water.
Cade pushed his plate aside and focused on his salad. “Well, the effort was appreciated nevertheless, Audrey. I appreciate you. Maybe it'll taste better as leftovers.”
She beamed at him, feeling warm at his praise.
“Fuck leftovers,” Reese said. “Mine's going in the garbage. The maggots can have it.”
Immediately, Daphne plunked her water glass down. Her face turned green and she bolted from the table.
Audrey cast a withering look at Reese as she got to her feet. “Can't you watch your mouth for five minutes? Look what you've done.”
“I don't know,” Reese said blandly. “I kind of think she did it to herself.”
Tamping down her outrage, Audrey followed Daphne through the lodge. She found Daphne huddled on the floor in the bathroom, her face in the toilet as she vomited. Audrey sat down next to her and pulled her twin's stringy, dyed hair out of the way, rubbing her back as she threw up.
When nothing else seemed to be coming up, Daphne rested her cheek on the side of the toilet and gave a weak sigh. “I hate this.”
“I'm sorry,” Audrey said. “I wish I could help.”
“You can. Go to town and score me something. Just a little something to keep me going.”
“Not much,” Daphne said, her voice desperate. “Just enough to take the worst of the edge off. It'll help me cut free if I don't feel quite so shitty.”
“I can't. Even if I knew where to get drugs, I wouldn't get it for you.” She shook her head. “I won't do that to you.”
Daphne turned and gave her a vicious shove, knocking Audrey into the tub. “It's your fucking fault,” she snarled. “I had enough drugs for this month and you fucking flushed them. You trying to kill me? I can't go cold turkey.” She began to sob, laying her cheek back down on the side of the toilet as dry heaves began to take over her again. “I need my pills. I can't do this.”
“It hasn't even been a day yet, Daphne.” Audrey struggled upright and sat on the edge of the tub, then began to stroke Daphne's back again. “Be strong.”
“If I was strong I wouldn't be here,” Daphne sobbed. “Take me back to the city. Please. I've changed my mind.”
Hurt and despair welled up inside of Audrey. Daphne was giving up already? It hadn't even been a full twenty-four hours and Daphne was determined to give up. This was just like every other time Daphne had tried to get clean. She'd talk a good game and then when things got difficult, she'd cave in. “If I take you back to the city, you'll end up just like you were before,” Audrey whispered, her heart aching as she continued to stroke her twin's back. Daphne was so thin she could feel every bump of her spine, and it made her want to weep with frustration.
If this didn't work, her twin would die. It was only a matter of time before Daphne showed up on the cover of a tabloid with the headline “OVERDOSED.”
“I hate you,” Daphne cried. “I can't do this.”
A shadow fell on the doorway, and Audrey looked up to see Cade standing there, a stricken look on his face. “Is she all right?”
“She's fine,” Audrey began, only to be interrupted by Daphne's retching cough, and then more dry heaves.
Cade knelt beside Daphne and brushed his fingers over her sunken cheek. “You okay, Daph? What do you need?”
“Need my pills,” she sobbed, making small whimpering noises in her throat. “Something. Anything. I hurt so bad.”
“What were you taking before you came here?” Cade asked her.
“Everything,” she wept.
Audrey felt sick to her stomach. What kind of trouble was her twin in?
“What did you need to have, though? Which ones could you not live without?”
“Coke,” Daphne sobbed, and wiped her running nose with the back of one hand. “And my pills.”
“What were your pills?”
“Xanax. I need them,” she said in a trembling voice. “They keep me calm.”
To Audrey's horror, Cade produced a prescription pill bottle and held it out. As she watched, Daphne's hands formed small claws and she reached for the drugs, only to have Cade hold them out of reach again. “Just one, Daphne.”
“Just one,” Daphne agreed, breathing heavily. She held her hands out, and Audrey was horrified to see how much they were shaking.
“Cade, noâ” Audrey began, but he shook his head at her. She pursed her lips and sat in silence as Cade carefully fished one pill out and handed it to Daphne, who gobbled it down like it was candy. Then, she lay her cheek back down on the side of the toilet and sighed, closing her eyes.