Authors: Ginna Gray
|Fools Rush In|
|Silhouette Books (1987)|
FOOLS RUSH IN
Copyright © 1987 by Virginia Gray
Australian copyright 1987
New Zealand copyright 1987
Philippine copyright 1987
First printing 1988
First Australian Paperback Edition June 1988
ISBN 0 373 09416 7
In the space of a heartbeat, Erin Blaine was jerked out of a sound sleep and plunged into terror.
With a strangled cry, she jackknifed up in the bed. Her heart was pounding against her ribs like a wild thing trying to escape. Shivering, she clutched the sheet to her breasts, her panicked gaze darting around the darkened room.
Then, as though drawn by a magnet, she turned and looked at the phone, which was barely discernible in the glow from the digital clock on the bedside table. A second later, when the shrill ring pierced the silence, she was already reaching for the receiver.
Erin didn't need to hear a voice to know who was on the other end of the line.
"Elise, what is it? What's wrong?"
"Oh, Erin! I...I..."
A harsh sob choked off her twin sister's words, and Erin gripped the receiver more tightly. "Elise? Elise, what is it? Tell me!" Swinging her legs to the floor, Erin groped for the lamp and switched it on. She listened intently, but the only sounds coming through the phone were choppy, incoherent gasps. Raking her free hand through her tousled red hair, she pleaded, "Elise, get a grip on yourself. If you don't tell me what's wrong, I can't help you."
"No!" Elise burst out. "I don't want you to help me! You can't! If you try, they'll kill you, too!"
The fine hair on Erin's arms stood on end. Her twin's fear was palpable. Even across the distance separating them she could feel it coming at her in waves. "My God, Elise, someone's trying to kill you? Who? Why?"
"I saw them. I... I wasn't sure I had locked the vault, so I went back to the office, and I saw them!" Her voice broke, and she gave a terrified whimper. "Oh, Erin, they're going to kill me!"
"Who? What did you see?"
"I tried to sneak out, but I bumped into something in the dark," she continued in a breathless rush, as though Erin hadn't even spoken. "I ran, but they saw me." She whimpered again. Her breathing grew more erratic, and then she blurted out, "I can't stay here. I have to get away before they find me!"
"For the love of God, Elise, if someone is trying to kill you, go to the police."
"I can't! Don't you understand? I can't! He's one of them! He'll kill me, Erin! Oh, God! Please promise you won't contact the police. Please! You've got to promise!" Her normally soft voice was high-pitched and raw with panic, and Erin knew her sister was teetering on the edge of hysteria.
"Who is 'he'? And who are 'they'? Darling, you're not making any sense." Erin drew a deep breath, striving to get a grip on her own fear and keep her voice even. "Look, in-
stead of my coming for a visit next week as we'd planned, why don't I take the next plane and—"
"No! You mustn't!" Elise said shrilly. "I only called to tell you to stay away from Santa Fe. You've got to promise me you will, Erin. And that you won't contact the police. Promise me!"
"All right, all right. I promise. But, Elise—"
"I've got to go. Someone's coming." Her sister's voice had dropped to a low, urgent murmur that frightened Erin even more than the hysterical babbling.
"No! No, don't hang up! Tell me—"
There was a click at the other end of the line, and then the dial tone droned in her ear.
Erin immediately called her sister back, but when the connection was completed the phone rang incessantly to no avail.
Frowning, she replaced the receiver slowly. For several seconds she sat motionless, gnawing on the tip of her index finger, going over and over the chilling conversation in her mind. Finally she snatched up the phone again.
David would know what to do, she told herself, punching out her brother's number. Whatever trouble their sister had stumbled into, he would handle it. When David had been with the FBI, Erin and the rest of the family worried endlessly about him, but for once she was grateful for those ten harrowing years. He had left the Bureau a year ago to practice law, but he still had contacts, and he still possessed the sharply honed skills of a hunter. Erin had the uneasy feeling that she and her sister would have need for both.
"Please be home. Please, please, be home," she pleaded, listening to the rings at the other end of the line. Her heart leaped when her brother said hello, only to plummet again when she realized she was hearing a recorded message on his answering machine.
She drummed her fingers on the bedside table and waited for the canned spiel to end. At the beep, she jumped right in.
"David, this is Erin. I just got a frantic call from Elise. She's in trouble. From what I can gather, she stumbled onto some sort of crime and she's terrified that the people who committed it are going to kill her. I'm heading out there on the next available flight. Try to meet me at her apartment in Santa Fe as soon as you can."
From the back seat of the taxi Erin stared out at the sun-baked landscape. Deep arroyos and steep, dry hills dotted with clumps of stunted vegetation bordered the road on either side. Many of the houses along the way were made of thick adobe, some a faded sienna, others cream or tan, all blending with the parched earth so that they seemed to grow right up out of the ground. In the distance, purple mountains thrust up into a sky so blue and so vast it hurt her eyes to look at it.
It was a rugged land, beautiful in a harsh, majestic sort of way, awe-inspiring in its grandeur. Still, Erin had difficulty imagining her sister adapting to such stark surroundings.
Elise was a sweet, gentle soul, the kind who evoked images of summer breezes and lemonade on the veranda, of shimmering pastel dresses and fireflies on a warm velvet night. She seemed somehow out of place in this land of sharp edges and vibrant colors.
As for herself, Erin found it vastly appealing. But, then, she wasn't Elise. Physically, she and her twin were identical. In personality and nature, however, they were opposites, Erin thought with a touch of wistfulness.
Once, for the sake of her marriage, she had tried to model herself after her sister, but the attempt had been doomed from the start, she had come to realize. Erin loved her sister, but there was something in her own makeup that craved, even thrived on, adventure and challenge. Her restless spirit and insatiable curiosity constantly sought new horizons, new experiences. To her, life was something to be embraced with open arms. If that meant being alone, and at times taking risks, well, that was just part of the price one paid.
Elise never took risks. Her natural tendency was to opt for the secure, the safe, the familiar. Ever since childhood all Erin's sister had wanted out of life was to someday marry the boy next door, settle down in their sleepy east Texas hometown of Crockett and raise a brood of children.
Well, she'd married her Tommy, Erin thought sadly, only to lose him to leukemia after three short years.
To Erin, Tommy Holman's death had merely emphasized how fleeting life was and how imperative it was to live it to the fullest. However, the tragedy had had the opposite effect on Elise. She had become more cautious, more reserved and more firmly entrenched in the tranquil, safe routine of her life. Until six months ago, when she had uprooted herself and moved, not just out of town, but to another state.
Erin had been working as a translator for a construction firm in the Middle East when her sister wrote with the news that she had taken a job with an import firm in Santa Fe. At the time Erin had been stunned by her twin's decision. But, she reminded herself, that was before she had known about Max Delany.
A wry smile tilted Erin's mouth as she recalled the glowing references to the man that had filled her sister's letters over the past months. "Max this" and "Max that" had peppered every page. According to Elise, her boss was a cross between Pierce Brosnan, Sylvester Stallone and Albert Schweitzer, with a little Robert Redford thrown in.
Erin shook her head. It was amazing the things a woman would do when she was in love. And there was no doubt about it: her sister was definitely in love.
According to Elise's recent letters, it appeared as though Max Delany shared her feelings. Erin hoped so. After two years of widowhood, it was time her sister found happiness again. Unlike Erin, Elise was the kind of woman who needed love and the security of marriage to be truly happy.
"Well, this is it, lady," the cabbie said as he brought the car to a halt in front of a new apartment complex.
As she handed the driver his fare, Erin glanced at her watch and grimaced. Almost twelve hours had passed since her sister's frantic call. To her annoyance, she hadn't been able to get a flight until that morning. Then, since no major commercial airline flew into New Mexico's capital city, she'd had to fly to Albuquerque and take a bus to Santa Fe.
For a moment after the cab pulled away Erin remained on the sidewalk, gazing at the jumble of buildings. They were a soft vermilion, multileveled and boxy, with thick walls, exposed ridgepoles and the rounded edges typical of adobe structures. Artfully juxtaposed over the hillside, the complex resembled a child's carelessly scattered building blocks.
Knowing her sister's penchant for rambling old Victorian houses with shaded porches and picket fences, Erin wondered if Elise really felt at home in this curious blend of ancient and modern architecture. Nothing about it bore the slightest resemblance to the homey old place on the edge of Crockett that she and Tommy had so lovingly restored.
Hefting her bag, Erin pushed open the ornate iron gate set in the adobe wall fronting the complex and stepped into a charming courtyard.
Water splashed in a three-tiered fountain, and hummingbirds flitted among the colorful bougainvillea that draped the outer wall and trailed up the face of the apartments ringing the courtyard. In one corner, a large cottonwood tree provided a spot of dappled shade, its dangling leaves clattering in the breeze. Sparrows hopped over the sun-drenched flagstones, pecking at seeds and other tasty morsels. In the somnolence of midday nothing else stirred.
Erin's low-heeled yellow pumps tapped against the uneven stones as she walked from door to door, looking for number 114. She found it at the rear of the courtyard, a ground-floor apartment in the corner behind the cotton-wood tree.
She raised her hand to ring the bell, then noticed that the door was ajar. Pushing it open a bit farther, she poked her head inside.
"Elise? Are you home?" she called. When there was no answer she gave the door another push and stepped inside. "Elise?"
She set her suitcase down and looked around. An icy tingle trickled down her spine, making her shiver as she crossed the tiny living room and peered over the bar into the kitchen. Then she told herself she was being foolish. Elise had probably just overreacted. No doubt by this morning she had calmed down and seen things more clearly and decided to go to work.
It was a good effort, but not for a minute did Erin believe her own pep talk. Though Elise was soft and exquisitely feminine, she wasn't the hysterical type, nor was she a quaking little mouse who saw a threat around every corner. And she was too cautious to leave her door unlocked, much less open.
Erin's uneasiness grew. Something was wrong; she could feel it. An ominous, pervading sense of danger, an almost tangible feeling of fear, permeated the air.
A faint buzzing noise reached her when she stepped into the hall. It grew louder as she drew near what she assumed was the bedroom.
"Elise?" She paused outside the door. "Elise, are you in there?"
The buzzing continued.
Every nerve in Erin's body began to hum like a high-voltage wire. Her breathing grew shallow, her chest suddenly tight. Shivering, she rubbed her chilled forearms and fought down an uncharacteristic urge to run. Drawing a determined breath, she squared her shoulders and walked into the room.
After only three steps she came to an abrupt halt, her eyes widening.
Everywhere was vivid evidence of a hasty departure. A dresser drawer lay on the floor, its contents scattered over the tan carpet. The rest of the drawers were open and empty, except for a beige slip hanging forlornly over the edge of one. The closet was also open, and more clothes were strewn from there to the bed, which bore a rectangular imprint that looked suspiciously like that of a suitcase. The little writing desk beside the window had obviously been riffled through, yet Elise's car keys lay in plain sight on top. As Erin took it all in she felt her scalp crawl.
Elise was so compulsively neat that she couldn't tolerate so much as a magazine out of place or a towel hanging crooked. Nothing short of a dire emergency would cause her to leave her apartment in such a state.
The incessant buzzing was coming from the alarm clock on the bedside table, and finally Erin roused herself enough to cross the room and shut it off.
In the pulsing silence she once again surveyed the untidy room, her hand convulsively gripping the shoulder strap of her purse. She should have known that Elise would run away if something had frightened her. Open confrontation wasn't her sister's style. Even under normal circumstances she avoided unpleasantness and strife whenever she could.
Erin sighed, torn between anger at her sister for taking to her heels without leaving word, and pity, knowing how terrified she must be, all alone and fearing for her life.
She had to find her, do whatever she could to help until David arrived to take over and clear up the whole mess. The question was, where had Elise gone?
Nibbling on the tip of her index finger, Erin frowned. Maybe, since she was so crazy about the man, she had turned to Max Delany for help. Then again, Erin thought, maybe he was tied up in whatever it was that Elise had stumbled onto.
She considered the possibilities for a moment, then turned and headed for the living room. In any case, Global Imports seemed a logical place to start.
She picked up her suitcase and started toward the door. Just as she reached it she hesitated, then retraced her steps to the bedroom, scooped up Elise's car keys and went out the back way.
As she had suspected, her sister's blue Chevy was parked in the covered carport behind the apartment. Erin tossed her bag into the back seat and climbed in.