Authors: Liz Madrid
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover created by
Copyright © 2015 Velvet Madrid
All Rights Reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9862847-3-1 (ebook)
To my brother
I am truly fortunate,
and forever grateful
There are a few people I’d like to thank who have made this book possible: Laura Shaw, whose sharp eye and messages of support and laughter over you-know-who (both of them!) kept me sane — or crazy, depending on how one looked at it, Amanda Cheairs-Cabral, for knowing how to talk me away from that proverbial cliff of self-doubt every time I wanted to quit, and Cherry Shrestha, for always championing my characters and my process, and for always lifting me up whenever I was down. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my
, Tonette Tongoy-Fritzsche and Aurora “Muñec” Teves Zulueta, whose constant words of encouragement always make my day — and still do.
And most of all, I’d like to thank my family, for always supporting me in this venture called writing. Thanks for having my back, guys. You know who you are.
Even though my twin sister Blythe assures me that the woman in the mirror is beautiful, she’s still a stranger — even if that woman is me. Why I ever agreed to her crazy idea to be made over to look like her, I can’t remember now, though it must have been the jet lag from my Sacramento to New York flight on the red-eye two days ago.
“And stop looking at me like that,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Deep inside, I know you’re loving every minute of this.”
And she’s right. Deep down, I am loving every minute of it because after two weeks, I can’t wait to return to my old life of shaving only when I feel like it, and walking around town without a trace of make-up on.
But then, what’s not to like about girly-girl manicures and pedicures? And then there was that 24-carat facial by aestheticians who then trimmed my eyebrows and attached my eyelash extensions, followed by the waxing specialists who would have waxed off just about every inch of hair from my body if they could. I still remember how they looked at my nether regions and the hair that covered it like they’d never seen a woman’s body
before. And judging from the way they tackled every stray hair with their tweezers like each one offended them, they probably hadn’t. Nothing had been spared.
Even my entire wardrobe has been replaced with Blythe’s own collection of designer clothes, from my paisley dresses and no-name canvas shoes I’d worn on the plane, to the box-store brand jeans and t-shirts I’d hastily thrown into my suitcase.
Still, it’s fun to see people’s faces the moment they see us together, 23-year old identical twins dressed in similar clothes and high heels, even if I did almost stumble twice. A little girl even said we both looked like her dolls, with our long dark hair, green eyes and matching smiles, though only one of us had to contend with painful braces.
Today is the day that Blythe has designated just for shopping on Madison Avenue, and right now, she’s shopping like it’s going out of style, handing out her Gold card like she’s never heard of a credit limit. I’m too freaked out by the prices — or the lack of them — to buy anything more than a scarf that still costs a hundred dollars. We don’t even have to carry around our purchases. They’d be delivered to her penthouse, the one that her new boyfriend is paying for.
“Bring your shoulders back just a bit more,” Blythe says as she stands behind me and pulls my shoulders back. It makes my breasts jut out and as I instinctively hunch my shoulders forward, she pulls back again.
“But that’s the point, Billie. Let those puppies out and be proud of them,” Blythe chuckles.
“Where do you get all this money anyway?” I finally ask when she lets go of my shoulders. “This dress is worth-“
She shushes me with a finger against my lips. “Don’t you dare embarrass me by complaining how much anything is!”
“Where do you get the money to pay for these things?” I whisper as a salesgirl walks past our dressing room with an armful of dresses in hangers. “Just six months ago, you were asking me for a loan.”
“That was six months ago,” she says, changing back into the Gucci dress she’d picked that morning before we left the high-rise penthouse she and her boyfriend, polo player Ethan Kheiron, called home. “Anyway, it’s Ethan’s money, though this time we’re shopping for you, so don’t complain. The last thing I want him to see is you the way you looked when you got here two days ago.”
“What’s so wrong with the way I came in? My wardrobe is totally acceptable at-“
“-home! Exactly! But this is New York, Billie Bee, not Nevada City, and honestly, it’s time for a change. It’s what life is all about!”
While Blythe’s idea of change involves a Gold card her boyfriend allows her to use, her choice of word —
— rubs me the wrong way.
“For you it may be about change, Blythe, but for me, it’s the same old Thyme & Lavender shop mom and dad gave us,” I say, trying to keep my annoyance in check. “Oh, and before I forget, Kathryn says hi. She sent you an invitation for her big party in three weeks and she’s yet to get your RSVP. She’s going to turn a hundred, you know.”
Blythe frowns. “I don’t know what Ethan’s schedule will be like in the next three days, much less the next three weeks, but I’ll do my best to be there.”
Kathryn Logan has lived next door to us for as long as I can remember. She first knew our maternal grandparents, watched my mother grow up and fall in love with my dad and see them marry and have Blythe and I. When my parents were both killed in a car accident three years earlier, Kathryn handled all the funeral arrangements.
“Anyway, why don’t you just sell it?” Blythe says as she zips up my dress.
“Because it was theirs. And before that, it was Gram’s. It’s part of old Nevada City, Blythe, the Gold Rush, that sort of thing. It’s history, not just for us but for the area.”
“But it’s run down and in need of major repairs, Bee,” she says. “I don’t understand why you keep holding on to that old place even after you’ve gotten three offers for it, each one bigger than the last. Instead, for the past three years since you’ve taken over after mom and dad died, you’ve barely broken even.”
“Like you aren’t partly responsible for that,” I retort though I force myself not to get angry. Though our parents had left us some money along with the souvenir shop with its apartment upstairs where they’d raised us, I had to buy Blythe out when she threatened to sell her share shortly after they were killed. It had taken a lot of begging but I eventually got her to sign her name on the quitclaim deed before handing over my entire savings to her.
Still, with healthy seasonal sales, it didn’t mean that the shop was exactly out of the red just yet. But there was something to be said about living in a small town in the Sierra Nevada, even though I find myself wondering if I could do better — like Blythe and her glamorous life as a fashion production assistant and lately, as the girlfriend to some globe-trotting polo player lucky enough to be born with a trust fund. Some days, I wish I could just hop on a private plane and go to the Bahamas like she did a month earlier. But somehow, I can’t leave home for good, not when it holds all my memories, no matter how bitter some of them are.
“Anyway,” I say as I remind myself that I’m on vacation and the last thing I need to do is rehash the past when Blythe and I should be having fun, “when do I finally get to meet this mysterious boyfriend of yours who lets you use his Gold card anytime you want? I thought he was going to be here yesterday.”
“He had to visit his mom upstate,” Blythe replies. “Anyway, this is not
Gold card. He added me to his account. See, it has my name on it. Maybe if you meet someone who loves you the way Ethan loves me, you’ll get your very own Gold card, too.”
“Only if they’re accepted at Steve’s Lumber, because there’s a fence I need to mend,” I say and Blythe rolls her eyes at me.
“You’re hopeless,” she says, gathering her Hermès Birkin handbag and slinging it over her shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go and get ready for dinner. I told Ethan we’d be there before eight and I still need to find something to wear.”
“You have a walk-in closet that’s bigger than my bedroom, Blythe, with enough clothes to fill a store,” I exclaim as I collect my purse — or rather, Blythe’s Chanel handbag that I am borrowing for the duration of my stay.
“But I’ve worn them all,” she says, pouting. “And so we need to make one more stop, if that’s all right with you. You’ll like this shop, Bee. It’s where Ethan and his family shop for just about everything that’s in season. It’s like a personal shopping paradise! Gucci, YSL, Chanel, you name it. They can get it for you if they don’t have it already.”
“Do I have a choice?” I ask as I follow her out the door and onto Madison Avenue where the limo is waiting. While Blythe was always the pretty little princess, I was the one who ended up climbing trees, jumping into rivers, and returning home with fingers and lips dyed black from picking wild blackberries. She was the first to break hearts at school, and the first to have her heart broken, the first to leave home and the first to break my parents’ hearts when she couldn’t come home for the holidays because she claimed she had to work.
“I can’t wait for you to finally meet Ethan though unfortunately, you’ll also get to meet his whole traveling office. They never leave his side — ever,” she says sarcastically, rolling her eyes. “There’s Jackson, his office manager, and Jackson’s wife, Charlene, a paralegal, and Richard, his personal assistant. Sometimes I suspect they’re all connected at the hip because they’re just all over him, like he needs someone there all the time, even to wipe his butt.”
“I sure hope you at least have some privacy when you two have sex,” I laugh, only to earn a glower from Blythe as we slip inside the waiting limo.
“I told you how I met Ethan, right?” she continues. “It was at a Christmas party at his sister’s house last year. One of our models took me along with her and that’s how we met. He said it took him four months to finally get the courage to call me. This was right after his father died and he became president of the company — and then not. Anyway, his older sister, Jessica, holds this huge party every year at her estate up in the Hamptons, and no matter how everyone feels about everybody else, they all have to show up and pretend they’re all one big happy family.”
“Sounds like fun.”
She ignores the sarcasm in my voice as she continues. “He is a lot of fun, Bee, so easygoing, and so carefree — so unlike his brother, Mr. Tycoon who has no charm whatsoever.”
“So why didn’t you go with the Mr. Tycoon?”
She looks at me like I just sprouted two heads. “Because Ethan’s the nice one, that’s why. His brother’s mean, and he takes everything way too seriously. I don’t even think he knows how to smile. But Ethan is the opposite. We have fun, like, real fun. He takes me with him wherever he plays his polo matches, spoils me with trips and gifts, and just…he loves me. I even have my very own penthouse. It’s listed under the company name downstairs, but it’s mine to use whenever I want.”
“So is that all he does now since becoming president of the company and then not? Polo?”
“He doesn’t even need to play polo, Bee, not when he’s the oldest son of Edgar Kheiron, of Kheiron Industries…” Blythe’s voice trails as she looks at me, expecting me to recognize the name. “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of them? Metals, minerals, oil rights…that kind of thing?”
I shake my head.
“It was all over the news last year!” Blythe exclaims, her eyes wide. “After Edgar died, there was this huge mess over who was getting what, and how much. And then there was this whole drama over who was going to head the company and all that, and for a while Ethan did, because his dad had hand-selected him to lead it. And then one day, his younger brother took over the company. Restructured it and everything, all in the name of turning it around because he said Ethan had made so many bad decisions that, quote, there was blood in the water and something about sharks circling, unquote. His brother tends to be dramatic.”
“You mean a hostile takeover?”
“I don’t know. But I think his brother probably duped the members of the board to see things that way-” she pauses and takes a deep breath as she closes her eyes, as if she’s trying to calm herself. “Anyway, his brother’s all work and no play. Even his girlfriends never last because all he does is work like it’s going out of style.”
As the limo stops in front of a shop that I swear is only six blocks from the one we’d just left, I’m tempted to remind Blythe that someone has to work to pay off her Gold card bill. But I decide not to, not when Blythe is really getting into it now, talking as we emerge from the limo and walk through the front doors.
“That’s why Ethan just minds his own business whenever he can, just shows up at their sister’s Christmas parties and then waits till next year to see everyone again. He’s still member of the board of directors though he doesn’t hold the same high position like he used to. It’s more like an advisor now like his sister-“
She pauses as an older woman with perfectly coiffed hair walks towards us, surrounded by shop assistants. “Oh, hi, Alicia! I want you to meet my twin sister, Billie. Do you have the new season in? We really need something new to wear tonight.”
“Well, lucky for you, I do, Blythe. Nice to meet you, Billie,” Alicia says as she shakes my hand warmly before facing Blythe again. “Would you two like some wine while I get the back room ready for you?”
“Yes, please!” Blythe exclaims, clapping her hands together as Alicia disappears in the back room along with the rest of her assistants.
“I sure hope you don’t get too attached to that Gold card, Blythe, in case this Heath guy fires Ethan and then you’ll need to borrow money from me again-“
“Heath would never fire his own brother. He can’t! Not only that, but he’s already caused such a rift between them with that restructuring stunt he pulled that they’re hardly talking to each other,” Blythe says, facing me with her hands on her hips. “Anyway, why are we talking about Heath, or money for that matter? I thought this was a sister-bonding moment for us, Billie. I mean, let’s just have fun, please?”
“How can I have fun when all I see is you spending money left and right, when up to six months ago, you were borrowing money from me just to get by?” I whisper. “I can never forget how you left mom and dad with so much debt after you moved out here to study, and I had to quit college to help them out at the store. And after they died, you cleaned out your bank account — even of all the money they left you. And even that ran out.”
“And that’s why you and I are hanging out together for two weeks, Bee, so we can get back to the way we used to be,” Blythe says in a low voice. “It’s going to take time, but please, don’t ruin it by bringing up the past like this — and out in the open for that matter.”
I look down, suddenly ashamed for she’s right. Why am I bringing the past back again? I should just enjoy the moment like she is, and be happy for her. Blythe pulls me into a deep hug, not saying anything, before something behind me catches her attention. Then she flashes a huge smile as Alicia returns with her assistants, one of them bearing two glasses of wine for us.