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Borrowed Identity
Kasi Blake

The third floor had three short staircases. One led to the attic and the other two went to the long, rectangular ballroom. Both rooms were locked as far as Kelly knew.

She hesitated, hearing a noise.

Michael entered the foyer and stood near the bottom of the stairs. Hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans, he turned hard brown eyes in her direction. They were cold, holding what appeared to be a trace of contempt. For a long breathless moment he seemed a total stranger to her.

She sucked in a painful breath, wanting to flee to the safety of her bedroom.

Instead Kelly wrapped her arms around her body. A chill swept over her, and she felt vulnerable standing there in nothing but a long T-shirt. They were married now and she shouldn’t feel awkward. But she did. Michael had only seen her fully clothed before. Their dates had ended with chaste kisses. He’d been a perfect gentleman, not trying to push her further than she was willing to go.

Now his insolent eyes raked over her seminude body. The desire in his gaze was easy to define, but there was something else she couldn’t identify. The unfamiliar expression on his face frightened her.

She took an awkward step backward, desperately wanting to go to her room and dress properly before attempting a conversation with him. Forever the klutz, she tripped over her own feet and bumped into the wall.

Michael raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His expression had turned to concern. Gone was the cold stranger, replaced by the old warmth of Michael Taggert.

“Careful,” he said, catching her by the arms and steadying her.

“You’re here.” It was the only thing she could think of to say.

“You were expecting somebody else?” The harmless smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Santa Claus, perhaps?”

He bent forward, placing cool lips on her forehead, branding her with fire. His fingers momentarily tightened like steel clamps on her shoulders.

“I wasn’t sure you were here.” She shivered, picturing Michael’s bloody face. “I was afraid something had happened to you.”

“Why?” He pulled her pliant body into his arms, holding her against his solid chest. He stroked her back. Obviously he wanted to comfort her, to reassure her.

So why did his touch have the opposite effect?

“It was…I saw you… Never mind,” she said.

“Bad dream?”

“Horrible.” She cringed at the memory of it, not understanding how her own mind could invent something so awful. “You were dead. You’d been murdered and placed inside the closet.”

“Do you know who killed me?” His eyes sharpened on her upturned face. “Did you see them?”

She laughed nervously, thinking he was making a joke, but he seemed serious. He wanted the awful details of her nightmare. His interest in the morbid dream filled her with dread. Some things were better left in the dark.

“No,” she replied. “After I found you in the closet, I raced down the hallway. Then I saw you coming out of your bedroom.”

“You thought I was in the closet?” Michael frowned at her as if he thought she was losing her mind.

“You were,” she insisted. “But you were in the hallway, too.” She rolled her eyes. “Now that I’ve said it, I can hear how ridiculous it sounds. It seemed so real at the time.”

“Dreams usually do.”

Changing the subject, she asked, “Why didn’t you wake me this morning?”

“Was I supposed to?” He shrugged. “I figured you needed the rest.”

“I don’t know what to say to you.”

Kelly walked away, needing time to plan her next words. She didn’t want to embarrass herself. Thinking about time reminded her that she hadn’t fixed her father’s favorite clock in days.

She descended the stairs, crossed the foyer and stepped into the parlor. The room had been decorated by her grandmother in dark colors and antiques before Kelly had taken her first breath. Kelly was reluctant to change anything. There was no need for her to redecorate, seeing that she seldom used the room, anyway. In fact there were only a few rooms in the house that she did occupy on a regular basis. Her bedroom and bath, of course. Also, the kitchen, and once in a great while she used the library.

The parlor’s high cathedral ceiling boasted a mural of a cloudy sky. Three windows with arches over them stood tall, nearly but not quite reaching the ceiling. They were concealed with heavy, dark green draperies. Not much sunlight filtered into the parlor. Her grandmother had preferred it that way.

Most of the furniture, all original pieces from her grandmother’s day, hid beneath dusty sheets now. When Kelly felt like sitting down, she went into the library or out to the solarium. Since she didn’t employ a staff there wasn’t anyone to help her keep the place clean.

Kelly went to the old grandfather clock, opened it and moved the minute hand to the correct time. The timepiece ran a bit slow, but it still worked. She had been brought up to value family heirlooms and some day she might have the clock fixed.

Kelly performed the task of setting the time in an effort to avoid looking directly at Michael. She couldn’t allow him to see the tears of confusion swimming in her eyes. Being near him made her nervous. It didn’t make sense to her. Michael had put her at ease with a simple smile, but that same smile chilled her now.

“I thought things would be different between us today. Why didn’t you make love to me last night?”

“I didn’t know you wanted me to.” He closed in on her, cutting off her escape route. His fingers caressed the slope of her neck.

A thousand tiny tingles shot through her body.

She turned to face him, purposely knocking his hand away. The parlor seemed smaller than usual, almost as if the huge room was closing in on her. Tension kept her body rigid. She needed answers, even if they hurt.

“I may not be as worldly as you, but I do know that men make love to their brides on their wedding night.” She stared at the top button of his jersey rather than meeting his gaze, embarrassed by her own words and a bit resentful that she should have to say anything. “Didn’t you want to?”

“Okay,” he sighed, rubbing his forehead as if he, too, had a headache. “Let’s start over. From the top.”

“I want to know if I made a mistake last night.”

“What do you mean?”

Kelly counted to ten under her breath. She had known Michael for only three months. He had appeared out of nowhere. One day she’d been returning from a visit with her neighbor Margo Lane, and Michael had been standing on her front porch, peeking through the window. She neither liked nor trusted visitors, but Michael was different. He was charming, too charming, and he seemed to honestly enjoy her company. He was working on a book about infamous houses and the stories behind them. Of course he’d wanted to know about Moore House, but she was reluctant to tell him anything. The last thing she needed were more visitors and a book like his would bring them in droves. They would trample over her flower garden, invade her privacy and basically disrupt her whole life. Michael had agreed to drop the idea, but his interest in her seemed to grow with each passing day, no matter what she said to dissuade him. He’d pursued her with flowers and gifts, using one smooth line after another until she’d agreed to marry him.

“Last night, out of the blue, you begged me to elope with you—”

“Begged?” He interrupted her, a look of pure arrogance transforming his handsome features. “I don’t beg, sweetheart.”

If she didn’t know better, she would think she was talking to a complete stranger. His gorgeous face hadn’t changed. He had the same square jaw, the same chiseled nose and sculpted cheekbones. The change was in the eyes. They were the same deep brown, like warm brandy, but they seemed different, wary, as if they were holding dark secrets. Why hadn’t she noticed it before?

“You said you couldn’t live without me. You dared me to throw caution to the wind and elope with you.” Her forehead wrinkled with the memory. “You had everything ready. You brought my grandmother’s wedding gown down from the attic.”

“Your grandmother’s wedding gown?”

“You had a ring and a dozen white roses. You even had a minister from Kansas City.”

He shook his head. “A minister?”

“Stop repeating everything I say!” Hands on her hips, she exclaimed, “You weren’t like this before. You were nice to me. More than nice. You told me you couldn’t wait to marry me, and wanted to do it right away.” She blinked away the tears. “Why are you treating me like this? You said you loved me.”
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