Authors: Frankie Robertson
Tags: #FIC027110 Fiction/Romance/Suspense, #FIC009050 Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal, #FIC027120 Fiction/Romance/Paranormal, #FIC012000 Fiction/Ghost, #FIC024000 Fiction/Occult and Supernatural
He shrugged. “I saw something. In my mirror.”
“Something? Something that convinced you to drive halfway across the ranch to find me in a flooded wash that you didn’t even know was here?”
Jason didn’t meet Beth’s eyes. “Yeah.”
“Something that looked like Ellie.”
Jason turned back to her. “And talked like her too. She led me here. Just in time.” His voice grew husky. “And I’m grateful she did.”
He bent and kissed her. His lips were not at all tentative. His hands stroked her back, pulling her tightly against his body as he plied her mouth with sensuous attention. She heated under his ministrations, taking and giving back. A small part of her warned her not to do this again, not to abandon herself to the joy and pleasure of his touch, that it wouldn’t last, but her body wasn’t listening. The world was spinning and her hands came up around his shoulders. Her heart raced and little flames raced over her skin. She pulled him closer.
Then an odd sound caught her attention. She froze, breathing hard. “What was that?” she whispered.
Jason put her back from him, listening and scanning the scrub around them. Beth held her breath. After several long moments, Jason relaxed. “I don’t see or hear anything.” He pulled her under his arm again and started walking. “We should keep moving.”
A few minutes later she asked, “So you believe me now?”
Jason blinked, as though he didn’t understand the question. Then he said, “I … Yes, I guess so.”
Beth rolled her eyes. “A ringing endorsement.”
“Cut me some slack here. This goes against reason. I’ve never seen a ghost before. I’m still not sure what I saw. But whatever it was, I can’t explain it.”
“Quick supple writing—an unusual and gripping tale—and did I mention sexy?”
~ Melanie Rawn, bestselling author of
Glass Thorns, The Diviner
, and Spellbinder.
kept me guessing until the very end.”
~ Jordan Summers, author of the
series, and Red.
“A great tale of adventure and romance, beautifully imagined and deeply engaging from beginning to end!”
~ Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of
Outlander, An Echo in the Bone
, and the
Lord John Grey
“Grabs you from the start with excellent pacing, fascinating characters and culture, and a satisfying romance. I want more!”
~ Jennifer Roberson, bestselling author of
The Chronicles of the Cheysuli
Lady of the Glen
“Romance, peril, and magic: what more could anyone ask?”
~ Dennis L. McKiernan, author of the
series, and the Faery series.
“You won’t want to put it down.”
~ Roxy Rogers, author of
Be Careful What You Wish For.
“Riveting! I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book so much. Ms. Robertson has written a compelling story with engaging characters and a well-paced plot.”
~ Caroline Mickelson, author of
From Mangia to Murder
and Witch Weigh.
“I stayed up way past my bedtime because I couldn’t put it down.”
~ Casey Wyatt, author of
, and Mystic Storm.
“A delicious tale, beautifully rendered and hotly sensual.”
~ Kathleen Kirkwood, author of
A Slip in Time
The Defiant Heart
“Ms. Robertson combines a lush prose style with a sharp eye for characterization and detail. You will not be disappointed.”
~ Jody Wallace, author of
Pack and Coven, A Wintertide Spell,
A Mage By Any Other Name.
For Brian, who never wavered in his support.
harp dread jolted Beth out of a restless sleep. Her heart thudded as she stared into the darkness of her bedroom, then she reached for the phone just before it rang. “Ellie, what is it? What’s wrong?” She didn’t need to check caller I.D. to know her identical twin was on the line, and at just after two in the morning it couldn’t be good news.
Ellie showed no surprise at either the quick pick-up or that her sister knew who was calling. She wouldn’t. They’d done this sort of thing all their lives. “It’s Chris. He’s missing.”
This must have been what Beth’s confused, foreboding dreams had been about. “Missing! What happened?”
“He didn’t come in for lunch like he usually does, or for dinner. Ell’s voice trembled. “He’s still not back.”
“Have you called the sheriff?”
Ellie’s laugh held a bitter edge. “Oh yeah. I called. He thinks Chris is just out blowing off some steam.”
that?” Chris and Ellie had just returned from their world-tour honeymoon to their southern Arizona ranch. Beth had met her brother-in-law only a few times, but he didn’t seem like the kind who would step out on his wife seven months after the wedding.
“Not in so many words, but the meaning was clear. He said to call him if Chris doesn’t make it home by morning.”
“What a jerk!”
“I wish he
out with the guys. I felt like a nagging wife, but I even called Jack’s. Nobody at the bar has seen him.”
“What about the foreman? Maybe one of the hands knows something.”
“I phoned Mack before I called the sheriff. He said Chris planned to check fences on the south forty today. No one saw him after that.” Ell drew a shaky breath. “Mack got a couple of the guys and went out looking for him, but it’s a big ranch. We looked until after dark, but then it started to pour so we came in.”
Beth understood what her sister had left unsaid. The summer monsoon rains could be violent. Visibility dropped to nothing and the normally dry arroyos flooded quickly. Every year someone tried to cross one, and every year someone drowned.
“Chris is smart enough not to drive through a flooded wash, and he wouldn’t stay in his truck if it got stuck in a dry one, either. Not this time of year.”
“I know. But what if he got bitten by a rattler? What if he broke his leg?”
Beth spoke in the voice she used at the Humane Society to sooth the worried owners of lost dogs. It felt weird to be the one reassuring her normally unflappable sister. “Don’t borrow trouble. The sheriff will find him tomorrow. He probably just ran out of gas or something.”
“Then why hasn’t he called?”
“You told me yourself there’s places on the ranch that don’t get a signal. Or maybe his phone is dead.”
“Why don’t I come over and keep you company?”
“It’s a four hour drive, Beth.”
“It’s not that long. Besides, I could use a vacation.”
Ellie paused a moment. When she spoke again her voice caught. “Thank you.”
“Chris will probably show up before I do. We can all go out to breakfast together.”
Beth hoped she was telling the truth.
Beth took another swallow
of her Red Bull as she barreled west down I-10.
She’d left a message at the Humane Society about what was going on. Doug, her boss, wouldn’t be happy about her taking the time off, even if it was an emergency.
You’d think a guy with such a soft heart for animals would be a little more understanding.
She’d call again when she got to Ellie’s to smooth his ruffled feathers. Maybe by then she’d be able to tell him how long she’d be gone.
Beth stretched her neck, rubbed one eye, then the other. The last time she’d made this drive she’d been on her way to her sister’s Christmas wedding.
Beth smiled, remembering the small ceremony. Her sister had been beautiful in a white satin dress that just capped her shoulders. She’d chosen to wear a lace
instead of a traditional veil over her long blond hair and the scalloped edges had framed the joy shining in her face.
Chris and his best man, Jason Blackforth, had been quite a sight standing at the front of the old Spanish church that was now owned by of one of the local wineries. Chris, tall and lean and fair, couldn’t take his bright blue eyes off Ellie. Jason, his dark hair curling irrepressibly over one brow, had winked encouragement at her twin. Beth couldn’t help appreciating how his broad shoulders filled his dark gray tux in spite of his irreverence.
The memory brought a rush of heat that Beth tried to ignore. Jason was in the past—and he was going to stay there.
Beth fiddled with the radio, searching for a clear station. No signal was strong enough and she clicked the static off.
That’s what I get for rushing off without my music
. As the white line flashed by in her headlights her mind drifted back to Jason and their first dance at the reception.
Poinsettias and holly had decorated the hacienda style mansion, while mistletoe hung from every doorway. A local fiddler and his group played in the tiled courtyard while everyone ate barbeque, drank beer, and danced.
Beth flexed her fingers on the steering wheel, and tried not to think about how good Jason’s strong arms had felt wrapped around her as he’d two-stepped and twirled and dipped her until she couldn’t see straight.
Usually the summer monsoons
built up in the afternoon and early evening, but tonight the clouds had followed her, alternately spitting and dumping on her all the way. Beth drove the last twenty miles to the ranch in pouring rain. The radio finally picked up a Tucson station and the windshield wipers kept time with the golden-oldies she could barely hear over the pounding of the storm.
As she pulled up next to the house, Beth glanced at the Civic’s clock. Five-thirty. She’d made good time. Thank goodness the Highway Patrol had been keeping dry somewhere while she’d been on the road.
She sprinted to the porch, paused in front of the tall double doors just long enough to shake the rain off, then let herself in without knocking. Ollie, Chris’s black and white border collie barked once, then licked her hand in greeting as Ellie came around the corner.
Beth did a double take.
Her sister stood before her with a short spiky haircut, the mirror of her own. A rueful grin spread across Ellie’s face. “We can’t get away from it, can we?”
“When did you cut it?” Beth asked.
“Two weeks ago.”
The same time Beth had had her own long hair shorn.
“I cut it because—,” Ell started.
“—it’s easier to care for,” Beth finished with her. And because it would make her more distinct from Ellie.
Beth stepped forward and touched fists with her sister. “Shazzan!” They both said as one. They’d adopted the greeting when they were kids from a cartoon about twins who could summon a genie with magic rings. From the shadows under her eyes, Ell looked like she could use a magic genie right about now.
Ellie pulled Beth into a hug. She held on longer than usual before letting go.
“Do you have bags?” she asked.
“Just one. I’ll get it later.” Beth searched her sister’s face. It was drawn with fatigue and worry. “How’re you doing?”
It was the kind of answer she expected from her twin. Her sister had always been the strong one, planning their childhood adventures, forging ahead and making new friends whenever they’d moved, which had been often thanks to their dad’s obsession. But now Ell looked scared and her eyes were red and watery.
Beth wanted to comfort Ellie, to put her arms around her, but her sister wouldn’t sit down for more than a minute. There wasn’t much she could do except watch Ell pace from room to room and listen to her stories about what Chris had said and done and what they planned for their future together, all while silent tears ran down her face.
She finally settled in the library. Beth propped her feet on the worn leather ottoman and slumped in the matching chair. Chris came from money, the kind that had been in the family for generations, and he didn’t decorate to impress anyone. The furnishings, mostly dark wood and leather, were solid and comfortable, the bookcases full of well-worn books, papers, even a hard hat with a lamp. Ellie obviously hadn’t made her own mark here yet.
Chris had better prepare himself. This time next year the pillows will have flowers and the sofa will be striped.
Then Beth’s heart clenched as she remembered why she was here.
Chris is okay. He has to be.
Ellie had been through enough. They both had. But Beth couldn’t think of a single plausible reason her brother-in-law wouldn’t be home if he were all right.
Ellie paused in her restless movement and sat down next to Beth’s bare feet on the ottoman. She pulled them into her lap and began massaging Beth’s toes.
Beth groaned softly in pleasure. “God, that feels so good.” They’d rubbed each other’s feet since they were little. “But I ought to be doing this for you.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get your turn when I get big and my feet start swelling.”
Beth sat up straight, grinning. “You’re pregnant? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ellie laughed. “I didn’t tell you because I only took the test this morning. Yesterday morning. It could be a false alarm.” She put her hand on her flat belly and smiled softly. “But I don’t think so.”
“This is great! Chris must be so excited!” Then she realized what she’d said and bit her lips. “I’m sorry—”
“Don’t be. You’re right. Chris was practically bouncing off the walls when I told him. He’s already making plans for a pony.” She rolled her eyes while she grinned and shook her head. “He wanted to go out shopping for baby things, but I told him not to be silly.” Ellie paused and her eyes filled again. “If we had, maybe this wouldn’t …”
“Don’t even think that! This isn’t your fault!”
Ell dabbed her eyes. “I know. Something happened to him, Bethie. He wouldn’t step out on me. He wouldn’t run away. Not now, not ever.”
“Ellie, I never thought—”
“The sheriff did. That’s why he’s not going to start searching until tomorrow. Today, I mean. This morning.”
“Oh, honey, Chris would never leave you. Anyone who’s ever seen you together can see how much he loves you.”
Smells of bacon and fresh coffee seeped into the room and Beth’s stomach growled. Early morning light seeped in around the old wooden shutters.
Ellie snuffled back her tears and said, “God bless that woman. Let’s go see what Maria has cooked up for us.”
Thirty minutes later, the
phone rang just as they finished the chorizo and eggs that Maria, the housekeeper, had fixed. Ellie flew across the room and picked up on the second ring. “Chris?” Her face fell. “Oh, hello, Sheriff … No, he
home, yet.” Her voice had an edge to it. “Will you start looking
? … Good. Sheriff, what if he was kidnapped? … No, nothing like that … But … I’ll be here.” She put the phone back in its cradle with the deliberate care of someone who wanted to throw it across the room. “He asked me if there had been a ransom request like I was hysterical for even considering the possibility of kidnapping!”
Beth stared. Kidnapping had never entered her mind. Chris was rich. He could have been the center of attention in the New York or Hollywood scene, but he preferred to live quietly on his ranch in southern Arizona. But just because he kept a low profile didn’t mean he couldn’t be a target.
“And he doesn’t want me out looking! He wants me to stay here!”
“That’s for the best,
” Maria said. “You should rest.” She patted Ellie on the shoulder.
to rest! I
to find Chris! I’m pregnant, not an invalid.”
“We know that, but you’ve been up all night,” Beth said.
“So have you!”
“Okay, I’ll take a nap, too. God knows I could use it.”
Ellie glared at her. “Fine, you stay here and sleep and I’ll go look for Chris.”
“You said Mack was going to get the hands out searching at first light, and now the sheriff is involved.”
“If they find him and you’re out of cell phone range, how will you know?” Beth asked in her most gentle voice.
Ell stood there stiffly and pressed her lips together in a tight thin line, just as she had when she was a child. When her jaw relaxed, Beth knew she had won.
“All right. But you have to wake me as soon as there’s news.”
“Or in two hours, even if you don’t hear anything.” Ellie speared Maria with a sharp look.
“Whatever you say.”
Beth glanced at the older woman. Petite and gently plump, there was a sharp intelligence in her eyes. Clearly she’d already figured out how to handle Ell.
Her twin growled and went to her room. Ollie looked at Beth and then followed Ell, head and tail down.
Beth was dozing on
the worn leather couch when a sharp rap jerked her awake. She beat Maria to the door before the third knock had finished reverberating in the
-tiled foyer. The sun was high and the humid July heat felt like a blow as she opened the door to a Saguaro County sheriff’s deputy. He stood in the shade of the wide front porch turning the brim of his hat in his hands. His face was stiff with bad news.
“Ellie, we found him. He’s down an old mine-shaft on the north side of your land. We’re fixin’ to get him out, but he’s not moving. I—”
!” Maria exclaimed.
Beth raised her hand. “I’m Beth, Ellie’s sister. She’s resting. Maybe you could come back, when you, um, that is, after Chris …” She didn’t want to say it out loud.
When you know whether or not my sister is a widow.
“My God, you look just like her!”
Beth nodded and mustered a wry half-smile. “About Chris …”
“Yes ma’am. We’re lowering a mic to him, so as to, well … to listen for signs of life. Then we’ll decide how to proceed.”
“How to proceed?” Ellie joined them, her face blank of all emotion. Ollie padded along at her side.
Maria put her arm around Ell’s shoulders, but her sister didn’t seem to notice. Beth didn’t like the unnatural calm. This wasn’t what she expected from her usually feisty twin.