The Secret Sister, p.1Elizabeth Lowell
THE SECRET SISTER
The intercom buzzer shrilled, dragging Christy back into the world…
Christy waited in the airport with her bag at her…
Christy sat on the edge of her hotel bed and…
Christy was close enough to overhear Veronica’s unhappy hiss. “Shit.”
Empty cattle vans rocketed past Christy, heading for the high…
As she released the brakes, Christy wondered if that was…
Lighting technicians went over the script with the narrator, who…
Christy started to close the door behind her, but thought…
“Jack, where the hell are you?” a guard yelled.
“Settle down, Red,” Cain said in a low voice. “I’m…
Cain drove several miles in the bed of the creek…
Christy opened her mouth but nothing came out. She tried…
Christy watched as Cain stood and went to a liquor…
Without thinking, Christy reached for the snifter again. She took…
Christy sensed rather than heard the long breath Cain let…
If taking off his clothes in front of a strange…
Christy awakened slowly, trying to piece together her reality. It…
The silence lasted until Cain pulled the steaming pot off…
“How much do you know about the Anasazi?” Cain asked…
When Christy opened the door, Moki leaped across her seat…
Christy stopped and stared at Cain as the reality of…
“You take that side,” Cain said, pointing to the column…
Cain’s hand shot out and gripped Christy’s arm, but he…
Christy didn’t remember calling to Cain, but she must have…
Without looking away from the flake, Cain held his hand…
Cain ducked back underneath the lintel and into the alcove.
By the wavering light of the lantern, Cain examined the…
“Hello, Johnny,” Cain said. He gave a low, curt whistle.
Cain reached the same conclusion. Too far. Slowly he turned…
“Are you all right?” Christy asked tightly, ignoring his words.
Desperately Christy attacked the stone wall, scrambling and clawing for…
“What are you going to do?” Christy asked after a…
For an electric moment Christy wanted to stay. Then she…
The metal box was so full Christy had to fight…
“Hold it,” Moore said quietly.
For a few moments Christy fiddled with the letters, rearranging…
Christy took a long look at Cain’s closed expression and…
Christy’s hands trembled, but her voice was even when she…
Cain stood, dumped the coffee in the sink, rinsed the…
The crowing of a rooster in the corral came as…
The plaza at Santa Fe and the streets around it…
Cain put a hand on Christy’s arm, caution and reassurance…
Albuquerque lay under a dirty blanket of smog. East-west traffic…
Cain paused in the act of opening the truck passenger…
The service station at the Rio Arriba County line was…
The truck turned south off the narrow paved highway. The…
Out of reach of the wind, the campsite was calm…
Cain awoke an hour before dawn. The sky overhead was…
Christy waited until Cain was out of sight. Only then…
“Can’t you get Larry Moore to help you?” Christy asked.
Cain didn’t try to talk his way out. He simply…
By the time Cain parked Moore’s truck within fifty yards…
Christy pulled the heavy pistol from her waistband, thumbed the…
The hot spring steamed and seethed gently around Christy and…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
BOOKS BY ELIZABETH LOWELL
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER
Christy McKenna looked at the date on the message call slip. Three days old. Just one of the many notes that had built up during her two-week vacation. But reading this note made her stomach feel as though the bottom of the world had just fallen out.
She hadn’t heard from her younger sister in twelve years. It had been bad news then.
It would be bad news now.
Christy felt the old familiar mixture of love and guilt and unease wash through her. Jo-Jo couldn’t help that she’d been born with the kind of beauty that literally made people stop and stare. It wasn’t Jo-Jo’s fault that most people tripped over themselves in their rush to please her. Against an everyday setting, the kind of beauty she had was stunning.
As a result, Jo-Jo thought the universe revolved around her perfect body.
You like people because of certain things, Christy reminded herself wryly. You love them despite certain things. Like a beauty that’s equaled only by her selfishness.
For better or for worse, Christy loved her dazzling younger sister. She always had. Twelve years couldn’t change that. Nothing could.
But Christy really wished she could like her sister.
As she flipped through more telephone messages the cool breath of the past chilled her spine. After twelve years of silence, Jo-Jo had called five times in two weeks.
What’s gone wrong in my baby sister’s life that a smile and an extra swing of her fabulous hips can’t fix?
Nothing answered Christy’s silent question but the equally silent slips of paper clenched in her hand. She had a gut-deep certainty that something was very wrong.
Something Jo-Jo would expect Christy to fix.
“Shit,” she muttered.
Nobody responded to the unhappy word. She was alone in her office with the door closed because she didn’t want to be interrupted while she did triage on the work that had been piled on her desk while she was gone.
“Why me, Jo-Jo?”
That was easy enough to answer. There wasn’t anyone else left of their “family” but the two of them.
“What makes you think I’
Twelve years of it.
Christy had never entirely forgiven Jo-Jo for taking whatever caught her eye on her way through life—Christy’s clothes, shoes, boyfriends, girlfriends.
Grandmother McKenna’s gold nugget necklace.
Of all that Jo-Jo had taken, only the necklace still rankled. It was the only piece of the past that Christy wanted. Jo-Jo had known it.
That was why she took it.
“So what?” Christy said impatiently to the messages. “Gramma is dead. I’m in New York. Jo-Jo is wherever Jo-Jo wants to be. I’m doing what I love. Right?”
Silence and years and guilt for not being able to make it all turn out right.
Frowning, Christy looked around her office. The shelves were still crammed with books on art, fashion, philosophy, and human adornment, from Stone Age body painting to Tiffany’s most astonishing diamond necklaces. The lone window still needed washing and still had a view of another Manhattan high-rise an arm’s length away. The nameplate on the door still said CHRISTA MCKENNA, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR.
Nothing had changed.
Yet she had an uneasy feeling that everything had changed. Maybe it was as simple as wanting a few more weeks of vacation. Maybe it was as complex as the restlessness that had overtaken her in the months since her thirty-second birthday.
Maybe it was the past, wounded, bleeding, never healed.
The past, and the hope that this time would be different. This time the old wounds would be healed because Jo-Jo was finally old enough to understand that other people hurt, other people cried, other people bled. Not just Jo-Jo. Everyone.
Even her older sister.
Christy reached across her desk for the newest Horizon magazine and flipped to Peter Hutton’s standing six-page ad package. The layout had been shot on the deck of a yacht off Martha’s Vineyard and featured Hutton’s signature model, an internationally famous beauty known to the world by only one name: Jo.
Leggy, blond, innocent and wicked in the same instant, Jo-Jo wore a pastel silk pullover sweater and white silk slacks. The sea wind swept her straight hair to one side, letting her look up from under dense eyelashes at the world. She had wide green eyes. Cat eyes. Waiting for the next stupid mouse to move.
Christy stared at the ad, looking for some reason, some hint that would tell her why Jo-Jo was calling after all these years. Nothing came but the sheer physical presence of an internationally successful model.
Jo-Jo wasn’t a swizzle stick kind of clothes rack. Her waist was as narrow as a girl’s, but she had a woman’s hips and high, full breasts. The weave of the silk sweater was so loose and the yarn so fine that her nipples stood out clearly. The silk of the slacks was equally thin, almost sheer. A brunette would have had to shave up to her navel to get away with the pants. On Jo-Jo, the clingy material was an “accidental” striptease frozen just before the moment of total nakedness.
Pure Hutton. Pure Jo-Jo. Seemingly casual, sexually challenging, and manipulative as hell.
Hutton’s vision of fashion skated dangerously close to being coarse, yet somehow always managed to avoid the label. Jo-Jo’s sheer beauty had a lot to do with it.
“What’s the matter?” Christy asked the ad. “Did Hutton finally discover you aren’t his alone? Is he going to throw you out on your fantastic ass?”
Christy shivered and set aside the magazine. She could no more ignore her sister’s needs now than she had been able to long ago, far away, in another part of the country.
Get it over with. Call and find out what’s wrong. Because you know something is.
The call-back number had an area code of 305. Christy pulled out a phone book and flipped to the map in the front.
For a moment she was too surprised to do more than stare. Jo-Jo hated the West even more than Christy. At least Jo-Jo had felt that way years ago, when she used her body as a one-way ticket out of the shit-kicking boondocks.
With clipped motions, Christy punched the number into the keypad. Somewhere in Colorado a phone rang. It was answered abruptly, with a single word.
But the clear, sexy alto was all the identification Christy needed. She could send her own ID along the line, too. She knew of no other person on earth who called Jody McKenna Jo-Jo.
“Hi, Jo-Jo. What’s wrong?”
There was a starkly drawn breath followed by silence.
“Hold, please.” Jo-Jo’s voice was neutral, the tone of someone talking to a phone solicitor.
Christy waited, puzzled and irritated. And guilty.
Where Jo-Jo was concerned, nothing much had changed. Christy still felt that the breach between them should have been fixed by her. She was the one who understood human nature. She should have been able to teach Jo-Jo more. Maybe Jo-Jo was right. Maybe Christy was too jealous to do anything but undermine her younger sister.
Through the phone came the sound of a chair being pushed back, a door closing, and Jo-Jo returning. When she spoke again, her voice was animated, teasing, faintly taunting. It was the old Jo-Jo to the last full stop.
“Hi, Christmas. Bet my call rocked you back on your prim little ass.”
Red hair and green eyes. It had been a long time since anyone had called Christy that.
It had been a lifetime.
“You shocked me,” Christy agreed. “You were the one who told me never to bother you again. You were the one who never answered my letters. Now you’re calling me. So what’s wrong?”
“I read your stuff all the time,” Jo-Jo said, ignoring the question. “Must be nice to be admired for your mind.”
The uneasiness in Christy doubled. “What’s wrong, Jo-Jo?”
“What do you mean?”
“You need something from me or you wouldn’t have called.”
Jo-Jo’s laugh was like her voice, smoky, sexy, subtly mocking. There was a pause followed by the quick intake of breath as she lit up a cigarette. She exhaled softly.
Jo-Jo sounded wistful, and something more.
Something that made cold fingernails march down Christy’s spine.
She leaned back in her chair, trying to relax, trying to tell herself that she hadn’t heard a plea in Jo-Jo’s husky voice. She hadn’t heard loneliness. She certainly hadn’t heard stark fear.
But she had.
“I turned thirty this year,” Jo-Jo said.
“Consider the alternative. Besides, most people don’t have the consolation of your success at thirty.”
“I’ve only had one success.”
Huskiness had given way to bitterness.
“You only need one success if you’re Peter Hutton’s signature model,” Christy said.
There was the quick sound of Jo-Jo taking a drag on a cigarette. The exhalation that followed was like a sigh.
“So tell me,” Jo-Jo said. “You’re the international style maven. What do you think of the new layout?”
The subtle current of defiance in Jo-Jo’s question told Christy that her sister already knew. As a child, Jo-Jo’s sporadic efforts to win her older sister’s approval had torn out Christy’s heart. Time had filled the hole with guilt.
“Jo-Jo,” Christy said gently, “if we have different tastes or see the world differently, it doesn’t matter. That’s what growing up is all about.”
“Is it? You were the only person who could hurt me. You still are.”
Christy suspected she was being manipulated, yet she was touched. Her throat ached around tears that had waited years to be shed.
“What about Gramma?” Christy asked. “Didn’t you care about her approval?”
“You were always her pet.”
“You were everyone else’s.”
“I wanted to be hers.”
The sound of Jo-Jo drawing in smoke and
“You know why I left home, don’t you?” Jo-Jo asked after a moment.
“To hurt Gramma.”
“I wanted you to be free to go off to a fancy eastern school and be a big success,” Jo-Jo said, “so I split.”
Christy winced. She thought she’d outgrown feeling guilty over taking the East Coast scholarship, her personal ticket out of the rural hell of Wyoming. But she hadn’t outgrown guilt.
And she’d never gone back. Not once.
“I was really proud of you winning that scholarship,” Jo-Jo said with a subtle hint of mockery balanced by an odd sincerity. “And what you’re doing now, too. You’re really tough, you know?”
“I have to be. People wouldn’t pay attention to a pansy writer.”
Jo-Jo laughed. The huskiness of her voice was edged with malice and cigarette smoke.
“Peter swears you’re the best in the business, even if you’ve cut him to ribbons a couple of times. Was that because of me?”
The incoming-call light blinked on Christy’s phone, distracting her.
“Was what?” she asked.
“Would you like Peter’s designs better if I wasn’t his model?”
“No.” The intercom buzzed, summoning Christy. She ignored it. “Hutton doesn’t care what I think. He doesn’t need me. He’s a household name on five continents. So are you.”
“I’d rather be twenty-one again.”
“Time only runs one way, darlin’,” Christy said with a faint High Plains drawl in her voice. “Where are you?”
“A place called Xanadu.”
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