Authors: Honey Jans
Jaden nodded. “Shit, I was afraid of that. After surviving the trouble we went through last year, I was hoping that Kiera's life would be safe and serene. She doesn't need this kind of renewed stress when she's pregnant.”
Crispin nodded, recalling the scandal that had gone down at the paper a year ago. As he recalled, Trevor and some secretary named Patsy who'd thought herself in love with Jaden had tried to break them up. They went so far as to break into Jaden's place while he was away. Kiera had fought them off and had barely escaped unharmed. Jaden's father, the newspaper's owner, had kept the details pretty hushed up. As Crispin only worked at the paper freelance, he hadn't been in on the paper scuttlebutt lately. He'd assumed everything had cleared up okay. “Yeah, I heard about all the bogus shit that went down last year. Neither of you deserved that kind of pain. I'm assuming that things are better now.”
Jaden shrugged. “Mostly. Who would have known that my dad would be such a soft touch? He felt sorry for Patsy, the woman who helped create chaos, and Trevor, who he thought had just lost his mind temporarily, and insisted on giving them a second chance. Patsy has actually straightened out after treatment. Trevor was a different story. Then the lucky bastard inherited a pile of cash and told my dad where he could stick his job and that he had always hated him. After he quit, we had to take out a restraining order against him. Weird, since Trevor had always acted like my father's best friend, but I always felt he was jealous of him.”
Crispin nodded, thinking of the aggressive flirt chasing Kiera last year. “Saved your dad the trouble of firing him.”
“Yeah, that's about the size of it,” Jaden said grimly. “I never did get to thank you for running interference for me back then.”
“No problem. You'd do the same for me,” he said, glancing up the stairway, thinking of Haley alone upstairs. Even though she was surrounded by other women, he knew she wasn't safe. He wanted to turn around and yank her out of that hen party, as un-PC as that was. He guessed he was just an unenlightened caveman at heart.
“I would,” Jaden said turning to glance up the stairs too. “So what are you packing? I heard you shot up a changing room at Indiscretions,” he teased with a grin.
Crispin grimaced, chagrined; he'd probably never live that down. He lifted the SIG P232 from its snug resting place in his shoulder holster and popped out the magazine so that Jaden could handle it. Compact and lightweight, it had enough stopping power to bring down any son of a bitch gunning for them. After leaving the military and the mess of his divorce, he'd come across the real-life mystery of the Scarlet A Killer. He'd thrown himself body and soul into investigating the case. It'd been like an obsession for him. In the back of his mind, he knew he hadn't much cared if he lived or died after his divorce. He had something to live for now, he thought, thinking about Haley. He noticed the confident way Jaden held the weapon, and knew an enthusiast when he saw one. “How about you? What are you carrying?”
Jaden gave him an uncomfortable look, then sighed. “She's not to know about this,” he said.
“She won't hear it from me,” Crispin said.
Jaden nodded and reached into his jacket to pull out a snub-nosed revolver.
Crispin let out a whistle. “Small but deadly.”
“Got it out of my dad's gun safe. He's an old James Bond fan,” he said with a rueful grin, adding, “but it'll do the job, and I'm checked out on it.”
Crispin heard the determination in the other
man’s voice, saw the confident way he handled the piece, and relaxed a little. “I figured so.”
“So we understand each other,” Jaden said with a grim smile. “The armed guards have orders that no one gets through who I don't know.”
Crispin nodded as they came to an understanding. They wouldn't let anyone threaten their women. “So I can place her here if anything happens.” Like the killer taking him out, although he didn't say it.
“You know it,” Jaden said. “Kiera feels like she's found another sister. I won't let anything jeopardize that. Besides, I owe you.”
“So that's what's between them,” Crispin said thoughtfully. “They do act like sisters, and they only just met.”
“I know, it must be a chick thing,” Jaden said with a shrug. “When you're together for a year like Kiera and I have been, you learn to just go with the flow. I don't question things at this point. I just try to keep my woman safe.”
Crispin felt the same way. It wasn't for him to question the instant bond that Haley and Kiera had formed. It'd grown out of loss, and he could understand that. “I'm with you. Whatever keeps the ladies happy works for me.”
* * * * *
Haley watched the last of Kiera's happy party guests leave the shower. It had been fun and wonderful seeing how much her sister was loved. Seeing her parents again had been exhilarating, even though they hadn't known who she was. But it had felt good to see them on the road to recovery from her death. They'd looked tanned and healthy, just back from a cruise.
For her part, Kiera was glowing after being the center of attention and so many well wishes. It was about damned time, Haley decided. Over the years Haley had gotten all the attention, and now she was mature enough to know that wasn't fair. It was good to know that her sister had come into her own.
The guys were still downstairs, which gave them both some breathing room. When Kiera turned to look at her after the last guest left, Haley smiled. They'd have a few moments of girl talk before Crispin whisked her away. Maybe they could even bond as strangers; it would have to be enough. She'd caught her sister stealing peeks at her throughout the party, as if trying to figure her out all night long. Now her stare was downright penetrating, making Haley feel like a specimen on a microscope. “The party was fun. Thank you so much for inviting me,” she said, avoiding her sister's probing gaze.
Kiera walked right up to her, caught Haley's chin in a gentle grasp, and forced Haley to look at her.
Haley gave in to her sister's insistent but gentle touch, gazed into Kiera's silver-gray eyes, and let out a sigh. This wasn't going to be pretty.
Kiera cocked her head. “You're Haley, aren't you?”
Stunned, Haley couldn't speak for a moment as she gaped at her sister. This couldn't be happening. It was what she wanted, craved, but not this way. “Of course I'm Haley.”
Kiera shook her head. “No. I mean my sister Haley.”
Kiera's warm fingers tickled her under her chin in her secret ticklish spot, and Haley couldn't help giggling as tears ran down her cheeks. Her sister's eyes widened as she saw the telltale sign, and a jolt of awareness ran between them that lit up the room. Suddenly she could see her sister's aura glow pink and gold with joy, and she knew her own aura was doing the same happy dance.
“Wow, it's like a rainbow in here,” Kiera said, looking at the glowing walls. “How are you making this light show happen, Sis?”
“I don't know. I can't do any magic in human form.” Haley sighed. “Max. I didn't even blab it, and it's all going wrong.”
“So Max is behind this,” Kiera said with a nod.
“How do you know about Max?” Haley blurted out and then bit her lip in chagrin. Some secret agent she was turning out to be. Max would vaporize her any minute now.
“You told me all about your guardian angel,” Kiera said gently. “You always did have the world's worst memory.”
She saw the knowing look on her sister's face and knew there was no use denying it. Deep down, a part of her rejoiced in the reconciliation. She smiled. “The glow in the room is our auras blending,” she said, basking in the warm, reflective glow.
“Awesome,” Kiera said, awed. “And the rest… It is you, isn't it?”
Haley nodded, swallowing the lump of unshed tears in her throat. “Yes,” she said after a moment.
“But how did you come back… Why?” Kiera asked with a sob. Then she threw her arms around Haley. “Oh hell, I don't care. You're here, and that's what counts.”
Haley warmed as her sister hugged her tighter, hanging on for dear life. She hugged Kiera back, feeling like she'd really come home now. She had Crispin and her family. It couldn't get any better. Of course she still had a mission to complete. “The how is Max. The why is to fix things and stop the killer before he hits again.”
Kiera let out a shocked gasp and let go of her to pull away and look deep into her eyes. “Tell me that jerk didn't send you here just to kill you off and leave me again. If I get my hands on that funky angel, I'll kick his stupid ass.”
“Not so fast, Sis,” Haley said, wincing, knowing what they said counted. Heck, she'd already said too much, but she couldn't let her sister suffer for her sins. “And watch your mouth. You never know who's listening,” she said, looking furtively around her, relieved when no lightning bolt came out to strike her. She turned back to frown at her sister. “I volunteered for this mission.”
Kiera's brow arched doubtfully. “I doubt that very much. It was more like the jerk drafted you for hazardous duty.”
Haley couldn't help being stung by her sister's scorn. “You don't believe I'd make a sacrifice for others?” she said sadly. The old her probably wouldn't have, but she'd grown.
“I didn't exactly say that,” Kiera said, biting her lip.
Haley saw her sister's guilty flush and sighed. “I didn't mean anything by that, Sis. I just need you to look at me, really look at me, and see that I've grown up. I'm not the same silly, immature bitch I used to be. I've evolved, changed.”
Kiera's eyes widened with knowledge as she looked at her. “And you've got a soul mate to protect.”
Haley sucked in a shocked breath at the sure statement. “How did you know that?”
Kiera shook her head. “I don't know. Maybe I guessed it after the way Crispin acts around you. And the way you look at him just like I look at Jaden. He's the one, isn't he?”
Haley nodded as another secret came out.
“So let me get this straight,” Kiera said. “You've got to protect your soul mate and apprehend the killer.”
“All without breaking the rules,” Haley said with a shudder.
“So who is he?” Kiera demanded.
Haley shook her head. “That's the strictest rule. I can't name names or affect fate. Don't worry. He's slipping up, and I'll see that he gets caught.”
“Well, hell,” Kiera said, slumping down on the couch. “I thought he was caught.”
“No, that poor man was some nutcase who really thought he killed the girls, but it wasn't him. He's in spirit rehab right now, recovering.” Haley gazed at her sister. She wanted to shout Trevor's name from the rooftops. At that moment a warm glow filled the room, and there was a rude snort in the air.
“When the jerk recalled you after you helped me save Jaden, and Trevor and Patsy were hauled away, I thought I'd never see you again.”
“Me neither. Max deliberately drew a veil over your life. He said you and Jaden needed privacy to come together and grow as a couple.” She looked at her sister's baby bulge and smiled. “And I can see that he was right.”
Kiera smiled and gently stroked her belly. “At least he got that part right.”
Haley looked at her sister with tenderness, her thoughts in a whirl. Would telling Kiera Trevor's identity protect her or just bring her danger? It was just on the tip of her tongue to spill everything, but she first needed to know a few things. “So how did things work out with Trevor? Is he still bothering you and Jaden?”
“That's the best part. After he got out of the nuthouse and came back to work at the paper, he seemed like a changed man. Anyway, Trevor didn't care because he'd inherited a pile of cash from an aunt's estate. There's a restraining order against him at the paper. Jaden and I haven't seen him since. There are rumors that he's building a huge estate out of town and will be moving soon.”
“That's good,” Haley said, “but please still watch out.”
“Is he the one Max sent you to kill?” Kiera looked puzzled. “I mean…is he…? Could he be…?” She gasped. Haley looked at her, stricken; then she felt a ripple in the atmosphere.
“It's not nice to talk about a spirit when he isn't around. Did I hear my name?” a mellow male voice said. “I've been busy on the other side, but I did drop by tonight to see how my protégé is doing.”
“Oh my!” Kiera's jaw dropped open. “You have to be Max… Um, no human could be standing three feet off the ground!”
Haley gasped and quickly turned to frown at her guardian angel. He was dressed in ragged cutoffs and a loud Hawaiian shirt. As usual, Max had lousy timing as well as rotten taste in clothes. Dang it. He was going to recall her, and she wasn't ready to go yet. “I couldn't help it if she recognized me, her own sister.”
“Yeah, right,” he said, casting an amused glance at the auras that were still dancing on the walls. Then he threw his into the mix, silver and red, and created a dazzling tie-dye effect before letting the colors fade.
Haley winced as the lights went out, and knew he had her dead to rights. She'd been willing her sister to see the real her, and it had happened. She'd even almost spilled the beans about Trevor. So why was she still here and not floating on a cloud or something? Kiera rushed to her, throwing her arms around her, then plopped down on the sofa.
“What do you mean sending my sister back on a suicide mission?” Kiera asked angrily. “Are you completely without scruples? I thought angels were supposed to be good.”