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Authors: Lisa Jackson

Twice Kissed

BOOK: Twice Kissed
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STILL MISSING

The phone rang and Maggie snagged the receiver, half-expecting to hear from her daughter. Instead, it was Detective Henderson.

“Sorry to be calling so late, but I thought you’d want to know,” he said, and Maggie experienced the cold fingers of dread crawling up her spine. Her hand clenched the receiver in a tight grip. “It’s about your sister.”

“What?”

“Well, we’re starting to think that your sister’s Jeep might have been forced off the road.”

“What do you mean?” she whispered, questions rushing through her head. “Are you saying someone intentionally tried to kill her?”

“Don’t know for sure. Could be. Could have just been an accident or road rage or, yes, it could be someone who wanted to harm her.”

“Dear God.” Maggie’s soul turned to ice.

“As I said, it might have been a hit-and-run accident where the driver panicked—”

“But that’s unlikely.”

“Or a coincidence.”

Maggie’s voice sounded far away even to her own ears. “Come on, Detective. Neither you nor I believe in coincidence. The most likely scenario is that someone tried to kill my twin sister…”

Books by Lisa Jackson

SEE HOW SHE DIES

FINAL SCREAM

WISHES

WHISPERS

TWICE KISSED

UNSPOKEN

IF SHE ONLY KNEW

HOT BLOODED

COLD BLOODED

THE NIGHT BEFORE

THE MORNING AFTER

DEEP FREEZE

FATAL BURN

SHIVER

Published by Zebra Books

LISA JACKSON
TWICE KISSED

ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.zebrabooks.com

Heartfelt thanks to all the people who helped with the research and structuring of this book, especially Ann Baumann, Nancy Bush, Matthew Crose, Michael Crose, Alexis Harrington, Sally Peters, Tess O’Shaughnessy, Dave Painter, John Ray, Robin Rue, John Scognamiglio, Joan Sean, Carl Simpson, Celia Stinson and Larry Sparks. Your help, patience and laughter were invaluable.

PART I
Settler’s Ridge
Northern Idaho

November 1998

Chapter One

Help me!

Maggie froze.

The old Maxwell House coffee can she used as a grain scoop slipped from her fingers. It hit the floor. Bam! Oats sprayed. Horses tossed their heads and neighed. Her legs buckled, and she grabbed hold of a rough-hewn post supporting the hayloft.

Maggie, please! Only you can help me.

“Mary Theresa?” Maggie mouthed, though no sound passed her lips. Was it possible? After all these years would her sister’s voice reach her? The barn seemed suddenly airless. Close. Cold sweat collected on her scalp though the mercury level in the old thermometer tacked onto the wall near the door dipped below fifty degrees.

It was Thane. He did this to me.
The voice pulsed through her brain.

Thane Walker. Mary Theresa’s ex-husband and the one man Maggie never wanted to lay eyes upon again.

“Did what?” This time she spoke out loud, though her throat was as tight as dried leather, any saliva that had been in her mouth long gone.

Maggie, please, don’t let him get away with it…

“Where are you?” she cried, spinning, looking up to the ancient rafters where an owl had taken up residence. Feathers and dust motes swirled in the faint shaft of light from a lone, circular window mounted near the ceiling. She knew that spoken words were useless. Mary Theresa was hundreds of miles away. So far. So damned far. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to throw her thoughts to wherever her twin might be. But it wouldn’t work. It never had. Nonetheless, she tried screaming in her mind:
Mary Theresa, can you hear me? Can you? What did that bastard do to you?

She waited.

Nothing.

A restless mare snorted.

“If this is some kind of sick joke…” she said, though her heart was pounding a million beats a second. “Mary Theresa, I swear…”

Anxious, as if picking up the tension in the air, the horses shifted in their stalls, hooves rustling the straw, muscles quivering under coats that were becoming shaggy as winter approached.

Maggie shuddered, the inside of her skin quivering as it always had when Mary Theresa had contacted her through their own special means. Mental telepathy. Instinct. Magic. Witchcraft. ESP. Clairvoyance. Maggie had heard all the terms and slurs, knew that most people considered her eccentric at best and just plain crazy at worst. Slowly, her fingers sliding down the post and gathering slivers, she sank to her knees and rested her head against the solid wood.

She concentrated, willing her breathing to return to normal.
Come on, Mary Theresa, come on. One more time.
Eyes closed so tightly they ached, she strained to hear, but the only sounds that reached her ears were the constant rustle of hooves in straw, hot breath blowing out of nervous nostrils, the scratch of tiny claws as mice scurried along the concrete floor, hiding in the cracks and crevices of the old barn. “Don’t stop now,” she whispered, her teeth sinking into her lower lip until she tasted blood.

Nothing.

“Damn you, Mary Theresa…or Marquise or whoever you think you are. Talk to me!”

The inside of the barn felt as if it were freezing, and yet cold perspiration broke out all over her skin. “Mary Theresa—”

“Mom?” Becca’s voice sounded far away. The door to the barn creaked open, and a shaft of fading daylight sliced into the musty interior. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Fine,” she forced out, climbing to her feet and dusting her hands on her jeans. She managed a weak smile, hoping it would mask her lie a little.

Becca with her freckled face, eyes a little too large and a lot too serious for the age of thirteen, was instantly suspicious. “What were you doing in here?” She motioned to the post. “Praying?”

“No—”

“You were on your knees, Mom. Did you, like, have a heart attack or a stroke or what?”

“I was just feeding the horses and I, um, needed…a rest.” Maggie cringed inside because the lie was so ridiculous, but what could she say? That her sister, whom she hadn’t heard from in months, was finally contacting her through telepathy? She’d learned from past experience that no one would believe her, especially not her nearly estranged daughter.

Becca eyed the empty coffee can that had rolled against a burlap sack of feed. “Right.”

“I was. I just…well, if you want to know the truth—”

“That would be a change.”

“Becca,” she reproached, then held her tongue. The strain between them was palpable. Mother and daughter. How had they grown so far apart when they had once been inseparable?

“I…” Oh, God, how would she explain this—this connection she had with her twin? This weird way of communicating when it hadn’t happened in years. “It…It was…just a little spell.”

“A little spell?” Becca repeated, nodding her head as if she had expected just such an answer from a mother she could no longer trust, a woman who had single-handedly ruined her life. Turning away, she didn’t bother hiding the fact that she rolled her eyes.

Frustration caused a headache to pound behind Maggie’s eyes, and her fingers curled into fists. She’d love to tell Becca the truth, but then her daughter would just think she was crazy. Anyone who had heard her try and explain about the odd connection she had with Mary Theresa did. “Yes. A spell. When you get older—”

“You’re only thirty-seven, Mom. You keep telling me it’s not exactly ancient.”

Thirty-seven and sometimes it feels like seventy.

“Maybe you should see a doctor. Another one.” Was there just the hint of concern beneath the sarcasm?

“Maybe I will.” Maggie bent down, picked up the can and found a push broom hanging from a nail. “Nothing to worry about.” She swept with long, sure strokes, though she was still shaken. There was a chance she hadn’t heard anything after all. Maybe she was just overworked—exhausted from the move and the emotional turmoil that she’d been through.

Becca lifted a thin adolescent shoulder. Beneath her baggy polar fleece sweater and faded jeans, she showed off the beginnings of a womanly figure. “I, um, thought I’d go for a ride.”

“The sun’s gonna set soon.”

“I won’t be gone long. What do you care anyway?”

“I care, okay?”

“But I’ll take Jasper. You said yourself he’s more sure-footed than any other horse you’ve ever seen.”

It was useless to argue. No reason to. Becca was right. “Just be back soon, okay? For dinner. Before it gets dark.” She hung up the broom and scooped another ration of oats.

“No one’s gonna get me out here in the middle of nowhere,” Becca said as she pulled down a bridle. “It’s not like when we lived in California, you know, in the middle of civilization.”

“Just be careful.”

“Always am.”

“Take Barkley with you.”

“He’ll come whether I want him to or not, but he’s not much of a watchdog.”

“Just take him.”

“Fine.”

“And let Jasper finish his dinner first, okay?”

Becca rolled her eyes again, then let out a theatrical long-suffering sigh, but she did as she was told, leaving the bridle draped over the top rail of the stalls and even going so far as to grab the pitchfork and toss hay into the mangers. They worked in tense silence, the argument simmering between them. It took all of Maggie’s willpower not to make small talk or criticize her daughter.
Patience,
she told herself.
The resentment will fade. Give it time. Lots of time.

When Becca was in one of her the-world-is-against-me-and-it’s-all-your-fault moods, anything Maggie said would only exacerbate the situation. She had learned it was better to hold her tongue. Besides, Becca wanted answers, and what could Maggie say?
I heard your flamboyant aunt’s voice while I was feeding the stock. It came to me right here in this barn, hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away from her? Yeah, right.

When Jasper had eaten his fill, Becca brushed and saddled him, then slid a bridle over his head and walked the gray gelding to the pasture. The rest of the small herd snorted, nipped at each other, and tossed their heads as if they, too, were restless within the confines of the barn. Maggie leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb and watched as Becca climbed into the saddle. Whistling to Barkley, their adopted German shepherd, Becca rode through a series of gates to the Forest Service land, where scrub brush was interrupted by stands of jack and lodgepole pine trees. The dog, with his mangled right ear and bad hind leg, followed right behind, loping easily on three legs across the dry acres that were guarded to the east by the Bitterroot Mountains.

Maggie rubbed her arms. Today, her jacket didn’t seem to keep out the cold of coming winter; or maybe it was because she realized how very much she and Becca were alone. Just the way Maggie had wanted it. As far from the city and all the painful memories of L.A. as she could get.

Becca leaned low over Jasper’s shoulders and eased him into a gallop. The scruffy dog, despite the injuries he’d sustained in a losing battle with a raccoon, loped easily behind as they approached the hills. Becca and Barkley.
Both broken souls,
Maggie thought anxiously as she ignored the first mournful cry of a coyote hidden somewhere in the distance.

The moon, a smiling crescent that shimmered in opalescent tones, had already risen, though the sun was still undecided about settling into the western horizon where a jet’s wake sliced across the sky before disappearing into a thin veil of slowly gathering clouds. In the fields, cattle stirred, chewing their cuds, switching their tails, lumbering without much grace near a stream that sliced sharply through the fields.

Yes, it was peaceful here, she thought. And safe. The nearest neighbor was half a mile down the road, the closest town not much more than a stoplight, grocery store, post office, and gas station. Maggie considered Settler’s Ridge, Idaho, to be as close to heaven-on-earth as a person could find. Becca was sure the tiny town was the embodiment of hell.

Once Becca had disappeared from sight, Maggie checked the water in the troughs, then walked to the back porch to yank sheets she’d been drying off the line. She’d collected two pins in her mouth and was gathering the yards of percale when the phone jangled. “Great,” she mumbled around the pins.

A second, demanding ring.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming…I’m coming,” she grumbled, spitting out the pins and tossing the bedding into a wicker basket.

Brring!

She hauled the load into the old cabin, dumped it on the table, snagged the receiver, and heard the flat sound of a dial tone in her ear.

“Hello?” she said automatically, then started to hang up only to stare down at the instrument as she shrugged out of her jacket. Who had called? If only she lived in the city as before so that she could check caller ID.
Or you could buy a new battery for the answering machine and plug it in. You don’t have to be a hermit.

That much was true. She eyed the mouthpiece of the receiver, then placed the handset into its cradle. So someone had called. Big deal. It could have been one of Becca’s friends. Though they didn’t get many calls here, there were a few, and just because she’d thought she’d heard Mary Theresa’s mental voice a little while ago was no reason to panic.
Just calm down.

The truth was that Maggie had been hiding for nine months, turning her back on a world that had hurt her and her daughter one too many times.

Coward. Other people cope. Why can’t you?

Drumming her fingers on the checkered cloth that covered the table, she frowned at the telephone. Could the caller have been Mary Theresa? It had been so long since they’d spoken, too long…

She picked up the receiver again and dialed rapidly before she let her pride get the better of her. The long-distance connection was made and she waited. One ring. Two. Three. Click.

“Hi.” Mary Theresa’s breathy, upbeat voice brought a smile to Maggie’s lips as she nervously twisted the ring on her right hand. “This is Marquise. I can’t come to the phone right now, but leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. I promise.”

The recorder beeped and Maggie steeled herself. “Mary Theresa, this is Maggie. If you’re there please pick up…Mary Theresa?…Oh, okay, Marquise, are you there?” she asked impatiently, using her sister’s stage name, hoping that if Mary Theresa was within earshot she’d put aside her petulance and answer. A heartbeat. Two. Nothing. “Look, I, um, I got a message from you—you know the kind you used to send.” She glanced around the room and felt foolish. What if she’d dreamed up the whole thing? “Well, at least I think I did, and I need to talk to you, so please call me back. I’m still at the ranch in Idaho.” She rattled off the number, waited a second or two in the fleeting hope that her sister was listening, then, sighing, hung up. “Damn.”

The sun had finally set and the cabin felt cold and bereft, empty. Maggie checked the thermostat, then walked to a window and looked toward the mountains as if she could will her daughter’s image to appear from the shadows. All the while her sister’s cryptic message haunted her. What had Mary Theresa said?
Only you can help me. It was Thane. He did this to me.

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