Maxie (Triple X) (3 page)

Catching her wrist, he found the Band-Aid on her finger. The wound looked new, but it hadn’t been affected by the fall.

Still, it had to hurt.

He ran his thumb over her palm and looked into her serene face. Her eyelashes were dark fringes against her cheeks, and her lips were slightly parted. Pink and lush.

Well, damn if that didn’t make him want to kiss her even more.

“Come on, Sleeping Beauty.”

Roxie’s heels clicked across the floor as she returned. She passed him a glass of water and a damp rag. “She looks like she’s down for the count.”

Zac stroked the cool compress across his patient’s forehead. “You shouldn’t have surprised her like this.”

“No? Tell me, what’s the standard protocol? How
do
you inform someone she’s an identical triplet?”

Lexie came back into the room, brushing off her hands. When she saw that nothing had changed, she let out a worried sigh. She dropped into the chair behind the desk and scooted closer to the couch. “You were right, Rox. I should have said something on the phone, but I couldn’t get it out.”

“At least I managed to stay on my feet when you walked into my bar.”

“Barely,” Lexie muttered.

Roxie moved Maxie’s feet into a more comfortable position. “Yeah, barely,” she agreed.

In his arms, Maxie stirred. First, it was a hitch in her breath, then a flutter in her eyelids. He put the compress aside. “I think she’s coming around.”

She didn’t wake lightly. She went from fluttering to bolting upright. “Easy,” he said as he caught her. “Take it slow.”

She lifted her hand to her face and then her hair. He helped smooth it out, stroking one hand down her back. The motion seemed to soothe her. Propping his foot on the nearby stool, he bent his leg and coaxed her into leaning back. The position put her hip right against his crotch, and he gritted his teeth. His body was reacting to her as normal—more so, because he was finally touching her. It wasn’t the best timing, but he’d deal.

He stroked her hair again, this time letting his fingers fist when they came to the end of the soft strands. “How are you doing, Beauty?”

 

For a moment, maybe two, Maxie didn’t know where she was. The last thing she remembered she was out front watering flowers. Now she was inside a room. Her gaze darted over the wall, the bookshelf across from her, the woman sitting at the end of the couch, the far window—

The woman sitting at the end of the couch?

Her gaze slammed back hard. Someone who looked exactly like her raised her hand and waved.

Maxie tried to push back, but somebody was behind her. And
under
her. Turning her head, she found herself staring into blue eyes. The tip of her nose brushed against someone else’s. She was face-to-face with Zac Ford. Not just face-to-face, she was rubbing noses with him and—

Oh dear Lord, she was sitting on his lap.

She tried to scramble away, only her legs wouldn’t cooperate. She felt clumsy, out of sync and utterly embarrassed. What had happened? How had she gotten here? Who were these people?

“Calm down,” the sheriff said as firmly as he held her. “You fainted.”

Maxie’s brain was doing flips. No. Not flips, it had tripped. Yes, that was what had happened when she’d seen him walking down the street, staring at her as if he could eat her alive—only to be distracted by someone or something behind her.

Her breath caught on a rasp. This time when she scoured the room, she knew what she was searching for.
Zap
—woman on the end of the couch.
Zap
—a twin on her desk chair. Identical to each other. Replicas of herself.

“Who are you?” she whispered. She was afraid to say it too loudly. What she was seeing couldn’t be real. Could it?

“I’m Lexie,” the one closest to her said.

Lexie? “The flowers?”

The woman nodded.

“And I’m Roxie. We’re your sisters.”

Sisters?

The word was like a slap to the face. Maxie’s brain stood at attention, ready, functioning and absolutely rejecting that statement as wrong. She frowned at the two women, confused and almost angry. What kind of game were they playing? Did they think this was funny? “I don’t have any sisters.”

Roxie cleared her throat. “That’s what I thought too.”

Thought? No, Maxie
knew
. That fall hadn’t affected her memory. She was an only child. She’d never had any siblings, brothers or sisters, steps or halves or otherwise.

What was going on here?

Lexie gave Roxie a quieting wave. “It’s a surprise to both of us too, sweetie. Neither of us knew about the other until we met. From what we’ve been able to learn, we were separated around the age of two. Roxie grew up in foster care, and I was adopted.”

Well, bully for them. It was a sad story, but what did it have to do with her? Maxie waited as they looked at her expectantly. “So?”

“So we’d forgotten too,” Lexie explained.

Maxie’s anger tweaked. “I haven’t forgotten anything.”

She did not have sisters. She’d had a mother, a father and grandparents, but there had been no sisters in the mix. Her fingers closed into fists so tightly they turned white. She didn’t know what they were trying to do, but it was hurtful.

“We have proof,” Roxie said. “I hired a private investigator to see if we could learn anything else about our parents or what happened, only he turned up something we didn’t expect.” Reaching out, she caught her by the ankle. “You.”

Maxie jumped. The woman’s nails were polished dark red, and a silver ring circled her pinky. The hold wasn’t painful, but a strange tingle ran up her leg nonetheless. A strange… No, she wasn’t going to call it familiarity. She pulled her leg away and tucked it underneath her.

Roxie shrugged. “I know it’s wild, but it’s the truth.”

Maxie shook her head. It was wild, all right, because it was a bunch of hooey. There was no possible way. These two women appeared to believe it, but their PI had made a mistake. A huge one. “It can’t be. You’ve got the wrong person.”

“Wrong person?” Roxie scoffed. “Then why do I feel like I’m looking in a mirror?”

“I don’t know,” Maxie snapped, surprising even herself. She never snapped at anyone.

“All right. Everyone be calm.” Lexie pushed her hands down on the air as if trying to lower the tension. “It takes time for everything to sink in. Why don’t we just talk? If we compare notes, maybe you’ll understand why we believe the things we do.”

Notes? How about lies? There wasn’t anything they could do or say to prove something she knew was false. Maxie wanted these people gone. They were confusing her, scattering her normally sane thoughts. Where had they come from? Why were they doing this to her?
Had
she hit her head?

“Is your birthday April 12?” Lexie asked, not waiting for an answer. “Are you twenty-eight years old?”

Maxie’s spine stiffened, but both facts were on public record. She refused to let them shake her. “Yes.”

“Do you love mint chocolate chip ice cream?” Roxie pressed. “Do you sleep on the left side of the bed? Is your blood type A negative?”

Maxie pulled back further. Had they been watching her? “I prefer regular chocolate chip ice cream.”

“It’s close,” Lexie insisted. “But back to the basics. Did you ever live in Cobalt City?”

Maxie started to say no but found she couldn’t. She vaguely remembered her parents talking about having moved. “I…I don’t know. All I remember is living here.”

“I know what will convince you. Do you have a birthmark?” Roxie pushed aside her tank top and pointed at her shoulder. “Right here?”

Maxie’s stomach gave a weird twist. She stared hard at that little discoloration, trying to find a way to explain it away. Lexie gathered her sleeveless dress so a similar mark was exposed, and Maxie’s breath went short. Zac brushed her hair back and touched her shoulder. She’d never paid that tiny birthmark any mind.

What was her birthmark doing on these strangers’ shoulders?

“Here.” The sheriff pushed a glass of water into her hand. “Drink.”

Obediently, she took a sip. Suddenly, she felt parched. The second drink was a gulp.

“We know we didn’t do this right, and it’s a lot to take in, but you’re our third.” Roxie refused to break contact, by eye or by touch. She caught Maxie’s other ankle, and the touch was hot. Pulsing. “We’re identical triplets.”

“But I wasn’t adopted,” Maxie said, enunciating every word.

“You weren’t—” Lexie’s face turned pale as a sheet.

Confusion bounced between the other two women. The emotion was quickly joined by shock, hurt and eventually anger.

“They kept one.” Roxie’s voice choked off.

Maxie watched, incredulous, as the two tracked each other, emotion by emotion and thought by thought. Their connection formed a weird energy in the room as they communicated without words, and it was at that point that she knew she was right. She’d been close to panic, especially with that birthmark coincidence, but if she was their third, she should be able to track with them. Right? Twin talk… Triplet talk… Yet she didn’t have a clue what was going on between them.

And that kind of hurt.

Zac took her water away. She reached out for something else to hold on to and found his hand. He’d been sitting quietly, watching everything unfold, but she’d known he was there. He felt solid at her back, warm and real. Everything else had a bizarre funhouse feel to it. He was the only thing keeping her centered.

She’d deal with the fact that she was on his lap later.

Finally, Lexie turned. She licked her lips, but her coloring still hadn’t come back. “You were raised by your parents?”

“Yes, until—”

“Can we meet them?” Roxie said in a rush.

Maxie’s heart panged. There was so much hope and dread mixed together in the woman’s eyes it was hard to look at her. Maxie didn’t know why, but she squeezed the sheriff’s hand.

“I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely. “They died in a car accident when I was seven.”

Tears streamed down Lexie’s face. They just spilled over and trailed down to her chin. Roxie exploded off the sofa with a curse and paced the room. She stopped at the far corner and hung her head low.

It was a long time before anyone spoke.

“Do you have pictures?”

The question came from the corner where Roxie stood, still as a statue.

“Yes.” Eager to dim the pain floating in the air, Maxie started to push herself up, but a hard band wrapped around her waist and refused to let go.

“I don’t trust you to stay on your feet,” Zac said into her ear.

Embarrassed, she settled for pointing above her desk. “Second shelf on your left. My grandmother is in the picture next to it.”

It was Lexie who moved. She went to the shelves and lowered a photograph of a smiling couple. Maxie huddled against Zac. The people in that picture were precious to her. She’d only had them for seven years, and she’d lost them too soon. Her memories of them were sketchy and limited, but what she could remember was happy. She didn’t want those memories marred.

Lexie’s fingers trembled as she traced the faces underneath the glass. “They look happy,” she murmured. “Nice.”

“They were,” Maxie said.

“What were their names?”

“Pete and Mary Miller.”

Over in the corner, Roxie rolled her neck. She turned and determinedly walked back across the room. Looking over Lexie’s shoulder, she took in the picture for a long, long time. “That’s not our parents.”

Lexie whipped her head around. “What? How do you know?”

“They’re
my
parents.” Maxie’s voice was sharp, and her guard was immediately back up.

“I remember our mom,” Roxie continued quietly.

Lexie’s jaw dropped. “You never told me that.”

Roxie didn’t respond. She just reached past her and grasped the picture. She was gentle with it and respectful, but she put it back in its place on the shelf. “This woman has red hair. Our mom had long, dark hair, and she smelled like lilacs.”

Lilacs.

Even as Maxie prepared to fight for her mother, the statement caught her off-guard. Lilacs had always been her favorite flower. She loved the purple blooms and the aromatic sprigs. They came and went too quickly, but she enjoyed them in the early spring while they were there. That scent. She could inhale it for hours.

“Maxie?” Zac said into her ear.

Roxie sat on the desk. “It’s all I remember, but it’s enough to know that that’s not my mom.”

Confusion and hurt lay in the air, bumping up against anger and distrust. Maxie didn’t know what these strangers wanted out of her. That was
her
mom. She might not have taken after her, but that was her mother.

Yet she resembled these women more than either of her parents. Or her grandparents. And then there were their birthdays, the birthmarks and the
lilacs
.

The sheriff stroked her hair, and her leaping nerves eased a bit.

“How did you two find each other?” he asked.

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