Lisa’s legs buckled as the single red rose drifted to the bronze box slowly descending into the earth. She collapsed to her knees, buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
Keri Morrison considered rushing toward her sister. She needed to support her, an effort that only required stepping one foot in front of the other to make her way through the crowd. Her heels dug deep into the dirt, rendering her paralyzed.
How could she watch from afar instead of being alongside her sister after such a devastating tragedy?
Forcing herself forward, she rehearsed the dreaded words in her head, and waited for an appropriate time. She had, without a doubt, been the most horrible sister in the world, and would surely be rejected by her only sibling.
A pang gripped her tightly knotted stomach like a vise, as an elbow nudged into her side, interrupted her thoughts.
Tilting her head and shielding her eyes with her hand, she gazed upward into the striking sun-bronzed face of a man dressed in a dark suit, hands buried deeply in his pants pockets.
“My sister was engaged to the deceased,” Keri whispered.
“Should’ve known. You look just like her.”
The wind lifted his dark rain-damp hair, and Keri stared into mesmerizing cobalt blue eyes. Attractive, six feet tall, broad shoulders, nicely dressed but rugged. The slight cut on his forehead signified masculine animalism. Her pulse quickened. He couldn’t be a friend of her sister’s. He had to know the deceased.
“Are you a friend?”
Well-defined dimples formed on his cheeks when he offered a smile. His lip turned upward. He pulled one hand from his pocket and extended it.
“I’m Mitch Hubert.”
“Keri Morrison.” Her fingers grazed calluses when their hands met. Unless her sister changed, her preferred acquaintances never partook in manual labor and their hands would likely be as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Lisa appreciated the pretty-boy type, Armani suits and Italian loafers. “I’m afraid, Mr. Hubert, you didn’t answer my question.”
Mitch pulled his wallet from his inside suit jacket pocket and flipped the cover open to expose his badge.
“I’m the homicide detective in charge of the investigation into Alexander Foster’s death. I would like to ask you a couple of questions about your sister, if there’s somewhere we could talk.”
“Are you implicating my sister?” Keri asked.
“Nothing’s determined, as of yet.”
Glaring at the badge, heat burned Keri’s face and her lips pursed. With narrowed eyes and gritted teeth, she forced a smile.
“Have you no decency, Mr. Hubert? For God’s sake, we’re at a funeral. Someone murdered my sister’s fiancé. Shouldn’t you be looking for the killer instead of accosting family and friends?”
Keri swiveled on her heels and whirled away from the detective. Within seconds, his stride matched hers. He grabbed her arm and spun her toward him.
“Look, I’m not the enemy, Ms. Morrison. I’m doing my job. I believe your sister’s a victim of circumstance. She’s entangled in a horrible situation. I spoke with her, and she claims to be clueless to her possible involvement. Your sister seems like a sweet, innocent young woman. If I’ve done anything wrong, I’m at fault for misjudging your relationship with Lisa. Correct me if you must, but you’re not with her in her time of need, and you don’t seem upset. I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“You’d be well advised to release my arm.” Keri twisted her arm free and rubbed her fingers across the area of his infringement. “I would hate to be forced to sue the department for harassment. Besides, you are incorrect, Mr. Hubert. I’m here to offer condolences to my sister, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Holding her head high and quickening her pace, she strutted away.
She cast a glance over her shoulder and locked eyes with his intense stare. Heaving a sigh, she ignored his gaze and neared Lisa. When they were face to face, lightheadedness consumed Keri, and her stomach tugged her heart. Her sister’s swollen red eyes suggested anguish and sleep deprivation, but her shoulder length blonde hair was well groomed and styled to perfection. Sleek clothing accentuated a tall lean frame, but didn’t conceal facial features that displayed misery.
Seconds later Keri regained her composure and uttered, “Lisa, I’m so sorry.”
Tears burst from Lisa’s eyes and streamed down her face. She threw her arms around Keri’s neck and buried her head in her sister’s shoulder.
“I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I know we’ve had our differences, but of course I came. I wanted to see you as soon as I heard. I thought you wouldn’t want to see me.”
Weight lifted from Keri. Her sister had called, left a voice mail, but through Lisa’s hysteria, the words were unintelligible. Several attempted return calls yielded no answer, and after leaving voice messages, Lisa had never called. Keri wouldn’t hold that against her. Hell, she couldn’t blame her after everything that had happened between them. However, Keri needed her sister and should make amends.
Keri embraced Lisa and stroked her back. “I’ve missed you. We haven’t seen each other in so long. I wish we were together under better circumstances.”
“Forget the past. At least you’re here now.” Lisa pulled back and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. “Let me look at you.” Her eyes trailed her sister’s body. “I know we’re identical, girl, but you look fabulous.”
Keri smiled and rested her hand on Lisa’s shoulder.
“Even with everything you’ve been through, you look gorgeous as ever.”
“Thank you.” Lisa hugged her, brushed her lips against Keri’s ear and whispered, “You have to help me. I’m in big trouble. I have nowhere to turn. I don’t know what to do.”
Keri released the embrace, stared into her eyes, and wrinkled her forehead.
“Trouble? What do you mean?”
Lisa pressed a single finger to her lips and glanced around.
“Let me finish here, and maybe we can go somewhere for a drink. I’ll explain everything, but we can’t talk here.”
Keri searched her face, and her green eyes pleaded.
“Are you all right?”
Lisa tugged her away from people who’d inched closer.
“I don’t know, Keri. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m in danger.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
“I can’t explain here. Give me a moment, and I’ll excuse myself.”
What were her choices? This was her sister, after all, her own flesh and blood. She had to mend the past and this was the best chance she’d ever have.
“Hurry. I’ll wait for you by my car.” Keri pointed toward her Jag, gave her sister’s arm a slight squeeze, and inched down the incline toward her car, lowering her umbrella under the clearing skies. She tiptoed through the mud, cursing the Florida summers, applied her weight to the front of her shoes, and made a mental note the sandals would have to be trashed when she got home.
Standing next to her vehicle on the dirt road, people conversed in small groups. There were dozens, equal amounts of men and women. Her sister went through the ritualistic motions of greeting and thanking, and Keri was certain the attractive woman beside Lisa must be her close friend.
At the end of the row of cars, the detective Keri had met conversed with several men. More of Tampa’s finest. While the men talked, they occasionally nodded toward her sister.
Mitch glanced in her direction and made distant eye contact; Keri turned away. After staring in the opposite direction for a few moments, she turned back toward the group of men. Mitch was crossing the road, headed in her direction.
Fishing the keys from her purse, she unlocked the door and plopped herself down on the seat, knocking mud from her shoes on the doorframe before swinging her legs inside. She reached for the door pull, and Mitch lodged himself between her and the door.
“I’m afraid we got off to a bad start, and I hoped we could try again.” Mitch smiled and his entire face lit up.
“That’s not necessary, Mr. Hubert.”
“Yes, it is. As I was saying...”
Keri shook her head and interrupted, “There’s no need in starting over, it’s not necessary to start at all. Now, if you could please step aside.”
Mitch laid one arm across the roof of the car and the other on top of the doorframe. He leaned inside and Keri felt his breath on her face.
“Let’s get one thing straight, Ms. Morrison. I’m in the middle of an investigation, and I intend to finish the job to the best of my ability. It would be to your advantage to speak with me of your own volition.”
“Or what, Mr. Hubert?” She pulled the rearview mirror toward her face, rubbed the corner of her lips, ran her hand through her hair, and snickered. “Are you going to arrest me?”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. You’re not under arrest, yet. Just how well did you know Alexander Foster, Ms. Morrison? And, how familiar are you with your sister’s affairs?”
He sported a maddening smirk. Even with that well-defined face and those fabulous eyes, he was a pain in the ass.
“My relationship with Lisa is none of your concern. Besides, Alex was shot during a burglary attempt, and I don’t understand what that would have to do with my sister.”
“We haven’t determined the shooting resulted from a burglary, Ms. Morrison. Nothing was stolen. He had his wallet and a very expensive watch on his person. Does that sound like a burglary to you? We have reason to believe your sister knows more than she’s admitting.”
“This is ludicrous. I know my sister and she wouldn’t shoot anyone. All of this has devastated her. They were engaged to marry, for God’s sake. I’m not sure what you’re implying, but rest assured I don’t appreciate your insinuations. Now, if you’ll step away from my car, I’d like to close the door.”
Keri turned toward approaching footsteps. Lisa stopped several feet from the car and stared at Mitch. He eased himself away from the door and nodded at Keri.
“We’ll talk later.” Making brief eye contact with Lisa, he walked away and got into his car.
“What did he want?” Lisa asked.
When Keri looked at Lisa, she recalled their childhood days when they’d played in their father’s study, knowing if caught, they would be punished. Lisa had the same look in her eyes now.
“He said he’d like to talk to me. He said someone murdered Alex. Is that true, Lisa?”
Lisa shuffled her feet. “We can’t talk here. Can we meet somewhere?”
“What the hell’s going on?”
“Have faith in me for a change, Keri. I’ll explain everything.”
Keri inhaled, and slowed her breathing before speaking.
“Sure. I can meet you at your place if you’d like.”
“No,” Lisa spoke quickly. “We can’t go there.”
Keri stared at her.
“Where’d you like to go? Are you hungry? Have you had anything to eat?”
“I don’t need you to mother me. I need a friend. I need my sister.”
“I’m sorry.” Keri lowered her head. She had always been a second mother to her sister, considering herself the oldest and most responsible even if only by a few minutes. Her maternal instincts compelled her to care for her sibling. “I didn’t mean anything.”
Lisa squeezed her hand.
“I know. I need you to be understanding.”
Keri wrung her hands together and managed a slight smile.
“I understand. How does Jackson’s sound? We used to go there all the time. Remember?”
“I remember. That’s fine with me. What time?” Lisa glanced at her watch. “I’ll be ready to leave in a few minutes. Is now okay?”
“Whatever you’d like.” Keri slipped back into her car. “I’ll see you there.”
Lisa hurried away. What the hell was her sister’s involvement? For Lisa’s sake, she had to remain open-minded. She started her vehicle, adjusted her rearview mirror, and saw the reflection of a couple of men watching her sister. The men were smoking cigarettes, trying to appear nonchalant, but one man observed Lisa’s every move.
With her friends gone, Lisa stood graveside staring into the freshly dug earth, alone. She was probably expressing a final goodbye.
Switching off the engine, Keri leaned back in the driver’s seat and watched. One man flicked his cigarette and spun around. He bent over to wipe mud off his shoe, and his suit jacket fell open exposing a gun secured in a shoulder holster protruding from his side. Keri gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. She spotted Lisa heading her way, and one of the men sprinted toward Lisa.
Keri threw open the car door, jumped out, and flew toward Lisa at an impossible speed in heeled sandals.
Lisa stared, unblinking, and Keri grabbed her arm, digging her heels into the dirt. “Come on, he has a gun. Let’s go. My car.”
Lisa’s shoes had higher heels and were difficult to run in, so she slowed long enough to pull them off before racing full speed ahead. When Keri jumped into the driver’s seat, Lisa hopped into the passenger’s seat. Checking her rearview mirror, Keri noticed Mitch watching.
Keri started the engine, spun out of her parking space, and headed toward the entrance to the cemetery. She pulled out onto Highway Sixty, and proceeded toward Jackson’s in silence. Her head swam. So much she needed to understand. Before she could talk to Lisa, in order to remain calm, she needed to ponder the situation.
Lisa stared out the window, breathing rapidly.
Keri swung off onto the shoulder of road, the tires slinging gravel, and glared at Lisa.
“Is that all you can say? Thank you? What the hell is going on? That man had a gun. We could have been killed.”
Lisa buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
“I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know what to say. Look, if you don’t want to help me, you don’t have to. I can handle this myself.” Her hand gripped the door pull, and she cracked the door open.
“Wait.” Keri laid her hand on Lisa’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I get upset when I feel my life is in danger. We’re sisters. Of course I want to help. Now, close the door and let’s get out of here. Please.”
Lisa obeyed. Keri thumped her fingers on the smooth leather steering wheel. Her sister had cried wolf many times over the years, but now panic replaced the need for sympathy or approval. She hated that her sister was in trouble and needed help, but part of her was selfishly glad she did.
“Do you still want to go to Jackson’s, or would you rather go somewhere more private?”
“Jackson’s. We’re safe in a crowd; at least until I understand what’s happening.”
Silence consumed the remainder of the trip. Keri checked her rearview mirror repeatedly, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. When she arrived at the restaurant, she drove into the underground parking garage, searched for the elevator, and parked as close as possible. Keri and Lisa hurried inside.
Keri asked for a table by the window, away from the diners, and ordered drinks. She struggled with the right words, but decided on small talk, allowing Lisa space.
Out the window, the sun was a bright orange ball resting on the horizon, and boats buzzed by in the bay. Children scampered along the pier.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you. Sitting here with you reminds me of old times.”
Lisa ran her finger around the rim of her glass and giggled. “You drank margaritas and licked the salt off the rim. I could never drink them. Margaritas hit me hard. Those were the days, carefree and fun. Boy has my life changed.”
“Do you want to talk?” Keri sat back in her chair.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin.” She glanced around the room before locking eyes with Keri. “Alex’s murder was not a burglary. I saw everything.”
“Oh, my God. Are you serious?” Keri leaned over the table and rested her hand over Lisa’s hand. The muffled chatter in the room seemed miles away.
Tears spilled down Lisa’s face, and she dabbed her napkin in the corner of her eyes. “They killed him, Keri, and tried to kill me.”
Keri sat perfectly still. Something terrible had happened. She’d felt the feeling twins share, the oneness, but shrugged her feelings off as paranoia.
“Oh, my God.”
“I was home. I’d prepared a wonderful dinner and set a beautiful table. I had candles and wine. We were going to celebrate our engagement and decide on a date for the wedding. I wanted everything to be perfect.”
Tears trickled down Lisa’s cheeks as she sipped wine. “His favorite was grilled steak, and I cooked the meal with all the trimmings. You know what a stickler I am for details. Mom and dad did a fabulous job teaching us how to entertain. This was going to be an evening we’d never forget. Now my special evening is just an evening I’ll never forget.”
“If this is too painful, we can talk later.”
“I’ve cried so much I’m surprised I have tears left. I loved him. For the first time in my life, I was truly in love. I’d never been so happy. I need to talk. You need to know everything. I want you to believe in me, regardless of what anyone says. The police think I had something to do with Alex’s murder.”
“You’re my sister. You wouldn’t lie to me. You can tell me anything, and I’ll believe in you and support you. No one can change that. I hope you understand me, no one.”
“I love you Keri. I’m telling you the whole truth, at least everything I know.” Lisa’s somber voice remained reserved. “That evening, I was excited about him coming over. I was proud of the wonderful meal I’d prepared. I couldn’t wait for him to get home. I drank a glass of wine and watched for him out the window. Finally, his car came down the road. He always parked on the street in front of the house. He pulled up and stopped the car. He got out holding a bouquet of flowers.”
A distant look covered her face. She stared straight ahead. “Two men rushed him and knocked him into the car. There was screaming and shouting. I cracked the window open to hear what the men were saying. My heart pounded hard. Then I heard three shots. Right in front of my eyes, he slumped in the seat. I screamed NO. I stood in front of the window. When I realized I’d be seen, I tried to duck, but wasn’t quick enough. I peeked out and the men were crossing the front yard running toward the house.”
Keri laced her fingers together and laid them on the table in front of her. Her sister paused, but she remained quiet, not wanting to break the rhythm.
Lisa sipped wine and glanced around the room. “I ran to the front door and checked the lock. I heard movement on the front porch. I started crying. At first, I didn’t know what to do, so I ran upstairs to my bedroom and locked the door. I knew they’d kill me since I saw them shoot Alex, so I hid in the closet. When I heard the front door open, I froze. Afraid to breathe.”
“I remembered my cell phone was downstairs on the coffee table. I had it there in case Alex called. I heard them rummaging around downstairs and was terrified. I felt around in the closet for anything to use as a weapon and my fingers found the security system keypad. I couldn’t remember which button to push, so I pounded them all, and the siren blared.”
“The phone rang, and I knew the call was from the security monitoring company. If I didn’t answer and give them the password, they’d call the police. I heard police sirens, but stayed in the closet, sobbing. After an eternity, an officer opened the door, told me to get out with my hands up, and I blacked out. When I woke up, the paramedics were there. They checked me out and said everything was fine. The police questioned me, and told me Alex was dead. I was informed not to leave town, to remain available for possible questioning.”
“I’m so sorry. The whole ordeal sounds horrible. I believe your story, but I still don’t understand why the police think you may be responsible for Alex’s death.” Keri shook her head and poured wine into Lisa’s glass.
“That night, I wasn’t questioned,” Lisa whispered and looked around.
Keri followed her gaze and saw tables full of diners chatting and eating. Everyone seemed oblivious to the direness of the sisters’ conversation. “What’s the matter? Why are you whispering?”
“I don’t want anyone to hear us. Lately, I always think someone is watching or listening to me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. No one even cares that we’re here.” Keri eased back in her chair. “Why are you so paranoid?”
Lisa sipped wine. “Because of the rest of the story you haven’t heard. If I answer your question, perhaps you’ll understand.”
“Alex had a bank account with a lot of money. The very day of his murder, he withdrew all the money from his account. That day, my account received a large deposit. I don’t know how or who made that deposit. You see, he owned an import/export business, and since he wanted to incorporate, he listed me as an officer. I never had anything to do with the business. He conducted his transactions on the internet. He stayed on the internet all the time. I’m not sure what he did. When I asked, he’d say, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little head about that’, so I didn’t.”
“You were going to marry him, and you weren’t even sure how he made his living?”
“Guilty. You know me. Trusting, naďve, stupid.”
“Don’t talk about yourself like that. I won’t allow such talk.”
“Anyway, I’ve avoided the police. I don’t want to see them under the circumstances. I don’t know why they’re so sure I’m responsible. I haven’t spoken to them since the day after Alex’s death, when they told me about his withdrawal and my deposit. I don’t want the police to interrogate me until I know how to answer. That’s why I don’t want to go home.”
“Where have you been staying?”
“Hotel. At the beach. Not far from my house. I checked out this morning. The few things I have with me are in my car. Of course, now I’ve left my car at the cemetery.”
“You’ll have to stay with me. We’ll get your car in the morning. I’m not wild about going back to the cemetery tonight.”
Both laughed. The muscles in Keri’s face relaxed for the first time since her reunion with her sister. “When you say a bank account with a lot of money, how much money are you talking about? Was there enough money to kill someone for?”
“Seven figures, Keri.”
Keri gasped and her hand covered her mouth.